Tag Archives: Narnia

Venus

‘Venus. Planets Series’. Mixed media on 10×10″ wood. Rose Strang 2019

Today’s version of Venus – an update from the previous version which I wasn’t quite happy with. I think this is better – more Venusian I hope.

in the sea’s caverns,
In grass growing, and grain bursting,
Flower unfolding, and flesh longing,
And shower falling sharp in April.

(excerpt from the Venusian verses from C.S Lewis’s The Planets)

This completes the series of small Planets Series studies on wood, and the exhibition launches this weekend! All info here – Planets Series

This is a continuation of the Planets Series I’m creating this year, which takes inspiration from the planets as understood in Medieval cosmology, and the seven books of Narnia which were each inspired by the seven planets, as discovered by Michael Ward, author of ‘Planet Narnia’.

Venus corresponds to The Magician’s Nephew in the Narnia Chronicles. It was the last book in the series (also written last) and Lewis intended it as a prequel – a sort of ‘making of Narnia’.

Venus in the Medieval imagination and mythology was associated with new life, fecundity, all flowers and growing things, love, pleasure, desire, sensuality and the arts. It rules both Taurus and Libra. It’s very suited to this time of year since its associated colour is green, and June is the most beautifully verdant month (you might call on a venusian influence if you’re a keen gardener!)

Venus is also related to the myth of the garden of the Hesperides (from Wikipedia: ‘The name means originating from Hesperos (evening). Hesperos, or Vesper in Latin, is the origin of the name Hesperus the evening star (i.e. the planet Venus as well as having a shared root with the English word “west”.’ )

I’ve taken that association as inspiration for the painting above, including apples in the garden of the Hesperides, which feature in the top right of my painting. And also not least because one of the main themes of The Magician’s Nephew is Digory’s quest to bring back an apple from the tree of eternal life to his mother, who’s dying.

‘Venus, detail’ Rose Strang 2019

The apple doesn’t offer eternal life in our world, but it does make his mother well again. Digory then plants the apple core in the garden, which grows into a healthy, but apparently un-magical apple tree. In later years it’s blown down in a storm, Digory (or Professor Kirk) who’s now moved to a large house in the country, decides to have it made into a wardrobe –  the same wardrobe discovered of course by Lucy in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – which leads her in to Narnia.

When I read the Magician’s Nephew as a kid, I was deeply affected by the story of Digory and his mother – it’s understated and all the more moving because of that. It’s no surprise to learn that C.S. Lewis’s own mother died when he was around nine years old.

It’s one aspect of Venusian love in the story, another completely different kind is the crush Digory’s Uncle Andrew has on Jadis – the former Empress of a corrupt and dying alien world called Charn. Although she’s described as having a ‘terrible’ sort of beauty, she’s also ruthless, violent and about seven foot tall, so the descriptions of the grovelling, inebriated Uncle Andrew preening himself in the mirror while fantasising about winning Jadis’s favour is a humorously incongruent image!

The story also describes the birth of Narnia, which is sung into life by Aslan, after which he instructs all the new creatures, trees and living things to ..awake. Love. Think. Speak…

As this is the last painting in this series, I’ll end with the full poem; The Planets, by C.S. Lewis …

“The Planets”

