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Back to Pen and Ink with Water Goddesses

So much water this year, the news seems to be inundated with stories of floods and storm surges. Water is taking over, spilling over banks, uniting oceans, seas, rivers… and it is seeping into my art themes once again.

I am into pen and ink once again which takes me back to my days of doing many illustrations for the Brighton based organisation, RiverOcean. In those days my drawings were all about sea creatures and the sea. Well once again my pen and ink drawings are water related but drawn for a small book I’m writing on River, Sea and Moon Goddesses, a theme that I’m especially interested in… back to that underground river that flows beneath my life.
Ved'ava
My illustrations here are of perhaps some lesser known goddesses. Take Ved’ava for example, a goddess of the sea or water spirit placated by fishermen of Finno-Ugric peoples. She is sometimes portrayed as a kind of mermaid with a fish tail, playing, singing and seducing humans. If a fishermen saw her it was not a good omen as she was believed to be a drowned person’s spirit.

Yemaja
Then here’s Vejama, or Yemoja, she has several names. A goddess of pregnant women and the River Ogun, a river in West Africa, but she is also a goddess with namesakes in other parts of the world. In Brazil, she is Queen of the Ocean and a goddess of fishermen and shipwreck survivors. She is a mother goddess, a fertlity goddess, a spirit of Moonlight too. I wanted to base my pen and ink illustration on the photo collage of my River Goddess, Moanna. I’m not sure it works, what do you think?

Sedna
A better-known goddess is Sedna, or Nerrivik, goddess of sea creatures and the Underworld in Inuit mythology. There are various stories about Sedna but most tell of the chopping off of her fingers from which are created the seals, walruses, whales and other marine creatures the Inuit hunt. If angered she withholds the sealife from hunters in her undersea domain and it requires a shaman to metaphorically dive to find her at the bottom of the sea and brush the tangles from her hair to calm her. I am particularly inspired by Inuit culture and myth right now. My goddess still has her hands and she looks a bit wooden so I’ll need to work on her.

This is a ‘taster’ for my book. I’ll be keen to get back to working with colour again soon.

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River goddess project

As rivers have meant so much to me recently, I decided to create a River Goddess. I liked the idea of making an offering to the river in the way that the Celts used to sacrifice valued objects, or how in some Hindu festivals a goddess is given to the waters. My idea was to paint a goddess and set her adrift on a local river. For me, it would symbolize returning something to water, the source, and a letting go to launch a new phase in my life.

Lying referenceMoana in processRiver Goddess Moana

I bought an old length of scaffolding board from the Wood Recycling Store and lugged it home. After sanding it down ready for painting, I decided I needed some reference material for the arms so I lay down and Kevin took my photograph. I was still in my “blue” phase then – which has now passed – so I painted her blue and named her “Moana” which means ocean blue or the sea in Polynesian. I thought she looked a bit polynesian. She wasn’t intended for the ocean though, just the river.

After painting my Goddess, I realized that I’d probably been inspired – subconsciously – by a number of paintings and works of art. Here are a few that I think may have been in the back of my mind: Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon – I may just have just been inspired by Oceanic art as Picasso quite possibly was; Klimt’s The Kiss – I like the awkwardness of the figures and how they lie close to the top edge; Edvard Munch’s Madonna; Ophelia by John Everett Millais – I like the details of flowers and tried to indicate some water plants on my painting; Ana Mendieta’s Silueta earth art has always interested me; a beautiful, haunting photograph from the film Women without Men by Shirin Neshat captures my imagination and an underwater sculpture, Alluvia by Jason De Caires Taylor in the River Stour, Canterbury is something I must go and see. Finally, I love the work of Ahmad Nadalian who has made many ritual offerings to rivers. Below is his Anahita, Goddess of the waters – fertility, healing and wisdom. But there must be others….Gauguin perhaps?

Les Demoiselles D'AvignonMadonna by Edvard MunchThe Kiss by KlimtOphelia by John Everett MillaisFrom the Silueta series by Ana MendietaAlluvia by Jason De Caires TaylorFrom Passage by Shirin NeshatAnahita by Ahmed Nadalian

After several trips looking for the appropriate river site, we chose a small section of the River Cuckmere where it was shallow and flowing gently. There I gave her to the water and we watched her slip into the flow like a piece of sky. Kevin took a video while I ran along the bank to bring her out further downstream.

Moana in the treesRiver Goddess in the River

Odd, clumsy, crazy project but fun to do. Moana’s now propped up in the kitchen like a totem pole, all 5ft of her. Perhaps I’ll find a home for her somewhere, or one day release her forever and see where she ends up!

