Friday 26 March 2010

At sixes and sevens

I WONDER IF you remember that I was making a series of paintings of the seven chakras as icon-like characters painted on Ikea breadboards? Well the last of the seven was completed recently and as I go to tell you about it I realise that I never showed you the sixth. So here we are, at sixes and sevens.

The whole series was to be painted over some time so that development and change showed in my work. Each image is that particular chakra personified, astride an associated animal, set against a background of appropriate colour and holding an apt symbolic item. Each time the figure alternated between male and female, and with the progression of seven they aged. The characters all point to the appropriate chakra point on their body and the horizon line crosses behind them there too.

So here we have indigo Ajna .. the sixth chakra, a wise white haired owl-riding woman holding a crystal ball of magic mushrooms. This point on the body is the third eye, and it symbolizes far-seeing, intuition, psychic perception, imagination, dream interpretation, luminescence.
Here are snippets of the painting in progress...

And here she is as a finished piece:

There is an incredibly intricate iconography surrounding this spiritual system, involving sounds, minerals, planets, psychological states and demons, as well as animals, colours and so on...
I have based the colours of this sixth icon a little on those that can be found deep inside the feldspar minerals like labradorite (also linked with third-eye things). I was given a beautiful piece of this (right) on a necklace by my grandmother when I was younger and remember being happy to look inside it at the beautiful refracted colours for hours. Almost as if the northern lights had been bottled.

And so from indigo to violet. From watery mineral to gold. For the final piece in this series, Sahasrara, I thought about how this ultimate breadboard icon should differ from the previous six, standing, as it does, for a kind of enlightenment, wisdom and understanding. I decided this figure should be ageless, sexless, facing forward unlike the others, and crowned in gold like an iconic saint. Our seventh character also is seated this time, not on an animal, but a winged chair, and holds the very same painting of which they are part. Perhaps a sort of self-awareness, or weird ever-diminishing quantum realization?

I am particularly pleased with the golden halo, made with gold wax over layers of oil paint. The nimbus or aureole was used widely in both western and eastern religious art to denote sanctity. Here I have connected it with the crown chakra and its associated enlightenment.

And so with the seven completed, I await eagerly a photograph of them all together on Bob's wall. I have always considered the icon amongst the most beautiful of all arts, and so was delighted that to follow on from this series, Bob has commissioned me to paint an iconic triptych. The details and story of which shall have to wait some long while until I have the time to uncover them at length.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

The Hedge Brother Clock

HOTCHI WITCHI he is called by the Gypsies, Pal of the Boor - brother of the hedge. And in my latest clock he crouches shortsightedly amongst the weeds holding up an umbrella clock.

The hedgehog was highly thought of amongst Gypsies, who compared him to themselves because he lives on the fringes of the wild, neither in the open field nor in the deep forest. In addition he is subject to Gorjo (non-gypsy) rumours that he steals eggs, impales apples on his spines to take back to his lair and sucks milk from reclining cows. Hedgehogs also made for the Gypsies a tasty (and free) meal, often roasted in clay over the open fire. The meat is rich and was only shared occasionally. There is tell in folktales that the liver of the hedge brother, a great delicacy, was eaten to overcome deceit and find the truth. Since the hedgehog represented the Gypsy's ideal inner self, the eating of this animal became like a sacred totemic act.

To read more about the Hotchiwitchi, there is an interesting chapter in The Traveller-Gypsies by Judith Okely. Here, in a photo from the archive of The Museum of English Rural Life, a Gypsy family outside Snow Hill near Birmingham roast a hedgehog in clay over the fire.

My Hedge Brother Clock was made for Gina who told me she loved gardens and umbrellas and hedgehogs and who gave it to her husband Jim on the occasion of his sixty-fourth birthday. This little fellow is waiting timidly for the rain I think, under his circus-tent-coloured clock-brolly. He is nestled amid Dürer-inspired weeds.

This clock was made with apple wood again, I think it is the preceding slice from the same tree that bore the hare-violinist. Here you can see even earlier branch intentions.

