IN THE TRACKS OF THE YELLOW DOG – a just so story
Mandate of Heaven
5 x 5 feet oil and acrylic on canvas
To begin at the beginning, dearly beloveds, is a fine thing but where is the beginning. Was it long long ago in the abstract of only yesterday, or is it simply first to throw a six? In The Very Beginning pronouns predominate and conversation is a bit stilted with gestures like shrugging the shoulders and corners of the mouth down. Not until adjectives came along could real disagreement get going about how scary going…in really can be, or how securely…on, one never really feels about certain precipitous snow covered ledges that have to be traversed every autumn…and no, I’m sorry, you can’t bring all your adjectives...
Time has time to kill and she’s sitting by herself at her kitchen table with all the time in the world playing Protagony. In the deepest of darks, she is holding the very before The Very Beginning when everything has to be very and still. A great game for astronauts, this game can take a long time to get going, sometimes a whole lifetime of divine patience even, with only the sheer ink and a baited quill to arrive at First Character. Players have to place their protagonist…just so, like a chess-piece and then wait, fishing the sublime for the next move. And here’s the tricky bit…everywhere all at once…until, eventually Moving Finger fills the first Thinks-Bubble:
‘…is it…In the Very Beginning, or Once Upon a Time?’
Making light out of words, light with words, or simply making light of words can lead to all kinds of wonderful and exceptional nonsense and often there aren’t any serious asides or quaint conclusions to this most serious of games but this was her game and play it she did through the dark star-fields of her abyss on those long journeys around the universe, down to the shops, or skipping right round the corner and back again, just for the hell of it.
4 x 12 inches oil on board
From stories told with knots to books from shelves that yawned she was quick to dispatch ideas about an Inner Light. Splitting her sides all day on pronouns was more than enough, answering questions from Moving Finger like: Would you like a cup of tea, my dear? Answer: Tea like in with very yes at…etcetera. So it came as a complete surprise then a delight to find she was actually glowing. What happens after a bit of metabolism inside a glow worm with enough Adenosine Triphosphate was one thing but Bioluminescing wasn’t in the rules of Protagony the last time she played. Used to writing in the dark, or reading with her fingertips, this …Inner Light came at a time when just about everything else in her world was becoming less and less useful by the day, so maybe this pulsing from her hands and face was a first. Searching her shelves in the pale blue light of the following day for anything about glowing she found, not a jot, or as she liked to put it: ‘…sweet nuff…ink.’ Apart from one little anonymous spark, probably medieval, which she copied out carefully and stuck to her kitchen cupboard with blu-tack:
‘As soone as wee to be begunne, wee beginne to be undone.’
For a change of horses on her winged chariot, Fast Forward to the End was another game she liked to re-hearse. A champion of anachronism, she often…thanked god…for stuff. After all, wasn’t god The protagonist? She thanked him for pronouns, clean sheets, found slippers, new curtains, almond blossom and kindly words but mainly she gave thanks for books, a whole lifetime of them in Science Fiction and Art Fiction. Without a ballast of books in the hold her chariot could have been sliding on its side through the subjunctive and she couldn’t have remained upright at all. In Fast Forward… the dice has sixes on every side so it isn’t hard to get another go. This introduces players to a lot of spectacles all at once, for which reasons must be found. Time said she just kept losing them, so she always needed another pair.
Flicking through Finding Stuff When it Comes to Losing Stuff, under B, she was looking up biros. Neck-and-neck for main bane in her life, biros and spectacles really needed to catch up. Couldn’t they be made to twinkle, or beep, or something? She was drifting off re-inventing the biro slipping slowly sideways when thought took hold. In Fast Forward… it’s always time to be…moving on, away from the struggle of getting back up after dropping notebooks on leave-a-note nights and, well, leave a note. Time enough. It was nearly midnight when no sooner thought than covers thrown, biro brilliantly caught…bottom sheet hospital bed, Moving Finger… two words:
…and having writ…Moving Finger, a bit of a mixed blessing, could express or trigger wildness even, lucidity, moves as big as moving house and moments as ordinary as finding the moon in a puddle for the first time all over again. As for ‘…moving on’ this was, for her, just too passive. She needed something more assertive, like an injunction…move along, please, or …put, the gun, down. But there wasn’t time to figure now, or look up words like ‘ichthonic,’ or ‘epistemology,’ so she used them as expletives - a bit like Captain Haddock’s ‘….blue blistering barnacles!’ only different. And just as this seeing-in-the-dark malarkey was looking like it might be a way of getting her mitts back on, if not back round the neck of meaning, one question clung to her mountain pass. Was glowing a way to test the darkness of the dark that had surrounded just about everything in the universe, or was it only another way to extend the game of Protagony? She had groaned much, but to what end? The old positivism, experimental science, had been reliable up to a point …take-the-pills.
In the Tracks of the Yellow Dog
97 x 55 inches Tapestry
And so it was, dearly beloveds, dressing gown, slippers, mitts and she was off, humming…she’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes…out through the automatic into night’s shuffling corridor following in the tracks of her sometimes three-headed yellow dog muse she called Dingo. Coming out of the lift on the ground floor still rehearsing a roller-coaster conversation on the telephone with Persephone queen of the dead, she was approaching the kiosk on the left when she remembered a drawing of a little yellow dog on the side of a twelfth century Chinese pot in a Glasgow museum. Suspended in blue light disbelief as ‘the thinly disguised girl,’ she’d stopped to catch her breath by the no-change-as-usual-dammit kiosk when she was interrupted halfway through a ghostly twix by her muse: ‘well, …here’s an audience.’ Says Dingo.
