The completed painting of ‘Planets Series. Jupiter’. I think it looks suitably Jupiterian and possibly quite Narnian!
A detail, and idea of scale next to my arm …
Some ‘process’ photos …
Above, my ultra-violet design in UV pen.
It’s drawn free-hand from a Jacobite rose design, and is only viewable with UV torch. Some more images …
About the artwork …
I completely forgot to upload this artwork at the time, which was remiss of me! It’s from November last year, and I made it during my residency on the Isle of Iona.
I was invited by Richard Demarco to contribute a work for Traquair House’s annual ‘This Guy’s Not for Burning’ exhibition. This is something of a yearly tradition for the house, which has Catholic and Jacobite links going back many centuries.
Not being Catholic or a member of any religious group myself, I wondered what might be appropriate – obviously the name of the exhibition refers to Guy Fawke’s famous attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament, the ‘Gunpowder Plot’ of 1605. He was part of a small group of Catholics who wished to see the Catholic royal dynasty restored to the throne, which was occupied at the time by the Protestant King James. Guy Fawkes was caught, tortured and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. Mercifully the rope wasn’t arranged correctly and he was spared part of this by dying during the hanging, thus avoiding the rest.
And we celebrate this every year on the 5th November by burning an effigy of Fawkes….hmm, you don’t have to be Catholic to find that pretty repellent.
I felt honoured to be asked to contribute work for the exhibition, but flummoxed as to how I might respond to the theme – I couldn’t respond on one side or other on the religious argument, but I could honour the memory of those who sought to protect fugitives from such brutal justice (which occurred on both sides of course, at different periods of history). Also, as a supporter of Scottish independence, I could respond on one level at least to the early (predominantly but not exclusively Catholic) Jacobite cause!
Looking into the history of Traquair House (a beautiful 12th century manor house situated in Innerleithen on the Scottish Border), it seems that it may have been a place for persecuted Jacobites to hide during the uprisings in order to escape torture and death. Clandestine Jacobite signs and symbols were used in letters or on brooches for example, that were a sign of someone dedicated to the cause. The Jacobite rose refers of course to the ‘white rose of Scotland’ – a symbol adopted by Jacobites at the time.
It struck me though that these symbols would have been quickly discovered by government intelligence at the time, so I speculated about the use of invisible ink, then – voila! – my Jacobite rose in UV pen.
This was a lot of fun to think up, but I was surprised by how aesthetically pleasing it was too. The particular shade of indigo blue is soothing, slightly mystical. As you can see it requires a UV torch to reveal the design. The design itself was drawn free-hand, while shining the torch on to paper. The darker the room, the more blue it appears, though it’s viewable with the torch in daylight too.
I now have just one week to complete ‘Jupiter’ before my open studio day at Abbeyhill Studio, and before the two paintings ‘Jupiter’ and ‘Saturn’ are sent off to the Limtree Gallery Bristol, for inclusion in the upcoming Battersea Art Fair. My latest post on the Planets Series Here
Today’s progress on ‘Jupiter’. I wanted to create a luminous backdrop for the painting – the sea is a glaze of blues and gloss varnish, which you can see slightly better in this image ..
(This is the second in a series of seven paintings inspired by the seven planets as understood in Medieval cosmology, and the seven books of Narnia, which as the writer Michael Ward discovered, were themselves inspired by the seven planets. For more about the series, click on ‘Home’, above, and scroll through previous posts).
As mentioned in a previous post, I decided to paint Castle Tioram as the theme for ‘Jupiter’. Jupiter rules the months of February and March and I’ll be including trees, flora and fauna related to the planet as the painting progresses.
Fairy Tales ..
I first visited Castle Tioram (pronounced ‘Cheerum’) in the Ardnamurchan Peninsula in 1992, and returned again for the first time since then in September last year. It was a beautiful, entrancing place back then, and still is. The Ardnamurchan Peninsula is one of Scotland’s most remote and un-spoiled areas of landscape. Ancient forests grow right down to the coast. Mosses, lichens and rare plants flourish in the relatively unpolluted atmosphere – the forest’s ecosystem is more or less untouched, save for a very few pathways and single track roads that weave through the area.