In my new Hermitage whilst nesting amongst my own weeds I have been industrious with the paintbrush. And in between creating I have been occupied with more prosaic tasks, like collecting a second hand washing machine from a lady in the next village, wrestling with furniture-that-refuses-to ascend-the-steep-and-narrow-stairs, and finding interesting old carpets, brick-a-brack and other magpie delights. I managed to connect the washing machine myself (the first one I have ever owned!) and found in the outlet pipe a dead snail, (a hedgehog feast if ever there was one!) which I removed and put to one side on the windowsill. This morning the "dead" snail was gone! I eventually found him contemplating life half way up a kitchen tile. And there I leave him, and you.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

The Hare Mycomusicologist Clock

MARCH IS MARCHING on and mad March hares abound. I promised to bring you clocks and so here is The Hare Mycomusicologist Clock. It is for Andrea, who asked for hares and mushrooms and music and the Bronze Age burial chamber of Pentre Ifan in Pembrokeshire.

This March hare (for I am sure he is one even though I painted him in January) sits atop a mushroom and violins his moon-thoughts to the Welsh mountains beyond. I suppose this clock has a faint Wonderland-whiff to it, what with March hares and sitting on mushrooms and all, though that was not planned.

Things are seen from an insect-eye-view as I needed the mushroom to be more or less round for the clock face. The clock is a slice of apple wood this time, with a little protrusion where the apple tree had begun to think about a branch. Into this convenient niche I poked the ears of this shy red-waistcoated fellow.

Do click on the photos to enlarge them (though if you do you'll discover a disgraceful scattering of dust motes on the paint surface!). Hares conjure many varied folk superstitions and beliefs worldwide. There is a hare in the moon of course and I was particularly intrigued by the legend that tells of the moon in anger heating a stone and burning the hare's mouth, causing, like Shakespeare's Flibbertigibbet, a hare-lip.

"This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet: he begins

at curfew, and walks till the first cock; he gives

the web and the pin, squints the eye, and makes the

hare-lip; mildews the white wheat, and hurts the

poor creature of earth."

King Lear | Act III, scene IV

My friend Terri Windling (whose wonderful paintings are twitching with rabbit ears) wrote fascinatingly on hare and rabbit folklore too, and she quotes at the end of her essay a children's poem by Walter de la Mare, which, to add to the hare-witchery, I pass on here:

In the black furror of a field
I saw an old witch-hare this night;
And she cocked a lissome ear,
And she eyed the moon so bright,
And she nibbled of the green;
And I whispered "Whsst! witch-hare,"
Away like a ghostie o’er the field
She fled, and left the moonlight there.

* * *
POST SCRIPT : Thank you dear folks for the warm welcome back to blogland! I have since listed the original of Väinämöinen Sings a Ship for sale (EDIT: SOLD!) in my etsy shop and little prints of both Väinämöinen and A Girl Mad As Birds too.

POST POST SCRIPT for the extremely observant : One of my painted characters has a hare lip in Leg Wheel And Jew Harp.

POST POST POST SCRIPT: It seems that the hare witchery truly is abounding this March - my artist friend Danielle Barlow has also been painting lunar witch-hare tales!

Thursday 4 March 2010

Mad girls, sung ships, ivy lamps, rooted houses, and the ever-turning...

HOW DO YOU THANK a far-scattered myriad of people? A quite staggering many have each given individual, heartfelt, warm and honest pieces of themselves to me over these last weeks in the forms of words and poems, stories and help and love. And I am touched. Truly, I find it quite astounding how much good you stranger-friends have shown me though you have never met me. Saying thank you seems inadequate, but I mean it. Your thoughts and warmth have encouraged me and shown me chinks of many other lives, all being lived somewhere else, all as full of tribulation and inspiration as mine, I can see why this place is called the web. Some years ago I read a tale set in an Anglo-Saxon pagan England and it told of a shaman's apprentice and otherworldly visions of every single thing being held together by spidersilk. Every thing, animate and inanimate, tree and stone and book and person and crow, all linked by a thread, a thread the shamans could travel up, and a thread through which vibrations of others could be sensed. This ancient view of things is common amongst shamanic cultures worldwide I think; it somehow feels true. The book was The Way of Wyrd by Brian Bates and it is based on a thousand year old Lacnunga Manuscript held in the British Library.

