Sunday 6 May 2018

Becoming Blue II: Agapanthus - LOVE

'Love, at first sight, is always spoken in the past tense. The scene is perfectly adapted to this temporal phenomenon: distinct, abrupt, framed, it is already a memory... This scene has all the magnificence of an accident: I cannot get over having had this good fortune, to meet what matches my desire'.
- Barthes, A Lover's Discourse Fragments

Botanical art of blue flowers - Inky Leaves
Up close on The Kiss: Onslow Gardens. 2018
I wake up. It's February 11th, I am in Spain and I feel flat. After a cup of tea, I stick my head into my wardrobe to see what I can wear. I have a lunch invitation so my usual 'hermit' wools will not do. The smell of an old fragrance comes out from between the folds of fabric. How I dislike delving into this heap of cotton and viscose. My hand traces the patterns of embroidered flowers, buttons and ribbons. My most prized dresses wait patiently for my return. Reds, yellows, greens and whites. Each garment holds at least one memory. I can feel my throat becoming tight, it's all too much. I am not that girl anymore. As I begin to grieve for a version of myself I grab the nearest black polo-neck, belt, and jeans and shut the door tightly, thanking myself in the process that I left most of last summer's bundle of clothes in the bottom of an English wardrobe. The famous yellow gypsy skirt being the most memory-filled weave of them all. I symbolically ripped a hole it as I hopped over the railings of Onslow Gardens on that fateful night. After the event I felt that I couldn't dispose of the yellow skirt and decided to deal with it another day, stuffing it into a bag at the bottom of my British wardrobe.

Botanical art by Jess Shepherd - agapanthus
The Kiss: Onslow Gardens, J R Shepherd, Botanical watercolour painting, 1.5m x 1m, 2018. SOLD

I guess I am still broken. I suppose we all are to some extent. I miss him. It's taking every ounce of my energy to focus on what I am trying to do, to regroup. Like a car backfiring I have good days and bad days. I stop-start. It's been 12 months since I fell under love's spell and it hasn't faded. It's still as bold and blue as it was the day it encircled me. In my desperate attempt to get these emotions out I have been slowly chipping away at a large painting (above) which has mostly been painted from my imagination. These are the Agapanthus flowers my friend Natasha gave me in Vida's Plimsoll blue flat on Edgeware Road (see the previous post 'Introduction') last August.

'Lost in the warmth
Of the blue heat haze...
Kiss me again
Kiss me
Kiss me again
And again
Greedy lips
Speedwell eyes
Blue Skies...
In beauty's summer
Blue jeans
Around ankles...'

- Derek Jarman, Delphinium Days

As usual, I have played around with the flower heads and the light sources to accentuate the blue petals. I wanted to generate a dark half and a light half and, most importantly have two heads. For me it was essential to have two heads butting or kissing. Your choice - love seems to produce either effect quite sufficiently! It also had to be a big painting; a painted elegy.

'A good elegy is always a conversation between grief and celebration. The grief of the loss of the person and the celebration that you were here at all to share the planet with them'. - David Whyte

Botanical art by Jess Shepherd
The Kiss: Onslow Gardens, J R Shepherd, Botanical painting, 2018. SOLD
'The Kiss: Onslow Gardens' describes an event that took place, a moment of passion, a moment of lust. A lapse in judgment. It is both about love and the lack of it. It is the chaos of kissing, the budding of ideas, of hope and the awkward separateness of two people who don't really know each other. Two stems - two people. One is upright and proud, that's the gentleman, the other is falling, that's me, falling in love or falling into darkness, into grief.

'Some things are meant to be
Take my hand, Take my whole life too
For I can't help falling in love with you
For I can't help falling in love with you'.

- Elvis Presley, Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, and George David Weiss.

This painting is supposed to be claustrophobic, rude and conflicting. The bottom buds are seeking different paths, growing in opposite directions. There is harmony but it is hidden under the spell of the moment. In the spirit of an augmented 4th, buds emerge from the darkness of a Medusa head. The flowers are the same, and yet they are not. Like my leaves, they are trapped in a space too small for them. They are holding one another whilst at the same time crushing one another. Respect has gone out of the window. It's beautiful but also grotesque. The buds in the foreground begin to look otherworldly, alien and mutant. Nothing is quite what it seems.

'And we have this physical experience in loss of falling toward something. It’s like falling in love except it’s falling into grief. And you’re falling towards the foundation that they held for you in your life that you didn’t realize they were holding. And you fall and fall and fall. But then there comes a time when you finally actually start to touch the ground that they were holding for you. And it’s from that ground that you step off into your new life.' - David Whyte.

In English, the word "love," which is derived from Germanic forms of the Sanskrit lubh (desire), is a broad term, which often leads to problems in its true meaning. I find that such issues can be resolved if we consider the Greek terms, eros, philia, and agape in our attempt to categorise love. The term eros (Greek erasthai) is used to refer to that part of love which constitutes a passionate, intense desire for something; it is often referred to as a sexual desire, hence the modern notion of "erotic". In Plato's writings, however, eros is also held to be a common desire that we have in our search for transcendental beauty - the particular beauty of an individual which reminds us of the true beauty that exists in our world.

