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.