I’m in the process of working towards an exhibition I have entitled “Angels and Archetypes”. It has caused me to really look at what is at the heart of my artwork and why I am drawn to certain images and themes. Most of the paintings are from 2018, however, there are some I have included from earlier. They are all linked by their archetypal element- people, places, animals and objects that have a symbolic meaning. The archetypes highlight the connectivity of human beings, since they are found in the collective unconscious, a place of myth, legend, dreams and folklore.
This exhibition is dedicated to my son Jordan who died tragically in a car accident in 2016. It feels like a wonderful way to honour his continuing presence in my life, not only as my son but now as a guide and source of inspiration to me. He is a creative soul, blessed with an inexhaustable curiosity about the world and everything in it. I wonder what he is doing now. I hope he is playing music and making new discoveries, free, unfettered and joyful. I know he is beside me always giving me so much encouragement. My creativity will always be a way to connect with him while we are separated in this life.
This week was spent in our house out in Narembeen/Bruce Rock. Our whole lives seem to be stored there, I married my husband, Kevin at the age of 21 and lived there for the first 16 years of our married life before moving to Perth, with Kevin still working the farm part time. So the house has become much of a storage space for all of my art over the years. This week I unearthed a lot of it…from more recent endeavours to things I had created 27+ years ago (I even have a portrait done as an adolescent of our family dog). It’s been a strange journey. There has been many reoccurring themes, a lot of pictures of Kevin and my boys, portraits of those dear to me, dreams, religious art, self portraits..and the best one…I found a precious little sketch I did of my eldest son Jordan when he was about 18 months old.
It made me think, once artwork gets old, it becomes a bit sacred. You don’t want to destroy it just because it contains a piece of your heart, ideas and musings from the past depicted in form and colour. And although it most probably means little to other people, for me, looking at all this stuff has been reassuring. I’ve mustered some compassion and respect for my own personhood. The pictures bear witness to not only the ebbs and flows of my life, but the hard things, the difficult times in the past, that may have otherwise been glossed over as if they never existed. It’s provided a map of where I’ve been, giving a sense of purpose to where I’m going. These things are impossible to see at the time. Often when you create an artpiece there is no conscious, deliberate intent. It’s not til later that you can see the spirit or soul that drives the inspiration. I’ve always said art makes visible the things that go beyond words, and it’s true.
So today, I suppose armed with the belief that life matters, that our interpretation of this life also matters, I set to task to hang as much of my work on our farmhouse walls as I could. Prior to today they were placed on the floor against the walls of our bedroom and Jordan’s old room. None of them are hung particularly neatly, and some walls are asbestos so you can’t put a nail in them. But I did my best- I’m so happy seeing them occupy ‘real’ space on the walls! It’s been cathartic in a way, too. I’m giving space to my self, validating my own art, silencing the inner critic, hopefully also creating a space for future art musings, experimentations, themes and dabblings to occupy.
I’m feeling my pain a lot more sharply these days. It makes me sad that I can no longer communicate with my boy on an earthly level. I feel his presence with me sometimes, and I’ve taken to collecting heart shaped stones found at the beach, a relic when I go on my short, exhausted walks on the beach, usually feeling lost and disconnected with reality.
Yesterday I posted some ‘works in progress’, something unusual for me- I’m a bit shy about showing my artistic ‘process’ because to me it’s pretty klunky. All this productivity, this new sense of purpose I’m finding in creating is overwhelming. Jordan’s telling me I need to “thaw out”, like I’ve been frozen in time. I feel him there, working alongside me, and I’m painting his heart. He helps me, reassures me. I know this must sound strange to some. I have no answers. I know little of the spirit world. All I know is what I feel, and what I’ve observed.
I wish I could recall the name of a poet I stumbled across- also a grieving mother; her purpose now is to create poems that comfort other parents dealing with the loss of a child. She feels her son is helping her too. A partnership of creative energy and love. This is exactly how I feel about Jordan.
He’s shown me moths, butterflies, hearts, angels, beaches and waves…to see meaning in everyday things.
One of my oldest friends also lost her son in a car crash, just around the corner from where my own boy drew his last breath. She shared a dream she had, describing how her boy showed her how he is watching over her life, and how this is true for all heartbroken mothers. She said “they love us, they really know us, they are proud of us”. What a comfort when other grieving mothers share their hearts.
I find myself looking for Jordan everywhere, so I guess this painting is making my friend’s dream ‘real’ for me. I’m reminded of a quote by one of my favourite painters, Marc Chagall. He said,”If you can’t see angels you should paint them”. I will never see my boy again on this earth, hear his voice, touch him or breathe his scent, so this is my way of bringing him close. He is like an angel to me now, in a way. But it’s hard to imagine what he is really like; I believe when we die all of the parts of us that are flawed and broken are healed. Is he still Jordan, but more ‘himself’ than ever? I feel like a child trying to understand things that are beyond me.
I wish I could remember my dreams in more detail. My boy showed up in my dream last night, we talked about lots of things (actually I talked the most, he was just with me, his presence, listening)….but I asked him at the end, “is heaven beautiful?” He paused, face looking really fresh and calm, “Yes, heaven is beautiful”.
If I could personify my muse, I think it would be someone who finds joy in colour and whimsical fairytale lands, where there is the whisper of possibility.After so so many (wonderful as they are) commissions and requests, my muse has gone underground a bit. It’s funny how art is something that people often assume us an effortless gifting. Nothing can be further from the truth in my case, I work really hard. I need the guidance of my inner muse to give me a sense of purpose and peace as I create. The last few days have been frustrating. But I am determined to find some kind of authenticity in my work, so I am posting a work in process, heavily inspired by the symbolist painter, Maurice Dennis; but also true to the style of so many of my “dreamscape” paintings.
I don’t tend to see or hear much from the spiritual, dreamscapy world, so painting is like a portal to the unknown. It is here where my own subconscious finds its voice. It is here that my inner muse gets really excited, and I lose track of time, yet find myself and just maybe, in my more noble moments, a sense of calling. Because I really believe art is for everyone, and has the power to heal the soul.
I have been looking at paintings by pre-raphaelite artists. These include artists such as Millais, Burne-Jones and of course Dante Rosetti. They were driven to represent spiritual forms in much the same manner as artists from the Renaissance prior to Raphael, and in the Middle Ages. It was very needed in this time in history, since industrialisation and modernism created a kind of vacuum to artistic expression that was spiritual in subject matter. I love the way their paintings tell a story; and to try to depict celestial beings such as Angels is a noble but at the same time curiously earthly thing to do. I say this because our angels or visions of heaven, no matter how sublime and beautiful are probably to heavens eyes like a child drawing with crayons on a paper napkin. But it’s a joyful thing, and a way that art brings humanity into something bigger than ourselves. It’s also interesting to me how the spiritual realm is so often the subject matter if artists throughout the ages.
The pre-raphaelites, however, perhaps hit on something within our culture at this point in time, maybe as a neo-modernist society (for lack of a better term; I am not sure that our culture can be termed as post modernist anymore, and I have not found a term that fits), we live in somewhat of a cultural desert. Everything is mass produced, and like industrialisation, the demands of productivity are at a premium (collateral from a disposable society). We are in need of the integrity, joy, depth and mystery found in the spiritual, which brings reassurance that not everything is banal and throw-away. That something exists outside of that, beyond clear perception that is more real and meaningful. For me, these pre-raphaelite paintings help me see these things. They touch something deep within my soul, giving almost a feeling of wistful nostalgia.
“…the more materialistic science becomes, the more I shall paint Angels: their wings are my protest in favour of the immortality of the soul” (Edward Burne-Jones)