Tag Archives: Andrew Mackenzie

Buson 2016 : Jedburgh

Snowclad_houses_in_the_nightI’m running several events this year under the heading ‘Buson 2016’, celebrating the birth 300 years ago of the great Japanese painter and haiku master Yosa Buson (1716–1783).

This week Andrew Mackenzie and I visited Jedburgh Grammar School, where we worked with S5 and S6 pupils. Andrew and I collaborated on Into Ettrick a couple of years ago, but this is the first time we’ve worked together with a school group. The idea was to create a piece which integrated image and text, as Buson did in many of his works.

We sketched and took notes at two spots by the Jed Water, near the Abbey Bridge opposite the abbey, and by the Canongate Bridge. Andrew showed them how to sketch with pencil and charcoal, while I encouraged them to be attentive to what has happening as we were there, using Norman MacCaig’s poem ‘Notations of Ten Summer Minutes’ as a model.

Back in school I guided the pupils into writing haiku based on their notes – snapshots capturing when, where and what happened – while Andrew led them in working with watercolour and pen-and-ink to develop sketches made earlier. Then we put the two together – some of the results are below.

David Blake, PT English who organised the school’s side of the session, commented:

Blank space! If there is one thing which I will always remember from the Yosa Buson workshop which I took part in, along with 35 Higher and Advanced Higher English pupils, it is the importance of blank space. As both artist and poet Buson would have instinctively understood the relationship between the visual and the written – something that we often forget.

Our day began somewhat greyer than I had hoped and the pupils’ initial enthusiasm reflected that sombre sky but as the first part of the day proceeded they quickly began to respond to what they saw in both visual and written mediums. Pupils who claimed that they could not draw were working hard to create images of what they saw, within minutes of being given a writing task they were enthusiastically coming up with ideas that I would struggle to draw out of them in the classroom. By the afternoon, armed with the sketchbooks in which we had drawn what we had seen and written down our thoughts, we were ready to embark on the production of ink illustrations and haiku poems. The quality of some of the work that the pupils produced was well beyond their expectations and despite their many claims that their work was rubbish you could see they were secretly pleased with how well their paintings and poems had turned out; one or two even confided that they had gone home that night and made further use of their sketchbooks!

This was one of the most enjoyable workshops that I have experienced in my teaching career and one which I believe that, as well as the wonderful creative experience of producing the visual art, the pupils got a lot out of in terms of their understanding of how to write effectively: in writing, as in art, it is as much about what you leave out as that which you put in – blank space.

With thanks to Jedburgh Grammar School, and to the GB Sasakawa Foundation for funding the work.

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Curved Stream at Traquair House

Curved Stream

Curved Stream is an exhibition by seven artists and one writer (myself) at Traquair House, near Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders. Each of the artists has a work in one of the garden pavilions to the rear of the house, and a related work in the main house and / or in the gardens and grounds.

Pavilion painting D&A

One of the pavilions has, as its centre-piece, an anonymous ceiling-painting depicting an episode in the story of Diana and Actaeon (told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses), just before the transformation of Actaeon into a stag. The survival, intact, of this beautiful artefact, embedded in the fabric of the building, exemplifies many of the special qualities of the site as a whole.

The work I’ve made is called DEA SILVARUM (Goddess of the Woods), as Ovid describes Diana, and is a walk with poems on the theme of hunting in the gardens and grounds of Traquair House. The poems include Ted Hughes’ version of Ovid, plus works by Robert Burns, Edna St Vincent Millay and the great Anon, among others. I led a first walk at the exhibition opening on 5 September, and will lead a second on Saturday 10 October at 2.30pm.

In the pavilion is a printed sheet listing the poems I selected for the walk, typeset by Barrie Tullett, with handwritten annotations featuring extracts from and reflections on the poems, as well as notes as to where I’d planned to read them. The sheet is in a drawer, so you have to open it to read the text – the idea for that was taken from a Victorian Game Book which was (but is not longer) on display in the house, in a glass below a window with a sheet of dark fabric draped over it to protect it from the light. I liked that ‘reveal’, and it seemed to echo the events in Actaeon’s story as well, so the text is hidden in the drawer, until its own ‘reveal’.

If you don’t know the story: Actaeon has been hunting deer with his friends in the woods. After a successful, bloody morning, they pause; Actaeon wanders off alone and stumbles upon a cavern where the goddess Diana, is bathing. Angry that he has seen her naked, she turns him into a stag, and he is hunted down and killed by his own dogs.)

The artists involved are Gordon Brennan, Mark Haddon, Jane Hyslop, Paul Keir, Deirdre Macleod, Andrew Mackenzie and Mary Morrison. There is more information about the exhibition and their work at the Curved Stream website and Facebook page.

Ettrick Valley

I visited the Ettrick Valley with painter Andrew MacKenzie on Easter Monday, April 21 – a field-trip of sorts, as Andrew and I have been talking about a collaboration, and this is a first step.

We drove along the B7009 which runs alongside (more or less) Ettrick Water, through Ettrickbridge, then turned off at Wardlaw / Hopehouse. Leaving the car we follow a path above the river, which snakes between the spruce woods on the hillside and the ‘Ettrick Marshes’ next to the river, as far as a (slightly dilapidated) bird-hide. From there, in the shadow of the spruce-wood, we look down over the pale sunlit marshland and over to the pale spring hillsides opposite.

Back in the car, we stop at the Hogg Memorial, or ‘Monument on Birthplace of James Hogg’, as the OS has it, with its image of Hogg in profile surmounting four well-horned sheep-heads. There’s a dog barking either side: it must be those sheep… While there’s no line from Hogg on the memorial, behind it runs a semi-circular stone bench, where visitors can read lines of their own choosing; perhaps these from The Queen’s Wake, said to be a self-portrait:

The Bard on Ettrick’s mountains green
In Nature’s bosom nursed had been,
And oft had marked in forest lone
Her beauties on her mountain throne;
Had seen her deck the wild-wood tree,
And star with snowy gems the lea;
In loveliest colours paint the plain.
And sow the moor with purple grain;
By golden mead and mountain sheer,
Had viewed the Ettrick waving clear,
Where shadowy flocks of purest snow
Seemed grazing in a world below.

Further on, the road’s mainly used for taking timber from the surrounding hillsides. We park at a locked gate, and walk towards the last house, Potburn, where the Borders historian Walter Elliot grew up, and where the painter William Johnstone lived in the 1960s. It’s been empty for some years now, and while the roof is more or less intact, it is gradually decaying, especially the outhouses.

We continue along the track past a caravan, presumably the residence of a forestry worker – perhaps the one who just passed us on a quad-bike – and make for Over Phawhope Bothy. Andrew made a wall-drawing here a year or two ago, which is still intact, though with a few additions, which he doesn’t seem to mind.

Our last stop is at Ettrick Kirk, where Hogg is buried. It’s an neat little church, the wooden pews inside admitting no disorder; outside I enjoy the combination of spring sunshine and still leafless trees. The graveyard is dominated by the remarkably well-maintained monument of Thomas Boston (1676–1732), an uncompromising but popular minister from the Covenanting tradition. Hogg’s stone is more modest, but has been cleared of the springy green moss spreading over its neighbours.