Art Projects - Robin Paris

Reading the Land

Image of a woad-dyed painting in the Reading the Land series by Robin Paris, showing diagonal lines and a stylised rendition of the hill Brown Willy in white and pale blue with a deeper blue background.Reading the Land is an art-research project based on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall that explores patterns built into the landscape by our ancestors. My current project, it was conceived in spring 2013 and started later that summer.

Finding the view across the moor from a particular menhir (longstone) exceptionally pleasing, I sketched it. From studying it in this manner I perceived a 'balance' in the landscape, a feeling that the various prehistoric and historic manmade elements were very deliberately positioned (eg, field boundaries, standing stones, cairns, tumuli, fords). That monuments are specifically placed is already known of course, but I trained originally as a designer and believed the view I was looking at was a designed view. But I could not 'see' the design, and this irked me.

So in Reading the Land I am studying the visual relationship between these manmade features and along three alignments found relating to them. Through fieldwork, astro-archaeological associations have been revealed, so the project now incorporates astro-archaeology alongside the purely visual.

Interpreting findings into art and design, the subsequent imagery is being resist-dyed in woad on linen. Intentionally Reading the Land will form a series of around 30-40 dyed paintings, leading to an exhibition.

Research methodology includes visual aligning of several poles to determine existence of alignments and their marker stones, and specific placing of poles at marker stones and other features on these alignments for viewing from other pre-determined locations. Astro-archaeological observations have been made in the field at different times of the year (cloud, rain and fog permitting). Recording is through photography, written/visual notes, sketching, and a journal of findings, observations, theories and thoughts.

With the Reading the Land project being self-funded I can only work on it part-time. Although taking longer than originally intended, winter 2018 is now envisaged for completion of artwork with exhibitions to follow in 2020.


Mae Khong

image of resist-dyed painting 'Vang Vieng', showing limestones mountains in blue and a red sunset reflected in a river. The sky and river are graduated pale pink to pale blue left to right. A stream of blue-grey bats flies anticlockwise out of the mountains, and in place of their reflection in the river, a swarm of small silver fish swims clockwise. In the winter of 1998-99 I stayed for three months in Isan, the north-east of Thailand, and in Lao PDR (Laos), my second visit to Mae Khong (Mekong) country. My previous visit was in June 1990, a time of year that the mighty Mae Khong flows high, wide and magnificent. In winter, the dry season, it is humbled; a majestic river running low, divided and disoriented by sandbanks on which villagers grow vegetables. Cultural traditions and crafts hold their place in these riverside communities, alongside changes inevitably brought by modern technology and small-scale tourism.

I sketched, drew, painted and photographed throughout my time by the Mae Khong - landscapes, riverscapes, wildlife, plant life, architecture, textiles and other craft. Soon I found myself interpreting the natural and designed environment in terms of wax-resist painting. By this I mean I'd see, for example, patterns on a colourful spider, textures of a banana leaf or padi field, and know immediately how I would re-create it using hot wax and dyes.

On my return to Britain in 1999 I started planning and making the dyed paintings. Many of them feature ants or spiders. This wasn't the intended outcome, but it does seem to reflect the local culture of the Mae Khong. That is, communities there are like ant colonies, with people working hard, believing in the greater good of society, and expecting or needing little personally in return. Spiders, on the other hand, are solitary creatures. They spin a web then wait calmly for nourishment to come. Such enduring patience and belief in fate I also saw reflected in individuals and in their Buddhist practice.

This series, which was finished in 2006, is yet to be exhibited. I believe the theme of Mae Khong requires a particularly appropriate location and setting, and, like a spider, am waiting for fate to deliver it.


Streams and Pools of Bodmin Moor

Image of resist-dyed painting Source of Penpont Water by Robin Paris, showing water tumbling through a stream with verdant streamweed and grassy banks.I once was told that British people had a fascination with climbing to the top of hills. I remembered this one day when walking on Bodmin Moor, as I'd noticed how, when navigating, my eye was drawn to peaks and tors. But if the land was not to be seen in terms of hilltops, then it would be to valleys instead we would look.

I experimented with deliberately navigating the moor by reference to valleys, not tors. I found… streams!

Having never much before looked into streams, seeing them more as a boundary to be traversed from one side to the other, I now noticed them. They were beautiful, playful, calming and musical!

One stream, Rushyford Water, and its dancing damselflies and darting fish inspired me to portray it with wax and dyes. But first I had a struggle to overcome.

In 1998 I'd made a series of three large dyed paintings of old quarry pools at Trewint Marsh. These required lots of waxed dots and with each piece at 1.5 x 0.7 metres 'lots' is an understatement. Inspired as I was to dye-paint Rushyford Water, the unhappy memory of that slow, prolonged dotting-time dampened and dithered the inner urge.

"So," my head told my creative self, "find a solution!"

The answer came next time I popped off for a cycle. Glancing down at the bicycle chainwheel (the circular steel disc with teeth that the chain moves on) I wondered: "Could it? Might it?" Dipping a cleaned-up old chainwheel into hot wax I ran the sprockets over cloth, making a superb line of waxed dots, small to large to small. In my hands was an exceptional dot-making tool!

Not only did I now know Rushyford Water was possible, feasible, but a whole new method to apply wax to cloth opened up. And did I experiment! Favourite tools became pipe-cleaners, steel chains, chicken wire, and a single length of wire. The majority of wax resist used in these dyed paintings was applied using scrap, found and home-made tools.

Streams and Pools of Bodmin Moor was first exhibited at the Indian King Arts Centre in Camelford, Cornwall in 2003, followed by the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Treliske, Truro, Cornwall in 2004. Pools at Trewint Marsh I, II, and III remain on permanent loan to the hospital as part of their inspiring art collection. Some pieces were earlier shown in a group show at The Wharf, Tavistock, Devon in 2000. Source of the Fowey was selected for an international batik exhibition at MIAT (Museum of Industrial Archaeology and Textiles), Ghent, Belgium in 2003, and Source of Penpont Water was selected for the Batik Guild's touring exhibition in 2006-07, going on show in Gloucester City Museum & Gallery in Gloucester, and the Williamson Gallery, Birkenhead on Merseyside. In 2016, remaining paintings from the series were in a group exhibition at Terre Verte Gallery, Altarnun, Cornwall, and in 2018 in Exeter, Devon at Boatyard Cafe & Bakery.