Tuesday, July 31, 2007
'The night had brought little relief from the heat, and at dawn a hot gust of wind blows across the colourless sea. The KNIGHT, Antonius Block, lies prostrate on some spruce branches spread over the fine sand....' So begins The Seventh Seal...
In his little BFI Film Classics book about the film Melvyn Bragg says how the opening of the film resembles a play. But in a theatre we would not see the landscape, and it is the setting of this scene that seems to me crucial. The screenplay describes the knight opening his eyes after a morning prayer: he 'stares directly into the morning sun which wallows up from the misty sea like some bloated, dying fish. The sky is grey and immobile, a dome of lead. A cloud hangs mute over the western horizon. High up, barely visible, a seagull floats on motionless wings. Its cry is weird and restless.' It is at this point that the knight turns round and sees Death.
Rugged coasts and islands are perhaps the most archetypal Bergman landscape. In addition to his use of Hovs Hallar in Skåne for The Seventh Seal, I think primarily of the way he used the Stockholm Archipelago in Summer with Monika and his repeated use of the island of Fårö, which first appeared in Through a Glass Darkly. Fårö is, according to, Geoffrey Macnab, a "a remote, windswept place with a landscape that appears flat and barren. There are countless pine trees, fields with ancient stone walls, a succession of sand and shingle beaches, and more sheep than humans." It was on Fårö that Bergman lived until the sad news of his death was announced yesterday.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
‘You must visualize the earlier part of the book at any rate, as a series of views of this island rendered by oil, water-colour or engraving. Cunningham’s conventional landscapes have been well described by Mr. Grigson in The Romantics as ‘like a cast oil on a dining-room wall in an eighteenth-century mansion – the kind that goes with the house because it is too big for the auctioneer to sell’. The wooden passage from Dodsley is like an inn signboard : Bampfylde is a Morland : Goldsmith is some not very good picture, but so famous that it could not be omitted : Crabbe has the freshness of a Cotman water-colour : many of the lesser-known writers round the turn of the [19th] century are like the copper-engravings or Bewick cuts which, no doubt, adorned some of their works...’
...Whilst Salisb'ry stands the Test of every Light,
In perfect Charms, and perfect Virtue bright:
When Odours, which declin'd repelling Day,
Thro' temp'rate Air uninterrupted stray;
When darken'd Groves their softest Shadows wear,
And falling Waters we distinctly hear;
When thro' the Gloom more venerable shows
Some ancient Fabrick, awful in Repose,
While Sunburnt Hills their swarthy Looks conceal,
And swelling Haycocks thicken up the Vale...
‘A Nocturnal Reverie’ is printed next to a John Piper sketch of Pistyll Cain in North Wales – his illustrations are not linked to specific poems: the one below shows the Approach to Gordale Scar.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Rover Thomas’s Landscapes at Kalumpiwarra, Yalmanta and Ngulalintji (1984), in the National Gallery at Canberra, commemorates an old woman killed by a car accident at Turkey Creek airstrip. It shows, according to Howard Morphy in his book Aboriginal Art, a place on the woman’s spirit journey with identifiable locations: Blackfellow Creek, the rock at Ngarkalin, grass at Yalmanta, a wooded area, Ashburton Hill, Bow River. ‘Although Thomas’s landscapes echo some contemporary Euro-American paintings in style, they come directly out of the art of the Kimberleys... the underlying theme is the spiritual value of the land and the connections between places.’
I couldn’t see Landscapes at Kalumpiwarra, Yalmanta and Ngulalintji on-line but here are some links to other Rover Thomas paintings: Yari Country (1989), Cyclone Tracy (1991), Paruku (Lake Gregory) (1991), Kankamkankami, (1998). And there’s a Rover Thomas painting, All that big rain coming from top side, on Les Murray’s site accompanying Murray’s poem ‘Two Rains’. This work was bought by the Australian National Gallery in 2001 with the record sum for an indigenous Australian painting: $778,750.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Monday, July 16, 2007
- There is a review of Alan Berger’s new book, Drosscape. In this book ‘Berger classifies drosscape sites into landscapes of dwelling (LODs – voids of land in housing developments), landscapes of transition (LOTs – temporary storage facilities), landscapes of infrastructure (LINs – transportation rights of way), landscapes of obsolescence (LOOs – junkyards and landfills), landscapes of exchange (LEXs – abandoned malls) and landscapes of contamination (LOCOs – military bases and other brown fields).’ There are various other reviews on-line, e.g. at Terrain.org.
- A review of a new Mike Marshall exhibition mentions an interesting new work. ‘In Spoil (2007) Marshall retouched a black and white image of a mountain of debris in a way that both restored original colour to the monochrome image and mimicked, in deliberately debased form, a landscape painting of the Sublime. It’s Caspar David Friedrich crossed with Peter Fischli & David Weiss: by turns meditating on the transcendent qualities of art’s capacity to represent nature, expressing shyness towards art as representation and a love, instead, for the beauties of the commonplace. There are things that are consistently wonderful – flowers, the sun breaking through clouds, the roll of thunder – yet which lose all their power in mediation. Marshall considers how to tackle this problem.’
