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.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Becoming Blue VIII: Meconopsis - HIDING

You left me spent in the blue.

Himilaryan Poppies, watercolour painting, Jessica Shepherd
'27 Degrees', Meconopsis sp, (2019), Watercolour on paper,  J R Shepherd

"A Bumble Bee Clambers into her drunken,
fractured goblet— 
Up the royal carpet of a down-hung, 
Shrivel-edged, unhinged petal, her first-about-to-fall. 

He's in there as she sways. 
He utters thin 
Sizzling beats of difficult enjoyment. 
Her carnival paper skirts, 
Embrace him helplessly. 

Already her dark pod is cooking its drug. 
Every breath imperils her. 
Her crucible"

Big Poppy - Ted Hughes

Meconopsis botanical painting
Close up on work in Progress, 1.5m x 1m, Watercolour on paper. 

The symbolism associated with the Poppy are the signs of magic, fertility and eternal life. The Egyptians included poppies at funerals and in burial tombs. The Greeks used poppies in the shrines of Demeter, goddess of fertility, and Diana, goddess of the hunt. Poppies denote sleep, rest and repose,  the loyalty and faith between lovers and the memory of souls lost.

Meconopsis botanical painting
Close up on work in Progress, 1.5m x 1m, Watercolour on paper.

The Poppy - it grows in the harshest of environments. It is the flower of dreams, of fate, of escape, of seduction, intoxication, transformation, transcendence, of fertility, death and of survival against all odds. And so, as I gritted my teeth for a bumpy summer, I plunged into the almost unnatural blueness of the ever mystical Himalayan Poppy.  I needed to survive against all odds. I needed to temporarily escape. To rest. To have faith in the unknown.

Botanical painting of a poppy
Work in progress, Blue Poppy, 1.5m x 1m, J R Shepherd, Inky Leaves 2019

So here I am, post Hydrangea and Sun Orchid, still wanting to find ways of painting the illusion, the invisible, that thing that is unknown to us, and naturally I am finding this impossible. The problem with blue is there are no constraints. To have a constraint is usually a good thing when creating because you are forced to problem-solve and it's usually during these times when good work is made. At the moment, I am swimming in a sea of illusion and possibility - anything could happen.

As I lap on layers of watercolour I start to feel a little silly at having also retreated back to old methods of painting after having ventured out so boldly in oils, but there's nothing wrong with going back and retracing one's steps.  Things change, things fade and with that, I am left accepting the fact that sometimes something or someone, that can feel really significant has the potential to suddenly disappear like Cobalt Chloride ink and consequently become insignificant.

However, as I sat with this, planning paintings that described the blueness of something fading and disappearing, like the hazy blue that rests on a distant horizon, totally unreachable, forever taunting, something else jumped in and blew me off course. A bolt out of the blue. A flash of light. The unexpected. The turning of clocks. And now blue gets even more deliciously perilous and complicated. So I sat for a few days, desperately trying to sew the holes in my battered Tasmanian sails in preparation for the possibility to be blown off course once again. It seemed I wasn't going to paint the fading of lost souls or a haunting.  To paint what disappears will have to wait, for now I am going to have to paint that bolt of our the blue - another 'event' piece, possibly to sit alongside the giant Agapanthus.

Meconopsis botanical painting
'27 degree Cross", (Meconopsis sp.), Work in Progress, 1.5m x 1m, Watercolour on paper. 

Summer set lip to earth's bosom bare,
And left the flush'd print in a poppy there;
Like a yawn of fire from the grass it came,

And the fanning wind puff'd it to flapping flame.
Till it grew lethargied with fierce bliss,
And hot as a swink├Ęd gipsy is,
And drowsed in sleepy savageries,
With mouth wide a-pout for a sultry kiss.

A child and man paced side by side,
Treading the skirts of eventide;
But between the clasp of his hand and hers
Lay, felt not, twenty wither'd years.
The Poppy, Francis Thompson

'27 degree Cross", (Meconopsis sp.), Work in Progress, 1.5m x 1m, Watercolour on paper. 

However, no sooner had I got my sails up in preparation, did this Promethean-like bolt that appeared also disappear! As I sat wondering how I managed to manifest two really painful disappearing events one after the other I realised that I just had to acknowledge that there were higher forces at play which were beyond my control and this time, unlike in Australia, I really did have to comply and let go. I went into hiding. I escaped. I saluted to wheels of time and I embraced the unknown begrudgingly. 

