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Painting The Living Mountain. Artist’s journal. Pt 5

Above – Gesso-ing wood. (Adam Brewster 2021)

Pt 1: Here

Pt 2: Here

Pt 3: Here

Pt 4: Here

Pt 5: Here

Pt 6: Here

This is the fifth part of my artist’s diary series about creating paintings for The Folio Society’s publication of The Living Mountain, by author Nan Shepherd.

(The Folio Society edition of Nan Shephard’s The Living Mountain illustrated by Rose Strang and introduced by Robert Macfarlane is exclusively available at www.foliosociety.com)

Link to book …

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd, published by the Folio Society 2021

Pt 5: Dreaming a response

Nan_Shepherd_photo

Nan Shepherd.

One of the most compelling descriptions the reader first encounters, in the first chapter of The Living Mountain, is when Nan describes wading into Loch Avon. Like many of her descriptions, it’s utterly arresting – you want to read and re-read the passage to fully imagine what she describes.

In reality, I’d have to be a mountain climber of Nan’s calibre to experience that description. I researched various images of lochs and transparent water, finally resolving to paint a certain view I’d discovered, but altered and with a lot of working and re-working of the surface to add a sense of atmosphere and energy. This became We waded on into the brightness.

1. We waded on into the brightness

‘We waded on into the brightness. The Living Mountain Series’. Acrylic on 30x21cm wood. Rose Strang 2021

I re-read many passages from the book, seeking those which captured my imagination most. There were many descriptions I’d have loved to paint, such as Nan’s description of ‘Big Mary’ in the chapter titled ‘Man’. I’ have painted her in impasto craggy swathes with palette knife I think. Nan’s description of Big Mary’s character echoes the personalities she writes about so evocatively in her prior fiction novels. I had to consider how the paintings would work overall however, and I resolved to focus on what I paint most – an emotional and imaginative response to landscape.

I felt my first attempt – We waded on into the brightness – was almost storybook or illustrative and I wasn’t quite sure if this was what I’d wanted, but I felt a slightly more realist painting might be a good start for readers, followed by slightly more abstracted paintings as the book progressed. My next painting attempt was Flowing from granite and, as mentioned, I wanted this to echo something of the magic in Charles Folkyard’s illustrations from The Princess and the Goblin by Aberdeenshire author George MacDonald.

That image, of Curdie carrying Irene through the flooded mountain valleys, is highly illustrative, romantic and ‘storybook’, yet magical because of MacDonald’s descriptions of the sense of overwhelming water throughout the book.

A Japanese friend of mine, Atzi, once described to me his response to Scottish landscape; ‘Its wateriness is different from anywhere else in the world’ he said, it’s unique – water is everywhere, sometimes slightly scary even’. I was also thinking of Nan’s wonderment as she observes the element of water:

I love its flash and gleam, it’s music, its pliancy and grace, its slap against my body; but I fear its strength… I have seen its birth; and the more I gaze at that sure and unremitting surge of water at the very top of the mountain, the more I am baffled. We make it all so easy, any child in school can understand it – water rises in the hills, it flows and finds its own level, and man can’t live without it. But I don’t understand it. I cannot fathom its power.

I decided to create descending ‘slabs’ in black and burnt sienna acrylic paint as a base. Acrylic dries overnight whereas impasto layers of oil paint can take weeks. Once my ‘rock’ base had dried, I made a solution of solvent and titanium white then allowed it to cascade naturally over my rock slabs. This was an unusual approach for me, I paint a lot of water, in fact it’s the subject I’ve focussed on most over decades of art-making and painting, so I can depict the visual appearance of water convincingly. For this painting though, I wanted the element of liquid itself to do the work.

When I’d finished I felt it ‘had’ something, but as usual I began to fiddle and dab and before long I’d completely spoiled the essence or energy of the original painting. Lesson learned though; it looked better when more ‘raw’. I wiped off all the oil paint back to my acrylic base and started again. I repeated this over a few days until at last it had just the right amount of … whatever it is that makes a painting feel ‘finished’!

