What was the reason people first felt the urge to make marks and to create images? I wonder if we can ask ourselves that question.
In southern France and Spain are some of the first cave paintings; tens of thousands of years old. There are examples of millennia-old cave and stone art, stone circles and standing stones, the world over, many decorated with concentric circles and other fractal images. Since time immemorial humans have sought to interact harmoniously with nature and its elements, using them as a means to create and perform rituals. We have sought to decorate stones, carve into stones, embellish, adorn and beautify the world around us. It is innate; integral to who we are.
On an artistic level, humans have appropriated the territory in which they live and sought to transform it by creating land art which transcends reality, temporarily or permanently, and to display and express ideas, feelings, fears, aspirations and dreams.
Is creating art and mark-making the way we make sense of our world? Is it a primal urge? I believe it is, more than anything, other than the sexual act. Art is the place where we can dream and bring forth presences. 14,00 to 16,000 years ago, before farming, before tools, hunter gatherers left a trace on cave walls, so deep within the earth that it took hours to get there. Were these paintings prayers? These ancient cave painters were compelled to make images before there was any idea of an audience. Nowadays we are so involved in the complexities of our meta-language, and there is a beautiful simplicity in these early paintings.
In Pech Merle in the Lot Valley in France and Niaux in the Pyrenees are some of the earliest paintings in Europe, created 28,000 years ago. These paintings were created by human breath, and a spitting technique through the mouth, wherein the pigment was held. Hands were used as stencils, and the technique to evenly create an image of the hand was used by spitting the pigment around the hand. The hand in itself is a statement saying ‘I was here’ in this time and space. Black dots were painted on horses with this same technique. The dots were the spirit of the horse. These caves were like temples of nature. The pigment was made from the elements. Fire for light, then the pigment from the charcoal. Elemental. We touch the rock and make the rock eternal, by painting a hand, and through this act, we are ourselves eternal. We leave a trace while we are so lightly here. We exist in time, we are subject to time, and we will not have time. Art makes us immortal.
Art makes us present. It is the absolute being in the Now. It is intrinsic to who we are, it is our better self, it expresses a joy in being, a connection with nature and all living beings and the imaginative to mark our existence. Through art we become fully ourselves.
In Australian indigenous art, people painted an image on rocks of the Creation Mother. An extraordinary and beautiful painting.
One of the most powerful places I know are Las Alpujarras mountains, in Spain. I walk a particular walk from Ferreirola to Atalbeitar and drink the spring waters there. The water comes from the snow melt of the Sierra Nevadas, and contains so much information and minerals. When I drink the water I feel grounded, like the rock from which it comes. On the walk, there is an iron-rich stream and I always stop to absorb the energy of the water through my bare feet. The water is cold. The iron rich water feels very feminine, like menstrual blood or birth. The water turns the plants it touches pink. It reminds me of our most intimate sexuality. The mountains at Ferreirola are like breasts or vulva and the whole place feels very womb-like. There is a round threshing floor looking out to the mountains and it feels embraced by their protection. The energy there changes and becomes otherworldy. I feel I am entering a new portal, and an entirely different paradigm. There is a shift in perception and feeling. Folklore talks of witches on broomsticks riding through the valleys, and a village called Soportujar is said to be the centre where they met.
Artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Odillon Redon and Dora Carrington are painters of the Sacred Feminine. O’Keeffe was very connected to nature, and found fractals and images of the deeply feminine within the intricacies of a flower or the folds and shapes of the mountains in New Mexico.
When we find and paint the prototypes of our sexual parts represented in Nature, we are reclaiming our power as creatrixes. We are birthing new ideas and creations through our art. This is deeply healing if we have been wounded in any way sexually, and deeply empowering in moving forward.
In my art I often use certain symbols or shapes which feel deeply feminine. When I was at art school there was this school of thought that women always painted from a point or visceral feeling of centralized vaginal imagery. As though we are painting from our very womb or birth canal. This feeling has always stayed with me. We paint who we are. What symbols feel very pertinent and present to you as a woman? There are many fractals in nature that echo the very soul of the feminine, from shells, right through to the cosmos. Leaf shapes, flowers, yoni-like shapes are everywhere. I often put guitars in my paintings. Which reflects my love of music and symbolizes the shape of a woman, played by men and women. The guitar also echoes the shape of the infinity symbol. To me, it is a very sensual symbol. Music and art give my life so much meaning. Here in Spain, the guitar was first introduced into Europe. The Music of Spain, Flamenco, is deeply empowering to women of all ages and sizes. It is simultaneously grounding and ethereal. Through the powerful stepping of the feet to the reaching up to the air and the movement dynamic between the two. The Duende, the spiritual and otherworldly empowerment, is palpable.
I would now like you to go outside in nature and find something that resonates with you, as something that represents or empowers you, through your story as a woman. It may be a flower, a stone, the shape of a mountain, a curve on a road, the bend in a tree, the intricacies of a leaf, the feeling of heat on your body, the flow of water. Take your sketch books, canvas, pencils, or paint and brushes and find a place in nature where you can contemplate the sacred feminine within. You may wish to create a mandala or outdoor shrine, photograph it, or you may wish to bring in elements of nature, like leaves or fallen petals and bring them in to the studio and create mandalas. You may feel like staying in the studio and simply meditating on your core femininity, and allowing the materials to guide you, but I would urge you to try this exercise in nature, outdoors, as distinct from our studio work and engage with nature and place to add another dimension to your work. When we return to the studio we can share our thoughts, symbols and images. Write down any words or thoughts that come up. We can also add these elements or words to our paintings we are working on.
Copyright Alice Mason 2019