Bro. Carolyn Trant

Caroyln Trant

The Beauty of Natural Decay - Mildred 'Elsi' Eldridge

When writing Voyaging Out (a book about 20th century women artists) I really identified with the artist Elsi Eldridge, wife of poet RS Thomas; her house was full of the bones and decomposing animals she hung up to dry. She even remarked of her dead father in his coffin 'everyone looks rather lovely when they are dead... I hope that even I might make a lovely skeleton'. She called one of the panels The Beauty of Natural Decay in her extraordinarily beautiful mural The Dance of Life (1957), now located in Oswestry. Decaying matter is all about time passing - so perhaps it is suitable for lockdown times...

My house is mostly where I work currently (but the studio is just as full is full of stuff) - and here's a corner of a tableful here for a start, which I did once rather anally try and sort into wood, metal and plastic bits – don't look too closely if you are squeamish, as much of the stuff is organic too…

My decomposing beasties are beautiful and poignant; my bluetit in his plastic box is my own Sleeping Beauty, proving birds aren't really made of substance at all as one always suspects. I think he froze to death one cold winter… and somewhere there is a completely flattened dried frog who turns up from time to time. The desiccated mouse, more a creature of earth, is still so comfortingly mouselike in its decay; and the crow on my desk, a very comforting and inspiring companion, all beaky-eyed crowness, mercurial messenger, keeping me on my toes... tempus fugit... carpe diem.

Decomposition is metamorphosis, growth of a kind, and watching it gives an edge to living, a sense of vastness, immensity, proportion, infinity... and it is also often very beautiful. It is the subject of Alchemy too of course - putrefaction, sublimation, lots of black crows - all in such glorious metaphysical images.

I could never look at anything freshly dead and bloody in a biology lab, but once desiccated, or having been interred and decaying I am fine and artistic curiosity kicks in big-time – I like to leave flowers to the very last breath and see what they do next, and all skeletons are beautiful.

My archaeological layers of stuff are a great aid to creativity; it’s exciting re-finding things squirrelled away - so I daren't tidy or search about too much if I am already full to the brim with ideas. Lockdown has proved I don't need the outside world to inspire me – there is a lifetime of it stored in my house; I am revelling in the time to work away without distractions – and perhaps if I ever get to sell the work there will then be extra space in each room to actually move about in my old age for exercise. Lockdown is telling me that at my age now I should use this stuff before it is too late. Dried twisted bunches of grapestalks, dried leek leaves, champagne corks and wires for bracing small papier mache items (they make excellent birds), all kinds of strings and cords for bindings, bark, nice bits and pieces for collage – and of course the dead stuff…

Perhaps the house is just a complete installation as it is, life and art in constant flux, totally embedded…

I am planning to compact some things and embed them into book covers, as I have done before for suitable topics. Much of my current work is about climate change – fire, flood and pestilence; including covid 'tarot card' packs of shufflable images based around Fools– see example images and my blog…

In the chaos it is easy to lose things – I've now no idea where to seek the card bases I fortuitously cut to size on a bookbinder friend's extra tough guillotine before lockdown.

It has been a boon to have masses of supplies, of paper and wood, even the spare strips of paper off previous productions that need using up are ideal for the playing card size I am needing. I am intending to make scrapbooks, inspired by Ravilious and Bawden, of all the old not-quite-good enough prints I have kept over the years… but I am still too busy excitedly making new work.

If you want to see what I make with all my stuff, and my recent work in lockdown, look on my blog – I have been keeping it daily until recently as a covid artblog for the BL researchers of the future – and on my archive website for older work.

Posted on: 11 August 2020

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