RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Category: Life

Olive’s Table

005‘Olives’s Table’ 

available from

https://www.artfinder.com/product/olives-table/

A couple of weeks ago I was contemplating the subject of my next painting and looking for inspiration.  Around the same time I took delivery of a small mahogany sewing table which originally belonged to my great Aunt Olive.  When she passed away some thirty years ago it came into my father’s possession and has lived the last three decades in his spare room, somewhat forgotten.

A journey of two hundred miles in the boot of the car has brought it to rest in my home.  An ideal size and height and with a suitable covering for protection, it is has found it’s place in my studio as a table for my brushes and water pot.  Practicalities aside, I’m surprised at how fond I have become of this little table, this physical link which ties one female generation of my family to another.  Slightly battered in places it is of no great monetary value, neither would it take pride of place in a smart antique shop.

However, it does exude charm and on investigation of the deep drawer suspended below the table top, I found my aunt’s personal sewing items – half used reels of thread, a wooden darning ‘mushroom’ and most touching of all – a felt needle case embroidered with her initials.  Immediately I was reminded of my mother’s needle case with it’s navy blue initialled cover and I clearly remember how she taught me to make my own.  I now have all three, a very real thread to the women of my family, items which would have been in daily use by them and as a young girl my own was too.

Then it became unfashionable to make do and mend and financially possible to buy new socks, or a skirt from a boutique rather than homemade.  And thus  a small sewing table became just a piece of furniture, no longer used as the cabinet maker conceived.  But this little table has come into my life just at the right time and  has found a life anew and is in daily use once more.  I also found my inspiration, as I felt this small piece of my heritage deserved a painting of it’s own and so I set it up with a vase of white roses in memory of my recently deceased father along with a book of Longfellow’s poems, a favourite of my mother’s and the result is ‘Olive’s Table’.

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In the Bleak Midwinter

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Winter.

 The living foundation of us all.  The underlying heart, which continues to beat out it’s rhythm when all seems lost.

 The joyful, which in another season’s time would raise a smile, is met by the hard gaze of frozen ground that no nourishment or distraction can melt.  The beauty of the brown barren land is lost to us as we seek in vain the colour and warmth from a distant time.

Dormant.

We long to move on, to leave behind the chilling air which engulfs as fog and cloys our every thought.  We plough our way through the detritus at our feet, heavy with sodden tears.  And wearily we sigh as all we turn over is bleakness.  This internal airing of spinning thoughts, wringing them dry until they fall as fragile leaves at our feet, serves to relieve the burden we heavily bear.

Lost.

Temporarily in the lightness of an empty mind, unsure and wary of the way forward, impatiently we scuff the ground with our feet.  And there we catch a glimpse among the array of wintry browns, a tiny shoot of brightest green, tender, vulnerable and yet poised to unfurl.  A symbol of our inner desire conscious or not as it begins to once more stir, the manifestation of a living, hidden current which runs through.

Patience.

When all you see is fog across the land, or dust settled on a lost love’s rose, smile and be sure for the light is yet to be revealed.

Painting ‘Reflections Unfurled’ by Rebecca Pells

https://www.artfinder.com/product/reflections-unfurled/

The Journey

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Yesterday I rose before daybreak to return home to Shropshire from Dorset in the UK, where I had been staying for a few days to attend my 92 year old father’s funeral.  The usual four hour journey became six due to fog, intense wind and rain and flooded roads.

Weather and thoughts seemed to merge and reflect each other’s mood with each slow mile I travelled.   At times I could not see my way forward but neither could I return.

Reluctant to rise this December morn

at once willing, wanting to be gone.

But to leave him behind yet I am torn.

Out into the light not yet born

for it holds still death’s time done.

Hours are long, the road is short

veiled as I too by dense dark haze.

The wheels turn as my mind too, wrought

with turmoil as child and I fought,

cradling the infant with gentle gaze.

Refusing to be settled, the infant made cry

even as I soothed the adult joined child

“depart not my father, you cannot die.

Leave us not with questions why”

in unison now with sentiment wild.

“You cannot leave, not yet, now not.”

The question hung, then tore the fog apart –

“did you love us or did you not?”

The infant lay back in rocking cot

once more quiet, carried in my heart.

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Reflections Unfurled

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I’m drawn to return to the place of my birth –

where I took my first guttural breath and found myself at last.

