Sunday, 17 February 2019

Becoming Blue: Blue Sun Orchid - THE HAUNTING

Autumn is coming. I felt it in the air last week and it seems that the Autumnal feelings have cast their roots into this part of Tasmania to stay. There was a freshness and that good old 'back to school' feeling. Not being local to this part of the world I wasn't sure what to expect. Tasmania seems to have four seasons in a day, so I thought maybe this is just a blip, but alas it doesn't seem to be so. I am secretly enjoying it. I love this time of the year and I asked for movement -  a change - and it came. I find myself already packing cases. I guess am ready to leave. The contract I had with this place is over - but only for now... 

Close up on 'Water'. Work in progress, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches. 

Four paintings of four elements, one for each month I spent in the Antipodes. After much thought, I decided to leave them all here. They've been photographed in Stanley and are now in Hobart with the framers. I have no idea what everyone will make of them and I secretly wanted to take them back home with me and hide them in a trunk because I feel these pieces expose just a little too much of my soul. Something came out of me here. I am still trying to work out what that was. It's been a time of deep transformation and alchemy complete with dark, shadowy patches that were frequently interrupted with flashes of unbelievable light.

Oh, life is bigger
It's bigger
Than you and you are not me 
The lengths that I will go to 
The distance in your eyes 
Oh no, I've said too much 
I set it up 
That's me in the corner 
That's me in the spotlight 
Losing my religion 

I thought that I heard you laughing 
I thought that I heard you sing 
I think I thought I saw you try 
But that was just a dream 
That was just a dream 
Just a dream, just a dream 

Diary entry January 15th:

'Who is this person that I am to cast such a dark shadow on the earth?'

It seems I am still coming to terms with myself as a human being. Ironic as this Antipodean adventure started with a painting of a Consolida. There have been days of gusto, the odd minor blip of feeling lost in a sea of daydream and flatness and then a couple of days like the above where I hated myself so much I thought I would jump off a cliff. Even on the good days, I still had tears breaking out from nowhere. They are not sad, they are not happy. They are just tears of deep knowing and feeling. Tears from silent voices. It is these tears I am holding on to. They are not my tears, this story isn't just about me.  I am coming back. 


'Even the most beneficial presence casts a shadow. Mythologically, having no shadow means being of another world, not being fully human. To live with our shadow is to understand how human beings live at a frontier between light and dark and to approach the central difficulty: that there is no possibility of a lighted perfection in this life; that the attempt to create it is often the attempt to be held unaccountable, to be the exception, to be the one who does not have to be present or participate, and therefore does not have to hurt or get hurt. To cast no shadow on others is to vacate the physical consequences of our appearance in the world. Shadow is a beautiful, inverse confirmation of our incarnation.' David Whyte

'Fire' Work in Progress, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches. 

I took a leap six weeks ago into oils. It was a terrifying move which I boldly stepped into with a mixture of curiosity, enthusiasm and desperation. I felt I had exhausted all other media and still wasn't getting the results I wanted in picture making. I was also growing tired of watercolours and basically thought 'why not'. The geographical distance and temporal isolation I was experiencing here made it easier to take the risk. If the work was rubbish, it would be ok - I'd just bury it somewhere in the hills and forget the entire thing (would have to bury this time as there was a complete state fire ban). Truth is, I don't really know if they are any good in the critics eye but to be honest I don't care. I know what they are to me. The magic of Tasmania, the lure of the blue orchid, the love of thousands and the alchemy of painting. Paint is stone or ash mixed with water, dried by the air. It has often been quoted that 'paint is liquid thought'. To me, it's just a magic trick, it isn't as linear as thought. It's a ritual. A commitment. A transformation. A revealing. An opening to other worlds. This is what these four paintings are to me. I entered another world. 

Fire from the distance as a work in progress. Oil on canvas

Fire as work in progress. Oddly didn't photograph this one face on finished!

On the easel...

Diary entry January 22nd:

'The work that is coming out is too raw for me. I am inches from totally imploding and shutting down all social media accounts because I feel too vulnerable. Maybe that is a good sign? I remember this happened just before Leafscape. It might be the darkness before I switch on the light. If I disappear, that is what is going on. I have reached a limit in my vulnerability and need to hide. If Tasmania has done anything, it's given me space to hide. I still don't want to go back to Europe. I am not watching anything on television, and am not tuning into the radio. There's now very little music being played. I am spending vast quantities of my day staring into space, sleeping, dreaming and feeling. I try not to think, otherwise I go down rabbit holes. Is this the last phase of a very long metamorphosis?'

