1066 and all that
The last few weeks have been dominated by preparations for my exhibition in the Sussex town of Battle which opened yesterday. It’s not called Battle for nothing. If you don’t already know you soon will: Friday marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in 1066 – the one date every English person knows. (Or do they, still?)
The centrepiece is the largest painting and has borders inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry. You can see Halley’s Comet in the top left-hand corner.
…is called ‘Reading the Heavens: Night Sky, October 14th 1066’. It’s composed entirely of night skies. The centrepiece, above, shows what William and Harold and everyone else would have seen if they’d gazed up into the sky around then. I’d better avoid tasteless jokes on the lines that Harold must have looked up or he wouldn’t have got an arrow in his eye -it’s a long time ago and it isn’t even certain he did.
From earliest times people have gazed up into the stars What does it all mean? Where do we belong in that immensity? Around Easter in 1066 Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky. It’s even shown in the Bayeux Tapestry. People marvelled at it and what it might portend. What did both sides feel on the eve of the struggle? What were the omens? How much were they like us?
Why this subject?
Before I was an artist I taught medieval French language and literature. After the Conquest, William ravaged the North and gave the English nobility a rough time. French became the language of the wealthy, educated and powerful in England. Many early ‘French’ poems and stories were actually written in England. And the Bayeux tapestry – which tells the story of the Conquest from William’s point of view of course – was probably made in England. My interest in the events of 1066 and the Bayeux Tapestry goes back a long way.
Night Sky, Aquarius
Astronomy and astrology only parted company recently.
Newton took an intense interest in astrology and alchemy. Early Arabic and western astronomers gave poetic names to the constellations. Dragon, lynx, scorpion, bear, lion, bull…Quite a few of my paintings take particular dates or events and show the constellations and stars at that moment. Roughly. (It’s art, not science!) Some of them use more artistic licence than others.
There’s a lovely piece about the painting and my work in the current edition of Sussex Life:
Here are some tiny night sky paintings on reclaimed cedar blocks made specially for the exhibition.
Moon, Flight of Birds Black Moon