Kezia Davies talks to art critic Anna McNay and artist Veronique Maria about their forthcoming Conversation: ‘Love and the Arts’
Wondrous life….. Magnolia on Magnolia by Veronique Maria
31 May (6.30 – 7.30pm)
Conversation: ‘Love and the Arts’
Bazalgette Room – The House of St Barnabas
Art critic Anna McNay, in conversation with artist Veronique Maria, regarding an artist’s search for communion through intimacy and creativity.
FREE – Reserve place by emailing: art@
Anna – how did you get involved with the Winter Pride Art Awards?
I’ve been involved with the Winter Pride Art Awards for a number of years. I used to be Arts Editor for DIVA magazine and I reviewed the Awards and exhibition in that role in both 2014 and 2016. In 2015, I wrote a feature on them for State magazine, where I was Deputy Editor from 2013-2017. This also included a profile of Winter Pride Art Awards Director Simon Tarrant. In 2016, I profiled Winter Pride founder Rebecca Paisis for DIVA and also sat on the judging panel for the Awards. This in conversation event came about because I had been speaking to Veronique about her work and her wish to present it and give a talk and I connected her to Simon, as he is such a super events organiser and arts promoter, and he then invited us to be part of this year’s programme.
Anna – why do you think it’s important to draw attention to the lived experiences of members of the LGBTQIA+ community through art?
I think it’s important for everybody to have a role model, or, even more simply, to see themselves mirrored in the reflections of society put out there on the television, in films, in literature, in the media and in art. One thing that is heard frequently among the LGBTQIA+ community is the lack of this identification when growing up and trying to develop one’s own identity. We grasp at anything we can that seems to make us feel less alone, less abnormal. The one gay character in a soap opera, the tragic lesbian heroine in a novel, two women portrayed as lovers in a turn-of-the-century painting. These things validate our sense of self and are key to growing up ‘ok’. It is therefore so important to add to this small stock of imagery and create and promote art that draws attention to the lived experience of the LGBTQIA+ community – first and foremost for its members, but also for the wider world, to normalise and share our message and identity and experience, both positive and negative.
Veronique – how did you get involved with the Winter Pride Art Awards?
I got involved with the Winter Pride Art Awards thanks to Anna McNay who kindly introduced me to Simon Tarrant. At the time of our first conversations I was developing a project for lesbians around ageing and creativity. I was applying to Arts Council England for funding to deliver talks, provide artists mentoring and lead creativity workshops for lesbians over 50. Part of my proposed project was for me to give a talks about my life as an artist specifically within the context of my being a lesbian. This is something I haven’t ever done before. In the talks I wanted to present an overview of my entire art practice since the 1970s whilst explicitly exploring how sexuality and sexual preferences might affect one’s work as an artist. Anna was brilliant at suggesting who I might contact for doing such talks and she kindly introduced me to several people, and then Simon Tarrant generously offered us the opportunity to be in conversation together at the House of St Barnabas as part of the 2018 Winter Pride Art Programme.
Veronique – could you tell us a bit about what your talk will encompass and how it will relate to some of the themes covered in the exhibition?
We’ve a few weeks to go before the talk so I’m still selecting images, or rather de-selecting them. I’ve got a lot to get through and looking back through the decades since 1972 when I was 13, with this talk in mind, lots of thoughts, ideas and memories have arisen. Selecting and de-selecting of images for this purpose has become quite a process!
I want the talk to be a spontaneous discussion between Anna and me on the night as we respond to the images and approach the general theme of the talk which is to explore an artist’s search for communion through intimacy (with self, ‘other’) and creativity.
Veronique – how do you think this sense of intimacy and creativity that you talk about connects art to broader LGBTQIA+ themes and issues?
As well as being a self-employed artist, I work as an artists’ mentor and I lead workshops where I help people access and develop their creativity. In my coaching capacity I often find myself encouraging people to take greater risks in their art practice (if they have one) and in their creativity and their lives generally. I invite them to step further into themselves, become more at home with themselves, become more familiar and intimate with themselves and aim to live with more free creativity, authenticity and congruency. As we look holistically at all aspects of their lives (uncovering blocks, fears, resistances etc,) in order to free up their creative selves, we often find that exploring and deepening their relationship with their sexuality greatly supports their developmental process towards the changes and growth they are seeking.
I believe there are strong associations between one’s sexuality and one’s creativity. It seems to me that when we’re freely connected to our sexuality all other aspects of our lives, including our creativity, can blossom. The other side of that is that when our sexuality is denied (whether it be internally by ourselves or externally by society) then the creative spark is at risk of dying or being severely compromised too. That’s certainly what happened to me. Luckily my creativity never gave up on me completely. I don’t think the creative spark ever gives up on us because it’s our life force but when I tried to deny my sexuality, as a result of my first lover’s internalised homophobia, I tried to dampen down my creativity and cut out my creative centre too. Obviously each person is different, and coming from a different life experience around self expression and creativity but I think it’s helpful to hear other people’s stories, perspectives and experiences. It is my hope that by telling my own personal story around these themes I might be able to help support and inspire others to take new and more confident steps towards their own creative self.
It seems to me the when we are connected to our creativity we connect more deeply to ourselves and the more that relationship is enriched the more our other relationships improve too. Role models play such an important part in this. When I was first attempting to come out as a lesbian in my early teens there were no role models for me whatsoever. My lover at the time (we were lovers for four years when we were aged 13-16 years) told me we needed to keep our connection a secret. She said it was a straight world and that no one else would understand our relationship. She suggested ‘this thing between us’ (as she called it), was most probably ‘just an experimental stage’ and that it would pass, and anyway would have to end when we left school. This broke my heart. To be perfectly honest I actually hadn’t noticed it was a straight world at that point. I knew I was different from the other girls at school who were all so preoccupied with boys but nevertheless I had a very clear life plan ahead of me. I knew I was gay and an artist and I could see my life with those things in the centre, clearly before me. On top of that I was deeply in love and wanted to shout my joy from the roof tops. When my lover positioned herself differently from me, closeted and ashamed, I felt incredibly alone in the world. I wanted to be loyal to her and keep her secret safe for her but at the same time I want to be loyal to myself too and be fully out. Without her on board with me I felt as if I might be the only lesbian in the world. David Bowie was my only gay creative role model out there.
I know that things are very different now these days but I still personally know of several people in their fifties, sixties and seventies who are isolated and closeted and completely afraid to come out. I don’t want it to be this way and so I think it’s my responsibility to stand up and be counted and do what I can to make a difference.
So my conversation with Anna will start when I was 13 and in love with a girl at my boarding school and then travel through the decades, following the stories of my lovers and the associated art I’ve made at various times through my teens, twenties, and so on up to the present day. I am about to turn 60 now. I am a proud and adoring mother and grandmother of two baby girls. When I look back at my life and ask myself what’s to all been about I realise there are a lot of things I haven’t yet done. Mostly things that I had planned to do but refrained from doing due to my ongoing loyalty to my first lover. I am wanting to address those things now – before I die.
In my art practice I’ve explored numerous genres over the years. These have included live-art/performance, sculpture, film, drawing, wood turning, ceramics, earth work, painting, writing….. Sometimes these have been influenced by my living circumstances, and sometimes by the state of my emotional landscape, my deepest desires and my heart.
I think the theme of intimacy and creativity and the search for communion affects us all. And I believe with a passion that art (whether we make it ourselves or perceive the art that others have created) can potentially provide us with unique and special ways to connect with ourselves, others and the world we are a part of. Art offers us opportunities to look at the world with new eyes and from fresh perspectives. It invites us to reach into ourselves, be challenged, explore things that perhaps our normal daily lives don’t offer. And most importantly it offers us a chance to take our conversations (with ourselves and others) to places that ultimately might open us to more intimacy.
