Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Becoming Blue VI: 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:

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