Tag Archives: visionary

Trapdoor in a Locked Down World

REVIEW

The Museum of Mystery and Imagination

The Allsop Gallery, Bridport Arts Centre, 15 July-20 August, 2021

Imagine if Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, and Giorgio de Chirico had been born in the British Isles; if they had still turned out to be artists (and that presupposes that artists, and not just poets, are born and made: are natured, not nurtured). Would they have created their distinctive visionary blend of Surrealist and Symbolist art with an Anglo-Saxon sensibility? So, indirectly, this exhibition speculates – that there is a particular British form of these traditions that, it is argued, predates them. It is glimpsed in the works of William Blake, Samuel Palmer, Lewis Carroll, David Jones, and Leonora Carrington – tangible influences in the works on display here. An eclectic exhibition of paintings and ceramics, populated by strange creatures and creations from the fringes of consciousness. It is like walking into a fairy tale forest, or Cocteau’s castle from La Belle et La Bête: this is a place of chimerical metamorphosis, and ambiguous, amphibious dream-like imagery. People and animal blend into fluid hybrids, take on iconic potency in their postures and expressions. Some have the stained-glass clarity of tarot cards, or the rude energy of church grotesques. The natural world cross-fertilises with the human. There is a sexual frisson to many, but the female gaze dominates. The images suggest a chthonic female experience erupting into the waking world, defiant and empowered. A cat and a mermaid make strangely compatible companions. A naked woman hovering between two chairs explodes with flowers. In an age of heavy realism, this celebration of the imagination – blossoming out of the enforced interregnum of lockdown – is a welcome escape hatch.   

Kevan Manwaring, 7 August 2021

Thank you to the staff of Bridport Arts Centre, who kindly let me in to view the exhibition while building work was under way.

https://www.bridport-arts.com/event/museum-of-mystery-and-imagination/

Moyra Caldecott – a personal tribute

The writer Moyra Caldecott, passed away peacefully on 23 May, a week shy of her 88th birthday, in Bath, a city she wrote about in two of her novels, The Winged Man and The Waters of Sul.  Meeting her soon after moving to the city in 1996, she became a dear friend and enthusiastic supporter of my writing. She gave me advice that has served me well ever since: ‘Write the book you want to read’. Following this, I went on to write my first novel, The Long Woman (Awen, 2004). A series followed, The Windsmith Elegy, and Moyra dutifully read and praised every one, alongside my poetry and non-fiction. Having an experienced, well-published writer encourage me in this was very affirming and motivational.

Moyra was born in Pretoria, Transvaal, South Africa, in 1927. She received a good education at Natal University and was awarded a degree in English and Philosophy, and an MA in English Literature. In 1950 she moved to Cape Town, where she met her husband, Oliver Caldecott, a key anti-Apartheid campaigner. When the crack down on the anti-Apartheid movement made it too dangerous for the Caldecotts to stay, they moved to England in 1951. They married and were to be blessed with 3 intelligent, talented children, a daughter and two sons, who matured in an artist, scientist and writer, respectively. Oliver worked as in publishing, as Chief Editor for Penguin Fiction, in the 1960s, before starting his own publishing house in the 70s, Wildwood House, but Moyra, who started to write in her late 40s, got published by her own merits. Her first novel was published in her early 50s, and she went on to have over 30 novels and non-fiction books published. Her best known work is the Guardians of the Tall Stones trilogy, inspired by the Avebury World Heritage site. She was fascinated by Prehistory, by Celtic Tradition, but was also very knowledgeable about other traditions and faith systems, as her non-fiction collections illustrated (Crystal Legends; Myths of the Sacred Tree; Mythical Journeys, Legendary Quests).

Another well-received trilogy about ancient Egypt, focusing on Akhenaten and Hatshepsut (The Son of the Sun; The Daughter of Ra; The Ghost of Akhenaten) led to Moyra being contacted by the pop star Tina Turner, who paid for her to accompany her to Egypt, acting as a personal guide to the ancient sites – an experience which Moyra spoke of with fondness and delight.

In the Spring of 1989, with Oliver’s health failing, they moved to Bath. He had become an artist in his later years, creating pictures which Moyra treasured. In November of that year Oliver passed away.  They had been married for nearly 40 years.

Moyra was a founder member of the (now dormant) Bladud Society, dedicated to raising awareness about Bath’s Celtic heritage. In my time as Bard of Bath (1998-9), I organised monthly gatherings at the Bladud’s Head in Larkhall. In the first Bardic Festival of Bath, in 1998, Moyra gave an excellent talk on Bladud and Sulis, and the healing springs of the city (Aquae Sulis). She was an eloquent and engaging speaker. She said of her novels: ‘Some people have asked me if they are memories. I certainly believe life, and our experience of it, is complex and multi-dimensional, and the borders of time and space have no relevance to our consciousness, of which the imagination is an important and integral part.’

In her later years she liked to perform her visionary poetry at local open mics until she lost the power of speech. Then friends were to step in and offer to read poems on her behalf at various events, some of which I organised at local bookshops and pubs.

Moyra was made an Honorary Bard of Caer Badon (Bath) in 2005, in recognition of her works and continuing inspiration.

A memoir of her life, Multi-dimensional Life, was published on her 80th birthday by Bath-based Mushroom Books. She is survived by her 2 of her 3 children, her daughter, the glass artist Rachel, and son, the biologist Julian Caldecott.

Kevan Manwaring

30 May 2015