Safe is a mandala that I have been mulling over for some months. My first sketches for it were made in around June. The original idea was to explore using trees in place of the traditional four gates or doors in the mandala. I thought the idea of trees moving through the gates would be interesting.
It was only once I had finished it that the title Safe occurred to me. Those trees just seemed to embrace me in a happy space.
In the centre of Safe is the Yin-Yang symbol, the symbol of dual life forces. Feeling safe is not about living in a world that is all good and no bad. It is about being able to embrace that life has aspects of both. We feel safe only when we can embrace this duality.
The centre is embraced by the chocolatey-brown roots of the four trees.
The inner square is a paved area, a human space where nature is tamed and the world is shaped to our human needs. Outside is the grass and beyond the sky. The four corners of Safe represent the four elements Fire, Water, Earth and Wind, acknowledging that our safe human spaces are contained by and depend on the planet. Earth is a safe haven in the wildness of the universe.
Safe is bigger than my other mandalas, at 75cm x 75cm. It’s painted in acrylic paint on a gallery-wrapped canvas, finished with a matt acrylic varnish, and is ready to hang. The painting goes around the sides of the canvas as shown below.
Safe was completed back in November, before my exhibition, but I’m only now finding the time to write about it.
There is nothing quite so satisfying as glorious, rampant symmetry. The repetition and pattern are just so good. Here is a pure indulgence in pretty symmetry.
The pattern consists of 16 segments of circles, all meeting in the middle. It creates a large yellow flower with 16 petals at the outer level, but the intersections reveal a series of similar flowers, getting smaller and smaller towards the centre.
Following the pattern from the outside in, the colours shift from the lightest yellow through orange and red to the deepest almost-black violet in the centre. The petals are emphasised with gold, adding to the exuberant excess.
Satisfied is painted in acrylic on a 50cm x 50cm gallery-wrapped canvas and finished in gloss acrylic varnish. The image continues over the edge as shown below. It is signed on the back and can be hung in any direction.
Focus is about aligning your thoughts, actions and energy. You start out wide, but narrow down, getting closer and closer to a single point. So Focus is based on a spiral, moving inwards towards that focal point in the centre.
The alignment is represented by fish; first milling about aimlessly, but gradually turning until they all head in the same direction. Even in the background, the flowers align on the grass in sympathy.
I tried hanging Focus in different ways. Hung square, the beautiful sweep of the spiral is clearer, but the dominance of the pink area makes the painting look unbalanced to me. So I tried hanging it diagonally and rather liked the result.
Focus is painted in acrylic paint on a 50cm x 50cm gallery-wrapped canvas and is finished with matt acrylic varnish. The image continues over the edge as shown below. It is signed on the back and ready to hang.
Grief feels like having a hole punched through your chest, about where your heart used to be. It’s about emptyness, lack, someone missing.
My father died on the 4th of October and I am still trying to figure out how such a small man could have taken up so much space in the world, to leave such a big hole. Everywhere, there is this gap where he used to be. Nothing.
I stopped painting for a few weeks and when I started again this image of a life-buoy on a swirling sea came to mind. Those first few weeks felt like I was just clinging on, trying to keep my head above the dark water of depression that threatened to engulf me. Friends and random kind words, were that life-buoy.
There is something about those red stripes on the buoy that echo the violence of being separated, for ever.
But as I worked on this picture I struggled to depict the devastating nothingness, the hole that he has left. Until one morning, I woke up and cut an actual hole in the canvas. The lack of paint, the lack even of canvas, is the only way that I can convey absence.
Mandala No.17: Grief is painted in acrylic paint and finished in matt acrylic varnish on a 50 cm x 50 cm canvas. This mandala is signed on the back and could be hung in any orientation. I plan to frame it in such a way as to hold the canvas just off the wall, but I want the surface it is hung against to show through.
I wanted to play with those Reuleaux triangles again, and this mandala started out as an experiment to see how they fitted into the square of the canvas. There are four of them, one with a point in the middle of each side. It gave an intruiging result, with the appearance of layers of almost squares. I added lines that complemented the edges of the triangles and the painting evolved into an exploration of intersections.
Intersections are about choices: Do you follow the path you are on? Do you choose another one? Which one will you choose?
It’s a messy picture, full of energy with the lines on the outside moving busily around the picture, containing the outward energy in the centre. For me it echos the busyness of living in the city where one moves along set paths, but with constant intersections which invite you to take another path, to explore something new. I find as I look at the painting that my eyes follow the lines up to an intersection and then swoop off in another direction.
Mandala No.16: Intersect is painted in acrylic paint and finished in gloss acrylic varnish on a 50 cm x 50 cm gallery-wrapped canvas. The painting continues around the edge of the canvas as shown below. This mandala is signed on the back and could be hung in any direction.