Nan describes it as ‘that strong white stuff’, and I’d added here and there the subtlest touches of blue/green/grey while leaving the white just as it was. As usual, serendipity, and recognising when that was working for the painting, helped the final result. For example in wiping white oil off one area of the rocks, I’d inadvertently given it that wet sheen of damp which rocks take on, or stone buildings, when they’ve been thoroughly wetted. There’s also an inadvertent dragon’s eye in the rocks, which, once spotted can’t be unseen!

2. Flowing from granite

‘Flowing from granite. The Living Mountain Series’. Acrylic and oil on 30x21cm wood. Rose Strang 2021

Strange and beautiful forms are evolved was a collaborative effort in some ways. I wanted to paint the sense of ice and freezing cold. The first version was of light playing through an icicle, the next was an experimental play of textured whites and blacks. At this point Sheri Gee (artistic director of the Folio Society) required a progress report as this was written into the contract. I sent the works so far and she felt that the icicle painting didn’t have the elemental quality she’d liked about my previous paintings. I agreed and it cemented my sense of what she was looking for in these paintings. I experimented further with the black and white abstracted painting until icicles appeared, then added salt, varnish and further light effects until it seemed to work.

There’s the idea of painting what’s ‘there’ what the eye can see, then there’s the idea of painting what’s ‘felt’. I’ve always wanted to capture that visceral sense of landscape and my sense of Scottish landscape, particularly mountainous landscape, is that fear (though it might be fear and exhilaration) is quite often an element of that experience. Where my first ice painting had showed the beauty of natural ice forms, it had no feeling of ice. I thought the second version gave more a sense of the icy grip of winter.

3. Strange and beautifil forms are evolved

Strange and beautiful forms are evolved. The Living Mountain Series. Acrylic, salt and oil on 30x21cm wood. Rose Strang 2021

My next painting –  For not getting lost is a matter of the mind – was maybe more of a conceptualised idea of the fear of getting lost in a blizzard. I used gridded paper as a base, messed up to give the sense of disorder, then painted over it to suggest snow and mist. Finally I took the image of a compass and placed in the top right corner, facing the wrong way. So far no-one has commented on this! But I wanted to reflect the fact that, especially in Nan’s day, handling a paper map in a freezing hurricane is no easy matter and is definitely ‘a matter of the mind’, or mind over matter since fear is very real in such circumstances.

4. For not getting lost is a matter of the mind

‘For not getting lost is a matter of the mind. The Living Mountain Series’. Grid paper, and acrylic on on 37x27x2 cm antique pine. Rose Strang 2021

Having dealt with the ‘roaring scourge’ element of the Cairngorms, I now wanted a complete contrast, more ‘delectable as honey’ to quote Nan’s introductory words. Heather and honey go hand in hand in Scotland, plus I absolutely loved Nan’s description of the little girl’s reaction to her dad calling her to heel, responding ‘I like the unpath best’. I knew, as do Nan’s readers I’m sure, exactly what she meant! It’s always more satisfying to wander off the beaten track, where your feet can sink into squishy sphagnum moss, or on a hot day you can fling yourself onto a springy bed of heather to gaze up at the blue, blue sky filled with butterflies, or dazzling blue or green dragonflies.

If I were a realist painter I’d have painted these beautiful insects, but instead I tried to suggest their flight with scratches into the surface suggesting movement, amid watery hazes to suggest the warmth of sunshine ‘all around the blooming heather’ to quote the popular song. The mountains in summer can be delectable as honey indeed.

The wildest most remote areas of Scotland can have an almost fairy-tale atmosphere of primitive, Eden-like lushness and I wanted to capture something of those birthday-cake colours and mood in my painting, while keeping the style loose.

One of my favourite holidays as a girl was when my sister and I with our mum and her friends stayed at Craig Youth Hostel in the Torridon area. It was late June and I remember a huge metallic-green dragon fly flew on to my hand. I wanted to pick it up and it bit me then flew off! I could see the tiny serrations of skin on my hand and felt very sorry I’d upset it.