If you’re interested in forest ecosystems you’ll know that forest trees ‘talk’ to one-another in a sense. They communicate via their complex root system, so that younger trees, or weaker trees are fed nutrients by older trees – they’re interdependent. Before a tree dies, it sends nutrients to the roots of nearby trees. When the forest root-system is disturbed by, for example, motorways cutting one area off from another, the forest ecosystem is destroyed. An ancient forest is a sort of entity in a sense (or a community if you like!)
So Tolkien wasn’t far wrong, and C.S. Lewis (a close friend of Tolkien for decades) shared this reverence for nature – both author’s books featured the idea of conscious trees. Lewis’s stories featured dryads (tree spirits) able to ‘leave’ the physical tree and travel far distances to communicate important news. (in The Last Battle for example a dryad tells King Rillian that her tree, miles away, is being destroyed along with the rest of the forest).
In the east part of Ardnamurchan, further inland, is one of Europe’s rare original oak forests. It’s called Ariundle (derived from Scottish Gaelic Àiridh – meaning a shieling or collection of small huts and Fhionndail – a fair meadow). So, ‘a collection of huts in the fair meadow’. Ariundle is a remnant of the ancient coastal oakwood that formerly stretched along the Atlantic coast from Spain and Portugal to Norway.
In early medieval times Castle Tioram and Ardnamurchan were far busier places than nowadays. The highways of the ancient world across Scandinavia and the north of Scotland were sea-routes – quicker to navigate than land before modern times when roads were cut through mountains and forests.
The north and west of Scotland as a whole was teeming with activity. There were numerous wars of independence and during the Middle ages, Scottish castles were often burned and destroyed during war-times to prevent them being occupied by incoming armies (which is what happened to Castle Tioram).
Towards the end of the 18th century (post-Culloden) Highland clearances, then the industrial revolution almost entirely emptied some areas of the west coast. Anyone who hadn’t emigrated, or been forced to emigrate, to America and Canada moved to the cities and towns for work.
The one upside of this is that the landscape has been left untouched. Castle Tioram, situated on a rocky outcrop in a glass-like sea surrounded by wild forest, can have quite an impact on visitors to the place – it does look almost other-worldy, or mythical.
Maybe it’s just nostalgia that makes people respond with emotion to the castle, a sentiment or belief that things were better in times past. Looking into early Scottish history though, there are as always two stories – one from ruling leaders, post war, and the story discovered in ancient Gaelic manuscripts. Tioram was never defeated in battle, for hundreds of years it was relatively peaceable (for those times at least, when feuds were common throughout Europe).
The castle and surrounding area was home to a large community ruled by the MacDonalds under the complex laws of the early clan system. This society enjoyed thriving art, literary and music traditions, and although the more democratic approach to running society appeared chaotic or ‘barbaric’ to outsiders, it now looks ahead of its time. Men and women inherited title and property, children of the ruling monarchs were often placed in the poorest households of the clan, while poorer children in the community were adopted temporarily by the ruling family. This encouraged connections, the learning of skills, and a balanced community.
It wasn’t all peaceable of course, there were the numerous complex feuds between clans, and the wars of independence which occurred between the 13th to 18th centuries. In 1715 the then chief of Clan Donald, Allan MacDonald, torched the castle before joining the battle at Sherriffmuir (1715 Jacobite rebellion – thanks for correction Murdo MacDonald!) He expected to lose, and didn’t want the castle to fall in to government hands. The final battle took place in 1745 at Culloden, and after this the Scottish clan system was destroyed (also due to the fact that many Scottish clan chiefs bought into the new feudal system as it offered unlimited opportunities for wealth and land) and Scotland never regained independence.
