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Back to Pen and Ink with Water Goddesses

So much water this year, the news seems to be inundated with stories of floods and storm surges. Water is taking over, spilling over banks, uniting oceans, seas, rivers… and it is seeping into my art themes once again.

I am into pen and ink once again which takes me back to my days of doing many illustrations for the Brighton based organisation, RiverOcean. In those days my drawings were all about sea creatures and the sea. Well once again my pen and ink drawings are water related but drawn for a small book I’m writing on River, Sea and Moon Goddesses, a theme that I’m especially interested in… back to that underground river that flows beneath my life.
Ved'ava
My illustrations here are of perhaps some lesser known goddesses. Take Ved’ava for example, a goddess of the sea or water spirit placated by fishermen of Finno-Ugric peoples. She is sometimes portrayed as a kind of mermaid with a fish tail, playing, singing and seducing humans. If a fishermen saw her it was not a good omen as she was believed to be a drowned person’s spirit.

Yemaja
Then here’s Vejama, or Yemoja, she has several names. A goddess of pregnant women and the River Ogun, a river in West Africa, but she is also a goddess with namesakes in other parts of the world. In Brazil, she is Queen of the Ocean and a goddess of fishermen and shipwreck survivors. She is a mother goddess, a fertlity goddess, a spirit of Moonlight too. I wanted to base my pen and ink illustration on the photo collage of my River Goddess, Moanna. I’m not sure it works, what do you think?

Sedna
A better-known goddess is Sedna, or Nerrivik, goddess of sea creatures and the Underworld in Inuit mythology. There are various stories about Sedna but most tell of the chopping off of her fingers from which are created the seals, walruses, whales and other marine creatures the Inuit hunt. If angered she withholds the sealife from hunters in her undersea domain and it requires a shaman to metaphorically dive to find her at the bottom of the sea and brush the tangles from her hair to calm her. I am particularly inspired by Inuit culture and myth right now. My goddess still has her hands and she looks a bit wooden so I’ll need to work on her.

This is a ‘taster’ for my book. I’ll be keen to get back to working with colour again soon.

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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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Marine dreaming

Water: Origin of Life by Diego Rivera

Marine DreamingA recent television programme, Timewatch: Atlantis: The Evidence has fired my imagination. A summary of the documentary is as follows:

‘Around 1620 BC, a gigantic volcano in the Aegean Sea stirred from its nineteen-thousand year slumber. The eruption tore the island of Thera apart, producing massive tsunamis that flooded the nearby island of Crete, the centre of Europe’s first great civilisation – the Minoans. This apocalyptic event, many experts now believe, led to the eventual downfall of the Minoans, and provided the inspiration for Plato when he later wrote about the people of a mighty island, Atlantis, which sank beneath the waves and was lost forever, ‘in a single day and a night of misfortune’.

Minoan ceramic jar after Thera explosion

I’m once again back into drawing. I wanted the woman in my picture to be “awash in a pearly dream” of sea creatures – just like the sea creatures on the Minoan ceramics after the Thera explosion that caused a tsunami to reach the shores of Crete. I thought I could perhaps use the idea in my Turtle Dreaming story.

I have been inspired by other art namely Diego Rivera’s Water: Origin of Life mural, my favourite mural that sadly no longer exists as it was painted in Mexico City’s water system and has now been washed away. The theme was homage to the life-creating power of water. I like the hands, the myriad of protoplasmic life forms, the crabs, lobsters, representations to people and god-like figures and the cross-section nature of it.

And recently, I have dreamt of boats leaving their moorings and the arms of the harbour, setting out to sea on voyages into the unknown. It is good to feel as though I’m once again going somewhere :)

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River, sand and tree goddesses

Nadalian's Rock of FairiesI have recently discovered the lovely work of Iranian environmental artist, Ahmad Nadalian. He carves stones with fish, other creatures and goddess-like images associated with rivers and the sea around the world. He carries out rituals of returning his carved fish rocks to rivers to raise awareness of pollution. In his words:

I was in search of my lost paradise. I wished to spend time surrounded by nature and living with nature. Upon my return to the land of my forefather I found that my paradise no longer existed. The wellspring was polluted and river no longer had fish. The rivers are sown and the meadows are planted with villas.… I have created hundreds goddesses and fish on the stones of the river and have dedicated them to nature. I wanted to build his own paradise. I liked to believe that these fish are alive, and were swimming against the tides… they are metaphors for nature and the life of living creatures who endure pain, suffering, and are destroyed by the evils of our time.

I have taken refuge in the deep ravines where I can overcome evil. There is a temple where I am at peace to worship water. I am not tired. I am determined as ever to build my paradise.

Sand Goddess

Words to ponder on. I too want a paradise, a beautiful natural place in which to dream, to take refuge. And I need to dream. Nadalian’s Rock of Fairies done in France captures my imagination the most. See the photo above.

