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Turtle Dreamings – Churning the Ocean of Milk

Turtle rock artI’ve been trying to continue with my children’s story. I know that I want it to about turtles and a girl named Christine, who lives on a cliff overlooking the sea. I’ve been thinking a lot about turtles in the last few days and remembered a dream I had last year that involved my sister nurturing a wounded turtle. I looked up turtle symbolism in dreams and here are some examples of meanings I found:

Longevity, patience and persistence, self-protection, hiding, withdrawing and fear of social interaction or showing one’s true self.

Turtles convey steadfastness and caution, moving and changing slowly and they have strong protective shells, which may also be symbolic of a defense mechanism or real life protection with which one has surrounded oneself.

Oh well, perhaps my dream meant that I just needed to nurture wounded parts of myself.

Turtles are often depicted in popular culture as easygoing, patient, and wise creatures and are an emblem of longevity and stability in many cultures. In some creation myths the turtle or tortoise carries the world on its back or supports the heavens. In Aboriginal rock art in the ancient turtle totem, the dome-like curved shell symbolizes the sky in relation to the square flat underside, symbolic of the earth. More turtle symbolism can be found here.

Churning the Ocean of MilkWhilst looking up turtle myth, the story that I found most interesting and evocative was ‘The Churning of the Ocean of Milk’, a famous episode in a Hindu text, the Puranas. It involved a mountain entwined by a serpent whose head was held by demons and whose tail was pulled by the gods to rotate the mountain and so churn the ocean. All this was done to retrieve the “Nectar of Immortality” from the ocean. However, once the mountain was placed on the ocean, it began to sink, so Vishnu in the form of a turtle Kurma, came to the rescue and supported the mountain on his back. This bas relief is at Angkor Watt in Cambodia. I failed to see it when I was there (to my annoyance now), but I think its beautiful and I especially like the ghostly white turtle form at the bottom.

A few years ago I volunteered with the Sea Turtle Protection Society, Archelon on Crete, patrolling beaches to protect breeding turtles and their eggs. I longed to get just a glimpse of a turtle or turtle track, but unfortunately they arrived the day after I left.

Anyway, with my interest in turtles returned, I wanted to see one somehow.Green TurtleAt the turtle tank

So yesterday I visited the Sealife centre here in Brighton to do some “research” and commune with these creatures even if it was from just behind glass! Here are some photos that will help me with my story:

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Moving, dancing and fragments of the sea

Mud MaidWe’re emerging from a long, bleak winter, Spring is nearly here and I yearn to move. I have felt like the Mud Maid in The Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, taking her long sleep in the earth. The figures in my pictures are stiff too, like winter, but now its time to stir and move.

I felt the desire to dance and move return to me strongly when I picked up a flyer the other day about an exhibition at my local library in Brighton, 14th-27th March that’s called “Inside My Dance”. The exhibition tells through oral history, photography and film the story of the dancer and choreographer Angela Lane and how every aspect of her life was affected by her daughter’s profound disability. It is a collaboration between Angela and oral historian and photographer Noelle McCormack. The film is of dancer, Holly Holt, dancing a piece choreographed by Angela entiltled “For Cherry”. You can see a short trailer here.

Moving and writing can go together. I found some words I’d written in a movement workshop taken by Miranda Tufnell called “Body, Space, Image” (like the title of her book). I’ve made them into more of a poem:

Moving with the Tide
I lie open
Hands the fronds of seaweeds shifting in shallows.
Rolling I greet the studio’s wooden floor,
And catch a warm light cascade from high windows
Aswim with a thousand moat boats.

Sinuous my spine,
Pebbles my vertebrae.
Starfish, wave, anemone,
Salt, snakelock, dahlia.

I rest, a little drunk on backwash
While the tide slips over and spills me back into ocean-swallowed waters
And the pipes on the wall become pillars of the pier,
Strong and steely red with tommorrow’s rust,
And I cling encrusting like coral or the all-muscle of barnacle,
Pulling the earth.

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Embracing the waves

Moonlit dancerInspired by my recent doodles on wood and The Primavera, I’ve been working in watercolour pencils. Beginning with my own “three graces”, I went through various stages until I arrived at a picture I’ve titled “Embracing the Waves”. There’s a story that I want to entice from this picture. Perhaps a children’s story.
Embracing the Waves

Hers was a tale of tides, of swirling currents, shipwrecks and underground journeys.

Let us begin with a child, her name, Christina, found alone on the beach many years ago, as though washed in with the tide. Turning, we see that her eyes are pearls. Snatched by banshees, a child of the sea. Driftwood her shelter, broken rocks, her home…..

I shall ponder on this for a while and see where it leads me.

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Doodles on wood

Primavera Three GracesMy flat piece of wood from the allotment was sitting waiting for me to paint it or mark it in some way. I’ve been thinking of old wooden desks at school engraved with the initials of countless children and of trees engraved with messages, “so and so woz here” etc.

And, because I’m waiting for Spring to arrive, I’ve been admiring Botticelli’s “Primavera” as I have a print of it on my kitchen wall that I took from a book of mine. I particularly like the Three Graces in the picture and thought I’d add my own three graces in my next piece of art.

