Friday 31 December 2021

Los Pensamientos


197 Pensamientos (thoughts) to represent every country in the world. Painted by J R Shepherd during her isolation from the Covid 19 Pandemic in 2020 whilst in her studio high up in the mountains of Granada, Spain. The piece is titled after the Spanish name for pansy as not only was Jessica in Spain during this historic moment, but the name, akin to the French 'Pensée', has a double meaning for 'thoughts'. In the language of flowers, a pansy means that someone is 'thinking of you'. Often used as a get-well flower, pansies can show that you sympathise with someone's pain and distress, in this case, a country. Each pansy in this piece has been painted individually on a 15 x 15cm square and was posted to a recipient somewhere in the world. The finished posie of 197, is the complete collection of all of these tiny paintings. Masquerading in the final piece of 200, Jessica included three imposters, who have appropriated the pansy patterns to go unnoticed.

Final piece is 300cm x 150cm

In Italy, the pansy is known as 'flammola' (little flame),  and I rather like that. A little flame of hope. Hope in the dark. They are petals of nostalgia, happy flowers. Gateways, representative of the portals of our hidden transformations as we shelter in our houses from Covid-19. They are botanical butterflies.

On account of its popularity in both society and its recurring appearances in Romantic poetry, a variety of new nicknames for the flower began to circulate. Dorothea Lynde Dix proclaims that:

“Perhaps no flower claims to be so universal a favorite, as the viola tricolor; none currently has been honored with so rich a variety of names, at once expressive of grace, delicacy and tenderness.”  

Many of these names play on the whimsical nature of love, including “Three Faces under a Hood,” “Flame Flower,” “Jump Up and Kiss Me,” “Flower of Jove,” and “Pink of my John.” In Hamlet, Ophelia distributes flowers with the remark, "There are pansies, that's for thoughts."  Interestingly, Margaret Mitchell originally chose Pansy as the name for her 'Gone with the Wind' heroine, but settled on Scarlett just before the book went into print.

With time the Pansy has also become a symbol of two faithful lovers who are separated by distance. This also seemed apt under the circumstances of Covid-19 lockdowns. I knew many couples who were trapped in different countries as they rode out the pandemic unable to see or hold one another.

The Thoughts

Tuesday 21 July 2020

Becoming Blue XV: Iris - WISDOM

I have stopped dreaming. I am being slowly eroded. I can't do future tenses. While the rest of Europe slowly unfolds itself like the eyes on a startled snail, and tries to go back to the way it was before, I am still folding myself and making creases. I am becoming the most intricate origami bird known to mankind. A rubix cube of intricacy. Crumpled and clustered. My focus is no longer outward or far away. It's inside. My focus shifted and with it so has blue. The longing for faraway places and people has dissolved, along with the possibility. There are no dreams or desires. The unraveling of unbecoming has stopped and now the cogs are rotating centripetally. 

Iris, Oil on canvas, Jessica Shepherd
Work in Progress, oil on canvas, Iris.

It's July, and I am now working underground in true Cancer season style. This isn't something I did last year when I moved into the house. Last year I stayed above ground in the heat. This year, I changed track. I brought fairy lights down into the cave space and made a shrine above my bed with an old Beatles 'Strawberry Fields Forever LP' and a tambourine. In the other room I moved all the oil paintings and their materials. The rest of the house is a shell. I move through these spaces on occasion. Yesterday I walked through the old watercolor studio on my way to the terrace. I was briefly reminded of all the journeys I took there. Every painting is a journey. The space seemed to hold a different version of Jess, an outdated version and she was haunting that space. She hadn't left yet, almost as if she was waiting for the colder months to return so she could slip back into an old skin and resume the journeys she'd started.

Iris Watercolours
Work in progress. 1.5m x 1m. Double Act. Bearded Iris. Watercolour on paper. Waiting for my return.
Jessica Rosemary Shepherd

The other bedroom was just as haunted by old journeys and former versions myself. An unfinished Iris duet rested on the bed rather expectantly along with half-read books. A hopeful, more focused version of Jess had been taking online Art History lessons in that room. Her shadow is still in that space, but it's fading fast. I looked at the wardrobes of clothes used for business meetings or travel. Smart outfits for 'going out' in and pretty dresses. I hadn't worn any of them in months. I have been wearing two outfits since October. My dad's hand-me-down 1970s blue cords and a gifted knitted waistcoat in the cold winter months and an orange £5 New Look dress that doesn't even fit properly in the summer months. I wondered why on earth I had all these beautiful clothes if I can't wear them and if there'd ever be a time to wear them again and if that time ever comes, would I even fit in them or want to wear them? It felt strangely opulent and indulgent to have so many unworn clothes just hanging there. It was also notable how a form of self-expression had been stripped from me. The projected 'made up' outward appearance was not important anymore. It also seems to have dissolved along with my dreams and future tenses.

First in a series of self portraits. Oil on canvas.

So where does this leave me or indeed 'us' as I know I cannot be alone? I am not sure but I think the answer is in here:

The Fifth Cardinal Sin is Lust. This sin was called 'Luxuria' in the medieval Christian world, and it was related to voluptuousness: unbridled sensuality. In older texts, Lust was also called 'Inappropriate Longing', revealing another, subtler, yet extremely important dimension of Lust: desiring that which one has no right to desire. And if we can begin to understand what constitutes 'inappropriate longing' for each individual, Lust might turn out to be an immensely creative force; for what we cannot possess in the outer world, we can nourish in the inner, and discover in the process a profound experience of joy.