'Earth' work in progress, oil on canvas, 20 x 30 inches

Blue Flower is an adventure into Romanticism; time spent walking the land with no particular direction, the falling in love with things, a longing and it's brought me here, where the true Romantics were until very recently. They walked this earth long before I or even Coleridge and Wordsworth started crisscrossing fields and hedges. Novalis' dream of a blue flower pales into insignificance when matched with the true meaning of Aboriginal dreamtime. 

Work in progress on 'Earth' oil on canvas. Blues going on top  of a sepia underpainting

Tasmania is a land that was sculpted by the native people and nurtured in a way that we are only just beginning to understand today. Apparently, when the European settlers came here, there were great tracts of land that looked like beautifully manicured parks and meadowland. Cleared, beautiful. The sort of picturesque, Romantic landscape Capability Brown had high hopes on creating in the UK and in true romantic style, the emptiness of its wild landscape now stings with an unbearable melancholy. It's a haunted isle; no more Tasmanian Tiger, no more Tasmanian Aborigines. 

Work in progress on 'Earth' - oil on canvas
I have taken myself on a few walks across the land, but not as many as I'd hoped. I seem to keep revisiting the same places as if to watch them through time. I have been time travelling rather than space travelling. I found some new aboriginal middens yesterday at West Point and sat with them. I could hear the chitter-chatter of lost tribes.  All that's left is a spoil heap of shells from their meals and the indentations of where their huts once were. The wind blows here, it blows hard and makes a howling noise as it rampages through the fields and squeezes through telephone wires like a devil. The yellow-tailed Cockatoos shriek and the Kookaburras cackle at night. It all feels incredibly sinsiter as if not all is well with Tasmania. 

Work in progress on 'Water' - oil on canvas - 30 x 40 inches

I went out last night to remind myself of the otherness of the stars. As usual, nothing was what it seemed, Orion's sword was upside down and a ghostly gibbous moon kept disappearing in the fast-moving mists coming off from all that ocean. I noticed the air was was still for the first time in days. Not a car in sight, no humans, no lights. I felt remote. Superstition is commonplace here, and then, under the flickering moonlight, I understood why. It's a land that seems even too far away for God.  I mean, what else can you count on?

Work in progress shot

These four orchids are the tip of a very big Tasmanian iceberg for me and are my entry point into this vast mystical creative space I fell into when I landed here. My inner critic knows that they could be better, but I am running against a clock and the weather has cooled down in the last week and the sun is behind a blanket of hail, slowing drying times significantly. I have to work with what Tasmania is giving me and so they stay in this imperfect, shadow state as preliminary works, the first steps towards something that I hope will be greater. 

Water, finished, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches

Since arriving in Australia, I have developed a very long reading list of literature to order when I arrive in Europe. Books on dreams, aboriginal culture, psychology and Tasmania. It's going to be a busy six months of devouring and swotting. In the meantime, I have two weeks left. I wanted to squeeze out one last painting of the very first orchid found, but alas the post being so slow I'd only have a week to complete it in and it's just not flowing, so instead I have opted for a series of miniature landscapes. It's also that time of the year when I really need to knuckle down with editing the next INKQ, which, I am delighted to say will come with four A5 postcards of the Sun Orchid paintings. To renew your subscription and secure your exclusive A5 postcards follow this link:

Close up on 'Water', oil on canvas

And we're changing our ways 
Taking different roads 
Love, love will tear us apart again 

Air - Work in progress, oil on canvas
Workin progress 
With thanks to  M & G for their love and support these past two months. 

To Maddaddam for opening a gate and lighting the way, to Joss for all her chocolate bars, to Australia Post for shipping everything, David Murphy of the Cow and Calf Gallery in Stanley for photographing what were very challenging pieces, to Wagner framers of Hobart and of course a big thanks to Tasmania. 

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Becoming Blue: Blue Sun Orchid - HAUNTING I

My life is planned by the movements of petals

It was October and the leaves outside my window were beginning to turn. I carefully packed away my brushes in glass jars and placed a blue drape over my unfinished paintings, mindful that I would not see them again until the year ended with a '9'. It was a funny feeling. Over the past few months, I had been mindful of a great shift occurring inside of me as I prepared for my trip to the Antipodes. No doubt it was another growth spurt from within my chrysalis. It is a long way to travel and I suppose it was inevitable that more 'wisening up' would be required on my part in order to navigate the new landscapes I would be in over the next couple of months. I often find that landscapes on the outside test the ones on the inside. 

