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Inspiration from a Cave

I have a fascination for caves, as you may have seen from previous posts. Royston Cave in Hertfordshire has been on my radar for years. This year we were in the area and booked a tour to see the cave for ourselves.

Carving in Royston Cave
Carving in Royston Cave.

Royston is a pretty, unassuming town, but it has a Roman road running through it as well as part of the Ichnield Way, an ancient track that runs from Wiltshire to Norfolk. Royston Cave is under the ground in the chalk where the two roads meet.

On the tour we descended steps and then followed a moderately steep passageway extending underground beneath the main road. Soon we found ourselves in a round chamber lit by wall lights. I could see engravings all around the lower part of the cave – faces, figures, crosses, birdlike fish, horses. Apparently the carvings are thought to be of the 14th century – medieval – and may be associated with the Knights Templar. In the 17th century a ten year old boy was instructed to descend into the man-made cave to see if there was any treasure in it. On further investigation the carvings were found.

On the walls, there are many religious depictions and symbols, but also some pagan imagery such as a shela-mi-gig. This shows that the carvings were made when pagan beliefs had not yet been totally obscured by Christianity.

Horse and Sheela na gig
Horse and Sheela na gig in Royston Cave.

Our guide started explaining what she knew about the carvings, starting with a St Christopher figure carrying someone on his shoulder (see the photo below on the left). There are other saints depicted, including Saint Catherine, shown holding a wheel as she was sacrificed on a burning wheel. Today people light Catherine wheels on Guy Fawks night to remember her.

To the left of St Christopher is a rectangle representing the tomb where Christ was buried, along with a hand and a bird-fish, possibly symbolising the Holy Spirit or risen Christ. There is a sword and a shield, a horse and the holy family.

Holy Family in Royston Cave
Holy Family in Royston Cave. On the right you can see the top of a Templar sword.
Figures and Crescent Moon in Royston Cave
Figures and Crescent Moon in Royston Cave

There are many other drawings of knights, angels, rows of sinners and a figure holding a candle that may represent the light of the new religion that will lead believers out of darkness. Low down and to the right of the passage entrance is a crescent moon.

It was the figure of St Christopher that made the most impression on me. He is the patron saint of travellers and is said to have carried a child over a river who turned out to be Christ. I kept in mind the image of a figure carrying a rucksack, journeying on foot over the hills and drew and collaged a picture of this figure I have titled The Journeyman.

The Journeyman
The Journeyman – A pen and ink drawing with collage.

My figure is walking through a dreamlike, fluid, but fragmented landscape with the chalk figure of The Long Man of Wilmington in the distance. I like the idea of a traveller wandering the land without any particular destination, stopping here and there to find work. The ground in the picture looks unstable, symbolic of the unsettling times we’re living in.

I didn’t know what a journeyman was until I looked it up. Apparently the word originates from the Middle Ages and refers to a worker, such as a craftsman, who has acquired skills as an apprentice, but who is not yet a Master. He would work for an employee, often for a day (‘journée’ means ‘day’ in French) and was also known to travel around the country working here and there. There was a strong journeyman tradition in Europe.

When I googled ‘journeyman woodcut images’ I was surprised at how similar my drawing was to one of them.

I then decided to create an altered book titled The Journeyman.

The Journeyman Altered Book
The Journeyman Altered Book

I had in mind a present day journeyman walking over the Umbrian hills in Italy. I’ve never been to that region of Italy, but I imagined dry, rocky paths, leathery-leaved oaks, ibex and lynx. In my book you can see the spire of a church in the distance, a village in the valley. I’ve featured a cave and remember that there is the unusual, underground, spritual community of Damanhur in Northern Italy.

The altered book has seven illustrated pages on the left of the central spread and six on the right. It will be for sale in my Etsy shop and Reflections website shop soon.

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The Cabin – Inspiration, Sourcing, Creating

As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, while in France we visited three caves of palaeolithic art, Pech Merle, Cougnac and the Sorcerer’s Cave. Pech merle made the biggest impression on me and the frieze of the spotted horses especially. (I have written about the visit in detail for TOAST Magazine.)