The longing of Blue has started to shift and I quite excited about this. Like a miner, I am now looking at horizons and treasures on the inside, underground. I have a concave lens. I am deep sea diving. A hidden mermaid in the blue.

Becoming Blue XIV: Bluebell - HUMILITY

Bluebell botanical art
Blue Bell, Sussex Downs, Watercolour on paper, Jessica Rosemary Shepherd

Tuesday 30 June 2020

Becoming Blue XIII: Puya - DISTANCE

There was always going to be at least one Puya in the Blue Collection. There had to be. Not only because it is the most extraordinary flower, but because I have wanted to paint it ever since I heard Marianne North's story in her trying to find it in its natural habitat in the Andes 160 years ago. The distance she had to travel to find it in her petticoats. It's remoteness, it's faraway-ness, it's rarity. It's like Lapis and all things blue - far away, exotic and hard to find. It was Marianne's legacy, along with Yves Klien, that made me want to turn Blue Flower global. I had to paint at least one species of Chilean Puya, if not several. 

Puya Watercolour Painting Jessica Shepherd
Puya alpestris var. zoellneri, Watercolour on paper, 1.5m x 1m.
Jessica Rosemary Shepherd

However, this particular Puya wasn't growing in the Chilean Andes. This is a Puya found in an equally distant place by Artist Heidi Willis in 2016 in the Blue Mountains in Australia. She very kindly sent me lots of images of the Puyas growing in the botanical gardens there. Therefore, for the first time ever, I was painting only from photographs and I can tell you - it's not as easy as one might think. Painting from photographs is far from easy. I had the photographs on my laptop for four years holding off any Puya painting until I had seen my own version of the flower. I was secretly hoping I'd make it to Chile and be able to paint the specimen from life in 2021. But then these huge bush fires broke out in Australia in early December 2020 and we all watched in horror as the animals and plants died. I'd go to bed crying. It was awful. 

It was in these moments I decided to paint this particular specimen. I felt so helpless I didn't know what else to do and the sad irony that an endangered plant such as this, that should be protected where it grew in captivity in Australia, wasn't lost on me. The Blue Mountain nature reserve and botanical garden were damaged by the ferocious fires. The Puya might have been safer in Chile, where it battles with habitat destruction daily.

Puya Watercolour Painting Jessica Shepherd
Puya alpestris var. zoellneri, Watercolour on paper, 1.5m x 1m.
Jessica Rosemary Shepherd


I will admit, the Puya was a tough painting.  Several times it refused to be drawn - I found it difficult to do something on large paper in the new studio. I dropped the drawing, damaged the paper and had to start all over again. The studio was icy cold. I had to keep stoking the fire. Then I couldn't work on it while I had to house sit. Then I had a trip to Egypt and the impending doom for WWIII took over the Australian fire grief, and then a pandemic took over the issue of WWIII and then everything just conglomerated into a rather disturbing few months. 

The astonishing thing, is that the Puya painting documents all of this time - from December 1st 2019 right through to June 30th 2020. I didn't work on it every day as I couldn't, my eyes would go funny and I remember feeling restless throughout, as though I wanted to be freer. At the time I was locked in my house in Spain where I wasn't allowed to go out on walks, so there is no freeing of the soul. Working on such a 'tight' piece is hard under prolonged periods of time. So to relax I indulged in oils, painting pansies and danced in the hallway to get me through the tight spots. 

Finishing it in late June was equally strenuous. My hand's shock under the pressure and I could only work in half-hour slots. Dr. Shirley Sherwood has written to me expressing a wish to have it for her collection and I had another five people wanting it. I couldn't ruin it, for Shirley or for me or for Australia. I finished it at the end of June during a Pluto Jupiter conjunction. I decided to title her 'Blue Flame' in the hope that the forests of Australia would rejuvenate quickly.

Early stages

Mameri blu turquoise 
W&N Winsor Blue (Red shade) 
W&N perylene maroon 
Daler Rowney cobalt blue 
W&N Paynes Grey 
Schminke Cerulean Blue Hue 
W&N transparent yellow 
W&N permanent rose - anthers with the yellow

Puya Watercolour Painting Jessica Shepherd
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Puya Watercolour Painting Jessica Shepherd

Puya Watercolour Painting Jessica Shepherd

Puya Watercolour Painting Jessica Shepherd
Puya alpestris var. zoellneri, Watercolour on paper, 1.5m x 1m.
Jessica Rosemary Shepherd

One particular thing that really startled me with this painting, was how much a struggled to finish it. This piece took a lot longer than usual paintings of this size and usually the pressure speeds me up, not slows me down. Yes, it is a complex piece, but there were often weeks when I wouldn't touch it and I wondered why this was and I think it was linked to hidden knowledge. A knowing that the Puya will probably be my last accurate watercolour. After months of finding it hard to leap into a void - another void as there are several, I am feeling inside that I am going to try to let go again and there's a certain sort of grief associated with this letting go of a well-practiced way of painting. So powerful it is, that it has meant I have not been able to, I have been holding on, tighter and tighter. and the paintings have gotten tighter and tighter and some even ruined as a consequence. I couldn't bare to finish the Puya because I knew that this piece was the 'end point' - the last one. 

And so it is now the end of June and the end of the Puya and with everything that has come to pass in 2020. Hidden in my secret house with a blue door I am now going to start leaving things less finished than finished. It is for the viewer to finish them. Who wants a photographical representation anyway?! It's all an illusion, painting is an illusion and it's really up to the viewer to finish it to see what they want to see.