Dust settling in layers upon it’s first blush,

the fresh young shoots crushed, lay stunted by neglect,

devoid of the nutrient which first gave life.

I thought I’d found my Garden of Eden –

but arriving too soon, the ground unprepared and ploughed with furrows past.

Extremes of withholding drought and gushing flood,

the pendulum struck it’s final blow.

The way closed for now at least, I grow my own path

Beneath the dust an inner harvest toils

strengthening, strengthening, nourished by a place beyond thoughts,

a lixor of passion, reciprocal, replenishing.

Verdure anew with each season past.

A gentle breeze as particles stir, at first one spec then two, three.

Hurry not,  slowly to unfurl the green shoots once more,

carefully, tenderly as a butterfly cupped.

Remembrance

Leaving - Copy (2)

POPPIES

The act of remembrance is also a reminder that we are still here, standing at the new horizon as the old makes a distant retreat.  The lost horizon is always there, carried within us but the act of remembrance focuses our gaze upon it.  A portal through which we approach that fading vista, remembrance offers up the door through which we are beckoned by our lost loves – by those we are in gratitude to – but through which we can never fully walk.  Forever kept apart on the threshold of what was and what is we are either the memory or the memorised, we cannot reside betwix the two.

We are the life which has come from death.  In the viscerous fog of our mourning comes the lucent mist of our own morning.  For some there is heartbreak, still fresh, tender and yet to form time’s cradling scar.  Exposed and raw it is the sweet burden of loving someone who is now beyond our reach.  We have been asked to let go but as yet, cannot – haunted by a presence which is no longer present.  Remembrance helps us to release gently that which was not ours to keep, it enables us to step into our own discarded clothes once again, where we will re-discover the familiar shape and form of our own life and inhabit it once more just as we are supposed to do.

With remembrance comes responsibility to go on, to live our lives as a precious cherished gift from those we now remember.

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My grandfather Claude Pells (seated) with an ‘Unknown Soldier’

during the First World War.  My grandfather survived the trenches of France and lived into his 80’s.

I do not know the fate of his brother in arms.

POPPIES from one of my paintngs.  To see more of my work click here.

An Incredible Freedom about to Unfurl!

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I had no idea when I picked up a palette knife for the first time in January 2014 that I would also be picking up my passion. I recall looking at the plump new tubes of paint, the immaculate brushes and the box of small canvases and thinking they’d never be used more than a couple of times.

Inspired by time spent in SW France and working initially from photographs, I completed my first painting with a palette knife before venturing into the world of round, flat, rigger and fan brushes;  I became curious about the possibilities of this new found activity.  A beckoning whisper of something long hidden began to reveal itself – the anticipation of being let go into something deeper, beyond everyday living.  The subject matter of my early paintings reveal something of this – they are places I would like to sit to write, read or simply contemplate, a sanctuary from the noise and pace of modern life. They often feature a window, door or archway – a portal perhaps to something beyond.

We are drawn to a future that is always beckoning, always just beyond us. Creativity is the process of conception to reality – like viewing the horizon and then walking into it.  In my paintings I aim to capture the meeting of time with the timeless; the passing moment framed by what has happened and what is about to occur.  Favouring a muted palette the subject and colours suggest an essence of time past spilling over the threshold into the 21st century.  Apart from a couple of short courses I’m self-taught, working mainly in acrylic although I feel the pull of oil just around the corner.  My style developing with each painting, is like an incredible freedom just about to unfurl!

‘FRESH  LINEN’

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Rebecca Pells Artist

Parallel Time

In recognition of National Poetry Day, I’m re-posting a poem I wrote last December.  Sadly it is as relevant today as it was then.

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North. East. West. South.

Instant. Happening. Plus one and real time,

Parallel worlds and lives which don’t chime.

Twenty four seven, channels to choose

Inward we turn, money to loose.

Pools of champagne, pools of blood,

Encroaching. Unwanted. Drought and flood.

Which world is mine in parallel time?

Reality TV talent to spot,

TV for real – someone is shot.

 Christmas delivered, targets to meet,

Harvest failed, kids in bare feet.

Toy penguins emote season’s first frost,

Polar melt – the arctic is lost.

Which life is mine in parallel time?

 Big Brother House. Ok! Hello!

Charnel house, Sierra, Aleppo.

White House secrets outed old lies,

Foggy Jungle King, Malala Peace Prize.

