Picking up a pencil or paint brush was more an attempt to capture a likeness. I think the urge to express a feeling or try to capture the essence of an object arose from a growing exploration of the materials which I was using, aided by the wonderful lectures given by Paul Martin at Leith School of Art which opened my mind to so many possibilities. My work became not just about telling a story or portraying the outer appearance of a landscape or objects in it, but about trying to understand its essence and communicate how it made me feel.
Even if I know what I want to paint, the painting has a tendency to go in its own direction. Sometimes a particular passage will interest me and suggest ideas that weren’t there at the start. It often feels as though I am having a dialogue with the emerging painting itself.
I worked for many years with a meditation teacher where every exercise that we did was in one way or another about stillness. By making contact with ‘centre’ – an area somewhere in the region of the solar plexus the constant noise and chatter of the mind quietened giving way to a feeling of space. Sometimes when I am working I experience a similar change of energy and those are often the moments when something totally unintentional happens in my painting and takes me by surprise.
My painting Winter Journey is an example of this. It began as a collage that I was working on featuring a wintry landscape. As I looked at it the outline of the trees at the top of the painting brought to mind the lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem Journey of the Magi: “And three trees on the low sky,” and from that point as three small figures emerged dressed in orange robes trudging into the distance it changed from a snowy landscape painting to become the story of a journey. There was no conscious reason for their appearance but they crop up in my work from time to time, these small figures swathed in saffron robes going about their lives.
The experience of creating something which takes on a life of its own is not limited to painting. In an interview with John Wilson on Radio 4 the composer Randy Newman said “You go where the music wants you to go”.
I think that there is a close correlation between music and painting. My formal musical education is only rudimentary, but when listening to music visual images arise. I was recently listening to a harpist friend play one of Marcel Tournier’s ‘2nd Suite of Images’ which she describes as being “like a painting in music”. Without knowing any details it conjured up a pastoral nighttime scene with starlit sky. I learnt, however, that it is a Christmas composition where children gaze at a church nativity scene. The image in my head was different but the feelings evoked in me by the music perfectly conveyed the numinous quality at the heart of the piece.