It seems to me that we’re all searching for intimacy and meaningful connections of some sort or another and we are all exploring where we fit in the world. We all search for communion in different ways. Sometimes the search is very conscious and deliberate, sometimes it’s less conscious, but I do think it’s there for us all at some level or other. Personally I’ve found it comforting and helpful to know how others have navigated and are navigating these waters.
I think it’s vitally important to be affirmed in life and even better still to be affirmed by the people who really know first hand how it feels to be something ‘other than straight’. When we can hear personal lived experiences of members of the LGBTQIA+ community through stories and art for example, we get an opportunity to find a mirror, an affirmation and some sort of support that says to us it’s ok to be as we are. I certainly needed, and still need, to see and hear that it’s just fine to be in love with a person of my own gender, to shout my joy from the roof tops and to express these feelings creatively. In my teens I longed to find such a positive affirming role model who’d demonstrate to me that it was perfectly fine to be me, to be a girl into girls, and in love with one and with art.
No matter how much we progress and change we also carry the histories of those who have passed before us. Those histories affect us in our present and we then contribute to the next generation with our stories…. Change happens because of the past and then we pay that forward. I hope that something of what I do and say now can in some small way make some kind of a difference to what goes on now and happens in the future.
aged 7-59 years
The POETICS of reflection….
I was seven years old when I first started to listen to Leonard Cohen on long playing records (1967). We lived in Calgary, Alberta, Canada at the time. Before that we had lived in Aukland New Zealand and originally we had been in London and Devon in England. There’d been a lot of moving around in my short life. Not much was stable except for the make shift dens that I’d create underneath each of our latest dinning room tables. No matter what the housing circumstances or the country we were attempting to reside in there was always a sheet to throw over the table. It was under the table there, in my make shift home, that I could cosy up and close myself down from the overwhelm of what seemed like permanent disruption.
The other constant in my life was Leonard Cohen’s voice as he delivered his poetry. I’d play his tracks over and over again to hear his resonance. Continuously lifting the needle off and on the black vinyl to try to catch the words, I would then, extremely patiently attempt to write them down. It would have been a very slow process for anyone so young as I was. It was especially slow for me as I was ill equipped, having had so much disruption up to that point in life. By the time I was seven it had become apparent that I was seriously behind at school. I had attended six schools in three continents by that time and an academic educational wasn’t high on my priorities. Finding my way to the cloakroom or my house from school was fundamental as was being able to sense which adults were good, helpful and to be trusted and which ones were extremely dangerous and to be avoided at all costs. Navigating my way through the never ending emotional chaos and continually changing geographies had been my main priority, much more important than learning the three Rs.I loved Leonard Cohens words. I could feel them. They touched me deeply and made a lot of sense to me – even to my young and inexperienced self. They made a kind of sense that I’d not yet found else where in my short life. They resonated and I held on to them when all around was forever shifting.
I’m not sure whether my mother was disturbed by the continuous scratchings of record player needle on black plastic as I lifted and replaced it in a precarious and possibly damaging way, or whether she pitied me for my frustratingly devoted efforts but either way she came to my (or the record’s!) rescue. Maybe she simply wanted to help me out with my task and connect with me in the process… What ever her reasons were, she’d sometimes engage in the mission with me painstakingly listening to a line, noting it down in her secretaries flip pad in short hand and then later transcribing those curls and dots and lines into long hand words for me.
I loved that she did this for me because I needed a way to keep his words and energy close to me so it could grow it inside of me.
I loved his poetry then and I love it now.
Today a friend posted some of his words on her facebook page:
‘I greet you from the other side of sorrow and despair
with a love so vast and shattered it will reach you everywhere…‘ Leonard Cohen
The words resonated with me. They were timely – so very timely.
Deeply moved – at the age of 59 I was once again transported back into the depths of Leonard Cohen. It was a sort of home coming. An absolute delight.
Inevitably these ponderings led me to ask more questions such as ‘where does a creative impulse (to create art) actually come from? And what determines whether or not we follow it?’
As both an artist and an artists mentor I often encounter the difficulties we have around sharing our work with the world. I think these difficulties are closely related to the same sort of hesitation, resistance and fear that most of us (whether artists or not) have around being ourselves and expressing ourselves in the world. The reasons one might feel hesitant about putting one’s art (or one’s self) ‘out there’ are undoubtedly numerous and complex and that’s certainly a subject for a separate post but my thesis here is that love holds the key to everything: to our flow, to our fear, to our ambiguity and to our freedom of expression.
So where do we actually express ourselves from?
The complexities of the psyche, especially from a psycho-spiritual perspective, suggest we have countless layers and levels from which to express ourselves.
When we are coming from our highest self and are able to get out of the way of ourselves we are in free flow and all is well but when we are coming from our less functional parts, the parts we might consider to be ‘disturbed’, ‘troubled’ or simply ‘wounded’, (and we all have them) or when we are tired, overwhelmed or in pain, we are much more likely to be reactive and thats when things get confused and distorted . From here we are more likely to react rather than respond. What’s more, even if we believe we are ‘on to ourselves’ about this, our reactive parts will know how to cleverly and subtly ‘rule the roost’ even if we think we are being very careful!
Worse still, these lesser developed (but most likely very old) parts of our psyche (that have been with us for decades and have well established roots and routes!) are very likely to reside in or choose to travel in our most prominently developed neural pathways; the motorways which are the easiest to access and to travel along. Because those roads are so open and well known to us we tend to go on these with our automatic pilot on. These are our default places, our familiar places, our habitual pathways.
Our position of receiving creative impulses inevitably fluctuates and changes according to our personal circumstances and the level we are responding from. (personal circumstances meaning environmental, professional, spiritual, psychological etc etc) With this in mind, we as artists therefore need to keep a keen check on where we are coming from when we create and put our work out in the world.
Whilst it’s sometimes good to be impulsive and spontaneous and trust that all is well, it’s also important that we think carefully about our intentions and consider our impact upon others.
Whilst we might present ourselves to the world as being truly functional, successful and professional at some level, at another level, we are also inevitably going to be flawed, confused and fumbling. Apparently functioning well in some aspects of our lives, we are often simultaneously dealing with some difficult ‘stuff’. Age and experience helps us deal with these things but sometimes we’ll be overwhelmed, We are, after all, human.
For me, at times like this, simply getting out of bed and showered and dressed is something I humbly celebrate with much gratitude.
Last year, due to an injury, I was housebound, isolated and alone for the best part of eight months. During that time I had lots of opportunity to reflect on what I do in the world as an artist and why. With little mobility, and a lot of pain all of my energy went on basic self care which included a lot of rest. Making art was very low on my list. During those eight months I was particularly vulnerable and my physical injury had occurred on the back of a difficult bereavement. I was altogether lost and from those circumstances came an extraordinary finding: an unexpected and deeply significant heart opening. Altogether it was a rollercoaster ride.
Life has a lot of ups and downs and twists and turns. Some people encounter more hills and rocky terrains than others. It is often said that ‘we only get what we can manage to cope with’ and I think that may be true, but maybe it’s more a case of the degree to which we are willing to open to what is being presented.
It’s therefore incredibly important to watch ourselves carefully when we create, express and tell our stories. It’s important in terms of taking responsibility for our actions and also in terms of taking responsibly for ourselves. We need to be mindful of where our creativity is stemming from, and, when we put it out in the world we really do need to take full responsibility for our impact. (on one’s self and upon others)
What we say and do, the energy we expel, the marks we make, and the impressions we leave – it’s always going to be our choice as to how much we choose to tell the audience. So we need to consider how much do we say and how much do we leave unsaid, leave ambiguous and open to interpretation and how much do we reveal? The impact we have on others will come back and impact upon us.
It could be said that perhaps we need to take more time to be sure of ourselves before we dive in to dangerously exposed situations, get naked, fall deep into unexpected depths and come up spluttering for air but conversely, with too much ‘care before action’, and consideration before expression where does that leave our creativity, our spontaneity, and our passion?
