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Posts tagged ‘sacred’

200 Years of Australian Art at the Royal Academy: Connections Between Painting and the Spiritual Realm

From indigenous art through to ‘discovery’ by European explorers, the arrival of the first British settlers, dismay, denial and idealization, to  acceptance, new understanding and redemption, this exhibition of Australian paintings at the Royal Academy in London took me on a journey through the spiritual heart of my own experience of this great continent.

AUSTRALIA EXHIBITION, Royal Academy of Arts

AUSTRALIA EXHIBITION, Royal Academy of Arts

As Russell Drysdale said, “In Australia there is a quality of strangeness that you do not find … anywhere else.”

Reviews of this exhibition have  been mixed, with a lot of  criticism levelled at it in the UK. But from the first painting of a  convict settlement, neat, peaceful, well spaced out and idealized, through to the contemporary paintings struggling to reconcile the wounded history of cruelty, misunderstanding and conflict between aboriginal people and European colonial settlers, this exhibition was for me an opportunity to revisit and relive my own experience of four and a half years living in this great continent.

In particular a swirling picture by a Queensland artist of the rainforest-clad mountains near Brisbane seemed to reflect exactly my own experience of this beautiful landscape.

The indigenous artworks were particularly moving, with their distinctive use of rarrk – the cross hatched patterns characteristic of aboriginal artists, as they depict rain running down dunes, undulating landscapes, waterholes and trees and spirit ancestors, believing that we tread the earth for a while then come out of it and become part of the ancestral realm again.

Two phrases seemed to touch the heart of this exhibition : “access to” and “isolation from”. Both of these were exemplified in a painting by John Brack, The Car (1955) which I couldn’t help responding to with amusement and yet behind it lay a profound resonance: a family in an ugly cheap car, out for a day trip, the father at the wheel, the mother smiling, the two children in the back staring straight at you, the viewer… and behind them the vastness of the Australian landscape.

And the picture “Australian Beach Pattern” by Charles Meere (1940) of the bronzed perfect bodies on the beach, men, women, children and babies, all strong, confident, was for me worryingly reminiscent of the kind of the pictures produced by artists in the Soviet Union as part of a propaganda campaign for the Soviet communist party. Yet later, the trauma of the Second World War affected the mood of optimism and this image was superseded by Albert Tucker with a painting of red,scorched hunks of flesh on another beach.

There was no painting of Sydney Opera House, my favourite of  all buildings; but there was one by Grace Cossington Smith of Sydney Harbour Bridge being built, (“The Bridge in Building”, 1929) viewed from below,  demonstrating pride, hope, creative enterprise, ingenuity, and above, beyond and around it a distinctly spiritual resonance.

The indigenous people of Australia  were the ones who fully understand and imbued the earth with sacred forces. They were the ones who gave this continent its air of mystery and spiritual power. And yet I can,too, be thankful to those eighteenth century settlers, because they prepared the way so that I,and many others, might have access to the most sublime of scenery. Even now when I drive up a steep winding road I think “Mount Glorious” . And when I saw Kenneth  McQueen’s picture I thought “Yes!” And my heart lifted. “Maiala Rainforest” – conveyed just as I experienced it and remember it now, in swirling patterns of movement.

In Memory of Hattie, a Beloved Pet Cat – and the Gracefulness of Letting Go

This is Hattie, born 1996, who died on 21 September 2013, at home, in her basket, peacefully, in a deep sleep.

Happy memories of Hattie, beloved family pet 1996-2013 (photo credits: Abigail Robinson)

Happy memories of Hattie, beloved family pet 1996-2013 (photo credits: Abigail Robinson)

When a much-loved family pet dies we need to decide what to do next.

But we kept Hattie lying in her basket for a day and a night, nestled in her blanket, where she died.

And it was not macabre, but beautiful, and consoling.

There is something sacred about being in the presence of a peaceful death, after a life well-lived.

Lying there in the stillness and quietness of letting go, her fur still felt soft and her body pliable, and I imagined several times that she was still breathing.

She has filled 17 years of our lives with fun, laughter and affection. She has beguiled us, outwitted us, annoyed us, delighted us and demonstrated something powerful: absolute persistence wins.

I blogged about Hattie a while ago. There, I wrote about the perpetual fascination of cats.

And now Hattie has again demonstrated something powerful about this life.

The gracefulness and the quietness and the beauty of letting go.

Then, all that’s left is love.

Sacred Spaces in the English Landscape and Places of Inspiration: Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral

Stonehenge 17 Aug 2013 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Stonehenge 17 Aug 2013 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Throughout the English landscape there’s evidence that our ancestors shaped the land, to conform to their own mythological landscape.

I’ve written before about sacred spaces. In that article, I looked at some renowned locations in England where people have felt they’re in touch with something bigger than themselves – a sense of the numinous.

All of these places work symbolically or metaphorically to express a place where we may be or a situation we may encounter in this life, that we recognise from our own experience.

And one such renowned location is Stonehenge – which I visited a few days ago with family members.

