RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Letters and Layers

There can be few, if anyone alive who faught in the horror of those fields in Flanders during the First World War and the family threads which tie myself, like so many others to that generation grow ever weaker as each year passes.

Over the last four years we have seen many services, exhibitions and publications in commemoration of the 1914-1918 Great War and they may well be the last of any major significance.   And commemorate is all we can now do, first hand experiences have exhausted their testimony as the final battalion of veterans have joined their brothers in arms.  And yet the war has influenced, however indirectly, each and every one of us and the world in which we now live.

It’s effects resonate and rumble on, the bass tone which echoes around the world of which we are barely aware, as the sountracks of each generation since have been laid down and mixed atop.  They can no longer be separated, as fresh paint meets rust, it peels and flakes, old with new.

For many family life and history was forever changed as layers of desperate, heartbreaking pain and fear forced their way into the very DNA of homes across the land,  plastering them with an unwanted, enveloping layer of ‘wallpaper’, whole families captive within the confines of this compound.  The rumble of the guns have ceased but the fallout has echoed down the generations, defying the latest paint and fashions, etched into every nook and cranny.  Precious letters so carefully tucked away,  come to light as homes are cleared and another generation takes up the mantle.  Faded photographs of life before and life after – ghostly abscences, once there were four now just three.  Scratch beneath the layers a little and there you will reveal the evidence, the reason for enigmas and  secrets and sadness.

There you will find answers to why things are the way they are.

 

Top:  ‘Madame Brugiere’

Above: ‘Un Petit Mot’

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The Red Hat

 

Sometimes I’m asked about the stories behind my paintings.  More often than not they’re personal to me and I prefer to leave the viewer to connect (or not) in their own way so that the image becomes meaningful to them.  However, this year I have been working on a collection inspired  by the World Wars in particular the First, the end of which in 1918 left a trail of fragmented families and shattered lives.

I’m not even sure that ‘inspired’ is the right word – how can you be inspired by such carnage, such ‘….guttering, choking, drowning ….’ as Wilfred Owen wrote?  I think it would be more correct to say I’m awed by the people who were there and those who were left behind, by their ability to ‘carry on’ in the face of extreme adversity.  It’s this ability of a human spirit to navigate the unknown, the uncertainty, the highs and the awful lows which speaks to me.  During those long endured years the highs were to be snatched and savoured, wherever and whenever possible, moments and memories created eagerly, providing new escape routes for an anxious mind.  Like buying a new hat.

A year ago I attended a talk by Magnum social photographer David Hurn.  Now in his eighties he was both fascinating and entertaining, not just for his wonderful images but for his personal and insightful stories.  He’d never considered becoming a photographer until one day he picked up a copy of ‘Picture Post’ and saw a photograph which changed the whole course of his life.  The image was of a Russian Army Officer buying his wife a hat in a Moscow department store.  It moved him to tears as it reminded him of how his own father, home on leave from the Second World War, had taken his mother to buy a hat.  In that moment he realised the power an image can have on it’s viewer and he was hooked.

This story only came into my mind as I was in the final stages of painting ‘The Red Hat’.  The woman wearing it is my maternal grandmother ‘nana’ – her husband I never knew even though I carry his genes.  As a career naval man he survived the First World War and despite being in his mid fifties was called up for the Second, which he did not.  I don’t know what to call him – grandfather or grandad implies a familiarity which we never enjoyed.  I’d never seen a photograph of him until last year and it was a powerful moment, to witness for the first time someone who I recognised despite never having met. It moved me to tears too.

This series of paintings called ‘Futility’ – a reference to Wilfred Owen’s poem of this name –  is my way of acknowledging his existence and contribution, of weaving some kind of relationship between grandparent and grandchild.  So the paintings are full of stories, not just mine but other people’s.  As for the hat, I don’t know whether it was red or not so I indulged in a little artistic licence!

‘The Red Hat’

Rebecca Pells Fine Art

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Letter writing by hand is a lost art.

In an age of digital swiping, likes and emoji’s, putting pen to paper is considered so last century!  But I miss it – both the writing and especially the receiving.

There is something visceral about a hand written letter;  it requires the will to make the effort to sit and be still for a few minutes or more, to concentrate and compose, unaided by ‘Alexa’ or auto-correction.  It’s an ongoing conversation, into which we can ease ourselves,  share more of our feelings than we may be willing to risk face to face.  It’s the passing of a moment from the sender to the recipient, bearing not only a postmark but the hallmarks of our personality, our quirks and flaws scribed in ink.

