AS AN ARTIST I AM INVOLVED IN THE RADICAL PROCESS OF RE-BECOMING ANIMAL. A PROCESS THAT RESTORES THE ORIGINAL ECOLOGICAL MIND AND ENGENDERS DEEP IDENTIFICATION WITH THE MULTI-FACETED ELEMENTS OF NATURE. IN OUR TIME OF SEVERE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS, THE ROLE OF THE ARTIST IS ALSO RESTORED TO A POSITION OF RESPONSIBILITY TO USE THIS UNIQUE ROLE TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE REJUVENATION OF A HEALTHY SOCIETAL ECOLOGICAL CONSCIOUSNESS.
Remembering the human psyche is an integral part of the greater psyche of nature has laid the ground in my painting for an exploration of origins and a connection to remnants of original aboriginal nature embedded in all our psychic foundations. I believe our original psyche operated with the inherent possession of an ecologically attuned sense of self in the world and that this remains latent in our psychological make-up. This ecological attunement of early peoples was absolutely necessary to live and prosper – it was a natural part of life. I am not suggesting that all early 'hunter-fisher, gatherer people' lived in complete harmony with nature or that they made the right ecological decisions about their environments all the time. Archaeological research indicates that hunter-fisher, gatherers have sometimes been associated with over-use of on their environs. What I am referring to is the faculty of early peoples to identify closely with nature as part of nature, to know their environments intimately and to identify closely with important species and elemental forces. This unity with nature engendered a deep respect - what we can call reverence. This unity and respect was a feature of and facilitated psychic attunement. This attunement was a strong mitigating factor in balancing their ecological impact on the environment, favouring the collective psyche over a split into the singular. In simple terms, early humans were not removed from animal and elemental nature the way we are today and their identification was profound. My painting has driven a connectedness and orientation that enables a very particular psychic attunement to nature providing me with a distinct ecological consciousness and purpose as a painter.
Other beings in nature - trees, rivers, mountains, animals… like humans are, for me, both primal spirit and organic entity. They provide vital symbolic relationships and a landscape for the human mind that nurtures ecological attunement to nature. My psychic attunement to the essence of wild natural environment and our ancient ancestral human presence within it takes hold of my work and has a governing life of its own. This ‘taking hold’ is akin to 'an altered psychic state' allowing me to transmit primal elements of nature and deeper layers of historical presence of place without me being fully in control of the image making. This enhances the attunement of my work to the significance of the greater psyche of nature and provides a primordial context for my art.
Through this orientation, I experience a particular reverence for the natural world - a working reverence that enables a change in perception and an ability to mine psychic strata, to commune with the primal spirit in the life around me and allow me the presence of mind to honor it. This process of reconnection to core identity allows my painting to reflect primal spirit presence.
This connectedness to origins allows me to be a conduit for the psychic world of nature and its ancestral spirit presence - a medium between worlds. These invisible energies are accessible and available to be made visible in the consciousness of humans. I am not inventing images but instead projecting ‘after-images’ of what is already present within the essence of nature. These ‘after images’ are the reconstitution of my exposure and symbolic alignment to primal essence imbibed from within nature. This exposure is aligned with an internal image of the soul, a soul landscape that provides innate images and colours, the accessibility of which allows me to perform the role of artist. This exposure is psychically ‘transposed’ in the mind’s eye and then finally ‘fixed’ in paint. I have learnt that everything is gestating, waiting to be brought forth and that painting is an excellent medium for fixing images.
From the very beginning of my development as a painter, I chose to paint on square panels. It's fair to say this decision was a psychic imperative rather than a conscious decision. I came to understand the reason for the use of the square as a representation of infinite primordial space. I was not engaged in painting landscape or portraiture but instead the essence of psychic nature through my aboriginal consciousness.
This very particular way of working began to emerge more fully and consolidate when I lived on the Conwy estuary in North Wales between 2006-12. The tidal movements continually create remnant mirage landscapes which stimulated an archaeological mind-set and were initially manifest in my paintings as parallel landscapes. I realised that these paintings communicated primal messages and were drawing me into the prehistoric world without my conscious intention. They continued the intrinsic association with nature in my painting that was there from the beginning and are a juxtaposition of simple geometric imagery, seemingly hard-wired into the human brain. These geometric formations were placed in juxtaposition with fluid motifs interacting together to recall what is not immediately obvious or easily seen. They recall essence rather than being representational in the formal sense and while being in the present they also reach back in time connecting to origins and therefore providing a more complete and integrated experience.