Puya Framed by Fine Art Solutions in Chessington, UK
Now in the Shirley Sherwood Collection of Botanical Art

Tuesday 28 April 2020

Becoming Blue XII: Pansy - FLAMMOLA

As the world dips into chaos for the second time this year, I am hiding in my secret house painting. Project blue once again has been swept into the unknown, just as it was when I was travelling to Egypt on the brink of WWIII. The weeks running up to  Egypt had me watching the news like I'd never watched it before. This time I am not watching missiles. I am watching countries shut themselves off one by one. Turning off and going dark, like lights going out in the Blitz.

Blue Pansy Painting
Blue Pansy, 1m x 1m, Watercolour on paper.

One of the many reasons I started the project Blue was in retaliation to Brexit, I plunged myself into the Romantic Movement and behaved as if borders didn't exist. But now there is a new problem on the horizon - a clever virus - and suddenly everything has become much more difficult. With nothing to control the situation but closing borders and shutting oneself away like you would clean laundry in a chest of drawers, I have crept back into my 12th house hole to paint in a house that feels almost as remote as Tasmania. It clutches onto the edge of a national park with no roads and comes with an ancient population of Spaniards. Here I am hidden, here I will weather the storm and work quietly without a car. 

"Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living." —Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Botanical Art Pansy
A posy of pansies

Whilst painting the tight work of the Puya I am simultaneously applying broad washes of bright colours on enormous Pandemic Pansies. I have no idea how they will turn out, the eventual idea was to create an entire wall of them. Something a bit Alice and Wonderland. I like the way the patterns radiate out like hands, like viruses and the way the paint eeks out with 'washes'. They are petals of nostalgia, happy flowers. Gateways, representative of the portals of our hidden transformations. They are botanical butterflies.

Botanical Art Pansy
Blue Pansy, Watercolour on paper, £100

The name "pansy" is derived from the French word pensée, "thought", and was imported into Late Middle English as a name of Viola in the mid-15th Century. Their other common name "love in idleness" stems from the image of a lover who had little or no other employment than to think of his beloved. In Italy, the pansy is known as 'flammola' (little flame),  and I rather like that. A little flame of hope. Hope in the dark.

Botanical Art Pansy

On account of its popularity in both society and its recurring appearances in Romantic poetry, a variety of new nicknames for the flower began to circulate. Dorothea Lynde Dix proclaims that:

“Perhaps no flower claims to be so universal a favorite, as the viola tricolor; none currently has been honored with so rich a variety of names, at once expressive of grace, delicacy and tenderness.”  

Many of these names play on the whimsical nature of love, including “Three Faces under a Hood,” “Flame Flower,” “Jump Up and Kiss Me,” “Flower of Jove,” and “Pink of my John.” In Hamlet, Ophelia distributes flowers with the remark, "There are pansies, that's for thoughts."  Interestingly, Margaret Mitchell originally chose Pansy as the name for her 'Gone with the Wind' heroine, but settled on Scarlett just before the book went into print.

With time the Pansy has also become a symbol of two faithful lovers who are separated by distance. This also seems apt under the current circumstances. I know many couples who are trapped in different countries as they ride out the pandemic unable to see or hold one another.

Giant Pansy Watercolour
Giant Pandemic Pansy, watercolour on St. Cuthberts Mill paper. 1m x 1m.

I sat on my bed last night looking at three giant pansies, which I have placed purposely at the foot of my bed to remind me each time I wake up that the pandemic isn't a bad dream. Now I think the kitchen is the only room in the house not to be taken up by paintings. As I stare at the three faces I feel incredibly strong and happy and surprised at myself. 'Where did these come from?' I ask myself, just as I had done when I painted a quadtych in Tasmania this time last year. Again it feels like a massive evolutionary jump in my art that wasn't forced or predicted. It just happened. I just found myself playing with water and loosening up after the constriction of the Puya. When everyone's in fear, it seems I am still able to play. I hope these broader brush strokes continue.

I hope to continue this series of giant pansies as the pandemic tells its story. These first three giant pansies are destined for Abbott and Holder this August and will be included in the Blue Flower book which I still hope to publish in 2024.

If you are interested in commissioning your very own original small pansy (pictured 15 x 15cm) message me at They are £100 each.

I am remaining in isolation even though everything is opening up. I am rather enjoying this peaceful metamorphosis. Stay safe and wise. x

Saturday 25 April 2020

Nineteen Conkers

I have started a new piece under the Great Pause of Covid - 19.

I have planted 30 conkers in upside down Mahou beer cans, reminiscent of the Verdan Trees which were planted after the First World War. Once growing, they'll be arranged in a theatre, akin to 19th Century Auricula stages, because plagues extend limits like theatre and are physically transformative and disruptive. The next stage of this project is under development, like all things. Let's hope they grow! 

"The theatre restores us as our dormant conflicts and all their powers, [...] for there can be theatre only from the moment when the impossible really begins." 

Antonin Artaud - The theatre and its double

The Verdun trees are Horse Chestnut trees, planted in the United Kingdom in the aftermath of the First World War. Conkers were collected from trees on the battlefield at Verdun, and sent to England to be distributed and planted as war memorials.