So here I am back to grappling with the fading of things, their absence and the invisible, and as I do this, I find myself becoming invisible. Like the Anubis, I still feel I am in between worlds. Big, meaningful, yet confusing things keep happening to me and I am becoming frightened and weary. The consequence of this has led me to retreat, something I never used to do. Such a retreating will be why I probably won't publish these blog posts until quite some time as passed since the time I wrote them. It's as if I am hiding in time, using it's constant as a type of shield. I feel too open, too visible. With my presence on the internet almost making it nigh impossible to actually physically disappear, I find myself using time rather than geography to conceal myself. "Hiding is a way of staying alive. Hiding is a way of holding ourselves until we are ready to come into the light" (David Whyte). Timing is everything.

I will perform a dead defying magic show 
For those of you who wanna go some place else 
I'm brave but I can't save you 
From the things you won't change for yourself

Angus and Julia Stone 'Death Defying Acts'

botanical art
Work in Progress, Blue Poppies in Perthshire, 1m x 1m, Watercolour and charcoal on paper

Over the course of her life, Louise Bourgeois would emphasize the importance of solitude to the creative process. As an artist who strove to be “a woman without secrets” as she told art historian Christiane Meyer-Thoss that moments of seclusion and silence offered time to reflect on her emotions, which would then became the subject of her intimate body of work. Bourgeois ascribed to Ernst Kris’s belief that “I have to hide, otherwise I will be trapped". The act of hiding offers safety, freedom, and, in turn, inspiration.

'Lament', (Meconopsis sp.) Watercolour, charcoal and gouache on paper,  1m x 1m (2019)

As I hid and made myself invisible I painted two new pieces, two very different from one another. Poppies on white and poppies on black. The Poppies on white I decided to title '27 Degrees' for the petals of the central flower make a cross. A destined cross which is also present in the astrology charts of said event. Poppies on white is about a bolt out of the blue. It's divine intervention. A happy, fated event. Poppies on black, on the other hand, is about hiding and about not being seen properly. Of having to flower in the darkness. As with a lot of my paintings, there's a 'doublet' - two flower heads which have lost their petals. They stand there naked, slightly deformed, with a skirt of anthers, not really looking at one another.

I am a kaleidoscopic flower, 
blossoming inwardly." 

Section of a poem written by J R Shepherd (June 2019)

"Hiding is underestimated. We live in a time of the dissected soul, the immediate disclosure; our thoughts, imaginings and longings exposed to the light too much, too early and too often, our best qualities squeezed too soon into a world already awash with ideas that oppress our sense of self and our sense of others. What is real is almost always to begin with, hidden, and does not want to be understood by the part of our mind that mistakenly thinks it knows what is happening. What is precious inside us does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence. Hiding is an act of freedom from the misunderstanding of others". (David Whyte).

Blue Poppy painting illustration
'27 degree Cross", (Meconopsis sp.), 1.5m x 1m, Watercolour on paper. 

As Blue continues, I now understand several important things. Firstly, although traditionally looking for the blue flowers in the Romantic sense of Novalis' book which is about longing and the love for a partner, Blue is predominantly a journey of self-discovery. In these early years of Blue Flower, I am having to learn more about myself than anything else. Learning how to become integrated. and the ways in which we can do this by pushing ourselves beyond our fears and learning more about the hidden aspects of our psyche. I guess that's the only time when we find out what we are capable of.

The blue mountains near my new studio. 

In my retreating of the world, I moved house, where I currently live alone with the swallows and the bats. The silence is deeply nourishing, as is the cleaner air, new walks and space. I have so much space. Space to create. Space to dream.

The blue lake near my new studio

As I sit alone hiding in my 'tower' painting ideas and possibilities I often wonder if I am really living. If this is a 'full' life? During these times, my mind is brought back to the real female icon of Romantic literature, the Lady of Shallot, and how she looks into her glassy mirror, unable to exist in, or see, the real world through her own eyes. I have always resonated with this poem and it's a deep sense of longing to participate in life and to belong. I long to be touched, to be held, to be seen. It's why I entitled one of my Tasmanian pieces 'Elaine the Fair' for that is Shallot's other name. Although the mirror brings the world to the Lady, it's nothing like the real thing. She sees images as a sort of half-world. The mirror in Tennyson's poem feels like a symbol of her intense, terrible isolation from the world. Something I thought painting might resolve when I originally embarked on this journey, and yet still, this poem remains to be something that I resonate with pretty strongly, if not more so.

