Here be Midnight

Monday, 5 December 2016

The Sacred Market Place – a guest post by Artist Shenpen Chokyi

In my hideaway valley I'm surrounded by amazing stories and amazing people. People who walk the wild edges unafraid and full of curiousity.  Here is a guest post from one of those amazing people.

At this time of year when we in Western cultures are busy buying and consuming Shen writes about the Sacred Market Place.

 Shen outside her house.

The Sacred market place - Shenpen Chokyi

 This is an article about the Animus - Art for the World Soul Artists Collective.
 The name ‘Animus’ is based on the ancient meaning of the word, embodying wind and breath, life and soul. The artists in Animus are actively engaged in a re-consecration of art for the purpose of the re-enchantment of the world. In this post, I’m focussing - in a somewhat expanded sense - on Animus’s first online auction, held here from December 19th - 20th.


 The Sacred Market Place

The words ‘sacred’ and ‘marketplace’ are usually seen in a polarity, rather than a union, with one another…as in the Biblical passage:

And Yeshua entered The Temple of God and cast out all of those who sold and bought in The Temple and upset the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.

Or, more recently, Nietzsche, in Thus Spake Zarathustra:

Where solitude endeth, there beginneth the market-place; and where the market-place beginneth, there beginneth also the noise of the great actors, and the buzzing of the poison-flies.

Yesterday I read an article by George Monbiot about the toxicity of unnecessary products which tested my faith in what I do: as a visual artist, I’m an active creator of things as well as an inevitable consumer of them…and am just putting together the first online auction of the Animus ~ Art for the World Soul artists collective. Therefore you could say I’m hard at work adding more stuff to the world; not really what I’d want on my epitaph.

The purest, most sacred essence could be experienced as formless…but a recent dream showed me how abstract is this intangibility. The next scene presented a row of offering bowls, each with a tiny written explanation by it:

This made me understand it more fully: undiluted spaciousness is so ungraspable that its rarified nature remains unattainable to those who aren’t yet operating on such an ultimate level. A bridge is needed…and that bridge needs to be clothed in matter if it’s to be useful. As Nigel Richmond said, in his 1970’s book on the I Ching, Language of the Lines’ (free to download here from Joel Biroco’s insightful site, by the way):

Each realization takes a liberty with the reality of the one but is also a link with it.

Part of the joy of being embodied in this worldly realm is the sensual joy of what is earthily tangible; angels, in their more ephemeral reality are said to miss that ability to physically feel. We’re only now beginning to move out of a long, long phase in which what is embodied has been seen as, by definition, non-spiritual, making it ‘natural’ for people to treat it as such. It’s telling that the American-English for the body of the earth is dirt.

This is what Animus - Art for the World Soul is seeking to redress, for however tame, lame, mundane and civilized our life may appear, within us our unkempt pilgrim soul is replete with the same shimmering birthright of creative, abundant freedom our most extraordinary ancestors embodied.
Similarly, however irredeemably urbanised, desecrated and disrespected our holy earth seems to be, her pure indigenous essence is hungry for heart songs, dances which shake the dust from her body, offerings of ochre, plant, stone and love which re-member her wholeness and beauty. 

It’s quite simple. What we - this and previous generations - have desecrated,it’s our sacred work to re-sanctify, to make whole and holy once more. There is no-one else to do it for us; we must joyfully rise to the challenge with courage, grace and devotion: as Hopi Elder Thomas Banyacya told us,

‘We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.’

It’s our quest in life to find out just how we’re to do this. In Animus, we’ve been called to re-member the world’s harmony through art, choosing diverse forms of creative expression as a bridge to spirit, to the sacred. With the animistic view which attributes a living soul to all things, the art itself
then becomes infused with this essence and can become a gateway, a bridge, to this re-memberance, for another person.

For it could be argued that the art which never leave its creator’s side has not lived fully. As Kahil Gibran describes children,

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

As the children of artists, artworks have their own destiny to live out. We entrust them to the sacred marketplace in the faith that they’ll find their way to the person to whom they are called, to open new realities for them. They could be described as having talismanic qualities; embodying a particular, beneficial essence. 

(Fabeku Fatunmise’s highly recommended, inspiriational talk ‘Why Art Matters’ elucidates this along with many other facets of creation.) 

Or using the illustration of a ‘touchstone’; just as a simple pebble in one’s pocket can, when touched, take one out of dis-connected mental loops and be a small but potent re-minder of what is eternal, uncomplicated and natural, they can bring you back ‘home’ ~ over and over.