'PAINTING IS A RETURN TO THE ORIGINS' ~ ANTONI TAPIES
The geometric formations manifest as arrangements of ‘apertures’ and ‘parallels’, - these apertures have evolved over time, from the early stages of my work. I have referred to them previously as Graves and Henges - they have evolved in different ways, becoming a grid-like structure floating in the primordial ground of the painting and in some Canadian Songlands paintings providing a synchronous superstructure of apertures. These are comparable to a gravitational field spreading across time. For me they also have echoes of the dense formations of the Carnac Stones in Brittany, France (see Google images of Carnac Stones from space) - thought to be constructed in the transitional period at the end of the mesolithic and beginning of the neolithic periods. Apertures emerged spontaneously in my early work and continue to be an integral part of their design but nevertheless manifest themselves as a conscious imperative.
The appearance of large, oblong ascending apertures occurred at the end of my time on the estuary. They were originally inspired by sheer mountain faces in the Snowdonian Range in North Wales particularly Cader Idris and manifest the face of primal psychic power. They consequently have ritual presence, both in the act of painting and as an object of respect and attunement. This provides ground for enhancing change in my psychic state while in the process of painting. These oblong masses have, over time, transposed, becoming permeable apertures and planes of after-images and ancestral stories. This evolved use of apertures has become foundational in much of my works.
I completed a series of paintings called the Songlands Series at my studios on Lake Ontario and Lake Massawippi in Quebec, Canada between 2013 - 2015. They significantly developed my projection of after-images and ancestral stories. The First Nations, Abenaki people call this area of Southern Quebec ‘Dawnland' (The Land of the Rising Sun). These paintings were, from the start, imbued with a strong primal presence and their emergent names, ‘Ghostlands’, ‘Spirit Wall’, ‘Songlands’ and ‘Blood-lines’ exemplify this. I developed an affinity with Quebec over many years and from the beginning was struck by its immense nature, diverse aboriginal peoples as well as the character of its recent settlers over the last 400 years. I made a strong connection to the soul of this land. While painting there I was vividly aware of the presence of the spirit of the indigenous peoples whose psychic influence is still alive in the landscape. I was able to commune with its nature and history through my paintings, beyond and behind the current cultural level. It was during the Songlands Series that the large apertures became permeable. Psychically they drew me in and I found myself ‘drawing out’ images as if I was recovering image stories. The beginnings of this process can be seen in the painting Spirit Wall. This was a profound experience which opened me up to significant changes in my ecological consciousness. These paintings and their explorations fostered a great respect within me for the First Nations people, their attunement to nature, ecological consciousness and their ancestral heritage. I was painfully aware of their status as dispossessed, often despised and ill-treated people whose land has suffered profound ecological damage. This remembering is of course psychically influential in my work.
This painting experience also fostered a further development in my connectedness to aboriginal consciousness. It drove the context of my painting, deeper into ancient history. This stimulated an exploration of paleo-indian and paleolithic history that is now contextualising my painting and allowing me to sustain a depth connection to origins.
I returned to live in Scotland at the end of 2015 and built a studio close to the river Tweed on the edge of the Merse - a fertile, alluvial plain in the Eastern Scottish Borderlands, over-looked by the Cheviot Hills and graced by the river Tweed. Through the modern landscape with its beautiful trees, wild river and abundant wildlife, I was quickly drawn into an exploration of the ancient trees and wildwoods and the hunter-gatherers who populated these lowlands after the last Glacial Maximum when ice sheets retreated and trees again colonised the whole land. This exploration was connected and influenced by my work in Quebec and the corresponding insights into the psyche of nature, the balance of humans in nature and the opening up to ecological image-stories.
As I began to attune myself to my new environment, I became aware of a great 'Whale-back being' swimming in the landscape - the remnants of a 400 million year old volcano. An elusive being, sometimes there, sometimes not, with ever-changing form and colour. My enhanced ability to form an intimate relationship with this elemental being, provided me with an entry point - a cleft in the visible world. As the Whale-back emerged in my psyche and my painting, the square panels were not just surfaces but were like screens suspended between worlds. These permeable apertures brought me into contact with other parallel worlds interacting with our organic world, they provided a gateway. This gateway allowed for the transmission of ecological intelligence and spirit presence. The consciousness that a painting can act as a working interface between materiality and spirit.
