Sunday, 12 November 2017


Now the starlings are gathering in big flocks over the stubble field.  They make patterns against the sky.  I stand and watch them, fascinated by their rapid shape-shifting.  They divide, unite, swirl in ever changing directions, sometimes making a dark inner nucleus thick with birds.  Ornithologists say that these murmurations are a way to defy predators or to exchange information (there is certainly a lot of excited chattering going on!) but I wonder if the starlings experience a sense of sheer exhilaration in being part of this vast movement of birds.

I was thinking of patterns - or rather the apparent lack of them - when I visited the current Gillian Ayres exhibition at Oriel Plas Glyn a Weddw yesterday.  Gillian Ayres is described in the gallery information as 'one of the most important and original abstract artists in Britain'.  My interest was aroused when I learnt that she lived and worked at the Old Rectory, Llaniestyn for about 7 years until 1987.  I was surprised that I knew nothing about her, although I had spent a lot of that time at our cottage only a mile away from the village.  It was a particularly happy and productive time for her.

There were only four large pictures in the exhibition - 'thickly painted, with the surface manipulated into gestures and patterns using brush, fingers and paint squeezed directly from the tube.  The texture became just as much a vital component of the work as the colour.'  The paintings were enormous.  At the time they seemed - dare I say it? - 'daubs', but afterwards I found myself thinking about the vibrant colours and random shapes.  They expressed an exuberance which seemed very positive.

Earlier in the week I went to Ensemble Cymru's contemporary chamber music concert at Neuadd Dwyfor in Pwllheli.  The concert included a clever witty piece, 'Block', by Claire Roberts (she was in the audience).  The piece was described as exploring 'deliberately the boundaries of tonality ... the music is pushed to the limits.'  A very different take on patterns in music.

I'm still working my way through the bumper summer edition of The North poetry magazine (blame the move) and read the review of Anne Carson's Float.  The poet describes her work as often seeming to turn into 'a few flakes of language roaming near the margin, looking as if they want to become an art of pure shape.'

Randomness and pattern - I've been tossing these ideas around in my head with no definite conclusions as I watch the starlings from my study window.  Julia Blackburn catches something of the fascination of the 'murmurations' of starlings:

'Starlings help.
The way they pull between a celebration of living
And an intimation of things unseen,
The sound of them rustling the air
The flickering sound of them.'

(from Murmurations of Love, Grief and Starlings with photographs by Andrew Smiley - Full Circle editions, 3rd printing, 2016)

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