Monday 23 March 2020

Becoming Blue XI: Epoca Blu

"Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living."
Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

It is the morning, and like all mornings I wake up and check on all my seedlings. I feel like the Little Prince and his flower on his lonely little planet. Every morning since October I have walked onto the barren, icy roof terrace in my bare feet to inspect the moist, dewy pots for any signs of life. It's become a habit. Thing is, I secretly know that there is life under the dark soil. A few months ago the wind and rain had exposed a thick white searching root in one of the conker pots. I quickly covered it up again, worried it would get dry. This particular conker still hasn't sent an upward shoot, but to my delight, another one has! The conkers I planted in October on my birthday are now growing.

It's been a funny few days here in Spain. Things haven't altered that much for me since the outbreak of Covid19. I am still in my hermetic studio, but I am aware that the entire country is in lockdown and you are not allowed to leave the house for any other reason than for food and pharmaceuticals. You can walk your dog around the block, but only one person is allowed to do this. Same with food shopping. The rules are strict, but everyone here is happy to abide by them. Spain has a huge sense of what it is to be in a community and they all look out for one another. For me, life hasn't really changed. The only alteration is that I am now no longer able to go on my daily walk in the countryside. 

'Isolation', Meconopsis - work in progress.
Watercolour, charcoal and gouche on paper.
56 x 76cm

It has been 63 years since Yves Klein painted 11 identical blue canvases for his ‘Proposte Monocrome, Epoca Blu' at the Gallery Apollinaire. For this exhibition, each canvas was painted with an ultramarine pigment which was suspended in a synthetic resin that would retain the brilliancy of the blue. Klein sought to challenge the boundaries between art and life. He posed questions concerning the nature of art, what it was, is and might be, and consequently challenged all borders and structures. The world is blue and blue has no borders and here we all are, hidden in the borders of a room, a house, a town, a country, now unable to wander. 

"Procrastination is productive and intelligent. 
Our urge to wander around instead of getting right to it is usually a signal that a deeper creative process is occurring, one that needs time we aren’t giving it." 
Chani Nicholls

"Heroes are usually wanderers, and wandering is a symbol of longing, of the restless urge which never finds its object, of nostalgia" Carl Jung. Blue Flower is a project about movement and wandering. Freedom of movement. An essential right for any human. At a time of Brexit and the rise of Spanish Vox and other restricting forms of politics, I chose Blue as an act of rebellion, like the age-old romantics who'd rebel against social norms and would go wandering fields writing poetry. Blue is a colour that moves and essentially this project moves too. It skips between the vast landscapes of dreams, Dreamtime and the imagination, to the frontiers of our planet. It focuses on the landscapes, above and below us; the habitats, the cultures of faraway places, right into the belly of our homes. The fact we are all now 'trapped' in our homes does not stop Blue.

‘The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he cannot stay quietly in his room.’
Blaise Pascal

The flowers for this collection are used specifically to tell a particular type of story - there are many flowers, many stories and many shades in blue. It's about life. A blue life. As I move with blue, the paintings themselves have changed stylistically. As the colour is explored the style changes in order to capture that 'thing'. The thing is essentially about longing. Longing for faraway places that we shall never arrive in. Longing for the perfect, the comfortable. Longing for love, longing for change, longing for a better world. Blue Flower is as relevant now as it has always been. 

'Blue Flame', Puya berteroniana, from Blue Mountain Botanic Garden, Australia.
Watercolour on paper, 1.5m x 1m.
Work in progress.

The flowers I have documented so far chart my own journey up to this point and have all been intentionally picked. Hyacinth for a domestic landscape, dyed Roses for something more unnatural, Forget-me-Nots for their association of not being forgotten. Some flowers were deliberately looked for in places of cultural significance, Covent Garden, Columbia Road, a street seller on a pavement in London in order to capture a moment in time. Others have been located in their landscapes, Orchids and Gentians and others have been found in botanical zoos or gardens, as not all flowers now grow in their motherland. Many now can't be found in their natural places. Displaced. A sign of the times. 

Blue Flower up until this point has been a snapshot of a world in decay and was always going to be about my pilgrimage to the utopian picturesque, as in true Romantic form. Blue Flower, a seven-year project, is reaching its turning point in 2020, just as I felt it would. Borders are closing and everyone is being put on a spiritual retreat if they like it or not. They are having to find new ways of connecting whilst coming to terms with what they need, what they truly want and who they really are. The land needs nurturing like an egg. We need to slow down for a bit. To turn away from the mechanical world outside, towards the feminine, mystical world inside. Science extrapolates but poetry interpolates. Being inside is poetry. Everything outside of us is empirical. The real blue flowers are inside of us. Let's be like quantum thinkers in our profound search for an unseen world.

This 'silence gives us an opportunity to appreciate a great deal of what we generally see without ever properly noticing, and to understand what we have felt but not yet adequately processed. We have not only been locked away; we have also been granted the privilege of being able to travel around a range of unfamiliar, sometimes daunting but essentially wondrous inner continents.' The Book of Life

Sea Holly work in progress.

Since August 2018, I have been on a journey that is beyond words. I found a deep space inside of me, a whole landscape that I have been mostly happily roaming around in, to the point that I haven't been able to roam in reality and articulate. My issue over the past two years has been that I haven't found myself inhabiting the same place as most people I know. A gap that began to grow from a crack of blue. This has been my greatest upset over the past two years. That a gulf has been manifesting between me and you for months. I've been finding it harder and harder to bridge the distance because our brains felt like they were not in the same place even though our hearts were.

