I was looking at the artwork of Azul Thomé and dreaming about how I’d like to be able to paint like her. I thought for a bit. I have no real patience going on a course and, besides, usually I’m only really interested in what I can create from myself, whatever it’s like. I’m not interested in painting like anyone else. One only gets better by trying, by working at it. So I got out my acrylics and started decorating a couple of diaries and a piece of bark rounded like a bowl:
Pleased that the colour had come back into my life, I thought, if I decorate diaries, why not the wooden boxes I keep them in?
I have three wooden boxes from Hobbycraft and The Works that I store some of my diaries in. I dived in and started painting the outside and the inside of one of them and varnishing it. Here is the result, a monstrous, pink, shiny box painted with a tree, of course, and roots on the outside …
and a figure inside, the guardian of my diaries:
I wanted to paint the figure as a goddess. Then I added face paint and she began to look male. Perhaps the figure represents the sacred union of the Masculine and Feminine. Now though, I tend to think of her as a ‘she’, a woman of the Wild, Golden Sun and she’s discovered a nest (just as I like finding nests), a nest of memories, thoughts, dreams.
My diaries are strangely special to me. They are what I’ll leave behind, as I have no children, even if my writing is just banal or drivel. The box is a sort of treasure chest and that reminds me of the grave goods of the Ancient Egyptians. I’m not really thinking of death and beyond though, I’m enjoying making creations and painting. I may be improving a bit I don’t know, but it doesn’t really matter to me at the moment. Now to work on my other two, wooden boxes…
I’ve just read Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer. In one chapter she visits an environmental artist, Jackie Brookner, who created an installation covered in living moss and ferns and titled Prima Lingua (First Tongue). As soon as I read these words, I stopped reading and looked up; a strong image came into my mind. It was the image of a woman’s profile, dark against the light, emerging from the mossy rocks and ferns of earth.
Perhaps it was the word ‘Prima’ as in Prima Donna, First Woman, that conjured up this image for me. I don’t know. I researched the artist and found that her Prima Lingua sculpture is composed of volcanic rock and concrete, a giant ‘tongue’ covered in mosses, liverworts and ferns, which ‘licks the polluted water in which it stands’. Water is pumped over the tongue and cleaned by the moss and other life forms on the rock. You can see a photo and read about the art installation here.
I decided I wanted to create a First Woman of the Earth artwork and call her Prima Donna della Terra (Italian is easier than Latin). She would be one of my reclaimed scaffolding board icons. I just happened to have a board put to one side a year or so ago, ready for a painting.
One day I’ll train vegetation and encourage moss to grow over one of my board paintings.
I was curious to see what I would find if I googled ‘First Woman of the Earth’. What came up first was a narrative poem based on Lilith by a nineteenth century American author. Lilith was Adam’s first wife according to Jewish mythology and ‘made from the same clay’. I liked that. I learnt that she refused to obey him and also refused to return to the garden of Eden. I smiled at that thought.
Lilith also has other, complex identities, sometimes she is seen as the spirit of a tree. In Hebrew, the name Lilith means ‘night creature’ amongst other things. I am attracted to dusk and night wildlife, so that pleased me too.
My Prima Donna della Terra is not Lilith. Nevertheless, I like to think of her associated with the night and I’ve painted some night creature imagery on the painting that includes a bat, a deer, a moth and a young boar. Her origin I imagine to be Babylonian or Assyrian, perhaps Ethiopian as, once again, I think I’ve been inspired by Ethiopian religious art (see an earlier blog post).
I decided to paint both the front and back of the board. The woman on the front is looking out from the present to the future. On the other side, a figure looks back at the past. The front holds the day, the back, the night. Here she is at night in the garden:
In June I visited the islands of Malta and Gozo. I’m writing about them now as I’ve had plenty of time to digest the visit.
I am drawn to islands and have been curious about the ancient temples and early Goddess worshipping culture of these two. I’ve read quite a bit about ancient Venus figurines and “The Myth of the Goddess”, so it seemed like a good place to visit. These sun bathed islands of desert scrub and rocky coastlines made quite an impression on me.
Malta gave me: temples of limestone – sometimes pink limestone,
portals through pitted stone,
interesting obese goddess figurines,
and other curious figurines.
Sometimes what is needed is a shift in perspective and that is what I returned home with from my visit. Before going I had a feeling of being constrained, running along tram lines. Every so often I shake out of my mindset and refind what I want, which is a feeling of wholeness to my life and not a narrowness.
In Malta, the temples, portals, giant slabs of pink and white fashioned from raw limestone that have stood solid, timeworn and pitted down the centuries, spoke to me of silence and endurance.
