Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Midsummer Meeting

Tuesday 24th June. Special Midsummer Meeting. Members' Art Display: 'Art on the Wildside'.

Much talent, enthusiasm and imagination was in evidence in the eleven contributions made to this meeting, making for a truly special evening in which conversation and inspiration flourished amongst the nineteen members of the society who came. To begin with, we were faced with the problem of how to re-arrange the seating and distribution of tables and display screens around the Elwin Room so as to accommodate the art works as they were brought in, and allow people comfortably to view and flow around them. Solving this problem proved to be quite a work of improvisational art in itself, but eventually a layout emerged, which seemed to work well. Let me take you on a ‘guided meander’ from north to south around the room as I recollect each exhibit in turn.
To start with something truly remarkable, the five meticulously detailed natural history record books compiled by Ron Watts from 1984-1998 –  complete with moving personal notes, photographs, paintings and drawings, and recently donated to the Society by his daughter-in-law – were a source of great interest. Ron was born in Bath in 1923 and died in 2011. His father and uncle owned and ran the dairy on Camden Crescent, which was later changed into Claremont Post Office. After serving in the Royal Navy in WW2, he joined his father at the post office where he later took over as sub-postmaster, eventually retiring in 1983. Ron and his wife loved to go walking, where he made notes and photographed what he saw – especially in the area of Charlcombe – and on his return home would always type up a report before doing anything else. I intend to display his books at future Bath Nats indoor meetings and am planning a field meeting in Charlcombe next March, to follow some of his footsteps.
Nearby, on a screen next to the window, Caroline Frances-King presented a small portfolio of paintings on the theme ‘The Discipline of Botanical Art’ focussing on a display that recently won a Silver Gilt medal at the Royal Horticultural Society Botanical Art Show in London. These extraordinarily carefully observed paintings showed the wonderful detail and patterns that are present in a leaf, a withering Magnolia fruit or a piece of birch bark, which are revealed when we take pause to examine them closely.
On adjacent tables,  Andrew Daw’s skilful, meticulously observed watercolour, gouache and pen and ink paintings and drawing of ‘zoological still life’ (respectively of purple hairstreak, large skipper, small copper and small tortoiseshell butterflies and kestrel) were a fine accompaniment, while displays of work by Bill Bristow and Sue Coles explored photographic and verbal  art forms. Bill’s three photographs, entitled ‘Theme, Variation’, juxtaposed images of male silver-washed fritillary, comma and valezina silver-washed fritillary butterflies on hemp agrimony. Sue’s poem, ‘My Old Friend’, celebrated and related her love of memories evoked in the language of books to her appreciation of patterns recalled in the natural history of living form: it contained the salient line, ‘opening a book as if it was a bird’s wing’. 
Moving across to the west-side of the room, opposite the windows, another screen provided the backcloth for a wonderful montage of photographs of ‘birds and water’ presented by Rod Thomas.  In front of this stood a very tactile carving in cherry wood of a redshank, with bright red-painted bill and legs.  As I fingered this, I could sense all the sweat, tears and indeed blood that must have gone into its making from such hard wood.
Nearby, on a diagonally aligned table, Paul Wilkins displayed a superb array of his close-up photographs and prints from lino-cuts and wood-etchings that demonstrate not only his passion for and eclectic knowledge of natural history, but also his mastery of diverse media. His portrayal of house sparrows, which he preferred to call ‘spadgers’, was simply breath-taking, although he himself seemed modestly ambivalent about how good it really is. It was great too to see and feel his original very fine-detailed etchings in box wood from which he made his prints.
Progressing from there towards the window, Kate Souter showed her striking, carefully mounted and labelled photographic prints illustrating the dynamic and varied geometry of living form and habitat and how this provides places for resting, nesting and thriving – as well as a source of human inspiration.
This dynamic theme was taken up by Phillip Delve’s captivating arrays of ‘sketches from birding notes’, mounted on hardboard screens set against the windows. Phillip’s skill in rapidly and accurately depicting the essence or ‘jizz’ of a moving subject was greatly appreciated by all of us. We were also fascinated to be shown the story of how Bath Nats logo came into being, through several stages of evolution, in large part based on drawings made by Phillip and Andrew Daw.
The meander comes to its conclusion on a table and set of chairs at the south end of the room, where Marion and Alan Rayner set out their contributions. Marion showed diverse images of flora, fauna and habitat that she had produced using ink and watercolour, pastel , oil pastel and paper-cutting techniques. Several of us remarked on how, rather like Phillip, but in a very different way, she was able to convey the ‘essence’ of her subject using these techniques, simply but effectively.  My own contribution was a set of five colourful oil paintings on board or canvas, from a recent, small exhibition entitled ‘I-opening’ in Bathford Community Shop.  They express how my own imagination and receptive self-awareness are awakened by my knowledge of and feeling for the natural world. 

Alan Rayner

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