No arms, no legs, no head to crown,

Bloody Sunday; Cyber Monday death in town.

 Which conflict is mine in parallel time?

North. East. South. West.

Lives of celebrities to whom we aspire,

 Suicide bombers few can admire.

Knives quick to draw, turkeys to carve,

Minors in designers . . . others will starve.

Action man sold out. Tragedy! Child cries.

Boy soldier shot. Tragedy. Stumbles and dies.

The choice is mine in parallel time.

Patterns

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Patterns are everywhere.  Life is made up of them.  We are their product.   From the extraordinary beauty of a single snowflake to the relative simplicity of the double helix which forms our DNA, patterns dominate life.  Nature produces them over and over, evolving yes but still within the boundaries of a recognisable pattern.  Man has replicated them from ancient times, everywhere you look you will find a pattern, not always obvious, sometimes we must seek them out.

There is a comfort in patterns, familiar, predictable they have boundaries and therefore a certainty about what has been, what is happening and what is yet to come.  Patterns dictate our behaviour too.  The rebellious teenager who pushes the boundaries of parental control and wisdom, wanting to forge their own path, unaware that they too are following an age old pattern.  They do not, however always work in our favour.  Behavioural patterns can be destructive, like a mutating cancer replicating it’s ugly cells the pattern forges forth, carried by belief that we are right, ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

 I recently visited an installation by UK artist Carl Jaycock in a local church.  Photographs of all the men and women from Shropshire who lost their lives in the First World  War – including Shropshire born poet Wilfred Owen – were formed into the shape of shell cases.  Alongside the beautiful floor tiles this human pattern was a haunting sight.  All those involved in that dreadful war unwittingly became part of the pattern of history.

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In recent weeks Germany has lead the way welcoming those seeking refuge from Syria and other ravaged countries.  There is a collective will to break the historical dysfunctional pattern of their homeland and create a new one – for some perhaps a form of absolution.  But scratch a little beneath the surface as one journalist did and the old prejudicial pattern is soon revealed, veiled but by no means dormant.  Collective will is shunned when reality challenges the pull of our individual autonomy  and the old destructive pattern snaps sharply back into place. Like the rebellious teenager we refuse to listen to wisdom even when we know the consequences may be devastating.

Why do we repeatedly do the same things and yet expect a different outcome?  Most of us are driven, controlled even by our ego, our immaturity beckoned and  seduced toward false havens – a flawed, myopic  isolation of the present suspended from historical context.  We witness the arctic melt, we see that prejudice leads to conflict, we feel when our repeated actions damage our personal relationships.  But still we resist the fluid, less unilateral stance which maturity demands of us, safe in the false belief that it is another at fault, another who must shoulder the burden of change.

   If we are to liberate ourselves from the cancerous, cyclical patterns born of short-sighted self interest, we must learn to cross familiar thresholds with a different, more determined intent in our step.

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“Courage was mine, and I had mystery    

Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery.”

Wilfred Owen

The Building that Changed the Face of the World!

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“It is one of those rare structures that changed the world of construction and design.  With it’s revolutionary iron frame it was the predecessor of the modern sky-scrapper.”  These are the words of Sir Neil Cossons, former chairman of English Heritage about the Flaxmill in Shrewsbury, UK.

  Described as the ‘grandfather of skyscrappers’ although it is no taller than a modern five storey building, the Flaxmill was designed as a ‘manufactory’ for the processing of flax into fine linen, by architect and amateur engineer Charles Bage in 1796.  Influenced by his friend Thomas Telford and Abraham Darby’s now infamous Ironbridge just 15 031 miles down the road, it was the first time a building had been constructed with an internal iron frame.  The fireproof combination of cast iron columns and cast iron beams was a system which later developed into the modern steel frame making modern skyscrappers possible.  The success of the Shrewsbury Flaxmill quickly spread to a series of other iron frame mills in Britain reducing fire risk but fuelling the industrial revolution.

   047   That is quite a CV for one a building!  But there is so much more to The Flaxmill’s heritage than just facts.  It’s impact was not only on the development of architecture but on the progress of industry, economy and wealth, population, housing and lives.  It has touched four centuries, crossing the threshold of three.  At the time of construction of the main mill building America had not long since won it’s independence, the dust was still settling after the Storming of the Bastille in France and Shrewsbury’s most famous son Charles Darwin had yet to be born.

