Saturday, 1 June 2019

Wise Words: To Know the Dark

For the first day of winter here in the southern hemisphere, this little poem seems apt. 

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

(Wendell Berry, New Collected Poems, Counterpoint: Berkley, 2012, p. 121)

Monday, 20 May 2019

The Lost Days

There are struggles with physical limitation in illness, the pain, weakness, and fatigue that so quickly erode our pride and aspirations and make simple tasks, even breathing, so difficult. But the pressures of these limitations call forth a deeper struggle which is ongoing within us but usually unconscious—that of the self in its efforts to be, to unfold and fulfill its purpose. 
~ Kat Duff (1)

* * *     

I’ve not been well for a number of weeks, and consequently I’ve barely set foot in my studio, let alone been able to work on anything. It’s strange how the onset of illness causes interests and aspirations to slip away to be replaced by apathy and meaninglessness. It’s painful. Yet for all its harshness, this lack of purpose is itself a self-protective message from the body, saying, You must rest.

I’ve rested and done very little. Still, there is a sense of loss at the days that have been consumed by illness, each day blurring into the next, such that there are few events to anchor memory on. It amazes me that autumn is almost over. Where has the time flown to?


It seems that I can trace the passage of the last few months through the paintings I have made. Creativity was beginning to flow more easily. To not create anything for weeks leaves an emptiness that begs to be filled somehow, but it brings with it an all-familiar stuckness. It took such effort to begin to create images, and now I have to begin yet again, not knowing what I am capable of.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés says: ‘Do your art. Generally a thing cannot freeze if it is moving. So move. Keep moving.’ (2) I think this is good advice. Yet how does it apply to someone with a chronic illness who needs to cease moving from time to time? It is all the more difficult to keep a creative practice alive when there are often long periods of not working that must be endured, and a deep sense of doubt that returns with every retreat from activity. I become scared that I will never have a good idea, never be inspired. I descend into a depression that makes me wonder if I will ever be creative again. 


It’s therefore just as strange that when I begin to return to some kind of wellness—meagre though it may be—I feel what I can only describe as a sense of euphoria. Joy begins to surge tentatively through my veins. I can’t say where it comes from, for the current state of the world still angers and upsets me, so it feels a little incongruous. I suppose it must be the energy of life, for life always wants to live, even when it seems an impossibility.  

So, I’m spending time in my studio once more, taking some cautious steps back into art-making. I trust that work will emerge again soon.

To be honest, though, I haven’t quite done nothing recently. I’ve knitted one beanie in readiness for the fast-approaching winter, and am working on a second. 


And I have begun reading a book that I hope will bring me some inspiration—Susan Griffin’s account of her own experience of illness, What Her Body Thought: A Journey into the Shadows. As she says, ‘the truth is that illness … uncovers hidden reserves of strength.’ (3) 

I suppose that is why I continue on, trying to make up for the lost days, and saving what inspiration I can for the next fallow time I will endure.


References
1. Kat Duff, The Alchemy of Illness, Bell Tower: New York, 1993, p. 71
2. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves: Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman, Rider: London, 1992, p. 183
3. Susan Griffin, What Her Body Thought: A Journey into the Shadows, HarperSanFrancisco: New York, 1999, p. 43

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

An Ode to Brain Fog

I can’t remember where I put my mind 
what thought I was last thinking 
left unfinished, open-ended 
dangling 
over the edge of 
nothing

I can’t remember what it feels like to be 
fully awake and alive 
knowing there is a path to follow 
scattered with experiences and emotions

There are a great many things I can’t recall 
or just don’t care to acknowledge at all


The spark’s gone out and I can’t see a thing
My life’s gone dim and I don’t know when I’ll live again

But life’s a funny thing for it just keeps going 
even when the going’s rough 
because at the core of it there is 

something

(A little seed of defiance?)


There must be a reason for this fog 
for the dimming of mind 
for the enclosure of self into 
a small space 
all fuzzy round the edges


I don’t understand 
but I let things be

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Meinrad Craighead 1936–2019


Today I learned of the death of the artist-mystic Meinrad Craighead at the age of 83.

Born Charlene Marie Craighead in 1936 in Arkansas, she lived a remarkable life, teaching art in Albuquerque, then Italy and Spain, before spending fourteen years as a Benedictine nun in Stanbrook Abbey in England. It was there that she took the name Meinrad, after her mother’s great uncle, who had been a monk in Switzerland. (He is said to cure people.) In 1983 she returned to the US, settling near the Rio Grande in Albuquerque. 

