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Message in a bottle – flotsam and jetsam

Swans and wavesMermaid for bottleWhile in Nepal, I buried a little packet a friend gave me on top of Poon Hill under the gaze of the Dhauligiri Massif. Now my friend will be taking a voyage back across the Atlantic from Brazil, a true dream trip. When she goes, I’ll be giving her a gift to the ocean, a bottle with a picture inside that I hope will be washed up and found one day. She said she’ll drop it in the mid Atlantic so it might get caught by the Gulf Stream or find itself aswirl in the North Atlantic Gyre ending up in the Sargasso Sea. Perhaps it’ll stay in the North Atlantic Garbage patch instead! :(

There’s a sad story about a message in a bottle that was found a few years ago. Here‘s a link to the story.

My picture has drawings both sides. The swan image just came to me. I wanted to depict a bird that flies at night. I’ve linked it to the moon, so perhaps it symbolises a messenger like Mercury. The swan is a symbol of light in many cultures and is associated with the sun and the God Apollo in ancient Greece. The god Zeus took the shape of a swan to get close to Leda, with whom he had fallen in love. Sensitivity, intuition and grace are just some characteristics associated with swans. A swan may represent the Soul and travel to the “Otherworld”… and it was once believed that swans sing a beautiful song when they’re dying. They are wonderful birds!

I want the wild swan to be freed from the bottle like a genie, free the wild soul!

“When the swan of the soul takes flight at last, it needs neither signposts nor maps.” Vijay Bhattacharya.

Blackboard drawing by Tacita DeanI have been musing on loss and ‘lost’ recently, (especially after reading Rebecca Solnit’s Field Guide to Getting Lost.) I’ve also been adrift on an unknown sea of ships, wrecks, dreams and memories. While drawing the little picture for the bottle, I thought of my mother and how I would draw little pictures for her. I guess my mother is connected to the sea and loss, dreams and all those fragmented memories that keep coming back to me. Perhaps that’s why I’m looking into the artwork of Tacita Dean; she too, has a fascination with the sea and of lost and found things. My life at the moment, it seems, is all flotsam and jetsam, a jumble of fragmented things and I’m caught within the liminal trappings of a dream. Wake up, I keep telling myself! But I so want to escape… steal away on a boat somewhere…

Message in a bottleIceland sparDuring an online search I learnt about the crystal Iceland Spar. In ancient Norse legend, the Vikings, who travelled across the Atlantic, are said to have navigated by using sunstones to find the sun on cloudy days. In the summer there would be constant daylight so navigation by the stars was restricted. A new study has looked at the Iceland spars as possible navigation aids after the discovery of one on a 16th century British shipwreck, the Alderney. If held up to the sun and rotated, the crystal is said to capture polarised sunlight. There’s only one point in the crystal where two sunbeams are equally strong, an angle that depends on the beam’s location. On sunny days the navigator would mark the sun’s position on the crystal and compare the position with the strongest point on cloudy days to locate the sun’s position. I really like the possibility of this and gave my friend a piece of Iceland Spar to take with her.

There’s been quite a lot about ships and shipwrecks in the news recently. I have a fascination with wrecks, ships and figureheads, but more on that another time.

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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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Dancing in the woods

I’ve been riding a sinuous wave, up and down and then thrown about in some crazy whirlpool. Then quiet, life shifting below the cool surface of things. Blue butterflies again. And blue dragonflies; not so many this year it seems. Drawing a sort of butterfly mandala — a night sky of wings and stars.

Mary Oliver’s words seem so apt:
Butterfly Blue

“..to have wings
blue ones — ribbons of flame.
How I would like to open
them, and rise
from the black rainwater.”

Sultan Valad’s words too:

“…Sufferings are wings for the
bird of the soul
A bird without wings cannot take flight
So weep and groan and lament my friend
So you can free yourself
from this prison
And fly to that placeless
place …”

I’ve had such a need to feel free.

I thought,

What am I not doing? I paint, draw, spend plenty of time in the sunshine and out in nature. One thing I’m not doing is moving.

I went to the woods, with Kevin with a camera, to find a space to move, dance and be free!

I found a spot amongst sycamores and dog’s mercury, sharing sunshine with hoverflies holding their own in shafts of light.

It felt good to be moving. Here is my spontaneous dance in the woods. Perhaps I should have called this post “Bimbling about in the woods” :)

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Seeds….

Holding elm seedsThousands of elm seeds have fallen in great drifts in my street.

Wind dances
crazy seeds
A flitting,
chattering,
chase
on to steps and porches,
patios,
through windows,
like children, they play,
covering carpets
with the wild gift of
Spring confetti.

