As it’s been nearly two years(!) since I have written anything of substance I am a little ropey and out of practice. Furthermore as many deeds, sagas and quests have passed by during this long interval, how best to report upon them?
I know not, so apologies if this is a bit of a meandering ramble but that’s just the way it’s gonna be!
The past two years have been a hugely varied initiation into the life of a Freelance Art Person. I have been involved in huge mural painting projects, dabbled in web design, built gallery shows, painted my first solo murals, built structures for a festival, moonlighted as a carpentry assistant, painted window displays and made over the top mystical objects, among many other little nuggets of creative joy. Central to this an attempt to maintain a kind of idealistic flexibility: never immediately rejecting a job based on its category, trying always to be truly up for anything. I am yet to discover whether this limits the progression of a ‘career’ in one direction or whether this is just the pattern of how things always must be.
The most interesting development has been a return to my favourite theme: mythology, symbolism and the nature of belief. During my hazy and chequered, art student past I once made absurd, brightly-coloured video art of a shamanic, symbolic sort. The subsequent rejection of which created a decade-long aversion to this type of work which I now consider a great shame. Older now and hopefully wiser, certainly more thorough and better-read, I have begun to make work again that explores this area of my interest. Chief among these to date is the Technicolour Dream Chair. A reclaimed rocking chair adorned with glyphs and symbols, all deeply personally signigficant or failing that, funny. Behold its awesome power!
What dreams may come? Indeed
In all seriousness though I think it’s hard to overstate the importance of storytelling to human lives. We are entirely creatures of stories, so fundamental to everything we do; every goal, job, family, enmity, policy, conversation or romance is, wholly or in part, a fabrication of our incessant need to narrativise the world. I was lucky enought to see Carlo Rovelli, Italian physicist and eclectic thinker, in a panel discussion a couple of years ago and his fascinating exploration of this aspect of human nature really resonated. Looking through this lens the old, resilient, archetypical stories have a greater weight or significance and thus greater potential usefulness to individuals today. One should always turn a slightly sceptical eye towards anything claiming to be the ‘wisdom of the ancients’, but the oldest myths and stories were part entertainment, more importantly part guide how to be a better human. How we conceptualise the unknown and integrate the horror of the mysterium tremendum is how we become functioning beings – what could be more important!? It is this element that fascinates me and I hope to make work that combines this exploration of serious things with a light-hearted silliness – my preferred method of fending off the creatures of the dark!
Onward marches my continuing obsession with growing plants and tending my small, dark garden. North London is neither the worst nor the best place to try and till the land: cities clearly haven’t got amazing air or soil and London especially has a bizarre, heavy-aired micro-climate that seems to stifle everything. But nevertheless it is still possible to achieve some horticultural victories. My chief enemy is as ever the enormous walnut tree next door (whichever past genius thought planting that in a terrace garden was a good idea I have no idea – colossal face-palm), though beautiful, it both shades and poisons everything around it. So my experiments have always to contend with that leafy elephant in the garden. Hardy shrubs and wild flowers yay! Decent vegetables nay! Saying this we have had some successes, the increasingly hot summers though worrying in one, major, climate-changey sense also mean my tomatoes are better every year.
These princes of the garden are my great love and definitely get the best treatment (bubble wrap in the snow was the most luxurious intervention of 2018), and the fact we do them in bags down the sheltered side of the house, rather than exposed and in the ground, is key to their outdoor success without a greenhouse. Armed with memberships to the RHS and Kew gardens I am trying my best to learn as much as possible about plants as I really believe gardening improves both myself and the world even if it is only slightly.
In any case, an increased awareness of the cyclic quality of nature, combined with my developing interest in native pagan stories has led me to consider the new year we celebrate in January to be premature. The year obviously begins when things start to grow again in the spring and a celebration at this time was natural for many cultures in ancient times. Even as recently as 300 years ago in our own: Lady Day, on the 25th March, was the official New Year in England for over half a century until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752. I propose a move back to this pattern as one small way of connecting us better with the planet we inhabit.
I will certainly be out in the spring, probably dressed like this:
Who’s with me?
Further, if anyone would like to talk about the stories that resonate with them I am all ears. Find me through https://gavinmcphaildesign.com