Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

Linda Ryle’s Paintings

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A visitor admires ‘Show Me the Moon’ (for the book cover, scroll down & look right!)

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Roman and Egyptian art and artefacts inspire elements in some of the paintings

Coming face to face with Linda Ryle’s painting ‘Show Me the Moon’ a few days ago was a shock: I’ve been so used to seeing it as a 13 by 17 cm cover image on my book Luna Park that I’d forgotten quite how big it really is. Meeting it again in this new exhibition at the Heaton Cooper Studio, Grasmere, was a pleasant surprise.

The painting – even more fascinating at its full size, naturally – draws you in hypnotically, with its affectionate yet slightly eerie rapport between woman and cat, and the tiny glimpse of the new moon in a limpid, radiant sky.

The sense of mystery, of magical meanings only half-revealed, is typical of Linda Ryle’s work (she’s also know by her married name as Linda Cooper), and this retrospective exhibition, Time Regained: 1975 – 2016 reveals these qualities as connecting elements running through some quite diverse work.

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Linda Ryle in conversation at the opening

There are landscapes, figure paintings (with animals) , still lifes – often incorporating ancient Egyptian or Roman sculpture and other artefacts – and most recently detailed, almost trompe-l’oeil studies of little corners of domestic interiors: a spice cupboard; a flight of old, deeply-worn stone steps; a crucible burning with fierce flame and backed by black smoke.

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Hand-painted belts – sought after by ’70s celebs in the King’s Road

There’s even a display of the wonderfully vivid and imaginative belts, hand-painted with animal forms, which Linda supplied to a King’s Road fashion boutique in the 1970s, and which were acquired by (amongst others) Elton John, Bianca Jagger and Britt Eklund.

 

What connects all of these works, along with a love of detail and an evocative use of colour, is a sense of symbolism, of contemplative and often disquieting meaning hidden within each image. It’sa world not unlike that of Leonora Carrington, who similarly loved to blend pagan imagery with encounters of animals and humans who had a more than normal rapport with one another. I’m inclined to think Linda deserves a place in the rich but elusive category of female surrealists, though the subtlety of her work is far from the simply bizarre or aggressively disruptive effects we might associate with mainstream (usually male) surrealism. Linda Ryle has a deep interest in Jungian psychology, and her work was exhibited last year at the Association of Jungian Analysts in London.

 

Strikingly, to me the most powerful works were the most recent. The meticulous representations of details of her eighteenth-century house in Cockermouth, such as a staircase leading down into a cellar, are extraordinarily suggestive: the apparently ordinary becoming a powerful symbol of something psychologically profound and (I think) more than a little disturbing. These are beautiful images; but don’t be surprised if you feel the hairs on your neck rising a little. In Linda’s work, the everyday becomes the slightly uncanny. It’s a remarkable achievement.

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A glimpse of some of the quiet but intense and deeply suggestive later work

Time Regained: an exhibition of past and present work by the painter Linda Ryle runs at the Heaton Cooper Studio, Grasmere, from July 14 until the end of October. Details from 015394 35280.

Grasmere with David Morrell and De Quincey

Just back from Grasmere, where the Wordsworth Trust hosted an evening with thriller-writer David Morrell. David (who created the character of JohnRambo in his first novel, aptly titled First Blood, the basis of the Sylvester Stallone movie franchise) recently published Murder as a Fine Art, a serial-killer thriller set in Victorian London, with Thomas De Quincey – the famous ‘Opium-Eater’ – as action hero and detective.

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With David Morrell and De Quincey and his family (pastel by James Archer) – and a big thankyou to Ali S. Karim for the photo

 

We had great fun presenting an evening ‘in conversation’ between biographer and novelist at the Wordsworth Trust’s Jerwood Centre, just a few yards from Dove Cottage where De Quincey lived and wrote for so many years in the 1820s and ’30s.

We were also able to spend a day exploring Grasmere and its surroundings. We walked around both lakes – Grasmere and Rydal Water – by way of Loughrigg Terrace, Rydal Cavern, Rydal Mount and the Coffin Path.

And the next day David and his wife Donna were able to walk up the fell opposite the village to see the view De Quincey might have had when he first tried to visit Wordsworth in 1806 – walking up from Coniston and gazing across the lake at Dove Cottage, but finding himself too shy to come any closer!

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Andrew Forster of the Wordsworth Trust also gave us a special tour of Dove Cottage and a viewing of De Quincey and Wordsworth manuscripts at the Jerwood Centre.