I need nature, earth, leaves, grass, rock, water. And I sense a return of my interest in goddess imagery. I wanted to find and connect with some rocks somewhere. I like the idea of creating with natural materials that are present wherever I happen to be – beneath my feet; to make a small gesture in nature that arises from and belongs to the place.

I visited the nearby Blackrock beach to look at the cliffs, the sea-sculpted chalk shore. I found myself doodling in some patches of sand,… moulding.. a Sand Goddess figure that the tide will return to the sea!

Tree woman carving Cae Mabon

Alexi engraving rock

I’ve just had a replenishing trip to Wales staying at Cae Mabon eco-retreat. It is a place to dream, indeed, to reconnect with oneself and nature. I love the wonderful round cob buildings, the rushing river, the peace; the moss covered hillside and lichen-loaded trees; the fires each night beneath the moon shrouded in its “winter halo”…

Someone had carved a beautiful woman in a tree beside the river; she holds a heart above her head… a River Goddess?

Kevin and I spent some special time there in nature – pottering about the river and woods. I even found a lichened rock to scribble on :)

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Seahenge reflections

Norfolk tree

I have been suffering from nature-deficit-disorder. Surrounded each day by concrete, I have badly needed to get away. My chance came last weekend when Kevin and I took off for Norfolk to stay in a tiny little cottage for two called “The Retreat”.

Rainy and grey it didn’t matter as the low lying landscape had great atmosphere. Solitary trees — including a few stag-headed oaks – naked of their leaves, stood silhouetted against vast skies. And crows, rooks and seagulls milled over ploughed land and created a clamouring parliament in the trees. The fields were wet, soggy under foot and shifting rivers and lines of broken Crack willow gave the landscape a shabby, neglected feel. But it was so good to get away and reconnect a bit with nature.

Seahenge before it was moved

One thing I’ve been wanting to do for ages is visit Seahenge which was discovered at Holme-next-to-the-Sea on the North Norfolk coast. I didn’t know much about it other than it was a circle of 55 wooden posts with a central tree stump exposed in the mud at a lowtide back in 1998. It was a romantic find, but it was removed from its site back then and part of it ended up in a museum at King’s Lynn. It was there that we went to find out more about it.

Seahenge has been dated to the early Bronze Age, 2049 BC, a similar age to Stonehenge. The tree stumps – including the central stump – are of oak . It’s interesting that the central stump was deliberately placed upside down. (Apparently it was lowered into the ground with rope made of honeysuckle. Honeysuckle rope…. there’s something lovely about that.) One theory states that this could have been an altar for placing the dead thereby exposing the body to the elements and wild animals, which would liberate the dead person’s spirit, a practice called excarnation. On the other hand, it may have been a shrine to trees instead, perhaps.

Seahenge tree with reflection

According to Dr Francis Pryor, inverting the oak is like taking a symbol of life and returning the life forces to the earth, the source of life. The release of possibly ‘dangerous’ energies required containment, hence the circle of stumps. Intriguing, turning life upside down! Certain mythologies like those of the Lapps, have a three part cosmos — a world above, around and below us. An inverted tree would have roots in our world but it would be growing into the underworld. The tree would be seen as drawing different worlds together, a way of communicating between our world and the world below the ground — a paralell world. A world inhabited by the ancestors?

Pondering on the oak stumps in the museum, the deep past, something so old, from so long ago, I caught my reflection in the glass.

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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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Chelon labrosus

chelon  labrosusHere is Chelon labrosus, my thick lipped grey mullet painting.

Thick lipped, migratory, prising off mussels on its benthic trawl….washed in with waves, harbour close…

I had a sudden surge of creativity yesterday evening. I’d been meaning to get down to doing this painting for a while and decided that I really wanted to paint in oils. When I searched my oil paint bag, I realised I was out of white paint. I just couldn’t wait to buy some so out came the acrylics and I slapped them on a canvas mixing the paint with a bit of builders’ scrim. It was most satisfying, but I know the result is a bit of a mess.

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Fleeting wildlife encounters2

An afternoon wandering the undercliff. A glance over the side of the wall and below we glimpsed fish swimming hazily into view and then disappearing into the waves. I had to persevere to get some sort of photo but the result inspires me to paint the scene. Here is my photo, thick lipped mullet after mussels or seaweed on the sea wall:Thick Lipped Mullet

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The poetry of wood…and rust

A recent cloudy day beside the sea yielded these photos. I love the weathered, sea-washed wood of these groyne posts and the rich rust colours of the pier’s iron pillars! Click on the thumbnails for a larger image.
groyne postgroyne post2groyne post3groyne post 5groyne post6groyne post 8groyne post 9wood-groynewood-groynewood-groynewood-groyne

I didn’t realize the words on the pillar were the chorus of a Spandau Ballet song until later!
rust-on-pier-polemessage-on-rusty-pole

Gold
Always believe in your soul
You got the power to know
You’re indestructible
Always believe in,because you are
Gold

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