I was exploring the use of colour in my art last week. I was thinking about colour association and how a colour will trigger emotions, memories and deeper feelings that often by pass our understanding. I started making notes of the colours of my childhood landscape. it was a landscape that was wide in its vista of dune, sea and sky. I was seeing the yellow hues of summer, the association with dry grasses and thinking of the pink moths of autumn and winter wet hues of grey, and then out of the blue, I started remembering the Lüscher colour test I used to play, this amongst many unusual books was made available to us, as my parents had a large eclectic library at home. My sister in her book the deep sky waits on the outskirts of town writes;
‘we browsed books, took piles of them to bed or to the bath, lay on the lawn and read them and looked at the photos and paintings. I dreamed over the weighty photography books about the great ballerinas, stared at the photos of bizarre tropical diseases, and knew by heart where to find the photo of Picasso teaching his cat to dance.‘
(from; the deep sky waits on the outskirts of town by Annette Lees; published by Reed).
This description sums up that immense delight in delving randomly into knowledge. Particularly interesting were the pathways that open up, as one thing leads to another, and before you know it you end up waking from lost time where with soft focus stalking of knowledge you find oneself immersed in a fairy tale about Cornish Piskies.
I don’t think my parents totally understood what it was like for a ten year old to be doing psychological studies on her self through colour. Quoting from the Lüscher colour book that I still have in my possession: the principle of the Lüscher Colour Test is that accurate psychological information can be gained about a person through his choices and rejections of colours.
The kind of things I would read about my choice of colour might be like this: ‘whoever chooses green in 1st position wishes to impress’. Or: ‘Sexually, red standing by itself in the 1st position suggests a more or less controlled sexual drive, with the possibility of occasional outbreaks of impulsive sexual experience.’ There were of course fascinating insights into how I felt which arose entirely from my choice of colour.
I still have a large collection of books and it is this I go to first before a google search. Sitting in the studio I find a book called color. It’s got all the stuff around colour and perception of colour when looking at shadow or grey colours and then a short chapter on symbolism and history. In browsing this book I read something that throws me. It gives one sentence on Goethe’s theory of colour and in this sentence it completely dismisses Goethe as some kind of idiot who knew nothing about painting. Yet everything that is written in this book on colour has emerged from Goethe’s deep study and exploration on how we see colour and his study on prisms and light.
The writer has not understood Goethe, he has also done something so common, he has forgotten how knowledge grows and develops from people before us who had wondered about something and wanted to know more. Knowledge deepens as we deepen our connection to what it is that we desire to know. Within that we see how we connect into a body of exploration that has occurred before us. It is profound as it is like a relationship between the learner and the body of knowledge. The writer got me straight to Goethe possibly the opposite of what was intended and here amongst all the wonderful insight he brought to our persception of colour is a fabulous quote on knowledge which I will leave you with.
‘the desire for knowledge is first stimulated in us when remarkable phenomena attracts our attention. For it to continue we must find a deep sympathetic connection, which will lead us by degree to a deeper acquaintance with the subject.’ -Goethe.
I was met in London by a tree. I had just arrived, slightly bedraggled into Charing Cross station. Missed and found, amongst the crowds, my friend Belle and together started to meander. When you come to a place for the very first time, a thousand tourists cannot lessen the sensation of arrival into a new land and also an old land, the tangible London touching the London of my imagination made up by artists and writers and rhymes.
In that state of sensory expansion, an oak tree standing alone outside Kensington abruptly caught my gaze.
Uncannily aware I was observed, observing it observing me, extraordinarily alive.
Oaks, I read, take time to mature and live to 700 years old, they are enduring and firmly rooted. I am told that my ancestors lived in the same place for thousands of years, in Clarksfield, Oldham. My part of the family left to sail to Christchurch New Zealand. I imagined my ancestors like trees, lifting up their roots, a sailing ship with an odd assortment of trees. There is a wisdom in endurance, the ability to withstand the elements, both physically and spiritually.
There’s an oak at Judges Bay, Auckland. It’s a tree that will overlook you, so that you tend to place your back towards the trunk.
You look over the harbour with it, a companionable silence, although there is a sense it is looking further than you can see.
The bark is woven with a tight weave. In finding oak I find that there are at least 200 species all unified by the creation of the unusual acorn.