Lady LUNA, in light canoe,
By friths and shallows of fretted cloudland
Cruises monthly; with chrism of dews
And drench of dream, a drizzling glamour,
Enchants us–the cheat! changing sometime
A mind to madness, melancholy pale,
Bleached with gazing on her blank count’nance
Orb’d and ageless. In earth’s bosom
The shower of her rays, sharp-feathered light
Reaching downward, ripens silver,
Forming and fashioning female brightness,
–Metal maidenlike. Her moist circle
Is nearest earth. Next beyond her
MERCURY marches;–madcap rover,
Patron of pilf’rers. Pert quicksilver
His gaze begets, goblin mineral,
Merry multitude of meeting selves,
Same but sundered. From the soul’s darkness,
With wreathed wand, words he marshals,
Guides and gathers them–gay bellwether
Of flocking fancies. His flint has struck
The spark of speech from spirit’s tinder,
Lord of language! He leads forever
The spangle and splendour, sport that mingles
Sound with senses, in subtle pattern,
Words in wedlock, and wedding also
Of thing with thought. In the third region
VENUS voyages…but my voice falters;
Rude rime-making wrongs her beauty,
Whose breasts and brow, and her breath’s sweetness
Bewitch the worlds. Wide-spread the reign
Of her secret sceptre, in the sea’s caverns,
In grass growing, and grain bursting,
Flower unfolding, and flesh longing,
And shower falling sharp in April.
The metal copper in the mine reddens
With muffled brightness, like muted gold,
By her fingers form’d. Far beyond her
The heaven’s highway hums and trembles,
Drums and dindles, to the driv’n thunder
Of SOL’s chariot, whose sword of light
Hurts and humbles; beheld only
Of eagle’s eye. When his arrow glances
Through mortal mind, mists are parted
And mild as morning the mellow wisdom
Breathes o’er the breast, broadening eastward
Clear and cloudless. In a clos’d garden
(Unbound her burden) his beams foster
Soul in secret, where the soil puts forth
Paradisal palm, and pure fountains
Turn and re-temper, touching coolly
The uncomely common to cordial gold;
Whose ore also, in earth’s matrix,
Is print and pressure of his proud signet
On the wax of the world. He is the worshipp’d male,
The earth’s husband, all-beholding,
Arch-chemic eye. But other country
Dark with discord dins beyond him,
With noise of nakers, neighing of horses,
Hammering of harness. A haughty god
MARS mercenary, makes there his camp
And flies his flag; flaunts laughingly
The graceless beauty, grey-eyed and keen,
Blond insolence – of his blithe visage
Which is hard and happy. He hews the act,
The indifferent deed with dint of his mallet
And his chisel of choice; achievement comes not
Unhelped by him – hired gladiator
Of evil and good. All’s one to Mars,
The wrong righted, rescued meekness,
Or trouble in trenches, with trees splintered
And birds banished, banks fill’d with gold
And the liar made lord. Like handiwork
He offers to all – earns his wages
And whistles the while. White-feathered dread
Mars has mastered. His metal’s iron
That was hammered through hands into holy cross,
Cruel carpentry. He is cold and strong,
Necessity’s song. Soft breathes the air
Mild, and meadowy, as we mount further
Where rippled radiance rolls about us
Moved with music – measureless the waves’
Joy and jubilee. It is JOVE’s orbit,
Filled and festal, faster turning
With arc ampler. From the Isles of Tin
Tyrian traders, in trouble steering
Came with his cargoes; the Cornish treasure
That his ray ripens. Of wrath ended
And woes mended, of winter passed
And guilt forgiven, and good fortune
Jove is master; and of jocund revel,
Laughter of ladies. The lion-hearted,
The myriad-minded, men like the gods,
Helps and heroes, helms of nations
Just and gentle, are Jove’s children,
Work his wonders. On his white forehead
Calm and kingly, no care darkens
Nor wrath wrinkles: but righteous power
And leisure and largess their loose splendours
Have wrapped around him – a rich mantle
Of ease and empire. Up far beyond
Goes SATURN silent in the seventh region,
The skirts of the sky. Scant grows the light,
Sickly, uncertain (the Sun’s finger
Daunted with darkness). Distance hurts us,
And the vault severe of vast silence;
Where fancy fails us, and fair language,
And love leaves us, and light fails us
And Mars fails us, and the mirth of Jove
Is as tin tinkling. In tattered garment,
Weak with winters, he walks forever
A weary way, wide round the heav’n,
Stoop’d and stumbling, with staff groping,
The lord of lead. He is the last planet
Old and ugly. His eye fathers
Pale pestilence, pain of envy,
Remorse and murder. Melancholy drink
(For bane or blessing) of bitter wisdom
He pours out for his people, a perilous draught
That the lip loves not. We leave all things
To reach the rim of the round welkin,
Heaven’s heritage, high and lonely.

 

 

Moon

‘Moon. Planets Series’. Mixed media on 10×10″ wood. Rose Strang 2019

Today’s small painting of the Moon in preparation for the larger Planets Series.

I’m creating Planets series paintings for two exhibitions this year – a smaller series of studies for a June exhibition at my studio in Abbey hill, in preparation for an exhibition and talk to take place in Autumn this year.

This is a continuation of the Planets Series I’m creating this year, which takes inspiration from the planets as understood in Medieval cosmology, and the seven books of Narnia which were each inspired by the seven planets, as discovered by Michael Ward, author of ‘Planet Narnia’.

Info about June exhibition Here

(I’ll post more about the September exhibition and talk soon, once some more details are confirmed).

These small paintings are proving an excellent way to explore ideas on an easier scale before tackling the large paintings for the Planets Series. I think my Moon-influenced painting (above) is suitably amorphous, watery and undefined, though I’d want to add more of the moon’s moonliness to the larger painting.

