My studio practice combines the contemplative rhythms of solo art-making with collaborative group work. Much of my work these days is documentary in nature, not in the way of documentary news reportage but rather as a means of fostering dialogue and 'bringing to light' the peculiar challenges and opportunities of our time.
S E L E C T E D E X H I B I T I O N S
Additional series can be found on the following pages:
The Hum of the Parts | A Global Honeycomb
For enquiries, please email me at email@example.com | Thank you
VISUAL ARTS CV
NEW IN THE STUDIO
I'm currently working on a series of EARTH WORKS
Climate Change & Our Changing World | Songs of Love & Protection
Around the time I emigrated from South Africa to New Zealand (nearly three decades ago), I dreamed repeatedly of the same archetypal goddess. Naked, full-bodied, large-breasted, she straddled the continents, her head among the star-strewn cosmos, her feet firmly planted on the earth. Her expression was one of determination, tenderness and calm focus.
Using kelp leather and a large needle fashioned from a spear-like acacia thorn, she laced the edges of the coastlines together, a delicate and demanding task requiring a surgeon’s skill and concentration as well as the patience and aesthetic sensibility of a master embroiderer.
It was clear she was engaged in an act of healing and, too, of creativity and loving adornment. Her careful stitching brought jagged edges and mismatched contours together to form an intricate tapestry that took my breath away. When she came to places where the contours of the different landmasses didn't fit naturally together, she was unperturbed. Casting around, she hand-picked boulders from the surrounding mountain and desert landscapes, plunging them into the oceans where they took their place as stepping stones across distance, time and difference.
FOR WHEN WORDS FAIL US
WE ARE NEW ZEALAND | Ko Aotearoa Tātou
Verbs to Live By (iii)
Oil, pencil, ink & beeswax on paper
550 x 550MM (image size)
For what binds us
Oil, pencil & beeswax on paper
with text by Marylinn Kelly
Metal tea light collars, candle wax & black card
Notes on FIFTY-ONE
For What Binds Us
W A L K I N G W I T H A R V O P Ä R T
New Work | GALLERY THIRTY THREE, 33 Helwick Road, Wanaka, NZ
with painter Matt Payne | October 2018
For enquiries, please contact me
or Norma, Peter & Abbey at the gallery: firstname.lastname@example.org
“If we are to be properly humble in our use of the world, we need places that we do not use at all. We need the experience of leaving something alone. We need places that we forbear to change, or influence by our presence, or impose on even by our understanding; places that we accept as influences upon us, not the other way around, that we enter with the sense, the pleasure, of having nothing to do there; places that we must enter in a kind of cultural nakedness, without comforts or tools, to submit to rather than to conquer. We need what other ages would have called sacred groves. We need groves, anyhow, that we would treat as if they were sacred, in order, perhaps, to perceive their sanctity.” Wendell Berry
Arvo Pärt's music has been a source of inspiration to me since the Summer of 2005 when he became my 'walking companion' in Antarctica. His Für Alina, Spiegel Im Spiegel, Silentium and Tabula Rasa went straight to the heart. I was working at the time with US scientists in a remote field camp on the transition zone between McMurdo Sound and the Taylor Dry Valleys - liminal spaces of daunting, haunting beauty.
Each of us carries within us a palimpsest of sounds and images composed of the landscapes, times and experiences that hold special significance for us.
There are some who consider Pärt's music audacious in its spareness and apparent simplicity. He creates a compelling sense of timelessness and spaciousness that invites listeners to enter and inhabit his music, rather than to 'visit' or pass quickly through.
My intention in Walking with Arvo Pärt has been to create visual equivalents to the composer's aural landscapes - expansive, minimalist spaces that invite others in - and inwards - to a place of contemplation, wonder and attentive listening; wide-open landscapes where the light catches us and draws us in; spaces that slow us down and open us to a greater simplicity of being.
In these works, I revisit landscapes that have - in radical or subtle ways - altered me and my perceptions of the world. Each painting is a synthesis of different places and key experiences - landscapes invented or revisited, conjured or reconstructed - a geography of the heart.
I have penciled grids into these compositions. Why grids, you might ask? A nod, perhaps, to Agnes Martin who said "Into my mind there came a grid, and it looked like innocence'? Yes.
I find grids beautiful and compelling; they suggest stability and flexibility at one and the same time and provide an anchor without tying anything down too tightly. Grids are foundational to architectural drawings, map-making and musical composition. Staves are grids, too - 'static platforms' from which music takes flight. Grids are evident throughout the natural world; we encounter them in honeycombs and wasps' nests, in fish scales and birds' feathers and - on a micro scale - in the spectacular geometry of nature's 'invisible ecologies'.