And the warmth has not come only from far off; here in my new village I have experienced the kindness of true friendship, and the generosity of a community that is becoming very dear to me. People have helped with practical box-lugging and emotional box-lugging. And it has caused me to ruminate on the importance of neighbourhood. Though solitude is solace, spidersilks attached a little way out from your lair are good.

Speaking of lairs, mine has been getting to know me slowly .. this house has been here a long time longer than me, and there are stories in the walls I am sure. I feel like each day I have nested and arranged and unpacked and boiled the kettle and sat painting, I wafted metaphorical Rima into the house as others have done before me, and the walls are sniffing me to see what they think.

House magic is so interesting, and I love stirring that particular cauldron. Puppets and bells and paintings have been hung and rugs thrown, books stacked and arrangements arranged. But most of all postcards have been strewn. Everywhere I have lived there've been millions of postcards on the walls, dogeared and beautiful, some of them I remember being stuck to my bedroom wall as a youngster, generations of blutack knobbled at each corner. They are like little windows, inspirations, eye-feasts, mini-masterpieces.

It is vital for me to get a place to a certain point of comfort before I can sit down and work in it. So for a week or two I busied and busied and the nesting will continue, I am nowhere near done.
It is cosy and peaceful. But it is strange. I have gone from a tiny truck space to a whole house, with stairs.

I used to have to walk just two paces from desk to kettle, now there is a whole hallway and two rooms between those two places. I miss the sound of the rain on the roof, the rain doesn't leak in these days in a downpour, but because the roof is so far above my head I don't even hear it. I lay in bed the other night expecting the house to sway when a log lorry went past. But it didn't.

The house is stuck to the ground good and proper. It feels heavy and permanent, and the world feels further away. But these granite walls are grown in a beautiful place, I just have to walk down the road a bit to find nature and so I did...

Half way up the stairs there is a window where you can just see past the village edge to fields beyond.

There have been February snow flurries and there are crocuses and snowdrops in the churchyard. Every so often a day with a hint of spring in its step comes along. I took one of these and headed off up a hill. From this hill you could see that winter had headed off too... round the corner of the world to the antipodes who will have their turn soon.

Up on those hills I clambered into fields and watched sheep who watched me. The view was delightful. And the air smelt of newness and damp clouds.

The sheep knew it was spring too..

While the sheep watched me I sat and looked over the fields below and thought the thoughts I always think at the beginning of a new season. The smells of a new spring remind me of last spring and many springs before that. Seasons turning make me nostalgic and forward-looking at the same time. I decided I loved the outdoors so much I was going to take some of it home with me so that it wouldn't be far off any more. There was a pile of tree trimmings, all wrapped in ivy wood, which had little flags of sheep wool tufted onto the twigs. I prized off a few branches and carried them off with me...

..wrapped in an old chain that I found buried in the ground. At first I thought it was some sort of giant worm cast.

I climbed along the hedgerows in the lowering sun...

In the next field I met some cows who walked over to where I sat. There is something eminently peaceful about cows. They approached me in their grass-stamping wet-nosed way, mothers going before their calves in case I was dangerous. And I sat with them all around me tall and steaming, cow hulks, brown-eyed, interested and indifferent.

I loved them and the dusk came and made them into snorting silhouettes.

And so I took my bundle of sticks and stumbled downhill again, this time taking a different route that wasn't really a path, and so it wrapped me up in brambles and sunk my boots in squelch.
There were steep woods and yellow gorse. A few times I fell and got caught on fences, cursing the heavy chain-and-sticks that I was stubbornly lugging all the way.

At one point a whole flock of sheep followed me expectantly as I walked through their field. No doubt I had come at dinnertime. I walked on past their sheep-shelter, and somehow ended up alongside an overgrown woodland stream, ducking under hoops of growth, slightly lost, and thinking about a cup of tea.

