IN THE 1970s, I joined a team of portrait painters. We were commissioned to draw and paint children at boarding-schools for their parents; at first we were called Portrait Artists Ltd; later our manager William Deeves formed a registered charity – The National Portraiture Foundation. Our work brought us a basic livelihood; later, the Assocation’s additional aim, as well as introducing portraiture to households at a bargain rate, was to sponsor and train gifted young people.
Working with a fraternity of senior artists, I enjoyed the intensive and (for me) exhilerating weekends of my artistic apprenticeship. I learned to work fast and accurately, drawing five and occasionally up to ten portraits in a single day. In the evenings we hit the town, exhausted, and caroused. We travelled and worked together, and formed close friendships. It was like a Renaissance bottegha.
Sometimes I stop to reflect on my many hundreds of portraits in unknown living rooms up and down the country. They were all done with a passion which glows. Those children are by now grown up, with children of their own. Occasionally we converge again, for me to sketch new additions to the family. It was a remarkable period of human richesse, adventure and companionship.
(Gallery 1 – to view, click on any image, and wait to upload)
At the same time I had a deep and prolonged relationship-stress at home. Like the gems within a geode, its safety valve was my dreams at night. I wrote them down, and they became the foundation for my spiritual journey to come – my Tales from the Watershed. (For others in this series, see under Categories.)
“The Lens” when I dreamed it in 1975, underwrote a tough growing curve. My then partner was trying to turn me against my family and my grandparents.
This tale of vision, an alchemical catalyst, breaks through the crust each time I rediscover it. At times, life has to be hard and painful, and to crack, to let in the light.
Dreams No.203 – 6 November 1975: “The Lens”
THERE’S A touch or fragrance of landscape – like winter in Wales. It reminds me of Jim Ede. I see his books in shelves of white weathered wood; the backs of these books are a faded spectrum of grey, blue and dusky green like the sea. The books are in my early memories of my grandparents. Some of them are about mountains and the men who climb snowy Annapurna, and some have “Details” and “More Details” in them of Renaissance angels in the National Gallery.
These were my masters. As a child I sat in a high chair at a round table with a big book open to a Botticelli madonna, angel, Primavera or cluster of hands, and copied them. They taught me to draw. They showed me how beautiful a line or curve can be, and its mythology. There is no half measure of grace. I drew what I saw, breathed the fragrance of those old pages. The beauty is pain to hold until it can find again a pencil.
There is toast and honey for tea: a droll solemnity in Jim’s blue eyes. My grandmother’s voice is crisp as a bee in the Scottish hills, as she turns the old pages with me. “Don’t fuzz the line, let it grow bold and clean.”
(Gallery 2 – includes drawings circa 1956/7)
How strange then ! on this journey with the other portrait artists on a job, somewhere near Malvern or the Welsh border, to find these very books on shelves in the house of shy George. George is the new artist who joined our itinerant group. He is “non-descriptive”.
I cannot describe the strange pleasure of discovery the mute volumes give me, or the delicate hues of their closed cloth covers, but it brings me home to a vivid light in my grandfather’s eyes, and the sharp smell of beeswax. It is the in-dwelling essence also of this remote and hilly part of the country. Many hills up here are untrodden, many small valleys unseen; it rains, and cloud veils a sudden opening to the sun. The woods, the villages and ways of life here, a closed and forgotten book, lie open to the sky. A celestial radiance plays havoc within this house … why has George inherited it?
George, the shy one, invited us to stay with him rather than go to a hotel, for his house was near the school where we worked. He speaks very little, wears drab dark garments, and never allows anyone to see his work. The rest of us like to amuse, learn from, or draw moral support from each other. We are qualified in the art of likeness, and do the same drawing over and over, more or less. Sometimes I am arrested, by an angel glimpsed in the face of a child at school, and a touch of magic begins … but George is a kind of non-person. He whispers. He leaves almost no traces of his passage on his surroundings.
The interior of his house is a kind of splendour.
He draws with his eraser. He builds a delicate web with his pencil, then transforms it with the eraser to a textural smudge of suggestion. He doesn’t like any of us to see what he is doing. Under his cloak, behind his thick lensed spectacles, he hides a delicate draughtsman’s act of discovery and uncertainty. The creature covers its tracks. Yet he doesn’t mind us seeing his house – he suddenly decided to trust us. So we ran all over it like children, in delight, curiousity and personal pique - for we have not been kind to him behind his back, we laugh at his non-drawings.
We explored the bric a brac in timbered and palatial rooms, the nameless antiques of personal history, the vases of flowers on scrubbed white shelves of veined driftwood, the drawings and canvasses on the walls, some of these his own work. The geometric flora of vesica pisces in medieval architecture is a recurring theme, and so is the zodiacal calender, containing detailed studies of local wild animals. Circle enters circle, making love: the oval lenses widen, giving birth to fishes and hexagonal stars. Long wide corridors lead out into the gardens to view the woodland paths and thistle tufted meadows of George’s violet country.
