One bright Monday morning Hubby piped up, 'Shall we take a short holiday?' And so without much herald, fuss or fore thought we took off on a three night mid week break in York ~ the very next day. That's the nearest we've got to being truly spontaneous, going the following day, but hey! its a practice. Would there be much to do mid January when most tourist places are a bit half closed? Well quite a lot actually.
There was viewing the famous Minster with a fabulous tour guide who knew everything and more, plus sampling the countless quality cafes and restaurants, to name just two. Those of you who know us will not be surprised to hear, it was quite a foody few days. The culinary highlights being an Egg Florentine at Carluccio's, the Vietnamese Starter at Coto and a Vegan Wellington at Bill's.
York Art Gallery had been closed for refurbishment when we were last in York. The newly refitted gallery is an excellent art venue. The upstairs exhibition space is now the home to its extensive collection of contemporsry ceramic, and at the moment the work of Lucie Rie. They have an unrivalled whole floor of her beautifully elegant modern ceramics. The current Lucie Rie Exhibition focuses in part on her production of ceramic buttons for the fashion market.
Travelling up and back from York, we had our usual much loved few hours break in Lincoln. This time we also took in some other slight detours. On the way up to cross the Humber Bridge and to stop to take in the artis-anal delights of Malton once more. On the way back we returned via The Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield.
I'm not a fan of Barbara Hepwoth's sculpture, her work seems rarely to transcend its obvious influences. Nowadays both Hepworth, and Henry Moore's sculpture for that matter, can seem a bit hackneyed, lumpen, even derivative. This is not entirely their fault, as so much amateur cod-modernism to mass produced soapstone sculptures mine the Hepworth/ Henry Moore style axis mercilessly. There modern reputation stands on their twin pioneering of modernism within British sculpture, for which they should righly be still applauded. Even if their work desperately needs a re-evalutation of its quality and reputation.
Hepworth's early work in marble was strong, influenced by elements of Hans Arp's abstract organic forms and reliefs, and they are particularly finely executed. Her later work that emerges after Naum Gabo in exile stayed with her in St Ives, with all those pebble shapes with holes and webs of strings across, appears far too imitative and lacking in individuality.
The Hepworth Gallery does, however, display sculpture very well. Entrance is FREE folks. It's floor to ceiling windows bring a sense of what is outside in, and place the scultures within, or face out on, their surrounding urban landscape. They had an exhibition of work by the entrants for last years Hepworth Prize which provided the two highlights of this visit to the gallery.
The combined sound and sculpture work Compostion For 37 Flutes by Cerith Wyn Evans, the worthy winner of the £30,000 Hepworth Prize.
A beautiful circle on the floor composed of irregularly sized deep black shiny beads made by Mona Hatoum. Both artists I have come across before, but it was nice to be reminded of the innovative inspiring quality of their work.
Both gallery visits sparked us off creatively. They reminded us how important it is to stay in touch with contemporary art, simply in order to keep the fire ones own imagination lit. Art in North Norfolk rarely steps beyond the predictable dull retreading of dead soil, usually figurative,or landscapes, not to forget the those obligatory wooden seagulls, sometimes on sticks or a gambolling bronze cast hare. We can become so caught up in the making of product for Cottonwood, we forget that creatively needs feeding. Space has to be invented, where we can freely explore our creative process outside the constraints that a narrow production line forces upon us,
The Lucie Rie exhibition triggered in both myself and Hubby an interest in making handmade buttons, small ceramic tiles or panels. We've bought some air hardening clay and Fimo to simply muck about with and see what comes out of it, without becoming too reductive and product focused. These may or may not end up being introduced into the work we do for Cottonwood Workshop. This seems like another adjustment in the balancing act, between being productive whilst giving time for the pleasure of creative play, as a necessary sustenance. Otherwise we'll become very dull boys.
Woodlands,unlike Splash, has separate showers and changing rooms for each gender. This provides the stage upon which to observe male preening behaviour. If you thought hand held hair driers were just for drying the hair on ones head, then think again. In these days of clean shaven heads, more detailed and meticulous attention is given to beards, the fluffing up of chest hair and giving your pubes a bit of a tszuj. This affectation is not confined to hipster vanity but spans the generations. I've seen many a saggy back and sun wrinkled bottom of a retired gentlemen, standing stark naked before a mirror repositioning his chest hair and passing warm wafts of pseudo Mediterranean air over their genitals.
I finally visited the Norwich Zen Priory this month and I did not get lost, Hurrah!. The Priory is a semi-detached house on the Unthank Road. The Introductory Session was with the Reverend Leoma. Understandably a bit apprehensive beforehand, I actually enjoyed it immensely. Much of it proved to be familiar stuff, though I picked up some tips and different ways of viewing the practise of Zazen/Just Sitting. It was inspiring to sense how coherently the practise is embedded and central to making sense of everything else they do.
In Triratna its central meditations are 'developmental' in focus. Just Sitting, having little to consciously develop, is not clearly taught in its centres and hence not well understood. It becomes for a lot of meditators, just stopping making effort at the end or between meditations. Its more akin to a bookend than the book itself. One meditation retreat centre began teaching Pure Awareness, which is very like Zazen, but bedecked in Tibetan saffron and burgundy. A panic arose about whether this was inside or outside the movements core practises. As for many good people it was already their core practise, they were forced to find a good reason for it to be there, or face asking them to desist or leave.
The late Sangharakshita had some reasonable criticisms of Zen as a tradition. Triratna as a result has developed a questioning attitude towards it, that is rarely levelled at Tibetan Buddhism, for instance. Zen sometimes being slandered as not being Buddhist at all. I bring some of this attitude with me,which though not necessarily a bad thing, one should never be blind to faults, but neither should one over exaggerate them either. Some of the criticisms levelled at Zen it does make of itself. Any Buddhist practise misapplied or misunderstood on a fundamental level, becomes an obstacle and hence a problem.
Until my visit to the Zen Priory I was less aware how being surrounded by this atmosphere in Triratna had an alienating affect. Being alone in my enthusiasm for Dogen was one thing, but the negativity towards Zen styles of practise was a bit of a double whammy. Being at the Zen Priory doing a Zen practise, I did feel at home. It felt like it might be a better match to where I currently am, spiritually speaking.
Favourite Sign of the Month
Whilst wandering around Wells Next The Sea we passed a small sign in a field, that said:-
'free range children and animals not permitted'
I know what they are trying to say, but it is fun to be mischievous and imaginatively play with that