Whilst painting, I feel a profound connection to my environment; this is not a regular event in day-to-day life, and it often feels almost like a religious experience. So what is happening? Why and how can I switch to a different mode of seeing? Many scholars have theories on transcendental states, and I take a short journey below through Neoplatonism, Sufism and Psychotherapy to help my understanding. I find writing about these experiences and about painting helps me to understand myself and, as Aristotle says “to know yourself is the beginning of wisdom”.
There is a pattern to producing a good painting. To have enough time is a pre-requisite and there should time to write, be frustrated and bored, act on intuition and be playful. When I can spend my days in the landscape, I indulge my imagination and often it feels as if the trees and bushes have a message to tell me, that they too have a spirit, or are ‘ensouled’. Painting is a lonely activity. Christopher Neve (1990, p106) writing about Lowry says he was versed in loneliness and that was why he painted supremely lonely paintings, I agree with him when he says that the introspection and ‘pointlessness’ of the activity makes you feel quite insecure. When you feel the need to paint, you just work and afterwards when people react you understand what your true subject was. For Lowry it was loneliness, for me it may be sadness or loss, as I am drawn to melancholy.
“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the World’s more full of weeping
Than you can understand.”
W B Yeats
Ode to Mars
Flowers on a Windowsill
Over the Bay
Hawthorn in St Peter’s Churchyard
I wanted to paint that memory, my childhood home, my nan, the smells and strangeness of my childhood which was loving but lonely. I lived in an odd Victorian house in which both my dad and grandad had died, that overlooked a golf course and cemetery whee my family’s ashes were scattered. The house had a huge cellar. I thought it was haunted, but I also felt it was a special place. I headed to the churchyard in Broadstairs, which has a wonderful wild part with flowers and grass and hawthorn and propped myself up amongst the graves and took in my surroundings, feeling rather drugged by the whole thing. I noted down the important things that drew my attention, birds, a flower that seemed to shine bright in the shadows, dogs, sounds and smells. I painted quickly and this one arrived in a flash.
Making the paintings made me think about how I also need to be grounded when I paint, not to just be up there with the gods in the imagination, but also with myself in a kind of marriage of heaven and hell. I mention above that I happened across Dante’s Divine Comedy and had been reading the ascent into Heaven, and during research into what happens during painting and I discovered that Jung had been reading the same book but had been concerned with the descent into Hell whilst he was writing his Red book. I found this synchronistic and made me put the two together as parts of the same whole. The battle is between the ego and the self and consciousness against listening to the signs of the gods and allowing a sense of grace. This fight is a constant one for me when painting and makes a huge difference to the outcome of the work if you acknowledge it.