She's also popped up annually since I started Blue. I remember seeing a painting of Elaine the Fair when I was with the Cheshire Cat back in the summer of 2017 at Masterpiece, and then she was referenced again when I was down under with the Time Traveller on my birthday. I had drunk too much and was laying on a chaise longue and his mother said I looked like the Lady of Shallot. Funny how these archetypes play out...

"For me—this withering flower of dreams"

The Poppy - Francis Thompson

Blue Poppy by Jessica Rosemary Shepherd botanical art
Poppy, Work in progress, watercolour and charcoal on paper, 56 x 76 cm

Tennyson's clear mirror shows the "shadows of the world". This idea of a clear mirror full of shadows is a bit of a paradox, but then what is in the mirror isn't real. I mean, is she even real living such a half life? What has always intrigued me about this hidden lady, is her talent, for she can turn the sights of the mirror into an image in her web. It's because of this that I often think of the mirror and weaving web as metaphors for the life of an artist. As an artist, The Lady of Shallot can represent life, but she can't be a part of it. Artists, in a sense, are always reproducing life from a distance. You can see how, if this went too far, it might make someone feel alienated and lonely and maybe even cursed, like the Lady of Shalot.

As this Romantic poem draws to a close, the mirror, ironically, eventually shows the Lady the thing that will break its spell over her. When Lancelot comes trotting into the mirror, everything changes for the Lady. Even a shadow of him in a mirror is enough to let her know she has to change her life.

A blue Lady of Shallot, painted by Sidney Harold Meteyard in 1913

This summer something cracked the mirror. I saw a magical, intriguing shadow. And as I put the finishing touches on each poppy petal I am left wondering how long must I hide in this tower, or choose to? If I'll ever have the guts to I come out of the tower? And if I will ever be seen for who I really am all the while I straddle a four/five-dimensional world as the medium and artist?

Botanical paintings
The four sun orchids now all framed by Wagner Framemakers in Hobart, Tasmania.
Ready for an exhibiting this July at the Salamanca Arts Centre in Hobart with the Bob Brown Foundation

With thanks to Gareth, Amaya and Nicholas.


David Whyte, ‘HIDING’ From a book of essays 'CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words'

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Becoming Blue VII: Hydrangea - DISCORDANCE

Caught in the headlights.
The illicit, tempting, opulence that lurks on our quiet streets.

As the snow melted on the Sierra Nevada, plumes of acrid, dirty smoke rose from blackened fields and were contorted by the afternoon winds. As I crossed the field of smoke, phantoms appeared. Flickers of unpainted pieces flashed in my closed eyes with the making and collapsing of little dust devils all along the powdery track. I am still transforming. I crawled out of a chrysalis, but I am still shedding skins. It's been an incredibly enriching week. I've learned a lot about myself. Yesterday I found myself collapsed in a heap on the cold tiled floor listening to loud music, drinking wine and smoking an old roll-up which I had discovered in a tin that hadn't been opened for 15 years,. Then I danced for five hours, achieved very little on a material level and went to bed.

J R Shepherd Inky Leaves

Is this picture of Picasso's, this "hoard 
Of destructions", a picture of ourselves, 

Now, an image of our society? 
Do I sit, deformed, a naked egg, 

Catching at Good-bye, harvest moon, 
Without seeing the harvest or the moon?

Blue Guitar, Wallace Stevens

Hydrangea botanical painting
Hydrangea, watercolour, charcoal and gouache on 640gsm Saunders Waterford paper.
1.5m x 1m. Work in Progress.

There will be time to murder and create
T.S. Eliot

The next day I found myself sipping wine for breakfast, which was when I realized that I actually needed to consume something. It was 3pm and I was loosing it again. By 4pm I had put the glass away and made myself a meal and decided to go for a walk in the searing heat of Granada. I was at the time contemplating the symbology of me walking through metaphorical fires with people I love and wondered who would actually walk through with me. Who had the guts. Then, about 20 minutes into my walk I was confronted with thick yellow smoke and the sound of cracking. A real fire...

"Things as they are 
Are changed upon the blue guitar"

It was so thick that smoke and it bellowed menacingly at me. I had no idea how long it would go on for in the opposite direction as the wind was not only whipping it up into a frenzy but equally pushing it backward away from me. I marched onward. I am swimming in the Romantic Movement, the place of extreme mental states and transcendence. This is my territory. Keep pushing membranes Jessica.