Grids also allude to the energetic systems that filter through our physical, aural and sensory experience, imbuing our everyday world with a welcome sense of 'magical other' and the potential for re-enchantment so needed in today's chaotic world.
Regular time away from the constraints and demands of our increasingly virtual, gadget-driven life and with 'the peace of wild things' is vital to our individual and collective well-being. 'Turn down the daily noise', wrote Jeanette Winterson, 'and at first there is the relief of silence... Then, very quietly, as quiet as light, meaning returns' and Ray Bradbury (in Fahrenheit 451) exhorts us to 'Stuff our eyes with wonder.'
'Live as if you might drop dead in ten seconds' he said. 'See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”
In a recent Facebook conversation with my friend, Marylinn Kelly, we were discussing what each of us might do to counter the craziness, violence and noise so prevalent in today's world. Her response, in part, was this - "Beauty is, for now, my form of resistance. I realize such a notion may not resonate for everyone. It is what I have."
What Marylinn says rings true for me, too. Seeking out beauty is a form of resistance. It is what we have - and what we still have access to.
Walking With Arvo Pärt is a invitation to journey away from the noise and chaos and into the quiet of replenishing, contemplative spaces, where - for a moment at least - we can allow everything that's unimportant to fall away.
CB | Dunedin, NZ | October 2018
Thanks to Greig, Pete and Lesley at Nevill Studios for their framing, friendship and support.
"... The real epiphany that set Pärt on his course of radical simplicity in the mid-70s was an encounter with a street cleaner outside his house in Tallinn. Searching for a solution that would connect his emotional, musical and spiritual lives together, Pärt, at a loss for inspiration, went outside into the snow one morning and asked the cleaner: 'What should a composer do?' 'Well, he should love every note,' was the reply. 'No professor had ever told me something like that,' Pärt said; that single sentence crystallized his thinking. He realized that to really love every note, to really understand the connections between even a tiny handful of musical pitches, could be the source of a lifetime of composition and contemplation." Tom Service [The Guardian]
MAPPA MUNDI & WORLD NATIONS LABYRINTHS
An Ongoing Series | New paintings on Paper & Canvas
The Internet is a valuable instrument, a platform for communication and connection that dissolves conventional concepts of time and distance and allows us access to an infinite archive of information. It's as if a new continent has risen up in our midst. The way we approach our lives, relationships and work is changing as far-flung corners of the world are brought together in virtual space and diverse groups of people are invited into novel and democratic conversation with each other. For many, this new and vivid experience of global community is as confounding as it is comforting.
Working at the interface between the real and virtual worlds, I'm on a search for the stories that connect us; beyond our geographical, ideological/religious and political differences, we have a shared language that affirms us as kin. We have the potential to work together for the greatest good at a time in global history that is at once complex and inspiring, daunting and wondrous.
A little background into these works I refer to as 'Mappa Mundi' and 'World Nations Labyrinths'. . .
The science team I worked with in Antarctica in 2005 and 2008 has been engaged in a long-term study into the motility and mobility of foraminifera – ancient, unicellular aquatic organisms. During my time on the ice I was exposed anew to the wonders of electron microscopy and also to the language of DNA and gene mapping. I became intensely fascinated with protists and especially with foraminifera, 'nature's little masons'.
Recently - whilst searching on Google for information re; DNA sequencing - I happened upon the website of a US cartographer named Gene Keyes and learned of his collaboration with now- deceased architect and map-maker, B.J.S. Cahill. Between them they devised a ‘butterfly’ world map, working together to correct the distortions in earlier naval cartography and in so doing creating a map both beautiful and 'true'. They observed that maps serve an important geopolitical function in our global society. An accurate map might be considered a template for a harmonious world. I became quickly immersed in map-related research but could not have anticipated the ways in which cartography and DNA would come together in my art-making practice.
Over the years I've created a photographic ‘alphabet of light’, a personalized calligraphy that makes regular appearances in my drawings and paintings. Each letter is an echo of one of the twenty-six letters of our Western alphabet. In this new work I have taken an A-Z table of our world nations (229 in total), extracted the nucleotide letters A, T, C and G from the names of each of these nations in turn [from Afghanistan through to Zimbabwe] and created a DNA sequence to visually ‘sound’ Humanity's note.