During the First and Second World Wars letters were emotional lifelines, the only means of communication between family and friends.  They were precious, longed for and savoured, read and re-read, kissed and cried over.  The physical nature of the letter was as important as the words it conveyed, a small but tactile presence which was able to transcend the dividing miles, transporting the author into the private domain of the recipient.  Letters which were so precious they were often kept for years, the faded handwriting belying the central role they played in so many lives.

In today’s instant society where even greeting cards are sent digitally is there still a place for a hand written letter ?  We are once again embracing the audible richness and variety of vinyl and the depth and perception of photographic film both of which transcend the sterile perfection of digital.  I would love to think that for personal messages at least letter writing can enjoy a similar revival.

 

‘Letter Home’ mixed media original painting available from Rebecca Pells Fine Art

Layers

We live our life in layers. From the moment we are born until the day we die. Laid down with each and every turn of life, hiding and protecting from hurt and disappointment.

 

Winter arrives to cleanse the soul, to leaf through those layers in it’s own healing retreat.  Examine, observe, discard and put down the weights which held you back, inhibited, restrained, sapping your energy at every turn. Be tender as you discard and firm as you break the habitual patterns which no longer serve to enrich.  Wrap gently the folds of experience and wisdom the clothes of life to be carried with you on your onward journey.

 

Freeze out the remnants of a year lived, laying down the warp and weft of hope and expectation anew. Hide not your beauty but take the risk and allow the layers to melt away.  Search the depths, peel back the weather beaten layers one by one to uncover the long buried essence of your soul, exposed, vulnerable but revealed in all it’s unencumbered beauty.

‘Iced Rose’ Rebecca Pells Fine Art

PLATOON of POPPIES

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.”

On the 11th day of the 11th month 1918 Wilfred’s mother received news that her son had not survived.
He lost his life just six days before the armistice.
 
 
Platoon of Poppies‘ by Rebecca Pells Fine Art

Conscious Incompetence

Uncomfortable, frustrating, deflating and dispiriting all rolled into one.  This is the state of conscious incompetence.  And I am right bang in the middle of it.

The pleasure of learning a new skill has been replaced by the cold reality of daylight.  The thrill of finding I could produce a painting which was ‘presentable’ has, three years on, been sharply highlighted by a gaping lack of experience.  The short-term affirmation of social media approval and modest sales has been replaced by a cringing reluctance to stick my head above the public parapet.

There is so very much to learn, so much work to do, as a musician applies herself to scales so the painter must learn and practice the techniques and technicalities of their art.  Long hours in the studio, alone with your thoughts and insecurities accompanied only by the silent (and sometimes not so!) monologue of self criticism.

But something drives me on, the glimpse of an idea captured on canvas, crossing the threshold of nebulous to form laying down a moment in time, an outward incarnation of an inner life.  There is something calling out, bigger than and beyond me, enticing and playing with my heart a I struggle and strive; it at once elates and then strips me bare.  Cleansing, simplifying, purifying and humbling perhaps one day it will enlighten also as to the core nature of this oily world in which I find myself immersed.

Top: ‘Poetry with Pomegranate and Plum’   Above: ‘Trio of Plums with Blue Jug’

Rebecca Pells Artist

Thresholds and Threads

Everywhere you look there are thresholds. And I am drawn to them as a moth to light.  They have become the premiere focus of my painting and writing.   There are obvious thresholds like stepping from the kitchen into the garden or crossing a border from one country to another; tactile thresholds – holding hands, exchanging a kiss, lovemaking . . . and emotional thresholds as we shuttle on the vine of life from enjoyment to sadness and back again.

Some thresholds we have no choice but to cross as in birth and death.  Others are imposed against our wishes like redundancy or the end of a relationship.  And yet so often it is within the tangled web of ensuing chaos that growth and wisdom are woven.  What we resist is actually the very thing which will take us forward if we find the courage to make the step; if we cease wondering what life would be like, cross the threshold and allow ourselves to experience it.

Windows, doors, gateways, pillars and paths – all fascinate and pull me, like an invisible thread tugging, weaving it’s way between the weft of the physical and the emotional warp, between the real and the imagined.  A tangled knot of thresholds, examined from all angles, picked, pulled and tightened by thoughts spinning beyond control.  Only then it seems, in frustrated desperation am I  ready to spool words forth or paint, carding the thoughts from entwined mass, teasing onto canvas until an image – and a way forward – begins to reveal itself.

And thus another threshold has been crossed.