To find out more about David Morrell’s Murder as a Fine Art, click on the panel below.

And for David Morrell’s personal website, click on this link:

http://davidmorrell.net/

Alfred Heaton Cooper: A Painter’s Journey

Just back from Grasmere, where Amanda and I went for the opening of the exhibition ‘Alfred Heaton Cooper (1863-1929): A Painter’s Journey’ at the Heaton Cooper Studio.

Julian Cooper: behind him, W. Heaton Cooper's watercolour of the Hardanger Falls

Julian Cooper: behind him, W. Heaton Cooper’s watercolour of the Hardanger Falls

A. Heaton Cooper was a fine painter in both watercolour (where his work has something in common with  Turner and Ruskin) and in oils (where he approaches Post-Impressionism). He had a wonderful sense of colour and light, and was devoted to the landscapes of both Norway and the Lake District. But he was also an excellent, lively and tender portrayer of people.

He came from a poor background in Bolton, and made his own way and supported his family entirely by his own work. And he was the found of the Heaton Cooper dynasty – including his son W. Heaton Cooper, who illustrated so many classic books about the Lakes and whose watercolour landscapes are still hugely popular (though a bit bland for my taste) and grandson Julian Cooper, the adventurous and innovative painter of mountain forms and textures in Cumbria, the Himalayas, the Andes and elsewhere.

Some of the many sketchbooks and photographs on display

Some of the many sketchbooks and photographs on display

 

‘A Painter’s Journey’, mounted to mark Alfred’s 150th birthday, is a splendid show: one wall is full of his Lakeland work, the other of his Norwegian paintings, and there are fascinating displays of sketchbooks and photographs. The sketchbooks are a particular delight, offering spontaneous drawings of people and turn-of-the-century landscapes, including a wonderful, graphic and rapidly-sketched panorama of a charcoal-burners’ camp in the Westmoreland woods.

 

We met lots of old friends there: not only Julian and his wife, painter Linda Ryle, but also Angela Locke, the Cumbrian poet and novelist with whom I’m setting up Lakeland Writing Retreats, where from next May we’ll be offering creative writing courses in the Lakes. It was good to see novelist Chris Burns there too. Altogether a very happy occasion, and the next day we managed to get a good walk up to Easedale Tarn in cool but pleasant weather.

With poet and novelist Angela Locke: together we are setting up Lakeland Writing Retreats

With poet and novelist Angela Locke: together we are setting up Lakeland Writing Retreats

 

If you can get to Grasmere before 3 November, when the exhibition closes, do go and see it. It’s a very intimate and inspiring display of work by an underrated artist who is also an important part of Lakeland history.

Crags, Caves and Squirrels

Castle Crag is full of caves and chasms

Back to the Lakes last week to give a talk to a group of Swiss students, mostly MA students studying English Romanticism. After a great day touring Dove Cottage and walking up Sour Milk Gill to Easedale Tarn I stayed on and went for a scramble around the slopes of Castle Crag near Keswick.

Slate cavern hewn at the base of Castle Crag

The Crag doesn’t look huge from the Grange-Seatoller path but it’s really a ridge, much larger and more intricate than it looks, full of gulleys, crags, fissures and caves. Its slopes on the east side are thickly forested and you can disappear in there for hours and get happily lost. You can spend hours and days exploring its mysteries. I took a long time trying to locate Millican Dalton’s cave but didn’t succeed. I’ve tried and failed before. If anyone out there can give me precise directions to find it, please get in touch.

Red squirrel explores dense pine forest around the Crag

I spent a while meditating in a grassy natural balcony half way up one of the crags and became aware of rapid zig-zaggy movements in a nearby tree. Turning gently that way I soon saw a pair of red squirrels chasing each other madly in a pine tree, tearing in spiral paths up and down the trunk. Managed to ease the camera out and when they finally tired of the game one of them ambled over towards me. This was about its closest point.

Helm Crag from a How Foot bedroom

Amanda came up and joined me for the weekend, which we spent at How Foot Lodge in Grasmere. They gave us a room with a wonderful foliage-fringed window looking straight out to Helm Crag. They told me they have an unusual number of free rooms this year owing to the World Cup so now’s your chance to make a booking on impulse at this lovely and relatively inexpensive hotel: www.howfoot.co.uk

Bluebells cover the lower slopes of Loughrigg Fell

The weather was kind and we had a few great walks, including the circuit around Grasmere and Rydal Water. Sheets of bluebells were still floating their intense colour on the slopes of Loughrigg, making a wonderful contrast with the dead russet of the bracken.

