All Life lives on a Leaf, the Animist Art of Peter Goode

 Peter at Bridestones 27/2/93.

Peter Goode at Bridestones,27/2/1993.

Last night the valley was illuminated by shimmering fireworks.  Coming after the powerful introspection of Samhain, Bonfire night usually awakens the joyful child in me.   But this year I felt sober, focussed, and detached from the world.

In August our lives were torn open by the death of a very dear friend.  Peter Goode was a poet, painter, sculptor, and activist in ‘the world of reading and writing’.   The Peter I knew was an extraordinarily warm hearted man, for whom birds, trees, insects, animals, grass, stones, and especially ‘the h-earth’, were bearers of Spirit.  It was my great good fortune to share a close friendship with him for the last twenty or so years of his life, and to accompany and support him during the closing chapter of his journey in Peter form.

Most of the core experiences that have lead me to identify as an animist have constellated around encounters with death.  As might be expected, Peter’s death was heralded and marked by a series of exra-ordinary ‘showings’;  signs, if you like, of the irreducible mystery of cosmic nature.

A Touch of Pollen, 1994.

On two occasions Peter gathered his work together for exhibitions entitled ‘All Life Lives on a Leaf’.  This phrase, which he adapted from the Zimbabwean sculptor Bernard Takawira, encapsulated his core theme, a deep appreciation of the beauty and interdependence of all living beings.  “I saw a green butterfly at Northern College and it just turned my head to butter.”

Peter never drove a car, or read a book.  He was profoundly ‘dyslexic’, and during a difficult 1930’s and wartime childhood – he described hanging around an air vent outside Lyons Corner House in Huddersfield to catch the smells of food – he had almost no formal education.  There were lighter moments however.  His best friends were all animals.  When he was nine he adopted a wounded Jackdaw ( possibly a Crow ) and nurtured the bird back to health for over a month.  His new friend stayed in a corner of his room, woke him in the morning, picked his nose while he lay in bed, defended him if anyone came to the door, and came round town on his shoulder.  Peter became “one o’flock”, and retained an affection for corvids, especially Magpies, throughout his life.  Birds were often woven into his paintings.

Peter’s poetic turn of phrase made his stories, by turns, hilarious and breathtakingly beautiful.  Returning from a visit to France, for instance, he told me he’d seen ‘a thousand million confetti of starlings’.  One day I asked him whether he still wanted to carry on painting and carving.  ‘Oh, yes’ he replied, ‘I still want to lustre my eternal bubble’.  Asked where this image came from, he told me that once, as a child, when he was out exploring some wild land near where they lived, his attention had been caught by an infinity of light pouring through a dewdrop.  He had held on to this image throughout his life, and eventually included it in various paintings.

Peter often wove elaborate stories around the forms and figures in his work.  Sadly these don’t seem to have survived.  His ‘blurb’ for a 1994 exhibition has been found however, and is reproduced in full below.  Occasionally he gave paintings evocative names, such as The Children with Green Bonnets, Thunder and Lightning Behind a feather, A Touch of Pollen, These are the Stone Gods, The Guardian  ( of all Spirits ), and The Epicentre of Water, but mostly he wanted people to respond to them spontaneously.  Because of his dyslexia Peter had great difficulty remembering the names of people or places, so perhaps we should not be surprised that he didn’t want to name them all.

Untitled.

We had a strong spiritual connection.  I would phone up to alert Peter when there was a new Moon, so that he could turn silver over in his pocket, or light a candle.  “There’s an empathy between the tears of the Moon, and Silver, and me.  I’ve always had that.”  In the early days of our friendship I went for a walk with him up one of the many local Cloughs ( wooded side valleys) that are a characteristic feature of the upper Calder Valley landscape.  We had a very close encounter with a resting Tawny Owl.  This was what I like to call a showing.  When I saw how Peter responded to the bird, I knew immediately that we shared important common ground.  Peter must have thought so too.  Some weeks later he said he had a present for me, and handed me a roughly hewn, but highly evocative, carving of an Owl merging with a tree trunk.  This wonderfully charged manifestation of owlness watches over me as I write.  Peter would occasionally make a carving as a protective or healing talisman.  He was one of the best listeners you could wish to meet, and could be equally generous with his attention.  A man friend who was going through a horrible bereavement once phoned him in the middle of the night.  I asked Peter whether he had minded.  He said “no, he were grabbin at cobwebs”.

 

Peter experienced more than his share of privation and pain, and was politically active in the field of basic education for many years, but rather than document bleakness he chose to transmute distress and oppression into imagery that glows with life.  The painting above was produced during a period when he was being treated horrendously by his housing association.

