I just got back from a few days spent in a cottage in the South Downs, in what was undoubtably one of the most stunning locations I’ve ever had to the good fortune to stay, and as I lay back here in my own bed, this morning, a theme started to present itself to me across multiple layers of my experiences (and not just those relating to this holiday).
We happened to visit an exhibition of artworks by self-taught landscape artist Philip Hughes whilst visiting (one of my very-favourite places…written about here before) Charleston Farmhouse, one-time home to the “Bloomsbury” set of of artists and creatives. I read that for Hughes “distinctive, distilled vision of landscape…topography plays a conspicuous role, as it did for early man in establishing his first sacred sites and ceremonial centres”.
Hughes has a very particular style, somewhere between landscape artist and cartographer and there was no denying his images of rolling English hills and, equally, of frozen ice-mass as part of an Antarctic expedition he accompanied, held a very particular kind of appeal. They reminded me of the kind of oh-so compelling travel posters from the 1920s and 30s (example above) that I used to avidly collect as a teenager and I knew they possessed a certain quality just as soon as I registered this rare phenomenon: my husband was just so very enthusiastic about them. Well, yes, I suppose you could label this kind of art very “masculine” or even (dare I say it) logical; and there’s a track-record of this kind of approach proving capable of reaching out across the otherwise uncrossable ravine towards those of a more left-brain orientation when it comes to art. Even then, I was impressed by his enthusiasm since I am used to him finding somewhere to perch when I go off into “visiting art-gallery” mode.
In fact, its fair to say, he went overboard, still talking about these artworks the next day. This catches my attention because he is not a natural appreciator of art, not for want of trying but because it simply doesn’t make that connection with him in the same way an actual view has the ability to do. Its normally as though art is a different language to his own, for which he has no translator, leaving him unable to perceive or feel, with the same enthusiasm, what the artist saw or endeavoured to deliver. This is a foible I have had to live with as an artist, knowing as I do that one of his brief and invariably “stock” responses to a day’s-worth of tweaking to a canvas is not meant in any critical way since no amount of artistic effort, of any standard, is ever going to elicit great amounts of reaction or commentary from him; which its not for lack of appreciating what I do but because we speak a different language in this regard. As in many areas of our shared-life, he accepts and makes room for certain experiences that I have without needing to be able to have, or to have proof of, them himself (in other words, he’s happy and respectful because I’m happy and fulfilled); which is a model for a way of being that we could do worse than emulating across the board of human existence!
As someone who operates precisely from midbrain, making me equally logical and attracted to scientific thinking as I am slave to my “artistically” abstract portion, I can easily grasp how to have one side more dominant than the other would make for a very different experience of the “picture of life”; as it does in the manifest reality of our world, where the left-hemisphere still reigns supreme. Yet this leaves much of “the world” in a perpetual state of non-compute and communication breakdown over experiences that those having them are frustrated to hell over trying to convey, or even have registered and acknowledged “as real”, by an unlistening dominant class of logical perceivers. The result is either a world made up of ugly and largely un-negotiable brutalistic “lines” (rules, laws, measures, standards, fixed beliefs…) or a fuzzy mess of experience that cries out for a translator as purposeful as I was encountering in this small exhibition. If only we could “draw”, with such clean yet expressive lines, all the most convoluted, least translatable experiences of our world for all to appreciate together, wherever we were coming from on the scale of logical to abstract, each being of equal value when we take the range of experiences as a whole (a truth that quantum theory is pressing upon us a little more daily), then I felt sure ever-more of us could step back with new appreciation and declare “I get it now; I see the picture”. The unseeable is as hard to translate into lines and squiggles as it is important to acknowledge and there lies our next-biggest human challenge, in order to engage the whole of the “audience” in the same way that I was seeing unfold in this small exhibit on a Sunday afternoon in West Sussex.
There is no denying, these artworks particularly spoke to me too (in a similar way to how Japanese Ukiyo-e art has recently spoken to me); especially as someone who lay down their paintbrushes in frustration a couple of years ago after more than a decade of painting almost non-stop yet I felt I had lost my way or run out of territory. I’d had quite enough of being messy or impressionistic, had no truck with becoming abstract yet did I really want to get even more pristine, to become finicky, almost anal in my precision? If so, then there seemed no better place to go than into digital work, which was where I seem to have landed yet something niggles at me still, as though I’ve left it unfinished and waiting for its outlet. Seeing this collection of art, in all its straighforward potency, seemed to set in motion a new trajectory of creative desire, in the way of finding something I had been seeking for some time as a gentle nudge back to my brushes and even in the sense of something I had been seeking as a prompt in terms of better handling “life itself”. Already, I have found myself using what I have learned from taking in these oh-so pleasing images in ways that have nothing whatsoever to do with art…and everything to do with how I conduct my life…my choices…those things to which I give energy and others I can leave out as excessive and distractionary detail…
Because Hughes had succeeded in registering both the immense FLOW and FLUIDITY of the landscape and yet allowed it to have very strong FORM and STRUCTURE via the resulting output of his pencil or brushes. There were no woolly or superfluous lines here, in fact the simplicity and pared-back, economical line was its beauty, yet it lacked nothing (rather, gained everything) from it. The very hip-swaying, undulating, dance of Nature, the seeming randomness and flamboyant pattern of its very life-force seemed to sing out all the louder for its unhyperbolic simplicity in these images and I could discern that it was a partnership, a very marriage, between fluidity and form that made these images WORK.
