Wednesday, 22 April 2009

All places are for quests

Last summer I saw by chance Christopher le Brun’s haunting collection 50 Etchings at Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum. These etchings were densely drawn sequences of motifs: a man on horseback at a wood’s edge, discovering a tower in a forest, looking into a well or leaving a city of clustered walls and pinnacles. There are often strange effects of light, figures approaching in front of a sunrise or emerging from shadows of massed lines.

Christopher le Brun, The Given

This comment accompanied his etching of The Given: ‘Time and again, a rider, a metaphysical paladin approaches a castle. His search stands for a Northern painter’s riposte to the challenge of Picasso’s much quoted ‘I do not seek. I find.’ In the North, with its obscuring and elusive light, its hollow hills and forests, travellers of the imagination have, as their ultimate legend, by contrast, the search for the Holy Grail.’

Christopher le Brun, An Imaginary City

I often think of these images passing by this city’s domes, towers and walls.

But also last week when walking through an oak wood on a Lake District hillside.

I love the way his etchings drift between the human and the natural, suggesting narratives of shadow and illumination, filled with meaning in every place. For me they suggest how arbitrary the boundaries we build can be, between the real and fantastic, city and forest, the profound and the quotidian. I took the photo below on the cycle path across the marsh that lies between our flat and the city centre. If we're on a quest we have to be open, to seek and to come to the world.  

Twentieth-century philosopher Martin Buber wrote in his essay 'Dialogue': 

'Each of us is encased in an armour whose task is to ward off signs. Signs happen to us without respite, living means being addressed, we would need only to present ourselves and to perceive. But the risk is too dangerous for us, the soundless thunderings seem to threaten us with annihilation, and from generation to generation we perfect the defence apparatus. All our knowledge assures us, "Be calm, everything happens as it must happen, but nothing is directed at you, you are not meant; it is just 'the world', you can experience it as you like, but whatever you make of it in yourself proceeds from you alone, nothing is required of you, you are not addressed, all is quiet." ... The signs of address are not something extraordinary, something that steps out of the order of things, they are just what goes on time and again, just what goes on in any case, nothing is added by the address. The waves of the aether roar on always, but for most of the time we have turned off our receivers.'


  1. Hi, Kathleen, thanks so much for this Buber quote! And thanks for nudging all of us to 'turn [on] our receivers.' It's as simple (and complex) as noticing, isn't it? --Priscilla

  2. Thanks for putting Arts & Ecology on the blogroll. I'll reciprocate.

    Please keep an eye out for our series coming up by the poets John Kinsella and Melanie Challenger.

  3. Thanks very much Priscilla and William for putting City Pollen on your blogrolls. I'm glad it's of interest to you, especially as I always enjoy reading your sites.