Gertrude Hermes Through the Windscreen

Our October Drawn to the Page workshop took place in the Towner Gallery’s Towards Night exhibition and was lead by guest arts educator, the artist and writer, Jac Cattaneo.  This major show was curated by the artist, Tom Hammick, who chose the paintings, prints and drawings of over sixty artists to explore the nocturnal, that uncanny time between dusk and dawn. Five themed rooms: ‘Evening Light,’ ‘Metaphorical Landscapes,’ ‘Contemporary Angst and Journeys into Night,’ ‘City and Revelry,’ and ‘Dreams, Insomnia and Moonlight’ suggested poetic connections between works from different cultures and time periods. This proved to be a rich source of inspiration for our writers, as they made creative connections between the images in the gallery and their own memories and experiences of the night.

We began the workshop by exploring the different rooms of the exhibition, allowing ourselves be drawn to particular works and letting our pens to do the thinking as we looked at them.  Walls of indigo, maroon and deep purple provided a fitting backdrop to the exhibition and evoked a contemplative atmosphere in which to write.  We all chose five words to sum up our feelings, experiences, thoughts about Towards Night; responses ranged from the positive to the discomfited, with words such as protection, isolation, outside, travelling and soft.


This led on to our first exercise, during which we brought our bodies into play.  In the darkness, when light is dimmed or distorted, the other senses are heightened: hearing, smell, taste and touch.  The seventeenth century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho captured this in a haiku, a poem of three lines with a typical pattern of 5 – 7 – 5 syllables.

At Night
Awake at night–
the sound of the water jar
cracking in the cold.

We thought about two paintings in the exhibition, J.M.W. Turner’s Fisherman at Sea and Emil Nolde’s The Sea B while reading Pablo Neruda’s sensuous

The Night in Isla Negra
Ancient night and the unruly salt
beat at the walls of my house.
The shadow is all one, the sky
throbs now along with the ocean,
and sky and shadow erupt
in the crash of their vast conflict.
All night long they struggle;
nobody knows the name
of the harsh light that keeps slowly opening
like a languid fruit.
So on the coast comes to light,
out of seething shadow, the harsh dawn,
gnawed at by the moving salt,
swept clean by the mass of night,
bloodstained in its sea-washed crater.

In the gallery, we writers selected favourite works in ‘Evening Light’ and ‘Metaphorical Landscapes’ and then explored associated sounds, imagined scents and physical sensations.  The object was either to condense these feelings into haiku, or to start to shape them into longer poems or pieces of prose.



While enjoying a break in café, we began to think of their own memories of night..  Back in the ‘Contemporary Angst and Journeys into Night’ and the ‘City and Revelry’ galleries, each of us chose an intriguing image and drew on our own experiences, addressing the image to say: ‘You remind me of the night that…’  Although we started  by drawing on personal memories, we let the narrative to plunge into fiction if that seemed appropriate.  Driving through the night was a common leitmotif, inspired by images such as Gertrude Hermes’ 1929 wood-engraving Through the Windscreen.

For the last part of the workshop, ‘Dreams, Insomnia and Moonlight,’ we looked at Catherine Smith’s poem ‘Night’ (published in Lip, 2007, Smith/Doorstop Books)  which imagines a strange event; as Virginia Woolf infers in the Towner’s introduction to the exhibition: ‘We are no longer quite ourselves’ at night (Street Haunting: A London Adventure, 1930).  Writers either used pictures from the exhibition, or their own imaginations to create a character who undergoes some kind of transformation in the shadows of the night, under the light of the moon.  The aim was to be fantastical, yet practical – what kind of things does the character need to be able to change?  What do they do when transformed?  Another possibility was to move between images, each time wondering ‘What if?’

You can read writing from this session here on the Drawn To The Page blog, and we’ll be back for our next session, at the Jerwood Gallery on Saturday 12th November.


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