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R is for River

R Illuminated letteris for River, with its soothing lap licking its flanks, waving its pelts of animal weed to its own rhythm and pulse, swinging to the music of rock, soil and tree beneath a tourmaline sky. Willows crack their bent, untidy branches into the flow. Through shadows, eddies and pools, the river journeys through transformation; a meandering, belly-through-the-earth passage on a sunken, sinuous path.

An underground river courses silently and slips beneath the everyday fabric of my life. Half in water, half on land it seems. The link with water is ancestral, as old as when our wild, creature ancestors crawled on to land.

All things ‘river’ draw me to them; the sea with it’s distant horizon and churnings is just a little overwhelming right now. From a plane to Abu Dhabi I saw gleaming ribbons of rivers emptying themselves into the Persian Gulf, wishing I had my camera ready.

In Norfolk, I sought out and relaxed beside the River Bure, entranced by its verdant depths with willowing pelts of weed. In the cool light, I saw a humble but beautiful river whispering archaic messages, carrying memories from source to sea, a quiet voice snaking its way through the landscape.River Bure at Itteringham A witness to the drinking of trees, a carrier of dreams, a passage of mirrors and when she — as I’ll give it a gender, why not — finally arrives, an Empress, proud, loud and with skirts rippling against the tide, mixing voices of the land and sea.

I have had a thirst….

… a longing to reconnect to water, to the emotions, to the well or river of creativity. I’ve been feeling like the proverbial ‘fish out of water’, adrift from my moorings. I’ve had lots of dreams about the sea, floods and being out in boats on a big blue swell. The sea is in the distance at the moment. Here, with the river, I can take it easy, relax, watch, listen, follow its soothing passage back into the throng of things or back to the source, to begin again. I feel at my best when I can connect to the inner river.

River Bure with weedsThe Celts, long ago, made offerings to the waters. Often items of warfare, shields, swords, helmets have all been found in waters or where rivers, lakes or bogs once existed. Many rivers have their own Gods and Goddesses. Favourites of mine include Saraswati the Goddess of the Sarasvati river who went on to become a Goddess of the arts, culture and speech, Ancasta a Celtic goddess of the River Itchen where I’ve swum and Verbeia a Romano-British goddess of the River Wharfe.

I have a smattering of river memories, big rivers like the Congo in what was then Zaire. Taking a passage from Kinshasa to Kisangani with a giant ferry heaving with people, music, crocodiles and chickens tied up beneath the seats. River Bure underwaterPeach coloured skies were reflected in it’s serene expanse; I remember the tiny lights of fires along its rainforest banks and fruit bats winging their way homewards overhead as I lay on the ferry roof. While swimming alone in a rainforest river in Costa Rica, I noticed a green snake doing the same; it’s small rivers that I like best, at quiet times when I can swim or sit and watch clear flowing waters.

Back to the Source

Enough musing, I’m back in Brighton and have busied myself with some illustration. I’ve been fascinated by old manuscripts with illuminated letters so I’ve done my own. Below is a new drawing, “Back to the Source” that’s the largest I’ve done with watercolour pencils, a whole sheet of A1! I had to photograph it as it wouldn’t fit in the scanner.

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River, sand and tree goddesses

Nadalian's Rock of FairiesI have recently discovered the lovely work of Iranian environmental artist, Ahmad Nadalian. He carves stones with fish, other creatures and goddess-like images associated with rivers and the sea around the world. He carries out rituals of returning his carved fish rocks to rivers to raise awareness of pollution. In his words:

I was in search of my lost paradise. I wished to spend time surrounded by nature and living with nature. Upon my return to the land of my forefather I found that my paradise no longer existed. The wellspring was polluted and river no longer had fish. The rivers are sown and the meadows are planted with villas.… I have created hundreds goddesses and fish on the stones of the river and have dedicated them to nature. I wanted to build his own paradise. I liked to believe that these fish are alive, and were swimming against the tides… they are metaphors for nature and the life of living creatures who endure pain, suffering, and are destroyed by the evils of our time.

I have taken refuge in the deep ravines where I can overcome evil. There is a temple where I am at peace to worship water. I am not tired. I am determined as ever to build my paradise.

Sand Goddess

Words to ponder on. I too want a paradise, a beautiful natural place in which to dream, to take refuge. And I need to dream. Nadalian’s Rock of Fairies done in France captures my imagination the most. See the photo above.

I need nature, earth, leaves, grass, rock, water. And I sense a return of my interest in goddess imagery. I wanted to find and connect with some rocks somewhere. I like the idea of creating with natural materials that are present wherever I happen to be – beneath my feet; to make a small gesture in nature that arises from and belongs to the place.

