Al Critchlow is a painter living in the Solway region of Cumbria, overlooking the estuary. For Artful Ways, Al met with Laura Harrison for night time walks in the Solway Firth at Bowness on Solway and Burgh by Sands.
“Laura and I shared two walks at different points on the Solway estuary. Both were night-time walks, the first starting at Bowness on Solway, exploring the shore and walking out onto the estuary with the retreating tide. The second was at Old Sandsfield. Our practices are very different, but our shared enthusiasm for the Solway Firth and the mysteries of night-time provided our starting point.
On both walks we spent time making our own notes and recordings (drawings and paintings for me, video footage for Laura) as well as walking, talking and exploring together. I was walking barefoot on the estuary sand (satisfyingly oozy and surprisingly warm!). After the night walks I returned in the daylight and was met both times by our footprints from the previous night’s wandering.
Drawing at night offers a special connection to a place. The darkness means that the drawings are about sensory information beyond sight. Sounds, movements, temperature and the textures and trickles beneath my feet are present in the marks.
The experience of walking in this place at night puts all things into perspective. The constant ebb and flow of the tide offers a clear link to the moon. Our first night was very bright with a huge orange moon, the second much cloudier and perfectly still.
Our Artful ways walks took place between 11.30pm and 3am. Laura and I both enjoy darkness and night-time as a place to enter. It offers a new perspective on the world, rich with unseen possibility. It is a place for wonder and reflection. It is also polluted beyond measure. Light pollution and noise pollution are particularly obvious. Robert Macfarlane points out that ‘people often go into the darkness to see’. There has never been a more important time to seek illumination.
These small ‘Nocturne ‘paintings are reflections on our nighttime estuary exploring. At one point Laura shone her red light into the water and for a moment we watched this dimly lit underwater world teeming with life beneath the surface. ‘Nocturne 4’ had this moment in mind … an unknown space opening into another element.
Answering the Three Artful Questions
Creativity allows time and space for imagination. It is a way of allowing yourself expanded headspace- where interesting connections can be made in the abstract layer of thinking…some people might call that day dreaming! I view it as vital for generating new possibilities and noticing potential ways ahead.
The challenges of successive lockdowns have provided pause for thought in all sorts of ways. I have missed inviting friends around and of course, the pub! I have missed the freedom to roam at will and seeing exhibitions in ‘real life’. However, new possibilities abound because of it- I have made so many new connections across the country and internationally with other artists. Inclusion in discussions and events which would normally be impossible because of geographical location has opened up my mind to all sorts of new opportunities. Connecting with other people who are ‘on my page’ is brilliant. There is exciting new potential along with the sobering realities of this situation, and much kindness.
I think that the first step in collectively caring for our environment is in noticing it … properly. Taking time to slow down and notice the world around us and recognise ourselves as part and parcel of it. Once we truly acknowledge the interconnectedness of all life we will be better placed to respect and look after our precious environment.
I believe that art in all its forms helps us to understand what it is to be human in the world. Not allowing plastic and chemicals into our seas. Not allowing governments to prioritise money over environment. Challenging irresponsible political decisions and encouraging individual thoughtfulness, creativity and responsibility for our environment as well as a collective responsibility to work together for the good of the world.
Making art which inspires noticing and reflection seems important to me, highlighting connections and possibilities, offering a deep form of communication which can cross boundaries of language and culture and ultimately offer a way ahead.