I’ve been spending some time visiting Brighton recently and, aside from the deep connection I feel at being so close to the sea, I am also struck by the general atmosphere of bohemian life that parts of the city (such as the popular North Laine area) still evoke, despite the continuing urbanisation and gentrification of the city.
I was reminded of this when I was invited to one of the Brighton festival’s artists open house events, where artists temporarily turn their houses into galleries, to exhibit their work and those of fellow artists. This takes art out of the galleries and has the effect, both of separating art from the sterile atmosphere of many of today’s corporate-sponsored exhibition spaces and giving artists a chance to bring their work closer to the people without the financial overheads associated with larger urban events.
The curator (home owner) of this particular exhibition was Penelope Oakley, who exhibited her own paintings alongside paintings, photographs, handmade clothes and clothing accessories, jewellery and assorted creations from a variety of artists.
There were a couple of works of art that caught my eye, and rather than attempt to give some art-critic account of what the works are supposed to represent in some overall art historical narrative (which I wouldn’t be able to do anyway), I’d rather focus on the overall impression I got in meeting and talking with the artists, because it reminds me of the kind of heart-centred communication that flows at the smaller music festivals I enjoy being part of. This artistic sensibility found great expression and a sense of a community in the often unacknowledged otherworld of the so-called counterculture, which somehow manages to co-exist even to this day despite its distortion and outright rejection by the architects of the consumer culture we are all part of, yet one which many recognise we must render obsolete in order to survive and co-exist on this planet.
As much as I love the effect non-verbal communication such as art and music has on me, words in their own way have as much mystery in their double-edged ability to confuse and inspire. I was struck immediately as I entered the house at a couple of the works of art created by Florence Losa, that had inspiring words written on them, the words forming part of the artwork, reminding me of William Blake in the ability to weave all aspects of the human experience and treating the very letters and combinations of words as alchemical symbols (which of course is what they are) and as inseparably part of the direct sensory experience, rather than seen merely as representational symbols.
The reason I had been drawn to this particular event was to see in person the work of Stephanie Hymas, particularly what she calls her “free flow energy-infused digi art“. The choice of colours, particularly the red and black, the depth of perspective and the resonance of the image, had echoes for me of the eastern philosophical system of chakras and the ancient knowledge of sacred geometry. I have that sense of the commonly described, deep buzzing sound of a DMT experience just looking at this art, a kind of synesthesia, where the visual becomes audible and one feels a sense of direct communication with the divine.
The overall impression of the day, in the free flow of communication at Penelope’s house, was of the importance to me of the artistic sensibility. When I say artistic sensibility, I am speaking in general terms about what I can only describe as an inherent spiritual connection that an individual has and a knowingness of our essential interconnectivity, not just as human beings, but of our relationship to the planet on which we depend.
Involved, as I am, in the world of journalism, where so much of what is considered important relates to the rational mind, exact communication, where the wrong word can lead to a libel writ, such concerns can be framed as trivial, even dangerous. In a world where you are asked to provide evidence of every statement you make, the idea of the importance of ambiguity, an often essential part of the artistic sensibility, can seem confusing, even threatening.
Art can often, in its ambiguity, get to the heart of the paradox of existence. Paradoxically, that ambiguity can be the most authentic representation of what it means to be human and that direct experience can itself lead to a realisation of our essential nature. On a personal level, I find the commitment that many artists possess to treading their path, being prepared to overcome all obstacles in order to express that inner vision, the anarchic nature of that commitment, coupled with the heightened sensitivity to one’s own emotions and one’s connection to the environment, to be most invigorating!
A final mention must go to the work of Yvonne McGillivray, whose spiritual art seems to me a perfect blending of the psychedelic ayahuasca vision with the gentle healing qualities of new age mysticism, and the work of Clive Hedger, who’s bold and thorn-like flowing lines and muted woodland hues were instantly striking. Coupled with themes of nature and the resilient and essential mythology of the Green Man, echoes of the forest and the pagan roots of this ancient land, it left a deep impression and called to mind in me the cover art for the Wild Heart Gathering, another of the smaller festivals where those who gather have, for me, that essential quality of the artistic sensibility.
Whether those who possess this ambiguous quality choose to convert that into painting or whether they express it in any other number of ways, it is a sensibility which I believe is almost synonymous with the intuitive consciousness and a quality that is more needed than ever as we become overwhelmed by the seeming obsession in our technological world with treating the rational mind as infallible master rather than as a “faithful servant“, through which our essential nature can find form.
I hope to find out more about these artists at a future date, and wish them all great success for the future and thank Penelope for opening her house to the public and allowing a space to be created where the spirit of art could be made manifest.