How dim and dark his house looks, until you step inside. In many of the rooms I found upon shelves, Jim Ede’s old books still standing. Their silvering script seems to protrude through walls and out of doors, like the sky or sea within. The wood came in with the sea.
So George also knows.
And I wandered from George’s house into the extensive and rather untidy gardens. A path through the cider orchard brought me to a heterogenous group of outbuildings, maybe the old stables, or a wattled barn with an apple-press inside, where tiny insects flit and drink.
But no, they resemble a castle. As I came nearer, I noticed an ornate and graceful architecture. Grass and weeds flourished untended; a mixed growth of hazel and oak around it formed a natural glade. I entered a serial maze. One building opened or led loosely into the quadrangle of another through a graded sequence of archways growing at the same time greater and lesser. The sequence was not a linear one. Into an encircling depth of centre I travelled through dark stone walls, through alternating shells of greenery and masonry with a few old trees and some sheds for the chickens, garden tools and lumber. It is like a rose. It is all rather overgrown; and suddenly every arch meets and opens into a single flower; and I am brought to a halt by a vault that surrounds me; and through the high apex of the vault comes the light of the sky all around.
The vault enspheres the anthem of this space.
I’m brought to the standstill of my breath by a wordless music. A Gothic stone spiral around interwoven curves and planes of the arch, opens into, from and out of itself, a web of variations on one theme – where all ways meet. Here is silence. It leads the eye of my mind into contemplation, an angelic stair, it leads me entranced to a kind of window, crystal lens or sightless “eye” above me.
Yes. The trance is entry, entrance. I am drawn into the “ar’got” or secret tongue. My vision drawn up into the web, the polyphony of stone and timber, evolved as one of those dark caves of limestone rock whose glory drop by drop the rain carved out through the aeons. As stalagmite to stalactite, is my soul’s growth from the ground towards the point of meeting, of reflection in that imperceptible deposit of cosmic mineral. Let us draw together through time, this space of meeting.
The moment of the whole is my small candle flame. It lifts away from the wick to unite with itself in the upper waters on the rock – an inverted flame approaches. The interpenetrating planes of the sphere – petals of vesica pisces – dissolve as a droplet. Not by earthly measure a large chamber, this vault; one candle would suffice to illumine it; a single drop contains itself a sea.
In caverns of limestone the work is through ages of darkness. The candle must be brought to it, to reveal what is being formed. The organs of our inner body, like that which gleams in the cave, work in the dark. Beyond sight, they glow. In the hollowing of the Gothic sphere or chamber, I am the hour-glass of the ages. I see inverted or reflected pinnacles in the web – in an instant, yes, the instant of awakened vision, the fire of light. It infinitely illumines. The trance is my entry. It subtly, inexorably captures my mind into Sight, into the loss of my known cities, into the persuasion of that lens in the roof. I enter the focal point through a series of shells, of planes of vision superimposed. I am bound into a spell, into the curve of an arc meeting infinite solvency around and into that dance, the line of a drawing under the Master’s Eye.
In this organ I have no known learning, no “argot” or translation. How am I to see? Shall I look inward? Only, it is said, to the extent that you are able to see from within your own dark, may you begin to perceive What is looking in !
Who is being encountered and instructed in this place of meeting? to grow from the ground as vision itself within the eye? CREDO in unum deum, like flower to sun, through the resistor of the earthly membrane. Lord, thou art God. I am that I am: TAT TWAM ASI. Around it flow details and yet more details in the ballet of stone, of rocky argive, or webbed timber. I know nothing but a sudden flood of response to my calling, the music of aeons in an overpowering instant; I am the draughtsman’s line.
I am sensing also some springtime petals of cloudy blue. Harebells, those modest dancing goddesses. They are waving in the breeze, and it is sad. “Bye bye my April, I am five and we are moving house. I am five years old, and I have to go to school to learn to read and write.”
We moved away from Bransdale on the Yorkshire moors to go to school in Cornwall. It was April 1954. The harebells had just come through the long winter snow.
There is also in this magnetized place, a fear of what is capturing me; of the loss of my innocence or my state of unknowing, of bondage into a vibration or ray of light that might burn out all my centres. I might submit to a dark or merely occult power which alienates. But on that trembling verge, I have beauty, the Eye, the incandescent power of seeing.
I could hear the voices of the other portrait painters nearbye, they too were exploring the outbuildings, talking history, shop and pigments. They teased their way along a string of covered cloisters. Whether in the desire to share, or to boast of my discovery – for I am lonely with it - I called out to them from the chamber, “Come and see this, come and look up through here!”
But they passed through some time ago with a glance, and went on. They are not arrested by the sight of that strange Lens, and its actual relationship to life. They cannot see it, even though they are artists.