I visited the nearby Blackrock beach to look at the cliffs, the sea-sculpted chalk shore. I found myself doodling in some patches of sand,… moulding.. a Sand Goddess figure that the tide will return to the sea!

Tree woman carving Cae Mabon

Alexi engraving rock

I’ve just had a replenishing trip to Wales staying at Cae Mabon eco-retreat. It is a place to dream, indeed, to reconnect with oneself and nature. I love the wonderful round cob buildings, the rushing river, the peace; the moss covered hillside and lichen-loaded trees; the fires each night beneath the moon shrouded in its “winter halo”…

Someone had carved a beautiful woman in a tree beside the river; she holds a heart above her head… a River Goddess?

Kevin and I spent some special time there in nature – pottering about the river and woods. I even found a lichened rock to scribble on :)

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Water2

…the dry stone no sound of water…..

…If there were rock
And also water
And water
A spring
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water…

Quotes from T.S.Eliot’s poem, “The Wasteland”.

This poem has meant a lot to me since I studied it at school. The recurring theme of water and lack of it, put simply, probably symbolises “faith” to the poet. I have been looking up the many and varied symbolisms of water, but first, what inspired me to follow this thread, was my “altered book” project.

I decided to make a visual journal or art book by using an old book copy of Marivaux’s plays that I bought from a charity shop. I decided to start with a sea/water theme as it is one I’ve been drawn to before with my mermaid collages and box etc.

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Water in dreams is interesting, it often represents feelings and emotions. Like the waters of the womb, it can also represent security, life and birth. The nature of the water can reveal your emotional state of mind. For example, if you dream of crashing waves or rocky seas, this may show that your emotions are out of control. A fast flowing river may show emotions that are rushing ahead too fast but if the waters are peaceful then so are you. I have dreamt of tsunamis, big seas and fish tanks!

A more mystical meaning of deep pools and lakes of water can represent the unconscious, or the “Great Primordial Mother”.

Here is a link to an interesting article, Water Symbolism:The Great Mother and Return to the Primordial by Krista Wissing.

There is good information about water symbolism at Professor Chris Witcombe’s site.

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I got on to reading about Greek mythology and water gods and goddesses. I stumbled on a passage taken from Book X of Plato’s The Republic, about the newly dead. In the last step before rebirth into their new, self-chosen life on earth, the dead must drink from the “stream of Oblivion”, Lethe, an underworld river. Those who were not “preserved by wisdom” drank more, and as they drank they forgot everything. But if they were initiated followers of the mystical religious movement called Orphism, they were instructed to drink just a little and then find and drink from the river of memory, Mnemosyne. In so doing they secured an end to the transmigration of the soul.

This picture is my own loose interpretation, “Drinking from the Stream of Memory”.

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Water

Sometimes I hate words, they fill up my head like beans in a jar, all crammed in, words upon words. But then, words can be like water, spilling, flowing, spreading across the page in a shifting stream.

I fell in love with water images a while ago. Photos of sea and sky, beach, pebble, seaweed, waterfalls; the glistening light on water mesmerised me. Perhaps I should try harder at photography with its lenses, glass, transparency. And voids. Words can fill voids.

And then I discovered cave pools in Laos. I stripped off and went into sparkling, pristine water with a baking, morning sun overhead and shadows that cut the shallows with cool. I’ve done this before, I thought, – sacred cenotes in the Yucatan, rainforest rivers in Costa Rica, serpents threading the water beside me, almost alone.

alexi-in-laos-pool-cave-2.jpg

There’s something so precious about swimming in natural, wild places. Water joins up memories like one, giant underground river.

I stumbled on photos of a dancer in water while searching the web. This is of Salma Nathoo, an ecological dance artist taken by Ben Ellis for a ‘Waterdance’ project.

salma-nathoo.jpg

Water, nature and movement, my interests all coming together. Soon, I went out and bought myself an under water camera case. I haven’t used it yet, but watch this space. I have Roger Deakin’s ‘Waterlog’ from the library ready to read and the other day I stumbled on wildswimming.co.uk. It’s a challengue for a feeble swimmer like me.

To get back to words, there’s Alice Oswald’s poetry that I’m just discovering as well. Here’s a quote from ‘Sea Poem’;

What is water in the eyes of water
Loose inquistive fragile anxious
A wave, a winged formsplitting up into sharp glances

What is the sound of water
After the rain stops you can hear the sea
Washing rid of the world’s increasing complexity,
Making it perfect again out of perfect sand….

alexi-in-itchen-for-blog.jpg

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