As a creativity coach, workshop leader and artists mentor I see, time and time again how people compromise themselves in their art practice and their lives rather than take too much of a risk to reveal themselves. I’ve done it myself too of course. It’s an on going challenge. Rather than risking stepping completely out of my safe comfort zone, I’ve stayed safe in the known, the least challenging and the familiar. How do we find flexibility, middle ground – love (self love, universal love and love from others). It is love that will lead us there.
I know several artists who have one art practice which is completely private, and one which they are willing to share with their audience and the world. I did that myself for many years. This was a great short term solution to the dilemma around what to share and what not to share (share this side of the practice and keep this side of the practice as a vehicle to inform the ‘main’ practice but keep it as research and development not the ‘real’ work. Over the years I got to care less about what others thought and more about satisfying myself and at some point I decided time was running our and what has I got to lose so I decided to take a risk and reveal a bit and a bit more and a bit more.
Sometimes (probably often) we put something down in writing, first of all it fits at the time and then over time it changes, our perspective, opinion and feeling changes. For example there was a time when I would have said I’ve given my life to be in service through my art, but I’ve come to realise that in many ways that’s simply not true. (no longer true) Firstly my life is to my family. I am a devoted mother, stepmother, mother-in-love (soon to be mother-in-law) and a grandmother. These relationships matter more to me than anything. It is after them that I am committed to my work as an artist and artist’s mentor. So what I thought and believed before has evolved over time and after circumstances have changed and with age and wisdom I have learnt new things and different values and priorities. In writing this makes things tricky – or can do. In a conversation less so and in art, ambiguity supports change.
So I think maybe writers might actually be more confident and self assured than they say they are. But regardless of the genre I express myself in I believe it’s my job to get out of the way of myself and simply let the work flow, not judge it, just put it out and trust that it’ll be what it needs to be. Trust it’ll find its own way to where it needs to go and those who need it will attract it to them.
I don’t consider myself to be a skilled at always managing that. I can get nervous and insecure about exposing myself just like the next person. And I don’t consider myself to be a writer by any stretch of the imagination and I am a certainly unskilled when it comes to knowing when to restrain myself from my raw ramblings. I don’t always know when or how to hold off from my outpourings, and make safe sketches instead – something more palatable, accessible. Or when to keep things to myself. I’m learning on the job.
As artists we put stuff out there and the work does what it does in the world mostly without us ever knowing what that is. What that impact is. From the inside it can seem as if it’s fallen flat on the ground and no one has even seen it. We rarely get to know what it’s doing, who it’s impacting. Sometimes we get a chance of a conversation with someone about how it impacted them. It’s a treasure to have a chance of a proper conversation. When there is a significant audience response I guess we have to listen to that…
So what’s love got to do with it? For me, love has everything to do with it. Love is the rudder, the guide and the reason. Love will hold us when all else seems to be falling away.
When I’m trying to put something into the world as an offering, I need to stay in that place of service from the outset: from conception through the execution, delivery and beyond. Love holds me in this place of ‘service’. I need to remember that love and when it comes to wanting to withdraw, remove, erase and disappear I need to strengthen my connection to that love more than ever. Buddhists call that Mette – loving kindness.
Artists who reveal the unspeakable in service of others hold the line of love regardless of impact. Wei Wei’s passionate and brave political stand, which I believe was born out of a deep love, got him jailed and left his audiences fearing his death. Tracy Emin’s raw illustration of her own personal life experiences, involving the darkest sides of sex, alcohol, degradation and addiction brought serious debate around what is art and what is therapy but her devotion to her love (of art) won through.
We’re all middlingly thought in our own unique ways and there is no road map as we are all so different but what is the same for all of us is that we are all here for such a brief moment….. so let’s be sure we consciously consider our imprint and let’s take responsibly for every mark we make. Let’s do everything we can from a place of pure love…
Veronique Maria is passionate about creativity and enabling authentic self expression in everyone, in service of the greater whole.
Veronique has worked in the arts for over forty years. She makes her own art work (which is mostly painting and video right now), she sees clients 1-2-1 for creativity coaching and artists mentoring, and she delivers workshops to groups in West Sussex UK in her home in Arundel and at West Dean College, near Chichester.
Veronique’s interest in love and relationships led her to write about how ‘Love Transforms’ in ‘Psychosynthesis theory and practice’ published in 2013. She is currently writing a creativity workbook and a book about the creative process as a spiritual/devotional practice.
She exhibits and sells her art work internationally, and has work in publications and collections worldwide.
She has a BA (hons) in Art and Design (Wood, Metals, Ceramics and Plastics, Brighton University), an MA in Psychosynthesis Psychology (Applied to Fine Art Practice Middlesex University), a professional training in psychotherapy (Institute of Psychosynthesis, London) and she is also a Leadership Graduate. (CTI – The Coaches Training Institute (USA). She has been a practicing Buddhist since 1991 and is currently working towards ordination in the Triratna Buddhist tradition.
Veronique Maria is passionate about the importance of authentic self expression and believes creative integrity transforms health for individuals, societies and potentially, the world.
Her dream is to create a place where artists and non artists can go for intensive, ‘hot house’ mentoring in order to explore their truest unbridled self expression in the context of being in service to others.
For further information about all areas of Veronique’s work – http://www.veroniquemaria.co.uk
For workshop bookings and coaching/mentoring enquiries – email: email@example.com
Sharing the process behinds the scenes…
On a day to day, and moment to moment basis, I live what it means to be ‘me’, Veronique Maria, a gay woman, artist, devoted mother and grandmother, Buddhist and lover of life. I do this simply because that is ‘me’.
But as I get older and turn towards becoming sixty, and face my own mortality in a new way, I find myself taking yet another serious look at my art practice and asking ‘Is it enough to simply live my experience of myself in this way? Is it ok for me to live all of that and then translate and transform my life experience into ‘showable’ and ‘presentable’ art work?’
‘Is that really ok with me?
‘Am I doing enough in the world? Am I making enough difference, simply by being connected fully to my passion and purpose and sharing that with others through my art?’
What else needs to be said and done?
I find it important to ask myself is ‘Are the things I am trading my life for, worthy of my life?’ ‘Am I fully aligned and making the work I was born to do?’
Interestingly, a similar sort of seriously intense re-evalation of my art practice happened as I approached aged 50 and 40 too, but of course I am always re-evaluating my art practice each and every day too. I always evaluate my work and my life in an attempt to keep fully on track.
Life is so very precious, a treasure to be taken very seriously in my opinion, but something is different about this questioning I am doing right now. Something is moving and something is shifting in a new way. I don’t completely understand it yet, maybe I never will, but what I do know is that I feel excited, (and I have to admit, extremely nervous too) about what I am about to share with you.
The thing is, I am about to make move further into the RAW.
I know I could just wait another decade to make this move, or never bother to do it at all, and to be honest it would be relatively easy to avoid the situation completely, but that’s why I therefore want to, and need to, declare this to you now – that from now on, intend to share much more of myself with you…. to be much more raw.
Ok, so that may not seem like a particularity big statement right now, but hang on in there with me and I will explain.
There has always been loads of creative work that I do which supports my art practice – the sort of creative expression that I would call ‘the work behind the scenes’. Much of this I never show publicly. I use this kind of work as a starting point, and to inform my ‘other’ more polished and showable work that I let go out into the world. But why do I do this? Why wouldn’t I show you everything? Why wouldn’t I?!
The work I have traditionally kept more to myself has often tended to be live art, performance for camera, most written work (poetry, and mixed genre writing for example) and experimenting with materials and sound, but it can also be drawing, painting and sculpture that are processes I never show you. So why, (up until now) haven’t I shared and shown that work? What would it be like to be completely exposed and vulnerable with you?
It seems that (for the most part) I’ve been ok with keeping my ‘naked’ sort of work to myself.
My creative work that I put out into the world has always been incredibly personal. From the time I wrote my first poems about love, passion and grief inspired by my feelings for my girlfriend when we were at boarding school when we were aged 14-16.