As a statement about origins and continuity of life, DNA sequences are a reminder that all forms of life on this planet share the same basic ingredients.
Each of these paintings is a map or atlas of a different kind. The DNA sequence is woven into each image – either overtly, as in 'Song for a Unified World', or more discreetly, as in 'Mappa Mundi' and ‘Theatrum Orbis Terrarum’ where the letters of the ATCG letters are embedded lightly into schematized butterfly map templates – present, though not immediately visible. The notation suggests an ancient language, or perhaps a new music that is visually mysterious and compelling.
Everything in the known universe hums, vibrates, oscillates. The notation of these ‘songs’ suggests a finite moment even as it alludes to infinitude. Composed of the four basic components of our common DNA, the 'score' acts as a unifying language that – like music – has the power to transcend difference and be intuitively understood by all. There is an implied grid of latitude and longitude lines lying beneath this work as well as references to compasses and hemispheres.
This is 'my' DNA sequence for our world's 229 nations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe:
agata aaa aga aa aga atgaaaa agta aa ataa ata aaa ` aaa aa aga aa a g | | ta a aaga taa a | gaa aa | ` ca caa ca caaa ctaacac ca c ca ca c cct ccatcct ctaca ct cata ca c ccc ` a t ca cac ` ca gt aa ataga ta ta ta ` | a ac ` ga gaa gga ga gaa gc gaa gataa ga gaa gaa ` at a ga ` ca a a a a a a ta ` aaca aa a ` aata a t | at gta ` a ata a t a a ctt taa g ` aca aagaca aa aaa a a ata aaa ataa at c ca a ac ga tg cc a aaa ` aa a a ta aa caaga g ga ta a ` a ` ata aa at aaa aaga aaga | | a tga ` ata ` aa a aa ` ttta tca tctatga aa aa atac aaaa ga a c a ga aa a a aa taca ta ta a aa a a aa | ta a ` taa tata taaa taa tt tg tga taatag ta t tta ta ` gaa a taaat tg attataca ga ta ` aat atcact a ta ` | ` aa a
WALK WITH ME (ii)
'Balance' | Exhibition with Kate Alterio, Di Conway & Kyla Cresswell
at The Artists' Room, Dunedin | October 2016
For enquiries, please contact me or Michelle at the gallery: email@example.com
WALK WITH ME
We have wandered wide, engaged
in poetry of a different kind; cadence
and kerfuffle, the heart's rising
above a familiar chaos of subjects.
On the late afternoon wall, paintings
in the making, canvas acrobats
hanging on our every word.
Bare feet yield to black water.
Beyond the frame, life is
a risky business. Jack-in-the-box.
Angel. Thief. Some days a nightingale
at ease with the rhyme and chime
of every unknown thing. Like the signs
written in dust after vultures have flown
or the bones a shaman rolls, clues clatter
and scatter; each piece falls to earth
and order, takes its place
in the heart's vast chamber.
Claire Beynon ©
WALK WITH ME (i) | New paintings
On exhibition at Gallery Thirty Three, Wanaka | October 2016
For enquiries, please contact me or Norma & Peter at the gallery: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the STOCKROOM at 22
Whale songs | Cups of Sky | First Light, Last Light | Wayfarers
At 188 decibels, the calls of the blue whale are the loudest sound made by any animal
on the planet (quite possibly the most haunting and beautiful, too. . . )
Contemplating the Health of our Oceans
SHUCKED | LETTERS TO THE SEA
OIL & WATER DO NOT MIX | DO NOT MIX OIL & WATER
DRIFT | Love the Waters
drift |drift|verb [ intrans. ]1 be carried slowly by a current of air or water : the cabin cruiser started to drift downstream | figurative excited voices drifted down the hall.
For this installation I set myself the task of producing a thousand paper boats - made in three different sizes to create subtle spatial tensions - for direct mounting to the gallery wall. A silent film projected over the paper boats would show a second bamboo flotilla - a boat 'echo', if you will - adrift under the sea ice in Antarctica.
I wanted the film part of this installation to be circular in structure; i.e. looped so there would be a timeless quality to the experience for those entering the space. I wanted no clear beginning, middle or end, nor any overtly familiar points of reference; nothing explicit in terms of 'statements of context' or intent. There would be no narration and no music; nothing more than the play of light and dark and an ocean of static (on the wall) and floating (in the film) boats to draw people into a dreamlike world and keep them buoyant whilst there.
