"Earth’s distant orb appeared the smallest light that twinkles in the heaven; whilst round the chariot’s way innumerable systems rolled and countless spheres diffused an ever-varying glory. It was a sight of wonder: some were hornèd like the crescent moon; some shed a mild and silver beam like Hesperus o'er the western sea; some dashed athwart with trains of flame, like worlds to death and ruin driven; some shone like suns, and as the chariot passed, eclipsed all other light." From "Queen Mab" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813)

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Folk Art of Cactus County #21

Here’s a new piece just finished, a papier mache skull.
I’ve been working on this for what seems like ages and it seems that way because it has been ages. Painting it only took a couple of days, it was waiting for the thing to dry out that took all the time. I made the mistake of building it up from a small ball of papier mache instead of putting a thin layer over a balloon scaffold. But this means that the skull is quite weighty as opposed to being very light, so although I went about it the wrong way, I actually ended up with something better. But it did take ages to dry, I’m talking weeks and weeks.
I’ve had him sitting out in the sun for days at a time, building him up with more papier mache then having to dry that out. Then I kept spraying him with stone effect paint from a can, which made him wet all over again so I had to have that dry out before I could continue. Anyway, I got there in the end and I think he’s been worth the wait. I’m definitely going to be doing more of these but don’t hold your breath, it’s going to take a while.

Things are moving on a pace for the art show in September. Mrs Kitsch has created a blog especially for us to publicise the exhibition and she’s come up with a fab design for the poster, and here it is.
Double kudos to Mrs Kitsch, not just for doing these things but having to do them quickly and on a new laptop after her old Mac died last week. Not the best time for that to happen but then when is it ever a good time? Anyway, well done Mrs K, she’s a ruddy marvel an’ no mistake.

I’ve spent a lot of today sending out a press release about the show, so hopefully we’ll get a bit of local press coverage to draw in the punters. I’ve already had a reply from Steve, the art guy at Venue Magazine who said he thought my work was “by turns macabre and cartoonish” which is a pretty good reaction. I’ll be using that quote a lot I think. He’s going to try and get a photo in Venue in a couple of weeks, which will be great if he does.

Still so much to do like making and painting frames, varnishing, writing accompanying short stories or commentaries for some of the paintings, getting postcards made, and about a hundred other things. I’m really enjoying doing the work towards the show but the stress levels are starting to rise.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Folk Art Of Cactus County #20

Three shrines to celebrate some important themes in Cactus County. This first is a shrine to the philosophy behind Cactus County, which is pretty much Epicurean; happiness achieved through a knowledge of how the world works, eschewing religion, superstition and an afterlife, as espoused by the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus and the Roman poet Lucretius.
Then there is a shrine to remember loved ones who have died. The dead live on in the memory of the living, so in Cactus County they celebrate their own secular version of Dia de los Muertos to remember those they have loved who are no longer with them.
Finally, a shrine to the old Wild West history of Cactus County; a rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ kind of place back in the day, apparently.

Monday, 16 August 2010

The Folk Art Of Cactus County #19

The date of the exhibition draws ever closer (13th-18th Sept at Room 212, see you there) and there is loads still to do before I’m ready. However, I have finished one new work, quite different from my other pieces, which is something of a relief. Here it is with the lovely Mrs Kitsch modelling it.
I started sewing the skull for the jacket ages ago but hadn’t got round to doing anything more with it till last month. In the end I think it must have taken me about a week to do the whole thing. The idea was that I would do a bit of sewing in the evening while watching some telly instead of being idle but I got so caught up with it that I spent all day working on it. I even had a dream about sewing when I finally finished it.
Still, I really enjoyed the process of stitching and sewing (is there a difference between the two?) and have plans for more work involving needle and thread, though not necessarily on to a jacket. Mrs Kitsch has been teaching me new some new stitching techniques (chain stitch looks like a good one) which I’ll have a go at next time.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Star Light, Star Bright

It’s that time of year again, the Perseid meteor shower. In the past I’ve ventured out on cloudy nights and seen nothing. I’ve also dragged Mrs Kitsch out a number of times to watch the skies with me; on one memorable occasion we sat freezing on deck chairs in the middle of the night, on the seashore wrapped in our coats and for extra warmth covered in towels from the B&B we were staying in. We saw a fair number of shooting stars that night as I remember but mostly I remember being very cold.

This year the weather was much warmer, the meteor shower was at a much more reasonable time; between 10.30pm and 1am rather than 2am to 3am previously; and we get a pretty good view of the sky from just outside the house, so it’s very handy. However, none of this was incentive enough for Mrs Kitsch this time round. I think she may have had her fill of the Pereids. Saying that, she did come out and check on me at one point tonight, which was lovely of her.

Although it was quite cloudy when I first went out this evening, the clouds soon disappeared leaving a relatively clear sky. I saw about a dozen shooting stars in about two hours and only came in when I couldn’t stand stretching my neck skyward any longer and my feet were aching. I expect there are loads of shooting stars shooting over head as I’m writing this but I just can’t carry on tonight. And a dozen is pretty good. Number five was particularly amazing, a very bright tear ripping through the night sky, gone in a flash but burning an image in my mind that will last much longer.