To walk slowly and attentively around Stonehenge, using the audio guide provided by English Heritage, is to experience something numinous, much bigger than ourselves.

The stones arrived here some time just before 2500 BC, to begin transforming the previously existing simple enclosure to something much different. And as we considered the huge effort that our ancestors put into moving the stones 19 miles from the Marlborough Downs in north Wiltshire, and 150 miles from the Preseli Hills in Wales, to this location, in order to  construct this massive circle, we were drawn in to the wonder and the mystery.

Salisbury Cathedral. Its spire is the tallest cathedral spire in England  (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Salisbury Cathedral. Its spire is the tallest cathedral spire in England (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Those who accept the theory of ley lines know that Stonehenge stands on the Old Sarum Ley which is aligned with Salisbury Cathedral, among other sacred places.
As the English Heritage guidebook points out, Stonehenge can perhaps be seen as the prehistoric equivalent of a great cathedral like that at nearby Salisbury, built for worship and as a place  where believers could come to find healing and hope and where important people can be buried.

Salisbury Cathedral, described as Britain’s finest 13th Century Cathedral, is another inspirational place.

From its glorious chancel roof                                                                                                               The chancel roof of Salisbury Cathedral (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

The chancel roof of Salisbury Cathedral (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

to the stunningly beautiful lapis lazuli of the Prisoners of Conscience windows,

this is a place to move and uplift and fill you with awe.

Prisoners of Conscience window in Salisbury Cathedral (designed by Gabriel Loire; dedicated to prisoners of conscience throughout the world. (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Prisoners of Conscience window in Salisbury Cathedral (designed by Gabriel Loire; dedicated to prisoners of conscience throughout the world. (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Here, the hearts and  minds of all those who enter, for worship or just to visit, may be lifted up to a bigger and clearer understanding of  God.

Or, perhaps, they may receive fresh glimpses of eternity, in much the same way, perhaps, as the hearts and minds of those who built and used Stonehenge over the course of 1,400 years.

Another view of the spire of Salisbury Cathedral (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)

Another view of the spire of Salisbury Cathedral (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)

Places of Inspiration Part 3: Ayers Rock/Uluru, Evidence of Spirit Ancestors

Here is an image of a famous landmark:

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How do you think of Ayers Rock (aboriginal name Uluru)? Do you think of it as that rock in the middle of Australia, which presents a climbing challenge to all tourists? Or do you think of it as a place sacred to the aborigines, a jewel at the heart of this great continent?

Two and a half years ago, I visited Uluru for the second time. As we stepped out onto the tarmac at Ayers Rock Airport at midday local time, the first thing that struck me was intense colour and light.  Glowing ochre earth, blue sky, pearl white ghost gums – and Uluru itself in the distance, dusky pink

Uluru, an iron-rich sandstone monolith arising from the heart of Australia, is sacred to the indigenous traditional owners, the Anangu.  It tells their stories, it shows the actions of the Spirit Ancestors in their violent conflicts during the Dreamtime, displaying evidence of their falls, their spear-thrusts, their lost shields.  Uluru itself has a strong, brooding presence, which you begin to feel as soon as you see it, and which grows as you approach and gaze. 

It speaks with its changing colours, amber, fiery red, deep brown, depending how the light falls upon it at different times of day, and its knife-edge shadows and fissures, flaking surfaces, indentations, pockmarks, wave-like effects, and most outstanding of all, the skull formation.

Skull Formation

Skull Formation

  On another level, it almost seems like a giant plasticine model which a giant has pressed his fingers into or dragged a comb down, or stippled and stabbed with a palette knife. 

For many visitors, this central icon of Australia is inextricably linked with the idea of climbing to the top.  “Go to Australia: climb Ayers Rock”. But, warn the signs at the Aboriginal Cultural Centre, “The Anangu ask that you respect our traditions and customs, and choose not to climb it.”

We caught the shuttle from the Yulara resort, planning to do the base walk.  On the 9.2 kilometre trail around the Rock, it was evident that the number of fenced-off sacred areas had been increased since my last visit, pushing the path further out.  And yet despite this, a walk around Uluru is full of marvels.  The trees and shrubs are all much greener than you might imagine – the wattles, the fig trees, the desert bottlebrush.  The aboriginal cave-paintings fill you with wonder, every experience defeats your expectations – none more so than the Mutitjulu Waterhole.  We came upon it unexpectedly, tranquil and mysterious, the Rock’s multi-dimensional character reflected in its quiet waters.

Uluru glowing at sunrise

Uluru glowing at sunrise

The feeling I brought away with me after walking round the Rock was almost that of walking round a great and beautiful cathedral, imprinted with the devotion of many centuries. I can well understand how the Anangu revere the Rock, which has taken on an awesome spiritual power from the thousands of years of sacred ceremonies and teaching and story-telling centred upon it. 

For me it is another of my places of inspiration: a vist here allowed me a deeper insight into the meaning of the aboriginal culture, enriching my own understanding. Have you ever visited Uluru? How did you find the experience? And if it has only ever been a picture in a brochure, or a news report, what has been your impression of the famous “Ayers Rock”?

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