The drawing out of images developed my consciousness of connectivity and provided the ground for powerful identifications across species and elemental nature. This shift in consciousness of connectivity and the resultant process of identification has allowed me to begin to understand what was lost in the transition of human from hunter-fisher-gatherers to farmers and our modern way of being. It has lit up my understanding of the embodiment of ecological consciousness in evolutionary life. I understand that ecological identification was a core attribute of first people’s relationship with all aspects of nature from within nature. It was this ability that was a significant loss for us as modern people. It allowed a separation of humans from nature and the the relationship with nature as an object separate from ourselves.
This process of identification helped make relationships with important animals and ancestors more profoundly symbolic and concrete. These developments charged the landscape with an arc of primordial energy - fusing learning from origins into a view of nature as a totemic landscape, nature as the greater mind. My paintings were being populated by image-stories that are the result of a fusion of the Mesolithic origins of Scotland with the present day. This is allowing me to view my landscape as a 'totemic panorama' and fill my paintings with its phenomena both past and present. My current painting is focused on two strands: one is an exploration of first people’s relationship with nature, the other is an exploration of our modern totemic landscape.
There is much criticism of the use of the word ‘totem’ and I understand this. However, it’s generalised use has proved very resilient. It is commonly used as a primal identification with a symbol and is found in all aspects of life.
There is a strong resonance for me, as a painter, with rock wall painting - some of which were painted over 40,000 years ago. These ancient paintings - both figurative and non-figurative are thought to have been used for religious and ritual purpose, often connected with hunting but also to pay homage to totemic relationships. It is speculated that some of these paintings were made by paleolithic Shamans, with the intention of drawing images and power out of the walls themselves. This ‘drawing out of image and power’ and the consciousness that a painting can act as a screen suspended between worlds - the known and unknown and the consequent transmission of intelligence, powerfully underpins my purpose as a painter.
A highly significant example of rock wall painting, for me, is Nawarla Gabarnmung - roughly translated as 'cleft in the rock' (Landscape Australia article on the discovery of the site in 2006 and its geological as well as cultural significance). It lies in a remote location on the traditional lands of the Jewoyn people in Arnhem Land, Northern Territories, Australia, it dates back more than 40,000 years. This archaic art site shows a remembering and a connectedness to nature with generations of painters partaking in its development. For these people the paintings are psychic and spiritual manifestation of attunement to nature and their spirit home. They provide practical and spiritual mapping and purpose in the present, encouraging continual human rejuvenation.
In this era of serious ecological crisis with its huge loss of creatures, trees, habitat and air and water quality, the separation from reverence for nature and the widespread misunderstanding of its primal spirit life is catastrophic for so many life forces - including so many humans.
Our long-time cultural conditioning with its roots in the transition into larger scale farming when humans became full-time farmers rather than being sustained within nature, splits human psyche from nature and now makes it extremely difficult for our modern mind to cross the threshold to an attuned relationship with nature - to be completely part of nature. The high levels of stress, trauma, social conflict and ecological dysfunction in our modern human world are a direct result of our psychic split from nature. This condition severely limits our potential for leaps in evolutionary development, our neurological and physiological adaptations in nature and our attunement to origins.
Evolutionary mature humanity depends on us identifying intimately not just with domestic human settings but with multi-species environments. Only by returning to an intimate and balanced relationship and identification with nature can we further fully develop - not just technologically. While we live in a state of mind of societal denial, our separation from nature and the loss of ability to identify with nature is rapidly destroying our biosphere.
I believe art that is attuned to the natural world and our ancestral heritage, without romanticising it, can act as a conduit to origins and wild nature with its attendant transmission of ecological and spirit intelligence. This is intrinsic to our current human quest and my quest as an artist.
'Ancient, long forgotten things are preserved within us, continue to work upon us - often without our realising it - and then, suddenly, they come to the surface and speak to us like...shadows.' ~ The Necessity of Art - Ernst Fischer
Allan Renshaw. March 2019. Scotland.
Please see this link for a summary of influential writings, cultures & traditions, theories & discussions that have and continue to shape my thinking.