Close up on the Hydrangea. Watercolour, charcoal and gouache on paper.

Ten minutes later, with lungs coated and a fierce brow of gritty determination, I came out of the other side with 'you're everything I wanted, your just another part of me' running through my head and a kaleidoscope of pictures waiting to be painted. 

The month of June trembled like a butterfly
Pablo Neruda

A productive walk. In a lubricated state with a skirt riding up my backside, I managed to plan out four paintings. None of which are my normal thing. All completely new and coming from somewhere newly discovered. This is a wondrous egg-like place. I won't self destruct - I have work to do, but it is fun to push the veil. I dislike conforming anyway. I need to be free.

Hydrangea on the drawing board.

'when you work out where to draw the line 
Your guess is as good as mine'


As I unpacked the boxes I had sent to Spain during Christmas this April, I felt a tightness around my throat. A wallet of spent receipts, a giant orchid book, meat raffle tickets, crushed flowers. It was a long dry hour. Then I turned 180 degrees and looked back at the unfinished paintings sitting in the rack behind me waiting to be uncovered. 'I'll do that tomorrow' I said to myself, already feeling like I'd gone through enough for one afternoon.

The next day I confronted the Hydrangea in the rack. As I peeled back the layers of blue cotton fabric and transparent plastic I began to weep. By the time I'd uncovered half of the unfinished painting, I was on the floor, head hung low, palms on a cold tiled floor, like Dorian Gray I was defeated. These paintings are most certainly Horcruxes and at that moment I was faced with an old reflection of myself. Heaven knows how I will ever finish it.

In Japan, the Hydrangea has a historical tradition behind it linked to apologies and gratitude. An emperor supposedly gave Hydrangeas to a maiden he loved as an apology for neglecting her when other business took up all his attention. The Victorians were not as fond of the Hydrangea and considered it a mostly negative plant. The flowers were sent to declare someone a boaster or braggart, or to chastise someone for their frigidity in turning down a claim of romantic love. It also means frigidity because of the Medieval belief that young women who grew or picked Hydrangeas would never find a husband. 

Diary entry mid April:

"Progressed sun seconds away from conjuncting venus and uranus in the first house. It's got to burst at some point, something has to give. Keep pushing. Don't lose faith. As I alienate myself more and more, pushing friends away and turning into a God awful grump, I refuse to lose the vision but am willing to lose myself. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices. Blue is taking a lot already. It is no Leafscape. Studio is a mess. Paper everywhere again. I have taken to wearing a blue apron to try to help me sink into work mode. Uniforms can be good."

End of April:

botanical art
Work in progress back in September 2018.

"Buffering, I still feel like Windows 10 installing updates. Can't get traction. Everything is taking longer than usual. I miss Tasmania. I miss oils. I miss the freedom, the unknown, the otherworldliness and the vulnerability. I was so vulnerable there. It cut deep. I was beginning to think that the island is drifting away from me and that my return might not happen after all, but tonight I can say that I would do anything to go back there and paint orchids in oils again. I must get back."


It's now early May and already a lot has happened. Persephone was released from the underworld, and Demeter is happy - all the flowers came into bloom. And as is often the case, as soon as one door closed, another opened. The High Priestess now dressed in blue sits elegantly in front of a thin veil decorated with pomegranates and with her feet firmly planted on the soil of Granada, she collided with a Magus. This was not expected.

The outpourings of this collision are going to take some time to work out. It's a story that will evolve with the movements of stars. Despite unexpected doors opening, I still go to bed with Tasmania in my heart and tears in my eyes. It's half one in the morning, and unlike every other night, this time I decided to grab my laptop and do something constructive rather than lay there trying to make sense of Tasmania and whatever it was that happened to me down there. The night before I touched all the stones I had collected from varying locations and brought back with me. They felt strange as if they didn't belong in this dimension. Did I go to a different dimension? The dimension of dreams?

Row, row, row your boat. 
Gently down the stream. 
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily. 
Life is but a dream.

Text message sent to a friend in the middle of the night:

"It's fading like a dream. I want to paint this feeling. The fading. Not so much the haunting now, but that thing of memories and of them fading."

This is the way the world ends 
Not with a bang but a whimper.
T. S. Eliot

Hydrangea illustration
Touching up areas.I discovered that this piece required me to use white gouache with the watercolours in the flowers, in order to create that chalky texture so commonly associated with Hydrangea flowers. 

