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.