31 July 2010

An Update at Last

Some Sources of Inspiration

It is many, many weeks since the last blog. Spring was supposed to be with us when I first started writing this entry, but although we were well into the month of May, (and it's now almost August as I load this), the heating would come on and a fire was welcome in the evenings, if I could be bothered to light it! The weather has been strange again this year, or is it like that every year?

I had been unwell. I painted a small picture, this one...... even I found it rather worrying.

Face 2

And another, that was supposed to be a jolly, bright sunset over the Esterel Mountains, and turned out to be this melancholy little thing. You know the phrase "Feeling blue"? Cause for reflection.

Sunset Over The Esterel

Many years ago I read either a book or an article that discussed how the body can send us “messages” about our health and its problems. One story in particular I found very interesting. This related to a young child who was suffering from symptoms which had resulted in him going to hospital. Nobody knew what was wrong with him and someone had the bright idea of giving the child some drawing materials. He drew a picture of himself with a bird flying down and its beak touching his head. It was found that he had a tumour on the brain.....

There were other incidents related with the same message. What we need is to be able to interpret our own messages, and to do that we need insight, which mostly seems to come after the event, called hindsight! In my experience one can also be creative with problems of an emotional nature. Here are a couple of examples:

I had a friend, well more an acquaintance, who had what are called “relationship” problems. When I told her that I found painting a useful way of working through difficult areas or periods of my life, she asked if I would show her how. I said I wasn't a trained art therapist but would be happy to show her what worked for me. (It could be dangerous to "mess" with a serious psychosis.)

Every piece of work she produced had the same underlying theme: there were three separate parts to it, and to me as silent observer, they didn't seem to relate to each other in a harmonious way. It turned out that she and her husband had a problem with her widowed mother, which caused innumerable rows and disagreements. I moved away to live elsewhere, but I later heard that she and her husband had parted company. She told me that seeing the paintings had given her an insight into her problems. From these beginnings painting became her serious hobby.

For me perhaps the most moving and emotional of these experiences have been in relation to my childhood. My darling mother was very loving and caring however she could be over protective, of me but not of my brother, once he was no longer a small child.

Mother was the eldest girl in a family of six children. Two brothers were older, and their sport was to bully and tease her.

She was in school, aged fourteen, when a message came that her mother had been taken ill. In shock she ran home, and never went back to school. Instead she was detailed to look after her two younger sisters and brother. She became in effect a mother to them as her own mother had taken to her bed, and even when recovered from what was some sort of a breakdown, from then on treated her eldest daughter, my mother, as an unpaid servant.

Many people would have become bitter and angry at such treatment, and might have taken it out on the “little ones”, which is what they then became to her. But the abiding love and deep respect between her and the three younger children continued till death.

Mother told me that at school she loved painting lessons and asked her mother for a paint box and other materials to be creative, however her request was ignored and to make it worse the longed for materials were purchased for her two little sisters.

In later life she joined an art class run by the local authority, (and here I am getting to the point of the tale,) but she never had the courage to paint anything original. She could copy a photo or the reproduction of an Old Master very well, she sculpted from models, embroidered and knitted exquisitely from patterns, cooked well and was admired for her “taste” in matters aesthetic. What stopped her when it came to being original in her work, with her many skills? Why did she feel inadequate in creating her own pictures and patterns?

One day, and she was an old lady by then, I at last persuaded her to try for something original, no matter how or what, and we sat down together to paint and I suggested she just make marks on a large sheet of paper. We used pastel chalks as they cover a surface quickly. When she had finished (working in silence, no comments from either of us) we sat and looked at the result. It appeared to show a girl sitting under a very large dark cloud which hovered just above her head. The image came from deep inside, unplanned and without thought. When she examined it she was surprised with its specificity and what she could divine from it.

Not long after that she created another picture, again using pastels. It was a simple subject, but it was original work, doodled out of her head, not a copy, and contrary to her past practices it was large and very colourful. She died some years ago, but I keep this picture and it means a great deal to me.

Mother's Picture

Art can heal deep wounds, and I would include other creative processes in the word Art. Perhaps the most useful aspect of painting in its widest sense is that words are not needed, nor any particular skills in representation, simply the ability to make marks with pigments.

There are many sources of inspiration. This is a painting by Jean-Baptiste Simon Chardin ( from Wikipedia Open Source). He seems to have been inspired by rather simple contemplative subjects, it is obvious though, that to be able to paint such things does requires a high degree of skill, even though it is still "marks with pigments".

My father died when I was in my thirties. I didn't mourn him. It didn't touch me. He had left home (or been forced out, I don't know the circumstances) when I was 11. I came home from boarding school and was told “Your father has left and won't be coming home again.”


I remember feeling bewilderment and intense anger which was immediately suppressed. Anyway, to get to the point... years later, maybe twenty years, I decided to paint a portrait of my father. Of course it wasn't in any way a physical likeness, more an idea. When I had finished it, and looked at what I had done I started to cry as though my heart was broken....which in a way it had been when I was told he had left and he would not be coming back. I wept for hours, and the anger and grief I had unknowingly bottled up drained away. He was forgiven (not, I am sure, that he intended any wrong) and I could love him again.

It was about this time that I moved from (inexpert) Botanical Illustration...

...to a much freer style and approach.


Much Freer

There have also been several occasions when my work has, unintended by me, given me messages in advance about physical conditions.... that, however, is another story. It almost moves into the realms of magic, and I need to think a lot more about it and the implications.

"Thus shall you regard all things - a flash of lightening in a summer sky, a bubble in a stream, a phantom and a dream." *

*Saying of the Buddha from Mountain Record of Zen Talks by John Daido Loori

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