Pech Merle
Pech Merle Cave. Photo from www.archaeology-travel.com
Horse Drawing - Pech Merle
Horse Drawing – Pech Merle

We found some Pech Merle inspired graffiti while driving in the valley of the River Lot:

Pech Merle Inspired Graffiti
Pech Merle inspired graffiti on cliff overhang.

We were allowed to take photos in the mineral cave at Cougnac. It felt like entering a womb in the earth,

Cave at Cougnac
Cave at Cougnac
Cave at Cougnac - Stalactites
Cave at Cougnac – Stalactites

Many of the stalagmites looked like gatherings of people,

Cave at Cougnac
Cave at Cougnac

As part of the tour of the Sorcerer’s Cave we were allowed into some medieval cave homes in the rockface,

Medieval Cave Homes - The Cave of the Sorcerer
Medieval Cave Homes – The Cave of the Sorcerer

I’m always intrigued when I find a nest;

Nest in the Cave
Nest in the Cave – what bird I wonder? I’m finding a few nests.

I didn’t make many sketches while away, just a few line drawings in my sketchbook;

Sketchbook and Finds
Sketchbook and Finds – nest, wasp nest, owl feather.

But I found the caves very inspiring and I’ve started doodling images. Here’s the cover of my diary:

Diary Cover Two Horses
Diary Cover – Two Horses

I made a small sketch painting on cardboard layered with brown paper pieces to give it a surface texture. I like the magic of spotted horses, they bring to mind circuses and merry-go-rounds and the art of Chagall.

Two Horses
Two Horses

I’ve experimented with overlaying tree photos in Photoshop to give a mystical, dreamlike quality to the image;

Tow Horses
Two Horses

I’ve also experimented with creating textured surfaces. Here is a spread in a sketchbook:

Sketchbook - painting idea for The Silent Herd
Sketchbook – painting idea for The Silent Herd

I’ve added some animal outlines;

The Silent Herd
The Silent Herd Idea

It hasn’t worked yet, but I’ll persist with the experiments :)

I’m not typically drawn to horses, but seeing horses canter aound a field one day while I was at someone’s house made quite an impression on me. It inspired me to draw the picture, In the Rock Cleft, in this post. (And all along I find that there’s a song in the back of my mind, Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones :) Listen here.)

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Cave of Dreams painting

Cave of DreamsI’ve done a new painting in a style that’s new for me. Kevin says it looks a bit ‘new agey’ and I can perhaps see what he means. It might be the subject matter or the colours, I’m not sure. I have been thinking about gathering birds, swallows in caves and starlings over the pier here in Brighton. They’re like twittering thoughts or memories in the loft of my mind; like a sixth sense telling me something is going to happen; there are dreams ‘waiting in the wings’.

The painting is not my favourite but it’s good to be back putting paint on canvas!

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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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The presence of something…

This year I’ve ventured into the Pyrenees to where the clouds trawl the ground. I worked my body, hiking, freed my mind and created space for myself out of all that mountainous space. I’ve craved simplicity. Driving back up through the Dordogne, we visited prehistoric caves — Gargas, ‘the cave of hands’ and Cap Blanc, a frieze of reindeer, horses and bison carved into a cliff of limestone. It’s a while since I’ve thought about caves and cave art, but making the visits rekindled my interest. Cap Blanc was so well set up I felt as though I was witnessing a performance from the past. At Gargas, I tried to take photos, but was caught; I pretended I hadn’t understood.

capblc20.jpg

The caves were moving, so long ago….

I’ve been interested in cave and rock painting for as long as I can remember, it’s one of the things that has influenced my painting. I like mysteries. I started sketching outlines, figures with no faces. My ‘buddess’ paintings evolved. They’re not ‘good’ art, but somehow they represent something very primal and important to me. I like to think of them as ‘embryos’, art in an unfinished form like the messages of cave paintings locked in stone forever.

ana.jpg

One reason I like cave art is that it’s part of nature. Ana Mendieta must have felt a compulsion to create in nature (see her ‘Silueta series’ and the photo below.) Her work inspires me, body prints and outlines of figures in mud, sand etc. Footprints, traces, clues, the essence of something or someone left behind, a fleeting glimpse that cannot be grasped fully. And so the mystery lingers.

(I have a similar feeling when tracking animals — paw prints, broken branches, hairs caught on barbed wire, rucked up fresh soil, a scuffling of feathers. What does it say? Someone, something was here.)

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