A long time ago I had a job for a while in the Nederlands Ballet Orkest, and one of my best friends that year was a percussionist called Jakob. We shared the delight of playing with words in English, and when something was “definite” rather than “perhaps” I remember he would say “quite rather absolutely”, and somehow it became a meme in our friendship. I’m pretty sure that if I sent him just those words on a postcard with no name and no other clue, he would know who sent it and he would chuckle.
So this project was ‘quite rather absolutely’ about the colour blue. I enjoyed it so much, splashing and moving blue around on different surfaces including slate, board, canvas, paper, and using different kinds of paint.. acrylic, oil, pigments mixed into various substances.
I loved blue already and at the end of the project I loved it more.
There was no theme (unusual for me) – we had been asked to choose formalism or figuration, and I chose formalism. But the day before our crit when I was looking for something else, my hand fell on “The Sailor’s Pocket Book” (belonged to my great grandfather who was in the merchant navy, he must have had a big pocket). Suddenly the work took a turn in the direction of a theme, about the sea, and connection to water and war in my family history. Then I came across my great uncle’s cap badge (which is also blue) from his regiment in WW1. He died two days before his 20th birthday, in July 1917. The crit was just a few days ago, and today is Remembrance Sunday. I decided to include the pocket book and the cap badge and I basically hauled quite a big part of the weeks’ experimentation down to WAS on my bike and set up the work to evoke an invitation for people to visit my ‘studio’. Roger put Miles Davis on and we all set about installing in that atmosphere.
I think today is probably the first time I have spent November 11th in Oxford since I was a child, and used to go with my mother to the service in St Giles. Trying to sing Abide With Me without crying was not easy.
This morning the rain pounded on the velux window above my bed at 4.30. I couldn’t sleep and tried to listen to the radio, which was telling me about fires in California but the rain was so loud I could barely hear it. Then suddenly at about 9 the sky cleared to a beautiful blue and I walked through the University Parks with my sister, marvelling at the colours of the leaves. Finding myself in the street where I grew up I realised that my feet were going to walk me along to the Remembrance Day service again, so there I was, standing with my 10 year old self, attempting to wobble my way through Abide With Me again.
The minute’s silence was beautiful, only the sound of a few babies grisling, and the wind in the trees. Pigeons flying across, black against the intense blue of the sky, and the sun making everything glow.
The prayers were good, very different from how they would have been when I was 10..not nationalistic or in any way glorifying war or “sacrifice” and pretty inclusive.