Another potent analogy for me is the Native American tradition of the Faithkeeper. A person who assumes this rĂ´le within the tribe remains centred, at peace within themselves no matter what dramas unfold and misfortunes strike around them. In this way, they become a living thread connecting the sacred heart of life with its often chaotic outer rim.

We’re all called on to be faith keepers ~ to not get thrown off balance by the potentially shocking or disheartening way life can unfold ~ but I’ve just begun to appreciate how an artwork can itself be such a keeper of the faith. A deepening faith in the great unfolding of your own small but precious life…and in life itself.

Here's the link to our auction again: the first image in the album has all the details you’ll need next to it. There’ll be a giveaway of a Zhouyi Oracle (microcosmic D.I.Y. edition) as the auction ends, open to everyone who shares the auction :)

Shens website is here -

Happy Christmas Everyone 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The Hidden Folk

'The Otherworld', it's a term I hear used a lot lately and I'm grateful to be keeping the company of like minded souls that still feel its pull. What I find most interesting and comforting is the lack of certainty about the world as it appears to our limited senses.

It seems to me that as individuals and as cultures and even as a species, we, in some way or other, manage to maintain our link to the potential of the unknown. Whether it be the cutting edge of Science, or the depths of Religion , or the intrigue of Myth and Folklore. We like the potential and the possibilities that the unknown offers us and even if we dismiss each others perspectives  and argue about what the unknown might hold secret I still feel like it is an endearing quality of being Human.

I have no particular grasp on what the Unknown might hold - too many or too few years on a meditation mat are blurring the edges of perception for me but I love the way it feels - that vast space of creative potential.

Art and stories can swiftly deliver you to the edge of 'reality' too. At this time of year it is easy to slip into the realm of Folklore. There is something about the dwindling daylight hours that make a fireside tale glow all the more brightly. 

This year's Christmas card is taken from Scandinavian Folklore. A small benevolent creature called a Tomte in Sweden, Nisse in Norway and Tontti in Finland. These solitary creatures carry all the charms of human imperfection. They are kind, helpful, mischievous and short tempered. Small gifts of porridge with a little butter are much appreciated and will placate him enough that he doesn't feel inclined to tie the Cows' tails together. ( Hmm, now there's another possible picture. )

And for those of you who are close by and would like to visit an Otherworldly Christmas Exhibition and maybe buy a few gifts for your loved ones Animus – Art For The World Soul is running its 3rd event out here in the hills of Scotland.  Yet again it is an amazing collection of Artists rich with a kind of magic that happens when Art, Spirit and Nature weave themselves together. 

Hope to see you there.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Just Slow – An interview for Craft Design House

 I have always painted and drawn slowly. No amount of pressure has ever made me faster in fact quite the opposite.
There have been times that I was told that my art was too delicate, too detailed, too traditional, too quirky and too slow. Every now and then, in an effort to try to step up and be sensible and make money from my skills I would change tack. Following the advice of those who 'knew the world better' I would attempt to draw large, paint boldly, paint brighter, paint faster. It never worked. More often than not, no matter how I started a piece I would find myself settling quietly into some corner of detail listening to the sound of rain at the window and forgetting myself.

I surrender. I love slow, I love detail and I love small. 

Just last week however a lovely thing happened and I think that maybe things are changing.
Craft Design House is a lovely online Gallery that wholly embraces the 'Slow Movement'. The international 'slow movement' is growing. There is slow food, slow cities, slow tv, slow sex, slow fashion and now it seems slow buying of slow art. They asked to interview me for an article and I gratefully accepted. 

So maybe, I might fit in after all.  

Click here for the Article written by Craft Design House

Interview for Craft Design House 

Where do you live? Where is your studio? Is where you’re situated very important to the work you create?

I live near a river in the middle of nowhere and I love it. Up stream is a beautiful Buddhist temple called Samye Ling. It's full of prayer flags and wishing trees and even has a fairy hill. Down stream is a beautiful bridge where two rivers meet and I swear a Troll lives under there. One day I'll draw him.  
I have always painted things of a slightly magical nature but I am definitely more at home here than I have ever been before. It's quite something special. It's as though the paintings belong here.

the river

 Samye Ling
 The Locals

What are the origins of the figurines? Where do they come from? What are they made of? How did you find them in the first place? Do they have a particular name? 

 I first came across Matryoshka when I went to Russia in 1986 – oh gosh that's along time ago! It was still the USSR then and the streets and the people were all of a grey colour but the market stalls with the Matryoshka glowed in the Winter light and I was captivated. Each one delicately painted, telling  it's own story. Some were similar but no two were alike – it was as though you could see and feel the quiet mood of the artist who created them in the little brush strokes. 

