The Less I Travel, the Further I Roam : a changing focus in my practice
What has it been? I reckon 2 years, 3 months and 5 days in total. 2 years, 3 months and 5 days since I stopped flying all over the world. I don't miss it. In fact I would rather not get on a plane again. But this is not a story about a fear of flying, or one on the ecological impact of frequent flight. This is a story of a turning inwards; a turning that has altered my perspective on what I do and brought with it a new sense of joy and connectivity in making,
This story starts with a love of 'place'. I love places (natural ones especially) and the idea of 'place'. It carries with it complexities of identity, rooted in history, mythology and geography; the latter (I firmly believe) being the driver of the former.
For twenty five years, through my work, I have been lucky to experience all the continents, bar Antarctica, and been more than a tourist in, at last count, 65 countries. It has given me a wonderful insight into the similarities between all people and the things that make us distinctive, and let me see so many different and inspiring landscapes.
I started painting about the same time as I started travelling and it was landscape that attracted me. For a long time I focused on 'place' as the concept behind my work. Even when I stopped travelling that idea shifted only slightly to 'home' - but was still concerned with place. I explored where I was from and interrogated what it meant to be 'indigenous'. Driven by a fascination with the clear-sighted identity of aboriginal cultures around the world, with their clear connection to land and time, I was determined to try and reconnect with my own.
But for so many reasons an authentic connection was almost impossible. What was 'britishness'? I could stand in front of Stonehenge and be impressed, but though we both could be labelled as British, it was essentially foreign to me and I to it. I had followed the idea of place to a natural epicentre, the stones themselves; quite literally down a road (the A303 to Salisbury Plain) - but stopped there and went no further. I was stuck.
I have discovered that I am instinctively drawn to many subjects that also occupied the attention of the ancient, land connected British peoples : stones, bones, the seasons, trees and water. But I cannot see these objects as they did. My vision is always mediated by the 3000 years of history that separates us, and no-one knows for sure what these objects meant to them. Despite brilliant research on the part of many skilled academics the truth is that any attempt to reconstruct the ancient belief system - the system that was so connected to this land - that underpinned these symbolic items remains conjecture.
And yet locating myself in this way has perhaps been important for what I am doing now. A stopping point from which to embark on new journeys.
What do I mean? Well I am finding that free from the confines of a location or even the idea of place, my mind is suddenly free. Free to make its own associations and connections, to create amalgamations or conglomerations of ideas that are new and fresh to me.
I first noticed it as a drive to paint more abstractly; to work with line and colour, shape and pattern - sometimes triggered and referring to some external stimulus - but also just a feeling that I needed to draw and see what might happen. Repetition and alteration were important in this process, and I find pleasure in this open exploration of making marks, even if its just in biro on a scrap of lined paper that's been lying around in a drawer. Somehow the altering and reforming process of creation is excitement enough. There is a constant rhythm to this sort of work. It spirals inwards and spins off in strange unexpected directions.
The more I have done this the more I find I am looking at myself. It's as if my hand is guiding me to look inwards. The small drawings I am making trigger words; sometimes single, sometimes whole passages of writing. Sometimes I write and then the images come. But whatever I am recording, all these new territories form themselves into one mass and force me to consider instead my 'self'.
Perhaps it's a natural reaction to the lockdown of 2020/21. Perhaps it's a phase - a natural stages all art practice needs to pass through or just a normal pattern of shifting concerns. Or perhaps, and I think this is more likely, or at least more substantive than the others (for perhaps all three are happening at the same time) I am considering what it means to be alive and dead and age and time and memory suddenly have a poignancy that they lacked when I was in the 20's and 30's.
And in so doing it has not been a morbid or unsettling process, but a wonderful one. I have found my mind wandering, travelling even; to memories certainly, making links between places (remote islands in the Philippines, the granite hills of the Limousin in France), emotions (a sense of loss or longing), to animals (dragonflies, birds and foxes recur) and sensation (moments half asleep and half in dream) when my body is the driver of experience not my conscious mind. I have found myself reading and researching avaraciously about spirituality and all religions, finding meaning in almost all. I have discovered new writers, like Rumi, whose work speaks clearly to me though he lived more than 700 years ago in Persia. And through all this change I have found a new liberation in my painting. There is no concern to get things 'right'. Even though I was an abstract painter I always felt the need to stay close or true to my original inspiration and frustrated when I didn't achieve it.
Instead my practice is quite clearly altered. No longer an exploration of place, it is an inquisition of self. And it seems (and I write this hesitantly and with an awkward sense of egotism that I hope to ignore) limitless. And this is why I can say 'the less I travel the more I roam'.
Voyaging Through Trees of Thought - acrylic, ink and watercolour on paper 56cm x 76cm