An Open Sky, Stella Halkyard

In a new ritual we emerge each day from lockdown to thread our way past red-brick houses. We keep two metres apart from our fellow human beings in a choreography designed to prevent the spread of a virus that could rob us of the breath of life.

A broken down fence admits us to another world where once Jackson’s works made and sold millions of bricks of a type known as ‘Cheshire commons’. Now silver-grey aspens converge to form a forest, pliant and densely packed, a green lung breathing fresh air into the ariel blue of an open sky.  Cyclical in their measures, our feet repeat the same route round this emerald world of nature every day. Through time leaves unfurl, plants grow luxuriant, butterflies lurch haphazardly and magpies rule the roost. Gathering in gangs, resplendent in Napoleonic plumage, they graze the grassland with the concentration of sheep.

And each day the artist stops to draw them, capturing their forms and agitated oscillations with sharp decisive movements of pencil on paper. These bare-bone portraits of birds are then transcribed later in the studio, into unseen drawings, through the medium of carbon paper.

But one day comes, about the time of the arrival of the swifts, when it becomes clear that something is amiss within this idyll. Earth has been disturbed and the rubbish dumped into the former clay pits in times past uncovered. Needle-like fibres of asbestos are free to float airborne and enter human lungs and rob them of the breath of life.  People are forbidden, fences are erected and a paradise is lost. Yet the memory of this pocket of green space lives on in the teeming aviary of drawn birds recorded by the artist.