A girl scoots through an elm seed drift
as though through snow;

This is the time of Elm,
through its dance, it speaks.

Inside an elm tree

Brighton has many elms, they are famous survivors. We have possibly the oldest surviving English Elms in the world in Preston Park just down the road. They’re called The Preston Twins. Hollow giants, they’re home to bats and, if one is lucky, one may see a White Letter Hairstreak butterfly flitting among the canopy leaves in early summer. There are few mature English Elms beyond Brighton because Dutch elm disease has wiped out all but the odd one.

Seeds of Inspiration

“Dreams are the seeds of change.
Nothing ever grows without a seed, and nothing ever changes without a dream.” (Debby Boone)

I have seeds of inspiration…

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Latest painting

Kissing the Blue Moon

Another painting. I wanted to continue with the dark blue aqua colours and include leaves and scrim for textures and gold dust to give a shimmer. Initially I just did the head and moon but it looked a bit disembodied so I outlined a body. I didn’t want to fill the body in, just leave it as a vague linear figure. I’m not sure it works!

Earth & I Gave You Turquoise

Earth and I gave you turquoise
when you walked singing
We lived laughing in my house
and told old stories
You grew ill when the owl cried
We will meet on Black Mountain

I will bring corn for planting
and we will make fire
Children will come to your breast
You will heal my heart
I speak your name many times
The wild cane remembers you

My young brother’s house is filled
I go there to sing
We have not spoken of you
but our songs are sad
When Moon Woman goes to you
I will follow her white way

Tonight they dance near Chinle
by the seven elms
There your loom whispered beauty
They will eat mutton
and drink coffee till morning
You and I will not be there

I saw a crow by Red Rock
standing on one leg
It was the black of your hair
The years are heavy
I will ride the swiftest horse
You will hear the drumming hooves.

From the book In The Presence of the Sun by N. Scott Momaday

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The Long Man of Wilmington

The Longman in snow Cut into Windover Hill in the South Downs, is a giant figure known as The Long Man of Wilmington. He is one of two hill figures in Sussex, the other being a white horse. On a grey day soon after Christmas, I took a walk to the Long Man to take his photo in the snow, a “Ghost Man” on the hillside.

I wanted to visit the giant again as I had been asked by a friend to do a painting of him. I have illustrated him before for a chapter in a book on archaeology and folklore. The image I did then can be seen on my website here.

I’m intrigued by the stories and mysteries surrounding The Long Man. Some theories suggest that he represents Beowulf fighting Grendal, others say he may have been a god or hero, a pilgrim, a Roman standard bearer or some sort of fertility symbol. The Long Man is situated on a ley line and it has been suggested that he was a “Dodman”, someone who laid out the original ley lines with his two staves. The Long Man of the CoalsThe staves may represent the “gates of dawn”, or a gate through which he is passing to either heaven or the underworld. Perhaps there once was a real giant and the hill figure is a memorial to him. Another story says that there was once another giant who lived nearby on Firle Beacon. A battle started between the two, rocks were thrown and the Long Man was killed. Perhaps the giant was a protector of the area, created to frighten people away from important flint mines and burial mounds. According to local folklore, King Arthur fought and won a battle at Flossenden on a nearby hill-top, where there are supposedly entrenchments and a cave.

I was interested to learn that Windover Hill is said to be one of many places on the South Downs haunted by “Black Dogs” which follow you around, the sound of their paws stopping and starting as you do. All these legends satisfy my desire for stories at this time of year.

I saw no black dogs or apparitions in the village of Wilmington. My only fear was negotiating the ice-rink car park!

My painting is now finished and is with its new owner. I called it “Long Man of the Coals” as it looks as though he’s emerging from fire. (It could also perhaps be called “Long woman” ??) Today I did a drawing in pen and ink that I’m calling “Long Man of Wilmington and Black Dogs”. It’s more fanciful than my previous Long Mans – I was inspired to do it when I stumbled on “May” by Eric Ravilious, which I think is such a great image.

Long Man of Wilmington with black dogs

Dogs, wolves….it is also a full moon tonight, referred to by some as the Wolf Moon.

“..they come from the hills far away
Where the setting sun hangs low in the sky
Where eery caves echo and sigh
Where the sleeping bodies of soldiers lie.”

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Extreme Blues

Blue Woman Swirls

It is always good to get comments on my posts or messages on my website. Sometimes I feel disillusioned with how pictures are turning out, but then I’ll get a comment or a message and I feel really encouraged to carry on. So thank you to everyone who’s stopped by.