No, it isn't a Julian Cooper painting: the rock contemplates its own face in the water

At the Rydal Cavern I disregarded the National Trust’s warning notice (what are the odds, really, of a chunk of rock dropping from the roof exactly at the moment I’m standing directly underneath?) to go into this, one of my favourite spaces, and contemplate the mirrorimage of the hewn rock in the still floodwater. Of course I advise you not to do this, and if you go in there it’s at your own risk. Don’t sue me if you get flattened.

De Quincey and Rob Morrison at Dove Cottage

Dove Cottage: De Quincey lived here from 1809 after Wordsworth left

Dove Cottage: De Quincey lived here from 1809 after Wordsworth left

I went up to Grasmere yesterday: a special occasion. Thomas De Quincey (the ‘English Opium-Eater’) died 150 years ago that day, on December 8 1859. To mark the occasion, and to celebrate the fine new biography of De Quincey by my old friend Robert Morrison, the Wordsworth Trust decided to recreate ‘a winter’s evening at Dove Cottage’ just as De Quincey loved it, and recorded it in his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater: a roaring fire, candlelight, an ‘eternal teapot’ and ‘a decanter of ruby-coloured laudanum’ – though yesterday mulled wine served as a very acceptable substitute. And of course the weather was terrible, just as De Quincey liked it. After all, as he said, why pay for coals and candles if you’re not getting a proper winter for your money?

Rob was signing copies of his new De Quincey biography

Rob was signing copies of his new De Quincey biography

Rob’s biography – the first since my own life of De Quincey came out in 1981 – is a great read, as well-written as you’d expect from a scholar of De Quincey, one of the best-ever prose stylists. And it’s packed with new information about the extraordinary life of England’s most famous literary drug addict. I’ll slot in a link to the book right here: it’s highly recommended. Ideal Christmas present, in fact.

A new life of De Quincey was much-needed because when Rob and I and nine other editors researched our 21-volume edition of De Quincey’s complete Works in 2000-3, we dug up so much new information that I knew my biography was now out of date. Rob took on the job and has produced an amazingly fresh story full of insights that even I never dreamed of.

Dove Cottage Wordsworth Trust Morrison De QuinceyRob and I discussed De Quincey – his addiction, his dreams, his wonderful writing, his phenomenal memory, his part in the making of modern literary biography, and many other aspects – with a moving crowd of around a hundred people in those candlelit cottage rooms where De Quincey lived and wrote, where he met Wordsworth for the first time, and where he dreamed of (or did he really meet?) the terrifying Malay addict who so unexpectedly knocked at his door one day.

If you were there, I hope you enjoyed it all. If you missed it, you can still catch Rob, when he gives the Bindman Lecture, ‘Thomas De Quincey and the Lake District’, at the Wordsworth Trust on Saturday 12 December at 3 pm. See www.wordsworth.org.uk for details.

Afterwards I dropped in for tea and mince pies with some old friends, Tim Melling and Liz Cooper at Nab Cottage, Rydal, where De Quincey courted Margaret Simpson, the beautiful daughter of a local farmer. Nab Cottage, a fine traditional Lakeland farmhouse on the shore of Rydal Water, is now a B&B and language school ( www.rydalwater.com and www.nabcottage.com ). They told me that during the recent floods they had water coming under the door (the house is right between the lake and the slopes of the fell with consequent water runoff) but it didn’t get serious and everything is now fine. Though it was pelting with rain outside as we talked!

Nab Cottage still has a small built-in writing cupboard with fold-down

Tim and Liz relax in the 'Opium Den': once De Quincey's writing space?

Tim and Liz relax in the 'Opium Den': once De Quincey's writing space?

desk, and since De Quincey owned the place briefly in the 1820s he may well have written there. Tim and Liz keep the room decorated as an ‘Opium Den’ in his memory.

They also got out their copy of the fascinating game Transformation which they tell me originated at Findhorn. Although it’s a board game it seems to provide real-life challenges and counselling for players, and they tell me it can actually change the lives of people who play it. I wasn’t able to stay long enough to play it (Liz tells me she has trained as a ‘facilitator’ to play the game in enhanced mode with people who seriously want to transform!) but I heard enough to want to give it a try. I’m putting a link in, but this is not an arbitrary plug because I am buying this myself. I delight in any spiritual/psychological/divination-type thing, and this one looks really good . If anyone out there has played Transformation and can write a comment about it, please get in touch; I’d love to hear from you!