At last I returned home triumphant and bramble-scarred, with that invigorated puff in my lungs that comes from clambering.

And with those far-hefted ivy twigs and some leafy handmade paper and a bit of wire and string, I made a woodland lampshade! There are bare lightbulbs all through the house, as you may have seen.. (I must say that having electricity is a luxury in itself, as is hot water straight from the tap!) ..but the bare bulbs needed dressing, and so here is how I brought the outdoors in:

It makes a lovely light, but I think its branches might need trimming a little, for the prevention of accidental blindings.

And what about painting? Well I have been busy, two clocks and a commission have been completed, and I will show you those soon. But for now a couple of pieces I have made for the sake of painting.
First a strange stained glass design, depicting not church imagery, but Finnish saga. It is painted with oils on cardboard, a new experiment which I am not wholly sure about.. I like the way the paint dries quickly and enables you to make a scrubby translucent surface (which reminded me of coloured glass, hence the addition of black lead lines later).

This is Väinämöinen - old sage of the Finnish epic poem the Kalevala. A while back I heard an interesting programme on radio 4 about the Kalevala and it mentioned a point in the story where Väinämöinen sings a ship into existence. I found this such a lovely image that I decided I should paint it. Here is the stained glass Väinämöinen, I am not sure what I think of the final piece, but it was an interesting hexperiment.

Väinämöinen sings a ship - oils on cardboard

And would you like to hear how he sings? I have loved listening lately to the sound of a Finnish folk instrument the jouhikko - a horse hair bowed lyre.
Here is Jouhiorkesteri playing Mina Mina Poiga Nuori. This is the sound I imagine coming from my painting.


And the second painting, inspired by words in a Dylan Thomas poem:

Love in the Asylum
by Dylan Thomas

A stranger has come
To share my room in the house not right in the head,
A girl mad as birds

Bolting the night of the door with her arm her plume.
Strait in the mazed bed
She deludes the heaven-proof house with entering clouds

Yet she deludes with walking the nightmarish room,
At large as the dead,
Or rides the imagined oceans of the male wards.

She has come possessed
Who admits the delusive light through the bouncing wall,
Possessed by the skies

She sleeps in the narrow trough yet she walks the dust
Yet raves at her will
On the madhouse boards worn thin by my walking tears.

And taken by light in her arms at long and dear last
I may without fail
Suffer the first vision that set fire to the stars.

Here she is this lunatic girl. The birds I have hidden beneath her skirt after a dream I had where I was harbouring injured animals of various sorts under my skirts.
She is made with pencil and then watercolour, is only about 6 inches tall, and I think I rather like her.

A girl mad as birds - watercolour and pencil

My desk these days looks out onto the oldest building in the village, a Bishop's house. In the mornings I sit with my coffee watching the humourous strutting crows hopping about on the roof pecking at the thatch.

There are many interesting projects approaching and paintings and clocks to be made, so I will be painting my brushes bristleless as March wears on. I have had to write lists to keep all the stuff tethered in my flippety brain somehow.

And I will be here again before too long to show you more things. I hope this lengthy epistle makes up for the tumbleweed blowing past here of late.
Meanwhile I will continue magpieing and feathering my nest. I will sit on mornings and evenings and think on the turning of things and the returning of springs. I hope I'll be able to see some blossom from a window when it comes.

In my living room there is a heavy dark old wooden door, with a latch, and either side of it stand two wooden upright beams. They are very beautiful. That door leads to the front door which leads to an even heavier old oak door. I wonder about all the people who have gone through it. Their comings and goings, their days and ruminations, and sorrows and mundanities. Lives cross in many different ways. Sharing an old old house with long dead people is interesting, and I'm not talking about ghosts. I mean the real people, their real lives, all our real lives. They all are connected by the spidersilk, because they have all been here at one time, or maybe at many times. Here, lifting latches, coughing, loving, sleeping, sweeping, chopping carrots, wondering, grieving, leaving, and coming home again, in out of the rain falling from the same sky.
Is time linear or cyclical? When they stepped out of my front door, where did they go next? What story did that set in motion? and what was born of that which was born of that?