The boats sit away from the wall, packed closely, hull-side up in the lower hemisphere and gradually inverting and separating out as they rise. This is what happens under the ice - - - in order to drift, the boats must flip themselves over, capturing an invisible cushion of air as they do. It's the air that then carries them through the water, transporting them upwards till they come to rest on the under-belly of the ice. I played around with the idea of creating a circle out of the static or 'frozen' boats, with a 'still centre' that becomes the container for the film's activity - rather like an 'eye' within whose 'iris' the drifting boats come alive, journey and tell their story.
We're on life's voyage together and it's sure as nuts unpredictable! Passages of turbulence and heartache make way for ecstasy and calm - not to mention. We make our solo voyage within our communal one. . . and, too, the other way round. DRIFT alludes to these themes.
If we were to liken this business of living to a piece of complex music, I think we'd agree that playing it with both technical facility and full feeling requires years and years of practice; certain aspects we go over and over and over again in the hopes of some day achieving a greater measure of competence or even mastery. Some passages are a breeze we can sail through without batting an eye lid; others, we might be asked to accede, are better played by someone else with a different skill set or instrument. One thing is certain - no bar of it is dull.
The paper I use to make most of my boats is 300gsm cotton. For DRIFT, I used sheets left over from the printing, in 2007, of my poetry collection, OPEN BOOK. Piles of proofs would ordinarily have been thrown away, renegaded to the rubbish tip but thankfully I was present at the time the book went to press and was able to rescue hundreds of beautiful, creamy, acid-free paper for future projects.
These small boats are messengers, each one carrying a fragment of our common story on its surfaces - a lithographic drawing, a few lines of poetry.
NEVER AGAIN | Hiroshima Commemoration 2012
THIS FRACTURED EARTH
When it comes to matters of protest, my intention is always to find a way 'through the gaps', to communicate in language that evokes rather than provokes. I want very much to make work that acknowledges current realities in all their darkness and starkness and at the same time focusses in on beauty and wonder, mystery, poetry and lyricism. I hope to pose questions and, too, to peel back the 'layers of the obvious' revealing the subtler notes that suggest there's a 'world of more' breathing below the surface of everything we know; hope residing beyond what we can see and/or understand. This in part explains the unexpected appearance of X-ray-type imagery in these drawings. Identifying the point of fracture, vulnerability or dis-ease offers us the opportunity to heal ourselves and the land.
Claire’s Beynon’s artist’s statement deftly summarizes the leading themes of this exhibition and suggests some of the multiple meanings and possibilities inherent in the title Altered Ground.
First, there is the deep concern she has always shown for her materials—the recalcitrant paper that must be wrestled or cajoled into submission, and her medium, dry pastels and chalk, so often regarded as handmaids to the “grande” media, but in her hands capable of creating the luminosities, both positive and negative, that so precisely mirror the explorations of the spirit on which she is engaged.
The dialogue between inner and outer, between the physical and spiritual landscapes that constitute the total world of human experience, is characteristic of Claire Beynon’s work. Here, however, it literally takes on a new edge. In her earlier work, such as the Bearings sequence exhibited at the Milford Galleries, Dunedin, in 2001, the power and mystery of layered planes of landscape was concentrated at edges and margins—liminal places where accumulated energies meet and discharge. The horizontal layering of her images enables them to be read as visual palindromes, foregrounding their abstract qualities and their nature as metaphors for the inner life. Drawn marks and scrapings were used to suggest a sense of spiritual yearning and aspiration, aetherial yet hard-edged, always rooted in a sense of real landscape open to the contingencies of time, place and light. Many of these images were recognisably Otago landscapes.
The drawings in Altered Ground reprise all these elements and take them a stage further. The image of a monumental stone altar intrudes powerfully into these works, a bold development of the more discreet architectural elements that featured in earlier works such as “Leave the Room Behind” (1999). In no. 10, for example, the altar forms a doorway or threshold inviting us to explore the mysterious spaces beyond—spaces both created and concealed by our own desires. With its angular three-dimensional geometry, the image of the altar marks a more active intervention by the artist in her numinous world of inner/outer landscape.
The image of the altar is charged with multiplicities of meaning, ranging from the cosmic site of a god’s self-offering to the domestic intimacies of the table. Like the chalice, altars act as containers of both the holy and the ordinary, bringing “mystical” experience within the purview of all. Altars act not only as tables, sacred and profane, but as footpaths, bridges, stages, beds, operating tables, gravestones, treasure chests, keyboards … . They are sites that enable access, communication, healing, commemoration, negotiation and celebration. Beynon’s altar-images are saved from portentousness by this very breadth of reference and foundation in common experience.
