46 - Hay or high water
In my last blog post, I mentioned my Circling Forward exhibition at the Depozitory in Ryde. This has now been taken down (though can still be viewed in the virtual world through my gallery page, minus the long 360-degree drawing I started in situ and which is still in progress). I am pleased to say that a good number of the paintings hung in that big room have found their way to new homes. Some were collected, others I offered to deliver, enticed by the promise of seeing the work in its new surroundings and, in one memorable case, Sunday lunch. So, on the morning of Sunday 29th October, I set out on the bus to Ventnor with two small paintings securely wrapped against jostles and the weather. It was in fact pouring with rain and blowing a hurricane. The paintings were to be delivered to St. Lawrence, a village tucked into an undercliff along the coast from Ventnor, and it was my plan to walk along the cliff path to my destination, weather permitting, otherwise I’d been offered a lift from Ventnor.
The downpour continued as the bus wound its way round flood diversions and sploshed through puddles. To occupy myself on the hour-long journey, I drew what I could see from the front window of the upper deck. This proved mainly to be church spires and steeples which emerged and receded through the greyness at each twist and turn. Eventually even they disappeared into condensation. An elderly chap, with a practised gesture, doffed his check peaked cap and used it to wipe a peephole in the windscreen across the aisle, which almost instantly misted over. So all that was left were the raindrops which streamed unrelentingly.
Like a miracle, the sun came out just as I left the bus. I decided to risk the tempting cliff walk and off I set. Googling the walk had given contradictory results. My destination was 7 miles away and the walk would take me two and a half hours, my destination was only three miles away and would take me an hour. I had left myself plenty of time anyway, so I wasn’t particularly bothered. It was just exhilarating to be out on the clifftops with the wind in my hair. Exhilarating and a little disconcerting. I seemed to be looking upwards, not out, at the shifting concrete grey bulk of the sea on my left, looming above me as if it held lots more water in it than usual and would soon spill over even these high cliffs. The waves pounded the rocks of Steephill Cove below. At one point the cliff seemed to have crumbled away perilously close to the path and there was no comforting bramble hedge between me and the drop. The wind was strong and I am not heavy, even carrying two paintings, so I ducked down and scrambled through the mud on my knuckles on a few occasions, praying for the track to widen out on my right, or at least for a welcome footpath to branch off inland, but a barbed wire fence and many red warning notices reminded me that the safe land beyond was private land, and I was deterred from straying onto it.
At last, when Google maps informed me that I’d gone well past St Lawrence, the coastal path turned inland and I was able to hurry away from the saw-edge cliffs and hungry sea. I had met not a soul on this treacherous stretch – I was the only fool out on those cliffs that day.
Maps app notwithstanding, reassuring signposts welcomed walkers and encouraged me to explore the 12th century church and other delights, but I followed my GPS up a steep winding track, being startled as I rounded a bend by the unlikely glimpse of a large succulent in full red flower in a garden that grey late October day. My host too had spent a stretch of her life in Australia and proudly showed me antipodean succulents and ivy that flourished in her own garden in that area’s famous microclimate. She delightedly tried my paintings on her wall and found echoes in them of the patterns and colours of her well-loved traditional table runner and rug, as she made plans for their framing. These paintings would be happy in their new home. I was generously fed and given a ride back to the Ventnor bus stop, not being brave enough to tackle the cliffs in the late afternoon gloom. With still two deliveries left to make, I wanted to ensure I lived to fulfil these remaining orders.
A quarter of the Circling Forward exhibition paintings will then have found new homes, though one series of ten paintings which I called "Equus", my most recent collection of oil paintings based on sketches of horses, still remained with me intact. But last Saturday afternoon I found myself once more on the Ventnor bus, surreptitiously taking up four seats in the back this time, with the entire Equus collection. They had been much admired at The Depozitory, and last Tuesday, Peer Studios and VTown Gallery in Pier Street, Ventnor, offered me the opportunity of gallery space for all of them for a month, provided I could get two of them framed by Saturday. I was in luck, and The Gentleman Framer who has joined the collection of interesting shops at the top of Ryde High Street (see posts 27 – 33 of this blog for more on those) was willing and able, and had the materials ordered and frames made ready for me to paint in my own style just in time. They were happily received and the two framed ones went straight into the window at Peer Studios, with the others browsable inside. All ten Equus paintings will remain there for the next three weeks, unless some sell – If they do, I’m inclined this time to let the horses find their own way to their new stables.