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F for Fragile

Excerpt from Fragile by Sting:


If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one

Drying in the colour of the evening sun

Tomorrow's rain will wash the stains away

But something in our minds will always stay

Perhaps this final act was meant

To clinch a lifetime's argument

That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could

For all those born beneath an angry star

Lest we forget how fragile we are


On and on the rain will fall

Like tears from a star

Like tears from a star

On and on the rain will say

How fragile we are

How fragile we are”

From the album: “nothing like the sun” released in 1987. You can watch this being performed by Sting on You Tube.

This beautiful and powerful song by Sting was written after he heard about the death of an innocent man in Nicaragua, but it came to have added resonance for me after 9/11, as Sting was giving a concert at his home that evening. The concert was filmed and then released on a DVD: “sting … all this time” (2001 A&M Records). I own and enjoy this DVD very much.It’s a great documentary with a very candid look into how Sting reinvented song arrangements for this concert.

It is not hard to see why the world is fragile with war, famine, global warming andCovid. I particularly like Sting’s line “Nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could”.The futility of brutality. He speaks about how, on the surface, things improve but that “something in our minds will always stay”.

How does art and photography reflect this fragile world? What does it mean to be, in the words of the song, “born under an angry star?” How does it affect your creativity? At its worst, humanity gets caught up in a cycle of revenge and bitterness and is power crazy, at its best it reflects back to the viewer (listener) what is happening in the world in the context of hope.

Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ remains a profound reflection on the violence of the Spanish civil war. Paul Nash’s painting ‘The Menin Road’ is a reflection on the First World War. I remember seeing this at the Imperial War Museum in London. It’s huge, and so was the impression it left on me as a child. If I close my eyes, even now I can still see it!

Why, oh why, can mankind not learn from the past? It’s truly beyond me and my rationale, and upsets me time and time again.

In our own country Wilfred Owen brought home the reality of war in the First World War trenches. In his poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ he talks of the soldiers being

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge”

Or there is Siegfried Sassoon, on a happier note at the end of the War, in his poem ‘ Everyone sang’:


Everyone suddenly burst out singing;

And I was filled with such delight

As prisoned birds must find in freedom,

Winging wildly across the white orchards and dark-green fields;

on - on - and out of sight.”

There is also, of course, the beauty and fragility of the natural world. Paul Sanders shows us the delicacy and softness of flowers in his “Fragile Beauty Print” collection. He shows us the delicate, fragile beauty of these plants - https://www.discoverstill.com/prints

Every time I point a camera at nature I reflect on how transient things are - the fragility of creation highlighted so eloquently by Sir David Attenborough. All you have to do is watch his BBC TV programmes.

Moving away from the world of nature to the world of people, I have just been to see my mum in hospital. Whilelooking around the ward, I could sense people hanging on to their life that is so valuable to them. Needs and wants change as people become more fragile, and good communication becomes even more important. There may not be another time to correct any mistakes! While I was there, my mum gave me a hopeful smile. If I was a painter I would want to capture that moment. It was precious, how I wish to hold on to that memory.

Just like I wish to hold on to that moment that I first held my baby daughter, my first born child. No words could describe that entirely overwhelming feeling. Looking down at that fragile, seconds-old human being ...

Members of my family and friends work in the caring professions, and I have come to have great respect for the work that they do. Like many children of the ‘60s I was raised with the mantra ‘Big boys don’t cry’, a really unhealthy phrase indeed. I truly hated hearing that said to to me. Somehow I have always known it’s wrong! Tears are a good thing, a release. “Let it go and let them flow,” I say. Through life experiences, I now appreciate the vulnerability that many live with, and the value of care work far more. I remember once singing carols in a care home where most people had dementia. The experience of watching them come alive when they heard the familiar songs helped me to see that joy is still possible in fragility.

As an artist I feel I need to see and to respond to fragility, to look hard for those joyful moments within, and record them with hope. No matter what art medium you use, you owe it to yourself, and mankind, to capture those moments. Do it now, for tomorrow never comes! Don’t live in the regret of your yesterdays!


Fragility

Perhaps that concept of hope among brokenness is expressed most beautifully in the Japanese art of Kintsugi. This is the process of repairing ceramics with lacquer and gold, leaving a gold seam where the cracks were. The name Kintsugi comes from ‘Kin’ meaning golden and ‘tsugi’ meaning repair.

I see parallels in this art with my Christian faith. My understanding is that we are all hurt by the world but the grace of God embraces our brokenness and restores us to something even more beautiful than the original. Seams of gold connect the fractured parts. A true craftsman sees value in the broken pieces of pottery and, by his skill and care, enables them to function once more with added beauty. What a metaphor for hope.

Peace Doves at Chichester Cathedral - until 12th November 2023

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