Detail of the Blue Agapanthus botanical painting
Close up on the Blue Agapanthus flower. J R Shepherd 2018. SOLD
In contrast eros, philia entails a fondness and appreciation of another without the passion. For the Greeks, the term philia incorporated not just friendship, but also loyalties to family, the political community, and a job/skill. Lastly, agape refers to the brotherly love for all humanity and our planet. Agape arguably draws on elements from both eros and philia in that it seeks a perfect kind of love that is at once a fondness, a transcending of the particular, and a passion without the necessity of reciprocity.

'The deeper blue becomes, the more urgently it summons man towards the infinite, the more it arouses in him a longing for purity and ultimately, for the supersensual'. - Kandinsky

Goethe believed that blue was a darkness weakened by light. Scientists believe that it is the light that got lost. For me, it is the colour of our desire. It is there to be lost, to be both far and yet near and to be both light and dark at the same time, like the sky, the sea or the bottom of a swimming pool. When I think of blue I think of Georgia O'Keefe signing her letters 'from the faraway nearby' and still wonder if she was describing a place, or a state of being.

Detail of the Blue Agapanthus botanical illustration
Close up on the Blue Agapanthus painting. Watercolour on Saunders Waterford paper.. 

As humans, I find we live day by day trying to eradicate the paradox of desire from our lives either through consummation or with denial and suppression. It seems we cannot simply watch and listen to the feeling of our desires bubbling inside of us without response. To touch them without grasping.

Western society has lead us to believe that desire as a problem to be solved. We want to close the gap between us and the object of our desire. We don't like the longing and so we don't like the gap. Sadly, we have not been taught how to deal with the distance involved in desire. We don't understand that we can enjoy it in the same way we can enjoy a vista without having to parachute into it... If we could live with our longing in the same way that we take in the beauty of a landscape or the texture of a musical composition I feel we could own that experience much more fully and be more able to deal with loss. As you move, the vanishing point moves - you will never arrive in that place you saw from far away, just as you will never have that person. 'Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs and stories. Something is always far away' Solnit (2005).

'Blue comes to us through silence and mystery and much argument. The word we use for blueness was not in every language and arrived late. In ancient Greek the word for black may have been used for blue.' - Rebecca Solnit

Its now mid-April and my vanishing points have moved. My studio is metamorphosing into a papery version of Francis Bacon's as I continue to work on Blue. I think I might have bitten off more than I could chew with this one. It is no easy task. But then I think how long it took to find the leaves and then I realise planning is everything and good ideas take a long time to come. Picasso shut himself in a barn for 9 months and did 800 drawings before he came up with Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. I am about eight months in and I am no Picasso, but despite this, things are starting to resolve. To make things complicated, in the months between I got places to study for a PhD at both Central St. Martins and the Royal College of Arts and tried moving back to the UK. I did this more out of fear than anything. A safety net in case it all goes wrong and to find a way of being pushed because I felt tired of pushing myself. I know I am not alone in this. There is a huge responsibility that comes with freedom and sometimes it is just easier or less scary to give it to someone else to sort out. To let someone or something else build the structures in your life and control you.

Agapanthus work in progress
Agapanthus botanical painting as a work in progress. 1.5m x 1m. Watercolour on paper. 2018. 

Maybe this is a sign of maturity and my coming to terms with the nuances of melancholy and the complexity of longing. Sometimes we can only have something fully by not grasping. I didn't lose the object of my desire, it's just he is far away and with that, I wonder if we ever really lose anything at all? If we can remember something or someone and carry the picture and sounds of them in our hearts and minds, then really these things are very close, and even in times when you think you have lost or forgotten them, after decades they return to you in the form of a dream and you reminded again, that the object of your desire, the love, was not lost, it was just far away, distant and beyond sight. Such is blue. It cannot be grasped but it lingers. It is not the light that got lost, but the light we forget. The light inside.

'Blue Bottle buzzing
Lazy days
The sky blue butterfly
Sways on the cornflower
Lost in the warmth
Of the blue heat haze
Singing the blues
Quiet and slowly
Blue of my heart
Blue of my dreams
Slow blue love
Of delphinium days'

- Derek Jarman, Delphinium Days

As I edit my second chapter on blue I begin to realise that for me love and grief are two edges of the same sword and go hand in hand. You just can't have one without the other so I had to touch on it. 

'Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.' - David Whyte

The unfolding petals in 'The Kiss: Onslow Gardens' documents a very short segment of time, just a few hours on a warm summer's night - June 28th 2017 - but it took months to paint. It is a painting of lust, but also of loss. For the first stages, I couldn't even see what I was doing with all the tears pouring down my face. My face was as wet as the paper. The first washes were applied back in October 2017. It is now April 2018 and I have only just put in the finishing touches. Despite everything, the 28th June 2017 is still very fresh. It wrangles out of the usual confines of time and space and transcends like the colour blue.  As I apply the last brush strokes I reflect on how one cannot construct a life without being vulnerable and with that, I decide to be a bountiful inhabitant of loss, for it is the only way to love. 

Close up on the Agapanthus, Jess Shepherd
The Medusa head of love


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painting about love and lust
The end of a chapter. The Kiss being wrapped for transport to England - April 2018