I was very pleased to be contacted yesterday by Liliana, who felt inspired to write a poem about the “Blue Woman Swirls” painting that’s on my website. It’s interesting to read the poem and I’m glad Liliana agreed to me posting it here along with the painting. Here it is:

extreme blues

ultramarine rain,
every now and then
piercing the layers of
French perfume
lading her shadow,
seemed to cascade
directly from the remains
of her midnightish ancestry –
grim electric
flowing through her veins,
turning moonlight into nectar
with just a sigh,
she was doomed to be forever
his chant –
his mantra.

By Liliana Negoi

Thank you Liliana!

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Letoon, Leto and frogs

Letoon with frogmenLetoon

I’ve been illustrating more myths, inspired this time by ruins I visited when on holiday back in September.
The ruins of Letoon are near Patara in the Lycian region of Turkey. I’ve been meaning to write about the ruins for sometime as I really like the mythology associated with them. This is the story:

Letoon was the holy sanctuary of the goddess Leto and her two children, Apollo and Artemis. In Greek mythology, Leto was the lover of Zeus, who abandoned her and left her to wander, pregnant, in search of a secure home. She was thirsty and came to a Spring at nearby Xanthus but as she tried to take a drink some shepherds chased her away. In revenge, the goddess turned them into frogs.

The ruins chime with the story. They are partially submerged with pools that teem with frogs, dragonflies, terrapins and pond weed. When I wandered close to the edge the water became alive with movement. There is something romantic about the place with its temples, inscriptions, water and wildlife. And the frogs are a reminder of Leto’s myth.

I’m still intrigued by the ‘underwater world’. My illustration is somewhat dark and I hesitated over whether to post it, but thought I’d just go ahead anyway. It features Leto, frogs and ‘frogmen’. My ‘shepherds-turned-into-frogs’ are somewhat comic, I couldn’t help thinking of them in terms of cartoon alien creatures in jumper suits! But, apart from that, the imagery I have done reminds me of the ballet, ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ that I saw years ago performed by Rambert Dance Company.

I looked into the mythology and symbolism of frogs. In many religions around the world they are important symbols of transformation and fertility. In Egypt they were associated with the goddess of fertility and childbirth. This may have been because of the appearance of many frogs with the flooding of the Nile, considered omens of fruitfulness. In some cultures they symbolise cleansing and healing because of their association with rain and water.

It is interesting to read about frogs as Totem animals by the artist Ravenari. Check out her lovely artwork too.

To me, frogs are symbols of the link between the conscious and unconsious because of their life both in and out of water and their need for water. I shall explore more amphibious creature myths another time. But here is a link to a poem, “Ode to Drowning” by Tishani Doshi that I think is very beautiful.

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Sleeping in the forest

Night Falls

Here’s a beautiful poem I was inspired to illustrate with mixed media:

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

from Sleeping In The Forest by Mary Oliver

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Vertical Road

Vertical road - from Akram Khan's website

Vertical Road

A few nights ago I went to see Vertical Road, the latest dance work by the choreographer Akram Khan. The Brighton Dome programme said “the work takes it’s inspiration from universal myths of angels that symbolise ‘ascension’ – the road between the earthly and the spiritual, the Vertical Road“. As I’m intrigued by angels, myths and mysteries I was keen to see it.

Akram Khan is a dancer trained in both classical Kathak dance and contemporary dance. He has successfully incorporated elements of kathak into his own contemporary style. As he says in interviews, his new work, Vertical Road, is spiritual, drawing inspiration and using dancers from many cultures.

The performance gripped me from the start. It began with the sound of water. Behind a giant screen at the back of the stage, a figure could just be seen, his hands tracing circles in the fabric as though attempting to find a way through. Frozen dancers became high on energy; they danced exhortation, torment, blind servitude, listlessness, frustration, grief. No obvious story, but what I saw was people in the grip of relentless mechanical lives, almost regimented in their pursuit of something higher than themselves. They went through times of despair or ecstacy, often overlooking their simple, united humanity.

They tilt their hands upwards
looking into bright sound – whirling and moving in their thunderous lives.
Worshipping amongst the dust of ages,
seeking solace amongst statues, the shattered wings and stone cold hope of angels.
United in regiment and yearning,
they struggle.

And then, the seed,
a particle of light and sound, a moat floats and stills, in sweet silence,
emerging from the dawn,
and hands, from beyond, reach out to touch
alien faces of a peopled creature.

So simple, so quiet.

The reaching out is touching.
The wait is over.
Found.

There was something universal about the performance. I found it quite moving.

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