I have always been expressing myself in this personal way but maybe her homophobic plea to me, to keep our love a secret, and my loyalty to her held me back at first. I was loyal to her wish to never be named but after a while I realised my loyalty to her meant disloyalty to myself. It’s a difficult line to tread but I always kept her privacy.
And then later down the line maybe I had some kind of mindset around ‘the artist’s job’ being to make work that talks to the ‘collective’, to the ‘people’, and that to be so revealing of that which is deeply intimate and personal would be taking away from the ‘other’.
There are other reasons for my ambiguity and abstraction too. I have been holding back so as not to impact others. Not to hurt or expose the people that I love.
But now things have to change just a little. I find I have to re-examine my feelings about all that now. I believe that by sharing ‘me’ I offer a gift to you. How can I share me without sharing them?
I know some people think what I already reveal through my art is extremely passionate, brave and expressive, and they admire what I am willing to share of my personal life in the way that I do, but it’s simply not enough for me anymore.
I’ve been concealing the depth of my truth by skirting around the surface and now want to reveal much more of the personal me, in my raw, overt and undeniable state.
I want to stop censoring, judging, controlling and deciding. Of course I will still do those things as my output and productivity is enormous, so there will have to be some sort of editing and choice going on, but I want to make sure I make, reveal and share ‘a raw expression of an intimate connection’ with you. The raw expression of my intimate connection with my self, with my creativity, with my life and with my love.
I have a wonderful new PA who arrived in my office yesterday. In the process of familiarising her with an over view of my 40+ years of creative output as an artist, I realised that I want to come out and show my work in this raw and overt way in the direct and explicit context of love.
Yes, there will still be finished consumable products in my practice, it’s not all about the raw, but the other side of my practice, or maybe I should call it the centre, or praxis, that which is the core of me….that is what needs to come now.
So I’ve been thinking about how to reveal myself more…..
A public talk, a book, extracts from my journals….
NB After further consideration some highly personal journal extracts have been removed from this post. It’s a fine line…….
Veronique Maria is passionate about creativity and enabling authentic self expression.
Veronique has worked in the arts since 1970’s. She makes her own art work (painting, performance, video, writing) and sees clients 1-2-1 for creativity coaching and artists mentoring.
She is currently researching the value of art to individuals and societies, exploring the processes of creating and perceiving art as being devotional practices which, with commitment, offer potentiality of becoming spiritual praxes.
She exhibits and sells internationally, and has work in publications and collections worldwide.
She has a BA (hons) in Art and Design, an MA in Psychosynthesis Psychology, a professional training in psychotherapy, and is a Leadership Graduate with CTI – The Coaches Training Institute (USA).
Veronique is passionate about the importance of authentic self expression and believes creative integrity transforms health for individuals and societies.
Her dream is to create a residential retreat centre where everyone (artists and non artists alike) can go for ‘gently intensive hot house’ mentoring to explore their inner artist, and their truest most unbridled self expression in the context of being in service to others.
When someone asks me how, with all my history, I’ve became so solid, articulate and comfortable in my own skin, I’m baffled. Then I tell them it was Psychosynthesis; eighteen years of weekly psychotherapy, eight years of a professional training and several years writing papers, poems and pros describing my experiences.
It’s difficult to put my finger on it exactly ‘what Psychosynthesis is to me’. Psychosynthesis helped me grow from a shy, inarticulate girl, into a strong, self-assured woman.
I tell people Psychosynthesis helped me build a house inside of myself.
*** *** ***
In 2013 I was awarded a three month Artist’s Residency by the Wurlitzer Foundation USA. They provided me with an old adobe casita on seventeen acres of woodland in New Mexico and invited me to ‘do my creative thing’. Thousands of miles from home, family and friends, and with no car, phone or internet, I found myself ‘listening’ to myself, others and the environment with new, and expanded levels of heightened awareness.
I’d originally intended to use my time in Taos to write a film script and work on video. It soon became clear this residency was about exploring who I am when there’s no project and my layers are peeled right back. 8,000 feet up a sacred mountain, with limited oxygen, I felt permanently high. Stripped bear, each moment had a quality of prayer.
In ‘normal’ life back home in England I’d been striving to surrender to the unknown but fear often held me back. Trust seemed easier in Taos. Soon after arriving, I purchased four beautifully illustrated story books, one of which was Thomas Blue Eagle’s Ledger Book. These were the first gifts I’d ever dared buy for my much hoped for grandchild. Not willing to give up on that dream, I returned to my casita and wrote this poem.
Thomas Blue Eagle’s Ledger Book
b o o k s
for you today.
four precious symbols
of my desire to dream you
I’ve been dreaming of you for years,
and I think of you almost everyday now
I wonder when you will come to me
I want to make you blankets and shawls and tiny booties
I want to gather you up in my arms – tell you mama will always love you
I want to sew with you, dance with you and lay down and stroke you
I want you to have everything a child should have
and be protected from all that children shouldn’t have to bear
I wonder when you will come to me
I am dreaming you darling,
and daydreaming you
A month later, when my son announced the conception of his daughter, I was in heaven, awe and wonder. I celebrated with gratitude and rituals.
Many of my experiences in New Mexico were monumental. Never knowing what’s coming next, I wrote this:
Blessed Art Thou….
Dawn, New Mexico 2014
Wild dogs searching for truth came sniffing in my casita.
Hairy mongrels with wet noses and wagging tails.
I tried to catch them as they danced around the house.
Jumping up onto my bed many times and then hiding in dark corners.
They had twinkles in their eyes and sometimes their tales swept the floor.
“I’ll be fifty five at the end of this month.”
“I trained extensively as an artist, a psychotherapist, and an applied psychosynthesis practitioner. For what? Pivoting between fifty and sixty I’m out on a high wire. Not a comfortable place.”
“What would be comfortable?”
“When I reflect back over my life, I remember how I thought it was going to be, especially in my mid teens, when I had a really strong sense of who I was and where I was going. It didn’t turn out quite as I thought it would. I often wonder what I could have done differently.”
“mmmm comfortable? I suppose that would be when I am really settled and everything seems right. Actually I get that feeling quite a lot. I’m not talking about that sort of ‘comfortable’ though, I’m talking about being comfortable about being mortal – a deep sense of comfort.
Maybe the comfort I’m talking about is born out of being on track, aligned with ones life purpose, at peace with life and death and able to hold one’s self steady in any situation.
I remember feeling fully in my body when I was fifteen. That feeling of vibrancy, determination, strength and vitality; a sense nothing could stop me from having life. I was focused and in love. If I had died in that moment I imagine I might have felt whole and complete.
I remember prancing across Hampstead Heath enjoying nature and my body as if they were one.
I was wearing my grandpa’s bola hat with a peacock feather in it. My sixties blouse stitched from beautiful soft green material, hung loosely over my young skin. Black tailored trousers sat comfortably secure around my waist. Everything was exactly as it should be. The present moment was divine. The future planned, clear and tangible. My memory of that moment returns to me often. My sense of it is so strong.”
Dusk, Sussex Hospital 1989
With my face pushed up against gloss painted plasterwork on the ceiling, I watched my body thirty feet below me, in the hospital bed. Everyone looked small. Medics busied themselves around ‘me’ down there whilst I occupied myself with ceiling textures. I was calm and strangely, detached from critical activities below. Seemingly suspended in space, neither occupying my body nor the ether, the building’s architecture seemed to be acting as some kind of a boundary for me.
Occasionally I wondered whether I might be able to slip through the ceiling but I seemed to be hesitating or resisting that next move. I wasn’t afraid, I just didn’t know what I would be going into.
Then, suddenly I seemed to make a clear choice and returned to my body. The nurse greeted me warmly. I could see relief and delight in her face. ‘Hello. Welcome back. I thought for a moment we had lost you.”
Apparently I had been trying to sit up in the bed when I suddenly felt dizzy, and couldn’t breathe. (I remembered that that had happening just before I went to the ceiling.) ‘Your skin colour turned grey and you started to disappear. We called the crash team. We thought you were going.’
