Harvest and The Wave – Joan Eardley Centenary 2021

The following poems Harvest and The Wave are responses to paintings by Joan Eardley held in the National Galleries of Scotland collection. For me, these two works encapsulate Eardley’s intent as an artist and the driven nature of creativity. I was also inspired by the following statements by Joan Eardley and Audrey Walker, which reflect dual aspects of Eardley’s personality;

I always identify Joan with the sea, and it is a valid identification. There is a gentle, sunlit sea one delights in, in the summer. And even in bad weather it is still a summer sea. This was the Joan I think everyone knew. This is the sea most people know. But there is a magnificent winter sea, in all its indomitable grandeur and wild, turbulent and terrifying splendour. This was Joan too.’ Audrey Walker

‘If you want experience of understanding and beauty then envy me now- but if you want happiness then don’t.’ Joan Eardley

I think Joan Eardley’s work communicates very powerfully our fundamental need as human beings to out create destruction, within ourselves and the wider world. The Wave and Harvest represent our deepest impulses, acknowledging darkness and striving towards light.   

Harvest was published as part of the anthology All Becomes Art – Part One edited by Colin Herd and Sam Small (Speculative Books, Glasgow, February 2022.) All Becomes Art is a collection of new writing in response to the paintings and drawings of Joan Eardley, celebrating the centenary of her birth in 2021. Images of both paintings can be viewed on the National Galleries of Scotland website.

Harvest (oil and grit on hardboard, 1960-61)

Behind the village
above the raging sea
seed husks crack open
like wings

The path is clear
straight to the eye
of the sun
poised on the horizon
haloed crimson white

in her fine-spun frenzy of marks
blocks of shadow are
broken by vanishing green
and exploding yellow
paint, grit and earth
reaping sustenance

All life is here
rendered in ecstasy
the heart shimmers
even as the wheel of the year turns
from golden day to night

This is the moment
inside this hallowed triptych
when you and the world
are made whole again.

Georgina Coburn

Link to Speculative Books website ‘All Becomes Art Vol 1’ anthology edited by Colin Herd and Sam Small https://www.speculativebooks.net/shop/all-becomes-art-vol-1

The Wave (oil and grit on hardboard, February 1961)

To see the wave is to feel
its fierce flowing light and a barricade
of oncoming darkness
loneliness ‘put away by painting’
borne on a leaden tide

Despair cuts like a WWI trench through wet sand
a single, unflinchingly black rectangular mark
stubborn as bitumen, delicately
frayed at the edges
like Rothko’s Elysium fields

The wall of water is unstoppable 
yet here she is, steadfast in quicksand
holding back the tide for generations
defiantly drawing a line
that death may not cross

Beneath the industrial weight
of Scots grey-blue
we stand beside her
in the gale, the earth
our foreground
and our end

The wave is a hand honed mark of burnt umber
held close to the chest, the ‘i’ of Friedrich’s
solitary monk placed pier edge and centre
disintegrating
like a pillar of dust
in a hurricane, scattered
like her ashes
on this beach

Inevitably the wave hits, white foam
gritted truth that knocks the wind
out of me, scrapes me along
the sea floor and leaves me
gasping for breath. I feel
the sum of all those days
when hope vanishes
and my soul scratches
in a fever of life
not to depart.

Georgina Coburn