I've always wanted to combine my love of painting and illustration with 3 dimensional work and this seemed like the perfect way to do it. For along time I was unable to source the blanks but recently I have found a contact who can get them for me from Moscow and they are more wonderful than I expected. The ones I paint are an unusualform of Matryoshka called Nevalyashka sometimes also called Chime dolls.
They are made of Lime wood and sound of the bell is quite lovely. Very mellow, the whole thing is very tactile and quite charming.

What does slow buying mean to you/what is its most important aspect as far as you’re concerned? 

 I adore the concept of slow buying and quite coincidentally I have just found out that our village hub is in the process of looking at becoming part of the Slow Movement ( I suspect that won't happen in a hurry).  I've spent so long away from television and the media I wasn't aware but it seems the whole slow movement is really catching on. 
I'm not surprised though, it was way to fast for me. Every moment of life is important and valuable and if your head is full of huge to do lists the moments slip by un-noticed and a huge sense of dissatisfaction ensues. I feel slow buying is a beautiful way to buy, particularly because it honours the time taken to produce a piece of artwork which can only enhance the enjoyment of the piece. 

I have always painted slowly. Once a design of a sketch has found its way onto a surface I love settling down to paint and losing myself in the detail. It becomes almost like a meditation. The delicate smell of paint and freshly sanded wood, the sound of the wind outside or rain on the windows. The slow appearance of a picture growing on a once blank surface.


What do you enjoy about the commissioning/personalising process? Can you give an example of a recent commission?

Working on a commission can be a delightful process. I have a beautiful commission in the pipeline at the moment for a couple who live in a neighbouring valley. They are renovating a very old house. Underneath the floorboards they found an old note handwritten by a child which said " Would somebody please tell me what happened to the Crystal bird?" When they asked me if I would like to paint a picture to enhance the story I couldn't stop grinning. The imagination began to swirl with images.  immediately. Pure magic! That one happens to be for a painting to hang on a wall but there is nothing to say it couldn't be a 3 dimensional object if that is what was wanted.

I also have a small commission which is nearly finished for a Christmas ornament , one of the Nevalyashkas. The client has a cheeky cat that likes to climb into their Christmas tree and so it makes perfect sense that her portrait becomes part of a Christmas decoration.

What options for customisation do you currently offer?

I can customise most of the Nevalyashkas with a little something to make it more personal if clients wish or a whole new piece can be commssioned. Traditional 2 dimensional Illustrations can be commissioned too of course.

About the painting process – does it need to be treated first or is it ready to go?

The blanks arrive from Russia wrapped in Russian newspapers and in a box absolutely covered in Russian stamps. It feels like Christmas no matter what time of year they arrive. The Nevalyashkas need a light sand and I seal the wood too before I start to design or paint. Then, once they are painted they need to dry thoroughly before they are varnished and then need to be put away in a warm dust free place to dry completely.


Where does inspiration come from? Who are the people/faces you paint? What are your influences?

My inspiration, I think, is sort of anything Northern and folktale-ish. I can't explain why really but my pull to the North, places like Iceland and Norway and across through Finland to northern Russia is quite strong. Very odd having been born and brought up in Australia , I know. I guess somethings just remain a mystery.

The faces and drawings sometimes come out of nowhere and sometimes might be sparked by a particular idea that leads me to look at a certain type of artwork or style and that may lead to another idea and to another which leads to a portion of the drawing and from there it might create itself. It's a bit like a walk in the woods you never know what you might find. An Antler here a Jay feather there, all beautiful and inspirational and unexpected.

How integral to your wider work is your illustration at the old burrow?

The Old Burrow began as a place to simply display paintings but quite naturally writing is taking its part as well. When people buy paintings they most often will want the writing that goes with it as well. The writing is a snippet of a story - an introduction give the viewer a helping hand into the realm of the imagination. My greatest love is to see the sparkle in someones eyes as they tell me more about whats happening in the painting. The gap between Adult and playful joyful child is very narrow really - it's just sometimes people need a little nudge.

I love the idea of creating a mechanism for story telling, most peoples lives have a bit of magic running through it - to create an artwork to help tell the tale just brings that magic to life. 

How long will it take from first contact to completed work? 

The pieces vary in the amount of time they take to create, some designs are more complicated than others. And of course it depends how many orders I have as well. Usually I tell people 2 - 4 weeks and of course I will let them at first contact if that will be sooner or later. 

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 ;)