Jewel Box is another in the series of paintings I have been doing of Mudgeeraba Creek. I was walking along the edge of the creek one day when I noticed a shaft of light coming in between the tree branches and lighting up the stones on the floor of the creek with a golden glow. The richness of the reflections of leaves and branches, and the shapes and colours of the underlying rocks seemed to create a complicated sort of Rococco pattern; not a collection of mundane objects, but a secret cache of precious things. That’s why I’ve called the work ‘Jewel Box’.
Three views of Mudgeeraba Creek – 3x panels oil on canvas, mounted on board, 40x80cms each, overall 120×80 approx. Susan Skuse 2015.
I came up with this work as part of my Fine Arts Degree work and finished it up for the d’Arcy Doyle Award. I’m happy to report that the painting has found a new home, and, not only that, but another artlover has commissioned a similar work. I’m beginning to feel that I might have found my art “niche”.
For anyone who is interested in such things, here is my artist statement relating to this work, explaining the thought process behind it.
The aim of my painting is the appreciation of the natural world as a unity in which we are not objective observers, but an integral and undifferentiated part. For me, this involves painting in a realistic style and with an attachment to place.
My recent work has been based on a single place; a rainforest stream near my home. It is not that there is anything special about this place; there are thousands, perhaps millions of such places where the basic elements of water, rock, light and vegetation come together.
In Zen Buddhism there is a term, kensho, which implies a momentary enlightenment wherein one “sees nature” and also sees one’s own nature, with the sense that there is no duality between the ‘seer’ and the ‘seen’. My goal is for my painting to open the door to a such an experience.
In the set of three, titled ‘Focus Shirt, the top panel shows a distant view, which reads as a conventional landscape painting. In the second panel , the middle ground, the patterns of shapes are becoming more abstract, and in the bottom panel they are rendered more abstractly again, with primary interest being on the distorted shapes created by moving water and the colours.
Crows get bad press, and I admit they are not the most tuneful of birds, but when it comes to flying, they do it with style. I love the sound their wings make – like the rustle of taffeta and the nonchalent way they skim through the air reminds me of a rower on one of those racing skiffs, just effortlessly flicking over the water.
Nevertheless, crows do have their ominous side, and I thought a stormy sky would be appropriate for him.
Here is another of my bird series, titled “The Art of Riding the Wind”. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the expression “riding the wind” is a way of describing the experience of enlightenment in Zen Buddhist and Taoist philosophy. Riding the wind is very difficult for people, but comes naturally to birds.
The work started out as one of a series of paintings of the sky in various moods. I was interested in trying to depict the boundless power and mystery of the sky. If you’ve ever looked out of an airplane window with your mind in neutral, you’ll know what I mean. Using composite aluminium panels, I airbrushed gradated layers of colour, and afterwards used oil paint to try to suggest cloud formations. The birds were later added to these panels, trying to match something of the feeling for each species of bird with the sky in each case.
Another of this series of birds in flight. These are my sky panels re-purposed. I think the sky is equally as important as the birds, since the series is about the many facets of the art of riding on the wind.
The Art of Riding on the Wind – No. 2 – Australian Magpie
Oils and acrylic on composite aluminium panel
40 x 40 cms
This is the second of my Riding on the Wind series, featuring one of the dependents of this household, the Australian Magpie. Birds all seem to have their own style when it comes to flying. The Magpie’s is determined, efficient, but not flashy.
The work is done on composite aluminium sheet. The sky has firstly been painted on using airbrushed acrylic, followed by oil paint, and then the bird has been added in oils.
‘Riding the wind’ is a Zen expression connoting the experience of samahdi, or ‘getting it’ which can come after many years of meditation, or suddenly, as when the Zen master gives his student a sharp blow to the ear. Either way, it is a difficult thing for people to achieve. Birds, on the other hand, naturally ride the wind. They are seamlessly part of the universe. This painting is one of a series based on sky panels I had made previously. I am interested in the many different expressions of the art of riding the wind shown by various species of birds.
“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about and with worms crawling through the damp earth and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.”
Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 6th Edn. (from the final paragraph).
This is a famous quote, and I came across it again a couple of weeks ago in a book about the concept of the sublime in art, as it happens. I started to think about doing a drawing based on my own neck of the woods in sub-tropical South-East Queensland, with the plants and animals that are so familiar to me. It took a lot of work to plan and many, many hours dotting away with very fine point pens, but I’m happy with the result. I have submitted the work for a major drawing prize, and have got my fingers crossed for a spot in the finals. In this drawing I have tried to depict a dense web of interconnected life, rich with pattern and detail, through which the eye has to wander slowly to pick out all the animals (29 of them) and various types of plants (more than 15). The style of the drawing is intended to evoke the feel of 19th century hatural history engravings and also has been influenced by the complex fantasies of Arthur Rackham.