Not for Sale (NFS)
Seamus Heaney and T.P. Flanagan explored the Irish landscape together, Flanagan revealing hidden truths in paint and Heaney of course in words. The poet dedicated ‘Bogland’ to his friend.
In this poem, Heaney talks about how the land reveals its history to us by digging down. In so doing, we form a connection with that past.
it’s a beautiful and rich idea.
Whenever I make one of these bog or land mark paintings, texture always plays a large part in capturing the rich black butter-like texture of the turf.
Knife and rag are the tools of choice to apply across the canvas thick layers of burnt umber and burnt sienna.
When the paint has dried, I scratch and scrape back into the surface, a technique made popular during the Renaissance and that the Italians call ‘Scraffito’.
Scratching and digging away revealed the orange/bronze under painting and Seamus Heaney evocative words entered my head. First was his poem ‘Digging’ and then by natural extension, ‘Bogland’.
Some of his lines powered the emotional charge I felt while making this whisper-like painting including a whole jumble of interconnected things dredged from my past and revealed through the physical use of a brush and scraping tool.
Then, there are marks and traces we imprint on the land.
A man-made disused bank of turf set amongst grasses co-habits with nature’s markings on the distant mountain.
‘Bogland’ by Seamus Heaney:
We have no prairies
To slice a big sun at evening–
Everywhere the eye concedes to
Is wooed into the cyclops’ eye
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country
Is bog that keeps crusting
Between the sights of the sun.
They’ve taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up
An astounding crate full of air.
Butter sunk under
More than a hundred years
Was recovered salty and white.
The ground itself is kind, black butter
Melting and opening underfoot,
Missing its last definition
By millions of years.
They’ll never dig coal here,
Only the waterlogged trunks
Of great firs, soft as pulp.
Our pioneers keep striking
Inwards and downwards,
Every layer they strip
Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.
The wet centre is bottomless.
I’d love to read what you think about the painting or these thoughts.