Tag Archives: night paintings

Planets Series – Saturn

‘Planet Series, Saturn’. Oil and mixed media on 40×40″ wood panel. Rose Strang 2019

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 …

 

 

 

 

The reflection of a mysterious source of light in the water refers to something I’ll include in all the planet series, I’ll post more about that later.

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!

Planet series – day 6

‘Planet Series, Saturn’. Oil and mixed media on 40×40″ wood panel. Rose Strang 2019

The Saturn painting updated. I felt it going a bit sci-fi so I’ve simplified it and it works better for me! Its really difficult to colour-balance and contrast with very dark paintings, but this is close. It’s less obviously Saturnine, but the constellation of Capricorn is back in there!

Here are stages of its development …

 

Planets series in progress – 3

(In progress) January. Nightscape. Oil on 40x40" wood panel. Rose Strang

(In progress) January. Nightscape. Oil on 40×40″ wood panel. Rose Strang

Above, today’s progress on ‘January. Nightscape’, which needs a few more days work …

As mentioned in the last two posts, I’m working on a series inspired by the Medieval view of the planets and cosmos – a complicated yet harmonious and imaginatively inspiring view of the ‘heavens’ as they were known.

My current painting in progress is on the theme of Saturn and its related qualities. (the themes of this post are also entirely related incidentally!)

I’m currently reading Michael Ward’s ‘Planet Narnia’ in which he describes and explores his discovery that each of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles correspond to each of the seven planets.

In Medieval times these were:

Sol (Sun), Luna (Moon), Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. (Neptune, Uranus and Pluto weren’t viewable with the naked eye).

‘Planet’ meant ‘wandering star’, so they classed the sun and moon as planets in that sense. These were the objects in the night sky that moved in regular patterns, against a fixed, un-moving backdrop of stars, which were mapped into recognisable patterns or constellations. This was a world-wide practice of course, given that watching planets and stars enabled people to predict seasons, or navigate seas and so on.

Names of the constellations varied around the world, but it’s fascinating to read about the equally varying myths that surrounded, for example, constellations such as Orion. I’m exploring western ideas and mythology for now though, which is enough to be going on with!

 

 

My tiny mind is currently absorbing a wealth of complicated information about the Medieval view of the cosmos, from a variety of sources – not just Michael Ward’s excellent book, but also books, ideas and explanations suggested by several people I’ve encountered in the last five months or so. Precisely why it fascinates me so much I’m not fully able to explain even to myself as yet, but the mythology is enchanting, and if nothing else I’m learning to recognise constellations.  (Incidentally, star gazers might recognise the two appropriate constellations in my painting above).

My exploration has taken me ‘around the houses’ as it were, and led me back to the Narniad I suppose, but by way of explanation on how I became interested ..

Back in September, I took a trip with a couple of friends to Roslin Chapel outside Edinburgh (famous these days for its association with the Da Vinci Code!) I’ve been there many times of course since it’s a short drive from Edinburgh, but this time it was (bizarrely, by my usual standards anyway) in a chauffeur-driven limousine, and our driver happened to be a Grand Master in the Freemasons.

 

I’m cognisant of all the conspiracy theories around Freemasonry, but I think if there is some sort of Illuminati elitist group at the head of the organisation I can safely say our driver wasn’t in on it, as far as I know!

 

 

 

 

I could also digress into my view that such a system has it’s dark side in terms of undue influence, but suffice to say, I was typically just very curious as to what he might know about Roslin Chapel (also known as Rosslyn) given its connection with freemasonry since Medieval times.

He simply said ‘have a good look at the crypt’, which I did. The chapel has an abundance of symbology and beautiful stone carvings, but the crypt is relatively very plain, what I did notice were all the rough markings and symbols that had been graffiti-ed onto the walls. So I took several photos and later showed them to our driver on our way back to Edinburgh.

Photo, Rose Strang. Graffiti on Roslin Chapel wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

He explained that most of these were simply stone masons marks, they helped the overseer to tally up which stone mason had worked on a particular area, and for how long etc. This seemed to me a very prosaic explanation, but I’ve no doubt it’s partially true. The symbols themselves though, spoke of a more ancient system of knowledge – pyramids, circles, inverted or overlayed triangles and so on.

My eye being tuned in to these symbols,  on the way back to Edinburgh I saw them carved into old walls and ancient kerb-stones everywhere, it was surprising I hadn’t noticed them before but that’s syncronicity of course. A search online didn’t yield many results, and mostly led to fairly tedious reports by freemason organisations, or varying conspiracy theories.

I already knew the history of the Knight’s Templar (and their connection with Scotland) which is easily findable online, but it was clear to me that freemasonry involved symbols and practices related to occult (hidden) knowledge. Given the organisation’s Medieval origins I began to search for Medieval occultism.