Yesterday I posted the Mercury part of C.S. Lewis’s wonderful poem ‘The Planets’, so here’s the moon excerpt from his poem …

Lady LUNA, in light canoe,
By friths and shallows of fretted cloudland
Cruises monthly; with chrism of dews
And drench of dream, a drizzling glamour,
Enchants us–the cheat! changing sometime
A mind to madness, melancholy pale,
Bleached with gazing on her blank count’nance
Orb’d and ageless. In earth’s bosom
The shower of her rays, sharp-feathered light
Reaching downward, ripens silver,
Forming and fashioning female brightness,
–Metal maidenlike. Her moist circle
Is nearest earth.

The Moon corresponds to The Silver Chair in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles. Its Moon-like or Lunar qualities as imagined by C.S. Lewis and explained by Michael Ward are to do with enchantment, wandering lost, changeability, melancholy, moodiness or lunacy, also the metal silver.

I’ve heard, in person, from police, and hospital staff in A+E that people do indeed act out stranger and more impulsive behaviours on a full moon. The moon affects the tides of the sea of course, and therefore must have an effect on anything that contains water, including ourselves. And of course the moon is associated with women and menstruation since the moon’s cycles loosely correspond to that, and the sight of the moon swelling up then disappearing each month reminds us of pregnancy. And so it’s very much seen as a female influence across all cultures; Lady Luna.

Gazing at the moon is pretty wondrous when out in the countryside unpolluted by city lights, but I think the most entrancing moon-view I ever had was when I arrived in Venice for the first time back in 2001. I was there for the Venice Bienalle with Richard Demarco and company and we arrived at night, then entered Canal Grando in a water boat. It was an enormous silvery full moon, the sky was velvety black and also slightly misty. The domes, Byzantine palaces and waterways of Venice looked enchantingly beautiful. Unreal. It was so utterly stunning that my heart was actually palpitating rapidly!

La Serenissima as Venice is called – an appropriate and feminine title, inspired by its many hundreds of years in the past, enjoying peaceful trade between all nations.

Farmers have planted or harvested crops according to moon cycles since pre-history, with the idea being that a waxing (growing) moon draws water into things, and a waning one takes water away. Not being a farmer or even gardener, beyond caring for the odd pot plant, I can’t attest to that and I assume that thousands of generations of farmers and planters can’t be wrong.

So the moon has a clear influence on our world. To the Medievalists, the Moon distorted the influence of the other planets and the divine realm of God, and anything beneath the moon was termed sub-lunar.

Lewis’s The Silver Chair launches immediately into moon-influenced territory of wetness and melancholy; Jill Pole has been bullied at school and is crying on a dreich, overcast Autumn day, then Eustace enters (transformed by his experience on the Dawn Treader when he was de-dragonified by Aslan, personifying the Sun’s light). Eustace offers a possible way out to the land of Narnia.

They escape, not to Narnia as yet, but to a land above the moon’s sub-lunar influence – a peaceful mountain-top forest glade filled with birds of paradise. Eustace falls off a cliff into the clouds below during an argument with Jill, who is subsequently wracked with guilt, also thirst, but the only stream is guarded by an enormous lion (Aslan of course). She plucks up courage to drink and is challenged by Aslan to be truthful about why Eustace fell off the cliff. She admits it was because she was showing off her lack of fear of heights (or depths).

Aslan explains that due to her mistakes, their task will be more difficult. They must find King Rillan who has been enchanted and lost for many years. He warns Jill that thoughts will become vague in the land below, he then transports her down to Narnia where she encounters Eustace. They then embark on their adventure with the wonderful Puddleglum – a somewhat pessimistic creature called a Marshwiggle who lives in the wet marshes of Narnia.

Together they all journey across the far north of Narnia in winter. They become lost – forgetting the signs and instructions given by Aslan, but end up in a deep underground world where they travel across the subterranean seas, and eventually encounter King Rillian, who has been enchanted by ‘the Lady of the Green Kirtle’, and the silver chair to which he’s bound each evening to keep him imprisoned while he remembers the truth. One of the signs given by Aslan is that they must pay attention to anyone who speaks in the name of Aslan, and while King Rillian raves and shouts in the chair, apparently mad, they find him frightening but when he asks them to free him in the name of Aslan they realise they have to obey the sign.

