Stones in the Moonlight
This painting was partly inspired by the iconic views from Castlerigg Stone Circle to Blencathra and vice versa. We can only speculate about the purpose of the mysterious and ancient stone circle, but Blencathra has been there since the dawn of time, a mountain that started life as an ancient sea floor in a past epoch. Inspiration also came from literature, geology and a sense of place. I wanted to paint ‘deep time’ in the moonlight. (More on this in the first question about creativity)
On my journey I was struck by how old and unchanging both the stone circle and the mountain were. They stand as unchanging sentinels watching over the evolving cultural landscape that surrounds them. It is a landscape that is under constant threat on all sides from unsustainable uses and climate change.
Answering the three Artful questions
Culture shapes our creativity. Literature, travel and the natural landscape are the most fundamental creative influences for me. However, throughout my life everything around me has contributed to my art in one way or another.
Creative ideas can sometimes come in a sudden leap, which is wonderful, but more often they arrive as a tiny whisper of an idea that gradually develops.
‘Stones in the Moonlight’ began life as a series of little whispers from literature and from the landscape itself. I came across a couple of wonderful quotes about moonlight –
“The moon was up, painting the world silver, making things look just a little more alive.” N.D.Wilson, Leepike Ridge
“The moonlight lay everywhere with the natural peace that is granted to no other light” Franz Kafka, The Trial
The idea of moonlight shimmering over the stone circle and onto a mountain composed of rocks from an ancient sea floor began to take shape. Then the thought of ‘deep time’ brought those ideas together. Deep time is the huge time scale of geological events, as opposed to our own short human history. I decided that I wanted to paint ‘deep time’ in mysterious moonlight. I hoped that it might encourage others to stop for a moment to appreciate the landscape as I did, as something truly special that should be valued and cared for and not taken for granted.
Two of my beautiful grandchildren were born during lockdown, which really highlighted how much I missed those connections with family and good friends. The value of human connections has never been more apparent. Zoom calls with family and friends were wonderful but lacked so much. (It was almost as bad as watching football matches on television without the crowd! Was it the empty stadiums that resulted in so many odd results last season?)
I also missed traveling and making connections with new people and new cultures, but I can live without that. Where I did make more connections was at a local level. I explored the local area in more depth, walking all the local paths and finding new ones and having more time to chat with neighbours. Walking to Castlerigg Stone Circle and to the remains of the old iron age settlement on Threlkeld Knotts gave some perspective on the lockdowns and this was helped by a refreshing lack of traffic noise.
New ways of working from home, improved use of social media, less commuting, reconnecting with old friends, and a greater emphasis on improved mental and physical health were all largely positive outcomes. We have been forced to take stock and explore these new ways to connect with each other.
The importance of connections with our environment have also become apparent. Globally, we saw pollution levels fall dramatically and locally we became more grateful for our green spaces and countryside. Those lockdown walks were a real tonic.
All forms of art have the capacity to encourage people to look again at their environment and to value it. Where science fails to communicate, art can step in to stimulate awareness and to reconnect people to their environment. When people come together locally, regionally, nationally or globally amazing results can be achieved. From joining local litter picks to supporting global Campaigns by Friends of the Earth and signing petitions to have issues raised in Parliament it is possible to connect with groups at all levels and make a difference. Social media can spread the word about these connections more rapidly than ever.
Artful ways can be gentle and passive as well as more forceful and shocking. For example, large sculptures of world leaders arguing while drowning in floodwaters can be as effective as a perfect photograph or painting of a melting iceberg. The tipping point can be simple, like Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ which touched the hearts of many. Olafur Eliasson’s massive melting icebergs placed outside the Tate Modern as part of his ‘Ice Watch’ project is another example.
I hope that my paintings may go some way towards drawing attention to our beautiful landscapes and mountains because the power of place itself can be inspirational.
“Mountains return to us the priceless capacity for wonder which can be so insensibly leached away by modern existence” Robert Macfarlane, “Mountains of the Mind”
More of Sue Foster’s work can be found on her website: https://lakedistrict-art.co.uk/