All of that explains some of the historical reasons why we respond to such places, but maybe our response to castle ruins in a wild remote landscape is also related to the power of fairy tale or archetypes – it ‘speaks’ to us of something important and valuable. In Ardnamurchan the air feels different because it is different – it’s clean, scented with salty brine, sun-warmed wood, mossy forest floors and the honey of heather throughout summer – it feels idyllic. Nowadays we understand the environmental fragility of such places.
In an earlier post I described C.S. Lewis’s fascination with Medieval mythology and cosmology – an era in which he believed imagination held an important philosophical role. From a different perspective Jung also explored this area – focusing on the importance of archetypes in the collective human psyche. Early Medieval thinking hadn’t yet lost that sense of universality, and connection to nature.
A castle on a remote island reminds us of a thousand different myths and fairy tales – tangled forests, ogres, battles, knights, magicians, princesses plotting escape, not to mention Camelot – a legend based on dreams of a lost golden age and the search for a mysterious holy grail. One conflict of the story is the battle of Pagan and Christian religions – neither of which comes out on top, interestingly. The myth goes (of course!) that both Merlin (Pagan) and Arthur (Christian) will return again.
It all reminds me of this sort of art …
This Gothic or pre-renaissance style of painting is a continuation of Byzantine art. It made way for new ideas of realism in art – perspective and so on – leading to high renaissance art and ‘the age of reason’. Boticelli was sn artistic bridge between these styles and Northern renaissance art sometimes referred back to this earlier era stylistically.
All of this is ideal subject matter for my Jupiter painting, relating also to the Jupiterian book from the Narnia Chronicles The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe which centres on the idea of Winter passed, guilt forgiven – restoration of a golden age of peace in the sea-side castle of Cair Paravel after years of cold and brutality, but this comes after challenges, sacrifice and re-birth (the Christian element of the story – though there are many themes).
In this story, the dryads and trees of Narnia are still fully alive (in later books they have to be re-awakened) and since the oak is the tree most closely associated with Jupiter, that’s another reason to paint Ardnamurchan, one of the few places where you can enjoy fully living forests.
Here’s a link with more about Ariundle – https://www.wildlochaber.com/ardnamurchan/wildlife/ariundle-oakwood
Today’s painting in progress – the backdrop for a privately commissioned portrait.
This is Portobello beach – Edinburgh’s seaside! I’ll post a painting update in the next few days …
Above, today’s progress on ‘Jupiter’.
That’s just the background layer, so it looks a bit pantomime-backdrop at the moment, possibly a bit Visit Scotland, but it will look very different within a week. The raised marks are from a previous painting, but since I’ll be painting oak branches these will be incorporated as part of the gnarly texture of tree-bark.
It’s the same size as my previous painting Saturn, this image gives an idea of scale …
I hope there aren’t too many Medievalist experts reading my blog! Reading back over the past posts on this planet series, I need to correct a couple of details. It’s typical of my approach to a subject since I write as I explore, but I’ll get there!
(This is the second in a series of seven paintings inspired by the seven planets as understood in Medieval cosmology, and the seven books of Narnia, which as the writer Michael Ward discovered, were themselves inspired by the seven planets) …
I’ll write a description of the Medieval view of the cosmos below, then I’ll describe a little more about C.S. Lewis’s views on imagination and reason, as explained in Michael Ward’s excellent book Planet Narnia …
Medieval view of the cosmos in everyday life and in art ..
Medieval philosophy, astrology, astronomy, science and religion in the western world all more or less interconnected, though it wouldn’t be described as a rigid or unchanging system of thought and belief.
Some religious groups – Gnostics for example, might accept aspects or theories prevalent in the Medieval view of the cosmos, but not others. Similar to any time including our own it would be misleading to say that Western society was ‘of a mind’, to use a Scottish-ism!
The Medieval view of the cosmos did feed in to every day life though, it was (as we might say nowadays) fairly mainstream. Ordinary working folks might pray to or invoke a planetary influence. Science of the time included the Medieval understanding of the cosmos, the practice of magic was wide-spread, and included evocation of planetary influence. Writers, musicians and artists would create cosmic and theological allegories, the most famous example probably being Dante’s Inferno.
