David Abbott

Landscaping II

Collecting together more thoughts and finds on landscape and painting.

From Unquiet Landscape by Christopher Neve:

  • Painting is a process of finding out, and landscape can be its thesis.
  • ...all [Paul Nash's] life he had to look for places and objects which carried for him a particular charge. Life looks like a painting but has the attributes of music and writing.
  • ... the world bears down equally on everything and everyone, that the most everyday landscape and the most predictable tree or hill or patch of sky are in some mysterious way grand and tragic and amusing and entirely worthy of celebration.
  • There is a sense in which places, accurately observed at the time, seem to have been remembered. You say to yourself: I see this place now as I shall remember it in future. But there is also the quite distinct feeling that we are permanently screened off from things by the limitations of our perceptions and that we shall only know them as memories.
  • The past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later; and this we don't have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.
  • Does an artist bring his idea to an unfamiliar landscape, or does the place itself generate the idea?A picture is between a thought and a thing.
  • How often the process of painting or writing is like this, the perilous business of making statements, revising them, overlaying them, referring back on the spur of the moment to what remains of them, trying them again in various relations to what survives of other altered parts, all the time reacting intuitively and in suspense as the work evolves towards some half-imagined accident-prone whole which may well be quite other than the one you had originally part-envisaged. How infinitely much harder this is if the purpose of the picture is the ill-defined and elusive idea of the subject rather than the subject itself, an idea which seems to dodge the marks on the page and move always backwards, in parenthesis.
  • Nothing could dislodge the fact that for him those trees were not just trees but perfect signs. They stood for all that confluence of meanings which is everywhere in the landscape, especially when it is remembered rather than seen.
  • One of the ways in which we really learn to recognise ourselves is by our constraints.
  • I believe that, like many artists, [Winifred Nicholson] had a strong feeling that both painting and looking were essentially religious activities and that art is the natural ally of religion.
  • "I don't see the point of it really. Painting to me is a habit, like everything else. I just go on until the picture balances." L.S. Lowry
  • [Lowry] could sit on a slope overlooking Lake Windermere and still paint Salford.
  • To see the countryside transfigured by the individual psyche is a crucial function of the landscape painter. Landscape by itself is meaningless, but it works on our feelings in profound ways, arousing in us a sense of ourselves in relation to the outside world. What does it feel like to stare up at the night sky or to confront a mountain? A picture which mimics the appearance of natural phenomena will miss the point, not just of their essential nature but of ours too. Instead, some equivalent. has to be found: an equivalent of the way in which they act on our sensibilities.
  • As Proust said, reality lies not in the appearance of the subject but in the extent to which it leaves an impression on the artist.
  • The picture is its own country. A state of mind becomes a place.
  • Get underway and then analyse and develop.
  • The land will entrance us and in the end bury us, with impartiality. If it seems to have great beauty, that is because of what we are, not because of what it is.

From The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd:

  • Knowledge does not dispel mystery.
  • ...just seeing, not bedevilled with thought, but living in the clear simplicity of the senses.
  • ...our habitual vision of things is no necessarily right: it is only one of an infinite number, and to glimpse an unfamiliar one even for a moment, unmakes us, but steadies us again.
  • How can I number the worlds to which the eye gives me entry? – the world of light, of colour, of shape, of shadow: of mathematical precision in the snowflake, the ice formation, the quartz crystal, the patterns of stamen and petal.
  • Simply to look on anything, such as a mountain, with the love that penetrates to its essence, is to widen the domain of being in the vastness of non-being.

From Spirit of Place by Susan Owens:

  • Artists and writers do not just describe our landscape, they make it too.
  • These may have been landscapes of the imagination, but they were distilled from the data of a lifetime's looking.
  • Cowper's local countryside may not have been breathtaking, but he knew it intimately, in its small details and all its moods and seasons. 'Scenes must be beautiful', he concludes, 'which daily view'd, / Please daily, and whose novelty survives / Long knowledge and the scrutiny of years?'
  • These were the landscapes of [Constable's] soul, repositories of memory and emotion. When he confided to a friend that, as far as he was concerned, painting was 'but another word for feeling', he was privately acknowledging the spiritual and emotional value of landscape.
  • Back in 1798, Wordsworth had reflected on the way in which certain landscapes enter the bloodstream and play on the mind even when one is far away.
  • Old traditions, old stories, old customs, the ancient heart of the country itself...
  • ... the countless human stories absorbed by the land
  • [Nash] "has no interest in past as past, but the accumulated intenseness of the past as present is his special concern and joy.

From The Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit:

  • There is no distance in childhood: for a baby, a mother in the other room is gone forever, for a child the time until a birthday is endless. Whatever is absent is impossible, irretrievable, unreachable. Their mental landscape is like that of medieval paintings: a foreground full of vivid things and then a wall. The blue of distance comes with time, with the discovery of melancholy, of loss, the texture of longing, of the complexity of the terrain we traverse, and with the years of travel.
  • Perhaps it's that you can't go back in time, but you can return to the scenes of a love, of a crime, of happiness, and of a fatal decision; the places are what remain, are what you can possess, are what is immortal. They become the tangible landscape of memory, the places that made you, and in some way you too become them. They are what you can possess and what in the end possesses you.
  • I have come to long not to see new places but to return and know the old ones more deeply, to see them again.
  • No representation is complete. Borges has a less-well-known story in which a poet so perfectly describes the emperor's vast and and intricate palace that the emperor becomes enraged and regards him as a thief. In another version the palace disappears when the poem replaces it.

From The House on the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier.

I read The House on the Strand a few years ago and have recently realised that its impact on me has been greater than I first realised. Certainly that the fascination it held then has become more accutely resonant given the work I am currently making. The simple premise is of a drug that makes time travel within one's own world possible, in the same phsyical location but experiencing the events of the long hitherto. Two worlds seamlessly merged.

  • ...a transformation of another kind: a tranquil sense of well-being, the blurred intoxication of a dream, with everything about me misty, ill-defined.
  • ... some quality of magic that I had not sensed before... in this new world of perception and delight there was nothing but intensity of feeling to serve as guide. I might have stood for ever, entranced, content to hover between earth and sky, remote from any life I knew of cared to know.
  • I looked upon it now with different eyes.
  • "There was no fantasy about the world I entered," he said, "it was very real indeed."
    "What sort of world?" I asked
    "The past," he answered.
  • There had been no perceptible transition. I had passed from one world to the othe instantaneously.
  • Could time be all-dimensional – yesterday, today, tomorrow running concurrently in ceaseless repetition?
  • I was a ghost in time.

November 10, 2022

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