Sunday, 17 February 2019

Becoming Blue: Blue Sun Orchid - THE HAUNTING IV

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. 

Friday, 4 January 2019

Becoming Blue: Blue Sun Orchid - HAUNTING III

The blue man meets the alchemist in the middle of a city. Both standing barefoot on the pavement, they exchange bags. It was all a dream.

Convicts used to call this place ‘The End of the World’. Where I am, there is a place called ‘The Edge of the World’. Beyond this and beyond me, is the largest uninterrupted expanse of ocean in the world. That is quite something to consider. All that blue.

"The moment that we landed there, upon that fatal shore, 
The planters they inspected us, some fifty score or more, 
Then they marched us off like hosses, an' they sold us out of hand, 
They yoked us to the plough, me boys, for to plough Van Diemen's Land. 

As I lay in me bunk one night, a dreamin' all alone, 
I dreamt I wuz in Liverpool, 'way back in Marybone, 
Wid me own true love beside me, an' a jug o' ale in me hand 
Then awoke so broken-hearted, lyin' on Van Diemen's Land."

I have been hiding in Marrawah (translation: number one) for three days. I am no longer shaking. I am happy here. The sun is shining. I might go and ask if I can borrow a push bike so I can cycle to the beach.

Bicycle ride number II.
When I visited this part of Tasmania on November 1st the place seemed rather different. It was stormy and windy. There were four seasons in a day. On my last night here, a thick, spooky sea mist blanketed the landscape so that you couldn’t see a thing. It felt mysterious and at times, perilous. All the roads here have a dark romance about them. I am particularly fond of ‘Wuthering Heights Road’ and ‘Rebecca Road’. Yesterday I walked down ‘Loverock Road’ and of course there is ‘Comeback Road’. I wonder if there is a ‘Jane Eyre Passage’ or a ‘Dorian Gray Point’? 

Went out for a bicycle ride, my first one... To nowhere. Alone.

I found a diary entry for the 4th November on a scrap of paper which describes my entry into Australia and why no one received any updates until now. At the time I decided to fully embrace the wild. To let go and fall, to see if Providence would swoop down and catch me. This is the life of the Romantic. You have to go to these places in order to paint them.

Chasing summer, chasing light, chasing blue.
When I arrived in Australia, the sun was rising and I was given a blue house key to number 5. I was full of anticipation. I expected a depth, but it so far hasn’t been an easy ride. Blue tears of awe, grief, loss, pain, joy, and confusion. Buds tightly coiled unwilling to open up. The wind howls. The heath rages. The storm pulses and then there’s the famous blue coat. Blue joy turned to a loss in an instant. Nipped in the bud. Love lost. Dreaming of a future that won’t unfold. I am uncoiling still. Un-coming. Blue moves the goal posts. This is a project that moves, that evolves. I am moving, traveling and the situation moves. Something dark in the Tarkine Forest. A place of contrasts. My fingers are full of dirt. My hands scratched. Rebellious, the soles of my feet still scabbed from walking barefoot a week ago. Emotionally hurt, my insides are ripped. I feel ripped. The trees are ripped. The trees will be felled. This forest is for logging.”

Romanticism is an artistic and intellectual movement that originated in the late 18th Century. It stressed strong emotion, imagination, freedom from classical art forms, and rebellion against social conventions. Romanticism's celebration of euphoria and sublimity has always been dogged by an equally intense fascination with melancholia, insanity, crime and a shady atmosphere; with the options of ghosts and the irrational. The name "Dark Romanticism" was given to this form by the literary theorist Mario Praz in his study of the genre “The Romantic Agony’’. Considering this, I guess it is only correct that my foray into Romanticism would lead me to this more shadowy point. To a landscape covered in myth, magic, and murder with a man who would fade into the mists and a flock of orchids that kept their insides hidden. I even met a witch during my first week in Tasmania. A Scorpio, with a rich accent, she was hiding deep in the Tarkine Forest when I stumbled in on November 3rd.

Arthur River meandering deep into the  mysterious Tarkine Forest. Photo taken on my first trip to Tas.

I am slowly being rescued from a fall by Michael Nyman and Jeff Beal in my new pop-up studio. The table is covered in paints, cups of tea, diaries… many, many diaries of which I have dipped into repeatedly. These have helped me to join up the ends of a peculiar story. As I listen to the notes chime across a stave, I find myself being incredibly grateful to have finally been lent my first set of speakers since I arrived in Australia. I needed the music to find my flow. Now, thoughts and feelings are slowly bubbling up ready for filing. ‘Dreams of a Journey’, ‘Trysting Fields’ and ‘An Eye for Optical Theory’. The later of which I find is great to paint to.

