Dusk Portraits

Night River GoddessStar Goddess MemoryBack in November when seeking a good river site to release my Moana River Goddess, I visited the River Adur. Dusk was falling quickly and a mist was seeping up from the adjacent fields like some ghost of the land. In the fading light, I walked into the mist’s embrace and tried to capture photos of a sunset, dying pink behind the trees. It was very beautiful.

Now I’ve decided to overlay some of the photos with recent paintings and pictures. Here are the results, my Dusk Portraits. I like the underwater feel to the pictures and wanted them to look like old portrait paintings seeped in a twilight blue of age or paintings that have been x-rayed to reveal hidden images beneath.

NocturneA Letter at Twilight

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

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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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Blue

I’ve really wanted to dip once again into the creative river. To start with, I’ve returned to the colour blue and have painted a few new icon-inspired artworks on wood – old scaffolding board – and canvas that are similar to my Blue Goddess.

I’ve put these together with a few older paintings, photos and film clips and some images I love off the web – like Chagall’s blue paintings – and made them into a little video I’ve called “Blue”. It’s my first attempt at making this sort of video using moviemaker and it’s a bit clumsy but – hey! – it’s a start :)

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Art in the woods

Face sculpture at Hannah PescharReflection in sculpture at Hannah PescharReflecting triangle sculpture at Hannah PescharGreen sculpture at Hannah PescharI visited Hannah Peschar sculpture garden in Surrey recently. It is a beautiful setting for sculpture with plenty of water everywhere. I took photos of several pieces I liked – a giant rusting face/mask; metal triangles that reflected the environment so well they were almost invisible; a metal ball that was like a crystal ball and a green marble-like statue that blended in perfectly with its surroundings. (I’ve used part of a metal ball photo to change my blog header, I thought it sums up the changeable autumn weather.)

My favourite piece was a sound installation by Robert Jarvis. Walking beside the Japanese Maple, the Umbrella Bamboo, the Silverbell Tree and the Giant Rhubarb – all growing around the Oriental Pond – music starts to play. One can’t see where it is coming from. Robert Jarvis created the music based on patterns derived from the DNA sequences of the plants and the processes that determine their growth and ageing. The result is simple and interesting. You can here the music here.

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In the woods and some Autumn art

Dancing shadow on leavesRecently, in a wood I wrote:

I’m sitting in a wood that’s alive with movement. More than an observer – I am part of this stirring, intricate tapestry. I lift my arms and breathe in the restless canopy. Swimming, breathing greens, browns, russets … My lungs, a flutter of birds. Two buzzards circle overhead; I feel the soft flap of their wings. I’m amidst a stir of leaves and nodding woodland plants, then a sparkle of sunshine ignites the branches and trembles on a spider’s web. Acorns are everywhere, some with tiny holes, some still in their cups, some shrivelled, others new. The woodland floor is a dry, rustling bed like a pebbly shore awash with the tide… I breathe in the dancing wood.

Autumn Sky with treesTime spent outdoors in the beautiful sunshine and beautiful warm wind has inspired me to do this Autumn Sky Trees picture. I love the tree tops dancing, everything feels light, lifted up, moving and settling in preparation for rest. I’m thinking of doing a new series of card designs perhaps based on trees or the seasons.

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A gift to the mountains

View of Dhauligiri from Poon HillBurying a gift to the mountainsPoon Hill at dawn. A torchlit procession up there. I buried a friend’s gift to the mountains in sight of the impressive Dhauligiri. There were many flowers – a beautiful night meadow (or Night Garden) :)

The Poet Dreams of the Mountain

Sometimes I grow weary of the days with all their fits and starts.
I want to climb some old grey mountain, slowly, taking
the rest of my life to do it, resting often, sleeping
under the pines or, above them, on the unclothed rocks.
I want to see how many stars are still in the sky
that we have smothered for years now, forgiving it all,
and peaceful, knowing the last thing there is to know.
All that urgency! Not what the earth is about!
How silent the trees, their poetry being of themselves only.
I want to take slow steps, and think appropriate thoughts.
In ten thousand years, maybe, a piece of the mountain will fall.

~ Mary Oliver ~

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Day of the Living Goddess

Kumari at IndrajatraIndrajatra Durbar Square, KathmanduSeto BhairabThree Nepali women in redA day in Kathmandu. We stumbled upon Indrajatra, a festival to celebrate Indra, the Hindu god of Heaven and Rainfall. At this time a fearsome face of Shiva, the deity Bhairab, is displayed. It is also an occasion when the Kumari or “Living Goddess” comes out from her house and leads a procession around Durbar Square. Kumaris are pre-pubescent girls chosen and worshipped as “Living Goddesses”. The chosen girls need to have ‘thirty-two perfections’ of a goddess including a neck like a conch shell and a body like a banyan tree.

Caught up in the throng of people, we surged back and forth with our cameras trying to see the young girl as she was lifted into a palanquin. Crowds swamped the temples, reds, pinks, blues. Vegetable stalls still traded with neat rows of vegetables, people appeared at windows, waiting expectantly, watching the frenzied dancing of a man with a ceremonial pole in front of the ungainly palanquin. I craned my neck to survey the erotic carvings beneath the temple roofs and took photos: three women in red with a young boy and a Seto Bhairab mask. The predominant colour was red, everywhere, red against red brick temples.

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Hail the Jewel in the Lotus

Om mani padme hum.

I’m back from a dynamic trip to Nepal. A year or so back I wrote that I wanted mountains, I pictured myself half way up a hillside in sunshine, crystal clear air and sky, simple villages, … yaks perhaps? Well, I went in search of the picture and the state of mind. I didn’t quite find either, in fact it was rather different from how I expected it but very interesting all the same. Instead of finding peace and quiet, often the opposite was true and I found people everywhere. I came away very aware of my own unresolveable problems that won’t go away. I guess one always learns something unexpected. Anyway, here I shall share a few of my experiences.

Boudhanath stupaOur journey started with a stay in Boudhanath, one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Nepal. Here a giant stupa on top of a large white mandala dominates. It’s surrounded by a circle of buildings – mainly shops. Under the ever watchful, “Buddha eyes”, hordes of devoted Tibetans and many others circle the stupa in a clockwise direction spinning the prayer wheels as they go.

Often I’d find myself heading back to the guest house walking counter clockwise against the tide – slow progress. On top of the stupa, its quiet, with good views of the surrounding buildings and crowds, – monks talking, monks poised with their bowls awaiting food gifts, little Tibetan women with aprons and beads, pigeons, dogs, tourists with cameras, women with umbrellas against the sun. Busy, yes, but Boudhanath is inside a bubble, outside the gates it’s shocking with clamour and noise. It’s a sacred bubble despite the commercial side – the shops piping out new age chants, the shops selling gems, prayer flags, incense – the mandala seems to whisper and hum like some big inverted singing bowl.

And at dusk, out come the candles. The prayer wheels keep turning and the circling throng has grown; it’s religious rush hour at the stupa. The prayer flags keep flapping gently in the evening breeze. There’s something hypnotic about watching weathered prayer flags lapping softly at the air.

The Boudhanath stupa is interesting but not exactly beautiful to me. I find it somewhat comical like a square toy on top of a puff ball mushroom. I like circles though, I love the constant circular flow around it.

Boudhanath sceneOur guest house was next to one of many monasteries. Each morning we were woken very early by monks doing trumpet practice – on their “Rains Retreat”. Not far from Kathmandu airport, the explosion of planes overhead shook me in my semi-conscious state so I thought the world was coming to an end.

Namaste,
Welcome to Nepal,
Om Mani Padme Hum.

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