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Christmas – a time to reflect

2020 was my first Christmas in Plymouth and I was excited to be starting a new chapter as Head of Painting, Drawing and Print at Arts University Plymouth.

In 2021, I said one last goodbye to my home of 30 years in the Cotswolds. This would be my final visit to say thankyou to The Coach House for being such a gift to us as a family.

For thirteen months of lockdowns, I had been staying in Wembury – just by the sea, near Plymouth. This was a healing time after four intense years of bullying and intimidation. I felt relieved to be away from that and hopeful for the future.

New home

I was overjoyed to move into our new home amongst trees inside a beautiful park in Plymouth city centre a couple of weeks before Christmas last year.

Plans for Paradise Lost

Whilst setting up in my new studio, I started to focus on finishing my response to the final two books of Paradise Lost. I felt nomadic and alone as I considered the very end of Book 12 where Milton describes the good news of God becoming a man and the approach to Mary to carry his son.

Imagining

The two drawings I eventually made of the annunciation and birth are concerned with ‘imagining’, a very important process for artists. This is when we anticipate an empathy for our content; where we see and feel something afresh and the ideas that we have been carrying start to take shape. This is when these ideas unfold with our materials.

The alchemy of materials

The materials fuse with our thoughts and become an integral part of what we feel, yet still unable to quite grasp. We need to wrestle with the ideas and break them to create. Only then do we find out whether this resonates and contains the essence of the idea. Or we may discover at this point a sense of wonder as we behold something unexpected and unknown. We can surprise ourselves when more works flow into an embodied translation of thoughts, metaphorized through the materials into something with a life of its own.

Drawing as a way of thinking

Back in the early 1990s, I devised some drawing courses for my students at the Slade School of Fine Art. The first of these was Drawing as a Way of Thinking. This course was followed by Drawing into Painting. I finally pulled my thoughts together in an essay, Drawing as a Way of Thinking, for my exhibition, The Landscape as Discourse, LARQ, Tasmania, 2015. Published in Australia, this is a discussion about how to release our unconscious life. How do artists imagine? How do we remain honest and open with ourselves to make known our subconscious inner world that seeps and crashes into our lives? How can we make our thought life visible at exactly the right moment for that song to be expressed and to be given form?

This drawing about the visitation is one such idea that I’ve attempted many times, often at Christmas. This time I’ve tried it in a caravan on wheels. As she builds her wedding house with her dress ready for her ceremony she is asked to carry God. Practical, resourceful, and independent Mary is surprised and shocked. Who wouldn’t be? But also, despite the fright and shock, I see her in wonder, chosen for her humility, strength, and courage for this journey of pain, tragedy, and anguish.

In this moment, will you carry light into the world?