Frida Kahlo- Crow Father

Frida Kahlo’s autobiographical work has been an important key during research of narrative artwork. Her painting of The dream, the bed (1940), I found particularly mesmeric as the artist is also the viewer and death is not a taboo subject as in our culture but is celebrated in Mexico ( Day of the Dead). The vines and flowers I felt alluded to new life, creation and growth. This made me reflect on the Yew leaves fallen from a tree of our ancient culture that I had infused my painting with, except mine I felt was a marker for time.

Portrait of my Father, 1951 by Frida Kahlo

This portrait was painted by Frida Kahlo after the death of her father and she continued to work on it for over a decade. The inscription commemorates him fighting against Hitler and also suffering from epilepsy. Kahlo painted him in sepia which reflects his role as a photographer and could be read as his artistic influence upon her. This I found interesting because I had created a partner painting for Crow Mother, using a sepia photograph of my father and the idea of the battle, both internal and external with addiction that he struggled with and caused him to lose his life nearly fifty years ago. In some ways, I felt that he was the original wild and damaged creature in ‘Crow Mother’ that mum was trying to save. There was a link. Again across time.

Crow Father – Work in progress, Lisa Kilty

In the process of creating this work I used the only photograph I’d had of him as a child which was a small sepia profile shot of him looking to the left. I always wondered what the other side of his face looked like. As a response to this, I decided to flip the picture and enlarge it in the digital print studio, Salford. I then used it as a source for this painting. That way, as an artist (and a daughter), I had ‘the full picture’.

The Crow helmet that I am still working on links back to the description in the book
‘Crow’ by Boria Sax , of Celtic Warrior, Valerius Corvus, ‘Valerius the Crow’ (p56). The idea of the crow being present at, and a symbol of battle (be it addiction or otherwise) inspired me to develop the crow helmet idea. The family name and my art name – Kilty came originally from Cailte, an Irish warrior from the fianna (war band) of Fionn Mac Cumhaill. This name has changed over time and has been anglicized when my family fled the potato famine. Family history has us believe we are descended from Irish giants and warriors. This is a story passed down through time of our ancestral origins, infusing our present.

Crow Daughter

I have been working on a canvas that I’ve lately come to call ‘Crow daughter’. Inspired by a dream I had several years ago which I recorded in a journal. In the dream, I was taken up by a huge murder of crows that carried me across a kind of surreal, seething landscape where faces surged out of the earth towards me. The feeling accompanying the dream was one of complete protection by the unlikely feathered allies and a new perspective. The end of the dream had a strange announcement that I had seventeen years left.

Following the Crow Mother portrait based on a childhood memory of Mum nursing a crow when I was younger and releasing it back to the wild, I felt that this was a natural autobiographical development and had the urge to create Crow Daughter as part of this body of work. Where mum protected, nursed and nurtured the crow; this was like a reversal where I was being held, carried, protected by the crows and shown a different dream perspective that seemed to embody the changing passage of time on Earth.

I struggled with the idea of perspective as I was essentially the experiencer of the dream. I decided to change the perspective to that of standing outside of myself as a viewer to reflect time and distance between me and the dream, to give the viewer more range and opportunity for perception of key elements such as the changing face in the Earth and myself carried by crows across the dream landscape. I had no preconceived idea of how this work would evolve and allowed it to develop intuitively. Having attended life drawing classes at Salford School of Art and Media, during which we explored colour theory and discussed classical techniques with the ‘life painting’ tutor (as painting has been the focus this semester), technically, I would now describe this as a high key painting.

Crow Daughter -76cm by 102cm, acrylic on canvas.

After a recent visit with my brother to an ancient yew tree in Beltingham, Northumberland. We discussed time, symbolism, death and the idea of life continuing regardless of process, or as part of the process. I created a tincture with found Yew leaves, to include some of the essence of this great and venerable tree and connection to the moment in time where we contemplated something ancient in a place ( churchyard) that marks the passage of human time and where time seems to stop. This I used in the tree of teardrops above. In some sense I felt I was creating an essence of time.

Does time exist? Is time relative? This was becoming a nonlinear work.

