Allan Renshaw is a British artist living and working in Scotland. His paintings are described as 'image-stories' dealing in earth + origins.
The focus of Allan’s work is a psycho-archaeological exploration of origins. He seeks to connect with his original indigenous roots. This has lead to a painting exploration across 10,000 years which has, in turn, lead to what he describes as an expansion of ecological consciousness in his painting. He sees his work as a contribution to efforts being made worldwide to return to a balanced relationship with nature. To counter-balance the hugely negative impacts humans are having on our biosphere.
Allan was born into the district of Mosside in the Northern city of Manchester, England. At the time of his birth the city was still badly damaged by the bombings of World War II and by industrial degradation. His early childhood was spent in a largely tree-less environment with poisoned and derelict canals and rivers. In his early adolescence he chose to join a mountaineering club that provided an escape to the mountain environments of Snowdonia in North Wales, the Northern Fells in the English Lake District and the Arran Hills in Scotlands Western Isles. These experiences had a far-reaching influence on his development.
He rebelled at school against what he describes as an oppressive, soulless and very poor secondary education. He did however, eventually complete an A-level in Art & Architecture after a move to Salford Grammer School aged 16. He had a large painting of horse and rider (8' x 4') hung in the school foyer and etchings published in the school magazine. He also gained insight into the history of ancient architecture. He went on to undertake a diploma in Art & Design at Rochdale College of Art. He completed the course but again, rebelled at any attempt to teach him, in this case art, and decided he needed an alternative education. However, he did receive a grounding in the history of modern art.
He continued to make art for a couple of years but came to the conclusion that he needed more life experience before he was ready to paint. He stopped painting at the age of 21 and vowed to himself that he would not return to making art again until 'a strong inner, imperative' drove him to do so. He was however confident that this would happen one day.
AN ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION
The desire for an alternative education eventually translated into him undertaking a world trip. He left Britain for the first time aged 22 and eventually traveled through 20 countries on 5 continents. After travelling through western and eastern Europe his journey took him through Iran, Baluchistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Malaya. A years stay in Australia to earn money and then onto Fiji, Tahiti, Peru, Bolivia and finally Quebec, Canada before he returned to England. He says the most important and longest-lasting influence of his travels was meeting aboriginal peoples of Australia. It was their ecological consciousness and relationship with their landscape that was unlike any other peoples he had encountered, that made such a big impression on him. Allan says they possessed an attuned intelligence within nature he had otherwise only glimpsed before. An intelligence that seemed to be lost on the other groups of humans he had encountered in his life. He was also aware of the racism and aggressive destruction of their cultures perpetrated by his own country and peoples.
After his return to England, he chose to work as an 'itinerant carpenter' working in the North of England, Southern Ireland and across Canada. He later trained as a psychotherapist and went on to work as a Play Therapist working with mural-making, print-making and social theatre as well as play. He undertook his own Jungian Sandplay Therapy for two years - at that time predominantly associated with children's therapy. This became highly influential in his understanding of Jungian concepts of archetypes and the Collective, multi-layered Unconscious. He also completed post graduate studies in Freudian psychoanalytic studies.
In 2001 Allan was living in a remote hill farmhouse on the edge of Clocaenog Forest in North Wales. The house was over 400 years old and had been used for much of its existence as a meeting house for prayer, particularly in the period before the Welsh chapels were built. He describes the house as having a very distinct and powerful aura. He had been living in the house for 6 weeks when someone close to him died there. She had been battling Leukaemia for seven years and died at the age of 37. Allan describes what happened in the weeks after the death as a mythological upheaval involving extraordinary symbollic events.
The day after the death and to his great surprise a ewe and her lamb appeared on his property - having managed to cross the cattle grid. The local sheep farmers said they didn't belong to any of them. They seemed content in the small pasture adjoining his garden. It felt strangely comforting to have them there and also felt like a positive symbol of the woman. They stayed for 3 weeks. At the same time, a buzzard took up a sentinel position on a tall corner fence-post at the boundary of the property but was continually mobbed by a small flock of ravens. Whilst the sheep peacefully inhabited the garden, 50 yards away there was a continual battle. Additionally, from the night after the death, while the body of the woman lay in an open cask in the house, a group of crows started hurtling themselves at Allan's bedroom window in the middle of the night. This really disturbed him and gave him a sense of foreboding. He was aware that the woman had not wanted to leave her life at such a young age. He wondered if these events symbolized her battle with life and death transition. As soon as she was buried, the crows disappeared. He was so struck by the actions of these birds that he decided to make some sort of a symbolic action to help her soul cross the threshold from life to death. He had not thought of such a thing before but at this point this idea came naturally to him. He then came up with the idea of producing a painting of her journey into death. He produced the painting 'Return to The Garden' in an art naif style.
This painting marked a huge psychological shift in him as if he had painted his way out of one life and into another. The inner imperative to make art that he had long awaited was upon him. However, he found himself with no direction and no skills. He decided to undertake a self-guided apprenticeship. He divided his time between psychotherapy and painting. This initial period included two years in the South of France before a return to North Wales but this time living on the Conwy Estuary. The estuary environment proved to be a powerful catalyst for an understanding and the development of his art. The effects of the mercurial tidal movements on his psyche and painting were transformational and laid down the core conceptualisation for his work. His painting became an exploration of origins that began an expansion of his own ecological consciousness. Significantly he used his development as a psychotherapist to pursue a psychic connection to early indigenous origins. This eventually enabled him to retrieve deeply-layered psychic image-stories paralleled with a depth attunement to wild nature.
In 2012 after six years of painting on the estuary, he gave up psychotherapy to paint full-time and held a debut exhibition at the Holy Biscuit Gallery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The show was called 'Unconscious Landscapes' and was featured in The Journal newspaper - see link. He exhibited 40 pieces of work and spent a lot of time showing visitors around and discussing his work. He said this was of huge value to him. He spent a year in Scotland and then two years in Eastern Canada where he produced a series he called 'Songlands'. In 2013 Allan exhibited in a juried exhibition at Duncan MacArthur Gallery at Queens University, Kingston, in Ontario. He was able to make a deep psychic connection to the wild nature of the place and the aboriginal psyche he found present in his own psychic explorations of the landscape. This enabled him to reach further back in time and make a more sophisticated connection with aboriginal consciousness. This allowed further development of his own ecological consciousness and a deeper appreciation of the attuned accomplishments of hunter-gatherer peoples.
He returned to Scotland in 2015 and built a studio close to the River Tweed. He has since been developing two parallel series of work - the 'Whaleback' and 'Heron Clan'. The work Allan accomplished in Canada in 'drawing out' image-stories from his explorations of origins and landscape has in Scotland charged his experiences of the landscape with an arc of energy - producing paintings that are fusing the Mesolithic origins of Scotland with the present. This has allowed him to view his landscape as a 'Totemic Panorama' and fill his painting with its phenomena both present and past.
RETURN TO ORIGINS..
He is now working towards a major exhibition of his work planned for 17th August until 12th October 2019 at the Tweeddale Gallery in Peebles in the Scottish Borders. The exhibition is called 'Return To Origins' and will feature work from three distinct series of paintings: the 'Songland' series painted in Canada and the 'Whaleback' & 'Heron Clan' series painted in Scotland. Some of the work will be accompanied by incantations that as well as forming the title of a piece also serve as an aid to interpretation.
allan started his world trip at the age of 22 and visited 20 countries on 5 continents over a 3 year period.
Created by Katrine Rustad on 13th March 2019 from notes taken from conversations with Allan between 2012-2019.
All photography is attributed to Katrine Rustad.