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Soup and Pudding

This month’s blog is an update on my studio practice.
Whatever I am making art about, to some extent I am always asking myself and the work: ‘why it is necessary that it is made?’ Some ideas are better written down, or danced, or written off. I am looking to make visual art, and I look to find potency for my art work. I want to make things that needed to be made and are worth looking at. I have looked about me at how art achieved potency in the past, and looked at areas of life which still have the power to engender strong emotion or give succour. The shock of representation, the awe inspired by the sacred – these things are hard for most of us to revisit – certainly for me. I do have things in my life which inspire awe, stomach lurching emotion, and it is these that I look to make art about. One of these is love, and I am working currently on a project involving people in my community who own very elderly dogs. This is immensely pleasurable but at present in its infancy so I don’t have much to show for it except a few photos of my first canine sitter – Kay.
My main preoccupation is the way so many people find the strength within themselves to continue with life despite convincing evidence against its logicality and against surprisingly stiff odds, and to do so with cheer and so I look to celebrate that heroism and explore its apparatus. It takes me a while to synthesize all the strands of ideas in a way where the different parts sit properly in the register as it were; like a still life painter arranging her composition. Once I have found a route into imagery the whole thing gets a lot easier and at present I am at a nice stage where I have enough information to get started and am just painting away like a loon to get up enough steam that I can benefit from whatever the act of making and the output might have to teach me. I am making a whole load of small landscape paintings from models.
Living on the Hebridean island of Lewis I am in no doubt that I have moved to a foreign country. Living inside another culture is a privilege, I have always been interested in the daily detail and unexpected domestic differences in other people’s lives.
Having moved from urban Brighton to rural Carloway there was a crunching of gears, in particular a poor fit between the skills I brought with me and the skills I needed in my new environment. In the face of Lewissian Gneiss and the crashing waters of the Atlantic, especially in the crofting lifestyle that I had arrived into I was and am still slightly adrift, especially in comparison to women who can trace their family locally back to the 12th century with little difficulty. I find I am drawn to postmodern ideas about identity and place. I enjoy Edward Said’s writings about the value of an identity not linked to place, but it’s harder to walk it than talk it.
“It is therefore, a source of great virtue for the practised mind to learn, bit by bit, first to change about in visible and transitory things, so that afterwards it may be able to leave them behind altogether. The person who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign place. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong person has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his”
Hugo of St Victor, Didascalion, quoted in Said, Edward W; Culture and Imperialism, 1993
The previously unknown to me phenomenon of the ‘soup and pudding lunch’ provided imagery for me to explore my environment and the landscape in a way that allowed exploration of themes of domestic heroism and succour. Soup and pudding lunches are put on by the women of the community to raise funds for local or global charitable concerns. Surrounded by the majestic and imposing grandeur of the mountains, lochs and moors, I constructed wee landscapes in crème caramel, meringue and soup and made paintings from these models. In this way I turned my back on the majesty of my surroundings like the bog mouse from Wendy Cope’s semi spoof poem ‘God and the Jolly Bored Bog Mouse’ which I can’t quote here because it has rude words in it.– I found a way to make work about the landscape which brought it down to my level. Well, it’s not quite like that – I found a way to make it real and alive for me and linked it to my abiding interests in domestic skills and the slipperiness of the concept and practice of purpose and fulfillment.

Posted by author: Emma Drye
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9 thoughts on “Soup and Pudding

  • I really enjoyed reading this post. The theme of identity and place is a fascinating one. The story of the incomer is little told (other than in rather hideous imperialistic ways) and that feeling of being somewhere ancient and feeling foreign is definitely something to put into your work. I am working on a collection of poems about the eight years I lived in the Hebrides that touches on similar territory.
    I’d love to know more about your elderly dogs project!

  • Thank you for your post Emma. I am currently working on my extended project with the theme of place. So your piece had a resonance for me too. I live in France and have that strange feel of slight dislocation while loving the space around me. I too find the small elements help me deal with the larger concept of belonging and identity.

    • Sue,
      I too enjoyed the post and also your reply about feeling ‘dislocation’ from your surroundings, I recently moved to Belgium and the post really resonated with me, as although I am enjoying my surroundings as yet I don’t feel at one with them and for a while I thought my identity had been lost somehow. Thanks for sharing.

      • Hi Anna,
        Thank you for that comment and yes, it is an odd feeling. I feel there is a lot of potential in feeling a little ‘outside’. Perhaps a sort of freedom. For me I am away from family, which is difficult, although I am also away from the constraints that I put on myself in a certain family role…. Good luck in your new life.

  • I’m still learnbing about this blogging lark and half the photos didn’t make it in, I’ll try to include them next time. Thankyou for your responses. I’m about to launch a website with my work on it so there will be more information about the elderly dogs project on there.

  • I very much enjoyed reading about what you are up to, Emma. You have the gift to express it in such a way that I can almost feel as though I am there in the landscape and amongst the people myself. All the best with your website. Hope it doesn’t take up all the time available for art and making soup and pudding!

  • What an excellent post, and I like the painting very much too: bold and not arty in a traditional sense The practice of making models and responding in paint reminds me of Lanyon’s beach constructions from which some of his paintings later emerged.
    I wonder have you read Andrew Grieg’s beautifully crafted Loch of the Green Corrie? It touches often on the deep rootedness of ‘peoples’ in Scotland. It is in large part a homage to the Scots poet Norman MacCaig; fabulous book. MacCaig is a fabulous poet too.

  • Hello Mark, I haven’t read Loch of the Green Corries but I absolutely love Norman MacCaig – my favourite is the toad poem, ‘stop looking like a purse’.

    • He writes a lot about frogs and toads – he even wrote a poem about writing about them!
      I hope you read Greig’s book, as a painter turned writer I found relevant in a way that is rare, particularly Greig’s reflections on the transience and disconnected nature of our lives.
      Enough. Back to my own blog.

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