The altars in these drawings stand ready as potential sites, perhaps surrogates, for human presence, activity and memory in the landscape—a landscape that already acts as a metaphor for human spiritual aspiration. They are places of transaction and mediation, charged with the transcendent. The meanings we import to these drawings are our own: in no. 9, and again in no. 3, the altar-slab stands white and clear before us, inviting us to place something on it—our own personal gift that will allow access to the energized landscape beyond.
In an essay in architectural and theological method cited by Beynon, Rudolph Schwarz writes of the altar as a cosmic threshold between heaven and earth—embedded in the earth, and symbolic of it, but with one edge turned towards heaven. As liminal artifacts, altars are important sites for transformation: “The importance of the Threshold space: —the concentrated energy of edge, meeting, transition, passage, crossing. The fact that when ‘passing through’ from one place to another—be it spiritual, architectural, physical, psychological—a transformation or an altering takes place: something primitive and alchemical happens.”
The altars in Claire’s drawings function most importantly as sites of mediation, meeting places full of concentrated symbolic energies where tensions and dichotomies can be examined, if not always resolved. Their slab-like monumentality embodies a sacramental function: The artist writes, “Bridging interior and exterior, altars are the first order of cultural artifact that utilize transformation of and communication through Matter. They signal and implement access between the social and natural worlds. Even more importantly, they mediate between our 'earthbound' state and our spiritual aspirations."
The image of the altar is thus crucial to the strategies of communication that Claire presents in this new sequence. The altars themselves are not presented as a single monolithic form, but in different works undergo transmutations, realignments and shifts of perspective as befits their function. “Figure” and “ground” become mutually convertible, layers and registers are transposed in ways that at once sharp-edged and dreamlike. Sometimes the altars are rendered as three-dimensional slabs, sometimes as horizontal panels which blend into their landscape settings (as in nos 7 and 11). “The ambiguity of surface and space leads to multiple interpretations: there are inferences of history, memory, consciousness and conscience, the mysterious tension between what we know and what — with time — we might come to know— between the familiar and the ‘yet to be discovered.’”
Paul Sorrell, Dunedin, 2002
In her artist’s statement, the artist draws attention to the drawn marks and surface scratchings, “the deliberate or accidental moments when colour or tone is rubbed back to reveal the white of the ground beneath”, “those flashes and flares of the imagination” which image the mysterious workings of the creative process itself. On another level, these drawn marks are an attempt to convey the flashpoints of the spirit, the electrical energies discharged at moments of heightened insight or epiphany which offer a glimpse into another order or dimension of reality. C.G. Jung described these “minor luminosities” as sparks or seeds of light which reflect the quality of the numinous both in nature and in the human psyche.
Both these processes are at work in no. 7, where the use of drawn marks charges the whole landscape with a vital and mysterious energy, and unifies the elements of the composition. In the lower register, the two-dimensional altar-form (or foreshore?), crisscrossed with streaks and reflections, mirrors the lines of elctrical energy which flare across the upper “sky”. The altar becomes the table of our desires, where our deepest longings—for unity, transcendence, wholeness—are inscribed: our inner offering place. In the same way, in no. 5, the altar itself becomes a setting for an imagined landscape, reflecting the more solid forms above. In no. 2, where the altar-slab is again inscribed with an abstract landform, the pastel is scraped back to frame a dazzling arc of light which flares with the white heat of creativity or the promise of visionary possibilities. With the ambiguous altar-slab precisely set beneath a frieze of McCahon-like hillforms, this drawing exemplifies Beynon’s effective use of simple geometric forms on which her work is built.
The conceit of “figure and ground” which Claire exploits so effectively in this exhibition is key to understanding her aims. As we have seen, two- and three-dimensional forms collapse into one another and picture-elements are subject to transpositions and transformations of various kinds. The psychological premise of “figure and ground” is well expressed in a passage from Pilgrim by Timothy Findlay:
— Look around you. What has been painted here? What animals are there? What other creatures — other men? Jung stared at the ceiling. Whose handprint is that? Whose gods are these? Whose totems — emblems — signs and symbols? Don’t be afraid of it. Stand up and Look at it. There were shadows in the corners — cracks in the ceiling. Did they form the shapes of beings he had never seen before? Or were they maps of rivers and mountain ranges — routes for the journey made by those who had gone before--
The rich and necessary ambiguity inherent in all symbolic art—the mystery that Jung, among others, sought to plumb—may provide pilgrim-staffs for our own journey."
