Landscapes of the Soul

Landscapes of the Soul #1 pastel:graphite:charcoal on paper 115 x 82 cm unframed

Landscapes of the Soul #1 – Water soluble graphite on paper 2017

So, somewhere in the activity of drawing one afternoon in my studio, a ‘landscape’ emerged. Although my work is deeply influenced by the landscape and the natural world, I had no intended outcome, just taped two pieces of paper together and opened my newly purchased water soluble graphite sticks. They were a joy to use, sometimes melting onto the wet page like sticks of chocolate. With music in my headphones, I lost myself in the process without thinking too much about where to put the next mark. Working intuitively and with no regard for the end result I became aware that a picture was forming. Perhaps a dark moody sky with a suggestion of light beaming down onto the earth, the light almost appearing to be in conflict with the dark. A few more marks and smudges made, a watery brush and hands covered in graphite, I knew it was time to stop, my energy expended. I made no attempt to hide the join in the two pieces of paper, seeing it as part of the process and a defining feature of this drawing; a demonstration of my intention to be open and honest.

As I looked back at it I could see the landscape elements; foreground, mid ground and sky. It reminded me of a particular viewpoint from a place I visit often. I love the way that although I hadn’t planned any of this, something came out from within me as is often the case and my preferred method of working. It’s a bit like an outpouring of lots of different things…places I go, ideas I have, thoughts, dreams, internal struggles and things I am drawn to. In a similar way that dreams are like a kind of soup made of all our thoughts, experiences and responses to those experiences, this drawing is a physical manifestation of things in my conscious and subconscious self. But why a landscape? What is it about the landscape that is used so often as a metaphor both in my own work and throughout history. The Romantic movement of the 19th Century referenced nature and the landscape, using it to describe emotions and feelings but there is something far beyond this.

In a recent ‘On Being’ podcast, Krista Tippett interviewed Michael McCarthy, the environmental journalist and writer, about his book ‘The Moth Snowstorm’. In his book and this interview, he makes a connection between us (humans) and nature being of the same. He states that ‘we evolved from nature and in Nature Evolutionary Psychology – we were once wildlife and this is inherited and important. We have a legacy of instinct and feelings in our bodies, minds, spirit, soul. The Natural World has not left us. The only place we can truly be at peace is in the Natural World.’

As I ponder this, and my strong personal connection with the Natural World, I see how easily a drawing can come from within me which describes in the form of a landscape, the inner conflicts I have and the need to acknowledge those and accept them. It’s as though through the language of landscape, I can express something without having to use words. In this drawing we see the sky is the place where the conflict is playing out, light and darkness come up against each other in equal proportion, the earth itself providing a surface upon which the effect can be seen. Shadows and shafts of light appear and battle it out for supremacy. I realise that my viewpoint suggests I am observing from a distance. In so many landscape paintings, drawings and photographs, we have a sense of perspective. We are often looking into the distance. Is there something therefore about standing on a hill and looking across the landscape, or looking out to sea or across fields to the horizon, that provokes within us a response. When this happens to me, I have to stop and take it in. It arrests me – compels me to pay attention; and I choose to cooperate. Is there something that happens to us when we stand in those wide open spaces, those dramatic places? Is something speaking to us? In these times we find ourselves, of environmental turmoil and vulnerability, are we being called to reconnect to something with which we share our DNA?  Mother Nature, is she calling for her children to come home?