“I’d been planning to go to art college since I was about ten. I believed whole heartedly, the life I dreamt of would materialise after school. My love would come with me. I knew every inch of her body just as well as I knew my own. I knew the way she breathed, and the way we breathed together, the way her chest rose when I touched her and how to stroke her to make her shudder. I loved the way her chest bones sat proud and how down covered her jaw. I knew how her blonde locks would fall over her face when we laid together. I understood things she couldn’t talk about, and I knew that I loved her. Her vibration was divine. Nothing could change my devotion to her and us, nothing that is, except for her.”
Taos Mountain 2014
I went out looking for you today,
and found you in the Indian land briefly.
My heart opened wide
It felt unexpected and ancient.
In the gentle silence
and the vast open space,
my heart became like lungs,
Eagles wings spread out within my chest
and I could breathe,
Or at least that is how it felt in that moment.
I found you today in the open plains,
in the mountain and in the sky.
It was as if you came to me
showed me all I need to know
You came to me today
and then briefly
like lovers in a moment of communion, we were one.
Tate Modern, London 2049
Millennium Bridge, Thames London.
Small family group walk from St Paul’s Cathedral to Tate Modern.
They look up at neon lights on building.
Group approaches gallery doors
Whispering voices ‘blessed art thou’.
Sounds build up, layered into chants.
Noise of Turbines mingle with chants -‘Blessed Art thou’.
Artist looks outside window up towards moon
Turns head downwards.
Cold pavement level -woman, curled up alone, keeps from freezing.
Strawberry Tree, Sussex UK 2008
Garden studio: large timber log cabin.
Natural light streaming in.
Artist VM aged 40 making performance art.
Sweeping pulverised Paw Paw fruit across timber floor boards.
Orange flesh/black seeds mingle with yellow fruit skin.
Some pulp caught in grooves of painted pine floor.
VM sweeps pulp into a pile using long handled broom.
Friend drumming gently – sits in corner of room.
Video camera in corner on tripod records events.
Moon light – Surrey Hills, 2004
come to me
b e e n
w a i t i n g
d r e a m i n g
longing for you
the ache of desire – the wanting
for years – possibly lifetimes
heavy with anticipation
ancient searching – praying for your touch
tonight the moon knows, hanging large, heavy, low
I can see you – feel you – delight in you
full with warm pink peach
you are in my being
with painful longing
in every moment that I dare reach out for you
you are my fire and I burn for you
there is no lover like this………………..but this one
eternal internal universal
dark night skies, deep oceans,
r i c h v e l v e t
b l a c k
m a t u r e
r a w
“I hadn’t expected that in letting her hold my heart in her hands I had somehow given her the power to change my vision. I am broken hearted. Everything around me is crashing and changing.”
“Same as your first love. Can you feel the reverberations?”
“Yes. Love keeps re-forming itself. The revised form still revolves around creativity and art, (which is a relief!) but it’s complex and often effected by lovers.”
“Death terrifies me. I tell myself it’s okay but when it comes close, I’m terrified. Flying in an aeroplane, having an anaesthetic, surgery, that kind of thing. Then the cancer scare of course! I never felt so afraid and alone.
Plus I can’t bear to break attachments either. It’s always the horizontal pull which affects my relationship with death I suppose.
Out of body experiences remind me there’s no death only transformation to another form, but when push comes to shove it’s so hard to remember that. I seem so unable to surrender a lot of the time. My body is tense, braced for disasters which are probably unlikely to ever happen.
When I’m skiing, and I’m on top of a mountain looking down at the sheer drop below, sometimes I freeze up. Standing there considering what to do, the more I think about it the more I resist movement. I imagine terrible things happening: accident, injury, pain, death. I think, if I just stay here (stuck!) I’ll be safe. So I stay a little longer till I realise I am only just ‘alive’ here, not fully living.
I don’t exactly know what happens to make the shift, but somehow I find something within myself and I’m able to let go of the fear, surrender to the unknown, lean my body forwards down into the sheer drop in front of me and allow the rest of my body to follow.
As I’m falling towards the void I say to myself, ’keep going, keep leaning forwards, keep surrendering’. It’s empowering. I feel held by something far greater than me, a universal power, a higher self, who knows?
When I feel stuck in my life I try to remember skiing processes to manage fear.”
“I keep thinking of the words ‘Blessed Art thou’. What makes anyone blessed? My mother told me she doesn’t like me, has no desire to see me, apparently I am the only person in the world she cannot get along with. How can anyone feel ‘blessed’ when their own mother says that?
“Geoff phoned asking me to visit as soon as possible. ’Amanda would really like to see you’. I knew she was ill. She’d been ill almost twelve years. We’d spent more days talking about her health than I cared to remember. I always thought she’d pull through. I hadn’t quite clocked the urgency. I went straight away though.
Geoff had gone to collect Laura their daughter, from the airport. She’d been sent away to Italy for a trip. She’d hardly arrived there when they called her back home urgently. Amanda was deteriorating rapidly. No one had expected it to be this fast. Had we all been in colluding in hope?
I went upstairs to the single bedroom she’d moved to when she knew she’d be having visitors and nursing support. She’d painted it pale aqua and hung images of angels all around her. She was like a bag of bones. I’d just seen her on Sunday. She’d asked me to pop in with lettuces. She’d come to the door, vibrant and appreciative as ever. If I had known then that her time was ticking away so fast I would have accepted her offer to come in but I had no idea. I believed she was fighting this thing and my new lover was about to leave for India the next day so I had made her my priority, as we had needed time to say our goodbyes.
I went upstairs. Amanda’s brother was downstairs with a couple of friends. I sat very close to Amanda’s bedside and held her hand. She said, “I keep slipping away, coming and going, I don’t know where I am.” She seemed confused and troubled. I didn’t know what to say. Is this what happens when we leave here go to the other side? Do we travel back and forth until we’re ready to let go?
I wanted to ask her what it was like there, on the other side, but it didn’t seem appropriate. I was shocked at her appearance and concerned for her distress. Urgency was all around. I was sitting at death’s door with my dearest friend.
Originally my art college tutor, Amanda had inspired and encouraged me with incredible passion. Being of similar age and both with children, we soon became good friends. “You’re here with me now. Try not to worry.” I said. It seemed stupid though. I felt as if I was on a train about to leave the station and in a moment I would have to jump off and let Amanda do the rest of the journey on her own. I was unprepared. I didn’t know how to be.
We held hands as she settled a bit, “Yes I’m here now” she said, slightly relieved, but after that she kept slipping away before the end of her sentences.“Its as if I’m falling backwards falling away.”
And then she grasped hold of my hand as if she wanted to say something really important. She was using all of her energy to collect herself together.
She said, “I love your work, I really love it, I think it’s amazing.” Then she slipped away completely. Those were her last words to me.
Cathedral, West Sussex 2000
VM lying belly down on flagstone floor – centre of the cathedral isle.
Arms out. Legs slightly apart. Appears frozen.
Hands flat on floor above her head.
In front of VM – Traditional light wood coffin raised on trestle stand.
Flowers draped over closed coffin lid.
Fresh white lilies, ferns, fall over casket sides.
Side chapel – woman praying.
Head bowed over hands.
Rosary beads woven through fingers.
Chanting “blessed art thou and blessed is the fruit of thy womb”
VM pushes her face deeper into stone.
The more places I go, the more things I do,
The more people I meet, the more I miss you.
Grief is a peculiar thing.
The thread between us remains even when everything else seems to have peeled away.
In fact without all the clutter I am much more aware of it.
In the end,
when all the stuff of life is gone,
When all the complications and confusions have melted and the fibres are dry,
We will stand apart like tall stringed instruments
Golden threads revealed, stretching across the universe
River Thames near St Paul’s Cathedral.
Family Group prepare to walk over Millennium bridge.