QUESTIONS OF BALANCE
QUESTIONS of BALANCE | A review by Joanna Osborne
The Arthouse, Christchurch
26 August – 13 September 2009
"Claire Beynon has developed a sculptural side to her art practice. A swollen teardrop of a plumb bob plummets down to hover above a large spirit-level construction in her recent show. These two essential builders’ tools form the backbone to her new series of works. The tools carry a certain severity along with their authority, as tools that decide with irrefutable exactness – as Claire states ‘...there can be no arguing with the simple pronouncements of these two fundamentally reliable tools of measurement’. With that said, one can draw analogies to things certain, corrected and aligned in individual and collective living. Claire’s exhibition is also a form of calling for correction, response and the balancing acts that are involved in approaching issues – global or otherwise.
The metaphors are clear, and nestled within the works are explorations and manifestations of the issues at hand. Small environments, mountain regions, ghostly blues, lead and copper colours frame and reiterate the motif of the spirit-level and plumb bob around the walls of the gallery. Some of the works tell tales of scrutiny – everything is laid bare before the tools of levelling, many of the works showing unlevelled surfaces and alignments – indications of the skew-whiff world we inhabit. The swinging pendulums in ‘Gathering Momentum’ cut through space from differing angles – gravity and magnetism in dialogue. Other works display harmonious relationships and centred beauty when all is aligned –‘Containing the Storm’ for example.
A further depth and sense of authenticity is added to this show with the relationship between actual science and artistic processes. Beynon put the spirit vials, used in her sculptural works, to a rigorous test – an experiment that involved plunging them eighty feet below sea level on her second research trip to Antarctica. The spirit vial itself is layered with metaphoric associations – even without the weight given to them by Beynon.
The combination of meticulous care (what could be sacred geometric attention to detail) and Beynon’s recognisable mark-making in soft pastel seems part of the balance - a combination of opposites. The conceptual element of this show comes through strongly in the statements of her sculptural pieces in the space."
In October 2008, I was one of ten artists invited to participate in the Caselberg Trust's inaugural Breaksea Girl Residency. Our group of painters, poets, a jeweler, a filmmaker and a composer spent six days and nights on board the conservation yacht, the Breaksea Girl, exploring the dark and dramatic waterways of Western Fiordland.
Before setting sail from Dusky Sound, our Captain Lance suggested that should any one of us feel a need for space, we should speak up and he would drop us off on a convenient rock for as long as might be deemed necessary.
"Can’t you just picture it," said Gillian. "Ten artists. Ten rocks?"
Before setting sail from Dusky Sound, our Captain Lance suggested that should any one of us feel a need for space, we should speak up and he would drop us off on a convenient rock for as long as might be deemed necessary.
"Can’t you just picture it," said Gillian. "Ten artists. Ten rocks?"
for Gillian Whitehead
This unsteady place of black water and red kelp insists we lay down our tools and listen.
From where I stand, spine to the rope,
I catch her in the act – eyes closed,
head back – undisturbed by silence
or squall, the sharp/flat cadences of weather.
She’s with us on the Breaksea Girl, but music
is her separate boat.
See how her face is wet
with notes, her throat a waiting bird.
Taonga Puoro surge in her chest like waterfalls.
How strange I should remember here
a line I read long, long ago; bees in Mykanos
hum in a minor chord.
Here, the scale is unpredictable, the thrum
that of a sailor’s cap, an incidental island,
a glissando of salt scattering the shadows
of dark-bellied fish.
We sail through contrapuntal seas -
our private charts, our common geography.
Ten artists, yes, and at least as many rocks. But
in this unsteady place of black water
and red kelp we do as we must.
We lay down our tools and listen.
(Italian term – usually used in a musical context, meaning ‘under the voice’ or ‘in a quiet tone’)
Striking, the ambiguity of language – sound
and sound, hold
and hold, birth
Sotto voce. Sotto voce.
Our brave boat’s hull
is a dull silver arc
at odds, and at one
with the ocean’s shifting
meniscus, the sky infinite
yet doubtful as a clenched fist,
a menace of wishful thinking.
Mariners without local knowledge
are advised to exercise caution.
I am no old man of the sea (my stomach
one of two that pitch and turn
in 4m swells), but Lance and the Breaksea Girl
are unperturbed; back and forth she rocks
back and forth, a metronome used, by now,
to holding her own in stormy waters.
