A work of art is not a definitive statement and viewers, as well as artists, can use their imagination – Annie Broadley
Growing up as an only child, I spent a lot of time living in an imaginary world and this has stood me in good stead as a painter.
In a lecture, the artist Paul Martin said: “The imagination is a faculty that we have through which we encounter everything, which is a really important truth for the painter.”
However getting the conscious mind out of the way and allowing the imagination to flourish is a major challenge. When painting, I try to identify what is going on under the surface. Intuition and feeling are important here as they prevent my mind from trying to control the painting’s outcome.
In his poem, Don’t Ask Me, RS Thomas wrote:
“...Poetry is that
which arrives at the intellect
by way of the heart.”
The word “painting” could easily be substituted for “poetry”.
By working on an intuitive level, unexpected symbols and metaphors sometimes crop up. It might be a reference to Greek or Roman myths, Celtic folktale or Biblical allusions.
The fact that some references may be unfamiliar to the observer need not rob the painting of its potency as each person brings their own interpretation to it.
A painting is not a definitive statement but rather a reciprocal exchange between the viewer and the canvas.
My painting Springtides is a case in point. It is a landscape consisting mainly of sea and sky with an ancient sailing ship pictured on the horizon. There are figures in it but they are small in comparison to the world around them. To the left of centre, a couple are visible. The man is handing the woman a lily. Although they bear no resemblance to traditional representations of the Virgin Mary and angel Gabriel, could this nevertheless be a reference to the Annunciation?
It might of course be no more than it appears: a man presenting a woman with a flower. In the foreground a Roman legion and accompanying horses stand. Are they waiting for the ship on the horizon to collect them, or perhaps the ship is departing? Maybe it is the one that carried Aeneas away from Carthage? There are probably as many interpretations as there are people looking at it.
Some symbols share similar meanings in widely different cultures. For example, light and darkness are recognised throughout the world as personifying good and evil. Light is associated with the Christian heaven and Buddhist state of enlightenment. It symbolises life and hope while the dark signifies death, the underworld and despair. The flickering light of a candle is said to represent hope and embody the spirit of truth.
I am going to base my next series of paintings on old Celtic festivals, held to celebrate the changing seasons. Fire was important, candles and torches were used and bonfires lit. New Year bonfires ostensibly dispelled evil spirits and marked the gradual return of the light.
With the cancellation of large-scale Hogmanay celebrations many of us will be bringing in the New Year in small groups or as individuals. My wish is that any fires we light or candles we burn will become beacons of hope to help make 2022 a better year and resolve at least some of the challenges that face our world at this time.
Annie Broadley is a well-known Scottish artist
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