'Everything is delicate'
Meconopsis. 15 x 15cm, Watercolour

However, since Covid 19, I suddenly feel less alone because now everyone is living a life I have been living - an isolated one, a virtual life. Life in another dimension. A life where all of your friends are far away. They might be in the same town, but you now can't 'see' them. For me, some of my closest friends are in different countries, and I am lucky to see them once every two or three years. I live mostly alone in silence. I have been in this place of living since August, but I had a dress rehearsal in Tasmania, where I was isolated in a different time zone without a car due to the devastating bush fires for two months. I was forced to heal in silence, far away from everyone and generally 'get on' despite skirting the edges of a nervous breakdown. I hallucinated and I cried for weeks. I got through it. The same happened this winter in Spain. Again - I got through it.

“No one is ever satisfied where he is.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Now it's Spring and for the first time in months, I feel less alone because everyone else is now going through a similar process to the one I went through. We are all at home, some alone, facing ourselves.

'A desert of discarded antlers. A blue flower hiding in a thicket,
stumped in the complex arrangement of pieces on a chequered board of star dust. Check mate. '

Love in a mist. Work in progress. Watercolour

“Where are the people?” resumed the little prince at last. “It’s a little lonely in the desert…”
 “It is lonely when you’re among people, too,” said the snake.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Living alone for the past year (on and off) has helped me immensely in accepting what's happening right now. Painting, over the past year, has become less important and the land more so. I have been obsessed with soil and rocks since November 2019. I have to sit on it, walk on it, stick my fingers in it. Listen to it, speak to it. Touch it. The land wants trees. Well, here it does. I can hear it. This is why I am growing conkers, acorns, chestnuts, walnuts and hazelnuts on my roof. Nut trees are good, they feed birds and are less likely to be cut down by locals.

"Hold by confide among the stars 
We could be the lucky ones 
If we could only levitate 
Fly low dear 
Dance beneath the trees 
If only we had oxygen 
And we begin to breath 
And we can watch 
While the beauty takes it's toll"

I am also growing them not just for the land, but for me. I will keep a couple behind to put on my terrace as I don't know when I will be able to leave the house again. Now is the time to create an ecosystem on the roof. Deliveries are not really happening in Spain at the moment, so I am using EVERYTHING I can find. I am drilling holes in the large plastic boxes I used to move house in. Packaging trays for mushrooms, buckets for paint, some plastic pots that had brownies inside from a lunch break when I was teaching in Cairo. I don't have the budget or the delivery system to do it any other way.

Most of the seeds are coming from my food shopping. I have a lump of ginger, peppers, tomatoes and a garlic bulb that sprouted. I have seeds from my garden in London that are ten years old. I planted them last week and they are already growing. Now there's a hopeful sign if ever there was one. A seed, that has been still and dormant for ten years, suddenly growing. We too will grow after this has passed.

This darkness you're in is your eclipse, 
wait for your illumination.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Becoming Blue X: Blue Rose - SORROW

"The fear of being abandoned. The terror of being lonely forever. The anxiety of being utterly dependent upon another. The panic of unbearable vulnerability and exposure. The dread of the looming death of yourself and everyone around you. These are the great fears that come as you wake, as you fall asleep, and as you dream through this life. 

But perhaps the greatest fear of all is the fear of being loved. We don’t really see it this way, though. For when you are really loved, when you are entirely seen, when you are fully held, it is the end of your world as you know it. You will never be the same. You will never again be able to pretend that you are other than perfect and precious as you are. And that is terrifying. 

Life is always seeing you in this way. 

You long to be loved, to be seen, but please know that the implications are immense; they are cosmic. To allow yourself to be loved in this way a part of you must die. Everything you thought you weren’t must be surrendered. You must let go of the stories of the unlovable one, the awakened one, the special one, the imperfect one, and the despairing one. Love wishes to reveal your nakedness, to remove your clothing, and to burn away all that is false and less than whole within you. What you are is a raging firestorm of creativity, sensuality, openness, warmth, and kindness. 

In this way, love is a destructive process, for it comes to re-order everything you thought you knew."

Matt Licata in Many Voices

Christmas Day by Jessica Rosemary Shepherd
Christmas Day, Watercolour on paper, 30 x 21 cm, J R Shepherd (2019) ©

The Blue Rose paintings - there are three so far. It is a muse I keep returning to. There's just something about its artificialness. A Rose that has been deliberately altered by mankind using synthetic dyes is for me representative of our unwavering quest for perfection and wholeness and the sorrow this obsession can bring. The first Rose 'Supernova' (bottom of the post) was completed in the summer of 2018, then, after an incredibly painful Christmas in Australia, I completed 'Christmas Day' (above). I thought that would be it, but no... this summer, in the chaos of eclipses and Brexit I returned to the roses again and produced 'Instar', where the blue rose is a mere speck in the throng of insanity. 

"No longer seek happiness—wanting it only separates you from realizing the profound sense of wellbeing that is only present in the absence of desire. "

Desire is full of endless distances. As I continued to paint the texture of longing I put the finishig touches onto 'Christmas Day' after a 7 month break. It was a painting that I had originally begun whilst recuperating alone in a house in Melbourne on December 25th. It's about heartbreak, there's no way around it. I was broken when I did this. It is the sorrow and bitter disappointment of blue. 