On the subject of dragonflies – many years later, I’d decided to work as an arts manager for the NHS (UK National Health Service). It was a choice made from some place in my mind that told me I had to choose a ‘sensible’ job. I’d already struggled through a year’s contract with one hospital – feeling very much a fish out of water – and now that contract was over it was time for me to find another job. I was interviewed for the position of arts manager by one of the UK’s largest hospitals and was genuinely surprised when they phoned to say I’d been successful.

I felt relieved, as you do if you worry about income, but also I knew something was missing. On the first day in the office I was shown to my desk. It was in a grim 70s building due to be demolished in the next few years. The office room was painted in peeling light blue paint, the lights were fluorescent (which had a tendency to give me a headache). I fought off a growing feeling of impending imprisonment as I sat at my desk. I remember that day I wore a grass-green wool dress to cheer me up – it’s a colour that brings the sense of nature into our lives and this building felt entirely unnatural. I looked out the windows on to  a sea of cement.

At this moment an enormous metallic-green dragonfly somehow managed to fly in through the tiny slats at the top of the windows. I couldn’t believe my eyes – what would bring a green dragonfly into this enormous concrete jungle of a hospital site, never mind in to this tiny office space? I was reassured it was real though, by the ‘ooo’s’ and ‘wows!’ of my office colleagues. It flew in graceful acrobatics around the room, but clearly it was beginning to panic. I remarked on its obvious dilemma; ‘We have to let it out’. (In retrospect it’s one of the few requests I made during that job that was actually fulfilled!) Three of us managed to open the windows on their rusty hinges and at last the dragonfly flew off to freedom. Two years later I handed in my notice and within a year became a full-time painter. I think that dragonfly had a message for me.

5. I like the unpath best

‘I like the unpath best. The Living Mountain Series’. Acrylic on 30x21cm wood. Rose Strang 2021

I now had just two more paintings to complete. With these I wanted to reflect the final chapters of The Living Mountain, to reflect Nan’s deeper philisophical, or spiritual response to the mountain. This is subtly touched on by Nan and I hoped to suggest this sense equally subtly in the final paintings.

Coming up – Pt 6: Being

The Living Mountain. The Folio Society publication.

Above But did I dream that roe? (The Living Mountain Series). Oil on 37x27x2 cm antique pine wood. Rose Strang 2021

“my eyes were in my feet”
Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain

I’m delighted to reveal (at last!) that in December 2020 I was commissioned by The Folio Society to create nine paintings for their new illustrated publication of Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain. This has been a beautiful project – a challenge that I wholeheartedly welcomed as I’ve loved this book for many years.

The project has been under embargo until its launch date of October 12th 2021, so you can imagine how thrilling it is for me to see it published on the Folio Society’s website!

The link below takes you to the Folio Society’s launch page for the new publication, which features most of the images from the book, accompanying information about Nan Shepherd, and why the book has become such an iconic work of landscape literature.

Robert MacFarlane (author of The Wild Places, The Lost Words and Underlands, among many much-loved books about landscape, flora and fauna) has written the introduction for the book. For MacFarlane, and countless other readers, this book has changed or deepened the way they experience mountain climbing and landscape.

I remember the way Nan Shepherd’s vivid prose enthralled me on my first read. Alongside painting the series (from December 2020 to April 2021) I kept an artist’s journal in which I recorded the creative process; not just inspiration for the paintings, but also everything I learned about Nan from the literary executor of Nan’s Shepherd’s estate, Erlend Clouston, plus the wonderful experience of climbing part of the snowy Cairngorms with my partner Adam in March this year.

I’ll be posting the journal in a series of blogs over the coming months. In the meantime, I hope you’ll take a look at the newly published book on this link! …

The Living Mountain. Nan Shepherd. The Folio Society

Winter Miniatures in progress …

Above – walking through city snow (I hope that’s what it looks like!)