For those of you who noticed that Mandala No.15 is missing, well spotted! It’s called Focus, and so is a bit more intense and taking longer to finish.
After working on Fear, I needed an antidote, so here is Relax, a comfortable composition reminiscent of the manicured grass, flowers, and water features of a well-run holiday resort. It’s deliberately clichéd because the familiar allows one to relax; nothing threatening here.
In the middle of the mandala, a floppy sunhat might hide me, sitting on a candy-striped beach towel. This mandala uses cool, relaxing shades of blue and green, with happy yellow and orange.
Surrounding me is a pool of blue water. The traditional four doors of the mandala have become four stepping-stones across the water. The pool sits on a lawn of green mowed in traditional stripes. Then there is a tangle of yellow and orange flowers that add some irregularity to the otherwise very structured elements.
Mandala No.14: Relax is painted in acrylic paint and finished in gloss acrylic varnish on a 50 cm x 50 cm gallery-wrapped canvas. The painting continues around the edge of the canvas as shown below. This mandala is signed on the back and could be hung in any direction.
Fear makes you small. So this mandala has shrunk down to occupy a small space at the centre of the canvas. Most of the canvas is background, the scary “other” that dominates.
Fear is an ugly picture, it feels uncomfortable, disturbing, something to look away from.
In the centre of this mandala are huddled four creatures, back-to-back. Each faces one of the traditional mandala doors, and the doors are just an arrow-slit opening. When you are afraid you have to be constantly on guard. You can never relax. Between the four of them, is a red space, representing their collective sense of danger.
Beyond is a wide open space, kept barren to ensure that any approach can be seen. It’s a sickly yellowish green, the colour of fear.
Outside that there is a solid wall topped by what South Africans will recognise as the ubiquitous electric fence, the ultimate symbol of fear. Electric fencing is sold as “security” and yet it makes no-one feel secure. Instead it leaves people trapped in a spider’s web of their own fear.
The threat is a high-energy mixture of oranges, reds, browns, purples and blues, all pointing in towards the fear-filled centre. It’s alarming, aggressive. But up close the colours are rich and vibrant. This threatening background provides the only beauty in an otherwise ugly painting.
Incidentally, I am not superstitious. That this painting is number 13 was just a coincidence.
Mandala No.13: Fear is painted in acrylic paint on a gallery-wrapped 50cm x 50cm canvas and is finished with a gloss acrylic varnish. The edges of the canvas are painted in a plain dark brown.
Content is a state of not wanting, of being satisfied with what you have, of feeling that the world is right, just as it is. For me, these feelings of not wanting are most common at home, so Content is about homeliness: simple white flowers, a red and white checked table cloth, four chairs set out for friends or family. These are the simple pleasures that make life feel right. The tiled circular dias frames and contains. Whole.
The centre of this mandala is a round bowl of white flowers, surrounded by the red and white checks of the tablecloth. I like the simplicity of red complementing green, set off against white. The georgeous tiles on the dias echo the red and green in muddier shades. Beyond is bright green grass with dancing vines and more white flowers to add some movement.
I love the symmetries of the central composition, vertical, horizontal and rotational, with only the flowers being out of line. Compare these two views of Content, showing contrasting directions of the squares. Yes, you could hang it diagonally, if you wanted to.
Content is painted in acrylic paint on a 50cm x 50cm gallery-wrapped canvas and finished in matt acrylic varnish. The delicate vines spill over the edge of the canvas.
Content is signed on the back and is ready to hang.
It has been a while, but I have a number of new mandala’s nearing completion. Here is the first of the new batch: Interference.
In this mandala, the traditional circle is no longer whole, instead we see a number of parts of circles, intersecting and creating interference patterns, like ripples on water. The result is a busy canvas, with a lot going on. Life often feels like this. It’s not entirely a bad thing. The interference sets up interesting patterns, like the dramatic star in the centre of the picture, and the busyness is stimulating, fun even.
But it takes effort and concentration to see the patterns, to find the parts of the circles. Each of the corners has a series of quarter circles spreading out from it. I extracted this image to try and focus my own attention on what was going on in just one corner of the canvas.
I’ve used high-energy yellow, orange and red in this mandala to reflect the energy that I feel when life is complex, full of projects and I’m enjoying all the activity. The cool blue edges are an attempt to bring some balance, to remind myself of the need to rest.
This mandala has some great shapes and textures in the detail. When life is busy it is filled with moments of beauty, but I am often not able to appreciate them. So Interference is also a bit frustrating, and tiring. There comes a point when I want more peace.
Mandala No.11: Interference is painted in acrylic paints on a 50cm x 50cm stretched canvas and finished with gloss acrylic varnish. It is not gallery wrapped and would look best framed in a floating frame.