 "Heartbreak is unpreventable; the natural outcome of caring for people and things over which we have no control… Heartbreak begins the moment we are asked to let go but cannot, in other words, it colors and inhabits and magnifies each and every day; heartbreak is not a visitation, but a path that human beings follow through even the most average life. Heartbreak is an indication of our sincerity: in a love relationship, in a life’s work, in trying to learn a musical instrument, in the attempt to shape a better more generous self. Heartbreak has its own way of inhabiting time and its own beautiful and trying patience in coming and going". 
David Whyte

'Instar', Blue Rose, Watercolour and charcoal on paper,
56 x 76 cm, WORK  IN PROGRESS

Above and below is 'Instar'. It was painted eight months after 'Christmas Day' and is just as much about longing as all the other works. This piece for me is about being smothered and longing to break free. About being stuck, trapped and hidden. Similar themes to Leafscape and my previous post on 'The Lady of Shallot'. It's about chaotic politics, bureaucracy, a broken English Rose, an Albion with no plan and the dream, the contradictory utopian dream to be free and yet smothered. The dream (blue flower) is almost out of view. You have to squint to find it, but it's still there. A fragment of hope. Alongside all the politics, the painting is also about the responsibility I feel in having to make certain decisions and how we are all the living consequence of our decisions. 

"The process of transformation consists mostly of decay and then of this crisis when emergence from what came before must be total and abrupt. The strange redundant word instar describes the stage between two successive molts. Instar implies something both celestial and ingrown, something heavenly and disastrous, and perhaps change is commonly like that, a buried star, oscillating between near and far." Solnit

"One way you know you're approaching core territory is that your experiences become indescribable. Let yourself stand in an inner confrontation with the unknown within you -- and what, in truth, can never be explained." Eric Francis

Instar by Jessica Rosemary Shepherd botanical art
'Instar', Blue Rose, Watercolour and charcoal on paper,
56 x 76 cm, Jessica R Shepherd (2019) ©

As blue unfolds like Mandlebrot Set I sit here madly laughing to myself. You see, for months I have been thinking about 'longing' and how to possibly overcome it in order to see it for what 'it' is and I am finding it incredibly difficult to write a critique about because it is so ingrained in my existence and my ego. So I have to overcome that in order to see it, which, I guess, is what Zen is and no sooner had I considered this as an option, was I reminded of the text I wrote in the Introduction to Blue Flower:

"On a sunny September afternoon, as tired leaves rustled in the garden beyond her window pane, she opened her book 'An Inquiry into Blue' and took out a flatted, knotted mass of black and brown hair that she had collected from a bed at Kensal Green several weeks before. Then, with her other hand she opened her indigo bound copy of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ and placed the hairs between pages 32 and 33. Once closed, she took the Antwerp blue scarf that was wrapped around her neck and tied it around the book before hiding it at the bottom of her wardrobe..."

There it was... staring me in the face, right at the start of my journey into blue petals. In excitement, I once again pace towards the bookshelf in the room of my childhood and my fingers rummage between Encyclopedias, French Dictionaries and Richard Scarry books until they uncover the crushed Antwerp blue scarf and the broken, worn binding it enshrouds. It was on the same shelf as the 2005 diary on longing. Circles, everything is a circle and there are clues everywhere. 

All states of mind are a delusion - transcend them all. 

Studio shot of Instar.

I have reading to do, but I wonder - will this actually help me as a painter? You see, there aren't many of us who live in the present, detached, with no sense of longing and my mission was always to reach out to souls and help them to see the beauty in flowers by making the flowers humanoid. I do this by incorporating the contradictions and complexities of being a human into my work. How we long for the things that don't really exist. If I were to paint something of no longing, would anyone actually want that on their wall? What even is that? Isn't that what botanical art WAS? A mere document devoid of all feeling; a scientific description of a plant? Surely we all want mirrors? That's why we buy smartphones and take selfies. That's why we fall in love. Surely that's why we buy art? It's a type of therapy. 

"Happiness and unhappiness are two aspects of the same thing, which is the false sense of self's search for inner stillness. Happiness always fades and disappears—just as every sort of appearance within awareness does—and in its place, unhappiness inevitably arises."

The cyclical nature of things brings me to the final Rose of my Blue Roses so far. One that I laid out last year... It feels like a long time ago now. The early days of blue, when things felt less convoluted. At the time I wanted to paint grief and the fading and changing of things and this was the outcome, and I called it 'Super Nova', the final stage of a decaying star. But like with all things, when a star dies, new ones are made and supernovae are vital in this, because when they explode, supernovae create shock waves that compress the star material in interstellar space which in turn causes large clouds of gas to form new stars. Such is the circle of things. 

Blue Rose by Jessica Rosemary Shepherd botanical art
Supernova, Blue Rose, Watercolour and charcoal on paper,
56 x76 cm, Jessica R. Shepherd (2018) ©

Thursday 8 August 2019

Becoming Blue IX: Hyacinth - OBSCURITY

Blue is longing. The colour of solitude and of desire.  
The colour of  'over there' as seen from 'over here'. 
The colour of where you are not,
and where you can never go. 

Botanical art Hyacinth by J R Shepherd
'The Breach', Hyacinth sp., 1m x 1m, Watercolour on paper, Jessica Rosemary Shepherd (2019)

"Let us go then, you and I, 
When the evening is spread out against the sky"
T. S. Eliot

The name of the Hyacinth flower has the most interesting meaning. In Greek mythology, Apollo the sun god and Zephyr the god of the west wind compete for a young boy’s affections. At one point Apollo is teaching Hyakinthos how to throw the discus and Zephyr gets so angry that he blows a gust of wind in Apollo’s direction, which sends the discus hurling back in the direction of Hyakinthos, striking and killing him. Apollo, brokenhearted, notices that a flower springs up from the blood that was spilled and names the flower Hyacinth in honor of the boy. This symbol of the hyacinth flower has remained pretty simple throughout history.