This research happened informally over a couple of weeks, just something I’d have a look at in spare moments, then one day I was sitting in a taxi on my way to an event (I don’t normally get chaffeur-driven rides around town, or habitually catch taxis, but I was late that day, hence the taxi, and the chauffeur thing was simply that a friend had won it at a charity auction).

I can’t now remember how I got into a conversation about freemasonry with the taxi-driver, but he spoke about his former affiliation with them, and the fact he’d decided to give it up since he felt (as I do) that it leads to un-due or unfair influence. In his case this was in a low-level way, regarding the police, in a situation where he knew he’d benefit from the connection, but admirably chose not to. He felt that though the organisation was committed to some genuinely helpful charitable causes it could lead to corruption.

Anyway, after I’d asked him a few more questions he said ‘Read Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, and take note that he was an early feminist’. This was intriguing, but I didn’t rush out to buy it, as I felt I was probably just meandering down a route that would lead to vague ideas of out-moded magical or theological thought, which it has in a sense, but this is my art diary, so I’ll continue to indulge my explorations here!

I looked up information about Agrippa online, and discovered a fairly eccentric practitioner of occultism living in Texas whose videos and articles went into some depth about what he termed ‘classical Renaissance magic’. I’m not particularly interested in becoming a magician, but clearly he knew his stuff, so I emailed to ask him about Agrippa. Despite the fact he was, no doubt, an evil Satanist, he politely and in friendly manner answered my query and asked why it was I was interested, and what I hoped to achieve through practising classical magic. I replied that if anything I’d quite like to be a better artist, or to perceive more meaningfully, but in the meantime I was just curious about the subject.

He replied that the clear place to start in any such endeavour, is to read Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, and that understanding the planets or Medieval view of the cosmos would probably actually be a good way of perceiving the world and becoming a better artist. As it turned out, he was in fact Christian, but felt that these studies enhanced spiritual practice or understanding. (one thing he has in common as it turns out, with C.S. Lewis).

(Tangentially, any female readers of this post might feel that this is a very male-oriented world I’m describing. It certainly is, and this is something I’ll explore more fully later, when I create a Venus related painting later in the year. Venus – planet of love and classed as female – is probably the most complex planet in terms of its mythology – presumably because love is the most complex, transcendent yet painful experience or endeavour).

I then ordered Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy and because I was heading off to Iona for a two week artist’s residency at the Iona Youth Hostel at Lagandorain, decided to take it with me. My magician friend had recommended I read just one chapter a day, meditate on it, live with it and see what ideas or experiences came up.

I had so much to do – painting a series of ten works for an exhibition deadline, meeting people there and exploring the island, that in fact I just read one page during the two weeks! It included the following beautiful verse by Virgil:

The Number and the Nature of those

things, Cal’d Elements, what Fire, Earth,

Aire forth brings: From whence the Heavens

their beginnings had; Whence Tide, whence

Rainbow, in gay colours clad. What makes

the Clouds that gathered are, and black, To

send forth Lightnings, and a Thundring

crack; What doth the Nightly Flames, and

Comets make; What makes the Earth to

swell, and then to quake: What is the seed of

Metals, and of Gold What Vertues, Wealth,

doth Nature’s Coffer hold.

Rainbow on Iona, Rose Strang Oct’ 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Dipping randomly into the book, it also explored the planets, and influence or phases of the moon. Chatting about this with the manager at Iona Hostel, he mentioned that he used a mobile app called ‘Skymap’ to observe phases of the moon, also that on this evening the moon was entering full moon phase, and going  from Pisces to Aries.

I forgot all about that, carried on with my painting, then, at about 5:20, went to clean up and have a lie down for half an hour. I couldn’t rest though and after ten minutes, feeling emotionally agitated and restless, I decided to take the two minute walk to the north beach of the island.

If you’ve observed the sea at high tide, or during changes in tide, you’ll maybe have observed the strange shifting effect – it looks almost hallucinogenic. I stood entranced, gazing at the sea for half an hour until it got dark, then returned to the hostel, checked the Skymap app and realised that the moon became full at precisely 5:45pm. I’d walked on to the beach at about 5:40pm!

North Beach Iona. Photo, Rose Strang October 2018.

Sold. ‘Pisces Moon, Isle of Iona’. Mixed media on 10×10 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2018 (£450)

‘Moonscape, Isle of Iona’. Oil and acrylic on 10×10″ wood panel. Rose Strang 2018/2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was an interesting experience; a reminder that the moon does cause the tides, and that we too are made up largely of water. I’m not so particularly interested in the science behind this at present (some of which I know) For my purposes I’m more interested in lived experience and observation, so this felt valuable to me as an artist.

