Lately, I have been pondering the meaning of the word “faraway”. Partly because a recent move to Cornwall from London induces horrified expressions in both friends and acquaintances alike “Cornwall’ they shriek, using the same tone as Dame Edith Evans once used to great effect in The Importance of Being Ernest when using the word “ a handbag”? “Cornwaaall?”, they look aghast, following up with “but it’s so faraway!”
Politeness usually refrains me from replying “but you think nothing of flying to New York for the weekend, or tooling up and down the motorway twice a week to the dreary Cotswolds”. I grew up for part of my life, on the Isle of Wight, where the ferries ruled your ease of travel, and you were only as “faraway” as the next storm, whereas if you lived in Scotland the cold mists and freezing fogs could roll in and then you were really faraway.
So, a move to Cornwall late-ish in my life seems a natural way of combining the loves of my life previously embryoed on the Isle of Wight, by combining the sea and visual arts.
Why my more spoilt London friends should continue to believe they are the centre of the universe is always a puzzle to me. I was brought up in the Kennedy era Washington DC, post war Germany, and the emerging republic of Austria, but glorious “Swinging London” was still the main centre of my personal universe. But the London I knew in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s has radically changed from a cosy village where you knew the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, to a global centre of commerce and collapsing basements.
Sure the art galleries, museums, theatres and parks remain some of the best in the world, but no longer can you stroll down the King’s Road and run in to Jimi Hendrix at the Chelsea Antique Market, bump in to Eduardo Paolozzi buying a paper at a local newsagent, Anita Pallemberg in Snappy Snaps or Bob Geldof drinking cappuccinos at the Picasso … those people or the places have gone, (moved elsewhere in a manner of speaking)…to be replaced by homogenous high street shops. The last bastion of iconoclastic artists is still the Chelsea Arts Club, but the club itself is now surrounded by the expanding properties of mega rich oligarchs or racing car magnates digging out their basements to the fury of locals . All too often now, in London, “faraway” begins to mean the expressions on people’s faces as they tune out the sound of sirens or scraping of scaffolding by listening to techno on their headphones, or madly muttering in to thin air. We are a faraway nation now, never in the present, always somewhere else…
I recently showed my photographic work in Chicago, a city as vibrant and art oriented as any place I’ve ever lived. In between the architectural skyscrapers the streets seem cleaner too (later I discover that side alleys to accommodate the rubbish trucks were cleverly built in to the street grids). It’s a city running with watery canals and blues clubs in equal measure, both indispensable in my eyes to the enjoyment of living. Perhaps the same combination of water and blues could be said of my area of Cornwall, where my new home is a few minutes from a lovely beach, blue is the predominate colour of Lanyon’s paintings or summer skies and the St Ives Blues club was recently voted as the best in Britain. It’s as far away as you can get from the hustle and bustle of city life. Hooray.
No one in Chicago talks about being faraway from anywhere. Americans take airplanes like we take taxis, and when a dear friend of mine aged 80 traveled up to Chicago from Santa Fe for my opening night, he thought nothing of taking a train that took over 24 hours, and departing back three days later. As a teenager with my parents and later as a young woman I drove all over America, often sleeping in the car, and taking many of the landscape photographs (Monument Valley, The Painted Desert) that form my collection today. Seeing one of my exhibitions, Dennis Hopper once paid me the highest of compliments…” she’s a real on the road chick”… nothing seemed faraway then.
Sure, it takes my five hours to train it or drive from London to Cornwall and vice versa (soon to be four and a half when the A30 finally dual carriageways all the way), or three hours door to door if I fly from Newquay, but so what? During that time I get to think, imagine, review, come up with ideas, plan my next exhibition, write, muse on some stunning scenery, listen to the blues or Radio Four, clear my head or fill it up again. As the nights get shorter and the days longer, the sea bluer and the temperature warmer, those same much loved London friends will no doubt start to call like nightingales in spring “we hear the Tate Gallery is re-opening so we’re thinking of coming down to St Ives for the weekend. We’d love to stay with you”. Will I hear myself saying as I laze in bed with my book and trace the pattern of the wild geese formation flying down the estuary, “are you sure you want to do that? It’s such a long drive and, really, I’m so faraway…..”
Carinthia West is a photographer and journalist. Muse magazine wrote “ Carinthia was a free spirit, blissfully unaware that she was candidly recording icons and iconic moments of the times” Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones commented “Carinthia took pictures while we were getting on with life”. Her most recent exhibition ‘Visions of a Magic Time’ will move to KM Fine Arts Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles on February 10th, before returning home to the PZ Gallery in Penzance in May or June of 2016. After which she will write her book.
“The aim of showing my photographs is to give a glimpse of how we lived then. I think of it as an affectionate archive of a more innocent time. It is intended to inspire the young photographer to look around at their world and capture that fleeting moment before life moves on as it always does.”
Volume 30 number 3 January / February 2016 pp016-17