Elderly woman VM(90s) to granddaughter (34):
“I wanted so much to make a difference. I devoted my life to art. Do you think that anything has changed? Do you think we understand the importance and value of self and collective expression any better now? Do you think we are more in touch with the moment, the materials, the making? Have we repositioned art and artist into the centre of our society and value system?”
“I don’t know grandma. What I do know is that you have had and do have a massive impact on the people who see your work and hear you speak about art. You touch them deeply. I have seen it for myself time and time again. People cry, get down on their knees, get exhilarated and animated, you bring on all sorts of significant and valuable responses grandma. Lets go see the show right now and do the press thing. I am so excited for you.”
Son (70s) holds elderly woman’s hand tenderly. Helps her into wheel chair.
“Darling you are the best and most important thing I ever created in my entire life. We made you from pure love you know.” She touches his face and smiles deeply. He receives her touch and grins lovingly.
Pregnant grand daughter (28) carefully tucks shawl around grandmas legs, checks feet on foot rests. Gently pushes chair across bridge to Tate.
Gallery Entrance – assistant introduces group to awaiting guests. Group walks into gallery.
“Welcome everyone, to ‘Blessed Art…’ Thank you for coming along to the Tate today. We are so pleased you are here and hope you will enjoy the tour. I am delighted to see so many faces. To those who don’t already know me I am Isabella Cairns, exhibitions director here at the Tate Modern and directing curator for this exhibition.
I’m really very excited to show you this exhibition – a major retrospective spanning 1974 and 2049 by Veronique Maria. We will take you through the exhibition shortly. Ms Maria will give personal insights into some of the ideas, processes and intensions behind her work.
The show is deliberately not laid out chronologically. The intention is for you to experience the exhibition as a whole life’s work and to see and sense the work of one woman’s intimate life rather than a linear developmental process.
We will mention significant mentors and inspiration as we go alone. If you have questions please feel free to ask at any point.
Autumn 2002 – Therapy
“When people have blessed me in life, especially those whom I respect and admire, I have felt like a brand new sail boat being launched from it’s slipway with expensive champagne.
I’ve felt incredibly affirmed and been much more able to move forwards with confidence and power as a consequence of these blessings. ”
“who has affirmed you in this way?”
“Many; my grandparents are the obvious ones, the constant ones. My mother encouraged my creativity when I was young when she let me paint of my bedroom wall, and then later it was people in the Psychosynthesis training and artists I respect. Awards, prizes and being patronised is affirming too of course, and friends, audiences, and lovers are very significant as well. Most of those affirmations seem to be related to my authenticity, creativity and courage as an artist though. Is that what you meant?”
“and what about your first love, your first lover?”
“Well she has always admired me on some level and rejected me on another of course. She mirrors my familiar experience. Constantly affirming grandparents and persistently rejecting mother rolled into one. It’s complicated to live with such extreme poles – externalised and then internalised.
You always bring her back into the conversation. Do you think there is something unresolved there for me? You always challenge me to look inside the dark dusty corners that I might otherwise prefer to ignore!”
Male surgeon cuts woman’s naked belly horizontally.
Passes scalpel to theatre sister.
His hands enter deep inside wound.
Beside operating table sits cheap plastic bucket.
Inside bucket – Womb lies in blood.
Surgeon drops second (unknown) organ into bucket.
Blood splashes up bucket sides.
Drops spill on handle.
Organ hits womb, falls in beside it – slips in comfortably.
New camera shot – questionable object in bucket – Foetus?
Other end of room:
Woman with wild flower bouquet slowly places individual stalks carefully into another bucket.
Takes time positioning/arranging flowers/foliage.
Another corner of operating theatre
VM pours remains of Paw Paw fruit (brushed from studio floor)into third bucket.
Paw Paw slips into bucket.
VM repeats “blessed art thou, blessed is the fruit of thy womb….”
“How was it for you to be with your first lover again this weekend?”
“She is gorgeous. I love her deeply and am inspired at how our love has transformed.”
Winter – Many moments over several decades – merging. (1958 – 2049)
Layers of images – bodies, life, death, collecting things in buckets, gathering, sweeping.
Drum keeps playing
Same scenes are being projected as video installation onto massive wall Tate gallery.
Press/journalist and others audience members observe.
“Why is she more prominent than other loves?
Does she lead you back to my mother? As my first love? In an ideal world?”
Lush English Garden.
Overgrown, semi tropical.
VM making prayer beads whispering ‘blessed art thou’
Tiny clay balls, moulded in her fingers, fall into a metal pot – ‘tink’.
“She is not my original love… my art is my all time lover. She is constant and transforms all other loves into new forms. She saves me, holds me, never gives up on me…
I am able to take more risks in life because I have this lover who holds, enables and guides me.”
Secluded, slightly over grown Sussex garden.
Warm sunny day.
VM (50) wearing loosely fitting clothing.
Thin cotton sun dress falls around her shoulders.
She has bare feet and is nearly naked.
Dry grass runs through her toes
Her finger tips tickle seeds pods and flowers as she passes.
The air is still.
A grass snake slithers through a patch of damp earth between compost heap and pond.
She walks inside the house and becomes much older… (99)
Light modern house full of texture, colour, care
Eclectic mix of mid century and faded style
VM sits down at table strew with love poems/photographs
VM takes an old A4 email from forty six years earlier
Puts on glasses
“I need to go slowly. I am afraid. You seem too good to be true. M x ”
“lean in to me and trust sweetheart, all we can do is trust and keep communicating. V xxx”
Sits close beside VM
slips loving hands around VM
leans over and kisses VM’s neck
VM turns to M and says “We learnt to ride over the ocean darling, we have been very blessed.
M “Yes my darling we have been very blessed.”
VM takes M’s face in her hands and says “Blessed art thou”
M touches VM tenderly. Pulls VM close to her and says
“Yes my beautiful, and blessed is our fruit.”
Spring 2013 – Wondrous Life (Still moment from a video by the same name)
Leaning in and trusting…
I went to Dartmoor seeking to remember my love of drawing…
a long time love of mine which somehow, somewhere along the line, in the midst of all the other making, (of sculpture, video, and painting) got set aside and then forgotten.
I found her though, this love, this lover of mine, somewhere under a pile of drawing exercises and hours of reminding myself of how to sit with a thing and just look.
I found her after spending hours reminding myself of basic drawing skills, remembering how it is to look for light, tone, texture and form, and how it is to plough through mounds of paper, charcoal, pens, pencils and putty rubbers and then seemingly achieve ‘nothing’.
I found her at my point of exasperation, when I had given up all hope of finding her actually.
I found her when I was disillusioned, and when I had accepted that maybe she was gone forever. In fact maybe she had only ever been an unattainable, unachievable aspiration of mine and now I had (perhaps) finally let go of what others had warned me might be the impossible dream.
I certainly found her when I had let go of all the working hard and all the searching, the longing and the desire….
I found her when I felt complete with myself, when I was solid with the Taos mountain in my heart and in my belly. I found her when I needed nothing from her. That is when she came to me.
For when I had given up trying, hoping, wanting, searching, when I had finally recognised control is an illusion, when I had completely given up, then I gave everything over to my body, to the universe, and to the powers of a greater spirit.
I blind folded myself, tucked my earplugs under my turban and disappeared into my private interior intending to touch upon and express physically all that I was feeling. (on the inside, on the outside and all around me.)
In this private, protected, cocoon like place, with no expectations, other than a hope that I might feel ‘something’, suddenly I could sense her within and all around me. I could feel love again, I could feel this ancient and familiar lover in every cell of my being….
It was as if she had come to me on the breeze from some far distant land. It was as if she had been waiting for me to let go enough to enable her re-entry. It was as if she was in fact already me, a part of me, some kind of familiar me from the past that had been separated somehow, sometime a long while ago out of circumstance, necessity, and I don’t know what.
Now she was returning to me to make me feel myself again, to help me remember myself, and enable me to feel safe at home.
