Friday, 8 July 2011

Painting memories lost in time.

 Fragrance has an uncanny ability to transport us back in time. "When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory" -Marcel Proust "The Remembrance of Things Past"

Photos on my studio wall.
 Fifteen years ago, I first thought of painting a rhododendron. I can pinpoint this moment because of reference photos I took that coincide with the birth of my first child. As time has gone by and my children have grown, I have taken hundreds more photos in preparation. I didn't have the facilities, opportunity or self-belief, to make the painting real until recently, but I always kept it in mind. When you think about something for so long you begin to doubt whether you are capable of recreating it in paint. It almost grows to big and wild and daunting.

My eldest daughter, walking through the churchyard, on the way back from nursery.
 Paint rather than words seems to be the medium that gets closest to my imagination and recollections. I cannot adequately communicate a visceral or visual experience through words, only try to prompt another's interpretation in their imagination. As time has past I have tried to absorb the information on my photos, to understand how the leaves hang and the flowers are formed, and to try and bring my transient thoughts into painted reality.  I have often been put off by my lack of ability to recreate an accurate representation,  until I realised that it was not really about the rhododendron at all. The subject was just a reference point.

Rene Magritte ~ This is not a pipe.
 Rene Magritte highlights the limits of representation in "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (This is not a pipe). We can interpret the image as a pipe, but it is actually only a representation of a pipe. It cannot be held, used or truly known. It is like mistaking a map for the territory, as in the quote by Alfred Korzybski. A map is a useful tool but we must not be confined by it's symbols, become reliant on it, or forget to look for uncharted lands beyond.

Aboriginal art can be viewed as a form of aerial map

 A painting is like a map of a part of an artist's mind. What I really want to navigate with this work, is memory.  So why am I painting an enormous canvas of a rhododendron?  The size of the canvas, is to recreate the perspective seen through my eyes all those years ago. The subject is a bright, garish, in-your-face plant, an alien species that stood out enough to leave an imprint on me as a child. The vivid, fuchsia blooms stand out like beacons in the gloom of the woods and my mind. The towering boughs that I lounged in, that created dens that arched around me, have left a presence and immediacy I can still feel. I want to express these feelings from fresh childhood senses and burgeoning awareness, of enclosure and shelter, the oppressive buzz and suspended stillness of long Summer days, and the intrigue from the depths of the woods beyond. How do you convey a feeling of nostalgia in paint, how do you express a thing, never talked about, as it has not yet been cataloged or given it's own word.  All I can do is to keep on painting until I feel "it" again. 
A detail from my oil painting (still a work in progress).
 Bright shafts of sunlight that pierced through the canopy, defining waxy, green, leaves in the shadows, replicate the awareness of my mind reaching back like a searchlight into memories. Memories that dissipate like dreams upon awakening, and get lost with age and overload. When I die, or succumb to senility, what was once real to me will be gone forever. We all know that memory is real, but what is it? Where does it go to when it is lost. I want to grasp this remembered moment in time using painting as an evocation, and drag it back, kicking and screaming to trap it on the canvas. Present it like a mounted specimen. A single moment in time that does not escape from the now that was me, into the endless lengths of past. I am trying to document and classify the lost world of me, a sort of inner time travel, as memory is what makes us what we are, mixed with an ounce of present moment and a sprinkling of future dreams.

Out in the garden to get better light.
 Our understanding of what life is and how we anchor ourselves to it, was brought home to me through the diagnosis of my youngest daughter, who has multiple sensory impairment. The combination of her audio-neuropathy and short-sightedness, gives her a distorted version of reality. Sensory deprivation had trapped her in her own world presenting in autistic-type behaviors, that fortunately she is starting to come out of. Our eyes and ears are our distance senses. They give us our comprehension of reality and are how we learn to locate ourselves and balance. Like a cartographer with faulty instruments my daughter's map is distorted, but it is still reality to her.

Reflection of a weeping willow ~ Claude Monet.
 Impressionism was created to some extent by Monet's failing eyesight, it was how he came to see the world. My daughter, loves painting and scribbling, standing at an easel was one of the things that encouraged her to stand unassisted. What does her landscape look like? Just as I strive to comprehend my existence, I hope one day she will paint her landscape and communicate it to me.


  1. Another beautifully worded posting as rich & alluring as your artwork ~ well worth waiting for Julie, so much in it to digest & reflect upon further.

  2. Thank you Peter. I was wondering how I was going to find the words to combine rhododendrons, maps, senses, art and memory into one post. Been thinking about how without our senses and memory what would we be. So many of us try to block, or at least dull, these essential tools for life, artificially.

  3. we all carry around stores memories and this is partly what my art is about,something seen long ago on a cornish coast whist on Holiday,or more recent trips!Everyday things tha I see in the Trees and flowers these all go make up a painting or series of paintings.
    The aborignol maps were something else and they linked into the great subconciouse spirit I think and this is perhaps what a lot of artists do as well
    Hope this makes sense love youre work!

  4. Thank you for your comment. Yes, it makes good sense to me. I think the aboriginals painted maps of their inner and outer worlds. To show the way to the dreamworld and important sites on the land. I love your work as you know : )