This sense of encompassing history is palpable.  The collection of buildings radiate an imposing heaviness, weary of having witnessed too much but it’s iron skeleton provides not just a frame but an iron will to keep standing when gravity and time would have it otherwise.  Woven into it’s walls are the stories of all who have lived and worked within them – the blood, the sweat, the tears, the deaths. Two hundred and twenty years spinning, twisting, weaving their threads and stories from the 18th to the 21st century.  The iron frame soars with dignity above your head, the warp and the weft of the architects pen waiting patiently for the next plan to be drawn.

Through the Mill 2015

‘The Iron and The Flax’ and ‘The Linen and The Dye’ by Rebecca Pells

038I have passed by this building hundreds of times but it has only been recently when I had the opportunity to exhibit a couple of my paintings during the Flaxmill Heritage Open days  that I have taken any real notice of it.  Researching it’s history in preparation for my work it is only now that I have come, with some guilt, to appreciate the influence it has had in the development of the modern world.  Imagine the 21st century without skyscrappers – where would all the businesses go, where would all the people live?  London, New York, Tokyo would not be the places they are today.  Things could have taken a very different path.  But they didn’t – thanks to one Charles Bage and his iron framed Flaxmill.

It was to be a further twelve years before another Shrewsbury man named Charles would also change the world.  Charles Darwin.  But that’s a whole other story!

For further information about Shrewsbury Flaxmill visit Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings

For my artwork visit Rebecca Pells Artist

The Selfish Gene – has it become our Achilles Heel?

Human nature is hung in the balance, our behaviour driven by selfishness and our desire to co-operate to ensure the survival of the group” 

These are the words of E O Wilson during an interview on BBC Radio 4 The Life Scientific.  Professor at Harvard and joint author of a paper setting out the case for group selection he now challenges the ‘selfish gene’ theory he once endorsed.  Among his contemporaries he is something of a lone voice.  Since Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution we have believed in survival of the fittest and increasingly this now means of the wealthiest.  But do we hide behind this as an excuse for our self interest?

The interview reminded me of a recent conversation with a friend regarding the widening pay gap and we imagined a society where each job was valued -and remunerated – at the same level.  We concluded that this state of equilibrium would quickly dissipate as the desire to better ourselves and provide for our children’s future would override everything else.  We are conditioned to believe that it was this ‘get ahead of the game’ attitude which enabled our ancestors to survive.

However, there is another way to look at this.  The history of life shows that evolutionary transitions are from the singular to the plural.  For example – separate molecules into a gene, individual genes into a chromosome, individual cells into a muti-cellular organism and from multi-cellular organisms into a social group.  Our survival as a species has been built on collective strength, on co-operation not separation.  This puts natural selection at the level of the group rather than the level of the individual.  Social groups become communities; communities become nations which make up our world and it is this global group with which we must now engage.

Our challenge today is selfishness v generosity and we are struggling to get the balance right because as Wilson so eloquently puts it “humanity still has paleolithic emotions”.  There was an ancestral need to drive nature as hard as they could to survive but by continuing this pattern, far from serving our needs and ensuring our survival we are in imminent danger of achieving the opposite as pressure increases on our natural resources.  There is a powerful case to show that we have struck too hard a blow and we are threatening the world in which we live and on which we depend.

Polar Bears Endangered by Climate Change Drawing by Rebecca Pells

Polar Bears Endangered by Climate Change
Drawing by RebeccaPells

There is a growing tension between the individual and the needs of the wider community and despite our fondness for the selfish gene, evolution shows that in order to thrive the individual also needs the group.  This tension is unstable, we see it manifest in the growing dissatisfaction between the wealthy few and the rest of society; between self serving governments who renege on election promises and their electorate; between environmentalists and those who either deny or believe it’s not their problem. It is not a question of tipping the scales firmly one way or the other but of a middle way with movement back and forth – too much in favour of the individual and society would fragment; too far towards group social selection and we would become like ants or honey bees.

This mid-way is the creative core of humanity; it is the threshold where we meet our challenges, where we can have the honest discussion and where ultimately we will find our way forward.  It is where we can overcome age old instincts which no longer serve and have become a modern achilles heel, where we can choose altruism over selfishness and where we will rediscover in ourselves a more ancient and fundamental essence – that generosity of spirit over personal gain will ensure our children’s future.

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