The Palimpsest of Butrint

Sketchbook notes on The Palimpsest of Butrint

The loose grid format that emerges in this work has become a recurrent theme and a deliberate construction. Although a rule was used for horizontal division of the canvas, the lines were not rigorously adhered to but allowed to soften and distort. The rhythmic vertical lines evolve instinctively across the picture plane. Their length is determined by the natural process of bending my wrist to draw the tool downwards or to push/flick upwards.

Reflection in turtle pool.

A trip to Butrint, a UNESCO heritage site in Albania, inspired my current body of work. The site is set on an idyllically situated peninsula in the Adriatic Sea facing Corfu. In high summer, the sea and sky are cerulean and the whole peninsula is covered in Eucalyptus trees.

Metaphorically Butrint is a palimpsest – an old surface where the story has repeatedly been scraped clean and rewritten. The ruins offer a wealth of themes and layers encompassing the mythological, the historical, the experiential, physical architecture, artefacts and the interplay of light and colour. Working in pen and ink in situ, I recorded key elements of interest from mosaic, pillars, pools and a magnificent lion gate. The site has been in disrepair since the occupation of the Venetian Empire and was buried beneath deep undergrowth and, until recently, a communist regime.

Golden light flows under the dark slate archway of Lion Gate.

Layers of limestone and chalk are overlaid with Greek flagstones, Roman mosaics and brickwork. The island is bathed in sunshine but shadowed by the overhanging, dry green eucalyptus leaves. Artefacts in the museum represent every known civilisation, evoking a deep connection with human experience across the centuries through both known historical fact and mythological legend.Throughout these works the use of mixed media, including cold wax medium, has created a surface texture to convey the varied materials found in Butrint.

Rough stones, bricks and tree bark contrast with smooth glass, mosaic ceramics and the still waters in the temple pools. Overhanging, rustling eucalyptus leaves sway in rhythm with the barely moving sea lapping the shore of the peninsula.

Because I felt the under-layer of ordered vertical marks I made with pen and crayon were too static, I chose to flood the canvas with inks and dilute oils to create a sense of romance, history and mysticism.

Alongside the physical evidence of the archaeological site, I had a keen sense of the collective living experiences of the inhabitants. I am interested in the transition of memory and my experience has prompted me to research this phenomenon. A growing need to use a curved line led me to add vessels to the painting. I have always loved drawing circles! The concept of a round generous vessel, held in the hands, represents many of my own characteristics.

The vessel is a stable shape with diverse qualities. It can contain, pour out or catch. Its roundness is comforting and aesthetically pleasing. It represents reliable durability and it is astonishing to hold a vessel made over four thousand years ago. Such a vessel can transfer the very feeling of the hands that made it and the curve of the lip and handle can be experienced by each generation to hold it.