Below – today’s paintings for the Winter Miniatures exhibition and open studio day, which launches Sunday 8th December 2pm.

All details Here

I took photos of these in electric light, so it doesn’t show colours quite accurately. Winter evenings are such a pain for painting and photography! I’ll be uploading them in higher quality tomorrow.

Exhibition Launch!

Setting up, with Fernanda Zei and Dr Charles Stephens at the Demarco Galleries yesterday

It’s very exciting indeed to be in the final stages of setting up next week’s exhibition launch at the Demarco Gallery: The Planets. The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis

This exhibition represents almost a year of painting in response to the work of C.S. Lewis and Planet Narnia. The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis, by author Dr Michael Ward.

I’m delighted that Michael will be giving a talk as part of the exhibition launch at the Demarco Galleries, Summerhall, Edinburgh, on Thursday September 12th at 6pm. (all details on link below)

All welcome! Please R.S.V.P. on this link if you wish to attend: Exhibition Invite

Exhibition Information …

The Demarco Archive Exhibitions is presenting an exhibition of new paintings by Rose Strang from Friday 13th to Sunday 22nd of September in the ground floor of the Demarco Wing at Summerhall, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL . The exhibition will be open from 1pm to 6pm – Daily.

Rose Strang’s paintings have been inspired by Michael Ward’s book ‘Planet Narnia’, a study of C.S. Lewis’ ‘Chronicles of Narnia’.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), the author of the Narnia stories, published in the 1950s, described the seven planets of the medieval cosmos as “spiritual symbols of permanent value”. Lewis wrote a great deal about the planets in his work as scholar at the University of Oxford and then the University of Cambridge where he was Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature from 1954 to 1963. Dante and Chaucer are among the major English writers of the Middle Ages to make extensive use of the seven heavens in their poetry.

Lewis’ seven ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ are structured so as to embody and express these seven “spiritual symbols”. Michael Ward discovered this link in the course of his PhD research at the University of St Andrews. His book ‘Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis’ [Oxford University Press 2007] presents his findings, as does the BBC television documentary, ‘The Narnia Code’ [2009].

When artist Rose Strang discovered Michael Ward’s work, she was inspired by Lewis’ fascination for these seven “spiritual symbols” and decided to produce her own paintings depicting the atmosphere and influences of each planet. These paintings will now be shown in this exhibition at the Demarco Archive at Summerhall.

The Private View will be on Thursday 12th September at 6pm on the ground floor of the Demarco Wing at Summerhall and then at 6.30pm a talk by Michael Ward will take place in the Main Hall on level one at Summerhall followed by a conversation between Michael Ward and Professor Richard Demarco.

Jupiter

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

Today’s small painting of Jupiter at 10 by 10 inches, which is very similar to the large one of 40×40 inches. Here’s the larger one, painted earlier this year . .

‘Planets Series. Jupiter’. Mixed media on 40×40″ wood panel. Rose Strang 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

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).

I now have just one of the small Planets Series paintings to finish, then they’re complete! I’m going to re-paint Mars, possibly Venus too, as I think they don’t quite capture the idea of Mars and Venus as yet.

This is the Jupiter excerpt from C.S. Lewis’s poem The Planets …

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.

Beautiful. That line; Where rippled radiance rolls about us
Moved with music – measureless the waves’  is so redolent of the splendour of Jupiter as understood in Medieval imagination.

This part of the poem was also the first clue that t gave Michael Ward (author of Planet Narnia) the idea that the seven books of Narnia might correspond to the planets.

Jupiter relates to The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first and most popular or most read of the Narnia Chronicles, which first introduces to the four children, the witch and Aslan. ‘Guilt forgiven’ refers to Edmund’s transformation in the story, from blind, selfish resentment and greed, to love for his family and fellow human beings. He experiences deep regret at the pain caused by his selfishness, but he’s forgiven, then Narnia’s one hundred-year winter ends – ‘winter passed’- after Aslan’s sacrifice and rebirth (the most obviously Christian reference of the entire series).

