Purbeck Coast during a partial Eclipse in July 2019


Written by: Stephen Bishop | Posted on:

As I walked out one evening towards Spyway Farm, the light was already waning. I had glimpsed that the full moon was large and low in the sky against Corfe Castle. I strode towards the coastal field. I had a bottle of European lager to give me Dutch courage and to enjoy my night-time escapade all the more.

It was around 9 p.m. on 17 July and a partial 2019 lunar eclipse was too good to miss. The Moon was covered about 65% by the Earth's umbral shadow at maximum eclipse. It would also have been my late mother’s 90 birthday. Purbeck is a place I thank her for introducing me to. So I toasted her rich and generous life.

This is a space for reconnection. Where grief and leaden echoes coalesce, are faced and later on some kind of melancholy peacefulness is achieved; refuelling a willingness to commit to life, to commit to creativity as a way to explore life more acutely. This is a special place above Dancing Ledge. Tenderly I hold precious memories of family holidays, a golden echo.

By the time I had reached the hill above the coast, the moon had swung upwards on its dizzying arc. As the shadow took a large bite out of the orb, I busied myself taking copious reference shots and ingesting the experience. The moon can look so small when swamped by the cosmos. The cloaked lunar light was too weak to illuminate much except for grey shadows that raced across the tall wild flower meadows like dark waves.

Armed with my aging iPhone and conscious that I would rely upon its torch to see my way home and its power might not last; I made my way excitedly through the dim light towards the fallow field of my dreams and imagination. I thought of Shelley and a favourite poem of my youth as I too wandered companionless.

This is a place I have painted on numerous occasions. But seldom visited in the dark and quite alone. Or maybe not completely alone, as time and memory is as rich and fecund as the fallow field I am drawn to. I have always felt quite at home in this setting. A sense of rest and expansion of the soul rarely fails here. The night-time gloom added a sense of potential danger; from where and from whom? It was a strong enough intuition that I held on to the empty beer bottle; just in case.

There were strange nocturnal noises and snufflings in the dark pastures delineated by even darker Purbeck dry stone walls. Suddenly, a stag leaps clear of the long grass and is highlighted, momentarily fixed forever against the blue curtain of the sky, majestic like Nureyev in his pomp. This landscape has seen dinosaurs and wars. Echoes flow backwards and forwards through time and space. This is something I sense and reach for in my work.

I am also sadly aware of a recent tragedy, not far from this spot. A cold and lonely coast at night in winter, but I believe friendly-faced spirits help us to transcend and ascend. In the far distance I see a camp fire, below the dark outcrop of St Aldhelm’s Head. The light shifts and buzzes like a fire fly as the eyes try to focus. I hear the jangling voices of excited teenagers, their words are like a jazz ensemble limbering up, all is abstract apart from the heart’s song which sings loud and clear.

Memories and voices haunt, shapes and pathways shift and disappear. Will I manage to keep to the path back? It is refreshing to rely just on photoreceptors rods for night vision. The lungs take in this precious cooling air and turn it into hot fuel for muscles and for thought. It is a miracle and beautiful, just being.

The torch from my iPhone helped me stumble back to the car just in time. It was now late and the sky was inky dark with the stars I remember seeing so vividly as child from the nearby Tom’s Field campsite in the 1970s.

Somehow the atoms and molecules of love do endure and connect in ways defying time space relates. Maybe we do not understand the science of time and space fully, but we intuit it. For me, feeling and heart make sense of a materialistic and senseless world. There is beauty that we are all drawn towards I believe. In my small way I strive and try to take giant steps along the chalk paths over the fields where the summertime larks sing their hearts out.

We are made like gold from inside exploding stars and our atoms yearn to tingle with dazzling beauty again and again….

This nocturnal experience has stayed with me over the summer and autumn, it has taken some months of gestation and experiment. Finally, the pressure heightens to the point where the essence percolates through the veins and nerves to gush from me in the form of oil paint. This distillation process imbues the handling of paint with nuances which I barely grasp or understand myself. Sometimes strange manifestations appear to guide. Instinct and intuition play a major role. My usual body of work has shown a tendency towards light and colour. These Nocturnes express the same desire but in a darker palette. Will these resonate with some of my lovely viewers? Anyone who is on a creative path will know only too well that there is always a secret audience inside oneself that is totally demanding. And in my case, always hungry for more.

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