Or more earthy in tone, Chaucer’s character in The Wife of Bath bewails the influence of Mars on her nature – all Chaucer’s stories deal with the influence of the planets, some as entire allegories, woven imaginatively into the narrative so it can be enjoyed as a story, and as inspiration or contemplation.
Planetary influence was like a lens of myriad colourful and emotive aspects through which artists could explore and observe the world and human nature. It could be described also as a world of external influence playing on the human psyche (interesting to compare it to the influence of Freud on creativity in modern times – Hitchcock films etc).
C.S. Lewis’s interest in Medieval cosmology …
C.S. Lewis was a Medieval Classics scholar and teacher, who felt that society had lost something magical and profound in the post-Copernican world (i.e. when scientific discovery of space altered our view of the cosmos, and by association a certain way of believing, of faith), and although he spent most of his life writing on Christianity and classical literature, his creative output always dealt with planetary influences.
This is why it’s surprising that Michael Ward’s discovery – that the seven books of Narnia were each influenced by the seven Medieval planets – wasn’t recognised sooner. He believes that this had much to do with the fact that most scholars studying the work of Lewis were Christians, so put simply they’d be a bit shifty about the mention of gods in the plural, not to mention astrology. (if you’ve got a strong stomach you can find numerous right-wing Christians of dubious sanity on Youtube declaiming that C.S. Lewis is an evil Pagan.) Or, atheist ‘rational’ scholars might dismiss the Medievalist aspects as superstition – they might view the form of romance, or fairy tale as not worthy of serious study – i.e. sci-fi or children’s novels.
C.S. Lewis had meaningful or profound reasons for writing in the form of a children’s story. Probably one of the most simple was that it was the only way he could successfully integrate Medieval cosmology in a post-war literary climate where harsh realism was more zeitgeisty. As Ward observes, he opposed the harsh negative, or nihilist, tone of the literature of his time for philosophical reasons.
He knew too, that the Medieval view of the cosmos, which in many ways incorporated Pagan approaches to belief, did incorporate the concept of one god.
Medieval understanding of the Cosmos …
In Medieval thought, there were three layers: Earth, the Celestial Realm and the Empyrean.
‘As above so below’ referred to the idea that earth and everything in it was a reflection of the heavens, but the influence of the heavens could not be experienced directly because everything ‘sub-lunar’ – beneath the moon, was separated from the direct influence of the cosmos.
People sought harmony with the planetary influences: ‘as above-so below’, and it was believed their influence could be invoked via ‘talismans’ – objects, plants, animals places etc that related to, or were influenced by a certain planet.
(For example copper relates to Venus, tin to Jupiter, silver to the moon and so on) …
Above the earth, the moon drew a sort of veil between the celestial realms and earth. The celestial realms were where the planets resided. The planets, in turn, were influenced by what was termed ‘the divine’ – the realm beyond the planets – the Emypyrean.
Going back farther in time, think of the mysterious inscription on the tomb of Isis: I am all that was, all that is, and all that shall ever be, and no man hath lifted the veil from my face. It’s interesting also to explore the mythology of Gnosticism, usually at odds with Christian belief, which has a ‘creation myth’ around the idea of this veil – ‘In Our Time – Gnosticism ).
To some branches of thought, the Divine, or the Empyrean, was the unknowable; the One God, ‘all that is’, veiled and beyond human comprehension. In Christian orthodox practice it might be referred to as ‘He’ or ‘our Father’, but the Gnostic view, for example, was that its actual form was unknown and unknowable.
A few posts ago, I described how I became interested in Medieval cosmology via exploring Freemasonic symbology. I’ve been amateurishly dipping in to these religious, esoteric or spiritually related subjects since the age of twenty or so, including religious beliefs of the Essenes, Cathars, Rosicrucians and Gnostics among several (I’ve still never felt compelled to actually join a religious or spiritual group though!) I do find a fascinating harmony in Medieval cosmology, and I’m finding this recent research rewarding, I think partly because exploring it helps clarify the interrelated patterns and connections between all these belief systems.