A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History

Over the period of this book the Yew tree at Beltingham was growing, regardless of the seething changes of humanity. Although in itself finite, it seemed to embody something of the eternal as it was over a thousand years old and stood on hallowed ground. Manuel de Landa in the above philosophical work, recommended by Jake Chapman, states that “technology won’t be viewed as evolving in a straight line.” (p.73,) I felt this related to how I was beginning to view my creative process too. Time was emerging as a theme.

Crow paper – Collaboration with Industry 12.3.19

I have been collaborating with technical demonstrator Sue Debney of Salford Art School. This was the third session of papermaking that had developed into pulp painting with Sue – a new area of development for both of us. It is a long, technical, creative and involved process. This time I brought in meaningful items: two 100% cotton faded black martial arts t-shirts that my son and I had worn up to brown belt grading over three years. They represented the battle, internal struggle, technical development of form, awareness of flow, family connection, legacy, evolution, strength, and growth.

To convey a sense of the complexity and length of the process involved, I have included some photos and notes made at the time:

Afore mentioned martial arts t-shirts.
Cotton t shirts cut into small squares with the help of Sue Debney and Alexis Reeves.

The small squares of cotton were then added to the Hollander Beater to be gradually pulped over the morning.
The pulping process, using up to 2lb of dry weight natural fabric, circulating in the Hollander Beater

It took several hours but finally we were rewarded with a beautiful black pulp to work with.

We lined the large deckle box with a sheet of plastic
Then added half of the beautiful black pulp.
It took three of us to pull out the plastic , like a magician’s table cloth, whilst one held the deckle box. Then we had to cause constant ripples by shaking the box, first one way and then another as the pulp set and the water drained.
The sides of the box were removed leaving a sodden, smooth pulp rectangle. This was the resulting thick black sheet. I then tweezered out anything that had invaded the piece – like straw.
Then it was carefullly couched onto a flat absorbent surface and the process from deckle box onwards was repeated to get 2 decent substantial sheets to work with.

I had brought two reels of cotton from my mother’s sewing box that I inherited from her. To keep a limited palette I chose a deep crimson and white. I then ‘drew’ with the threads on the sheets before pressing.

I used actual crow feathers to create stencils and pulped recycled art paper in a blender to papermake. This stencil was held on the mould screen and dipped in a vat of pulp. The stencil was removed and the pulp pressed carefully onto the black pulp and thread.

I finally finished by pulp painting the thread and feathers with a watery slurry.

The paper was then pressed and took the rest of the week to dry.
It can’t be worked upon for another week.

Although this seems lengthy for our modern day instant culture mindset. Sue described this as ‘speed paper making’ as in Japan this process can take up to a year.

I am very inspired by this whole experience, from selecting threads and materials imbued with meaning right through to seeing the results of this intense creative process…

Crow by Boria Sax

As I am working with crow symbolism and meaning, I am currently reading this very interesting book by American writer Boria Sax. It spans science, folklore, history and mythology of the corvid family across different cultures. What is fascinating in chapter three is the account given by the Roman historian Livy of single combat between a giant Gaul and Valerius Corvus, ‘Valerius the Crow’ (p56) where a Raven landed on his helmet and helped the warrior win the battle by swooping on his foe. This idea of a Raven/ Crow helmet is further exemplified in the chapter:

“A Celtic helmet of Iron from the second or third century BC, found in Ciumesti, Romania is topped by an image of a Raven with hinged wings.” (p57)

I found this idea of A Raven or Crow helmet very inspiring and wanted to incorporate it into the current work I am creating about my father. His links to Celtic and Irish history and our original ancestor: Caoilte. The Crow or Raven is intimately linked to the Celtic Battle Goddess The Morrigan.

What is also fascinating is the ambivalent symbology of the corvid over time:
“The crow or raven might represent extremes of good or evil, depending on the context in which it appeared” (p80)
and the alchemical symbology of the Corvid:
“The raven eating carrion, even the dead bodies of human beings, signified the transformation of all things as the world, slowly but inexorably, moved towards perfection.” (p81)

In corvids, I find the reflection of human nature and the symbology of the internal/ external battles we face as individuals: the armour we wear and the allies we choose.
As humans, we see through our own lense of perception; we anthropomorphise the nature of corvids which is essentially something ‘Other’.