She was retuning to me so I could know something that only lovers know, I could remember something that only love can touch, I could remember and know again about the special and unique ‘something’ that actually has no words and is possibly the most important thing one can ever be gifted with.
As my love, this lover returned to me, I leant in towards her, I leant in beyond the point of no return, and trusted her with all my know how and with everything.
She had returned.
Could she be my perfect fit?
I felt complete.
Completely connected to her, in love and entirely surrendered…..together we were flowing…
drawing in, drawing out, drawing forth….
Mixed media drawings – drawn blind in Dartmoor, Devon
1st August 2014Left Hand Side ‘This Is It’.
Right Hand Side ‘Everything is Here.’
Photo Credit – (Images of Veronique) Claude Heath
24th May – 21st June 2014
This exhibition from Veronique Maria marks the end of an 18 month research and development project: Moving Practice, Moving Image. Between 2012-2014 Maria reviewed her entire art practice to date, in great detail and she particularly explored the way in which ritual, performance and film have played important roles throughout her career.
The exhibition will illustrate the artist’s journey from form to film, look back over the work she created between 1973-2013, and explore how performance and ritual has impacted on her work and life.
Examples of drawing, ceramics, and wood turning, earth work, installation, and fibre work, sculpture, performance, and painting will all sit beside her most recent work with the moving image.
Saturday 14th June
Artist talk: 11am-12pm
Workshop: 1pm – 5pm
Who’s it for:
Adults of all ages. No experience necessary. (Artists and non artists welcome)
Workshop – £10
Booking for workshop essential as places are limited.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org to book your place
By listening to our body, trusting our intuition, and accepting that we are a part of a greater whole beyond the individual self, and that we are held by these things, we can learn to surrender to the unknown and take greater risks in our lives. This workshop invites you to stretch beyond your comfort zone and live a little more dangerously in order to deepen your relationship with your self.
NB. Workshop content may include a short walk. If this is likely to be difficult for you please speak to the gallery before booking your place.
Veronique Maria was born in London in 1959, with Anglo Irish Indian heritage and was educated in London, Devon and then New Zealand, Canada and Singapore.
With a first degree in the crafting of materials such as wood, metal, ceramic, and plastics, (BA hons, Art and Design, Brighton) and an masters degree in mapping the psyche (MA in Applied Psychosythesis, Middlesex) she is interested in how we relate to ‘self’ and ‘other’, and how we express ourselves in the world.
From an early age she developed a deep respect for nature and a profound sense of our interconnectedness with all things. She explores this in her art work using craft, sculpture, painting, film, performance, writing and sound. Often moving genre, she attempts to let go of what’s known, in order to find something new.
Since completing two projects funded by Arts Council England, Orogeny, 2009-2011, and Moving Practice 2012-14, she was awarded a Helene Wurlitzer Residency in USA and spent three months in Taos, New Mexico. Living 8,000 feet up a mountain close to an Native American Indian Pueblo and their sacred lands, she has been exploring what her creativity is when there is no pre-planned project in mind, no expected outcome from funders and no internal or external judgements and pressures. Her project in the desert has been Deep Listening.
The HWF Residency in Taos offered space for a process of slowing right down, letting go and listening …very very closely…
Trust Trust Trust were the words that kept coming to me as I selected some essential personal and practical items for packing, and then peeled myself out of my home, away from my loved ones, into the car that was heading for Heathrow.
Actually, in truth, my packing process had taken me about 8 full weeks in total. Things kept going into the case or sitting close by, and then getting removed again. After all, what exactly would I need to take for my new life in Taos?
Let me rewind a little…In 2013 I was invited by the Helen Wurlitzer Foundation to live in an adobe casita on their seventeen acres of woodland for three months. The purpose would be to develop my art work in whatever way I saw fit. There would be no pressure for an outcome.
It seemed like a wonderful opportunity. I felt honoured to have been chosen and was curious about the residency, so accepted gratefully, even though I didn’t’t really know what I was saying ‘yes’ to.
What I did know was that I would be there in the depths of winter, and would probably see the winter snows thaw, and bear witness the beginning of spring emerging. I knew also that I would be living at a high altitude and that this may cause breathing and moving problems. Another thing I knew, and was excited about, was that I would be living in very close proximity to the Native American Indian Pueblo and sacred mountains. I also knew there would be 9 other artists (including writers and composers) living and working on the residency too. Other than that I had no idea where this journey was going to take me.
As it turned out, living 8,000 feet up a mountain in New Mexico was fascinating but trying to make video art and at the same time stepping into the unknown waters of writing (well unknown to me) would be harder than I expected.
Having often changed art forms and written statements, blogs and academic papers to support that work, I thought I might try to write a screen play or a novel or something. I had felt I had a film inside me for years. The stories, mostly about love, loss and longing, and the transformation of form, needed to come out somehow and painting hadn’t’t been explicit enough for me, not for this particular topic.
In any event I would, and I was sure of this part, certainly manage to write some poetry whilst I was away.
All in all I was keen to let my creativity be free and be what ever it wanted to be.
Writing turned out to be much harder than I imagined. As I struggled to hold and organise my ideas in my head, I gained increased respect for the people who choose this as their life’s work. Apart from the fact that it seemed to be an even more insular and solitary art form than most, I found it incredibly difficult to keep a hold of and sculpt together all of my ideas. I could see shapes emerging, but there were so many to choose from and I kept getting lost or confused.
Inviting pure creativity to flow freely inevitably meant my creative process took some unexpected turns. The result is that I came back home to England with lots of curious seeds, a number of bizarre experiments and some unfinished ideas.
Most of all I came home richer in my spirit.
Whilst I was away I was often terrified and at the same time I was often incredibly nourished. I learnt a lot on this trip and nothing could have been preconceived. In fact the events are difficult to explain to you, even now.
Firstly, wrenching myself away from my home in England to travel to a continent I had never been to before was a task in itself. Childhood experiences of extensive travel and various traumatic separations had impacted upon me profoundly. I seemed to have developed phobias, fears and aversions to travel. As I started packing, months in advance in order to prepare myself psychologically for the maneuver, I wondered why it is that I always seem to need to put myself well out of my comfort zone, apparently ‘for my art’.
After the two day journey, leaving from the rolling softness of the south downs in Sussex and arriving in the dramatic mountains and extensive arid plains of the desert in New Mexico, and after taking several modes of transport, 3 cars, 2 planes and a bus, mostly with strangers, who became less strange to me as we went along, I arrived in Sante Fe.
I was sleep deprived and exhausted. I could hardly stand, let alone speak, and the effects of the altitude were hitting me harshly.
So when the 8 foot long conveyor belt for baggage reclaim at the airport showed no signs of my suitcase being on it, I thought it was because I was delirious. I soon discovered though, that my hold baggage had indeed gone astray. It had gotten lost during transfer at Dallas apparently, and no one knew where it had gone.
The fact that it contained all the important possessions that I thought I might need to get me through my three months stay in Taos, including valuables and personally precious things, made the loss quite distressing. I had been clinging on to the thought of those things in the absence of anything else familiar left in my life.
Except for what was on my back I had been separated from what seemed at the time to be’my life’. All my clothes, art materials, cameras, books, and sentimental precious knickknacks were gone. Whilst I didn’t’t think of it at the time, on reflection I realised it probably also consisted of all the most important things that I actually own.
It may seem a bit trivial, this loss, but the jet lag, sleep deprivation, culture shock and the effects of high altitude, had bundled themselves together with ‘lost life’ in the suitcase, apparently in an attempt to push me further to my emotional and physical edges.
As I struggled to breathe, orientate myself and settle myself it seemed as if I was pushing through treacle in slow motion.
A local artist who I had met on the Internet prior to my journey, and who had kindly offered to collect me at the airport explained “It’s New Mexico you know. New Mexico always seems to test us when we first arrive here.” She helped me fill out the relevant lost luggage paper work and the following day I look my small remaining bag, on the bus to Taos.