"Every love has a landscape"

Therefore it seemed appropriate for me to finally decide to venture towards the Hyacinth during my summer of silence where things started to go so badly wrong in my head. The discipline I needed to adopt in order to keep in equilibrium was really hard to maintain. And so now, with everything sloshing about, no lunch hours, everything seems to now be about boundaries, my own and everyone else's. The myth of the Hyacinth is also about borders and the disaster that can unfold when things are pushed. A gust of wind, it's all it took. 

My Hyacinth painting is about a breach. It's a crack, a cleft, a penetration. It's a line drawn and a line crossed. Something mischievous has found a way to creep in, be it a feeling, a notion or a thing. It's possibly unwanted, I am not sure. Doesn't feel good if I am honest. It could be something that is much more dangerous than it seems, something that could chip away at structures like dry rot. This piece is deep. It comes from buried chronic feelings from a long, long time ago. Something that's resurfacing in me as I sit in silence.

Hyacinth, work in  progress

Dutch Hycathins always look hideous to me and I have often found their smell just as overbearing. I never was a fan. My mother is allergic to the bulbs and I remember as a child associating some form of fear of them just from that alone. 

Diary Entry:

"This time I am reigning everything in. I must remain as silent as a nun. I must devote my energy to a higher power. Remain open, slightly lost and thus vulnerable. This is becoming increasingly difficult to do. Nothing feels balanced. Just painted in the giant leaves of the hyacinth, they look rude and suggestive. everything looks like something other than what it should be. The watercolours are disintegrating. Maybe by this time next year the shapes will take over and the petals and leaves will no longer be fully recognisable? The leaf looks like an antler I dreamt about only a few days ago. My dreams. Blue is increasingly becoming about my dreams. As I look at every painting, what is coming out are my dreams and how I see plants in them. "

Hyacinth, work in  progress

I am now high on blue Hyacinth. the smell of my childhood and of Abbott and Holder. However, unlike most, my Hyacinths are always mixed with the scent of Brasso and furniture polish. Hyacinths leave me with an image of a desperate 1950s housewife or of a house that's gone wrong. Dry marriage beds, dysfunctional families and that perfumed mask, the pretense - everything is ok on the outside. I knew when the time came for me to paint the Dutch Hyacinth, that I would play on not only it's hideousness in terms of its own real morphology, but also the associations I have in my head. All of the flowers of blue have associations -  I am not just painting a flower. Every painting is a deep exploration of my psyche, it's memories and projections. With the Hyacinth, I knew from day one I wanted something monstrous - the elephant in the room that no one is prepared to discuss. 

Hyacinth, work in  progress in the new studio

I started the piece back in June 2019 and during that time I had to leave it behind in my studio in Spain while I visited my old childhood home in Sussex. Seemed apt in a way, to return to that space of heady Hyacinths. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was rummaging through my bookcase looking for a scrapbook because I wanted to make a Romantic Herbal for one of my disappearing men who'd I'd not seen in a while. As a consequence of not having seen him, I was also drafting out (and struggling with) a blog post about absence and how it makes the heart grow fonder. So, there I was rummaging in my childhood bookcase, and as I foraged between Encyclopedias and French dictionaries, an old diary of mine fell out and opened itself onto s specific page. A page I'd written in 2005 on my ideas surrounding 'longing', after my boyfriend at the time had disappeared to work off-grid in the jungles of Kenya. Oh, un coup de des! It seems enduring love is something I encounter a lot. Freud would have a hay day with me! 

Hyacinth, work in  progress, close up - needs more layers

In ancient civilisation, longing used to be about longing for otherness. Of what it was that put us on this planet. As ancients, we would watch the sun, moon and stars and wonder who or what put them there. What it was to be a human. The longing was for knowledge, for understanding. Nowadays, however, longing seems to have morphed into something else entirely. Now, equipped with so much knowledge, I find humans are having to place their longing onto other things - materialistic things, or for other human beings, animals, popularity, times lost, times yet to come, other places or for identities, religions and political notions. The Blue Flower is about longing, to long for the places we will never arrive in. In order to continue deciphering the illusionary nature of Blue, I am now considering what it is to long for something, and how I can generate that effect on the canvas. I am currently looking into peepholes, time-lapses and the miniature. Works I probably won't start until 2020.

Hyacinth, work in  progress, in the studio

"There father and son
Shall mingle in dust
As if life itself
Had been mostly illusion but partially real
And partially pain...

....As the world disappears"

A Song for Douglas, After He's Dead
Current 93

As you know, I like to turn things on their head. To understand longing maybe we also need to understand what it is to disappear and hide because when we disppear we can create longing in others? When we ourselves choose to disappear, I feel we are trying to center ourselves or to remove ourselves from something that we consider threatening to our existence. But the thing is, we still long for something, be it a resolution, safety, wholeness, control. So in this case, it seems that longing is an overarching theme and the act of hiding is just a spoke from it. So as usual for blue, turning things on their head hasn't helped me to find an answer. I am still lost.

