Enough, and More
Jon Plunkett and wife Lindsay Turk explore the impact various naturally-occurring moments can have on our lives in a joint series of paintings and poems
The 25th Aspects Festival, which celebrates Irish writing, continues until September 25 in Bangor, County Down. At the Carnegie Library the exhibition Enough, and More brings together the poems of Belfast-born poet Jon Plunkett and the paintings of his Scottish wife, Lindsay Turk, a graduate of the Edinburgh College of Art. Their collaborations reflect their life together in the countryside amidst the burns and braes of Perthshire in the Highlands of Scotland.
The Curve gallery seems at first too vast, too dark, too grey and cold for work that is often intimate and reflective. The paintings that work best here are the large, luminous portraits of birds in flight – the gull, a hawk ready to pounce on its prey, a majestic swan, the one chosen by Bangor musician Foy Vance to grace the cover of his latest album The Wild Swan.
In 'The Bird of Freedom', Plunkett acknowledges the superstitions surrounding the migratory barn swallow (hirundo rustica). In Scotland they say it has the blood of the devil in its veins. In France there is a belief that when a swallow lands on your shoulder it presages death, but he defends the bird: ‘to feed and drink on the wing, to dance the full width of sky. Surely that is magic enough.’
'Another Place and Time' is nostalgic for the rude life of crofters, ‘tilling and sowing, digging and hoping, gathering seaweed from the shore, burning juniper beneath the still,’ an era summed up in Turk’s simple image of kelp swaying in sea green water.
As an elderly man dies quietly in a hospital ward, the poet writes, ‘He has broken the tension between worlds. He knows already what lies in the depths of beyond.’ The matching painting, 'The Plunge', pictures a swan diving below the water’s surface.
In 'That’ll Do', the artist paints a child sleeping peacefully while the poet ponders her future but concludes that the wonder is in the present, ‘a sliver of time when all is well.’
A delicate white flower bathed in sunlight illustrates the Proustian scene described in 'The Weight of a Bee'. The couple while away an afternoon in the garden watching a bee alighting on blooms that bend like paper.
The Weight of a Bee and Skiathos 98
'Skiathos 98' features a sea anemone, its tentacles trailing in the water like a woman’s loosed hair. The poem is a sensual account of a Greek island holiday when the couple swim ‘through the swirl of salt and sun,’ sinking ‘into each others world,’ realising there is ‘nothing left to hide.’
More perplexing for the viewer is the anatomical painting of a heart in a jar. In 'Matters of the Heart', the poet is preoccupied with thoughts of the living organ and its once quickening heartbeat in times of love or joy.
'In The Blackhouse' shows a cow looking her best in profile, groomed and docile, but the poet raises the queasy prospect of her imminent slaughter and consumption by her owners.
Individual cameo paintings of his eye and hers accompany the poems 'Identity' and 'LT'. She is defined by him as someone who can ‘cut through the bull in Istanbul, or anywhere.’
He finds his true self in the woods and mountains, ‘amidst the brush of gossamer things.’ He is attracted to words like 'machair grass', and 'jink', meaning to change direction quickly; to the crane fly’s pseudonyms 'Whopper', 'Gollywhopper' and 'Daddy Longlegs'. He is pleased to use the adjective fickle as a verb and sometimes he will glibly repeat a word or a phrase.
In 'Conclusion' and 'The Phenomenologist’s Confession' the poet eschews worlds other than the one he currently inhabits contenting himself with the thought that offers up the title for this exhibition, ‘now is enough and more.’
There is no question that this is Plunkett and Turk's most ambitious collaboration to date, and collectively the paintings astound, but the time it takes to read each poem and understand its relevance to the corresponding artwork can diminish the overall impact. With the conceptual depth on display however every piece here is worthy of individual merit – and it feels like a profound, one-two punch when both manage to hit the mark.