As time ticked on, the Magus, like the Time Traveller and my entry into Tasmania, disappeared. As I sat in a sea of longing for people and places, I started to think about endings. How I go to places and spend time with people that are holding onto some sort of darkness and pain, possibly in order to channel it into artwork. My obsession with Tasmania is probably about that. I remember feeling when I was there that I could die at any moment. That I was fighting for my life. I could hear all the voices of tribes who died without a whisper. I could feel sadness. Maybe I put myself through this to create some sort of sacred bond with the land and with people. To feel its/their pain, or the pain I bring in.

I dreamt of Anubis a year before Australia and again whilst there. Anubis 'weigh the hearts' of the dead. Is this what I am doing? Anubis is a Greek rendering of this god's Egyptian name. Before the Greeks arrived in Egypt, around the 7th century BC, the god was known as Anpu or Inpu. The root of the name in ancient Egyptian language means "a royal child." Inpu has a root to "inp," which means "to decay." The god was also known as "The Dog who Swallows Millions," and "Master of Secrets" (12th house Scorpio). Anubis was sometimes associated with Hades in the underworld. I feel like an Anubis with one foot in each world. For me, art is shamanic - it is medium based and the artist is the medium. I am beginning to understand what it means to be a medium, to be a Magus myself. 

There are those who create only to destroy, and those that might feed on the destruction to create. And I guess here is where we make spinning vortex. We spin creating and destroying, creating and destroying. I hope that now I have realised the destruction I am clearly drawn to, that I might actually be able to make some new, interesting work. Something alchemical that spins.

Well I heard you were (You were a lion) 
About how brave you are 
Well I heard you were (You were still trying) 
Trying to get back to the start 

And we won’t let it into the kitchen 
No we won’t let it into the house 
No we won’t let it through the front door 
'Cause its burning our pretty little heart I

I'm gonna miss you 
Gonna miss you 
And all of the things we should have done 

Angus and Julia Stone 'Heat Beats Slow'

I have finally found the thing that I keep kicking down the street that I referred to in 'The Rabbit Hole'. You could say it's taken me my whole life to understand but it's been a particular focus since Leafscape. I am no longer deluded or in denial. This chasing of Blue and this chasing of myself and of energies and the things I keep bringing in. I have discovered that life is actually really messy, and that mess is so very, very fertile. Maybe I keep subconsciously making mess of things so I can create? A few months ago an artist friend said to me that I was destructive. That I have a habit of charging into people's lives with no warning. That I put the plug into the socket and it inevitably blows up and everyone is left feeling dazed and permanently altered afterward. A bit like chaos - the spinning. Petrol on a raging fire. I come in - the Anubis, the harvester. It's neither destructive or nourishing. It's just a cycle. I was denial about this. I wanted to be perfect. No one's perfect.

 "I live always at the edge of mystery - the boundary of the unknown." 
J. Robert Oppenheimer

Watercolour painting by Jessica Shepherd
Just finishing off the bottom. 'Tipping Point', watercolour, charcoal and gouache on Saunders Waterford paper. 1.5m x 1m

As May came to a close, I was in the middle of having a stern look into the darker more shadowy aspects of my personality and as such, I was finally able to revisit and finish the Hydrangea - a painting I had started with so much hope before my Antipodean adventure. The painting was originally about hope, and it still is in a way, but illusionary hope, false hope, miss-placed hope, or the dreams that are a mere flash in the pan. We all have them - miss placed energies. To me, finally being able to revisit the painting meant that I clearly needed to understand more fully the relationship between creating and destroying in order to finish this piece.

Jessica R Shepherd
Aged 18. 'Chrysalis' (c.2001)
The Hydrangea as a flower that takes me to the front gardens of Western suburbia where it commonly grows - a place I don't particularly enjoy spending too much time in for its apparent fakeness and superficiality. The fact that Hydrangeas can be pink or blue or both in itself is also relevant here - things are not what they ever seem to be. I feel there is always dark matter to any situation, it accounts for 85% of our universe after all.

Betrayed by the dazzling beam of light from a passing car in the early hours of the morning, this massive set of scales, the weigher of hearts, is a revealing of the illicit, tempting, opulence that lurks on even our most quietest of streets.

“Art,” said Edgar Degas, “is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

Tipping Point, Hydrangea sp. 1.5 x 1m.
Jessica Rosemary Shepherd ©

With thanks to Amaya for all her help and guidance.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Becoming Blue VI: Blue Sun Orchid - 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.