Canal Basin

Monday, 1st November 2004
Wild West Yorkshire nature diary

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Nellie, Horbury Canal Basinkingfisher

They've arrived with chainsaws at the meadow we've fought for 15 years to save. We're sure they're acting wrongly - it's all so much more destructive than what was promised at the public enquiry. We do what we can and I leave my neighbours alerting the Planning Inspectorate and local councillors. Me, I need to get away.

I want to draw at the canal basin for my Four Corners of Horbury sketchbook so why not do it this morning. I couldn't have chosen a better place to draw. It's such a peaceful scene, a few of the narrowboat people are about. A man does a bit of gardening on the dockside, a woman takes her black poodle for a walk, taking her cup of coffee with her.

Two dog walkers arrive.

'Did you see that?!' I say to them, 'A kingfisher flew across and landed on one of those plant tubs over there.'

kingfisherI'm trying to point it out to them when it flits across in front of Nellie (the barge-style narrowboat), plops into the water opposite then flies back to the canal carrying a tiddler and settles on a hawthorn branch overhanging the water to eat it. I haven't had such a good view of a kingfisher for years.

Maybe the world isn't all bad.

arch, Bingley ArmsArch

Coxley Beck flows under the canal by the traffic lights at Horbury Bridge, beneath the Bingley Arms car park and comes out via this arch. My Four Corners of Horbury seems to be reflecting my interest in undercurrents and hidden secrets in, what to me is, an everyday landscape.

Why do I go for such gloomy subjects? I think I see some kind of meaning - something 'beyond' or perhaps 'within' reality - but when I draw them I try to be as accurate as I'd be if this was an illustration for a book on architecture or history.

InfernoMy Own Private Inferno

InfernoI can't draw this arch without thinking of the entrance to Dante's Inferno, the one that had 'All hope abandon ye who enter here' carved over the door.

When I was 16 and I'd finished my 'O' level exams I decided that, prior to starting at art college in September, my real education should begin. I set myself a programme of reading all the 'great books' I could get my hands on, from Greek and Polynesian mythology to Plato's Republic and The Bible (once you've read Deuteronomy, Leviticus gets a tad repetitive).

InfernoI borrowed the Carey translation of Dante from Horbury Library. It had probably been on the shelves there for 50 years. In today's public library, if a book has been on the shelf for two years old it's likely to be weeded out as too old, especially if, as I suspect was the case with The Divine Comedy, it hasn't been borrowed regularly.

I equipped myself with the finest dip pen nib I could find. I looked at Botticelli's drawings, Flaxman's designs for bas-relief sculptures and even caught up with some of William Blake's pen and watercolour drawings in the Tate Gallery. I remembered seeing a clip from the black and white Spencer Tracy film.

I think you can see my interest in theatre design and geology in this drawing. I haven't looked at the excercise book I drew this in for years as it was hidden away in a box in the attic until a few months ago. I'm amused but moved by the combination of naivity and intensity in my work from those days.

There are several short comic strip versions of books, a storyboard for a short student film, a very short student film, which I made, badly, and some ideas for a production of three of Wakefield's cycle of medieval mystery plays which I produced at the local church, again very badly.

dreamDream Diary

I'd love to show you some of the pages but I'd be embarassed if you saw others. To give you a flavour, here's one of my favourite drawings from the book. It's evidently a dream I had (you can tell that's me by the anorak). The dream took place in a rambling, disorientating rabbit warren of a building. It's somewhat Dickensian also like the old run down parts of Batley (where I attended art school) of that time. These kind of places still figure in my dreams and you can see that I seek out places with that quality in some of my drawings.

I feel this drawing from 1967 shows the way that I look at the world even today: I still see layers of hidden meaning and memory.

But it's a shabby, obsessive and slightly disturbing world.

And who is the figure leading me on? I bet I didn't really know, even at the time. Next Page

Richard Bell,

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