‘Roots’ is a series of paintings in which I am using myself and my own history/cultural bias and background as a way of making some universal questions more personal and manageable. These questions are centred around identity: where do I come from? What is the impact of nature and nurture on the formation of the self? How did 'I' come to be the person I currently am? The paintings draw from the different places I have lived and my cultural heritage, as well as experiences I’ve gone through. I wanted to incorporate iconography from medieval alchemy, and also to arrange the composition around the idea of tarot card symbolism, as well as symbolism related to the idea each piece is working with and the places or experiences they are drawing on.
‘Roots’ follows an almost chronological pattern, beginning with ‘The Tangle of Roots’. This painting utilises red as a symbol for blood and the tree for the family – nature rather than nurture. The full classical set of the four elements makes an appearance (earth, air, fire and water) as this can be understood as our starting point, the spark that generates what we eventually become. The tree itself is modelled on Yggdrasil, the Norse world tree, the centre and organising principle for everything.
Next is ‘The Body Within the Body’, which explores my British roots, albeit through common stereotypes involving water and rain. I wanted something predominantly in blues and greens, and also for there to be a ‘misty’, undefined quality to the image. These are also represented by the blue within the figure and the use of the alchemical symbol for water. The figure itself can also be understood as the self, the identity, being created and filled in by the culture.
The next painting, ‘The Memory of Fire’, deals with the time I spent living in South Africa, specifically my memories and impressions of my time there, which are dominated by landscape and violence. There are nods, once again, to stereotypes in the evocation of the wide open spaces of the savannah, of blue skies and ancient rock art, while the violence is suggested by the spray of red over and around the figure in the lower left. The image also uses the alchemical symbols for earth and fire.
The next painting, ‘The Thunder over Distant Mountains’ relates to my experiences after moving to South East Asia. Visually this piece was inspired by the many temples, and also draws on the iconography for gold and air. The idea here was related to personal change coming about through geographical change – up until my move I had been in several dark places, both mentally and physically, and this move allowed an opportunity to start over, become a bit less of a clenched fist.
The fifth painting in the series, ‘The Opening of Doors’, deals with a more general idea of individual change through seeing new places and doing new things (i.e. travel can help a person grow and change). The alchemical iconography is for both the earth and the Philosopher’s Stone, which is used here as an analog for change. The figure is borrowed from Da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ and is used as a short-hand for a universal experience, as much as something can ever be considered to be ‘universal’.
The series is almost complete with only one piece remaining to be painted, although I do have ideas for two related series – one would be an abstracted, coded ‘mapping’ of places I have lived and that have personal importance to me. These will borrow heavily from aboriginal dot paintings as a means of presenting information in a way that would only mean something to the initiated. The second would relate specifically to negative experiences I have had personally, but that are also hardly unique to me: depression, drug abuse, violence, loss etc. The idea for this is to keep using the Tarot card layout, but with a more spare, minimal approach than even ‘Roots’ uses, as well as a more mixed-media technique.