return to origins: songland series


allan arrived in canada in the summer of 2013 after 6 years of transformational painting on the conwy estuary in north wales, uk. the influential estuary environment drove his painting into a dynamic fusion of ancient origins & contemporary art. his transformation in consciousness & attunement to nature in his work Is remarkable AND HAS RESULTED IN THIS VERY SPECIAL SERIES OF PAINTINGS.


allan's experience of songlands:

I had visited, lived and worked in Canada over a number of years and arrived with considerable attachment to people and places in Eastern Canada. I set up my first studio in Kingston on Lake Ontario. The wild nature of Eastern Canada filled my mind with a powerful symbolic landscape that aligned with my practice of attunement to the primal essence of nature and the ancient historical presence of place. This facilitated a remarkable drawing out of its invisible powers. 

The first painting I undertook in this new studio called itself 'Ghostlands', 4 ft sq (1220 mm sq). When I say 'called itself' I mean it sprang from my unconscious mind, without prompting, and fixed itself to the painting. I barely had control of the painting process as I tapped into the powerful psychic and ecological powers of the place. The power of the painting gave me a potent visceral experience as if I was working at the limit of my own psychic penetration. The 'incantation' I wrote for this painting which actually forms part of the title of the work exemplifies this. I was vividly aware that without intention I had made an intimate connection with the aboriginal heritage of this land but was also stingingly aware of the complications of a European in doing so. I consider the European impact on the First Nations people to be a huge crime against humanity that I have no wish to add to myself, further than already being associated through my European heritage and living and working in Canada. I am not, in my painting, trying to appropriate First Nations culture but am responding to the place through my own aboriginal roots and my own particular practice of connecting to origins of place. With great respect, I therefore dedicate all the work I produced in this period in Canada to the aboriginal peoples of Canada. 

The second painting and only other painting I created in Kingston is 'Shining Waters', 4 ft sq. This painting is a direct response to the Great Lake Ontario which I refer to in my incantation for this painting by its earlier name 'Lake Iroquois'. In this incantation I directly address the serious environmental damage inflicted on the lake. The painting itself, as always with my work takes its own course but does, I think reflect the changes to the water surface as the early winter cold bites and transforms everything. The wide red/orange aperture at the top of this painting is a mix of colours guided completely by an intuitive response to my sensed origins of the place.

In the spring of 2014 I moved to the Eastern Townships in Southern Quebec and by the summer had set up a studio in North Hatley on Lake Massawippi. The first painting I undertook is titled 'Sky Graves', 1 m sq but is also referred to as 'Blood-lines'. This painting marks the first and only occasion I began a work by covering the whole surface with a grid of apertures. I then laid down 'screes' of white parallels that when dry had reds and crimsons stretched across giving the beautiful fractured surface seen at close quarters. I came to make this grid formation out of a gathering consciousness of an 'ancestral force-field' spreading across time, invisible to the eye but present and akin to the invisible gravitational field that surrounds our globe.

I then produced 'Massawippi Gold', 1 m sq as a direct response to the amazing Canadian Fall. The whole landscape turned pink, gold and red. As the golden ground cover started to decay around the lake I felt a powerful ancient presence emerge both from the ground and the depths of the lake. I became vividly aware of the psychic presence of the original people of the land. The incantation for this painting makes reference to the Abenaki people's name for the lake - 'The Big Deep' - a very deep lake - and their name for the whole area 'Dawnland' - 'The Land of the Rising Sun'. This painting set the tone and direction for the rest of my work in this studio throughout the winter and spring.

I went on to experiment with a number of works eventually producing 'Council of the Dead', 4 ft sq. The name for this painting came directly from the shadowy figures that emerged freely in the bottom aperture of the painting and appeared to be sat 'in council' . The middle aperture appears like a mystical skyscape while the top panel felt like painting a catastrophic aboriginal devastation. This painting opened my eyes to the enhanced possibility of revealing historic events and ancestral presence within the context of the landscape.