Sotto voce. Sotto voce.
Ours is hardly the first voyage, neither will it be
the last. There are records aplenty
of this coastline, these steep, hard-nosed
mountains, the seductive tongues
I have scoured the record books,
wondered more about the lines not there
than the many written; nowhere
do we find Cook – or Orton –
writing of love or lust
or loneliness at sea; in the journals, no poetry
to soften the un-yielding years, the reek
of sour beer and unwashed skin,
the loud absence of women.
These men, too, must surely have known
the sudden singe of heat
on heart, the un-confided bruise?
On the edge of the clearing weather,
mountain, sky and ocean lean towards
each other with conspiratorial intention.
They are lifetimes ahead of us
the way they know how to sleep
together, dream together, lie awake
in the dark together, rarely - and always -
with their separate thoughts.
Where are we to drop anchor?
I am reluctant to interrupt this silence.
Western Fiordland, NZ
APPROACHING ACHERON PASSAGE FROM THE OPEN SEA
This is no trick of the light -
the headlands are being carried away
stone by rock by stone.
Neither wind nor rain nor day
nor night can deter these gulls:
watch them soar
and plummet, pick clean
the coastline’s bones. It’s work
and it’s a game, their winged insistence
their raucous reclamation.
Urgent the bedrock.
Patient the firmament.
A line is waiting to be drawn; we are
only and always a story in the making.
This is no trick of the light –
the headlands are being carried away
stone by rock by stone.
There are some interesting new developments in this work... some of which are so subtle and ephemeral as to make them nigh impossible to photograph, unfortunately! However, if you look closely, you may be able to make out the extra layer of imagery and text etched into each sheet of glass. Glass is, of course, a necessary element when working on paper, however in this FATHOM series, I have treated it as an essential layer, integral to the work, rather than as a practical framing requirement.
FATHOM documents a voyage made with nine other men and women from varying creative disciplines - musical composition to jewelry to visual arts, film-making and poetry. We spent six days and nights in remote Western Fiordland on board Ruth and Lance Shaw's conservation yacht, the Breaksea Girl. FATHOM began as an exploration of this experience, combining my responses to the dramatic environment (it rained and stormed almost constantly while we were there) with a plea for its preservation. There are references to its unique history, its mythology and stories, distillations of conversations, collaborative potentials, relationship dynamics, etc...
Then, the 'particular boat' sailed on, beyond the the realms of personal story and out into the wider, universal waters to encompass our shared life journey with its common denominator of detours and challenges, moments of joy, anguish, love, loss, discovery, transformation and learning.
SHADOW & SHIMMER
ALCHEMY | A painting/Jewelry collaboration with Kate Alterio
In the Melting Pot: Claire Beynon & Kate Alterio | Otago Daily Times article
* noun. A medieval chemical philosophy having as its asserted aims the transmutation of base metals into gold, the discovery of the panacea, and the preparation of the elixir of longevity.
* figurative. A process by which paradoxical results are achieved or incompatible elements combined with no obvious rational explanation : his conducting managed by some alchemy to give a sense of fire and ice.
* A seemingly magical power or process of transmutation and transformation.
ALCHEMY is a collaborative exhibition by Kate Alterio, contemporary jeweller, and Claire Beynon, visual artist, the expression of an interdisciplinary conversation that has taken shape over time and distance, and that draws together a range of artistic media.
Integral to ALCHEMY has been a co-mentoring process. Kate and Claire have combined the conceptual approaches and technical skills relevant to their independent disciplines, each enabling the other to step outside their usual areas of expertise and into a world of new possibilities. Kate has taught Claire jewellery and metalworking techniques; Claire has introduced Kate to drawing, painting, and related mark-marking skills. This co-mentoring aspect adds a unique dimension to this exhibition. Both artists have taken on the challenge of working in new media, with an eye on creative, technical and personal transformation.
Another unique element in this show is that the artists have co-created several of the works. Their collaborative pieces (limited editions of framed wearable jewellery and a series of inter-disciplinary, mixed media 2D works) complement and sit alongside their individual contributions (jewellery, wall installations, 3D sculptural works, drawings and paintings). Their solo voices emerge through their individual works, and their collaborative voice through combined pieces that carry both their signatures.
Claire and Kate believe that by sharing ideas and resources and crossing the parameters of their various disciplines, everyone benefits. Boundaries - many of them imaginary - are broken down, reinforcing the common ground between us.
