Time to re-set.
That's what I was using my plane journeys for anyway. No one was travelling with me so I could completely shut off. I could get inside my head and build up my excitement, the suspense, and gather my thoughts for what was coming next. Like looking forward to those sweet, sweet gulps of hazy Chinese air to once again fill ma lungs.
The flight over to Hong Kong was a chance to gather my thoughts whilst staring out into (literal) space after spending almost two months travelling. It was an odd regeneration period before being thrown into endless new experiences and new relationships. Sitting on the plane, getting set for my next month exploring the east of China, I wistfully stared out the window thinking about how many times the view had been instagrammed. It’s breathless really, being up above the clouds. Your perspective changes. You’re suddenly made to feel omnipresent. You’re looking down on the cities, the towns that you pass, and you can even see the curve of the earth if you’re really looking. On the way TO Mongolia, it was a night flight. I could see the stars and it felt like I was actually in space. Being between the clouds and the raging dimensionless-expanse-of-vacuumed-space it felt like it was just us and the moon.
Aeroplanes have created their own sort of culture. A metal box in which to transport any kind of human and hurtle it through the air successfully from A to B. On the journey back to China, laden with all the thoughts, quips and experience from Mongolia, the world was so blue. The sky, everything.
There are a few extracts I’d like to bring to your attention here. One of them is from my favourite book, ‘The White Goddess: An Encounter’ by Simon Gough. It's a fictionalised memoir from the once-removed-nephew of Robert Graves.
I have read and re-read this so many times the pages are falling out, even on the kindle.
"I discovered that flying was the most natural thing imaginable, that whatever fear was attached to it seemed only to heighten the excitement as I looked down through my window, like God, onto the hills and valleys and rivers of France, and then onto the highest snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees before passing slowly over the Mediterranean, the darkest, bluest sea I’d ever seen, the ‘wine dark sea’ of Homer, which I’d never quite been able to visualise until now.
The further we flew over it, the deeper blue it became, until I felt that if the aeroplane were to turn turtle I’d have found it difficult to tell the sea from the sky, the feathery wake of boats so far below from the feathers of cloud so high above. I was utterly and perfectly suspended between the two, in a state of such harmony and with both that I could have sworn my heart stopped beating for a time – or beat so solely that I could have lived for a thousand years. It was as through I were suspended not only in space, but in time."
I don't know if it's the experience of flying, or the experience of noticing you're flying. Although in this day and age we take flying for granted, most of us don't give two thoughts to it. Unless you're scared of flying that is. Then you'll think about it every second you're up there.
Resetting myself, my direction and clearing my thoughts in such a spacey space seemed ideal.
"Just as she’d promised, we finally broke through the clouds and into the most dazzling sunlight and the deepest, bluest sky I’d ever seen. It was the colour of pure lapis lazuli, that polished stone which had been brought back to Beachborough by Saleem Kassum. It had been sent to him by his uncle in Zanzibar who had bought it from his brother in India who had bought it from an explorer in Afghanistan who had then been eaten by a tiger. It was the impossible colour of heaven, and I craved it with a yearning so poisonous and all consuming that to possess it was the only antidote."
Colour sometimes can give meaning to words. It's an experience sometimes, colour. You can crave it. Like the Lapis Lazuli, it casts a spell.
Like my obsession with a colour, so my craving to possess knowledge about things also comes into play. Space and Time can help our understanding. Having read this passage about Ultramarine in 'The Secret Lives of Colour' by Kassia St Clair, I drew these conclusions between the history, colour and experience that lead to the lapis Lazuli.
The Chinese say you need three things to be a masterful painter. The hand. The eye. The heart.
Two won’t do, says David Hockney: "A good eye and heart is not enough; neither is a good hand and eye."
Although a little riddley/emotional/cliché, the Chinese are very good on the subject of art. Another saying of theirs is that the art of painting is for an old man.
"The experience of life and painting and looking at the world accumulates and you get older."
The information you see or experience, 'is passing through you in a physiological way, into your brain, into your memory – where it stays – it’s transmitted by your hands,’ You need your heart in it to then actually render anything good.
Drawing ties between this blue, these old sayings and this particular plane journey are all accumulating into something worthwhile, I got this. As I flew over the broad, hazy land-mass that is China, I was thinking about my travels so far. They’re adding up, layering up together. Fresh thoughts and fresh observations are assembling from this trip. I’m recording them, I’m researching. An artist is not simply adding more and more paint or scratches of pencil to a page. Mark of experience is adjusting the one that came before. These are what make up my collages.
My process of writing – reflecting on these subjects, and adding to what I know, is essentially the same.
Martin Gayford (art historian, pretty cool) once said 'Much human experience is a matter of layering'.
We understand the present by comparing it with the past. Statistics, politics, history, literature. We even label art as ‘post’ this or ‘pre’ that. We understand the present by comparing it with the past (layer upon layer) then we think about it afterwards, adding more and more layers. As we do, our angle of vision changes. Our work as an artist, our political thoughts may change. As we grow old, our relationship to the world changes too.
The two most important things – time and perspective – help us develop our thoughts, our understandings of how we fit into the world. We gather our own personal, mostly private collection of images, memories, thoughts and feelings and refer to them when we make decisions. A culmination of many layers informs who we are today.