He had an acute sense of colour, and form, and was psychically sensitive.  In a video film made in the mid-nineties he said that only a few pieces of stone have actually talked to him.  Its not that the rest were lifeless, but his ‘vision and sight’ weren’t attuned to them.  Whilst working on The Guardian ( of all Spirits ) he referred to the piece as a person.  ‘ When we first met it was a piece of driftwood going down the canal after a great storm.’  Peter compared working on the emerging sculpture with the privilege of being present when his children were born.  Because he could be quite emotionally open, and was susceptible to bouts of ‘the blues’, some have mistaken his work for art therapy.  For Peter, however, autobiographical resonances were always braided with a strong sense of relationship with the wood or stone, and a quite detailed mythopoetic conception of the personhood of each piece.  He referred to some of his carvings as totem poles, but would have been interested to hear that our Anglo-Saxon forbears believed their weohs, carved wooden figures placed at shrines, and stapols, larger carved posts, transmitted the primordial creative energy they knew as ódr.**

Another memorable sculpture, entitled Earth Mother, was a life sized theriomorphic figure in white plaster, of a pregnant woman with a mare’s head.  This was originally exhibited in subdued light, looking upward, open-mouthed, at a slide show of images of prehistoric cave paintings of a stallion and other animals, projected on to the gallery ceiling.  I read Peter some passages about Demeter, ancient mother goddess of the cultivated earth, and Epona, the Celtic horse godddess, both of whom were sometimes represented with the head of a mare and the body of a woman, but this was after he had produced the image.

Untitled wood carving.

Ted Hughes’ A Green Mother was one of Peter’s favourite poems.  I read it over and over when he died, and found it almost unbearable.  In the weeks before his passing there were two hair-raisingly beautiful bird appearances – by which I mean that a wild bird comes, or stays, very close, and usually maintains eye contact.  The significance of these extra-ordinary moments lies in their often exquisite timing, the biographical or cultural importance of the bird in question, and an indescribable quality of communion.  In this case one of the birds was from my own companion species, and the other from Peter’s.

Brian Taylor 8/11/12.

Note:  Bernard Takawira made a sculpture entitled ‘Hanging on a Leaf‘, and wrote ‘All Life Hangs on a Leaf.  The oxygen we breathe and the food that sustains us all come from the leaves’.    http://arctangent.smugmug.com/Art/Chapungu-Zimbabwe-sculpture.

Roy Guthrie, Prominent Sculptors of Zimbabwe, Bernard Takawira, The Gallery Shona Sculpture, Chapungu Village P.O box 2863, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Peter’s Stone God, a video film made by Amanda Ravetz in 1996, can be found at Vimeo.com/33462173.

**note Odr is pronounced ‘oother’.   Bob Trubshaw, Souls, Spirits, and Deities, Heart of Albion, 2012.  http://www.hoap.co.uk/souls_spirits_and_deities.pdf

The Moon on the Window, Peter Goode, Open Township, 1989.  thefedarchive.wordpress.com/2011/10/the-moon-on-the-window-Peter-Goode/

A Green Mother, can be found in Ted Hughes’ Collected Poems, Faber ( its the version collected in Cave Birds, rather than the uncollected one ), or in Cave Birds, An Alchemical Cave Drama, with drawings by Leonard Baskin, The Viking Press, 1978.

The ‘Blurb’ for Peter Goode’s 1994 Exhibition All Life Lives on A Leaf.

About the works:

The Nesting of Colour – This tree was so bountiful and beautiful that it kept haunting me.  It kept saying “I want you to look at me, look at my colours”.  And as I did so, a fascinating light came out and the tree became the palette.  Instead of me painting it, it painted me.

Reflective Flight – This tree said to me ‘look into my coloured branches.  We hang colour on a white Palette, the bird is the brush’.

The Children with Green Bonnets – This is the total statement about life and death.  The reason why you can see the seed within the womb, the seed becomes the leaf, the leaf becomes the grass and the grass becomes the tree in a total cycle of life.  This particular bird is flying over the four continents, fetching and carrying the embryo.

Thunder and Lightning behind a Feather – This is a statement about fire, wind, earth, and water, having a natural growth.  Being in their natural order.  Not eating the hunger but being fed.  Not being destructive, but celebrating their own energies, this is why the fish can fly and snakes dance.

The Never ending Journey – How can you paint wind?  I had to make a statement of complete nothingness.  It’s so easy for me to fill all corners.  How can you draw something that’s static but moving?  It was like putting two jigsaw puzzles of a thousand pieces together.  The centre is the centre of the universe.  A very small eye of conception supported by space.

These are the Stone Gods – The movement of spiritual stones has always been important to me.  I wanted to show the roots going completely into the inner earth.  These are stones, but also more spiritual forms than human.  The spirit swan going into the stones lays its spiritual body back into the earth.  A joyous curtain of rainbow celebrates rebirth.

The Spark of Pollen – This is like the Pollen Bringers – the sunlight.  Celebrating the poetry of nature.  the world of reading, not just the written word but the spark of pollen.  The reading of the unwritten word.  The small unhatched gods in the imagination house.  We can take a flight of freedom, of pain, of anger, of happiness.  That’s why there is so much blue, green, and yellow in it.  This is the reverse of the Moon on the Window, this is the Sun on the Canvas.

Peter Goode, 1994.