Still Life

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I am in the midst of a rather intense CFS crash & can’t concentrate on writing. I was stressing out about tumbleweeds blowing through the blog, when I thought ‘wait a minute, I’ve got tons of old writing I could reuse’. So here’s a slightly edited piece from my college years. It seemed apt to publish a piece about Still Life at a time when my life is essentially standing still.

Still Life – written 1st July 2001

I have come to realise that much of what I make is actually Still Life. My photographs, in particular, definitely have a Still Life sensibility. I am looking at small things, like hot raspberries on the beach or the reflection in a bowl of water and saying that they are small, yet very important.

photograph by Kirsty Hall of reflection in a bowl containing salt water
Kirsty Hall: Salt Bowl Reflection, May 2006

It seems to me that that is what most Still Lives do: they take things and set them apart. Still Life demands that we really look at the flagon of wine and the apple, or the bowl of cherries, or the lifeless carcasses. It ponders the flowers, the glass and the tablecloth. It makes us see the texture of everyday life and forces the realisation that actually these things are amazing. The bread we eat, the soft cheese, the pile of fruit, the luscious cakes, the humble or grand spread. This is what keeps us alive after all. This is what nourishes us.

Photograph by Kirsty Hall of bread, cheese and sun-dried tomato
Kirsty Hall: Bread, cheese & sun-dried tomato, Dec 2008

Of course, we also need vast epic pictures of the imagination and portraits that force us to look at our frail human bodies. We need art to consider many things. But it seems sad to me that Still Life should so long have been considered to be the least important subject when it also deals with life and death. To me, mortality seems a vital component of many Still Lives. Those flowers will soon be dead: they are just caught for a moment in time. Caught at the point of perfection? Or perhaps already weeping their petals onto the rough-hewn table or perfect lace. That food will spoil or be devoured by a hoard of hungry mouths. Even that fine glass goblet will eventually be broken or lost. The table itself will be consumed by history. Who knows what happened to the musical instruments, the sheet music or the pile of books? They are lost to us except for the contained, still, captured image.

Photograph by Kirsty Hall of a dead tulip against a wall
Kirsty Hall: Dead Tulip, Feb 2008

It is that quality of stillness that I love about Still Life. More and more my work has been edging towards stillness; not actual silence but definitely quietness. I think I am looking for contemplation and the mysterious void. Stillness is a quality that I associate strongly with the colour white, which is perhaps why my work has contained so much paleness in the last two years. I am searching for that perfect moment perhaps, that moment of clarity and stillness?

I am an artist & purveyor of obsessive projects based in Hebden Bridge, England. My work involves the accretion of large numbers of small objects - pins in fabric, knots in string or hundreds of envelopes - to make sculptures that deal with fragility, loss, repetition, obsession and time.

8 thoughts on “Still Life

  1. Thank you for that………some lovely thoughts on still life……..
    It's interesting for artists like myself who paint mainly still life subjects, to see the same response to those subjects, homely, exotic , symbolic etc, reaching right back into history.
    No matter what 'big' movements are going on there always seems to be a still life painter on thier own track, saying ''Wow, look at that artichoke, egg, leaf, broken cup''.
    It's exciting to feel the connection………..
    What you say is right…..it's an essential part of the picture, and a way to enhance the experience of seeing things, and life,for the artist and the onlooker.

    (That could be more grammatical, but I'm not s'posed to be computering !!)

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  2. Hi Kirsty, I found your blog through Kate Davies Needled blog. Sorry to hear you are having a CFS crash. I also struggle with M.E./CFS and try to maintain my creative/artistic endeavors, and know that there are just times where it's not worth pushing it. I'm finding that the specific part of my difficulty with thinking/concentration is making decisions, this is constantly making the creative process difficult, and to actually make/create something loads of minute creative decisions are made. Yet as I am opted out of the working daily grind (a bit), and have more “head space” I'm finding that actual creative ideas are bubbling up. The process of developing these ideas and putting them into action is more tricky. I find I can knit, choose colours/designs, and knit away following instructions, and what a godsend it is for me.
    Are you finding a similar creative concentration issue, or is it just blanket brain fog? Hope you feel brighter soon :)

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  3. What a lovely post. I crave stillness, silence. I like the small gesture. The quiet, unconsidered thing.

    I know (from experience) that it is awful to have a CFS'crash,' but a crash implies noise and movement and action and what you are being forced toward is stillness, rest, calm, a misted, fogged existence. Become your own still life in this moment and maybe (I hope) the wind will start to pick up again and your sails gently unfurl and you can re-join this 21st century craziness. Best wishes to you.

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  4. Thanks for commenting, Ruth – sorry to hear that you've also got CFS, it's a very annoying illness.

    It's been a big exhausted 'can't do anything' crash this time around – the longest and most intense that I've had in quite some time actually. I've done tiny bits of gardening because getting out in the fresh air and working with dirt helps as long as I don't overdo it. But the only thing I've been able to do mentally is read easy fiction – I didn't even have the concentration to play on Twitter much. So I guess it's been a blanket brain fog. I can often just swap activities but not this time.

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  5. Kristy, i have been looking at your blog off and on for a few months. I don't remember how i stumbled on it. I just read your posts on blogging. very helpful to me. i have just started blogging the last few months. i wanted to say thanks.
    regards,
    Melanie

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