I can see, even though I am not really an Artist but - an Astronomer. The temple arresting my gaze, is an optical organ or instrument. I am the evolving or revolving science of optics, a vision or lens, which is being developed for observing the universe. I am designed to bring the stars closer, through instruments.
The temple is an observatory. It was the pineal power of sight, both inner and outer, bestowed in times gone by, upon the human beings of today. It tutors our perception. The choices we make with our gift of sight follow the lines of personal evolution.
Later on as I came away from this place, different frames of time superceded the vault to heaven. My fascination with the lens turned malign. The voltage in my cells was too strong. As I had grown no experience in handling or mastering the gift, its flow of ions – condensed from aeons - became a resistence factor against “me”. It began, like matter over-energised, to work against the tide of my feeling, in things I did or that happened to me.
No longer could I flow with life. My way across the grain distorted it. It grew heavy in what I did and what received. I stuck in the grain of a round wooden table, towards the edge, the river of life. There were incarnations, apprenticeships and jealousies. It crossed me – bad temper, frustration, rebellion against the grain. I was barricaded from vision, and defenseless against the barrage of all encompassing petty grievance – my immaturity, my envy of others.
I began to fear very much the Lens, and my temerity in looking through it. I fear the betrayals to which I now am vulnerable as I make my way back to life through the trees, to the “Round Table” of my colleagues. I am superstitious in the wood.
The next thing I see is myself no longer at centre, but on the rim of a circle or mandala. We’ve left George’s house and the unassuming glories of his inner world, and are back at work drawing and painting schoolchildren. We have been placed around a large table to work; it is of light oak; the flowing grain has trapped pale flecks like feathers or flocks of birds. There isn’t much elbow room. We are in each other’s way, looking at the other’s way of doing the same or the done thing, like a ferris wheel of mirrors.
My problem in this wood is the grain not of truth but of the copier. Who is faking? Who is the forger – the forager ! - of works of art?
Peter has come. Peter my father who is a farmer, brings his own grain of truth to the table, to join our circle. He is getting out paper, charcoal, making space for himself. I always knew he has the eye.
Oh, but what is this? He’s been commissioned to do two paintings here, in oil! But he jumped the grade – the new apprentices should begin with drawing. Colour is the art of the master. He’s not a painter, he’s never done a painting in his life! My own two sitters never turned up, I lost time and money, dark jealousies within me oppress and sting my eyes with tears. I’m in a long flag-stoned passage near the kitchens. I can’t get through to them or their families on the antiquated country telephone with its knotty brown cord. My anger and hatred detonate everywhere into everything that obscures, obstructs and harasses me. Next I dialled Bill Deeves, our entrepreneurial manager, but got cut off.
I have no sitters, no work to do or be paid for, and everyone else is productive and busy, I’ve been let down, the two absent sitters are two blanks of sight before me. “If you don’t use a Talent, you lose it!” – they were given to him while I was away – I was far away, in the strange Lens. I might as well be blind. Life gathers atoms of misfortune into tides of flickering pigment, should I look? Or should I not?
Within the frame. Within the wood. Within the body.
“Let thine eye be single, and thy body filled with light.”
I had to walk here - along the toils, the coils and branches that meander into the dark, along the path of honesty. This path, the work of the seer, is an essential thread or filament to unravel in my being. It leads from light in the mirror, back to light that is its source, in the Self, the sacred Eye.
And i was late.
And i had lost all my gear.
(Peter remarked in 1992, after he read the first draft of this story: “What a masterly drawing you do of George and of his house. Was there really this astounding Folly, this temple? Your moment of seeing there, of Eternity, was like T.S.Eliot’s beside the sunken pool in the hidden garden – ’quick, quick, said the bird’.
“Strange how at quite early ages we know we have the “sacred eye”, the gift that is both burden and light, and yet through time and time we cannot or will not use it, or forget it is there, until another nudge reminds us of our work. Never mind about being late when here is all, and once here you do not need your gear, so it is better lost.
“What is ‘pineal’ sight? Pineal is to resemble a pine cone, or is the stalked Pineal endochrine gland in the brain. Is it a folded upon itself leaf by leaf cone of inward and outward sight that unfolding radiates outwards, seeing all? And argo is jargon or slang of a trade or calling – in argot’s case, usually of thieves?”)
My adventure invites fellow travellers. I am a poet, an artist and a seer. I welcome conversation among the PHILO SOFIA, the lovers of wisdom.
This blog is a vehicle to promote also my published work – The Sacred India Tarot (with Rohit Arya, Yogi Impressions Books) and The Dreamer in the Dream – a collection of short stories (0 Books). Watch this space.
All art and creative writing in this blog is copyright © Janeadamsart 2012. May not be used for commercial purposes. May be used and shared for non-commercial means with credit to Jane Adams and a link to the web address http://janeadamsart.wordpress.com/