I see my family in the manner of trees, they put down roots and stay. There is a love of land, an anchoring into a place like roots into the earth. I may come and go but I belong to where these roots go down. My aunts and uncles found their place and tended to settle, one aunt lived in the same house her entire married life, my parents similarly settled in Piripai, Whakatane.
In London it was like I went from tree greeting to tree greeting. I didn’t hug them, rather well met, a shared acknowledgement. Each encounter I was affected, being touched in an other-worldly way, a blur of edges. They let me see them through the eye of the camera, each tree held its own individuality intact, apart of place, of weather and season.
The door was opened to the trees and unexpectedly there were characters showing up. This tree appeared dotty and gorgeous. In meeting her, Belle and I started laughing. The words that came to describe her jumped out at me whilst perusing an old book called the movies published in 1957 describing the role Mary Gardner played in the movie the splendid sinner.
It was the words abandoned minx that got me grinning. On second take I also felt the grace of eccentric joy and it touched me, open-hearted.
In contrast I named this tree the hunker munker tree I also thought of it as the sideways glance tree, where if one looked in a particular way of looking you could sense a door to the otherworld. A border between dimensions, where there is an experience of breakdown of identity, a merging, where the definition of either side becomes blurred.
Time, a different pace emerges, a reminder of dimensional existence amongst the human intensity in the centre of London.
I began to wonder how the forest originally stood here. A community of trees, its relationships with people, the flooding Thames and I wondered how they fared in the great frost that Virginia Woolf described in Orlando where the ‘birds froze in mid air and fell like stones to the ground.’
Trees naturally create forests, they gather together, in abundance and in difficult circumstance. I grew up with the kanuka as the only major tree in the sand dune. When they grew in the hollows they were leggy and close together, usually in a line as if they were following a crease in the fold of the land. On the wind strewn dune closer to the sea they would push their back to the wind, bending where the muelenbeckia crept over it. Underneath was cool dark sand, a hidden place that you could crawl into, sheltered from the wind and the sun.
John Fowles in his essay the tree describes the essence of trees being a community and the wider impact and inter-connected experience of an ecosystem.
“In a wood the actual visual ‘frontier’ of any one tree is usually impossible to distinquish, at least in summer. We feel, or think we feel, nearest to a trees ‘essence’ (or that of its species) when it chances to stand like us, in isolation; but evolution did not intend trees to grow singly. Far more than ourselves they are social creatures, and no more natural as isolated specimens than man is as a marooned sailor or a hermit. Their society in turn creates or supports other societies of plants, insects, birds, mammals, micro – organisms; all of which we may choose to isolate and section off, but which remain no less the ideal entity, or whole experience, of the wood – “
There is a pleasure to lie on the ground and look up at the forest canopy to see the branches working round each other.
Sometimes I would soften my vision to see the small auras around each twig, shaping the space, creating a pattern of growth.
We started to walk towards the National Gallery on the way we saw a squirrel flagrantly lie back in the arms of a tree as if the warm afternoon sun was to be savoured.
Squirrels and jays serve as the seed dispersal agents for oaks because acorns are too heavy. It’s called scatter hoarding where the squirrel and the jay make hoards of acorns in all variety of locations, they also retain large mental maps of cache locations. Luckily for the trees the odd acorn may get lost and once an acorn sprouts they are less nutritional.
As we walked I happened to look to my right in time to see a tree with a distinct animal face. It was remarkable, it was an oak. In an unexpected way I entered London through its trees.
The following images are of the trees in Knole Park, Seven Oaks, just south of London. I always wondered if there was a word that describe those abnormal spherical, twisted gargole like protrusions in the truck and along branches and I found the word its called a burl. Burls are formed when bud growth cells deviate by dividing into many directions. The bark on the burl will often appear coarser and inside the grain is twisted and very compact.
Deah found two Minke whales washed up dead on Waikawa beach last week on the Kapiti coast. She wrote this poem after finding the second whale. Minke Whale – Dead In life she cruised the oceans deep Sieving time as with the tides. Awakened, untouched in her element Fulfilled and for-filling purpose Solitary Free. She looked as Minke looks, Of fat, length, flippers long, dorsal curved. Bullet head, baleen filters, grooved throat. And carrying unborn calf. She ingested mans dross For she encountered so few and knew little of their way. Innocent, Trusting Alive on the waves Curious of man And now dead She died on beach, Throat clogged. Bulldozer ripped from element water. Dragged with no ceremony Jaw removed Unmarked grave Duveted by dune. Crisscrossed tracks Wind to remake her bed. And long dead.