"So many things to see in this old world 
But all I can see is you".
Together Alone 1970

So it seems our life's journey is driven by longing. It is perhaps the only overarching human emotion that connects all of us. Longing has to do with the divine because what we long for the most is a relationship with our destiny and origins. We may not be conscious of it, but we long to know 'why, how what', in whatever guise that might mean to the individual. This in turn brings us back to projection, to possibly thinking that the missing elements of who we think we are can be supplied by another person, or through the pursuit of esoteric knowledge, to make us feel whole. But really only a connection with the cosmos and an acceptance of the unknown can fill that hole.

Studio lights on, late night working in the new casa. August 2019

Blue started as a utopian project about hope, and where there is hope, there is longing, and where there is longing there is heartbreak, grief, and tragedy. The joyful-sad that is blue... The original text written by Novalis in the 18th Century, in which this contemporary version of Blue Flower is based on, was about longing:

“It is not the treasures,” he said to himself, “that have stirred in me such an unspeakable longing; I care not for wealth and riches. But that blue flower I do long to see; it haunts me and I can think and dream of nothing else." Novalis

Blue is the longing for the distances you never arrive in, it is the colour of solitude and of desire, the colour of  'over there' seen from 'here', the colour of where you are not. and the colour you can never go. Blue is the backward glance, the dream, the illusion.

"Longing is divine discontent. Longing brings the horizon close, it makes it possible. The ache, the humiliation, it is felt as the beautifully familiar. Longing has its own secret future destination and longing is nothing without its dangerous edge. We are a form of an invitation to others and to otherness. We are meant to hazard ourselves for the right thing. In longing, we move to the unknown that we think we know." David Whyte

Nostalgia and the postcard:

I have been collecting postcards of every place I visit for Blue Flower for a final piece of artwork I haven't yet planned. For me, the postcard is the best souvenir of all because it ends up taking it's own separate journey from the place you were in to finally reach the hands of a loved one. A loved one you miss and therefore long for. Souvenirs such as this embrace a sense of longing doubly - they authenticate a past or otherwise remote experience and at the same time to discredit the present.  "What lies between 'here' and 'there' is oblivion, the void that marks the radical separation between past and present." (Susan Stewart). Postcards are all about longing, little documents that point towards the obscurity that time and place (and therefore experience) inhabits in our lives.

New view from the terrace, Granada

As I read more and more, longing becomes at its most basic fundamental level about time and space and therefore our connection with the divine. Even moments of 'love at first sight' are about an improbable meeting that happens between souls in a specific place and a certain time. At times, there is more weight given to the space-time event than to the actual soul one has encountered. So to long for something is to have a restless, unhappy, unresolved relationship with the unknown elements of time and space.

"It's quite overwhelming to accept the unknown. especially when there is so much potential."
Eric Francis

Last thoughts:

After much deliberation in the summer of 2017, I decided to embrace Blue Flower as my next project in my attempt to reject a world that is becoming more and more controlled and isolating. Humans are now inhabiting 'invisible environments'. Digital places that exist inside telephones and computers that are not real or grounded and full of longing. In these places, no one has a body - everyone is a ghost in these zones. Dangerous things happen when we lose our bodies because we lose the root of our longing. We loose our connection to the mystical. Things become extreme and desire gets polarised. We become obsessed with the idea and not with the reality. We become nostalgic and rooted in illusions.

"Whatever you desire of the world will not come to pass exactly as you will like it. But the other mercy is that whatever the world desires of you will also not come to pass. And what actually occurs is this meeting, this frontier. But it’s astonishing how much time human beings spend away from that frontier, abstracting themselves out of their bodies, out of their direct experience, and out of a deeper, broader, and wider possible future that’s waiting for them if they hold the conversation at that frontier level. Half of what’s about to occur is unknown, both inside you and outside you." David Whyte

The passions kindled by longing must be harnessed and used judiciously, or they threaten to consume our hopes and dreams. Blue was always a political project as well as a personal one. The personal is political and I wanted to paint something that not only resonated with you on a personal level emotionally but also something that picked up on the chaos of the world we are currently living in collectively. The sleepy steps we simultaneously take to make our own little fake utopias. Uncontrollable personal longing has the potential to damage our own experience of the world and our natural environments. "True fellowship among men must be based upon a concern that is universal. It is not the private interests of the individual that create lasting fellowship among men, but rather the goals of humanity. That is why it is said that fellowship with men in the open succeeds" I-Ching. Our current political and environmental crises are rooted in undisciplined longing. and the sad thing is, we've just not worked out that to be creative and connect to others is where wholeness exists. This is where contentment is. Earthly reality is when we wake up and confront our own ideas about the mirage we long for.

"For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love"
Carl Sagan

Watercolour and charcoal on paper, 1m x 1m, Jessica Shepherd

'What is dark clings to what is light and so enhances the brightness of the latter. A luminous thing giving out light must have within itself something that perseveres; otherwise it will in time burn itself out. Everything that gives light is dependent on something to which it clings, in order that it may continue to shine. Thus the sun and moon cling to heaven, and grain, grass, and trees cling to the earth. So too the twofold clarity of the dedicated man clings to what is right and thereby can shape the world. 

Human life on earth is conditioned and unfree, and when man recognizes this limitation and makes himself dependent upon the harmonious and beneficent forces of the cosmos, he achieves success.  The great man continues the work of nature in the human world with respect to time. Through the clarity of his nature he causes the light to spread farther and farther and to penetrate the nature of man ever more deeply.' I Ching

With thanks to Amaya and Vida for all their help and guidance on this line of enquiry.