LB: Welcome to Left Bank: Could you tell us a bit about your work, who have been your major influences and what inspires you?
TM: thanks for the invitation to contribute to Left Bank space. The ideas I work with have always been to do with landscape. From my early days as an art student right through to the present. I have been preoccupied with how the land's surface records human action, as a sheet of paper drawings or script. I owe a lot to the writing of the landscape historian WG Hoskins in this respect, but also to the painters Paul Nash and John Virtue.
LB: Could you say more about how the work of Hoskins and the painters Nash and Virtue have influenced you? Do you think the impact of humans on the landscape has a particularly powerful resonance today as it becomes ever clearer how much damage we have done and continue to do to our natural environment?
TM: WG Hoskins was Professor of History at Leicester at a time when I was training to be a teacher. His ideas on interpreting the landscape had a huge influence on me. I had already become involved in landscape in a visual sense when at Chester School of Art, Hoskins pointed me in the direction of the 'the clues’ or ‘the reasons why’ topography may look as it does. Nash expressed his horror of the First World War in terms of what it did to landscape. As a leading British Surrealist painter he was able to link what had happened outside in the objective world to our inner psyche, our personal interior landscapes.
John Virtue's recent series of black and white paintings of the London cityscape open a window on the gritty transitions that take place for human habitation throughout history. His bold and free approach (although accompanied by hundreds of studies) arrest us first by the tactile quality of the marks and then place us as in a molecular environment which is elemental while remaining a place of safety and retreat.
The high tradition of British landscape painting is alive and flourishing and is well suited as a forum, which invites engagement regarding environmental issues. The current John Moore's exhibition in the Walker Gallery, Liverpool exhibits a number of paintings which address various aspects of landscape themes: war, economic despoilation, urban/rural issues etc.
Left Bank: You have said that you are interested in the idea of ‘sacred space’ - what is it about sacred spaces that inspires you – and has the fact that the Adventurous exhibition is being shown in a former church (St Margaret’s, Cardigan Road, Headingley) inspired you in your submission to the ADVENTurous exhibition?
An act of neglect or desecration becomes especially poignant. Sacred space plays the part of a portal through which we can physically approach or search for an immanence. Artists work in this area, opening up thought-patterns which take us to a new place, make us think, and change our outlook and thereby our actions. The Christian Church has always done this particularly from the moment of the supper at Emmaus down to our Communion feasts of today.
Sacred space can be made by us all, in our garden sheds, favourite corner of a park or on a coastal headland. It is partly within, in the sense of that 'closet' to which we withdraw for prayer, of which Jesus spoke, but certainly seems to demand some physical effort in order to go there. Celtic spirituality draws on the liminality of sacred space greatly.
I visited St Margaret’s after it had stood empty for years. I brought away a bottle of black ink from the vestry; ink, which had no doubt been used to sign wedding, registers. It seemed to me a potent talisman of St. Margaret’s previous life. I was delighted when someone who was going to hold part of her marriage ceremony in the church requested the bottle of ink and wished to use the ink again.
Equally, when the re-development of the church as a community space was begun that seemed like a resurrection was continuing. To put work in it now, which continues this, is a positive thing to do.
Left Bank: I wonder how the theme of Advent has struck you - given how commercially it is represented today - advent calendars with chocolates in and so on - but despite that how the magic of the journey towards the star moves us and is full emotive memories that may be to do with Christianity but for many of us may also be to do with our memories of childhood?
TM: Heaven's Chorus came about in the way of so many works. It began as an idea called Song of the River Birds. I had this idea based on some earlier pieces I had done which involve some kind of musical notation superimposed on a river scene in an attempt to fuse visual marks with known pictograms. I had begun this when theAdventurous brief came up. So it was easy and seemed natural to adapt it for the exhibition. It features a sine wave of vocal singing set into the sky of an abstracted landscape. I saw the sound-wave display at a recording studio and the colour-coded voices and instruments were the colour of a landscape. It all seemed to fit together in a unified way. The idea of using a wave of the word Hosanna could be a further development as could the use of blended recorded sound ( town/traffic/country/choral singing) as an installation piece. But no time to do that this time around!