So much for the new year and new beginnings: actually I fell asleep before the old year ended; a fitting way to mark what has been for many of us a real bitch of a year. And I began to wonder if just changing calendar dates is enough to change our future and outlook. I am wondering if this isn’t more about the Chinese calendar with a New Year in early February, when we welcome in the Ox and say good riddance to the Rat. At Connolly we are obviously feeling more hopeful to have an ox in our heavens.
As you know every Chinese zodiac year is defined by one of the five elements. The upcoming 2021 will be the year of the Metal Ox, and its message couldn’t be clearer: Success will come to those who work hard. Really hard. “It’s hard work, duty, discipline,” says Susan Levitt, a professional astrologer and author of five books, including Taoist Astrology. “In agricultural societies, oxen are reliable and strong work animals. They were responsible for the survival of humanity. So what was happening in this Rat year continues over into the Ox year to complete it, ground it, bring it to its resolution."
I groan at the thought of girding our loins to move forward... and I have been trying to find a strength of spirit to not only inspire the team at Connolly but also myself; and I realised that it’s all about self discipline as well as inspiration. I’m good at inspiration but I’m not so good at self discipline. New year resolutions last half a week at most... So I tried to figure out which people are really disciplined but are also really inspired and I thought of all the artists I know. They cope with a kind of lockdown every day they have to self motivate and create and they work on their own producing day after day, not knowing who or how the public will respond to their work. It reminded me of Lucien Freud’s anecdote about Caspar John, the second son of Augustus John the leading British portrait painter of his day. Caspar joined the navy as a young man and ended his naval career as an Admiral and First Sea Lord. Once, when asked about the contrast between the rigours of military life and the bohemianism of his father's life as an artist, he replied, "To be a painter requires enormous discipline".
"I always thought", said Lucien Freud, "that an artists was the hardest life of all." Its rigour, not always apparent to an observer, is that an artist has to navigate forward into the unknown guided only by an internal sense of direction, keep up standards which are imposed entirely from within, meanwhile maintaining faith that the task he or she has set themselves is worth struggling constantly to achieve.
It’s self belief but it’s also self discipline; and someone like the sculptor, Joel Parkes, always struck me as the embodiment of this strength – both physical and mental. Now with a family to support he is really making headway and embracing that rigour of hard work and creative output. He popped into the Connolly shop just before Christmas, full of dynamism, energy and honesty. He lives for his family and his work and we love what he creates. It has been quite a journey since we first showed his bowls at the opening and his new pieces have evolved and reflect his wiser, older self, but also retain that exciting underlying strength and tactile energy. Joel is incredibly charming and open and successful with his work selling all over the world now. Please look up his latest work and follow him or come to Connolly on Clifford street, once lockdown is finished.
And I just wanted to thank him and all my friends who are artists for reminding me it is possible to work hard and keep being inspired... as we will need to in this new year of the Ox. I wish all our customers and friends a healthy and happy 2021, and please keep yourselves safe and inspired.
‘These pieces of wood, often over 200 years old' Joel explains, 'are carved by hand and highly finished to enhance the inherent imperfections which make them beautiful. The wood is encouraged to split and break using various flawed processes based in my ignorance of working with wood. This catalogue of errors and unforeseeable landscape of faults, serve as the starting point for my process of rebuilding and strengthening, which ultimately creates the plastic, unique patina of each piece. The use of metals and stone as the scar tissue which fuses the piece back into a whole, inert object, serves both to tie the wood together and draw attention to the beauty of the idiosyncrasies of the ravages of time. Each piece is both an exposé of the life story of the tree, spoken silently through the knots, grain and blemishes which describe its form and surface, at once allegorical of our own lives, the flux events which form us, and the sense that it is truly our mistakes and catastrophic events which give us our experience, its unique character.
Just as in ourselves, we understand the most beautiful parts of us lie in the wisdoms of our experience and failures, in our weathered faces, or our hands, marked and polished smooth through work. When looking at the urns we see a sense of beauty which only time can sculpt.’
'I am working towards a solo show in 2022, and have started, in this third lockdown, to locate a narrative point, or some thematic axis, about which all the pieces evolve. I will be incorporating new materials, especially fibre and textile, leather, stone, earth pigment and minerals and bronze, as well as a few of my own.'