Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Gates From There to Here

Sometimes I like to start the day off with an Illuminated manuscript. The colours, the humour, the unexpected juxtaposition of characters spark a curious sense of delight within me and I am inspired to play with that strange thing we call the Imagination.

For very long time now I've wondered what the Imagination is. One of the most common questions I get asked about my paintings is "Where do you get all these ideas from?" And, then I hear myself saying "Well, I think I may just have an over-active imagination". Really, I'm just mimicking the words I heard adults used to describe me as a child but if I think about it, I don't believe it at all.

For me the Imagination is almost more like a place in consciousness that can be visited. I never feel like the sole creator, more a participant in some kind of miraculous play where anything is possible. Sometimes there is a strange feeling of losing oneself and yet a feeling that an interaction is occurring. Othertimes I feel far more like a privileged witness than a creator, it's just that when I sit to paint or draw I get to bring things from that place to this place so that others can see it too. And, when they see it, what I really hope for is that they might be inspired enough to be delivered to the realm of Imagination – so that they may experience the joy that is pure creativity.

In our society, at least in the one I was brought up in, the imagination was something to be restrained. It was for lazy people, for no-good-day-dreamers, for people with their head in the clouds. For some of us that is crushing and for me it forced my drawings into secreted sketch books and my imaginings into a locked closet that I would only share with a very few. The few that had that sparkle of magic in their eyes, the few that would laugh joyfully and play un-selfconsciously with the waterfall of spontaneous creativity that flowed when the gates from There to Here were allowed to open.

A Faun and a Fish from once upon a time secret sketchbooks

and a few more...

Beyond the mainstream view of things - which is often filled with superficial but widely accepted perspectives - there is often a much greater landscape to explore. 

The depth and importance of creativity though often dismissed as a mere pastime by many is recognised by some as so much more.  

Some say that being in the flow of pure creativity is a divine state. Some say go so far as to say it can deliver Wild information from the Edge and that it is a way of negotiating with Life.

Here is a lovely video from Martin Shaw – Master Story-Teller



"Imagination is a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study, but by being where and what it sees, by sharing the path, or circuits of things through forms, and so making them translucid to others."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 And so here is the latest delivery from the Imagination.  After many years in a dusty sketch book it has finally been painted.

 She is Babotchka A name kindly suggested to me by a friend. Babotchka is Russian for butterfly and pleasingly similar to Babooshka (Russian for Old woman ). There was also once a belief that women (particularly witches) turned into butterflies after death. She was born without a name or a purpose but has found one that suits her perfectly. I find that is often the way with creativity, it seems to encourage synchronicities and that is always pleasant.



Monday, 8 August 2016

Little Painted Wooden Things

My small cottage in the woods seems to have sprouted another studio. Well, I say studio but neither are actually rooms to themselves. 

As with any creative pursuit, what was once intended becomes something else entirely. Something akin to a voracious and well nourished plant that takes over parts of the garden it wasn't meant for – so it is with the little Wooden Things in my home.

There is of course a dedicated painting room – but I never paint there. I always find myself perched at my Grandparents old oak table which sits by a window in the lounge room.  I have been sitting at this table since I was seven years old and it feels like family. From this childhood seat half way up a Scottish hillside I can see right across the wooded valley, not a single house in view.

In the warmer months I watch the swallows dart over a field of fox gloves and occasionally get distracted by cloud watching. Little, small, low clouds sail up the valley like small fishing vessels returning home. I  am quietly besotted with their pace and tranquility. 
When the weather becomes 'Scottish', which can happen at anytime of year, the wood burner and its kettle puffs away gently, ready and willing to provide warmth, tea and the curiously comforting company of fire.

And now there is another space – a small zone for painting and painted wooden things. What began as, "I'll just pop that over there to dry", expanded and multiplied until it became obvious that the little Wooden Things have demanded a place in my house. 

They are very welcome.

an artist's box being prepared for decoration...

a Christmas Nevalyashka slowly taking form...

A Harebell box...

a trumpeting bunny from 'The Rabbit Cabinet' ...


a 'please shhhh' bunny from 'The Rabbit Cabinet' ...

wooden feet...

Dare I say it – no not yet...

A field of tea cups – slightly potty...

a family gathering...

And just in case you're wondering who I keep in a cage .....