On returning I felt more open to new sights and experiences once again and had a desire to take a more oblique path. I am being asked to lean towards the left, closer to the earth, like a sailing boat close hauled, leaning into the wind. I am setting off on an oblique course to find my way back to myself.
Malta had plenty of other things I liked, mainly natural things that include all the different sorts of limestone; sun bathing and sea urchin fossil finding on the rocks at Dwejra; the lizards, purple flowers …
Some years ago I tentatively researched into the “goddess” in her varying forms. I made a little book on Goddesses of River, Sea and Moon, and found myself painting faceless images of female figures. They weren’t all faceless but many were, just like the goddess figurines of the ancient past.
Once again I’m experimenting with faceless figures inspired by the female figurines and colours of Malta. I tell myself that it is not necessary to create something good, but simply to do it, indulge in the process of making a mark, marking a point in time and painting a simple figure is one way to start. The work by the artist Laurie Doctor resonates with me at the moment. She incorporates calligraphy into some of her paintings and sometimes her figures are faceless in a desert-like landscape. I especially like the one I found below – whose title I don’t know – and Night Vigil:
In an artist statement for one exhibition, she wrote:
I wish to communicate moments of fluidity between this world and the world of dreams. I want to share the sense of confirmation that happens when a dream steps right through the daytime door.
Good words. The desert colours of red, gold, faun – colours of earth, sand and rock – work for me at the moment.
I have painted a few little canvases in acrylic incoporating string, leaves and cloth pieces. Here are Desert Dreamer, Desert Icon, Gold Icon and The Pilgrim.
Forests are still my thing, what better than a forest beneath the sea, a kelp forest. The colours, for one, are beautiful – perhaps some of my favourite colours, aquamarine, turquoise, blues. I imagine it to be a world of beings passing through – seals, brittlestars, rockfish, sea urchins, otters – in the arms of kelp – the odd diver, the odd wreck splintering and lost, discarded bits and pieces tossed by muted currents, swaying waters that whisper the secrets of the land beneath the waves. A forest dream of a world.
Enter the Kelp Maidens.
I have painted two new long boards on reclaimed wood, the Kelp Maidens. They are varnished with exterior varnish and ready for the outdoors.
I am a little familiar with the Kelpie myths – water spirits that live in lochs and rivers in Scotland, water horses that shapeshift into men or women. My kelp maidens are slightly different, there is no hint of horse, no horse’s mane or hooves. But they live in the kelp forests, amongst the fronds of Saccharina and Saccorhiza (and other kelps) in Scottish waters – they are like the names of two sisters :)
While I was painting my kelp maidens, the Guardian published a series of Forest Fable podcasts. All the fables are good, but one of them, The Princess’ Forest by Alec Finnay just happened to be about the myth of a submerged forest off the coast of St Kilda where a giant woman was said to reside. It is said that she was addicted to hunting deer in the forests between the islands of Harris and St Kilda before the seas came and flooded the land.
My Kelp Maidens are now in the lovely shop Way Out There and Back in Littlehampton along with some of my other paintings and cards.
My River Sisters painting, that was in the shop, has just gone to a new home. I’m delighted!
Avocet Gallery in Rye is currently holding The Magical Land exhibition and I am very pleased to have some of my work on show as part of it.
Here are a few of my illustrations in the exhibition:
Along with the illustrations are cards and two of my long painted boards. One is very much a river goddess board as it is covered with flowing lines of lyrics, poems and words about rivers.
my eyes have been closed so long, cried the river
I see this world but I cannot see
whispering near the surface of the water comes a voice
let all emotions flow from our dreaming together
I am afraid to heal my soul, said the river
then your spirit connected to mine will die
whispered the wind
do not hide from me river, find your ocean
if you listen deeply
wind and river coming together as one
in the great ocean we’re born of the mother.
This is the way she hears your voice now, all of your feeling
easy or difficult,
do not be afraid
all the rivers are dying
I will open my eyes to see inside
so my soul whispers with the wind.
Take a deep breath…
Words taken from a YouTube video by Condor Shaman that is no longer available.
Here’s an update on the painting front – and back into the world of blue.
In Brighton, there’s a new Pop Up Gallery next door to Retail Therapy where I sell cards and various other creations. Back in August I was invited to display some of my large paintings on reclaimed scaffolding board. I welcomed the invite and painted two new boards in acrylic, Goddess of the Vine and The Forest Rises.