My new hurdle was adjusting to having no phone, no car and no Internet. For some reason all my pre-existing securities were rapidly falling away from me. I was alone, on foot, and gripping on to my last remaining bag, my back pack, as if my life depended on it. Then with all the energy and determination I could muster, I eventually summonsed the courage to lie down, rest and let go.
I had no choice but to be fully present to the moment, to connect deeply to myself, my body, my creative voice and the immediate environment and to listen clearly.
Who would I be when I had nothing, knew no one and made nothing?
Like most of us in the Western world, I had come to rely on technology to link me up to my personal and professional support systems. Back in the UK I had used these technologies to keep ‘connected’ on line, via phone and in person and my car was more like an extension of my body than a separate device I used. It took a lot of adjustment for me to accept I would have to now work without these security blankets.
Just as I felt I was doing quite well with making those necessary adjustments to being in the unknown flow of things I hit another edge. A few weeks in to the residency, having successfully made a short video and written about 30,000 words of a novel/screenplay, my computer completely crashed. It left me with a blank blue screen. Staring into this nothingness I wanted to cry and catch the first plane home. This felt like the final straw. I now had no access to word processing, calendars, contact lists, video files. Everything was gone.
After taking stock of the situation I began to consider how would it be to surrender more deeply to these tests, and simply ‘listen’ more acutely to my god, my creativity and my higher Self, the Great Universal Spirit, the something ‘other’, what ever that is, that indescribable, ‘unknown’ thing that seems to hold us from within and without. What would it be like to listen to that voice much much more than ever before and follow that force, that energy, follow it blindly, whatever, (and I really do mean WHATEVER) it was calling me to do and be?
I pondered this a while and then decided to step into the task with both feet.
By the time my watch battery died I was hardly fazed at all. I felt as if I had pretty much lost everything by that point. I was peeled back to basics, vulnerable, raw, naked.
I left my ‘dead’ watch on my wrist as a comforting connection to my son who had gifted it to me on my fiftieth birthday. What ever happened I would have him with me. But I also knew in my heart of hearts that he was with me, watch or no watch. My grandmother used to say she wanted to be free of ‘things’. She didn’t’t want to have clutter around her and she knew she could hold love, and precious moments in her heart. I tried to remember this lesson she had taught me as I felt my loved ones within me and I continued on as ‘normal’. The abnormal unknown had in some ways, by this time, actually become the norm.
Once I had surrendered to the natural flow of all things, everything started to slip into place and make so much more sense. The process of listening and surrendering became like a meditation, a spiritual practice, a way of being, which I consciously returned to moment to moment.
I was challenged time and time again as I was invited to manage extremely difficult emotional situations across the seas too. So far from home depression, anger, excitement and separation were all held across the oceans as I worked on keeping calm and letting things be fine, exactly as there were. I was of course powerless in this situation and the extent of my powerlessness was extreme. I could do little other than simply be.
Curiously, the more I surrendered, the more things came to me that I could never have imagined. And the more I was in the flow, the more incredible things happened.
I often found myself on difficult and demanding high wires, and all the time I kept listening and walking forwards. The more precarious the situation, the more depth of listening it required.
I often noticed myself saying to myself, “now I am here doing this, and now I am here and its like this.” And the ‘this’ and the ‘that’ that I was doing were mostly things way beyond my wildest dreams and fantasies.
Presenting my art and process to 350 people at the Taos Film Festival and chatting with the audience as if I was sitting with a friend in my lounge was just one small example of a challenge and unexpected result that occurred there. As I walked across the stage telling myself to ‘stay in your body, stay in your body’, I found I was not only thoroughly in my body and relaxed but I also felt as if I could have stayed on stage with the mic and chatted there forever. This didn’t’t fit with the shy stage fright person I thought I was.
Nothing was the same now and these heightened experiences of being fully present were becoming more and more incredible and indescribable.
By the time spring came, having lived like this for several months, I understood in my body, something about life that I had previously only known in my mind before.
Ofcourse I had encountered flavours of this on some occasions, sometimes, but I had never before embodied it so deeply and for such an extended period of time. I had lived this way for three months. It had been a long meditation practice.
It’s difficult to explain where this brings my art practice to now. In many ways I am still processing the experience and am waiting to see what happens next. I so hope it was deeply and permanently embedded within me; that it wasn’t’t something or somewhere you get in Taos, that fades after you leave. Time will tell of course. Only time will tell.
It’s my task now to keep being here, present right now and to trust and not to worry.
In this culture, climate and existence, its not as easy as on retreat in Taos, ….and I am working on it.
I don’t know how this experience will impact on my art, work, or life but what I do know is that my ability to trust now is far greater than it was before. I can somehow accept more easily that we are all transitory, part of a greater whole and that we have no control and can’t ever really know what will happen next.
I have an experience myself working without a formal project to work, not producing in a conventional sense., and when everything about me has fallen away, and I am raw, naked and exposed.
As a result of this experience my relationship to my existence, the existence of all things, and to existential tension, seems to have changed.
I came home with a piece of experimental writing that incorporates script for a screen play, memoir, novel, dialogue with my psychotherapist and poetry. Its written in layers and time isn’t’t a liner thing. It jolts and jumps between moments, life times, and experiences and it seems to me, is like one of my layer paintings. All being well it will for a chapter in a book about psycho-spiritual psychology, about to be published later this year and I will work on it more to created a larger piece of work in the future, perhaps the screen play I dream of.
For now though, I want to simply give thanks for the feeling of peace I have gained and my acceptance of what is. I am now able to watch and wondering without struggle or need to direct and work things out.
I am looking forwards too, in a new ways…
I have a solo show opening in R-Space Gallery, Belfast, Northern Ireland at the end of this week. It opens on Saturday 24th May and continues through to 21st June.
This is a very exciting opportunity for me. Its the first time my video work will be given such priority over my other work. My video, ‘I Cannot Help How My Heart Feels’ will be shown as the main piece in the exhibition and will be presented as an experiential installation as it is projected on two adjacent gallery walls.
Examples of my other work such as wood turning, fibre work, ceramics and earth sculpture, live art, performance and painting will also be represented in this show. I am thinking of it as a sort of mini retrospective – showing work made since 1973 through to 2014. I have committed my life to art and now, aged fifty five, I feel it’s an important time to reflect upon where I have been, evaluate what I have done, and consider where I am going and what it has all been for.
I will be flying over to Belfast to deliver a talk and workshop on Saturday 14th June and the subject open for discussion and exploration there will be ‘Deep listening’.
I believe passionately that art can change the world and that when we reposition it within our individual lives and our society, it can support us to lead healthier, happier and more fulfilling lives.
My time in Taos has helped me renew my energy around this belief and I am now newly focused on my mission to get art repositioned in our daily lives.
One starting point for this is to get my own art work out into the world more, and to share it and my ideas with others where ever I can.
I am currently creating a new web page which will be live on my website soon. It’s called SHOP and will have works for sale clearly identified there. With SHOP and galleries selling my original paintings and multiple print runs, all of various sizes, and public galleries such as R-Space Belfast, exhibiting my work, I hope to be able to make my art work more accessible to everyone from now on.
Beyond that I am currently meeting with a variety of clients working in interior design and architecture too, and supporting all that, I am writing about my ideas on art from a psycho-spiritual perspective.
Hopefully there are always going to be changes in how we see the world and how we respond. I believe art can play an important role in that process because of how it can invite and challenge us to change our perspectives, to re-look, and be open to new and otherwise unimaginable possibilities.
What has changed most for me in this recent trip is the way that I view listening. I now listen and respond to my sixth sense with more confidence and I notice too, (perhaps as a result of this new found confidence) that my ego has settled down a bit more, and that even my ‘I’ is resting back too.
It seems to be another place within or beyond my self that comes forwards now and chooses where I am pointing. As I listen carefully to this new directing power, I notice how my mantra comes more easily now… trust, trust, trust.