Tag Archives: the last battle

Planets series in progress – 4

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

Above – today’s continuing experimentation on the painting – ‘January’.

I’m currently painting a series of seven paintings inspired by the Medieval view of the cosmos and the Narniad. You can read the earlier posts here – 1 , 2  and 3

The current planet I’m exploring is Saturn, related to December and January. In the last post I described my interest in the planets as a subject, and I’m not too structured about this, so other than exploring the planets in their Medieval order I wouldn’t be described as academic in my approach! It’s simply inspiration for painting a new series.

My painting process is usually quite experimental – often I’ll create layers then scrape back to reveal earlier parts of the work and I tend to feel my way through a subject – there’s a certain amount of planning and preparation but usually it’s a messy process, so although today’s painting looks like a wave, that might change by tomorrow.

The painting (which is about 3.5×3.5 feet on wood) started with a thin layer of green onto white gesso, then a layer of black, followed by droplets to suggest stars. I experimented with Saturn-appropriate constellations (Capricorn and Aquarius) but it didn’t quite work for me visually, so I scraped back a few layers at the bottom to reveal interesting green patterns below, suggesting a nocturnal seascape, today’s layer of wet gesso will be left to dry, then I’ll scrape back to more layers beneath, possibly add in a few details and then I’ll see how it looks/feels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atmosphere is the elusive thing I try to capture in paintings, so with the melancholic, heavy associations with Saturn this is going to be a fairly moody dark painting let’s face it, but I do want it to evoke a sense of mystery or magic.

As mentioned in previous posts, I’m reading several books at the moment related to the subject of the Medieval view of the planets, in particular Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia , in which he describes and explores his discovery that the seven books of Narnia are each inspired by the seven planets as understood in medieval times, also the philosophy and mythology that surrounded their view of the cosmos.

C.S. Lewis felt that myth was one of the most effective means of conveying the more abstract themes of spirituality or metaphysical ideas, partly because he felt that myth and story sparked imagination – abstract perception beyond the purely factual or observable (that’s an epic subject in itself – one I explored way back in the mists of time at art college, but I’m not writing in any sort of academic capacity here, thankfully for me!). He began the Narnia Chronicles in the early 1950’s,having decided that children’s stories were the ideal form for what he wanted to communicate.

He’d also been inspired by George MacDonald’s writing, and when you read MacDonald’s books you do see the influence. Like MacDonald, Lewis had also written fiction for adults, but similarly their children’s stories had the most popular and enduring appeal.

The sense of depth behind the apparently simple tales in books such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Princess and the Goblin (by MacDonald) is partly due to the underlying wealth of mythology and philosophy, and the magical atmosphere created is also partly due to this underlying (or hidden) meaning, but I think it’s also the fact both authors were (to use a contemporary literary term ) ‘show not tell’ writers.

It’s maybe best described as magic realism –  grounded in the senses and more effective in some ways than writing pure fantasy or a form of science fiction which might alienate the reader with too heavy a slant on stranger, or unknown aspects (though Lewis’s ‘Space Trilogy’ written in the 1930’s was classed as sci-fi).

It’s different from pure allegory, in as much as the reader isn’t required to spot and understand obvious parallels to enjoy the story, though the stories touch on subjects that refer to myths (for example Norse and Greek), or Christian biblical themes. Lewis wanted to inspire imagination, so although the Narnia Chronicles often deal with moral issues or choices, it’s more about a search for truth. That’s a simple way of putting it though  – a way of becoming more fully conscious is maybe a better way to describe it.

I think I’ll explore that theme more when I tackle the subject of Jupiter in my next painting, because I think C.S. Lewis writes about it in a completely unique way that we easily (usually with a mixture of amusement and/or discomfort) recognise as all too human, it’s worth exploring.

On the subject of atmosphere though, Michael Ward explores this quality in some depth in Planet Narnia, he terms it donegality. I think his is a brilliant way of perceiving atmosphere in the Narniad – I won’t go into that here, but recommend you read his book since it’s a fairly complex, rewarding theme.

As a child, this atmospheric quality of the Narniad had a profound impact on me and it’s one I’ve noted in other people who grew up reading these books; whenever I’m in a landscape that feels magical, or particularly alive, I associate it with a ‘Narnian’ quality – for example the rich, cool-green dampness of mossy grass underfoot in a still forest, to me immediately conjures up one of my favourite passages from The Magician’s Nephew, from the chapter titled The Wood Between the Worlds:

The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky. All the light was green light that came through the leaves: but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals, and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. The pool he had just got out of was not the only pool. There were dozens of others – a pool every few yards as far as his eye could reach. You could almost feel the trees drinking the water up with their roots. This wood was very much alive.

Illustration: Pauline Baynes. The Narnia Chronicles. ‘The Magician’s Nephew’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mood is enhanced by the beautiful illustrations by Pauline Baynes, which are so much part of the experience of reading these books.

The Magician’s Nephew is associated with the planet Venus, and the above description is very Venusian in feel, in complete contrast to the heavy dark energy of Saturn that influences The Last Battle – last of the Narnia Chronicles.

I’ve also realised that gradually my painting (atmosphere-wise) appears to be heading towards the end of the book where the stars fall out of the sky and Father Time crushes the sun in his hand so the world of Narnia turns black and icy cold.

Illustration: Pauline Baynes. The Narnia Chronicles. ‘The Last Battle’

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a stark, haunting vision, but described by Lewis it’s nonetheless beautifully atmospheric. And, as I’m writing this, I’m thinking ‘of course Rose – paint a scene from imagination from each of the books’.

Whatever I paint I’d better get on with it as these first three planet paintings have to be submitted to the upcoming Battersea Art Fair by the 24th Of February (I’m showing with the Limetree Gallery) and I still have Jupiter and Mars to complete! Towards June I’ll be creating a Sun-themed painting, to coincide with an exhibition and event I’ll be holding at Abbeyhill Studio on the summer solstice (I’ll post more nearer the time).

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!