First Catch Your Fish

 

 

So she’s finished.

What an experience. The last time I painted something this size was about 4 years ago… and I can still remember the transition from clammy, shaking hands as I made the first brushstroke onto the chalked-up canvas… right through to the point where I was squinting shut with one eye, like a ‘proper’ painter might… tilting back on the heel of my foot before zeroing in to daub a more confident stroke of colour.

I have got a thing about fish, it’s true. But this is perhaps the largest and most ambitious of visual mouthfuls I’ve ever taken on.

This is Brenda the Blue Fin. Endangered now, but many years ago I can remember enjoying my first ever taste of such a fish.

It was served raw, sliced finely by a sashimi chef (no kidding) on a Japanese schooner that had moored up alongside the boat I was crewing.

I was 21 and had wangled myself onto a yacht to take part in a race, and we’d all just arrived in St Lucia. Having sailed over 4000 nm and in a high state of boat fever we couldn’t wait to spill off and at least put a little space between us all. We looked like a small, straggled squabble of seagulls as we wobbled off and wibbled our way to customs and immigration, and a quiet beer.

By sunset, we’d all showered, regained a sense of feeling more ‘human’, and had received an invitation to board the Japanese schooner and celebrate the race fleet’s arrival.

I shall never forget that first bite of bluefin and the genuine high it delivered from eating such pure, unadulterated protein. Unexpected and very surreal.

I’ve wanted to portray this extraordinary fish ever since. I just didn’t want to represent it as something edible… I needed to make it the hunter, rather than the hunted.

 

At 48 x 30 inches, her sea of canvas lends her ‘just’ enough space to make a game of chasing her moving lunch of anchovies as they slip through her inky black ocean. Their tails are a snout’s nudge away, but given her innate ability to reach speeds of up to 43 mph they don’t stand much of a chance… At least it’ll be relatively quick, a mere gulp in time!

I’ve absolutely adored painting her, and her fleet of food! So many hues and textures… completely in love with her armour-like patina… the Boudicea of the sea.

Time to clean the brushes, and my hands, elbows and the remaining smudges of oil paint from my face, and celebrate with a cup of tea, and perhaps some anchovies on toast…

Huge thanks must go to you all, for your boundless enthusiasm and words of encouragement. They make a world of difference to what I do.

Happy happy Friday to you all!

 

 

p.s. She is for sale, so do get in touch if you’d like to know more.


March

… began with enough snow to wholly cloak our little corner of the world in white.

Once this crystalline blanket had settled, all visual and audible noise became muffled, with only the most prominent features able to rise above the swaddling of snow. And we became housebound for 3 days.

On the first day, I made a slow and squeaky hike through the field to the veg beds, to find the plot dressed as some huge, badly made bed, its sheet barely tucked at the edges, with more than a few old marrow bodies slumbering beneath. I looked beyond and noticed for the first time, the stripped-back woody stems of forgotten purple cabbages; reaching out from their sea of snow they appeared as the tentacles of some exotic red-armed octopus, buried but still flailing.

Onto the tiny orchard to check on the new, young plum and pear trees, only to find their little arms bravely basketing at least their bodyweight in snow. A gentle shake and they were free to wave once more.

I realise that birds don’t have the luxury of marvelling at the ‘beauty of it all’, and no more clearly was this proven out than watching two male blackbirds perched and punchy, oblivious to the maelstrom of Winter in flux, and slinging verbal abuse at one another. It may have had something to do with the last remaining baubles hanging from the crabapple tree.

With the dogs almost in tow (somewhere, but probably rootling at a freshly laid cluster of deer poo) I carved a path across the bottom of the field. Through the fringe of silver birch I spied a gathering of Canada Geese and Mallard, two lofty and nervous Cygnet swans edging the group. All of their usual moorings in the lake were partially frozen, so territorial lines had to be renegotiated and possibly crossed in order to find food and new anchorage.

Through the woods we creaked, weaving among Birch and Beech, one footfall for ever two of deer, branding deep into untouched powder. A startled cloud of puffed-up pigeons lifted as one from their lanky Ash, clearly not expecting visitors in this weather.

This is my daily ritual throughout the year, and sharing it with an old terrier (Chewie) and a lurcher puppy (Billie) is a wonderful, if a bit of a pain when I’m hoping to listen out, and spot any new feathered or furred guests in the woods. However, during the snowy days… watching Billie in raptures, as she discovered the Marvellous Circus of Snow that had filled every bluff and badger hole, it was a complete joy. I found myself laughing madly, and joining in. Which of course seriously confounded the terrier. Humans just don’t do that unless they’re small and loud with grabby hands. And those kind of humans are to be avoided at all times.

Forging onwards we made it to my little studio. Negotiating the slippery wooden deck is always a bit of a challenge. I’d carefully placed a scavenged beach rock on the one sagging board so I wouldn’t step on it and bring it to an untimely end. But Billie likes stones, had picked it up and taken it to her place-where-all-special-things-must-go! We made it in, board intact, slid the wedge of fallen snow back out, and shut the door. Settling onto chairs, cushions and into corners, we all got on with our usual routine… drawing for me, sleep (and much farting!) for them.

Watching a season’s progress, through my studio window is inspiring, and admittedly quite distracting. Every nuance of colour as it blooms and fades has me running through paint names in my head, making up new ones. I’d like to fix a camera up and record a whole year of this kaleidoscope.

During these snowy days this little studio flared to an almost otherworldly state of bright. The hours of work played out till way beyond the usual sundown, such was the lingering gaze of reflected luminosity. But by the second day of being on this ‘island’, the weather turned. A gathering grey of raging winds stropped in from the east, grabbed great handfuls of snow and began hurling them to fly like torn bed linen across the glade beyond my studio. By sunset a spill of indanthrene blue had flooded the sky to brimming. Turning off the studio lights, we made our way down through the snowy clumps of rusted bracken to the edge of the field, finding it stirred and blurred by the gusting gales, yet it still retained its lucent glow like some deep and dwelling creature of the sea.  We could’ve been anywhere.

I’m writing this having spent a very early morning in dressing gown and wellies, walking with the dogs across the field and into the woods.

Everything has become green again and it appears that rather than killing off any new growth, all infant borage, mallow, and knapweed seem to have survived and thrived beneath their temporary blanket of snow. Beyond the birch line, the geese, ducks and swans are once more spread wide across the dark, still canvas of water, no longer forced into close proximity by a prison of icy confinement. There’s a level of noise that is almost deafening, such is their enthusiasm for open debate.

All is vivid, visible, and almost shouting out for Spring to hurry now.

And of course I feel the same. I’m more than ready for the cacophony and clamour of chatter and colour that she will bring.

But what a grand finale that was.

Yes, we were stranded, but I’d forgotten what peace of mind this aspect of ‘islanding’ can bring.