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A visit to Chagall’s windows

Chagall window

Chagall window detail

At last I have managed to visit Chagall’s beautiful stained glass windows at All Saints church, Tudeley near Tonbridge in Kent. They have been a source of inspiration to me for past projects and I can see that they will be in future as well.

We drove through many old villages, houses with crooked chimneys and blackened beams, and through woods bright with autumn yellow. Yellow is definitely a colour I’m noticing right now in nature, paintings and other things but it was the blues of the windows that I was keen to see. They didn’t disappoint.

All Saints, Tudeley is the only church in the world to have all its twelve windows decorated by the Russian artist Marc Chagall. According to Chagall the windows were inspired by Psalm 8; despite being jewish, Chagall found the Bible captivating. I wondered why such a small, simple church in an otherwise ordinary area was favoured with the work of so great an artist, so I looked up the story behind the creation of the windows.

The windows are a memorial tribute to Sarah D’Avigdor-Goldsmid, a 21 year old woman who died in a sailing accident in 1963 near the town of Rye in Sussex. She was the daughter of Sir Henry and Lady D’Avigdor-Goldsmid who lived nearby. Apparently Sarah had been enchanted by Chagall’s designs for the Hadassah windows, exhibited in Paris sometime before the accident. This led her parents to ask Chagall if he’d be willing to create the east window in her memory. Chagall was very happy to, and ended up creating all twelve windows.

In the magnificant east window Sarah lies adrift in the arms of the blue sea, a peaceful figure, while a few figures watch or mourn and Christ on the cross hangs over them all. I love the blue.

“The colours address our vital consciousness directly, because they tell of optimism, hope and delight in life” says Monsignor Klaus Mayer, who uses Chagall’s work in mediations and books.

“In our life there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love.” Marc Chagall.

The story is very sad but has been made into something beautiful with glass and light. It has sown seeds of inspiration in me for the continuation of the ‘Turtle Dreaming‘ story that I began creating and illustrating earlier this year. Embracing the waves

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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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Shunning the light

Woman Shunning the Light

Altered book with woman's face

Buddha Head in tree roots

Woman with Candle

Days ago I imagined I was in a garden. Usually I like wild places but I definitely yearned for a garden of stillness and contemplation. I let the day dream unfold and take me to a cave, a cave garden, in which to meditate. Walking back with the shopping, my thoughts were adrift in powder blue, and I was surrounded by cave drawings of sea creatures, birds and flowers. Peaceful, it reminded me of a painting of Radha and Krishna in the Grove as can be seen here.

I need to find a garden.

The opalite light breaks into brightness. It has been glorious for days, but somehow too bright, too blazing. Its starkness has made me want to turn away and hide. I’ve felt inspired to draw and made this sketch that I’ve called “Woman Shunning the Light”.

I have now added the picture to my ‘altered book’.

She has the face that so often crops up in my pictures. It isn’t my face but the face of an unknown, mystrey woman that looks similar to the Buddha’s head in this photo taken in Ayutthaya in Thailand. She has appeared in my “Woman with Candle” painting, taking light from a dying sun to carry with her into the night. (I have altered the colours of the painting in photoshop to make it bluer – you can see the original on my website paintings page here.) It has an Edvard Munch/Van Gogh inspired sky.

I stumbled upon a passage by Bill Plotkin from his book ‘Soulcraft’ which makes me think about the light and the dark:

People who live excessively upperworld lives take a transcendental view of everything. They tend to see light, love, unity and peace everywhere. They are attracted to the Course in Miracles or aspire to, “enlightenment,” via an ungrounded approach to Buddhism….

…People who live excessively underworld lives see the world darkly. They tend to see hidden meaning, mystery, and the undoing of things everywhere. They gravitate toward the occult and the paradoxical. They want to penetrate to the center of everything and understand it all by standing under….

A holistic approach to spirituality interweaves the ascent and the descent, rendering balance to the experience of both the upperworld and the underworld.

You can read more of the passage here.

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Outlined images

I have been looking back over my inspirations and the different phases I’ve been through in the past few years as far as my creativity is concerned. Recently I’ve felt like doing a self portrait image for a new start as I’ve seen similar sketches on other peoples’ blogs. I thought that if I did a self portrait, it may just be an outline with nothing inside it. This immediately reminds me of when I was in a training session many years ago with the brighton organisation, ‘Carousel’, that does creative work with people with learning disabilities. It was an art therapy session and we were told to do symbolic images of how we see ourselves using imagery, words or whatever else we fanced. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, an outline representing myself with nothing inside it but lots of colours and ‘life’ on the outside. It was unlike anyone elses.

nullI returned to this simple image when going through what I like to think of as my ‘goddess’ phase. I was initially inspired by an image Rainbow Bodhisattva by the artist Vijali Hamilton which she did on a cave wall in Show Terdrom, Tibet. In her words:

Shoto Terdrom is a place where Buddhist nuns live as hermits in one of Tibet’s most beautiful and sacred places. In a vacant cave, I carved and painted the Rainbow Bodhisattva, an androgynous figure filled with prisms of color, seated in the lotus posture. Her/his legs were molded from the red clay of the cave floor. Neither a Buddha nor a Kuan Yin, this is an energy body, symbolizing the underlying energy connecting everything, the level at which our inner space merges with the space around us.

Her work is amazing, check out her website here. I’ve always liked prehistoric cave art as well and venus figurines, so it wasn’t much of a jump to becoming interested in the ‘goddess myth’.

I read Anne Baring’s ‘The Myth of the Goddess’ and other related material and took note of women ‘goddess’ artists. I think that I was also inspired by statuetes of the Cretan Snake Goddess that I’d seen in museums on Crete. But my image morphed into a ‘buddess’ and from there into an epiphanic, outlined figure, sometimes dancing, sometimes an angel at one with a moon or other planet. It’s an empty simple figure but its whole.I don’t think it’s good art, but it’s what happened/s, it’s just purely work from inside myself, done in my own basic way.

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