Thursday, 19 March 2020

Matrix (An Homage to Meinrad Craighead)

These are certainly strange times we are living through, and uncertainty is likely to be with us for some months to come. This, therefore, is a small offering, a creation long in the making, that I hope brings some solace—and if not that, at least a temporary distraction from the anxiety-laden news.

There are a number of inspiration-threads to this work. I will try to weave them together as best I can here.

Matrix, watercolours on gesso prepared card (2020)
As lunar symbolism has been a core part of my art over the past year, the ‘triple goddess’ symbol has often been on my mind. 

While there may be some dispute surrounding the authenticity or validity of this symbol and concept in a contemporary sense, there is no doubt that there were numerous threefold goddesses in ancient times (the Fates, for instance), and that their triune nature is embodied by the lunar cycle, and vice versa. Thus the number three has symbolic (and, for me, aesthetic) significance. In my studies of Neolithic cultures it also came to my attention that very similar symbols can be found, such as this one from Knowth, Ireland (1), indicating that the roots of this image are very deep indeed.

In my explorations I came across ‘Lunulae / Crescents in Ancient Europe’ by Max Dashu, which displays some beautiful examples of the crescent moon/horn shape across time and cultures. It’s hard to believe that there isn’t some kind of ongoing meaning behind this symbol, though much remains a mystery. As Dashu says, ‘This whole post is about questions, not conclusions’. 

Messenger of the Invisible
Further searching led me to the lunitsa (‘little moon’)—the same symbol, inverted, and said to represent a bird (though the moon too), in ancient Slavic cultures, from shamanic ‘bird culture’ origins (2). I’m not sure of the veracity of this claim, and its almost impossible to find more in-depth information, though it does fit with the symbolism of Old Europe, and likely has some connection to it. Additionally, Phoenix of Elder Mountain says, ‘The moon and bird are the oldest pre-pagan female symbol for the emotional body, the feminine and the moon. Its a dual symbol which symbolizes the “soul bird” and the moon.’ All of this reminds me of my painting Messenger of the Invisible, which suggests that the lunula-bird has been subconsciously at work in me for some time.

Since the aim with my art is not to create an image that is historically accurate, but rather to work intuitively and synthesise numerous influences into symbols that have meaning for me, the above information was enough to get ideas flowing. (Though it is always nice when the symbols naturally fall into place based on what we know of ancient realities, however disputed they may be—and more often than not, they do!)

If the lunitsa is a bird, I knew I would echo it with the snake, since the bird and snake are so entwined now in my mind. The snake would be an answering crescent, much like the serpent who arches like a rainbow, flowing with life-giving water, in my painting Rainmaker.

The other core influence for this image was Meinrad Craighead’s Symbols of the Mother (3). The simplicity, yet depth of meaning, in this work drew me in and wouldn’t let me go, and led to my use of a vertical format (rather than the horizontal design of the triple goddess symbol), and to the separation of the ‘upper and lower waters’/earth from sky/underworld from upperworld.

I scribbled down my first design in late January, so it feels like this painting has taken an age to come to fruition. There were false starts, an uncooperative painting technique (combined with my limited skills), plus rain and illness delays. I also made things difficult for myself by requiring accuracy and symmetry, based as the design was on a kind of sacred geometry. I very much doubted if I would finish it at all, but I persevered and found a way through to the end—at which point I was still without a title. The most obvious thought was to call it Goddess, my first thought just Untitled. But in listening to an interview with Max Dashu recently the perfect word came up: Matrix—the Latin for ‘womb,’ with its connotations of source or origin.

And just like that, everything fell into place. I hope it is a fitting homage to Meinrad. 

1. Image of megalithic designs, Knowth, Co. Meath, Ireland (middle or second half of 4th millennium BC), from Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization, HarperSanFrancisco: New York, 1989, p. 286
3. Text and image from Meinrad Craighead, The Sign of the Tree: Meditation in Images & Words, Artists House/Mitchell Beazley: London, 1979, pp. 110–111

Thursday, 5 March 2020


First there was the drought. Then came record-breaking temperatures and the worst bushfires Australia has ever endured. Next came the much-needed and prayed for rain … but it rained and rained and rained, and then rained some more, and there were floods and landslides and trees came down.

To say that this has been one of the worst summers I have lived through is an understatement. For weeks I was trapped indoors due to intense heat and/or smoke, and constantly on alert; then trapped indoors again because of the excessive rain. Then I ended the season with a cold.

Because of all the disturbance I barely entered my studio over the last few months, and my routine (such as it was) was lost. Now that autumn has officially begun, and I am almost recovered from my cold, I feel that some sense of normality is slowly beginning to return. Though with the knowledge that so much has changed that life here will not be the same, it is bittersweet. I dread the thought of next summer.

To top things off, I am now in one of those horrible and uncomfortable phases of the creative process when NOTHING seems to go right and I doubt my abilities completely. I have no idea how to paint, and don’t know how I ever did! And I seem to be undoing more stitches than I am sewing. I can only hope that in persisting, I will make it through to the other side of this obstructive period and find flow and fluency again, just as the destructive summer is gentling into autumn.

It is, perhaps, a good time to take stock of what has gone (mostly) right so far this year: I have made two Strata Tops designed by Sew Liberated, which I am really pleased with, and a couple more sewing projects are in progress, including one partially self-designed. I’ve completed a small knitting project, and am eager to do more. I am working on a new painting, the design of which I am happy with, if I can only work out how to paint it. And I just came across this lovely review of Heroines: Volume 2, which mentions my story. This has cheered me.

So, all in all, maybe things are not so bad. Still, bring on autumn, I say!

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Wise Words: Listening to Country

Love and sorrow connect you to Country. They help make Country part of you and if you listen to that you will learn about limits too. We all need to listen to Country so we are not blinded by our own desires. It is time to stop and listen, to learn about the land and what nature is saying.

There are many of us breathing the same air. The clouds are above us all, with their messages and their Rom [Yolŋu Law]. You don’t need to look somewhere else for answers, to go away and explore or build a new house or make a fortune. Life itself is important.

We need to tell those who are blinded by their own desires. It’s something we don’t want to hide. We want to tell the truth to the greedy people about climate change, building, building, never replanting, digging, killing. If it’s something we don’t want to tell the ŋäpaki [non-Indigenous people], then who are we going to tell, the spirits? Many don’t want to listen to us. But perhaps you can listen. Remember the limits. Those clouds are separating here, with us, with you.

It is about learning from the land, listening to the stillness, learning from the clouds as they separate …

(Gay’wu Group of Women, Songspirals: Sharing Women’s Wisdom of Country Through Songlines, Allen & Unwin: Crows Nest, 2019, p. 111)
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