Little Wing Mixed media on wood 40 x 60 cm
Little Wing Mixed media on wood 40 x 60 cm
Lithographs and mixed media on paper 107 x 76 cm
Royal Scottish Academy 4th June – 12th July 2020
El Hacedor mixed media on wood 140 x 100cm
El Hacedor (The Maker), is a collection of poems and short stories by Jorge Luis Borges. The original Spanish title refers to the Scots word makar. The collection reflects on the limitations of creativity. For example in A Yellow Rose the poet Giambattista Marino experiences a mystical revelation on his deathbed.
“Then the revelation occurred. Marino saw the rose, as Adam had seen it in Paradise, and he realised that it lay within its own eternity, not within his words, and that we might speak about the rose, allude to it, but never truly express it, and that the tall, haughty volumes that made a golden dimness in the corner of his room were not (as his vanity had dreamed them) a mirror of the world, but just another thing added to the world’s contents.
Marino achieved that epiphany on the eve of his death, and Homer and Dante may have achieved it as well”.
Robert Brendel founded the R. Brendel company in Breslau in 1866 producing botanical models. These models are enlargements of plants and flowers made of papier mâché, wood, plaster and gelatin. It is possible to dismantle and reassemble the pieces. A didactic revelation, these objects were originally designed to explain the complex structures of nature. Over time they have lost their pedagogical function but can now be viewed from a different perspective and appreciated for their sculptural delicacy and surreal beauty, as objects from a world that is infinitely stranger than we ever dreamed.
Left: Calluna vulgaris (L.) Scottish heather
Right: Euphorbia cyparissias (L.) Cypress spurge
The Second Coming, mixed media on wood panels 100 x 140 cm
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
William Butler Yeats
index: the cupric rockscape of Bellini, the Sound of Sleat, Holbein’s cranial anamorphosis, the melancolic geometry of Durer, Giordano Bruno’s On the Composition of Images, Signs and Ideas, Barney’s Canopic Chest, the lapis blue alchemical pelican (silica, lime, copper, and alkali), “the smoke of their torment”, Revelation 14:11, the dead trees of Calvary, the emblem of emblems, Piero’s trapped landscape; the glass domes (through their transparency and shine, have the virtue of simultaneously animating and distancing the objects within), Kandor, Carpaccio’s Preparation of Christ’s Tomb, with the anvil-like red stone of unction, The Beast of the Earth Makes Fire Come Down from the Heavens, the Apocalypse Tapestry of Angers, and Durer’s Flügel einer Blauracke, from which all of the colours in the work are derived.
The Second Coming: Details
Little Wing, pigment, silverpoint, and graphite on board 7.5 x 7.5 cm
Vanitas, pigment, acrylic, silverpoint, and graphite on board 7.5 x 7.5 cm\
The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh
30 Oct 2019 – 23 Dec 2019
The Patient North 40 x 40 cms mixed media on wood panel.
My Heart Always Goes Back to the North, Hugh MacDiarmid, and the last lines of the poem:
But my heart always goes back to the North,
With its mingling of fire and ice, of black lava, green fell, blue firth,
‘When all that ever hotter sprites expressed
Comes bettered by the patience of the North.”
(The last two lines are quoted from Samuel Daniel’s poem, Musophilus 1599).
The objects in the foreground reference the polyhedron in Durer’s engraving Melancholia and The Terrible Crystal poem of MacDiarmid, and originally, the biblical ‘terrible crystal’ – Ezekiel 1:22.
Day and Night mixed media on wood panels 30×40 cm
Ian Howard: Isobel Gowdie Portrait (after Pisanello), Isobel Gowdie mixed media on wood panels 30×20 cm
Isobel Gowdie was a 17th century Scottish woman who was accused and tried for witchcraft in 1662 in Auldearn. Her story is significant because she gave an elaborate confession filled with elements of fantasy and magic.
More importantly, it is said that she confessed without torture, and she gave her testimony on four occasions. With no torture she volunteered stories about shape-shifting into animals, particularly a hare, and meetings with the Devil.
Isobel was a young woman at the time of her trial. Some articles say that she was well educated and “married below her class.” While others state that Isobel may have been mentally disabled or disturbed. Emma Wilby, author of a recent book on Gowdie, speculates that Isobel may have been a storyteller or village bard.
One theory suggests that some of these accused witches were participating in shamanic visionary practices that were holdovers from the pre-Christian era.
These women and men might have been participating in spirit journeys to the otherworlds through the use of trance or hallucination inducing substances (herbs or mushrooms). This may account for many of the fabulous things mentioned in Isobel’s testimony.
Banner for l’Art et la Banniere 2019, Lot, Occitanie. Isobel Gowdie avec un lievre (d’apres Pisanello). Mixed media on canvas 200x105cm
Phaethon 2018 mixed media on wood panel 140x100cm
Phaethon was one of the two immortal steeds of the dawn-goddess Eos, the other being Lampos. Here a statue of Phaeton is in the process of being cast in gold.
‘EOS (Êôs), in Latin Aurora, the goddess of the morning red, who brings up the light of day from the east. She was a daughter of Hyperion and Theia or Euryphassa, and a sister of Helios and Selene. (Hes. Theog. 371, &c.; Hom. Hymn in Sol. ii.) Ovid (Met. ix. 420, Fast. iv. 373) calls her a daughter of Pallas. At the close of night she rose front the couch of her beloved Tithonus, and on a chariot drawn by the swift horses Lampus and Phaëton she ascended up to heaven from the river Oceanus, to announce the coming light of the sun to the gods as well as to mortals.’ (Hom. Od. v. 1, &c., xxiii. 244; Virg. Aen. iv. 129, Georg. i. 446; Hom. Hymn in Merc. 185; Theocrit. ii. 148, xiii. 11.)
Revelation 2017 mixed media on panel 28 x 35.5 cm
Revelation has its origins in the Book Of Revelation. An angel, who hovers in the distance, has taken a “golden censer,” filled with fire from the heavenly altar, and thrown it to the earth (8:3–5). What follows are “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (8:5). Hail and fire, mingled with blood, are thrown to the earth burning up a third of the trees and green grass. (8:6–7). All fresh water turns to blood. (16:4–7)
Draco 2016, mixed media on wood panel 80 x 60 cm
Draco is essentially an alchemical emblem representing part of the alchemical process. ‘Prima materia’ in the course of its elaboration must be subjected to a four-fold division, divided into four elements, described in the form of a cross. This is the cross of Physis, which enables matter to be incarnated and to come into the world. The cross is an allusion to both the conflict of opposites and to the Crucifixion. Only this coming together of opposites can slay the alchemical or mercurial dragon. In alchemy, it is part of the symbolic imagery of ‘mortificatio’ – killing, decay and decomposition. That which undergoes ‘mortificatio’ is the ‘slaying of the dragon’.
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