With the studio mopped I went for a motorcycle ride to the Sierra Nevada before joining a party in the almond groves near Alhama de Granada. Autumn was very much underway - the  Spanish air was cold and once again full of the heavy fragrance of olive wood smoke. I inhaled as much of the air as my lungs could take, just in case I missed it once I was absent. I touched the mountain and its trees and picked up a cone before I said my farewell. I was only supposed to be gone for two months, but my bones knew it would be for longer. 

Blue Sun Orchid - Tasmania
20cm x 25 cm - tiny sketch :: work in progress
Watercolour and charcoal on paper
I arrived in Melbourne at six in the morning under the cast of an October full moon and as my airplane danced in the city’s airspace, I watched the sunrise like the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odessy. A thin, crescent-shaped flash of light covered the curved horizon.  I felt like I was being born.  Weeks later, I ripped a thin gash in one of the arms of my black Indian dress - 'the chrysalis is breaking' I thought. Then a week after that I ripped another split in the armpit of my silk shirt as if to confirm it. I thought back to the paintbrushes and the paintings waiting for me in my studio in Spain and then of the lettuces and artichokes waiting for me in England. There are Horcruxes of me scattered all over the place. It was a strange feeling. I pictured an invisible bungee rope which was metaphorically attached to my navel and pretended to twang it. It was stretched as far as it might have been able to go and I was aware of how very far away I was and that I was upside down, and yet my soul had arrived in this landscape before me. Or perhaps it was always here? 

I arrived in Tasmania on the eve of an immense storm the day after All Hallows. ‘Another one’ I thought, as I reflected on the days I spent in Scotland looking for Meconopsis. Electrical storms, like me, appear to also be chasing blue. I had never really considered Tasmania as a location before. It was always one of those places that seemed remote and peculiar. It certainly was never on my radar, but I ended up visiting the island because I wanted to find blue orchids and I had been informed that this was the best place to do so. Unprepared, I hopped off of the propeller plane and felt another sense of belonging – only this was more profound than what I had felt in Melbourne. This feeling only deepened as I drove along the island’s winding roads, smelt it’s damp air, touched it’s old soil and paddled in its choppy waters. The days rolled past like the raging clouds in the sky – everything on this isle was saturated with meaning and magic. I was inside a novel, inside a painting, inside a song. 

Most of the sun orchids in Tasmania remained dormant in bud as they patiently waited for the storms to pass. You could almost taste the tension in each capsule as the week grew old. Desperate to cross-pollinate I think that in the end many of the flowers this year had to opt for the far less exciting prospect of self-pollination instead. The weather just was not on their side, or, it seemed, on mine. I sat with a several budded stems in a heathland for a few hours while a swarm of mosquitoes and March flies feasted on me. I watched and waited and then watched a little more. Their plump, tight buds becoming heavy with me as we cooked our spells together. It was like looking into a mirror. Partially ripped chrysalises not quite ready to open. The orchids and I were chanting together beneath the folds and sheets of blue.

My life unfurls with the movements of petals and stars. As soon as I understand the workings of one blue flower, another seems to embrace me. With pieces of me spread out all over the globe like pollen, my body begins to cry out in pain and pleasure. It is ready to receive a place and a time. I believe the place has arrived, almost at the start of this journey into Blue, but possibly not the time. I shall return.


There are many layers to blue. Six weeks have passed since my time in Tasmania. It is now December 14th 2018 and I feel my head shifting gear as it readies itself towards practical work after having spent a month in New Zealand. Unable to sleep and pining for a place I have only just discovered, I decided to extend my Antipodean trip for a further two months and booked a one-way ticket to go back to Tasmania. I do not know when I will be returning to the mainland and I secretly wish I wasn’t. I bought ten meters of canvas to paint on whilst in Wellington and will be bringing this with me, along with oil paints, paper, and my dreams.

To be continued...

If you want to be taken to the environments I have been in with the power of your imagination and hearing, I have uploaded a few podcasts which combine commentary on the painting process along with field recordings taken from the sights I have visited. I have edited these so that listeners are taken on a non-interrupted journey through the landscapes and they are available here:

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Becoming Blue: The Antipodes

In October and November 2018 I was invited to teach several workshops on painting leaves in Australia and New Zealand as part of the first leg of my Blue Flower trip. I was totally blown away by everyone's support and love, not only for what I am doing in my work but for botanical art in general. It is so good to have so many of us working towards getting botanical art out there into galleries and on walls. Enthusiasm is so important and the most contagious type of love. 

