Sunday, 19 September 2010

El Bosque/The Forest - or Home

I have just discovered the forest in Alhaurín. I knew it was there, but it would appear that I have been flirting with it a little bit – or perhaps it has been flirting with me.

In truth I have been a little bit afraid of entering it. Although I was longing for the cool and still of the canopy I held back because I did not know how dark and mysterious it might be. I also did not want to rush it as I plan to be here for a very long time, so why try and find out everything at once? I want to savour each new experience before moving onto the next.

And so I danced around its edges. I began by walking up along the top road in Alhaurín – Calle Blas Infante – which is built up and has its share of shops, cafes and bars. I continued walking this road every day until I learned of a country road parallel to it, but just a bit higher up. This is in itself a much more satisfactory sort of road as it has more grass, wildflowers, trees and fields and no pavement and fewer houses so one has to walk on the road. Country.

But from certain points along this country road I could see the way some of the fincas stretched up as far as the first trees of the forest – their wire fences snaking their way up the incline and disappearing from view as the overgrowth becomes thicker or they meet a cliff face. For in a lot of that stretch, below the forest, on the south side of the pueblo, the slope of the mountain is broken at the base by a sheer drop. It is in this cliff face that you can see the caves. Some are quite large although they do not seem to extend deep within the earth – but the caves will have to be explored at some point in the future – for now it is the forest that holds me enthralled.

From the country road to forest was not a long transition – once I could see the close proximity to the lower level of the mountain I was like a moth fluttering closer and closer to the flame. So one day, not so very many weeks ago now, I walked up to it boldly and entered it.

As I had anticipated it is a place of awe and wonder. It is not a place for earphones, music or Spanish lessons, and I only take my phone in case of emergencies although there are always people walking dogs, jogging or cycling, so in fact you are quite safe, unless of course you leave the track and then you would be on your own – so I take it just to be on the safe side.

Although you do meet people there are not many, so the wonderful sense of isolation and contemplation is all around. The forest is mostly silent. Sounds are muffled but still at times you can hear the church bells from the village, very distant, and also sometimes cries and shouts of people (playing perhaps?) echo up, but it is only in parts. My favourite sound is the sudden cracking of a branch. Obviously there are some birds, still unidentified. Some of them caw like crows, although they are not – I saw one fleetingly yesterday and it had much more colour, some blue beneath and brownish on the back, and I have seen the eagles whirling overhead making their pip pip noise.

Of course if you stop and listen you can hear much more; the creeping of beetles and the rustle of branches in the wind and bees buzzing while they gather nectar.

But mainly as you walk you are overwhelmed by the silence around you, disturbed only by the crunch of your own feet on gravel or twigs

I have taken some photos, obviously, and am delighted at how some of them really capture the essense of the forest – the blackness of the shadow between the trees and the brightness and contrast of a shaft of light as it forces its way through some gap or other in the foliage. There is also a blue haze that permeates parts of the forest, like magic mist.

The trees are mainly pine – although in the later part of my walk – obviously depending which direction you take – these are replaced by olive, some fig, some oak and other species as yet unidentified.

I believe the pine trees to be pinus pinea or Stone or Umbrella Pine – the latter name really appealing to me now and opening all sorts of parallel avenues! If anyone knows different then please email me and correct me of course. The bark is very distinctive with very strong vertical platelets – the colour ranges from various greys to terracotta. Really beautiful. I love the strong texture and the earthy palette. I have also discovered – if my identification is correct – that these have large edible nuts in the cones, so I must watch out for these.

Of course I am keeping my eyes and other senses peeled for signs of mushrooms as the thought of being able to go a-mushrooming in the autumn is a thought which truly gladdens my heart. I don’t think you could ever go hungry if you lived in a forest and you know how I feel about mushrooms!

And so I explore – so far I have not strayed very far from the forestry pathway, which is large enough to take a car by the way, but bit by bit I know I will venture off road and further up the side of the mountain, but that is not usually recommended to do on your own – in any event it is still a bit too hot, but in another month who knows. For now I am content to continue my flirtation getting to know the curves and nuances and studying the light and magic places in the most traveled part of the forest.

I love the forest and now that I have found it I feel more content and more fulfilled in my choice to move here. I knew it was the right place for me to call ‘Home’

Friday, 3 September 2010

Artist's Block or Clouds and Silver Linings

Did I write about this subject before. If I did, well forgive me, as I am going to write about it again. Why? Because it is an affliction that affects all artists form time to time – some more than others – and it is so frustrating and debilitating. When it happens you procrastinate and procrastinate and then finally sit facing an empty canvas or sheet of paper and realize that it is now or never and so nothing else gets done in the house, as actually everything has been done during the first period of procrastination. No more books may be read either, because that is procrastinating too, although it can be classed as inspiration at times, in which case it may then be allowed, but you have to read something worthy not some easy-read-bodice-ripping-yarn. And then it is Ohmygod! I have to produce something or never again!

I wish I had a job in the library. Then I could pretend that I was not an artist and never was.

When I was little I thought it was great to be an artist. Not because I thought it was a cool profession, in those days things like that never entered my head as I was too busy looking at clouds or umbrellas, but because if you make things – like I did – then you were never lonely or never bored.