The Moons of the Vernal Equinox (from The Litany of the Great River, 1991) 
It is only in the past year or so that I have discovered Meinrad’s art, and watched the short videos made by Amy Kellum, Praying with Images and God Got Bigger, which I know I will continue to return to whenever I am feeling particularly uninspired. They do not fail to invigorate me, to show me what is possible, to make me want to keep seeking, keep trying, to be receptive and ready, and to create from that vast space of openness.

Though she seemed a small, unassuming woman, she was intimately connected with the wild, with the spirits of animals and the land around her, and the often overwhelming nature of God the Mother, who is certainly not just sweetness and light. Her work is beautiful, strange, and sometimes confronting in it’s depiction of birth and death, dream and transformation. It links spirit, woman and nature into a seamless weave of divine immanence.

Crow Mother Over the Rio Grande (from The Litany of the Great River, 1991)
What I also love about Meinrad was that her studio was a shrine, and her art practice was ritual. Her approach to her work, as a sacred calling, as a communication with the many spirits she was in contact with, is an inspiration. 

She wrote:

My personal vision of God the Mother, incarnated in my mother and her mother, gave me, from childhood, the clearest certainty of woman as the truer image of Divine Spirit. Because she was a force living within me, she was more real, more powerful than the remote Fathergod I was educated to have faith in. I believed in her because I experienced her.


I draw and pain from my own myth of personal origin. Each painting I make begins from some deep source where my mother and and grandmother, and all my fore-mothers, still live; it is as if the line moving from pen or brush coils back to the original Matrix. Sometimes I feel like a cauldron of ripening images where memories turn into faces and emerge from my vessel. So my creative life is itself an image of God the Mother and her unbroken story of emergence in our lives. (From the introduction to Meinrad Craighead, The Mother’s Songs: Images of God the Mother, Paulist Press: Mahwah, New Jersey, 1986)

I feel so lucky that I have two of her books (which are mostly out of print and difficult to find). I will treasure them and remember Meinrad every time I return to their pages for inspiration and guidance.

Farewell, Meinrad. Journey well on the next stage of your being. 

Throne (from The Mother's Songs: Images of God the Mother, 1986)

Friday, 5 April 2019

Wise Words: The Sacred Image

We cannot know or even imagine the nature of the consciousness which is the universe. All we can do is formulate an image of what we conceive as divine in relation to the limitations of our own consciousness. We do not know how or when the goddess-or-god image first arose, whether from dreaming sleep or from waking vision. All that can be said is that the experience of divinity exists in the soul and that the soul insists on making an image of it because, through that image, it feels itself related to something greater than itself. The image is sacred, for it is this above all that binds that part of the psyche incarnated in time and space to the unseen dimension that enfolds it.

(Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image, Arkana: London, 1991, p. 484)

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Rainmaker

Rain has fallen recently, out west in the drought-stricken places, and the early weeks of autumn in the mountains have been cool and damp. 


From thoughts of rain has come my latest work of art: Rainmaker

Rainmaker, watercolours on gesso prepared paper (2019)
As I slowly read The Language of the Goddess by Marija Gimbutas recently, two images of Neolithic figurines stood out and combined to form a vision of blue and watery life-giving. The first is a masked figure—I love her face!—from southern Italy (c. 5300 BC); the second is a figure with streams flowing down her body, from north-east Hungary (c. 5000 BC).

 

In my own way, I united these figures, and included: meanders, which symbolise water and the Bird Goddess; Snake, as life force (amongst a host of other meanings); tri-lines/the number three, which represent totality, abundance, triple sources and triple springs, along with being associated with the birth/life-giving functions of the Goddess; and the open mouth as the Divine Source.

As Gimbutas writes, ‘the realm of the Goddess is the mythic watery sphere’ (p. 25) and ‘The Bird Goddess was the Source and Dispenser of life-giving moisture’ (p. 29). 

This work did present some challenges. I had to discover how she wanted to be depicted, which meant some exploratory drawings; and then I needed to work out how to paint her, which was something of an adventure in itself. In the end, I’m so happy with how she has turned out. 


May rain continue to fall where it is needed, and the wellspring never run dry.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Whence She Grew

It took three attempts to birth this image, but here she is.