As Michael Ward explains in Planet Narnia, Jupiter was associated with Christ’s sacrifice and rebirth, also the idea of kingship and joviality (Jove). Incidentally I was delighted that Michael Ward chose my larger Jupiter painting as a facebook cover photo on Easter Sunday earlier this year!

Very soon I’ll be announcing details of an upcoming Planets Series event to taker place this Autumn, I can’t yet reveal details until everything’s confirmed but it’s definitely on! My little exhibition in June is a precursor to the event, and a great way of experimenting with ideas for the larger Autumn Planets Series.

Info on the June exhibition here – Planets Series Exhibition

Sun

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

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

Today’s small paintings, of Sun and Saturn 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).

I’ve already posted a lot about the associations and mythology of Saturn during winter when I tackled a larger version, so I won’t write much about that here. This smaller Saturn was a lot easier as it’s so much more easy to experiment on this smaller scale before I tackle the big paintings later this year.

The Sun corresponds to C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn treader, which has possibly the most vivid, beautiful and mystical imagery of the entire series. It’s also hilariously funny, also moving, thanks to the character of Eustace Scrubb, who’s introduced in this book for the first time.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is mostly about Eustace when it comes to profound character development in the story – his metamorphosis into dragon, then back to human with Aslan’s intervention, being the pivotal part of his character development.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the final scenes though that are the most mind-meltingly beautiful and strange; white lilies stretching to the horizon on a deep green sea that becomes sweet and drinkable, ‘like drinkable light’, so that the characters are able to experience more light . You just have to stop reading the story at that point, to drink in, appreciate and experience the imagery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s classic Lewis –  layers of imagery, literary reference and spiritual connotations.

This is the ‘Sun’ excerpt from C.S. Lewis’s poem ‘The Planets’

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.

Arch-chemic eye might refer to the Alchemist’s dream of turning ordinary matter to gold (the sun’s associated metal) and this is referred to in the story when the characters arrive on an uninhabited island where they encounter a pool that turns everything that’s immersed in it to gold.

King Caspian and Edmund are affected by this. Imagining the unlimited wealth and power such a pool might bring, they argue about which of them has the highest status in order to own the island and its magic pool – Lucy brings them up short with a rebuke, then Aslan appears on the hill beyond the pool, appearing gold as if it lit by the sun, though the day is overcast. They come to their senses and decide to name the island ‘Death Water’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia explores the most extensive and fascinating associations with the sun in the story and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I think his chapter on Sol is extraordinarily rich and profound in its interpretation, also in its myriad, meaningful associations – truly illuminating.

Put in my simple terms, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about light and spiritual illumination gained through the challenge of truth. I don’t think my small painting anywhere near does justice to it really, but it’s good practice for the larger work later this year!

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.

Mercury

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

Today’s small painting of Mercury 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).

Mercury corresponds to The Horse and his Boy in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles – a book that grew on me more and more each time I read it. Its Mercurial qualities, as imagined by C.S. Lewis and explained by Michael Ward are to do with messengers, communication, speed and twins among many other things, reflecting the God Mercury (also known as Hermes) the winged messenger, the fact that Mercury rules the constellation sign of Gemini (the twins) and of course the quicksilver nature of mercury itself as a metal.

I haven’t yet posted C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Planets’ poem, which was remiss of me since it was reading this poem which led Michael Ward to the discovery that each of the Narnia Chronicles corresponds to the Medieval planets.

It’s a beautiful poem, but for today, I’ll just post the part of the poem that corresponds to Mercury …

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.

It’s difficult to say why I enjoy the Horse and his Boy so much out of the series, it’s richly imagined, as always, with atmospheric contrast between the lush decadence of Tashban, the brutally hot desert and the cool green woodlands and hills of Archenland. Descriptively it’s testimony yet again to Lewis’s genius for relating atmosphere, but I think the characters are equally compelling.