His name is Figaro. 
Don't worry I let him out occasionally ;)

Monday, 4 July 2016

Unexpected Poetry

This year was my first ever year in the Open Studios event called Spring Fling. At the end of May every year Artists and Crafts people all over Dumfries and Galloway open their studio doors to the public.

For a person of slightly hermit like tendencies greeting near 500 people in 3 days is a lot. I am truly grateful to every person who climbed into The Old Burrow and for all of the wonderful things that happened within.

So many genuine and heartfelt conversations and stories, so much encouragement for the work. It seems for some, that the art and words touch them deeply and for others, it brings a smile to their face and a giggle into the room. As it turned out there were a few giggle spots in the exhibition. Such a lovely thing to occur.

One of the most unexpected things to occur and one of the most delightful was a lovely gentleman bustling back into the gallery after he had already been and bought and smiled. His eager strides made a beeline towards me and then he tapped my arm and beckoned me to stand before one of my own paintings. Without saying anything by way of introduction he began to recite a poem. So I stood there looking at my own artwork as though it did not belong to me hearing words that brought it to life in a completely new way. It is and was such an honour to be a part of the ever unfolding process of creativity.

It is curious the way words and pictures stir us deeply and personally. I was educated to believe that there was one dictionary meaning for a word and that was it. Occasionally words could have more than one meaning and of course the dictionary carefully explains these irregularities so that we can be clear.

My own love of language never quite fitted into the mainstream idea of correctness. I have an irreverent attitude towards grammar and if a word doesn't exist that I feel quite captures what I want to convey I am quite happy to make one up.  

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said
in rather a scornful tone. "It means just what
I choose it to mean - neither more or less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you
can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty,
"which is to be master - that's all." 

Lewis Carroll 

It is a strange and wonderful thing, that when reading or hearing a word, next to our intellectual understanding of its dictionary definition it is always coloured by our own personal palette of visions and feelings.  And when we place strings of words together,  this palette widens like a vast sky casting its own particular light and shade giving the listener or the reader a completely unique experience. Such a beautiful phenomenon but one that is fraught with the dangers of inevitable miscommunication. I love the phenomenon as a creative spectacle.

 One of the most wonderous things about being a parent is being able to, to a certain extent, witness the world again through your child's eyes. Mine are adults now and I still enjoy the spectacle.

To be able to see some of my own artwork through someone else's eyes was such a pleasure. So here follows a few poems written by John Horn to go with some of my pictures. A sincere thank you to both John and Margaret Horn for their support of my work. I am truly grateful. 

What solemn plea
does this slender girl
clasp between 
her yearning palms

Heart Window

A girl is standing still with a palace in her heart
Its blue onion domes reach the sky
And inside the palace is a princess set apart
With the look of one about to cry.
She opened her chest and was left quite bereft
As out flew two swallows and a dove
And with it escaped all the dreams she had left
All her futures once filled with love.
Now the girl standing still must shutter up the doors
To hide away the palace so grand
And wander the track of lonely open moors
Till finding another magic land.

 Dream Truth

Your images are dreamlands of the heart
with magic hues and lines precise
that bring false truth to light
and hold a fairground mirror to reality.



Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Trowie Tuning, Enchantment and Visions Before Bedtime

Recently I discovered that my slowly emerging story 'Troll Song' has more substance than at first I knew.

If you are new to The Old Burrow snippets of the growing tale can be found here and here.

I still find it uncanny that you can imagine, draw or write something that seemingly comes from within the individuated self and find out after that it has history and substance.  

Being born and brought up in Australia I can assure you I was not surrounded by Norse myth and legend. Australia as a young country was and probably still is desperately trying to find its uniqueness and separateness from any English or European influences. As a result I studied 'The Gold Rush and The Australian participation in the World Wars repeatedly throughout  the school years because there was no other history 'They' felt appropriate. A token gesture towards the Indiginous Aboriginal culture was made but no more. As you can probably gather I didn't feel at home.

When creatures and characters  that I know very little about find their way onto paper and the blurry colours and callings of the North pull me here and there to find out that such things are hundreds of years old - well, I feel beautifully small and connected to something old and quietly important.

In the Valley where I live people accept such occurrences very readily. Not long ago, nestled on the floor of a beautiful friend's home, eating wholesome food and drinking homemade apple wine with new but delightfully familiar friends, I heard a story about 'Troll Songs' and Troll Tuning.  My ears pricked up and my attention focused, I knew I was about to learn more about my Troll and her Song...