I had a picture to draw in mind, a woman bathing in a green sea. I was thinking of it as a Sea of Tranquility (keeping the moon theme going.) I hesitated a bit, not knowing quite how to create the picture I saw in my mind’s eye. In the end I just plunged in as though doodling on a desk with a biro and made a sketchy, scribbled drawing and went over it with watercolour pencil. The wood has it’s own history of moss stains and knots.

It’s rough, it’s sketchy but I made something come to life on the old wood, and, I rather like the ghostliness of it, the scratchy lines and layers.

Bathing in the Sea of TranquilityThree Graces

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The old moon in the new moon’s arms

I’ve been pondering the moon in my pictures. The last illustrations I did featured a full moon but it was new moon when I did them. I looked through some of my other pictures – for example my “Wooden Man” – and there are many crescent moons and all of them sit facing to the right. Wooden man

My boyfriend told me that the moon doesn’t look like this in the northern hemisphere evening. So I checked out the moon the other night. It is currently waxing, creeping up high and visible in the western sky and it was definitely facing with its glow on its eastern side. My photo doesn’t show it very well. Crescent moon

However, I don’t mind which way around it is in my pictures…

Another thing I’ve heard about the moon at the moment, is its “earthshine”. How lovely, the moon picking up the glow from the earth! This is also known as “the old moon in the new moon’s arms”. There’s something beautiful about that! I couldn’t see any earthshine last night but I’ll know to keep looking in future.

Another special moon feature I saw once was over Victoria Falls. It was quite a long time ago and I vaguely remember the thundering waters. I went out at night with a full moon, and there it was, a moonbow glimmering magically over the waters. It was very special. Moonbows are lunar rainbows formed by light from the moon instead of the sun. They are rarer than rainbows but just as beautiful.
Writing by the Moon

Here is a picture I did last weekend entitled “Writing by the Moon”. I enhanced the blue colour in photoshop and now it has an underwater quality to it!

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Gazing at the moon again…

I’ve a fascination for wood at the moment. I’ve been photographing trees and gathering wood to paint which is now drying in my kitchen. I found a log and a flat piece with knots like flattened souls staring out at me on my allotment. The odd woodlouse finds itself lost on a desert of lino, but I think I’ve shaken most of the wildlife out. While I wait for them to dry, I’m turning to some illustration. Today I’ve finished two pictures, both feature trees and the moon as usual. This one has a girl transfixed by a full moon beside a wood full of eyes.
Girl and the moon

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Angel altered book

I’ve turned once again to my altered book. I was listening to the duet Panis Angelicus by Cesar Franck, which is one of my favourite pieces of music. It was one of my mother’s too. I remember her when I listen to it and it means “Bread of Angels” in latin.

Ephesus faceAngel statueI kept thinking of flying swans so I decided to give my book wings. They looked like stone angel’s wings before their wash of blue, so I found some photos of angel statues I took a while ago in a cemetery and a haunting, “gasping”-faced statue I took at Ephesus in Turkey which I particularly like. I printed out copies and stuck them in along with some latin lyric scraps of Panis Angelicus. I tore up a page of notes that I’d made for my “about me” page (that I’ll put up soon) and stuck the pieces on to the wings. I intend to do more with shreddings, scribblings, fragments, messages and murmurings in other projects.

Angel altered bookHere is my stone angel swan carrying the night on its back.

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Blue Goddess finished

I received my Amharic translation yesterday, I felt so pleased, it was as good as I’d hoped. The words translate as “Blue Female God”. I know that this art piece isn’t similar to the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox art that I like so much, but it gives my work a connection of a sort. (I was going to visit Ethiopia a few years ago with my boyfriend, but our passports went missing while applying for visas so we never made it. I’d still love to go… day…)

Anyway, here’s a photo of the script and my finished “Blue Goddess”. I have another piece of scaffolding board ready to sand down and work on. I think that I may keep to a similar theme.
Blue Goddess with Amharic writing
Blue Goddess written in Amharic

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Blue Goddess

The “goddess” theme has returned again. I’ve been working on a “Blue Goddess” which is painted in acrylics on a piece of wood. I visited the Brighton & Hove Wood Recycling Project hoping to find a good piece of driftwood. I liked the idea of the wood having ‘come from the sea’, it makes me think of shipwrecks, figureheads etc. I really enjoyed rummaging through their wood collection and found a suitable driftwood piece, but it was a bit expensive for my initial experiment. I finally decided on a cheap piece of scaffolding board, liking the fact that it was cracked and had knots. Back home I sanded this down ready to paint.

Inspirations for Blue Goddess

I kept having an image in my mind of a face that I can only trace to Chagall’s paintings or rather, the women in his paintings. I’ve been inspired by other things too: Fayum Mummy portraits — because they’re ancient and painted on wood panels; icons; blue buddhas; blue ‘durgas’ and lots of other blue things. The wooden statue featured in the book “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd also came to mind, as it was bestowed with sanctity.

My Blue Goddess is not yet complete. I want to inscribe it at the bottom with the words “Blue Goddess” written in Amharic. I have no real reason for choosing Amharic other than I like the script and Ethiopian religious art. I’m hoping to hear back from someone with a written translation. If you can help with it let me know!

This is what it looks like so far – with a manipulated digital version on the right!

Blue GoddessElectric Blue Goddess