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Monday, July 09, 2007
'Coming back to St. Louis this evening, at sundown, and for over an hour afterward, we follow’d the Mississippi, close by its western bank, giving me an ampler view of the river, and with effects a little different from any yet. In the eastern sky hung the planet Mars, just up, and of a very clear and vivid yellow. It was a soothing and pensive hour—the spread of the river off there in the half-light—the glints of the down-bound steamboats plodding along—and that yellow orb (apparently twice as large and significant as usual) above the Illinois shore. (All along, these nights, nothing can exceed the calm, fierce, golden, glistening domination of Mars over all the stars in the sky.)
As we came nearer St. Louis, the night having well set in, I saw some (to me) novel effects in the zinc smelting establishments, the tall chimneys belching flames at the top, while inside through the openings at the facades of the great tanks burst forth (in regular position) hundreds of fierce tufts of a peculiar blue (or green) flame, of a purity and intensity, like electric lights—illuminating not only the great buildings themselves, but far and near outside, like hues of the aurora borealis, only more vivid...'
Saturday, July 07, 2007
As you can see, I have borrowed a copy of The Poet's Eye (1944), Geoffrey Grigson's anthology which I mentioned a few weeks ago. Of course it is John Craxton's lithographs that strike the reader immediately, ranging from small black and white images of shells, stones and trees to full page landscapes in colour, like the illustration below. But the writings themselves are also fascinating, bringing together 'visionary' poems and prose and covering 'generalised vision, descriptive vision cut from its application, vision conceived simply for its own sake, and vision of the intense kind...’ It is full of surprising choices, from its opening version of Rabelais’ ‘Inscription Above the Entrance to the Abbey of Theleme’ by Sir Thomas Urquhart, to the short extract from Moby Dick which closes the book. In between there are many landscape poems and descriptions. The writers who feature most often are William Barnes, John Clare, George Crabbe, R.W. Dixon, John Dryden, Coventry Patmore and Walt Whitman. It is an eclectic and very individual selection, although clearly in sympathy with the period’s Neo-Romantic sensibilities: poems and prose by both William Blake and Samuel Palmer are included.
Of course it’s quite impossible to convey the pleasures of such an anthology with just one example, but I’ll try anyway. At one point there is a little cluster of George Crabbe ‘visions’, starting with part of his poem, ‘The Ancient Mansion’. Then, after an extract from William Barnes, Grigson moves to some more of Crabbe’s verse, a description of ‘Sandy Flora’ taken from ‘The Village’ (1783) which I’ve reproduced below. And then he moves immediately to a third piece, prose this time, headed ‘Seaside Fen’ and apparently a footnote to ‘The Lover’s Journey’ (from Crabbe’s Tales). There are various other Crabbe selections dotted through the book (I like, for example, ‘Moonlight and Jelly-Fish or Sea Nettles’, which describes them: ‘Soft brilliant, tender, through the Wave they glow, / And make the Moon-beam brighter where they flow...’) Grigson says in the introduction that ‘all the truest and deepest poets, if they do not always remain there, go, at least, through a stage of vision in the very straightforwardness of the word: they have good eyes.’ George Crabbe, it is safe to say, never lost his ‘good eyes’.
Lo! where the heath, with withering brake grown o'er,
Lends the light turf that warms the neighbouring poor;
From thence a length of burning sand appears,
Where the thin harvest waves its wither'd ears;
Rank weeds, that every art and care defy,
Reign o'er the land, and rob the blighted rye.
There thistles stretch their prickly arms afar,
And to the ragged infant threaten war;
There poppies nodding, mock the hope of toil,
There the blue bugloss paints the sterile soil;
Hardy and high, above the slender sheaf,
The slimy mallow waves her silky leaf;
O'er the young shoot the charlock throws a shade,
And clasping tares cling round the sickly blade.
With mingled tints the rocky coasts abound,
And a sad splendour vainly shines around.
Friday, July 06, 2007
In general terms it could be said that Cooper’s photographs forestall a rapid perception of landscape so as to embroil the viewer in more complex processes of thought and feeling. In his 1992 essay, ‘Poetry and the Space Beyond’, Thomas A. Clark discusses the way a Thomas Joshua Cooper photograph operates in three stages. First we admire its scale and intensity, the 'deep blacks and velvety whites' of its surface. Secondly we penetrate to the place itself - not some famous site, just an assemblage of trees, foliage, water. Finally the viewer starts to feel the spirit of the place, which ‘will always be alien, unhuman, beyond our preconceptions.’ In this way Clark looks at the photograph ‘San José Canyon: A Quality of Dancing’ and sees not just morning light on a hillside, but an evocation of first light and first things, ‘a world cleansed of history’.