Mandala No.19: Safe

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Mandala No.19: Safe by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

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.

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The centre is embraced by the chocolatey-brown roots of the four trees.

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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.

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Mandala No.13: Fear

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Mandala No.13: Fear by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

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.

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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.

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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.

Mandala No.1: Peace

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Mandala No.1: Peace by Judy Backhouse (copyright)

The Peace mandala tries to create a safe space in which I can feel enclosed, but not clastrophobic. To do this I changed the shape of the traditional square to give the sense of being able to see into other rooms, the expanded “doors”. This area is a calming blue edged with gold. My safe space is surrounded by a reassuring deep green beyond which a textured blue space provides a safe moat. Adding an uplifting note, little purple flowers edge this space.

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In the middle of the mandala is a place of meditation, surrounded by a swirl of pinky-blues. Here I am, perfectly at peace.

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The Peace mandala is painted in acrylics on an ordinary stretched 50cm x 50cm canvas. Although I have painted around the edge of the canvas, it would probably be best displayed in a light-wood or gold floating frame.

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In case you are wondering about the numbering, I started working on Peace before Happy, but finished it after the simpler Happy. So Peace is No. 1 and Happy is No. 2.