My first attempt was short-sighted, for I quickly realised that, as the snakes and tree roots are quite stylised, the tree should be so too. I rethought things, came up with a new drawing, and began painting again. However, I did not prepare for the second attempt with the same sequence of colours that I used on the first, and was not happy with the result. So, with as much patience as I could muster, I began yet again …


This is, perhaps, a valuable lesson. I’m often so eager to be working on something that I have a tendency to rush into an idea without thinking it through sufficiently. From now on I’ll try to slow down.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

I Am Still Here, With Books

It has been lovely to be quiet in this space while I work on other things, but I just wanted to pop in to say that I am still here, and I do hope to return to posting a little more regularly as soon as I can. 

More art is being birthed in my studio, though the technique I am using is time-consuming, so progress is slow; and if I am not happy with a work, I begin again … and again. Hence, I don’t have anything new to reveal as yet, but I am working on something.

In other news, I’ve been *trying* not to buy books, as things got more than a little out of hand last year, but a few more have entered my collection. The first is Marija Gimbutas’ The Language of the Goddess, which (to be fair) I had been trying to get hold of since I began Witchlines last February. It’s proving to be a veritable treasure trove of imagery and ideas, which I intend to use to inspire my own artistic work.

Since our ancient ancestors lived so close to the earth, this is reflected in the art they made, which, though it often features the human form, also has a strong connection with the nonhuman and the numinous. Furthermore, they made much use of multivalent symbols, which I find particularly fascinating. These symbols and signs are doorways into meaning, into the sacred; and the work Gimbutas has done in deciphering them, and bringing the world of Old Europe back into consciousness, is invaluable.



The next books I have acquired are The Shetland Notebooks and Sketchbooks by Kate Walters—a sequel to her beautiful Iona Notebooks (2017), from Guillemot Press. I have loved Kate’s work for a number of years, so this is a special treat, particularly as it came with an exquisite original watercolour, which I adore. 

I’m going to enjoy the process of allowing these intimate embryonic paintings to seep in to nourish me from the inside, and hopefully also to emerge again, transformed, in my own art. 




Earlier this month I was also lucky enough to see the incomparable Margaret Atwood speak about her dystopian fiction at the Sydney Opera House, and got a couple of books signed by the ‘goddess of the north’ herself. 

So, while the last few months have been very difficult, right now I am feeling so very fortunate.


Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Messenger of the Invisible

It has taken me some time to complete (and then photograph) this new painting, mainly because midway I experienced (I suspect) some kind of fatigue-inducing virus, which meant—to my frustration!—that I did almost nothing for about a week. Also, it was initially intended to be nothing more than an ‘experiment’, but clearly I need to have a little more faith in myself and what I can create, for I am very pleased with the results.

Messenger of the Invisible, watercolour and gouache on gesso prepared paper (2019)
I have not been writing, and thus feel unable to say much more at present, but I am including some quotes below that elucidate some of the ideas behind this work, and what she represents. All are taken from the absolutely brilliant book I have been reading by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image (Arkana: London, 1991).


The bird who appears out of a distant sky has always been a messenger of wonder as the visible incarnation of the invisible world. In many Bronze Age myths the cosmic egg of the universe was laid by the Cosmic Mother Bird, and its cracking open was the beginning of time and space. (p. 13)

The bird was the life of the waters, the epiphany of the goddess as the deep watery abyss of cosmic space and as the seas and the rivers, underground wells and streams. The bird that flies high above the earth and the bird that swims on waters resting upon the earth linked two dimensions that were not the native element of human beings yet surrounded them above and below. The image of the bird at home in both dimensions brought the upper and lower waters together, offering an image of a unified world. (pp. 58–59)


The bird, since Palaeolithic times the messenger of the vast incomprehensible distance and so of the whole invisible world, was taken by the Minoans, as by many another culture, to constitute the supreme image of epiphany. (‘Epiphany’ in Greek means literally the ‘showing forth’ of the sacred, which is the presence of the divine recognized as immanent in creation.) (p. 124)


The moon was an image in the sky that was always changing yet was always the same. What endured was the cycle, whose totality could never be seen at any one moment. All that was visible was the constant interplay between light and dark in an ever-recurring sequence. Implicitly, however, the early people must have come to see every part of the cycle from the perspective of the whole. The individual phases could not be named, nor the relations between them expressed, without assuming the presence of the whole cycle. The whole was invisible, an enduring and unchanging circle, yet it contained the visible phases. Symbolically, it was as if the visible ‘came from’ and ‘returned to’ the invisible – like being born and dying, and being born again. (p. 147)
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