Art is the Unconscious Becoming Conscious

Almost the entire picture plane is covered in a textured series of reds and oranges, with only the borders showing evidence of green-blue and broken black. In the top right hand corner of the picture is an vertical amorphous dash of pale turquoise, evoking thoughts of the genie that has been let out of the bottle.
Desert Spirit, Oil on Paper, Inspired by the Australian outback

So, for the past three plus weeks I haven’t been able to get into my studio to make work, nor will I be able to do so for a few weeks yet.

The reason: I’m convalescing and repairing after a bad fall that broke my left arm and fractured my pubic bone. Thankfully, I’m mending well, and beginning to be able to walk again, with a stick.

Events like this always force us to look into ourselves and despite the frustration of being so restricted in what I can do, the time has felt like the moment to reboot.

In many ways the exhibition was very successful. It grew into what it became in a very organic way, and has given me plenty of ideas on how to go forward. Part of that has its roots in my personal passion for art, and a firm belief that art and creative activity are hugely significant for our overall well-being.

Wanting to express our creative impulses is, I believe, something that is part and parcel of being a human being. It has existed since we as a species have existed. Cave paintings as old as time itself bear witness to that fact.

We can’t speak with the Neanderthals and Bushmen of the past to ask them what they were about when they we’re embellishing their caves with paintings of animals or spirits, or images of their hands, but perhaps the words of one Australian aborigine offer us some insight:

‘When I look at my tjukurrpa (dreaming) paintings it makes me feel good - happy in kukura (spirit.) Everything is there, all there in the caves, not lost. This is my secret side. We must hold onto this, like our fathers, looking after it……… we give to our sons when we die. The sons keep this, handed down from their father, grandfathers. The sons will remember. They can carry on, not be lost. And it is still there - fathers’ country with rock hole, painted cave… the people keep their ceremony thing and pictures. They make them new. They bring young boys for learning to the caves, telling the stories, giving the laws from the grandfathers and fathers, learning to do the painting tjukurrpa way.’

Two figures occupy the main part of the picture plain. One is depicted as a deep magenta shadow that holds a hand up to its eyes, the other is a skeletal figure, picked out in white, derived from aboriginal paintings. The background is largely pale yellow in the top part and pale purple at the bottom. There are undistinguishable blue-green shapes in varying sizes dotted around on the background layer, that depict the acacia trees of the East African savannah.
Ancestral Spirit, Oil on Canvas, A layered autobiography

So, we have a sense that the paintings are imbued with connection to tribe in a way that transcends the physical, is more about the spirit of belonging and being part of something larger than the Self, so that ‘they can carry on, not be lost.’

The making of art has become a spiritual act, and something that connects generations and contains the spirit of the clan.

For all that we get carried away, these days, with the excitement of celebrity status and the high earnings that a few lucky individuals achieve during their creative lives, I believe that, for most people the urge to be creative is much closer to the aboriginal perspective, whether or not they profess to be seeking spiritual connection.

I believe that the yearning that I so often hear in people’s voices when they talk about their unexpressed creative-within is, in fact, a deep longing to belong. I think that, in our pursuit of comfort, security, ‘rightness’ and status, we have lost sight of our real identity as clusters of glorious stardust, our place of belonging.

Our society conditions us to believe that, in order to ‘belong’ we must behave in certain ways, and follow the proscribed rules of the ‘club.’ Truth is, that, when we can transcend the boundaries of our conditioned perspectives, we do actually find a way to connect again with the stars that we are made up of.

And I believe that this is precisely why we have this hunger to create.

I felt it, this hunger, from a very early age. I don’t think I am exceptional in that. Nor do I think that I am exceptional in being prevented, one way or another, from being given a channel for expressing my creativity. Thoughtless words from a teacher, a blocked opportunity, parental pressure all led to a deep conviction that I had not a shred of creativity in me. What I also felt was a profound sense of dis-ease.

But then, when I was around forty, I met my saviour, an artist called Tom Fairs, who insisted that ‘anyone can draw.’ I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe that I could draw, but he insisted that I join the life drawing class that he ran for his Theatre Design students.

My early efforts were dire, but he never once uttered a word of criticism. Instead he would stand in front of my pathetic scribbles and talk in tongues about the process of creativity. I say ‘talk in tongues’ because I really did not understand what he meant. I was still all wrapped up in the business of getting what I was doing ‘right.’

Some years later, after he had set me on my way to becoming the painter that I had wanted to be since childhood, I interviewed him for a project I had to do for my Art ‘A’ Level. Even then I don’t think I fully understood what he was telling me.

Now, twenty or so years down my own creative journey, I read his words again and they do have meaning for me.

In essence he is articulating the very same sentiments that the Aboriginal artist was expressing, but in words that are relevant to our modern lives. He is explaining, in his words, what it is that compels us to create.

‘Art is the unconscious becoming conscious……looking at painting is not just to confirm an order of reality which satisfies and supports our average perception……the thing that makes it into a work of art is the possibility that it focuses the attention and then reveals the content. The essential is to focus the attention… that the meaning of the thing is revealed… is transforming if it has a base, is deeply rooted in the psyche and exposes those areas which are inaccessible in any other way… is a kind of metaphysical, mystical experience of what is incomprehensible.’

He explained what he meant by ‘average perception.’

'We develop a kind of average perception which enables us to conduct the affairs of everyday life, and then we seek for something else. We seek for the quality of experience……..when we are dissatisfied because our lives are meaningless we seek for meaning. The practice of creative arts is taking you along some of these paths… is a rigorous discipline, as in religion… is almost as though, as you move through it, the work itself, you come to moments of recognition. Through…..all the frustrations and disappointments, following paths that lead nowhere, re-forming things, being involved in material states of change, you get to a point where you feel that there is a resolution. Then you let go.’

Tom was talking about painting because that was what he did, but you could put any creative activity in place of the word ‘painting,’ for these observations to hold true, whether you paint or write or draw or dance or make music…….

He goes on to say: ‘The difficulty is in trying to relate the imagined world to the authorised version of it, which is secure and which people don’t want to have disturbed.’

Perhaps that is why so many people shy away from embracing their own creativity but, as an artist I do see it as part of my role to help people feel safe enough to break free of the constraints of ‘average perception.’

With this in mind, I’ll be running creativity workshops in Santa Eulalia this winter, once I’m properly back on my feet again so, if you are on the island of Ibiza, please keep an eye out for news and updates. You can always email me with your contact details if you would like to be personally informed:

A black and white drawing showing a schematic eye with a strange and textures 'hood' falling over its outer corner, giving it a disturbing and slightly animalistic appearance.
‘The difficulty is in trying to relate the imagined world to the authorised version of it, which is secure and which people don’t want to have disturbed.’

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