This approach is something that, undoubtably, lends itself well to the kind of exaggeratedly rolling, undulating, unmistakably feminine curvature of a landscape such as Sussex, where hillsides pop up and cradle all the structure of a manmade world like bosoms and hips popping up over all the straight-edged roof tiles and spires of nestled villages and farms. I registered it, again, in the artwork of J F Blighton in the art gallery that happened to be next to our cottage. All the unremarkable painted landscapes on the the walls had me skimming around the room at a speed that would have been almost impolite, had the owner of the gallery been there to watch me….but these etchings were pulled out of their rack, laid out and feasted over for more than a few minutes; their trait being to do as Hughes did and make much of all the curvature, the energy, the very impulse of the landscape in simple yet assertive lines that spoke of more structure than could be easily explained in a logical way and yet no single line or detail felt superfluous, untrue or over-embellished. Every zig-zag and pattern, like the landscape had been knitted-and-pearled or was a woven textile, perhaps the markings on a Native American fabric, felt appropriate and necessary, etched out in black against white in the most appealing of ways.
The fact Blighton seemed to favour picking out sacred sites…Avebury, White Horse Hill, the Cern Giant and (the one that first caught my attention, since we were going there that very day) The Long Man of Wilmington made these black against white lines all the more attention grabbing…since they seemed to convey the unconveyable about these oh-so familiar landscapes; potent places I have experienced, yet would struggle to convey the feeling of, myself. They made what was pulsing and energetic, yet least demonstrable, “real” or conveyable, so apparent to the visual senses in a way that…once seen…left no room for denial or dispute since the very beauty of what was made manifest spoke of an underlying world that (for all we allow this truth to be ignored, or swept under the carpet, nine tenths of the time) is always made up of both fluidity and form, the obscure and the obvious, the sub-atomic and the solid, the most elusive and the scientifically demonstrable…in equal proportion. These landscapes THROBBED with unseen energetic life, before my very eyes, and reminded me that all things in existence are like this. We are all made-up of so much more than that which is registered by the first five senses and these other impulses make all of us, and the very landscape with which we interact at these unseen levels, who we truly are.
If art can convey this quality, in a language that (with no criticism or ridicule intended) someone like my husband can perceive and respond to then this is one of the reasons art is one of my favourite of all tools in life (and I can discern how music, for a musician, is another such powerful tool). As I have found through years of writing and painting, the bringing of the more abstract forwards into form is a muscle we get to make stronger through exercise when the desire to use it is there. Why? Because making more manifest that which, for some of us, is always in “plain sight” to our subtle senses is no small or unimportant feat (though the results are sometimes effortless-seeming in their beauty…) and its why the arts are the very marriage bed of our two most fundamental traits; a sort-of bridge to holistic perception. When discerned and brought into plainer, more matter-of-fact experience – together and in balance with form – these more-abstract experiences help us each to become more whole since we, then, recognise in ourselves all the ways that we are also made up of both sturdy and defined edges yet also the more fluid and much harder to define, yet no less deniable, impulses of energy beneath our surface. Bringing these two kinds of experience together as the manifest reality of our everyday lives, allowing their partnership “hanging space” on “the walls” of our self-chosen reality, conspires to make those lives more balanced, our experiences more whole, our awareness more switched-on in ways that powerfully serve us in realising our true and most fullfilling purpose. It is in the making conscious of both sides of ourselves, equally, that we succeed in healing both ourselves and then, by extrapolation, our world.
Once realised, across all aspects of our lives, this beautiful TRUTH starts to unravel all of the so-called unsolvable problems of our world since it is in the denying of all that is not so easily proven or measured that we miss-out or deny up to fifty percent of our experiences of being human…and, in so doing, make the world sickly and lopsided to the point of tipping over, repeatedly. Once we start to perceive how beautiful “the picture” is that is both stuctured yet pulsing with inexplicable and unruly forces, we start to grasp something so fundamental about our manifest experience that we have, for a long time, tended to overlook it for being just “too obvious” or right underneath our noses. This newly harmonous “picture” falls into place easily now (the artist knows this as the artwork that almost paints itself…as when inspiration takes over the brush), producing results that can now be appreciated both by those with “eyes” for logic or for abstraction since both are equally catered for; each seeing what appeals to them most. Instead of the total chaos that those who prefer to hold a tighter pencil to their paper might dread, a higher order starts to assert from a realm where we can now relax our death grip on the need to control everything.
These meeting grounds of form and fluidity – wheresoever they happen – are so potent and affecting. Like discovering a universal language that heals the rift of all our misunderstandings, we step back as though finding ourselves (especially those who “thought” they had no interest whatsoever in art…) stood in a little art gallery yet freely admitting “I see it, I really see it now”, like the scales fall from our eyes and a magic portal opens to the senses. The rest, from there onwards, is easy; as though a certain new light has penetrated to the depths of our understanding…
Whether, in what they see, that person perceives something fluid and lyrical or a cartographers map “back” to themselves matters not…as long as each gets to see something meaningful, using their most intrinsic set of abilities, with no cajoling or special training required. Its as though the translator finally arrives at a long-running meeting that hadn’t been going so well…and, suddenly, all the miscommunicated issues, the misconstrued language of two disparate sides softens from high tension into smiles, vehement nods and fluid, universally recognisable gestures; the whole dialogue of life relaxed into a celebration of things held in common instead of what once felt so starkly alien or invested in as one pitched “against” the other. Finding this universal language is a gift and those who are able to facilitate its use are the very agents of evolution, you could say the artists of a new paradigm at this crucial time, since its not so much that they invent something new but that they make manifest (to all) what was always there, if so hard to see until they were guided towards some very simple yet undeniably beautiful and engaging truths. These meeting places are where the very dialogue of our collective future world gets started as we create the whole of the new picture together, from a shared sense of understanding, personal investment and priority.