Orebody/Tale of Morveren: (Watercolour on paper, dimensions: 76 x 107cm)
This work was made in response to several trips to Cornwall. I spent time in mining museums, tool museums and folk museums. This work is a representation of the notion of Cornwall itself as a mythical creature, a hybrid of past and present, struggling beneath her legends and dark tales, struggling with economic hardships and deprivations in the centre while supported by a peripheral coastal tourist economy.
The perception of a Cornwall that is, on the surface, a serene and beautiful costal area of magic and myths is contrasted in this work with the deep and troubled ‘monster’ beneath the surface.The decline and decay of the copper mines and mining industry, and the fishing industries, left behind economic strife but now some mines are tourist attractions, folk museums hold memories and tales of past lives of fishermen and miners. Histories and myths are now combined in these museums. Contemporary identities are interwoven with myths and historical past, both factual and fictional.
In the painting I have tried to capture all these contradictions using the coppery/carved submerged hybrid grotesque form of the mermaid Morveren of Zennor. Her mythical body is also memory and history that is deep beneath the surface of the sea, like the ore that was once mined. A thin strip of calm surface sea with pinks can be seen at the top and beneath this a dark and complex world. The legends and history that support Cornwall’s tourism and identity as a mythical land and its internal problems are a complex ‘ore’ and material out of which various identities are made. I researched mining, myths and Cornish tales about mining, fishing and mermaids. I researched knots and knot patterns used by fishermen in net making and on boats and incorporated these into the fabric of the painting, along with hair and entangled shells.
This work is accompanied by a text piece called Orebody about mining and extraction of ore. I incorporated scientific terms for orebody types, and names of wildlife found around closed old mines like the copper butterfly. I researched some of the geological aspects of orebodies and their formation in the earth. I used old mining terms like ‘whim’, which was used to bring up both ore and bodies of miners should accidents occur, and ‘washing’ and ‘dressing’ were used to describe treatment of the ore above ground. Each miner had six tapers to use up and then had to work in darkness. The text piece complements the painting in trying to explore the paradoxes in Cornwall, of above and below, beneath the sea, down the mine, and above a starkly contrasting surface, of a present and below it a deep and complex mythical past, forming identities in the present that are inextricable from this past. The words of the text piece evoke physicality and viscerality, of substances, bodies, work, environment. I used forms of folk crafts, carving, knots, myths and tales to explore notions of these identities existing between various boundaries.