On my return to Edinburgh, I learned more about the Medieval view of the cosmos, and as I’ve mentioned it’s a complicated system, but here is a brief overview for now …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medieval philosophers believed that the cosmos had three levels; the heavens – beyond the planets, where the gods resided, or ‘the divine realm’, the celestial realm where the planets resided, and the earth where everything was a reflection of the heavens.

Anything beneath the moon is termed ‘sub-lunar’ and the gods are separate from this realm, but Medieval philosophers believed we connected with them through energies of the celestial bodies – planets and stars.

The term ‘as above, so below’ refers to the idea that on earth, everything (plants, animals, stones, minerals etc) is a reflection of the heavens. They classified these physical things according to each planet, then each planet connected to the divine realm – the planets were in a sense ‘go-betweens’. So, to evoke their influence by using a talisman (i.e. objects/plants/minerals etc related to a particular planet) you could bring that planet’s influence to bear on your life or events.

That’s it very briefly for today, but since my current painting related to Saturn, below is a very brief description, or flavour at least, of its qualities and related things on earth.

In the next post I’ll explore the mytholgy surrounding Saturn, and C.S. lewis’s literary treatment of it in ‘The Panet’s Trilogy’ and ‘the Last Battle’.

Saturn:

January. Winter. Winter Solstice (21st December). Saturday. Black

Qualities and associations: Time (father time), structure, form, renewal and liberation, brooding, melancholy, death, the occult (hidden, veiled, secret), teaching, pedantry, oppression, rules and boundaries.

Earth, water, lead, all ‘dark, weighty things’, ‘those things which stupifie’, dark berries, the black fig tree, pine, cypress, trees used at burials, owls, crows, animals that live by night.

Zodiac signs of Capricorn and Aquarius.

Roman feast of Saturnalia: held at winter solstice on 21st – all people celebrated, executions were cancelled or postponed, gifts were exchanged.

Capricorn and Aquarius contsellations.

 

 

 

 

 

Planets Series in progress – 2

(In progress) January. Nightscape. Oil on 40×40″ wood panel. Rose Strang 2019

I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, ninety-odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.

Quote: C.S. Lewis, ‘Meditation in a Toolshed’ (from essays collection). Planet Narnia, by Michael Ward

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’m painting a new series inspired by the classic Medieval view of the universe, in particular the planets. It’s a complicated picture and (though scientifically inaccurate!) quite beautiful in its imagery, mythology, associations and sense of unified harmony.

I’ve long been inspired by Medievalism, no doubt originally inspired by reading the Narniad, as it’s known today, by C.S. Lewis

The above quote by C.S. Lewis (left, enjoying a cigarette – absolutely unacceptable in these times!) is a wonderful illustration of his way of explaining philosophical concepts through lived experience and imaginative observation. It’s probably one reason for the enduring appeal of his Narnia Chronicles and writings on Theology.

 

Lewis had read the philosopher Samuel Alexander’s theory of Enjoyment and Contemplation, which crystallised ideas he’d been exploring. The quote above illustrates the difference beautifully; contemplation of the beam of light is a different experience to being in the beam of light – you’re no longer looking at light, you’re in it, or in other words experiencing it subjectively (enjoyment) not objectively (contemplation).

For Lewis this concept informed his writing and way of life. It’s well-known that Lewis was a committed Christian (incidentally if it’s of interest this is not how I’d describe myself – I’m not a member of any religious group, though I find Lewis’s exploration of Christianity fascinating and inspiring).

As an academic he specialised in Medieval and Renaissance literature and one of his expressed regrets was the way that Medieval myth and imagination had been sidestepped or rejected by later religious practice or theology.

It wasn’t just that he found Norse, Roman, Greek, Hindu (or any source of ancient mythology) fascinating, he also felt as a Christian that exploring these myths, or finding them spiritually inspirational was as valid an aspect of worship as following Christian religious doctrine. Similar to Blake in some ways, he profoundly appreciated the power of imagination – for Lewis this partly informed ideas about Enjoyment, as opposed to Contemplation.

At the moment, I’m reading Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia, (for which I’m grateful for providing much of the information about Lewis described above) in which Michael Ward describes and philosophically explores his discovery that each of the Narnia Chronicles was in fact inspired by the seven planets as understood from a Medieval perspective. C.S. Lewis never stated this as his partial inspiration at the time, though in retrospect, once explained, it’s startlingly obvious. It is as he states himself, surprising that he was the first person (publicly at least) to recognise it.

