May Day Letter

Dear Catriona

I awoke this morning thinking about you, as I’ve done on most May Day mornings since your departure on May Day thirteen years ago. Of course you’ve never really gone away, as I still think of you a dozen times every day, recalling our conversations and the times we shared. Your voice, your laughter and your presence are as familiar to me in imagination as ever they were in life, and though I wonder whether one day my recollections of you may start to slip their tethers, right now it feels as though you’ve only just left the room. So here I am again, writing to you to tell you how much I miss you still, holding on and bringing you back by dint of that trick of conjuring a greatly missed presence through the art of remembering and storytelling.

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We shared a love of storytelling, you and I. You had great skills for taking histories and weaving them into narratives, including the magnificent feat of reimagining my late father into your suite of poems, The Mare’s Tale. You and Trevor were such friends. Only a friend could have taken his recollections and forged them into something as moving as you crafted to accompany the drawings I made in an outpouring of grief for him. Peter often says that my grasp of facts can be somewhat interpretive, but it can’t be denied that I learned much from you, a master of the art of how to take chaos, to face it down, to order it and bend it into shape until it becomes something fine. And now I do the same, ordering the tangle of memories and loss, until the next time I get caught out and have to start the process all over again. I know now that while I breathe there will always be the imminence of chaos, and the repeated processes of gathering and curating memories into stories, ordering them and making sense. It’s a bit like tidying drawers that have become muddled with too much stuff rattling around!

Jack died a couple of months ago. Another thread broken. He was a young dog thirteen years ago when he lay across your legs while you were quietly dying in your bed, softly calling his name and curling your fingers into his coat for comfort. And just ten days ago, Pip Koppel, who gave Jacket-the-puppy to us, died too, at the home she shared with us for a year while we looked for a house here in west Wales.

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When my grieving for you was at its most raw, Peter and I were living with Pip. She often noticed and asked me what was wrong, though I could never explain because at the time I had no words for what I was feeling. So she took me into her pottery workshop and together we threw clay and made things, and sadness was pummelled and beaten and reshaped into vessels.

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With Pip gone, the list of those I miss grows longer. I keep making art. They hold those I’ve loved closer to my heart, these stories, paintings, drawings and reinventions. Chaos into order. Pain into creation. Darkness into light.

 

I miss you still. With all my love, Clive

 

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A day at Penparc Cottage

Artworks left at the cottage by artists Steffan Jones-Hughs and Jeanette Orrell, who stayed there last week. Steffan made the painting of the cottage viewed from the back garden, and Jeanette made two studies of plants.

The Cottage

Beautiful, soft sea-light on old plaster and tongue and groove.

Ceramics

Vintage charger painted by me in cold enamel.

Foliate head serving-dish that I made in the ceramic workshop of Pip Koppel.

Plate thrown by Pip Koppel and slip-decorated by me with a nautilus.

Jack-on-the-Beach

A happy day!

still-life from the archive

 

Above: still-life painted on Heinz Koppel’s easel in 2006. This is the same foliate-head jug I recently painted in Arenig.

I’ve been producing still-life intermittently almost from the beginning of my career as a painter. I have little flurries of activity when the genre completely absorbs me for a while, and then I stop until the next time. In the beginning it was a way to absorb biographical elements of my life… and of the lives of those close to me… into my painting. Later I began to paint still-life because I loved the formality, the arrangements of shapes almost always placed against a landscape. I find the process calms me. When we moved to Aberystwyth and stayed for a year with our friend Pip Koppel while we looked for a house, she and I worked in her pottery studio with clay, making earthenware for the kitchen of the house Peter and I would eventually purchase, Ty Isaf. Later Pip loaned me the studio of her late husband, Heinz Koppel, and for a few months at his easel I produced paintings of the earthenware I’d made in her workshop. I had to be really careful not to get any of my paint on the easel, which was tough because I am such a messy worker!

 

Today I’ve been trawling the archive for still-life images, and I’ve posted a good many of them on one of my Pinterest boards, HERE.

Clive and Pip

When we first came to Aberystwyth Peter and I lived for a year with our friend Pip Koppel. During that time I worked with Pip in her ceramic studio, and together we made a plethora of decorated tableware that would eventually come to serve in the kitchen at Ty Isaf. For the most part Pip threw at the wheel, and I worked with slip-trailers and brushes. Occasionally I’d coil a piece for myself, but for the most part we worked together. When I started to build salt-kits in the forms of owls and mermaids, candle-holders of stout ladies with their hands on their hips and lamps in the shapes of fish, Pip would throw the component parts on the wheel, and I’d then cut and assemble them into the shapes and figures I wanted. I’ve previously posted most of the earthenware we produced in this way, but today I came across a few pieces that somehow never got shown.

Foliate-head milk-jug

Mermaid candle-holder/salt-kit with spoon

Above and below: candle-holders

Coil-built, partially-glazed lamp with bird

Pip threw the jug. I added the handle, modelled the foliate-face and decorated the jug with slip

Terracotta candle-holder of a girl with separate chicken

There’s great pleasure to be had in making things used every day in the home.