Apart from a number of satellites and planes, the night sky also yielded some geese flying in a “V” formation, white against the black of the sky, one of them saying hello as they flew overhead, making that unmistakable goose “honk” noise. And they weren’t the only wild life out there tonight. When I first stepped out I saw Mr Badger trolling along the pavement, going out of one garden and into another. He wasn’t the only one doing his nightly rounds this evening as Mr Fox also put in an appearance, walking right in front of me. There were a lot of moths out tonight as well.

So all in all, a worthwhile effort, even if I only manage to see a handful of shooting stars. And there’s always next year at this time.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Ancient And Modern

I’ve been mightily attracted of late to the ancient world, particularly the ancient Roman and Greek worlds.  A couple of years back, after visiting the eternal city of Rome for the first (and hopefully not the last) time, I wanted to read about Rome and find out more about things Roman. I'm finally getting round to it. Also more recently I saw a brilliant documentary about Leonidas and the 300 Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae followed by watching the film “300”, so the Greek world was opened up for me too, although I had read Homer’s “Odyssey” after seeing the film “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” at the cinema a few years back. More recently I got hold of a copy of “Herodotus: The Histories” so I've got that to look forward to as well.
I’ve just started reading Tacitus’ “Annals and Histories” after finishing “The Letters Of Pliny The Younger”. I’d wanted to read Pliny for some time, as I explained in a previous blog but reading him made me want to read “Natural History” by Gaius Plinius Secundus, the elder Pliny, uncle of the younger letter writer. “Ta met’ alla” - one after another.
The Oxfam bookshop at the top of Park Street came up trumps for this particular volume just a couple of weeks back and while reading the introducing by John F Healy I came upon a passage referring to the Roman poet and Epicurean, Titus Lucretius Carus and his epic poem “On the Nature of Things”. Healy says that Lucretius believed that “a knowledge of the laws of physics” would dispel the “mental fears and forebodings that ‘religion’ instils”. Now that is right up my street, so I had to know more about both Lucretius and Epicurus so I followed this up with some brief online research. Can opened, philosophical worms all over the place, including profound implications for the philosophy behind Cactus County, one result of which is that I am going to have to rename one of the towns in the county.

There is much to commend the Epicurean philosophy and I am very drawn to it from the small amount of research I have done so far. Is this to be my new philosophy? Further study needs to be undertaken but as I say, so far I like what I have discovered about it.
So what do Epicurean’s believe? Well, if I’ve got it right, it’s that life should be spent seeking out modest pleasures rather than excess in order to attain a state of tranquillity and freedom from fear known as “ataraxia” and also life without physical pain known as “aponia”. The important thing for me though is that Epicurean’s believed that this could be done through a knowledge of the workings of the world, and they did not believe in superstition or divine intervention. They also believed there was no life after death and that death was not to be feared as we would return to the same state of nothingness there was before our birth.

Now this in particular is something I want to get my head around, because for as long as I can remember I have been afraid of death. Not dying, I’m not so worried how I will die or even of the possible pain or indignity of death but instead of the absence of life, of missing the sensations of being alive. There I times when I think about this and I experience a sensation of utter dread, of complete aloneness in the universe, of an inkling of what it might be like to experience being dead. It only ever lasts a few seconds but for me it is the most awful thing I ever feel. It is worse than physical pain because it seems to stretch out for eternity, an unending nothingness and isolation from everything and everyone I know and love. It’s accompanied by a physical sickness in my stomach, like being in a lift that seems to drop very quickly.

Now I know in reality that once I am dead there is no way I will feel the absence of life, I won’t feel alone, I won’t feel anything. I know that, I understand it rationally. But trying to marry that understanding with this fear and dread of death I have is very difficult. So anything that helps me deal with my fear of being dead definitely needs looking into.
By the way, the modern use of the word “epicurean” meaning one who seeks excess pleasure in all things, particularly food, is quite at odds with the original philosophy that I’m talking about here. Although, given my love of food and the quantities of it I indulge in, it may not be totally inappropriate.

It’s given me a lot to think about both personally and also because the Epicurean philosophy has so many connections with my view of the philosophy of Cactus County. I think the founders of the county would have known about Epicurus, Lucretius and the elder Pliny. They would have been inspirational to such a scientifically and atheistically minded people as much as Darwin was to them. So, the three towns that make up Cactus County are now to be called Cactus: the original settlement and administrative headquarters for the county; Evolution: where the mines of Cactus County are located and where many fossils have been found and also home of Carson’s Robot Factory; and Ataraxia: the location of Cactus County’s world renowned university, telescope and particle accelerator and named for the Epicurean state of tranquillity which according to Wikipedia is “synonymous with the only true happiness possible for a person. It signifies the state of robust tranquillity that derives from eschewing faith in an afterlife, not fearing the gods because they are distant and unconcerned with us, avoiding politics and vexatious people, surrounding oneself with trustworthy and affectionate friends and, most importantly, being an affectionate, virtuous person, worthy of trust”.
So, my recent voyage into the ancient world has born some philosophical fruit. And it makes a change from reading books about space. I have a long way to go in my reading about and understanding of the ancient world and still further to go in my personal philosophical journey through life. But having discovered this Epicurean philosophy I feel, I believe, I have found something that connects me more strongly not only to the world around me but also to the ancient world of the past, and there is much comfort and pleasure in that thought.

Suggested reading: “Natural History: A Selection” by Gaius Plinius Secundus, Pliny The Elder, translated by John F Healy.