Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Beginning with the Birds

I don’t really celebrate the new year. As I’ve said before, I dislike fireworks; and, contrarian that I am, if everyone else is doing it, I’d really rather not. (Needless to say, I went to bed early last night.)

I don’t see that the Gregorian calendar has much relevance to reality. It’s an abstract system that has been imposed on the natural cycle of the year. It does makes more sense in the northern hemisphere, where the new year comes in the midst of the winter dark, but here in Australia the summer light and brashness of the celebrations grates on my nerves.

My aversion has been heightened this time round by the events of the last few months. Australia is experiencing an ecological crisis with the bushfires on top of a decade-long drought and some of the hottest days on record, with no decent rain in sight. So many people and communities have been affected. Yet what concerns me most is the ecological destruction. Ecologists estimate that around 480 million animals have died (and this doesn’t include trees and plants). Add that number to the millions of fish who died last year in the drying-dying rivers of western NSW, and it doesn’t seem like the right time to celebrate. Too much has been lost. And the fires still rage, and the drought goes on. The numbers will continue to rise. I’m not sure how I am going to come to terms with the grief of this ongoing catastrophe.

Yet this morning I took a detour from my usual walk and went to the lake, and what I saw has given me some hope. Yes, nearby there are charred landscapes which will take years and perhaps even decades to regenerate, the fires in some places having been so fierce. Still, right here is life doing what it does.

An eastern great egret (identified by the prominent kink in the neck) was standing in the shallows, fishing, and seemingly waiting for me. I have never been so close before.

Meanwhile superb fairy wrens were skittering along the shore, and a black cockatoo flew by, calling sadly.

Later I watched as a wren youngster was fed tidbits by her mother. The undergrowth was alive with the musical trills of a large family of these tiny birds.

And when I finally arrived home I was met by the gaze of a curious young rosella. 

I have no idea what 2020 will bring. I wish only to work on my health and make more art—both challenges I am very uncertain about. Yet the birds have given me hope. Life will go on living, despite the massive changes that are happening here and everywhere else around the world. 

This is a time of so many endings, I’ll grasp what beginnings I can.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

The Accumulation Of Small Things

With my ability to write as I had been a few years ago at the lowest of low ebbs (and practically gone), it seems like another year has passed by without the achievement of much. I’ve posted much less often here than I would have liked. And yet, image-making has become possible, when it was a source of inaction and frustration for so many years. 

 Looking back at all of the artworks I have created this year, starting with Necklace of Mouths, I can see a progression of forms and ideas. Each painting has taught me something, and gradually I’ve been developing a methodical way of working, completing things bit by bit, day by day. 

That said, the reality is that most of the time I dwell within in-between periods of inactivity, some of them a time of well-earned rest and gestation of new ideas; but most times seemingly empty, and very difficult to endure. But what has constantly surprised me is that I keep trying again and again. I go into my studio and thumb through books, reading and absorbing imagery, and I scribble down ideas. Sometimes I just stare into space, or get distracted by birds in the garden. And sometimes I avoid my studio altogether and languish in bed. Yet somehow the work keeps coming, even when I think I have lost all faith, all ability. For that I am grateful. 

I sometimes worry that I am repeating myself—the same words, themes, images—over and over again. But perhaps that’s just the way I work, within ‘a feminine symbolic which privileges multiplicity, plurality and connection, “ebb and flow, multiple beginnings, and multiple paths…doubling back”, as Luce Irigaray described women’s subjectivity (1). 

I like this way of understanding the seasons of creative life. I’ve doubled back and started again so many times, exploring old ground, drawing more meaning out of what came before, refining and expanding, creating layers and layers of material that I will never finish excavating. There has been an accumulation of small things this year, built upon my Witchlines work from last year, as well as upon the art I made and the dreams I had half a lifetime ago! I guess that’s quite an achievement after all.

These are my favourite artworks from this year:

Despite my often wordless state, a few poems have found their way through:

I had another story published in the Heroines anthology. Hurrah!
And I have even written some wise things, which I really should try to keep in mind:

With words I can defy my inner critic, and defy the powers that be that dictate how I should think and feel, and how I should even perceive and understand the world. I can defy my own sense of helplessness. This is a kind of healing magic. (From (Not) Being & (Not) Doing)

I have no idea what next year will bring, but I intend to keep gathering ideas, images and words, small though they may be, to build the soil from which I continue to grow. 

1. Dr. Sarah Nicholson, The Evolutionary Journey of Woman: From the Goddess to Integral Feminism, Integral Publishers: Tucson, Arizona, 2013, p. 26

Wednesday, 4 December 2019


Initially, I felt forlorn about this painting. It did not excite me like other images I have made this year, and a number of things went wrong paint-wise. Yet after sitting with her for a while—by which I mean ignoring her—I find I don’t dislike her quite so much. Mistakes aside, she’s not so bad after all. In a fallow time, creatively, she is at least something. Though if she is the universe, she is also everything.

Universe, watercolours and gouache on gesso prepared paper (2019)
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