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'

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