Monday, 18 April 2011

The fool and the eccentric in art.

 In my teens I discovered tarot cards.  Along with all things mystic and spiritual I was ravenous for anything that could inform me of what I was and what life is.  My local library's theology and supernatural section promised answers I have long since discarded.  Mysticism and man-made religion are obsolete in my life as tools for understanding, but I still value the psychological insights and symbolism found within Tarot and of course the illustration.

Tarot box, whittled for me out of the back of an old drawer.
 "The Fool", was supposedly, my card, numerologically speaking.  I cannot claim to understand the reason behind this but for whatever reason, illogical or suggestible, I feel an affinity with this card.  The fool is unconcerned that he is standing on a precipice.  It symbolises a state of wonder and anticipation rather than fear.  A spirit in search of experience, relying on a mystical cleverness, bereft of reason.  Intuition, or tuition from within.  There is a wonderful Russian fairy tale, Vasalissa the beautiful about listening to the inner voice.  On the Thoth pack, the tiger symbolises "no-fear".

Thoth Tarot painted by Lady Frieda Harris.
 When you have children you become more careful about how you choose to live your life.  Less likely to set off on unknown ventures.  Life becomes planned, or at least we try to make it so.  It is about protection and preservation.  Initiative, the daring to "go in", can be eaten away by doubt and a need for certainty can become restrictive.  I remember as a child an occasion when I had to balance fear with knowledge.  A large oak that marked the main entrance to the woods was a favorite tree to climb.  One of it's branches was parallel to the ground about ten feet up.  My friend and I walked across this branch like a tightrope, knowing it was wide and strong enough to walk on, knowing that beneath it was a drop and we could fall, but equally knowing we could walk along it.
 It is art that gives me this rush of bravery now.  To create is to bring into being or form out of nothing.  Knowing you can fail but still going into the unknown regardless.  The artist is a pioneer in the space beyond language, stepping out of the metaphorical edge of the canvas and bringing "it" back.  The fool is apart from the other cards, the joker in the pack.  It is sometimes represented by a madman or a beggar.  It is the only card that is unnumbered, being zero, or a circle that has no beginning and no end.  This is said to symbolise that the fool is everyone in every place, energy that is always on the move and cannot be pinned down.
  The word eccentric means "outside of the circle".  The outsider, a social deviant, and often walks the line between genius and madness.  Edith Sitwell described eccentrics as "entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd."  Maybe it is being outside the circle, or thinking outside the box, which enables a different perspective.  Thus, allowing a holistic view of the world and insights on the human condition.

Huang Shen, (1687----1768)
   The eight eccentric painters of Yangzhou or "the eight strange ones", painted in a style that was deemed expressive and individualistic.  Their paintings showed strong personal character which broke away from the restraints of the time.
  I came across the term liminality, from the Latin for "threshold", meaning between two different existential planes.  It is the state of being in between situations or conditions.  A no-place or limbo, like the universe before the big bang, that although uncertain and frightening, is a rich ground for creativity. A place of initiation where the known identity and established structures dissolve.  Within this chaos is the possibility of a new perspective.  I love this idea of threshold people.  Eccentric outsider artists ahead of their time.

  Outsider art is art created by insane asylum inmates or people who live life as they see fit, not giving into external social pressures, such as Henry Darger, the reclusive American artist and writer.

Self-portrait, "Subconscious". Oil on board. 12 x 15". 2011.
The above painting is part of a series of four that make up a painting in the style of a photobooth photograph.  It is still a work in progress, I haven't finished the eyes and I know it is not "there" yet.  I have included it because of the background.  The orange and black was supposed to represent an oppressive version of the photobooth curtain.  After I had painted it I saw it was a tiger.

"Fear not.  What is not real, never was and never will be.  What is real, always was and cannot be destroyed."  Bhagavad Gita.

I used to be so afraid, but now I  look back on the tumult of my life with a wry smile, then I paint.


  1. Pushing through my fears makes my painting fearless.Your insights are truthful and inspirational to those of us who seek the intrepid expression of life through art.Thank you for the permission.

  2. I love the honesty, bravery and authenticity art can give you all focussed into the space of a painting or a piece of sculpture. Your comment is very kind and inspirational for me. Means so much to have your insight and input on my musings.

  3. Thank you for sharing your artwork and this thoughtful analysis of art in our lives. I also find having children changes perspective as a creative person, balancing the "fool" and the "tiger" is a strange place to find oneself. I'm still the fool for me, but the tiger for them.

  4. Thank you so much for your comment. Yes, ultimately I suppose it is all about balance. We learn where to stop by going too far, but that is an uneasy lesson to face whilst rearing children. It's instinctive to play safe, the trick is for that not to become a habit in all of life's situations. In art we can be free : )

  5. I love what you've explored here. There is a deep catharsis in the self portrait.

    I experienced this through 2010 as I photographed myself daily as a yearlong act of therapy and exploration. It was very powerful, and very difficult. I hope to see more of your self portraits, as your own examination progresses.

  6. Thank you. I have a lot of repect for your thoughts on your blog. Really appreciate your feedback.