How wrong was I!

I get terribly lonely sometimes and when I am facing that empty sheet of paper I can be so bored, because nothing presents itself – then it is little steps. I might draw a leaf. But then that leads to nothing. I try to draw a landscape. Difficult at the best of times. Nothing. A building – I could never draw straight lines anyway. I go through old notebooks and try to haul out ideas from them. I have some good ideas there, but then trying to draw them when I am like this can be impossible. I draw another leaf. Terrible, it doesn’t even look like a leaf. I can’t draw and will never be able to draw again! I get up and pace the floor backwards and forwards, thinking, thinking, what will I draw? What do I want to draw? I go upstairs into the bedroom and look out the window at my pigeons for inspiration. They are not even there – gone out shopping I suppose – I look at an empty drainpipe, well empty except for those dirty plastic bottles which I must remove when I get a long stick. Not much inspiration here.

I go to my artbooks and look through them. Fantastic! All these artists making all this fabulous work and I can’t even draw a blessed leaf! That doesn’t help it only makes me more frustrated and jealous. I wail and gnash my teeth – not that this helps either, but it is involuntary.

I go downstairs again and sit in front of my paper. It is blank.

I go into the kitchen and make a cup of tea – I wander round polishing a bit while the kettle boils. Teabag, stir, squeeze – half a spoon of sugar, stir – good dollop of milk – it is all about ritual. Anything to waste another bit of time without having to stare at that darned piece of paper. The blank piece.

I sit down in front of my blank piece of paper and drink my cup of tea. I finish the tea, the paper is still blank. I go to the kitchen and wash the cup and put it to drain on the draining board.

I sit down in front of my blank piece of paper and pick up my pencil desperately looking around me for inspiration – even my hair is standing up on end with frustration! There is no inspiration at the kitchen table under the stairs.

I get up and go back upstairs, I have had an idea. I get my old source books out – which I made in college and miraculously kept – well it wasn’t really a miracle it was because I remember our tutors saying that when you were blocked – and everyone gets blocked from time to time – get out your old sketchbooks and sourcebooks and look at them. What wise tutors we had in college and how wise I was to listen to them.

I go through the source books and find a picture I like which could work with the theme I wish to explore so I go downstairs again and slowly, very slowly start to copy the picture – just copy it – that is ok, it is still my drawing of the photo in front of me and as such it starts to take on a small life of its own and bit by bit I become absorbed in the process of making lines and drawing wrinkles, I do not want to put in any shading at this point as this is going to be a line drawing for a print – the shading will come with the cutting of the plate. I do not notice the time going until I look up and find it is getting dark in the room where I sit and there are mosquitoes nipping at my ankles, so I get up to close the door.

My body is stiff from being in the same position for a long time and my eyes smart from squinting at the paper and from the tears of frustration that were flowing freely from them earlier that day and for the past few days.

I look at the drawing again and am happy with it. That is a result, although I am not out of the woods yet. Still it is late and my body is tired so I pour a drink and allow myself to sit at the table with a book in my hand and read a bit to take my mind off the terrible day I have put down.

From early morning until late in the evening I have finally produced a tiny little speck of a drawing and I know it is not one of my best, but it is better than the leaves or the other various attempts I made over the past few days.

The house is spotless. All the bedlinen has been washed and the floors have been swept, vacuumed and washed down twice. Window frames have been cleaned and all the little corners of the kitchen have been attended to. I hung a picture and the clock in the kitchen, filed all my documents and receipts – which means I will not be able to find anything. I picked up all the clothes draped on the floor the two bedroom chairs and the end of the bed and folded and put them all away. The ones that needed washing have been washed and folded and put away also. I sorted though my chest of drawers as well for old clothes and these have been washed, folded and bagged for the charity shop. The toilets have been scrubbed, delimescaled and bleached to within and inch of their lives and all the chrome fittings are sparkling.

Letters have been written, blogs have been written, Spanish verbs have been copied and filed for later use (in other words – lost). All the old newspapers have been tossed and I even swept my under-construction-terrace although there is no real need as it really is a work in progress and no matter how many hanging baskets you put on it a cement mixer will always be a cement mixer.

Artist’s block does have its upside I will grant you. But those tears of frustration and the fear of never being able to draw again, not to mention the strain that all the drinking puts on your liver while you have nothing else to do – those are not so good.

People think that being an artist is a jolly life. You get to sit in bars all day and observe people, you are allowed to drink too much and people almost expect you to be wild and behave badly. Some artists do that is true, but most of us just live quietly and try to scrape a living from our work and live from one block to the next with the thought of the next one never far away even when we are working like a maniac.

I remember someone once referring to my art as a ‘hobby’ (I was working as well at that time) that too is not a true perception of what it is to be an artist. It is a compulsion, at least it is for me and part of who I am as a person, my identity, which is why that block is such a threat to me. If I cannot draw or make or whatever, then what am I. At this point in my life I think it unlikely that I will be able to reinvent myself as something else – an engineer for instance – I have been an artist now for 50 year after all and it is somewhat engrained. I was born with this affliction and am certain now that I will die with it. But it is not such an easy ride as people think – I only hope that in time I will also become better at dealing with the block when it comes. But then the house would never get a Spring clean!