Releasing him from the spell entails waking up from dreaming to awareness. They have by this time been enchanted to believe that the world above the subterranean caverns doesn’t exist. It’s Puddleglum who cuts through the enchantment and remembers that there is a real sun and moon, and lion called Aslan. Eventually they emerge from the subterranean world into Narnia again, where King Rillian is restored to the throne.

The first thing they see when they emerge from the underworld  though, is the creatures of Narnia dancing a complex dance at night, that relies on everyone interacting closely, and with awareness, for it to work as a dance.

I’d recognised the echoes of Plato, and the myth of Hades in the story, before reading Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia, but the understanding of planetary influence on the Narniad as discovered by Michael Ward gives an entirely different dimension. These stories are infinitely richer and more profoundly inspiring when understood from this new perspective. I’m currently re-reading The Magician’s Nephew for example, and I’m amazed by the complexity and depth of ideas when it’s understood as Venus-influenced.

What I take from The Silver Chair at the end, is the notion of the riches that we can discover when we delve deep into the darkness of our difficult emotions, our memories, mind, subconscious or experience of life – uncovering a deeper truth from below the layers of obscurity – real, living jewels of Bism. The Moon is a less harsh teacher than authoritarian Saturn – but you have to voluntarily delve deep to acquire wisdom. The last paragraph of The Silver Chair …

The opening in the hillside was left open, and often in hot summer days the Narnians go in there with ships and lanterns and down to the water and sail to and fro, singing, on the cool, dark underground sea, telling each other stories of the cities that lie fathoms deep below. If ever you have the luck to go to Narnia yourself, do not forget to have a look at those caves.

New series in progress

(Work in progress). ‘Portrait of Donald Ferguson’. Oil on 5×7″ canvas. Rose Strang

Though I haven’t posted new works here in a while, I’ve been working on several things. They’re taking longer as I’m working in oils, which is a much slower process.

Above is an oil portrait of my friend Donald. It needs a bit more work and you can probably see I’m sort of winging it as I don’t really have a process with oils as yet. Once I’ve created a few more of these I’ll do larger portraits with a bit more life and characteristics of the subjects and I’ll also post more information about the people I’m painting.

Donald has been a great friend since the early 90’s, and this doesn’t hugely capture the aspects I’d like to (for example his mercurial, fun qualities – though he can be very contemplative as seen here) but as an exercise in observation and technique it’s worthwhile, and definitely looks like him! I’ll be adding more of these from now to Spring.

Here are a couple more showing progress ..

 

 

 

 

The other series I’m working on this year involves themes that have been on my mind since September last year. I’ve been exploring avenues of Medieval history. from a variety of angles I suppose.

This probably stems from a lifelong love of the ‘Narniad’ – the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis, whose imaginative and immersive approach to fantasy belies a rigorous education in Classics, and a dedication to theology and Christianity in later life.

Lewis was deeply interested in the Neo-Platonic view of the cosmos, which was a complicated yet harmonious view of the universe and our place in it. It’s only in recent years (fifty years after Lewis’s death in 1963) that the writer Michael Ward realised that the seven books of Narnia were each inspired by the seven planets. He published his observations in a book I’m currently reading called Planet Narnia (published I think in about 2008).

Once I understood more about the neo Platonic view of planets, it was stunningly obvious that each of the books absolutely immerses you in the ideas and qualities of the planet it explores, though the relevant planet might not even be mentioned.

I’ll save this complicated and fascinating subject for future posts, but suffice to say for now I find it a magical and quite beautiful way of perceiving nature and the subjects I paint, so this year I’ll be painting something each month that corresponds to month, time of year and related subjects.

With the month of January relating to the planet Saturn (associated with black among other things) I’m working on a very large night-scape at the moment. This smaller painting was one I began on the Isle of Iona back in October; every night I’d go out to look at the stars in a sky unpolluted by human-made light. (If you’re as mesmerised by a clear starry sky as I am, you’ll know that I ended up with a nasty crick in my neck!)

‘Night-scape, Isle of Iona’. Acrylic and oil on 10×10″ wood panel. Rose Strang 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The larger painting (in progress, below) is on a 40×40″ (about 3.5 feet) wood panel, in oils. Already I’m appreciating the density of colour and texture of oil paint, as contrasted with acrylic, I’m not appreciating how long it takes to dry, but as someone who’s pretty impatient temperamentally I suppose it gives me more time to consider the subject. I find it stymies my creative flow and inspiration somewhat, but the quality of paint adds something special to the process and finish. I also like the smell of linseed oil!

(In progress). ‘January’. Oil on 40×40″ wood panel.