November blows in

And all the leaves on the trees are falling
To the sound of the breezes that blow

-Van Morrison, Moondance

Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it’s time for them to go?
Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming
I have no thought of time

For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

And I am not alone while my love is near me
I know it will be so until it’s time to go
So come the storms of winter and then the birds in spring again
I have no fear of time

– Sandy Denny

Funny – it’s not often that the first day of a new month marks such an abrupt change in the weather.  But that’s how it was today. The calm and generally warm and sunny days that we’ve experienced through September and October – marked by what many have claimed to have been the best autumnal colours for many years – came to an abrupt end with today’s gales and driving rain.  The storm has pretty much stripped the trees of the last of their autumn-tinted leaves.

How better to illustrate this theme than with David Hockney’s vast Bigger Trees Near Warter, depicting the bare bones of proud winter trees? Particularly as the painting  has just gone on view at Tate Britain.  Hockney donated the work –  covering 50 canvas panels and measuring  5 by 12 meters – to the gallery last year.

Last Thursday, Jonathan Jones wrote on his Guardian blog:

Hockney believes that painting must renew itself by confronting nature. It is about hand, eye, brain and heart. You look, you feel, you sketch. Putting his easel in the open air like a 19th-century French landscape artist, he has set out to paint in a pure and honest way. And as you contemplate one of the best pictures he has ever made, you’ve got admit he has a point.

And last July, Jones wrote:

You’d have to have a heart of stone if you weren’t moved, just a little bit, by the prospect of an elderly painter standing in a wide open east Yorkshire landscape, touching clouds and sky and trees into a second existence on a canvas that is blowing in the wind.

Update, 24 November, from Mark Brown at The Guardian:

On a grey day in London today, a monumental painting of a grey day in east Yorkshire went on display, flanked by two photographic versions of the same grey day and watched by an artist who said he didn’t now believe in dull days. Only dull people.  David Hockney arrived at Tate Britain to see the gallery put on display his biggest work, Bigger Trees Near Warter (2007). It was given to the Tate by the artist two years ago and while this is not its first display – that was the Royal Academy’s summer show – this is the first time it has been seen with two photographic companion pieces (one pictured above).

“I think it looks very good. It’s quite an effect, isn’t it?” said Hockney. “Funny to think it was painted in a small room in Bridlington – although I’ve got a very big studio now [it’s 20,000 sq ft]. It’s a warehouse.” The oil painting, valued by the Tate at £10m, is undeniably huge, made up of 50 canvases and measures in total 15ft by 40ft (4.6m by 12.2m).  The effect of having the huge, winter trees on three walls of one gallery is slightly overwhelming. Hockney is a vocal advocate of new technology but he said painting was alive and well, it was photography that was dying.

Hockney said he had no plans to go back to the trees, although “the moment rules when you’re looking at nature. If I suddenly change my mind, then we’ll do that.” The artist has just returned to the grey skies of Britain from his other home in California, although he was not downbeat.

“Once you live in a place like California, well, you need the rain. I used to think there were dull days and now I think it’s only you … dull people.” Hockney, who will be celebrated in 2012 when the Royal Academy mounts the most ambitious retrospective of his work, filling the entire gallery, has achieved something like national treasure status, although he doubts it himself. “I smoke. I’m quite an outsider frankly, all smokers are. In England, that is.”

The rain of a night and a day and a night
Stops at the light
Of this pale choked day. The peering sun
Sees what has been done.
The road under the trees has a border new
of purple hue
Inside the border of bright thin grass:
For all that has
Been left by November of leaves is torn
From hazel and thorn
And the greater trees. Throughout the copse
No dead leaf drops
On grey grass, green moss, burnt-orange fern,
At the wind’s return:
The leaflets out of the ash-tree shed
Are thinly spread
In the road, like little black fish, inlaid,
As if they played.
What hangs from the myriad branches down there
So hard and bare
Is twelve yellow apples lovely to see
On one crab-tree.
And on each twig of every tree in the dell
Uncountable
Crystals both dark and bright of the the rain
That begins again.

After Rain by Edward Thomas

Looking for a poem to summon the mood, I found this by Thomas Hood (1799 – 1845),  perhaps best known for a poem entitled The Song of the Shirt which was a lament for a poor London seamstress. Although I try to avoid slumping into the SAD winter blues, the following poem does capture a certain feeling around this time of year as the clocks go back and the afternoons dim – and do note the topical touch in verse four!

November by Thomas Hood

No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon!
No dawn – no dusk-no proper time of day –
No sky – no earthly view –
No distance looking blue –

No road – no street-
No “t’other side the way” –
No end to any Row –
No indications where the Crescents go –

No top to any steeple –
No recognitions of familiar people –
No courtesies for showing ’em –
No knowing ’em!

No mail – no post-
No news from any foreign coast –
No park- no ring- no afternoon gentility –
No company- no nobility –

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member-
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November!

Finally, another resonant image – from the best photoblog on the Web, Kathleen Connally’s A Walk Through Durham Township:

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