Gathering the Sky, Harvesting the Moon

Posted on Aug 28, 2016

Gathering the sky, Harvesting the moon: An Essay on The Lunar paintings of Rebecca Hind.

“The earth together with its surrounding waters must in fact have such a shape as its shadow reveals, for it eclipses the moon with the arc of a perfect circle.”
Nicolaus Copernicus

“There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery.”
Joseph Conrad

The night sky is black. That distant infinity, far beyond this little sphere of understanding and perception. Cinema has made it darker in its need to tell mythologies of isolation and dread, and attach them to current folk science by endless fictions. But all that is far behind the orbit of our moon, both in actuality and illusion. Our planetary focus is contained by a balanced and essential atmosphere that holds all light and life. A Halo of gas and particle that shines and reflects the sun, the earth, and the moon and the incredible subtly of shades in between, on this the bright side of permanent night.

Rebecca Hind has seen these luminous waves that share and shudder in the same reflected light that defines and draws the beauty of our most immediate neighbour. She has seen it with the eyes of our ancestors and hopefully with the eyes of our descendants. It is a view outside the boundaries of the function of science, but guided by the gifts of fact that science often sets before the layman like glittering teasing treasures. Anomalies of time and dimension that function like Sufi parables in forcing the evolution of our perception onwards and sometimes in the shadow enlightenment of paradox.

The scientist articulates the properties and the proportions of the heavens. Explaining their wonders in a calculated language of definable scales. Their maps and models chase exactitude in a charted landscape of calibrated conclusion and impossible remoteness. The artist measures in poetic influence and potency not dimension and distance. Which makes Hind’s images of the moon, portraits not celestial landscape. Each of these distinct viewings is a capturing of a unique moon. A moon made lucid in singular circumstances of reflection and atmosphere. There is no generalisation or the piecing together of facts to consolidate an agreed but artificial clarity. These are single nights and individual moons.

The difficult and impatient process of watercolour painting is not the most obvious and accessible medium to capture these bright wanings. But Hind has made it her own, pushing the boundaries of the technique to straining point and beyond into new invention. The fluid colour and the hungry porous paper have a limited time of manipulation. The deep staining does not give the artist the luxury of continual adjustment or rubbing out. They have to work quickly with the fluidity of placement and the thirst of water. This necessary speed matches the movement of the night sky: The continual shifts of cloud and shadow and (especially when viewed through a telescope) the racing moon. Later work may be done to the composition, but the essential gathering has a charged living moment. A compacted time full of confidence, risk and decision, which continually courts mistake. There is an obvious kinship to oriental calligraphy and modernist action painting more than to the stately daubing of oil on canvas. Indeed some of her larger works are moving beyond the manipulation of the brush and she is experimenting in other ways of controlling the swaying layers of colour and tone, especially in the recent works with their dramatic change of scale.

Floating Moon is one of a series of large watercolours
142 x 90 cm that throw the medium into a startling new dynamic. The often sedate reputation of watercolour is violently overturned by the operatic poetry of these giants. The viewer is engulfed by Hind’s vision of the potent sky. The moon is so powerful, that it cannot fully enter the rectangle of darkness. A compositional device that makes it brood and dominate, beyond the edges of its frame, where it becomes possessive and hypnotic. The layered night rolling back from its insistent radiance. This is a work of celebration, which allows the viewer to re-see the world around them. It adjusts our shabby expectations and cleans our flat gel-screen sight away from the desk and television and back to the stars, re-establishing our understanding in the same way that Turner and Monet redefined air, water and light by making articulate lenses of painted invention.

All of Hind’s moons glow out of their paper surfaces, illuminating the interiors where they hang. Some burn. Her paintings of the recent Lunar eclipse are fierce and transmuting. They hold the moment of moving shadow, the overpowering strangeness of the sun, moon and earth crossing vast distances to find a conjuncture of alignment in a small moment of visual splendour. In the Eclipse series the wet paper has caught that luminous smoulder and stained it into contradictory permanence. There is a wonderful variance here between the depth of the visual field and the toothed surface of the paper. The artist has conjured both to seamlessly perform together. By standing too close we can see how it is done, see the actual texture and materiality of the saturated paper. Take one step back and look and we sink into their intense weightless magnitude.

This is one of the painter’s greatest functions. To gift the pictorial, the moment held mysterious and vivid in a frame of undeniable actuality. In a time flooded with digital manipulation and a hunger for resolution it is hugely rewarding to find an even higher definition testing our focus in the core of a sheet of paper. Our eyes feel unaware of the task they have been given. Working harder to scan and dive into the depths of colour and the radiance of meaning. We look for a reference to help the clutching sight as it flickers between distance and intimacy. Another known thing that questions comprehension in the waxing and waning of familiarity. We remember the moon.

Professor B.Catling RA
Ruskin School of Drawing
Oxford university.