Celia Johnson: Masterclass
We trailed across the field in an artistic interpretation of Celia says.
At first it felt a little foolish; we scold children for trailing a hand over a dirty railing, for touching the ground. Oh, what we lose as we grow up; the senses we are conditioned to control. Silence was maintained until Celia broke into a skip. Skipping and giggling is like sneezing and closing your eyes; any attempt to supress these parallel actions is futile.
We circled a tree, skirted a patch of nettles, walked slowly, strode purposefully, swung our arms over our head to brush our ears, reached for branches, walked fairy steps, touched fleece, blackthorn and wire, swept our hands across the ground, crossed a stile and even crawled on our hands and knees in the dew and thistles.
Back in the gallery large pieces of white paper were hung from the walls and, using charcoal, chalks and clay slip, we made marks of our memories of the movement, textures and shapes of the walk. I felt as if I was attempting to allow the experience of the walk to dissolve through me to be interpreted as a series of gestural, almost subconscious, drawings.
Before lunch, sat out in the warm sunshine, we tried to express the experience in another medium and listed words and phrases that evoked our personal recollections of the walk. I was reminded of that conference icebreaker, ‘What did you see in the vestibule before you entered this room?’ and how the conflict in observations suggest that ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ is somewhere between many viewpoints.
The assemblage of walk words was reminiscent of Dadaist prose:
Gravel migration crunch buds bells bark dog and tree traffic bare patches of ground birdsong blackthorn aconites blue creeping buttercup weeping angels holly in beech Herrock hill Celia’s bangles hot metal dust Nash quarry upside-down horse shoe blue spray on fleece wire pheasant herding sheep dog rose nettle thistles in knee dew hour behind clock Virginia creeper.
The chickens chattered amongst themselves as we set off silently on the afternoon workshop; to draw in response to sound. We walked not talked, following the perimeter of a freshly sown field like a line of prisoners, or ramblers who had fallen out over Brexit. It felt awkward to me. The Hindwell was high and loud and, in my peripheral vision, I thought I saw my first butterfly of the year but it was gone too fast to identify.
We sat on the banks of the brook, closed our eyes and let our pencils flow, creating sound waves across the concertina booklets. The water babbled from left to right and soft buzzards backed the mighty wren. For me, the compulsion to open my eyes was too strong; to watch movement rather than feel it. Maybe that is why I cannot dance? Once again I questioned where my balance of naturalist and artist would settle. We left the brook to head for the sounds of the woods and I decided to separate from the group to find a quiet corner and catch up on my writing.
There was an ephemeral, immeasurable looseness about the day that is impossible to record in constructed prose. Like the ‘vestibule’ exercise I think everyone present would claim they had ‘seen’ or ‘experienced’ something different and that the ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ of what was gained from the walking drawing exercises is similarly ‘somewhere in the middle’. I don’t know yet what I learned, but I know that the memory of the day, like the Hindwell Brook, maintains a persistent babbling in my head.