By William Tillyer
It's a long drive from North Yorkshire to the Inveragh peninsula County Kerry, but I have always found travelling by car a liberating experience. My driving seat is adjusted to Club like perfection plenty of lateral support--cruise control engaged. The heating and air conditioning adjusted to spacecraft perfection and perhaps later, the surround music system will provide a jazz or Bach quartet. Like all cars today doors and windows are all perfectly water tight and draught free. Why are our houses not built to these automotive specifications? This is a piece of hardware which cossets its occupants and directs their behaviour to interact with it. The car interior always seems like the perfect study, or even monks cell, assuming you travel alone. Perfect, because you are insulated from the world as it passes you by, only the train is as good, but then you are not in control, you must take a passive role. The ambience of my solitary, mobile study, where everything I require is to hand, yet allowing the mind to fall into a favoured reflective state whereby one looks back, perhaps on the works left behind in the. studio so that the present moment is always on the cusp of what has passed: and the eternal excitement of the future and what it may bring. This constant review, and reappraisal of ideas and work is perhaps a 'modus operandi' we are all familiar with learning from past endeavours and mistakes. Yet I feel that artists more than most are engaged in looking back in order to proceed. I believe Picasso and Matisse used to refer to this as "holding hands through history". A kind of continuum, a quasi/scientific approach to the painting of pictures. However this is not a view, I find, has much currency today. In a strange way one hovers Hawk like over the present moment yet looking back to check, waiting to drop into the future.
Arriving in County Kerry on what some call 'the last road in Ireland', I find the landscape to be the most expansive, light filled space one could hope for, furnished by a multitude of islands, inlets and peninsulas. Land, Sea, and Air coming together in what I can only describe, being here in Ireland as 'A Celtic Flux' The light and air being interchangeable with the land and sea. The sun filled air moves in such a way as to make for confusion so that nothing is hard and fast or positively delineated. At times the small islands appear to be floating up in the sky like space ships or UFO's. The land disappears from under foot as mist and sky drift by. Sky and Land intertwine, serpent like, creating space where one must find bearings and coordinates from its inherent furniture. ('A Furnished Landscape' 1975)
The painter Peter Lanyon speaking of his work comes to mind as I stand looking out on a sun filled sky ---"I paint places where solids and fluids meet the junction of sea and cliffs wind and cliffs". My feelings echo this phrase as I note that this part of Ireland is just about as close as one can get to America and still be in Europe: unless you take a short boat trip further west, to the charismatic Skellig Isles. These rocky outcrops were inhabited by monks from around 600AD. However they were not as remote or isolated as one might imagine. Certainly their reality is remote, but their use, notoriety, and significance was not. The Skelligs was a stopping off point for travellers sailing between southern and northern Europe. They were at an ideal crossroads for sailors from Spain and the Low countries. News from North Africa and the Mediterranean was not uncommon for the seemingly isolated inhabitants of Skellig St Michael. These charismatic rocks out in the Atlantic were listening and gathering posts, a magnetic point for travellers. In terms of the early Christian period I suppose they were rather like the BBC or CNN,news agencies or exchanges via the internet. The difference being in the pause between news items. Unlike the 24 hour news service we are accustomed to it could be weeks if not months or years between news from the outside world.
Sitting out there in the Atlantic in this wonderful expansive seascape the rocks would make the perfect motif for a Monet painting, or a Turner inspired Luminist work. Light space and recession being the point to such paintings, yet the Skelligs also have another importance, one where they are seen not as a Monet 'Haystack', full of light, form and atmosphere, but through innate signals which have a meaning other than just the visual. This interrelationship of the physical presence, and the psychological, is what makes me keep looking out to the Skelligs. A reading of the rocks as signal, emanating in an over familiar form, I note, often outweighs the evidence of the form itself. A belief in what we think we know, before the evidence of our eyes and touch. In reflecting on the Skellig rocks, and the landscape here, which in some ways resembles North Yorkshire, I am reminded of earlier thoughts on environmental hardware, as I refer to the Rocks.Next Page