Alchemy is presented as a journey that begins with individual pieces, moves through to collaborative works and ultimately arrives at a place where the boundaries between who made what merge. By laying out their process in this way, Kate and Claire hope to challenge traditional views of attachment and ownership and promote the idea that creative partnerships contain strong elements of gifting.
Leap and a net will appear.
LINK to ALCHEMY on KATE's website
ARCHITECTURE OF THE SPIRIT | Essay by Paul Sorrell for the exhibition 'BEARINGS'
Claire Beynon gets excited about paper. Speaking last year in Dunedin at the launch of her exhibition ‘Bearings’, she described at length her struggle with this intransigent material, the buckling, wrinkling and warping as the paper’s “curl memory” asserts itself, and the careful soaking and drying as the sizing is broken down to a workable surface. Beynon works in pastels, a medium originally adopted in her early days in South Africa as an economy measure, but now embraced as an essential adjunct to a distinctive way of seeing. Building layer upon layer of colour, Beynon works the pastels deep into the texture of the paper, creating a surface with the sharpness and luminosity of oils. Streaks of light appear where the surface is rubbed away, a process she describes as unpredictable, leaving room for “discoveries”.
But the meticulous images she creates leave very little to chance. Beynon is a sharp-edged visionary, articulating a spirituality that is anything but woolly. An animated person, her hands are constantly in motion, her eyes darting and flickering as her mind registers her surroundings like a camera in fast-action mode. Her ability to see in this way is central to her work. She talks of the natural environment as a world in flux, a realm of apparently solid exteriors where each successive moment brings a new play of movement and nuanced succession of light and shadow. Capturing these moments of vision, while at the same time suggesting the tumultous play of images in which they are set, lies at the heart of her image-making.
This way of seeing the natural world implies the presence of other worlds, interleaved and interlayered. A poet as well as an artist, Beynon sees both language and art as “a decoding of internal and external landscapes”. Like the everchanging landscape of the external world, our psyches are in a state of flux, continually readjusting, reassessing, repositioning—taking new bearings. And Beynon sees significant connections between the natural landscape and the man-made environment, both essentially architectural in their structure and composition. There is a significant analogy between landscape and architecture in her work that is best seen in the ‘Plumbline’ series prepared for the ‘Bearings’ exhibition. Inspired by the plunging cliffscapes of the West Coast and the lancet windows of Gothic cathedrals studied on a trip to Italy in 2003, these pencil-like works present a vertical distillation of the environment, suggesting “a much larger, eternally unfinished picture”, as she noted in her floortalk. This tiny sliver of the world matches what we see—the edited version of reality the brain presents to us—and acts as an analogy for the selective self-presentation we make to the world.
A further link with architecture is seen in her concern with margins, edges and thresholds. In the physical landscape, margins are simultaneously meeting places, lines of demarcation and sites charged with energy and power. Such endless interplay between opposites— integration and independence, light and dark, inner and outer—mirrors our complex internal dialoguing. In some works, landscape features segue into architectural elements. In ‘Leave the Room Behind’, a sequence of landscape images is framed by entrance-ways or thresholds, inviting us to step into unexplored landscapes of the mind and spirit.
Beynon’s spiritual landscapes are multi-layered in an almost literal sense, too—by the simple expedient of inverting the images, they are transposed into new forms, suggesting once again the abstract contours of an inner landscape; one of the works which can be read in this way is entitled ‘Palindrome’. In ‘Above, Below and on the Edge II’, a work from ‘Bearings’, sweeping planes of ochre landforms and a brooding sky are inverted to produce an image of dawn breaking over a long headland and a dark seascape streaked with light. Each element in the composition transposes precisely to another equally valid and compelling form, emphasizing the “margin” between sea and sky. Such qualities give Beynon’s works their peculiar spiritual resonance. At the same time, these works from ‘Bearings’ depict recognisably South Island landscapes—often moody, impressively vast and involving: evocations of the coastlands of Otago where she and her family moved after leaving South Africa in 1994.
The multilayered resonances of Beynon’s work produce deeper and deeper echoes. Some drawings go beyond personal analogy to suggest the ancient model of a three-tiered universe, with upper, middle and lower worlds. Although disciplined and sharply-realised, these works are open to many possibilities, and in no way restrict us in our explorations. Beynon offers us a series of windows onto the spirit, a visionary glimpse of the multiple potentialities for human interaction, communication and self-discovery. They are aids to contemplation in the broadest sense.