East of Melbourne in the middle of nowhere

Here are some photographs which were taken during some of the workshops and as part of my expedition to find the Blue Sun Orchid in Tasmania. My journey started in Melbourne where I gave a talk to the friends of the botanic garden soon after touch down. After this, I was whisked away from a city I was growing to love to a place further away from the humdrum near Lakes Entrance. After a few days off grid for my birthday, I then found myself back in Melbourne for a business meeting after having packed for Tasmania. It was touch and go if Tasmania was going to go ahead as severe weather had been predicted, but after much mulling over I decided to go. 

Tasmania, orchid hunting in between storms. First week of November 2018
After a week in Tasmania which took me from the North to the South of the island, I was back in Melbourne for four days, before then flying to Canberra for a few days for a workshop. The day after I returned, I then had a workshop at Geelong Botanic Garden and then a day after that I had another workshop at Melbourne Botanic Garden. Then I had a few days turn over before flying to New Zealand for three workshops in Wellington, Hanmer Springs and Auckland. Eventually arriving in Tauranga. 

It was a jam-packed schedule. I worked out on December 21st that I hadn't had a single day of solitude since October the 22nd! For an introvert, that's quite a change of routine... 

So here are the photographs. I would like to thank Sandra Morris, Sue Wickison, Lesley Alexander Smith, Elizabeth Yuill Proctor, Mali Moir, Dianne Emery, Jenny Coker, John Pastoriza-Pinol, Cheryl Hodges and Amanda Ahmed for making all of this possible. I would also like to thank my friend Meg and her family for their generosity and kindness in helping me with my arrival and for planning such a magical birthday and my friends Emily and Chris for their support and care. I would lastly want to thank my friend Thomas, for his organisation and for teaching me so much. Thank you. 

Tasmanian coastline.  November 2018

Arthur River,  Tarkine Forest, Tasmania, the first week of November 2018

Arthur River,  Tarkine Forest, Tasmania, the first week of November 2018

In the ancient woods of the Tarkine in Tasmania. This part of the wood is due to be logged very soon. Some of the work I am doing for blue Flower will be used for an exhibition that is trying to raise awareness of these woods and get them legally protected.
Working in Tasmania. November 2018
Working in the Tarkine, Tasmania. November 2018

Gum forests, suburbs of Hobart, Tasmania, the first week of November 2018

The view from my desk at Sue Wickison's house in Wellington, New Zealand. 

Looking for Dragons with Elizabeth Yuill Proctor, Hamner Springs, New Zealand
New Zealand, South Island

New Zealand, South Island

New Zealand, South Island

Moana, New Zealand. December 2018
In Tauranga with aritst Jenny Coker, New Zeland, 15th December 2018
View from Jenny's garden, Tauranga, New Zealand, North Island

Student's work after a workshop at Otari Botanic Gardens, Wellington, New Zealand.
With thanks to Sue Wickison for organising this workshop. 

Workshop at Otari Botanic Gardens, Wellington, New Zealand.

Workshop at Otari Botanic Gardens, Wellington, New Zealand. 

Workshop at Otari Botanic Gardens, Wellington, New Zealand. 

Workshop in Hamner Springs, New Zealand South Island.
Thanks to Elizabeth Yuill Proctor for organising this!

Birthday celebrations during the workshop in Hamner Springs, New Zealand South Island. 

Workshop in Hamner Springs, New Zealand South Island. 

Workshop at NatureArt Lab, Canberra Botanic Gardens, Australia.
Thanks to Cheryl Hodges for making this class happen.

Workshop at NatureArt LabCanberra Botanic Gardens, Australia 

Workshop at NatureArt LabCanberra Botanic Gardens, Australia 

Workshop at NatureArt LabCanberra Botanic Gardens, Australia 

Finding a Wahlbergia in Canberra, Australia. Thanks to Cheryl Hodges for taking this shot1

Teaching at Melbourne Botanic Gardens.
Thanks to Mali Moir and Dianne Emery for organising this one!

Teaching at Melbourne Botanic Gardens.

Teaching at Melbourne Botanic Gardens.

Teaching at Melbourne Botanic Gardens.

Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand.
Thanks to Lesley Alexander Smith and Sandra Morris for organising this workshop. 

Teaching a workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 

Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 
Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 

Samples of my portfolio on show in Auckland

Class photo in Auckland, New Zealand 

Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 

Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 

Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 

Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 

Workshop in Auckland, New Zealand 

Workshop in Geelong Botanic Gardens, Australia.
Thanks to John Pastoriza-Pinol for organising this workshop and for an amazing lunch!