The two main characters, Shasta and Aravis, both undergo a change in consciousness – Shasta experiences acceptance for the first time in his life since being abandoned as an infant. Aravis also experiences acceptance, and learns compassion and consideration for others, having been treated if anything even more cruelly than Shasta.

In the book, Aravis tells her story (in a style the horse Bree describes as ‘high Calormen’ , stylistically the equivalent of the Arabian Nights). She describes how, after her mother died, her father re-married and arranged to have Aravis married off to a man decades older, who she has never met, although she’s only 12 years old.

Aravis decides that suicide is the only route to escape, and sets herself to this grim task in a forest clearing, but  her mare, Hwin (a talking horse from Narnia who’s been captured in slavery) intervenes and pleads with Aravis to live and attempt escape to Narnia.

Harrowing stuff for a ‘children’s story’, but as always Lewis deals with these more brutal realities using a distanced or lighter touch; in this case ‘High Calormen style’, yet it’s still one of the most moving passages in the Narnia Chronicles. And it demonstrates several Mercurial qualities:

Commerce – com-merce. Merchants. The idea of Mercury  the messenger- trading and exchange. Aravis is being sold by her own family. Shasta’s adoptive father also tries to sell him to a rich merchant.

Communication – verbosity, writing, speech. Aravis has a fine, articulate grasp of language thanks to a privileged, though cruel, up-bringing.

Shasta then becomes an involuntary messenger who has to deliver important news with haste – he discovers that Archenland, ruled by King Lune, and then the castle of Cair Paravel in Narnia will be attacked by Calormen.

Shasta, Aravis, and the horses Bree and Hwin must speed across the desert from Tashban to Archenland to warn King Lune before they’re attacked, and in the final rush to warn the king, Shasta has to run across land for miles to deliver the message before it’s too late. All very Mercurial! Lastly, he discovers that he is in fact the twin of King Lune’s son – bringing in the Mercury and Geminian theme of twins.

When painting my view of a castle under the influence of Mercury, I tried to get the sense of quicksilver through paint dripping and merging representing the sea that surrounds the castle at high tide – Same but sundered – the idea of twos in birds flying above the castle (winged messengers), and two very small boats which might meet in the waterways. The last idea was a reference to words and communication (a bit clunky maybe as a reference!) in the fine blue lines drawn horizontally suggesting writing paper. Mercury is a bright star, and represents bright ideas too, so I gave the castle a halo of light, which doesn’t show up quite so well in the photo (at the top of this post). I think it works quite well as an image.

And here’s a quick sketch I did earlier ..

‘Mercury, sketch’. Mixed media on paper. Rose Strang 2019.

Tomorrow I’ll post my Moon painting, which still needs a bit of work…

Sanna Bay – Paintings and Video

Paintings on exhibition at the Resipole Gallery in Ardnamurchan

I mentioned a while ago that my friend, musician Donald Ferguson, might compose a piece for guitar to accompany my recent paintings of Sanna Bay in Ardnamurchan, and here it is! (links to paintings below video) …

The atmosphere and mood Donald creates here is entrancing – from the impetus of traveling through beautiful scenery from Glencoe to the Ardnamurchan peninsula, to the peace of arriving at Sanna Bay on the farthest west coast of Scotland.

Here are the links to the two galleries exhibiting these new works – you can contact them there with any queries …

Resipole Gallery: https://www.resipolestudios.co.uk/rose-strang

Morningside Gallery – http://www.morningsidegallery.co.uk/4_artists/strang/index.htm

Morningside Gallery, new paintings

‘Sanna Bay,afternoon’. Mixed media on 14×11″ wood panel. Rose Strang, 2019

Lovely to see the newly framed paintings of my March series featuring Ardnamurchan and Sanna Bay now on exhibition at the Morningside Gallery.

You can view them and contact the gallery with any queries on this link … http://www.morningsidegallery.co.uk/4_artists/strang/index.htm

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