Updated: Feb 15, 2021
Requiem in Blue
‘Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for though art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou doest overthrow
Die not . . .’
This painting finished at the very end of 2020 could not be scanned until February 2021, because the Gallery where scanning and printing happens had to be closed. It is very blue, my mum cannot accept how blue it is, but the blue was deliberate. I wanted the stones and rocks to mirror the sky which was very blue on the day my mum, Andy and I walked from Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle. The artist in me wanted the symmetry of sly and stone, a little as you would get in water so that is what I did. In many ways it is a very simple painting, paired back not heavy with paint quite simple almost a design rather than a landscape.
From its conception I was searching for something, I knew what I wanted to say. I wanted to say ‘Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ (Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelly) I wanted to say "This also has been one of the dark places of the earth," . . . "Many men must have died here. The conquest of the earth is not a pretty thing. All that redeems it is the idea." (Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness). That was definitely what I wanted to say. Look at the raw nature, look at the force of history, at the power of the past stamped in these mighty stones but they are crumbling, their power now is of memory of beauty. But they were never part of a fairy story, they were part of a fight for power, between Catholic and Protestant, between North and South, between England and Scotland. Men fought in this land and lost their lives. The power of these stones now, is in an idea of the beauty and force of nature that Northumberland represents today.
It was conceived in the midst of a season given to me by God, that focused on the passage from Jeremiah 6:16 ‘Stand at the crossroads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies, and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.’ I am probably still living in that. Struggling to understand where those ancient pathways are. Recently someone sent me some thoughts on this reading that I found very helpful. It said think of the crossroads as choices, the ancient path is Gods way, older than anything we can imagine as old as creation. The choices at this crossroads is between the path of His way and the path of the world. Therefore I have been in a season of searching for creativity, the creativity that drove creation; I have been in a season of searching for love, the love that sought a nation; I have been in a season of searching for forgiveness, the forgiveness that both gives redemption and hopes forgiveness can be passed on as a continuing restorative force.
As I painted this the season of the country, and indeed the world, was a time of change, of fear and for many, of despair. But I was sat in my attic painting, not feeling touched by the pandemic. Now the painting has finally be scanned and I can release it; I have still not been touched directly, but have watched too many friends lose their parents and now feel the mourning echo of our time.
The canvas I had chosen for this painting had a real depth to its frame and I decided to write something round the edge of it. After searching I found a poem by Kieth Armstrong that seemed to sum up so much of what I wanted to say about Northumberland so I chose stanza one and three and the first and second refrains to edge the painting. And I thought that was it, story told. But it was not quite done. As we took the canvas to the Gallery to have it scanned my mum said, ‘it’s very blue isn’t it.’ The words ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ came into my head but neither the word Rhapsody or the melody and mood of that work was appropriate to what I was saying, but what was appropriate was the word Requiem, a song for all those killed fighting over the borderlands between Scotland and England, fighting over the power of religion that has so little to do with faith. And, also for those who have lost their lives fighting against the wild power of nature seen in the form of a virus. We think we are so powerful, rather like Ozymandias, we have begun to feel that we have less to fear from such things as disease, but we have been reminded of our frailty. Some of the tumbling castles found In the North East of England also echo this mortality. Our works will not stand, our bodies blow and turn to dust, but is that it? I don’t want to end in despair I always err on the side of hope, and John Donne’s sonnet Death: be not proud came to me as the perfect subheading for this painting.
Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud
BY JOHN DONNE
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
I know I have written this as an artist working in the North East of England, I write it as a woman and most importantly as a Christian. Wherever we live we can be creative, it is deep within us put there by the great creator himself. We can be reflective on our land because that too is valuable to the one who created it. We can act as a signpost to those around us who might be overwhelmed by the world and need to find their way back to the ancient paths. We can not all do this in the same way, for some of us it through intellect and words, for some its through image, others music, other nature, but inside us all is a calling to find the place of peace of wholeness of Shalom. For me its placing colour and line on a canvas, its listening to literature that holds that echo of creation, of love, of forgiveness and redemption, it the awe of nature displaying the father’s heart. However you find it I encourage you to seek the ancient ways and find your rest.