Figs

We first came to the house in 1988. The limbs of the fig tree had been killed by the terrible winter of 85-86, when the mercury fell to -25 degrees C. Fig trees are very tough though, and when we first saw it, the lumpy twisted trunk was shooting out vigorous young stems.

Catherine Forshall's hand and paint brush figs in back ground

In the years that followed it grew and grew. By the mid 90’s we were able to take down the loggia we had built to give us shade, and eat under the fig tree,  a fountain of cool green, that in heavy heat of summer became another room.

The tree developed a two tier ecosystem, humans picking the fruit from the lower branches, insects and birds taking the rest. In the early October mornings they are ice-sweet, but slightly tart, becoming sweet, like warm jam in the afternoon sun. Sometimes in spring we hear the cries of golden oriel, who love figs. They are very shy and at the slightest hint of humans, shoot off in a blurred flash of yellow. As soon as the spring crop of figs has been consumed they leave. It is as if they have come all the way from Africa to eat our figs.

Figs and fig leaves

This autumn I’ve been sketching and painting figs for the Christmas show at the  Moncrieff-Bray Gallery, opening on 24th November. For some of my generation figs will always be associated with the scene in Women in Love, when Alan Bates shows Eleanor Bron how to eat them. Lawrence thought that the open fig had a feminine aspect,  though for me these these tightly packed, swollen to bursting globes of hanging seed have a more masculine feel.

Green figs strong shadows

But Lawrence was nearer. The the common fig, Ficus carica, is a relation of the Mulberry tree. It fruits not, but flowers. These do not open. It is gynodioecious which means, having ‘hermaphrodite flowers and female flowers on separate plants’. It is pollinated when the fertilized female wasp enters the fig through the scion, which is a tiny hole in the crown (the ostiole). She crawls on the inflorescence inside the fig, lays her eggs inside some of the flowers and dies. (1)

Hand and brush painting figs

As I sit under our fig tree, harvesting in a different way, I think how this tree, with no planting, no feeding, no watering, gives and gives and gives to all those generations of birds and humans, and wasps, who visit it, with only the help of a tiny specialised insect, which lays down its life with its eggs.

Green figs, basket, shadow, harvest, crop

Painting by Catherine Forshall of figs

My figs, quince and pomegranates will be showing with the work of other gallery artists at

The Christmas Exhibition at the Moncrieff Bray Gallery

Ramsay Gibb’s Scottish seascapes,  Stephen Palmer, Jackie Philip, Lucy Powell, Sarah Warley-Cummings and Sandra Whitmore –  who have produced a series of smaller works for Christmas.
Thursday 24th November – Saturday 3rd December, and by appointment until Christmas Eve.

Opening Times:  Wednesday to Saturday 11 am to 4 pm. We are delighted to see visitors outside of these hours but please ring ahead to confirm a time.

Moncrieff-Bray Gallery logo

Catherine Forshall painting figs

(1) taken with thanks from Wikipedia

Photography by James Forshall

For directions to the Moncrieff-Bray Gallery click here

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Painting native oysters

I’ve been painting and sketching native oysters, Ostrea edulis.  I buy them from oyster fishermen at Mylor in Cornwall near Falmouth. It was bitterly cold then and it’s pretty cold now.

_DSC4569 Detail of sketch of native oysters © 2016 Catherine Forshall

It takes a long time to establish a native oyster bed. They were a major source of cheap food. In 1851, for example, a round 500 million oysters were sold through Billingsgate. Our oyster beds were destroyed by a series of cold winters, surely not the first though, in the mid 20th Century, and then pollution, the parasite, Bonnania Ostrea, the beastly slipper limpets and oyster drills which drill holes into them and eat it contents, they are a big threat for commercial oyster farms.

Painting Native Oysters

Now they can only be collected under license in Scotland.

Sketching Native Oysters

Oysters change back and forth from female to male according to the temperature of the water. You get in the bath nice and hot, go to sleep, and wake up in cold water, surprisingly different. Well, surprising the first time, but native oysters can live for 20 years so they may get used to it.

Native Oysters

Native Oysters, acrylic on canvas 50 cms x 100 cms

You can see my work in London at the The Flying Colours Gallery and at Oliver Contemporary

All photographs by James Forshall

Plaice

His rather squashed eyes look up at me reproachfully. If he were alive they would be sticking out of the mud or sand in which he would be half buried awaiting a careless crustacean, or bivalve. Both the eyes are on the right side of his face which is flat and comes to a point. It is as if a ordinary fish had been redesigned by Picasso during his cubist period and then run through the rollers of a ringer. I bought him from the fish counter in Carrefour and now he is sitting with me under the fig tree while I paint his spots. Not the orange ones. I haven’t got to those yet. Plaice can adapt their colour somewhat to their surroundings but the orange spots don’t change.

Hand with green paint brush paiting a plaice on a yellow background on canvas from dead plaice on plate

He’s quite small. Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa), are caught younger these days, though capable of living until 40 most are caught at the age of 6: too many humans, eating too much. Hand of Catherine Forshall holding green paint brush painting plaice against dark background

Marks and Spencer are good about selling you fish in season and Sainsbury’s claim to be the largest retailer of fish certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council but when in England I always buy fish from the local fishmonger,  Gibson’s Plaice, who have generously supplied me with many of my models.

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If you would like to be kept informed of forthcoming shows email me at mailto:catherineforshallpainting@gmail.com

All photographs © James Forshall