Previewing this Friday 7th October at the Hannah Maclure Centre, A Belly – Full Of Rain is a fascinating collaboration between artists Dawn Wood and Fanny Lam Christie that takes in poetry, prints and sculpture to make connections between Chinese Water Dragon symbolism and Dundee mythology through the story of the Nine Maidens. Inspired by a trip to China, Dawn and Fanny explore mythological and earthly creatures and their relationship with natural materials and water flow, bringing to life Dundee’s underground streams and burns and giving voice to the wildlife that surrounds us.
Dawn very kindly granted Creative Dundee an interview which makes for lovely reading and demonstrates a deeply philosophical and spiritual approach to the creative process. We hope you enjoy reading her thoughts on Art as much as we did, and look forward to seeing you at the preview which starts at 6pm where you will be able to meet the artists in person and immerse yourself in the mythical world they have created.
Please give us a brief bio, where you are from and how you started in this field?
I grew up in Omagh, County Tyrone and, after a BSc in Microbiology and MSc in Molecular Biology my interests settled first on the connections between science and poetry and then on science and art in general. I have been lecturing at University of Abertay for ten years, and was able to complete my PhD there, centred on the Poetry of Animal Husbandry. I was very fortunate in having Professor Seaton Baxter as a supervisor – he, and other friends at the Centre for Natural Design, showed me what is meant by ‘practice-based’ research. I listened to the experiences of farmers and animal scientists and wrote many of the poems in ‘Quarry’ as a result. I recently published a second collection, ‘Hermes with Gift’, poems derived from conversations with practicing agricultural scientists and the Scottish artist, Ronnie Forbes. I also spent several years sketching regularly at the Barrack Street Museum in Dundee and learning about wildlife, particularly birds, from Mike Nicoll, the taxidermist. ….so, I’m not entirely sure what field I’m in! I step into whatever shapes up as a possibility.
When did you first discover your creative talents?
I’ve always painted, as children do, and I didn’t stop when I grew up! Poetry came later, I was sketching and words kept appearing on the page – that was a difficult year and the poetry probably rescued me. My education and lecturing are mostly in the sciences – microbiology, biotechnology, food and consumer science. I don’t consider that creativity is confined to one subject rather than another, and my understanding of ‘science’ is both focused and very wide. Over the years, certain people have told me that what I was doing was valid and valued, and that has made a great difference.
Could you tell us about some of your work?
I became interested in dragons after a trip to China last year. I experienced what I suppose is meant by ‘culture shock’ and understood Eastern mysticism in a way which I hadn’t earlier. Before the visit, I’d been reading poems of Rumi, the wonderful Sufi poet, without really understanding them – suddenly something fell into place. I became interested in the dragon as a symbol of energy and connectedness, and since the dragon is also a symbol of Dundee, I was able to link the work with ‘home’. I have recently been working with Chinese brushes and screen-printing, and that’s been very liberating for me. Also in the exhibition at the Hannah Maclure Centre is my collection of 365 heart shaped stones – one for every day of the year, and collected over ten years. The title poem of my collection ‘Quarry’ is based on these stones
What inspires you to keep going and how do you keep yourself motivated?
I’m at my happiest when I’m lost in the making of something – a poem or a painting. So my motivation is my own happiness, it’s just a matter of remembering that. With painting, I have a rule to lay down at least one colour at the end of every day… another constant source of motivation is my twin sister who lives in Germany – we talk about these things all the time and badger each-other into action!
Any influences or anyone you look up to when it comes to your practice?
Influences have been Vince Rattray and Tony Morrow , Dundee artists who have been great encouragers. I leant something of the craft of poetry from Colette Bryce, John Glenday and Don Paterson. In terms of research practice, Seaton Baxter gave me permission to break the rules, and he continues to be an enabling force for researchers who want to study nature as a whole.
What is your favourite or most inspirational space?
My garden, with the sun on my face and the warm smell of the box hedge (albeit unkempt) with my dog, Max and the birds for company, there’s no better place. That’s where all the poems were written. I’m also sustained by St Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Dundee, the music, the place and the people.
Lastly, any words of advice for aspiring artists?
Creativity comes from being attentive – from listening, as much as anything else. I am sure that all creativity comes from the same source, and lots of different media are valid (including food, as many of my students already know!). My advice is: don’t be afraid – neither success nor failure matter, there’s nothing to lose.