Crow Paper

Crow Feather Paper
Created by a stencil I cut from a crow feather and using pulp painting with thread added too. Made with the help of Sue Debney In the Salford Art School Print Room. It has the suggestion of a feather through reshaping the form by hand whist allowing the pulp and thread to fall and flow where it will. The process is fairly long and involved and I am busy collecting meaningful shreds of paper and detritus to pulp

See how the moment flies

This is a poem taken from my mum’s journal mid 1970s. It is similar to Zen poetry in that it captures something uncapturable: the moment, time and being. It resonated, as I use meditation as part of my process. It also reflects discussions on meditation I had with mum, who was a lifetime practitioner.I am currently collaging this work onto tissue paper and board. I am exploring the flight of the moment and an abstracted fluid representation and expression of this theme.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

I have just read this book recommended by my tutor. It is a strange and poignant poetical tale. There were some parts of it that resonated with me, in particular, where the crow suggests a game:
” ‘You two boys’, he said, ‘must each build, here on the floor – a model of your Mother. Just as you remember her! And whichever of you builds the best model will win. Not the most realistic, but the best, the truest. ” (pp.28-29)
I felt that in some ways this is the creative process I followed with my Crow Mother portrait, creating work that expressed her true essence or that which was experienced by me., rather than her likeness.
Later in the book when it talks of moving on there is a passage that reads:
” Moving on as a concept is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows that grief is a long- term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix. (p99)
Succinct and truthful. It comes in waves and we never get passed it but learn to carry it. We grieve in proportion to the love we felt.

Jake Chapman talk at the Whitworth, Manchester. 29.1.19

A reworking of 1984 titled 1984.1 was read to us at breakneck speed without pause or varied intonation. It was reading the unreadable as described at the time and challenging to listen to and follow. I came away with some notes that I am trying to make sense of such as ” the unique personification of universal suffering”, in my notes I’ve written “change final word” so that art can be the unique personification of many themes: grief, love, feeling, intellect, being, nothingness …. I was aiming to find truth that I could relate to artistically and felt applied to my process.

Art is “a contemporary discourse on the notion of identity”, it therefore discusses the concept of who we are: our existence and integrity. There is an understanding that artwork has a kind of transcendent truth; a perceived honesty.

Amongst the thought provoking questions that were asked:

“How do you make a work of art that’s lying?”

Perhaps all artwork is fiction that expresses truth.

Truth -> interpretation -> fiction

“What are the conditions that presuppose your production of a work of art?”

Time , space, intention, creative fire, tools, evolving vision.

Actually in the YouTube video: My Place: Jake Chapman.
He says that ” You have to submit to wasting time before anything becomes purposeful” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94_7_QwKp9Y 

So maybe I’ll add wasting time to that list of presuppositions.

The idea of ” a dialogue across time” resonated, as I believe an artwork to be a record of time and intention, which stops at a certain point of completion and thus begins its outer communication during its existence.

“How does a work of art work?”

  1. Ornamental
  2. We choose to do it because it expresses something important
  3. Political: critical discourse.

Jake Chapman paraphrased Modern Art being a retaliation on bourgeois taste. Yet Modern Art still subscribes to it. YBAs were also described as being a wing of gentrification. Dichotomy.

I was interested in how his change of environment had affected his process and asked him such. This tied in with a question about creating utopias as opposed to dystopias. Interestingly he answered that utopia has an element of dystopia.

I subscribe to the higher synthesis and dialectical process of art. Creative evolution.

I found the Q&A session thought-provoking, particularly the question that was so ismly convoluted that the questioner lost the thread and ended up thrusting us into a shared state of universal bafflement.

Maybe I’ll add universal bafflement to the list of conditions that presupposes the production of art.

However, as this book was suggested both in a film clip I watched pre-talk and during the talk. I decided to buy it.

A thousand years of nonlinear history, by Manuel de Landa

The next step is to read it….