THE THIRSTY BLACK BIRD
Oil on board
122cm x 117cm
The re-painting of “Black Bird”
On one level, this is still an abstracted, pictorial representation of a journey through a landscape (Penwith in Cornwall), depicted by rolling hills, fields, heather, tree and coast.
However there is further narrative and one that tells of the mining of Lithium and how this potential gold rush is evolving.
The story of Lithium mining in Cornwall has developed since I painted “Black Bird” (Fig 1) and so in response I’ve developed the painting into “The Thirsty Black Bird” (Fig 2).
The main difference is that the narrative of the Black Bird has changed. Gone is the main narrative of watchful presence (although still present) and in comes the story of the thirsty Black Bird (Fig 3), as depicted by the bird now with a stone in its mouth. The story goes that a thirsty black bird came across a jar with a small amount of water in the bottom. As the bird couldn’t reach the water it was unable to drink it, so the clever bird found some stones and placed them in the jar displacing the water, raising the water up to the lip so that it could eventually drink, quenching its thirst. I use this story allegorically to echo the investment into the mining of Lithium. The stones in the painting (Fig 4 ) represent investment. To quench their thirst for Lithium the investors have to invest and drop the stones into the mine. There were always multiple birds in the painting but to emphasise the increased interest in this mining project I emphasised some and added another. The now darker areas in the painting indicate and emphasise the past and how this Duchy was used by a minority to extract its natural resources for their own profit at the cost to the environment and lack of care for the work force. The sack of gold is now bleeding iron ore (Fig 5, Iron ore being Cornwall’s previously mined asset, also Winter heather) and the solitary tree looks even more isolated, devoid of leaves and to all intents barren and dead (representing environmental damage by the previous mining methods, also a mineshaft). This part of the new interpretation, hopefully, will be the story of the past and not the future but it is there in the background. To the left of one of the other birds is now a mine shaft (Fig 6, with water at the bottom). To mine, they first have to drain the shaft and this is where the investment comes in. The only way to quench their thirst is to get the water up and out.
At the bottom of the painting (Fig 7) is a representation of the board game: Gwyddbwyll (a bit like chess). The pieces are the colour of Lithium and shaped like mobile phones (a major use for the chemical element). A metaphor of the ongoing mining game and who, if any, wins it.
The Black Bird still overlooks the game and represents a potential portent of the outcome of the story but it is now also a player, unlike before. In its role in myth and culture, the Black Bird is used as a symbol to indicate the return of King Arthur and a return of the golden age of Cornwall (history would seem to have rose tinted glasses in regard to whom this golden age benefitted). In “The dream of Rhonabwy”, King Arthur plays Gwyddbwyll, but it was left unresolved with him crushing the pieces to dust. To date the gold rush hasn’t materialised for either the mining company or Cornwall. The game pieces in the painting are still active and the Black Bird remains watching the story unfold.
Underneath the surface of the painting (Fig 8) there is a palimpsest depicting a batholith, an igneous intrusion, and the main geological reason for Cornwall having Lithium in the first place.
The story has not been fully told so the chess like game metaphor is still valid from the previous painting. Here’s hoping the investment now taking place will herald a new golden age for Cornwall and the playing pieces move with the hope that lessons have been learnt from the past. History will tell if the Black Bird is a clever investor or, as in mythology, a portent of battle or doom.