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.

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