 

My painting in progress (at the top of this post) is the first in a series of seven I’ll be painting this year. I’ll write more about the inspiration as I go, but this one, titled ‘January. Nightscape’ is inspired by the planet Saturn – a somewhat dark and heavy energy by all Medieval accounts! I’ll write more about  Saturn and its influence according to Medieval mythology as the painting progresses this month.

Of interest to C.S. Lewis appreciators, the correspondingly Saturnine Narnia book is ‘The Last Battle’ (last of the series). Lewis, in keeping with the quote at the top of this post, doesn’t mention Saturn (as far as I recall) in the book, but the book is saturated with its influence throughout. I’ll explore this more as my January/Saturn painting develops.

 

These dark January days, I’m finding it therapeutic to light the fire, of an evening, switch off all the wifi, mobile and other distractions, and immerse myself in a book. I also really enjoy keeping an arts diary (this blog) as a way of recording my inspirations.

Also, on a pragmatic note, the resulting paintings will be for sale in the galleries that currently represent my work, namely the Limetree Gallery (Bristol), Resipole Gallery (Acharacle, Scotland) and Morningside Gallery (Edinburgh). I appreciate their support, also the supportive creative ethos of these galleries to artists they represent.

In the meantime, Happy January to readers of this blog – it is indeed a dark month here in the Northern hemisphere, I hope you’re finding ways to enjoy it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter night-watching

Night Sky #18 1998 Vija Celmins

Night Sky #18 1998 Vija Celmins

This new year I visited Port Soy on the north coast of Aberdeenshire where I watched fireworks then constellations in a crystal clear, black and unpolluted sky.

I found it inspiring, the images I experienced stayed with me and so I’ve been exploring the work of artists whose ideas express a response to infinite skies. The notion of endless space is compelling and I remember when the existence of infinity first interested me as a child when reading the mysterious chapter in George MacDonald’s ‘The Princess and the Goblin’, where during Irene’s bath she looks up to see that the walls have disappeared and there’s an endless night sky. Very unsettling, yet beautiful. MacDonald was inspired by the Jansenists (German Romanticists) and sought to express these ideas in literary form through children’s books.

During my arts degree I returned to these ideas through study of concepts of the sublime, from Burke and Kant to Paul Crowther – the notion that when presented with a experience that goes beyond our understanding we’re faced with the limits of human perception, which can have profund effect.

I’ll be working on a new series of paintings titled ‘Nocturne’ and I’ve been exploring a small series of works by artists which express some of these ideas, some in a more visceral sense, purely through colour and form, others in subject matter.

Web #5

Web #5

The paintings above and right by Vija Celmins were created as part of series depicting space, stars and night sky. It’s a  repetitive series with very subtle differences between each version, later she began to develop the subtle cobweb effects.

Her work was photo realist though always minimal, elemental and monochrome. Reading about her life and work as an artist, I wonder if her sense of rootlessness – or of not belonging, contrasting with her need for freedom, had a lot to do with her fascination for endless space.

There are no horizons, no exactpoints to anchor the paintings, though she begins to suggest subtle connections with the web-like lines, which also recall constellations, and the patterns or connections we create to make sense of life. These themes echo a conflict that’s often experienced by artists, or people whose lives are lived through creativity.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. White Circle Series 1

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. White Circle Series 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The painting above is one of my favourites by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. She lived part of her life in a family house outside St Andrews on the east coast of Scotland. I stayed overnight some years ago (she was no longer alive by that time, so artists and writers had been invited to explore her work as part of residencies and I was there to visit a writer friend in residence at the time). I’d spent the day gazing at her paintings, and later walking along the beach in the evening, I saw her vision in the simple, beautiful forms of rocks and moon against those huge northeast skies.

This work by Andrew Melville from the 19th century is in total contrast with the abstract works above, but it’s the quality of blue I find compelling, it has a visceral effect on me that has something to do with the depth it captures, perhaps the desire to travel and explore – as expressed in the idea of orientalism from a western perspective maybe. He contrasts the warmth of lantern-lit brickwork and sky perfectly – our eyes are naturally drawn to the velvety depth of twilit sky.

The Blue Night, Venice 1897 Arthur Melville 1855-1904 Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1940 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05067

The Blue Night, Venice 1897 Arthur Melville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this dreamlike work below by Yee Jan Bao the horizon appears as a hair’s breadth, or a  tightrope, traversed by a ship surrounded by endless blue. the effect is cold, unsettling and at the same time compelling; we’re drawn to this sense of space and the unknown while simultaneously fearing it..

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be posting photos of my own painting forays into these themes over the next few months. In the meantime, here’s wishing everyone a wonderful happy new year.

This is a photo taken on the streets of Portsoy at midnight…

P1300067