‘The Bread Oven’  watercolour

To see more of my paintings click here

Mud and a Meeting of Minds 1917

 

Mud.

Thick, cloying, seeping.

Consuming, filthy, blanket

binding you as brothers

in mud laden arms.

Bath.

Soap, water, scrub.

Submerged, aching, wallowing

purging you as brothers

in trenches of white.

Search.

Memories, mind, self.

Trapped, engulfed, besieged

chains you as brothers

in images of hell.

Write.

Poetry, prose, horror.

Dredge, expose, release

links you as brothers

in words of truth.

 

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first meeting between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon at  Craiglockhart War Hospital August 1917

The meeting lead to Owen’s haunting ‘war poems’.  He was born in Oswestry and lived in my home town of Shrewsbury, England.

‘Poppies for Peace’ Rebecca Pells

My Artfinder Gem – Jean-Humbert SAVOLDELLI

‘Le Baiser’ (The Kiss) by Jean-Humbert Savoldelli

Like so many things in life, I happened upon the work of French artist Jean-Humbert Savoldelli  by accident.  One of his works appeared in the sold section on ARTFINDER  and immediately captured my attention.

I must confess to knowing very little about abstract art and this post is not intended as a critique but rather a very personal response to these contemporary artworks. The strong vertical lines are what first drew me in, rising seemingly from a landscape reminiscent of breakwaters along the beaches of Northern France. On investigating Jean-Humbert’s gallery on ARTFINDER  I discovered many pieces to which I had the same visceral response. I was seeing thresholds – and I love thresholds, a theme to which I return time and again  in my own work – but here they are expressed in abstract form, a meeting of two worlds, the human and the natural.

‘Calypso’ by Jean-Humber SALVODELLI

For me there is both bleakness and hope in Jean-Humbert’s work –  the verticals are often dominant, like mankind  imposing itself upon the land and heavy, stormy ‘skies’ suggestive of destruction, a warning perhaps of human impact upon the fragile environment.  But there is also a lightness, delicacy of colour and expressive, swirling wave-like strokes, representative perhaps of movement and immediacy in contrast to the static, lifeless structural lines.  Small figures seemingly overwhelmed by the vastness of the scene before them, stand witnesses to history at the very threshold of doom v hope, of destruction v tenderness.

Whose Fault is It

‘A qui la Faute?’ (Whose Fault is It?)

The use of sand in some works adds texture and a connection to the very earth itself which I find very appealing. With a deft wielding of the painter’s knife – a conduit to freedom and movement – together with use of a limited palette, this artist creates a harmony which embraces you, bringing together the various elements at play within the composition.  My favourite – and it was very hard to choose just one – has to be ‘Calypso’.  The depth that Jean-Humbert has achieved just vacuums you into the heart of the painting!  It takes you on a journey into the unknown, like the road less traveled, you wonder if there will be a path back.  And the vertical composition is elegance itself. Calypso was also the name of French explorer Jacques Cousteau‘s yacht and as a pioneer environmentalist of the oceans it fits well with  his fellow Frenchman’s artistic work and with my own sentiments and priorities.

‘Vibrations’ by Jean-Humbert SAVOLDELLI

Jean-Humbert has produced a fabulous body of abstract expressionist paintings, each has a wonderful emotive effect on me – he is able to convey through his art what I fail to adequately put into words!   The subject is nebulous and yet he offers a fleeting glimpse of something deep and vital to humanity’s survival.  The landscapes are expansive yet intimate,  warning us yet offering hope.  A visual reminder that nature will endure despite the best efforts of man to dominate and destroy. With the image before me, I sense I am standing at a threshold between two possible outcomes for humanity.  I now understand the role of abstract.  I hope one day to be the proud owner of a Savoldelli but in the meantime I will make do with a gander around his online gallery.  Come join me!  Jean-Humbert SAVOLDELLI on ARTFINDER

 

‘Wet Sand’ by Jean-Humbert SAVOLDELLI

Hourglass

 

We navigate and tack to catch the crest of self-promised waves

like a piston of dreams forth and back they roll

sacrificed upon the altar of age

til one day we understand

there is no harbour

no anchor

no time.

 Brief encounters

as ships in the night

horizons glimpsed as sun rises

then fades to dusk before we have basked

lay down precious memory, til synapse eclipse

the hourglass turns and grain sifts with the tide once more.

 

‘Time Goes Away’

Details from https://www.artfinder.com/manage/rebeccapells/product/time-goes-away/

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