Influence of the planets in the Narnia Chronicles …
The process is made even more rewarding with the added clarity and insight of Michael Ward’s ‘Planet Narnia’. The book doesn’t just explore the planetary influence in the Narnia Chronicles, it also makes sense (to a lay person such as myself) of the experience Lewis is aiming for; he wants the reader to be immersed in these books, in a way that is quite unique.
Artists and writers often deal with different layers of meaning in their work, but Lewis’s incorporation of planetary influence went further because it was deliberately hidden – unknowable by the reader even while they experience the influence of the planets as they read.
Ward observes that Lewis had a mischievous mind; though an honest and unusually self-effacing character, he did enjoy secrets and he might have wondered if the penny would drop for readers of his books in his own lifetime (in fact it was fifty years after his death!)
His intention was not just secrecy though, it was intended as a mystical experience – it had to be hidden in order to give that experience and not simply a one-dimensional intellectual understanding. Not only children but adults reading the Narnia Chronicles would be unaware that each was written ‘under the influence’ of each planet – stories, plots and characters woven from an understanding of the mythology and qualities of each planet, with no direct mention of the planets themselves.
The poetic effect feels profound while reading the stories, for example the Jupiterian theme of ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’; Winter passed and guilt forgiven is (as Michael Ward explains) how Lewis put it when describing the influence of Jupiter in his poem ‘The Planets’.
This idea is woven into the pivotal moment in the story when Edmund realises his guilt and regrets his allegiance both towards the witch, and his own selfish motivation – this is described at the same time as the melting snow, appearance of flowers and long-awaited arrival of spring.
Lewis had come to question a purely rational approach to understanding faith, and that’s a huge subject to get into and best understood by reading Michael Ward’s, or C.S. Lewis’s books, but something that occurred to me as I was reading this subject was the notion of an initiation – a ritual that’s experienced in, for example, the freemasonic tradition (as mentioned before I do believe that freemasonary organisations have unfair influence, and I question the organisation’s practices, just to be clear!) Part of the esoteric or hidden aspect of freemasonry is the initiation ceremony, which must remain secret because otherwise it’s rational, no longer an experience. And that brings it back to Lewis’s ‘Contemplation and Enjoyment’.
The difference between the two is more complex than ‘Subjectivity/Enjoyment’ and ‘Objectivity/Contemplation’. (I mentioned this in the previous post as a way to paraphrase C.S. Lewis’s quote from ‘Meditation in a Toolshed’, but that’s an oversimplification) . Among other things, it’s an acknowledgement of imagination – rationality places us outside an experience, ‘knowing’, Lewis argues, is deeper – it’s all-encompassing, eluding reason, because rational understanding separates us from experiencing, or as C.S. Lewis would say – Enjoyment.
I’m not giving these ideas their proper due; better that people read the sources themselves, but to me it offers a deeper appreciation of a more holistic, imaginative understanding and perception, which feeds into my work as an artist.
I’ll leave it there just now – that’s a long read for a person casually dropping in to this blog! But it’s also helpful to write here so I don’t forget. I might write up these posts as a booklet at some point …
Every moment the patches of green grew bigger and the patches of snow grew smaller. Every moment more and more of the trees shook off their robes of snow. Soon, wherever you looked, instead of white shapes you saw the dark green of firs or the black prickly branches of bare oaks and beeches and elms. Then the mist turned from white to gold and presently cleared away all together. Shafts of delicious sunlight struck down on to the forest floor and overhead you could see the blue sky through the treetops.
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
I’m sketching ideas for my new painting ‘Jupiter’, second in a series of seven paintings inspired by the seven planets as understood in Medieval cosmology, and the seven books of Narnia, which (as the writer Michael Ward discovered) were themselves inspired by the seven planets.
