Fire and Rain


I have started painting again. Five months have passed without picking up a brush. These intermissions seem to force themselves on to my workflow every few years. I have come to appreciate them rather than being panic stricken by the seeming lack of purpose they might convey.

Being a painter is as much about not painting as it is about putting those layers on canvas. Having survived many stretches of inactivity over the last couple of decades I now know that sometimes my job simply consists of distracting my nagging head long enough for a period of stillness to unfold in all its glory. For me that means reading books, watching trashy films, lighting fires and catching up on all those other things that insist they need doing.

Lately, for some reason, thoughts and stories about seeds have been popping into my head. Seeds store all their energy until they are ready to pop. They contentedly wait for any incentive nature has to kickstart their expansion into whatever it is they hold within them. They might need intense heat or lots of water. Some prefer manure and others want to be disturbed like poppies in trenches.

While wandering around the V&A last week I was suddenly reminded of a seed story I had read some years back. In the Natural History Museum around the corner, early in the morning of September 9th 1940 a ballast firebomb from a Luftwaffe plane crashed through the roof of the botanical section and set fire to wooden cabinets housing a seed collection. The identity of all those meticulously catalogued treasures seemed lost. Some seeds however waited for exactly that intense heat followed by a dowsing of water from the fire brigade. Those were the seeds brought back from China by Sir George Staunton 150 years earlier. Soon after the bombing they started growing into silk trees (Albizia Julibrissin), valued in Chinese Traditional Medicine for nourishing the heart and comforting the spirit.

I like seeds for their quiet presence, sitting in that empty space until the right thing happens. Painting, for me, is like that. Patience and chance and pottering around the studio, waiting for something to crash into you. I bet seeds don’t waste any energy waiting..

The Blitz story is from "The Way of All Flesh: A Celebration of Decay, Midas Dekkers"

London image credit