I also gave a large, acrylic canvas called Water Maidens (Emerging in the gallery) which has undergone various incarnations and now features two “Water Spirits” inspired by the Russian legends of Rusalka. ( These are fish women who were said to live at the bottom of rivers and lakes and bring fertility to the land in Springtime. Some thought them to be the souls of young women who had died beside the waters. I’d like to explore these legends further…) Looking at the painting obliquely one can see the relief created by the scrim and oak leaves I added for texture.
To my surprise and pleasure, the first two paintings sold quite quickly and journeyed up to Derbyshire apparently. The gap they left needed to be filled, so I gave two more painted boards, my Moanna, River Goddess – she’s well acqainted with the River Cuckmere – and one called Mother Nature both of which had been happily guarding my living-room. (See the photo with both either side of a lamp in the gallery.)
Ten days later and Mother Nature acquired a new home. So back to painting I went and created another two goddess board paintings that are currently on sale in the gallery, Wings of a Dove and Butterfly Maiden.
The imagery for the paintings just comes to me. I’m not looking for anything typically symbolic, I guess I just like doves, vines, waves, macaws and butterflies – morpho butterflies of the tropical Americas especially! I am influenced by shamanic art and traditional religious art too and I think of the paintings as sort of totem poles or stelae, without the grave association :)
I was really pleased to sell my Water Goddess tryptich recently. And on the same day I had a commission to paint a version of Sun Dancer that I sold a few years ago. This was good encouragement to get some more paintings out there. Here are my latest, a River Goddess painting and another version of Siren:
Here is a recent painting, Goddess Totem, done on scaffolding board like my River Goddess. Both of them currently stand either side of my bathroom door.
Fish, a snake and butterflies feature in the painting. Fish symbolic of faith, transformation, fertility, wisdom? Snakes – eternity, rebirth, and healing perhaps? Butterflies may mean the soul, transformation, lightness? The woman has folded arms suggesting an Egyptian sarcophagus. Buried and obscured by golden leaves the arms of the goddess are held up from beneath by a sunken angel who fades into watery depths. Perhaps something is oppressing the religious spirit in this painting? :)
After Goddess Totem, I painted a triptych based on a combination of the Three Graces, my River Goddess and Mami Wata. I’m hoping to display this at the Brighton Wood Recycling Centre soon.
I painted Goddess Totem around the same time as researching Mami Wata and I realize my recent board paintings have certain similarities to the African Mami Wata spirit. Mami Wata is often depicted as a mermaid-like woman holding a snake.
Below is a pen and ink version of Mami Wata for my Goddesses of River, Sea and Moon book.
Progress is slow on the art front. I’m continuing with my goddess book and every-so-often get drawn to doing a painting or two. While researching occasionally I stumble on an artist, poem or film that resonates with me. So I thought I’d share a few artists and other inspirations that make me feel encouraged to work more expansively.
Firstly I’ve chosen this video clip of Ariel from the film, The Tempest. It aludes to a liminal, spirit world just out of sight, beside the shore, through woodland trees on an island. A haunting, beautiful realm of magic and spirit. Ariel, male or female or both, resides there in this realm. I like the description of him that accompanies the video clip:
“the embodiment in spirit of human emotion, vulnerability and compassion. He can transform his physical presence into essences of light, fire, wind and water, and the corporeal manifestation of harpies, frogs, stinging bees and bubbling lava”.
Freed from his/her imprisonment in a tree by Prospero, he/she is bound to serve the magician but yearns for freedom; (I can relate to that.)
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that does fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell.
Ethereal, otherworldly, ghostlike, haunting, with nature and water – all ingredients that moved me to paint my Siren picture a few years ago.
I’ve drawn on my Siren painting for my goddess Lethe of the River Hades, one of the six rivers of the Ancient Greek Underworld – a goddess of the liminal world. While researching for her, I stumbled on the an installation which was the result of a collaboration between the sculptor Rosalyn Driscoll and the film-maker Tereza Stehlikova called “Rivers of Hades: Forgetfulness (Lethe)”. Both artists were exploring perception and synesthesia. (Synesthesia is something I’m fascinated by … hearing colours, seeing sounds, the blurring of the senses.)
I like the description and photos of the installation, how it is about a viseral relationship with nature, memories, feelings and dreams. It is made of translucent rawhide giving it an organic, animal quality and the colours of twilight. It is sculpted in such a way as to suggest water caught in time or a body in water with video images projected on or through it, representative of memories, dreams, the otherworldly, hauntings, ghosts and death. This is Lethe, a river which the dead must cross to forget their former lives, a River of Forgetfulness (like my River of Memory painting that I have painted before). Video images cross and blur boundaries and edges suggesting impermanance and fragility. I would have liked to have seen the exhibition and the Sensory Worlds conference that staged it.