The Trolls or Trowies are the nature spirits of the Northern Countries. Their stories live in Iceland and Scandinavia and as far south as the Shetlands and Orkney. They are a mixture of huge and small, benevolent and dangerous, stupid and wise. A little like us I guess.

In Norway the best fiddle players are known to have made a deal with the Trowies. A special tuning on a special fiddle playing special tunes are enough to put both the player and the listeners into a trance like state that can only be broken by someone ripping the fiddle from the players hands.

Here is a little tale about a creature called a Fossegrimen. It is said that if a musician is willing to pay the price he or she will be "enabled to play in such a masterly manner that the trees dance and waterfalls stop at his music." 

Once upon a time there was a Fossegrim, a strange creature who inhabited a hole on the riverside. It was common knowledge that whoever paid his price, which was a great slab of meat, could
listen to his music as he started playing his fiddle. When the Fossegrim received a big shank of meat he would play the most
beautiful tunes for hours. But, when someone fed the Fossegrim a small piece of meat he would only play a short tune and then disappear. People who lived near the river visited the Fossegrim very often, as they loved his music. They said amongst themselves that no one in he world could play the fiddle like the Fossegrim.

Now the Fossegrim living in this river was short of stature and shiny of complexion. His blond hair was long and wild but his face friendly and his eyes clear as crystal. When he played the fiddle his fingers moved so quick that people where unable to follow them. His music could be gentle and sweet, but it could also be wild and untamed on occasion.

Near the river lived a greedy miser who secretly longed to play the fiddle but didn't know how. Now of course he could just go to the Fossegrim and pay the price, but he was too far too miserly to give away a good part of his meat. So he took the bone of a goat and said to himself, "That should be enough!" The villagers tried to persuade him to give the Fossegrim what he demanded, as the Fossegrim could be furious when insulted. On these occasions, they said, he would pull his victims under the water. The man did
not listen to their good advice and he went on his way.

He threw the goat's bone into the river but nothing happened. Annoyed, he shouted,

"Fossegrim, Fossegrim!"

Slowly the little creature appeared from his hiding hole and sat himself on a stone nearby, gazing at his angry visitor. The Fossegrim took his fiddle out but didn't play it, he just stared at the man. The miser got more irritated and asked the Fossegrim when he was going to teach him how to play the fiddle.
The Fossegrim said 

"For a goat and a buck I will teach you how to tune and play
but for that bare bone of yours even tuning your fiddle is too much."

The Fossegrim disappeared into the water and the man went home,
dismayed. He placed his fiddle in a corner of his room and he never
bothered to play it again

Click on the picture to hear the Fossegrimen's strange song

Not so long ago during the mid 19th century the Hardanger Fiddle was banned and burned by those who feared its magic.  People burnt or hid their fiddles out of fear for their soul or  fear of persecution. But, like most things that possess a certain magic Trowie music did not die. It only lay quiet for a while before weaving its spell once more.

And a beautiful tune by the 'Press Studs' ... Da trowie burn 

I love the merging of pictures and sound, stories and voice.

Quite regularly I witness strange and wonderful things in my head – especially before going off to sleep. Rarely, I hear sound and music too which only serves to deepen the entrancement and occasionally fills me with a frustration and loneliness for not being able to share the spectacle with any kind of satisfying clarity.

Last night for example I saw a tall, face-painted gentleman, a kind of regal jester standing proud in his costume made of light and summer colours. He sang and spoke with a quiet strength and a riddled wisdom. Slowly he moved and gestured in his small space on the street made of hardened dirt, trees and spacious, patient market stalls. Strapped to his back were at least two tall birch branches covered in pale green lichen. They rose far above his head, almost wing-like towers and he was not at all strange in his landscape. He was known, he belonged there and was respected. My own small bedtime story and then I sleep...

In the months or years to come will it come to light that a similar character exists in a mythology or story somewhere? Maybe, maybe not. It doesn't really matter but I have a feeling he may end up in a painting or story whatever happens...

Here is a little sketch, he is called the Pulpiteer.  
I'm sure his hat was different and I'm not sure how the Birch branches were attached to his back but this will serve as a memory trigger for now.