I then undertook my next painting - primed for a depth psychic exploration and connection. Very early on in the process this painting powerfully named itself 'Spirit Wall', 4 ft sq. The painting initially went smoothly. While painting inside the top large ascending aperture I experienced the exhilaration of reaching through psychic strata and drawing out energy in a way I had previously only touched on in the 'Council of the Dead'. Just as the end of the work looked in sight I felt myself go too far and found myself in difficulty..By then I knew that I was painting what I sensed was to be a very important 'mother painting' and had got in front of myself. I then spent an inordinate amount of time just to retreat and retrieve myself and save the painting. I finished, exhausted, but in the knowledge that I had accomplished a remarkable piece of work that reached behind our cultural level into the collective ancestral memory and expressed ancient ancestral presence alive in the landscape. I felt a tremendous bond with aboriginal peoples and cave painters - feeling that I had myself been painting from ancient origins. 

At this point I was ready to take a break, however, the spring had arrived and with it a great chorus from the wetland frogs close to the studio. My 2 year old daughter called the cacophony of song 'The Songing' - I couldn't resist, and quickly produced a painting called 'The Songing', 1 m sq which was a direct representation of the frogs early spring wetland environment, albeit constructed with a parallel world in the lower aperture. This painting provided momentum which was reinforced by the arrival of the hummingbirds and Urubu (turkey vultures) from the south. After the long severe winter all of this created feelings in me of exhilaration and provided the energy to pursue 'Songlands'. I next found myself painting a landscape of originator tree beings - 'Ancient Songlands', 1 m sq - a fantastic ancient landscape. The momentum next carried me into a flowing and vibrant consciousness that produced another 'mother painting' of the highest order 'Songlands', 1 m sq. This is a beautiful haunting painting of spirit beings and as the incantation explains 'it calls out our origins across the parallel worlds - joining what is forgotten - our living soul. 

Although I didn't know it at the time, this was to be the final painting in this particular Canadian series. Circumstances meant that I had to close up my studio at short notice and return to the UK. These Canadian paintings marked another huge transformation in my paintings and consciousness and lay down an impressive and intriguing platform for my continuing work. 

I have now established a studio in South Eastern Scotland.


Dedication: I dedicate this series of paintings to the First Nations people of Canada past, present and future and in particular, the Abenaki people of 'Dawnland'.  - Allan Renshaw




This translucent screen ascends
Our ancient ancestral presence

On the opposite side
Behind our cultural level

Embedded in the deeper stratas of nature
Their amber and indigo presence emerge




This land of spirit beings
Songing its sacred rite

Calling out our origins
Across these parallel worlds

Joining what is forgotten
Our living soul



These fertile beings,
Embedded in earth

Ancestral originators
Communing in nature

Shimmering across time
Transmitting their super-natural



Their cries echo full of portent
A proclamation

A prophetic sign
A marvel

An act so extraordinary
A great choir of frogs songing the signs
of spring over Dawnland



The Shaman waves his magic stick
Stirring the magmatic strata

The ancestral superstructure
Ascends in primordial space

The blood sky awakens
'Ghostlands' is born



This body of ancestral dreaming
Hangs in suspended torpor

The trampling of sacred bones
The dance of death

The judgement of restoration:
Remember the dispossessed, 
Remember the forgotten



Remembering the radiating body of the ancestral archetype
And the grid formality of its force-field

Recurring together
Existing together

The synchronous flapping of the hummingbird's wings
The sun stretching her parallel streams of bloodline over Dawnland



Pink forest
Fecund lair

Primordial gold
Earth Mother

The people of the 'Big Deep' remember
Their land of the rising sun




Lake Iroquois
The beautiful water

Whose depths are ravaged
Whose Queen Sturgeon is no more

In restoration
The osprey soars in the orange red sky

— Allan Renshaw