‘…we owe a cock to Asclepius already?’
In this extraordinary exhibition by her son Matthew, from his two stunning pieces of architectural glass, Spiral Form and Open Country, to a first exquisite tapestry, In the Tracks of the Yellow Dog we are carried in a procession of paintings and prints on High Seat, (the Inuit way) through Bushfire and Snow, assisted in this cross-cultural odyssey by expert weavers from the great Jacquard loom at Flanders Tapestries in Belgium where a thousand tiny-fingered Rumplestiltskins laboured his straw into gold. As did the many ‘…love the sound of breaking glass…’ craftsmen and women at Derix Glass Studios in Germany, where incidentally, the enormous window for Tate St. Ives was fabricated in the early 1980’s. On and up the stairs…steady, to the complete nine of his prints, patiently and expertly screened over the last two decades, by John Rossell of Newlyn and shown here for the first time all together.
‘One good thing, now that I’m almost incandescing, my dear Dingo, we won’t have to wait around for the old protagonist to make up his mind. We can leave him to his fishing, to his sublime in-decision. What’s more, we’ve a wedding to attend, a top-notch watch-out-for-the-shoulder-blade-in-your-soup-kind of wedding at Thebes, after which…can’t wait can we? …my interview with Mr. Death…could be noisy, mind…remind me to complain bitterly with a cricket bat, or something in no uncertain terms…bad form not to.’ ‘…now warries mate.’ Says Dingo. ‘…if the soup’s as you suspect, sounds like there’ll be at least one bone to contend with.’
16.75 x 11.75 inches
54 edition screenprint
So, off they go, dearly beloveds, Dingo way ahead as usual, as if…into the chuckling night. No more old saw, those red-herring inflated currencies of debate that once divided art from artists, abstract from figurative, all the way from the rock arts of Magdalanean France and Spain to the so-called geometric designs on figurines and pots from Catal Huyuk in Turkey. Indeed, all the way up and down the backstreets of St. Ives in the 1950’s until, hot on these heels, coming in close-by, ears up. ‘…as if…what?’ Asks Dingo, ‘…as if…’
…there was never any price to pay.’ she says.
From carpets depicting Russian bombs falling on Afghans to braille designs on the walls of Gavrini’s passage grave in southern Brittany, even, perhaps some still un-found, un-pecked fougous of Cornwall, to Ireland’s reconstructed Newgrange with its triple spiral buried up to its back wall in the earth to attend forever it’s midwinter meet with the rising sun, this is a shortcut across cultures, continents, open country, any country still open to an old woman and her muse. In Beaker People, we need to travel lightly. Her ship is shown loaded to its gunnels crossing a stripy sea carrying everything from wall paintings of Thera to Bradshaw figures from Arnhem Land in North Western Australia. In a sea of spirals, roaming bands of zig-zags and ship-shapes rigged in pink binder-twine ride out storms of joyously waiting Walbiri iconographers moments from being wrecked on a coast of soliloquy.
10 x 3 feet
acrylic on canvas
Forces to be working with, wrecks to be forcing with, this is an exhibition that opens on the exotic, on the other, to difference, to everything and anything against exploded diagrams in armaments meetings being neatly arranged for the un-arranged dead for which nothing is always carefully being seemed to matter. Loaded into parentheses, dragged onto the margins, prevented from signifying, everything is significant in the disappearing of whole peoples, loved ones, loved languages and beautiful things. Mind you, even the penguins didn’t see it coming, forced all those millions of years ago to leave their cosy Mediterranean lifestyles to take turns standing on an egg in the bitter winter winds at the south pole.
‘…in longitudes alone this wind…same-old, same-old…matter doo-ee?…come on Dingo…always hungry, dusty in the sunshine, never any nearer, always far away…‘
Sussing a painting would take her no time at all. For her, a painting was either cooked or it wasn’t. So too, her beaker people would have taken no time to load the exquisite and the precious she was given to, or found time to find then give away, un-hide, un-book, expose or un-earth, or we have still to disinter from graves, or from the fantastic in splendid adornment. As for Time under Patriarchy, old father Time, she was having none of it. On one of her pillow-cases we found this:
Time calls today, she finds me in, her hours all my toothless minutes win
Was this declaration, this pillow politics, a quiet feminism un-middened by memory’s gentle switch to a cardboard moon? We found her a new bulb un-deck of her steamship still steaming its postcard way out of re-named Bombay at the age of six, all the way home to her Surrey-gardens-maude with her father and a man called Kipling. If it still flickers for us now, dearly beloveds, it’s because she was unclear if this was told her by her father, or something she actually remembered seeing herself. Suffice, she was savvy enough to say: ‘…remember it this way…he was there every morning after we came up from breakfast, sat in his deck-chair scribbling, all over his white cuffs…’ No sooner said, dearly beloveds, than this was followed by another of her many lucid moments:
‘…must have been ambidextrous.’
Matthew Lanyon. August 2016