Current Palette... Moving away from watercolour

I want to paint a sensual world. Primal law. The rhythm of a landscape and the rhythm of our hearts. Every human here has a space-time machine inside of them. It can open doors as fast as it can close them. Our hearts are powerful and provide us with the key to all things hidden. “A beating heart drives us downward far down to the primal ground, what is encountered on this journey must be taken most seriously when it is perfectly fused with the appropriate artistic means in visible form because it is not a question of merely reproducing what is seen; the secretly perceived can be made visible” Paul Klee. In his work, the spirit of nature and the spirit of the unconscious became inseparable. His paintings have drawn him and draw us, the onlookers, into their magic circle.

Close up on blues... as they dry

I feel I was drawn into a magic circle of sorts. As I begin to inhabit an entire house alone, I am being constantly reminded that someone else is supposed to be here with me. Their ghost lurks in every room. I catch myself talking to them as if they were here. Maybe they are? Secretly. As I start to draw out the first painting, I change tracks. The one I wanted to paint has been put aside, instead, I am going for something far more haunting. The haunting of Tasmania. A place of ghosts, lost tribes and of aboriginal dream time. Dream time…

As I fetch a poem I wrote on the 12th November I discover to my astonishment that I was already thinking about a haunting back then.

The Haunting

Dew drips from a withered blade
That burns brightly at its tip
Tightly closed blue cups of ecstasy
that hold a thousand delights

A tightly knitted corset of opal green
Covering layers of shimmering blue satin
and a sweet, sticky nectary

The bit before courting.
Just exploring one another with words.
Just being
in a pub
drinking beer
and not really worrying about anything in particular.

The early days, which are so short 
Within weeks, the Delphiums will bloom
Along with his Campanula.
Tall, heady spikes will sway in the breeze

But on a heath shrouded in the sea’s soul,
The buds of the Tasmanian sun orchid,
Shall remain tightly closed
Their dangerous depths hidden
Frozen in time
Like an iceberg


Jung drew an analogy between the psyche and light on the electromagnetic spectrum. The centre of the visible light spectrum (i.e., yellow) corresponds to consciousness, which grades into unconsciousnesses at the red and blue ends. Red corresponds to basic unconscious urges and biological instinct, which merges with its chemical and physical conditions. The blue end of the spectrum represents spiritual ideas; and the archetypes, exerting their influence from beyond the visible, corresponding to the invisible realm of ultra-violet. Jung suggested that not only do the archetypal structures govern the behaviour of all living organisms, but that they were contiguous with structures controlling the behaviour of inorganic matter as well. This is where I find myself, in the deep blue end of ancient rocks, crystals, caves and dreams.

My pop-up studio in Tasmania. Making headway with the first piece.
Twenty years ago, around the same time I had the premonitory dreams I discussed in my previous post, my mother bought me a present. It was blue-green, had a bell and two wheels. I called her Neptune after the planet and rode her everywhere. She was my freedom. I remember cycling along the promenade on several occasions when I was 14/15 years old thinking ‘I can now go anywhere and at any time, the world is mine to conquer’. Twenty years on, I find myself strapping a blue helmet onto my head and jumping onto a bicycle in my determination to get around this new landscape without a car. I had forgotten about the feeling Neptune had given me all those years ago, despite the fact I still ride her in Spain. As soon as I found myself peddling along a ‘Postman Pat’ sort of road I got the feeling. I suddenly felt like I could go anywhere and could feel those places properly. Embrace the wind, taste the flowers, smell the sea.

First night in Tasmania, I go for a walk alone and it greets me with this

Dressed in blue, the time traveller hands over a stripey blue bag. Dressed in white, the alchemist hands over a white bag. They stand there, trying to eye the other up in heavy Australian heat. Her hands shake in time with the clicking of nearby traffic lights and the parrots of her dreams sing. Will they ever meet again? Will the alchemist summon the time traveler? Will the time traveler summon the alchemist? Is it even in their control or were their paths just mapped out and they blindly followed them in good faith and hope? Maybe it really was just a dream, the ticking of a heart, an opening and a closing between curtains of deep blue velvet.

The ‘massa confusa’ of alchemy.


With thanks to Susan for giving me her copy of Jung when I visited Canberra. Your book has helped me immensely, especially as I grapple through the crash at the end of this Australian entry wave.

Thanks also to Lorraine for giving me a book on Greek Mythology when I was in Hanmer Springs, New Zealand.