(you can view all the previous posts from my home page – ‘Home’ menu above)
What’s Jupiterian about the painting and excerpt above you may ask! Firstly, the planet associated with the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is Jupiter, secondly it’s coming up to the right time of year; in the order of Medieval planets Jupiter comes after Saturn. Saturn is associated with winter, Jupiter represents the overcoming of Saturn and long winter. Not quite the arrival of spring (associated with Mars) but around now the days become longer, we see the first snowdrops, and in the wildest most ancient woodlands the arrival of the beautiful star-like seven-petaled wood anemone (associated with the north wind and Jupiter). Winter is losing its hold at last.
Jupiter, ruler of Sagittarius and Pisces (this is the Medieval view of planets, so Neptune, Uranus and Pluto were not viewable at the time) was seen as the ruler of all the planets. Jove (Roman title) also relates to Zeus (Greek title) and Thor, god of thunder, storm and the north wind.
Subjects associated with Jupiter were higher learning, the law, theology, the cosmos and the sea. Qualities – joviality (optimism, laughter), honesty and kingship. Colours – azure, purple. Animals – horses, dolphins and various others including the mythical centaur. Plants – wood anenome, dandelions (among many others). Trees – Oak mainly (associated with Thor). Day – Thursday. Order of planets …
Also … wardrobes – you can look it up yourself in Medieval planet associations!
‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. ‘Ward Robes’ – robes worn by kings and members of the court. Fur coats worn by Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy discovered in the wardrobe before they enter the land of Narnia through the wardrobe. In the book, Tumnus the faun asks Lucy how she got into Narnia ‘I – I got in through the wardrobe in the spare room’. Tumnus replies – ‘Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?’. All appropriately ‘jovial’ – Lewis was himself a Sagittarian!
My painting sketch above is a simple, stylised painting of the ruined Castle Tioram in Ardnamaurchan on the west coast of Scotland (which, incidentally is where the Resipole Gallery is situated, which exhibits my paintings).
Jupiterian themes in the sketch include oak trees, moss, azure, sea, kingship (castle), some snow, and a suggestion of wood anemones.
Ardnamurchan is wild – one of the most un-touched areas of the west coast of Scotland. I associate the castle imaginatively with the Narnian castle of Cair Paravel (also the Jupiterian idea of kingship or rulership) particularly as it’s experienced in Prince Caspian, in the spine-tingling passage when the children find themselves near the sea, surrounded by a thicket of ancient trees growing down to the beach, up above on the rocks they discover the ruins of a castle, and decide to camp there for the night, then gradually realise it is in fact Cair Paravel where they once ruled as kings and queens, but while they’ve been back in England for a year or so, hundreds of years have passed in Narnia …
In my previous painting, ‘Saturn’, there’s a reference to the castle there too, but it’s night so you can’t see its form. Once I paint the large version of Jupiter, there will be more Jupiterean themes – wood anemones among the snow will be a clear foreground feature, and hopefully I’ll be able to paint the feeling of wind in the treetops (Jupiter ruling wind and thunder).
Above – the final, definitive actually complete version of ‘Planet Series, Saturn’!
I’ve struggled a lot with this painting, which is the first in a series of seven paintings inspired by a Medieval view of ‘the Planets’, and the seven books of Narnia (which, as the writer and philosopher Michael Ward discovered in 2008, are each inspired by one of the seven planets).
Black is a tricky colour, or tone, to work with when the entire painting is based on black, and the trick to feeling happier with this final painting is deciding to focus on texture. I used some indigo pigment, salt and an area of gloss varnish as well as black oil paint, other areas are given a cloudy feel with gesso. I think it makes the painting interesting from a variety of angles depending on light …
It was something of a challenge to work with black every day. I do love black and the way it enhances textures of matt and gloss, but there’s no denying that brighter colours are more uplifting, so I’m very happy to be into Jupiter subject matter now. I started the Jupiter painting today and will explore ideas about Jupiter in the next post
Bye bye Saturn!