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colourful figurative painting

A common treasury for all, acrylic on canvas, 200x180cm, 2023





Writing about A common treasury for all by Delpha Hudson

In 1649 a group of between twenty and thirty poor men and women began to dig the earth on St George’s Hill in Surrey. According to a government spy, ‘They invite all to come in and help them, and promise them meat, drink and clothes. . . . They give out, they will be four or five thousand within ten days. . . . It is feared they have some design in hand’.

Winstanley inspired the Diggers, a remarkable movement for land sharing and land rights, especially for its time. ‘A common treasury for all’ was part of his universal message of equality; access which envisioned an ecological interrelationship between humans and nature, acknowledging the inherent connections between people and their surroundings.

Perhaps even more remarkable for its time was that they allowed women some rights too. Whilst women have been historically symbolically represented as closer to nature because of their bodily function of reproduction (and also as something to be tamed and controlled) women have had few rights over the natural spaces around them. Women’s relationship with the land is complicated but then women lead complicated lives especially if they have family and domestic responsibilities. Home and hearth were their usual sphere of influence. Land girls during the Second World War were a rare exception in a history of absence in land working and land owning, but the war was soon over women were told to go back home to the kitchen sink.

In Britain where only 5% of the population own the majority of land and there is no ‘right to roam’ access to land the countryside is still very much contested and ‘rights of way’ become a great metaphor for the equality and freedom of women. Weaving these ideas with ecological and societal care, recent work explores redefining women’s relationships with landscape, nature and place, and giving them a central role.

Surreal ‘out of place’ juxtapositions between domestic and landscape explore domestic work and care; performing the body and interior stories ‘outside’, beyond domestic enclosures is subversive. Confronting, destabilising and transfiguring stereotypical stories and associations between women, nature and domesticity transcends domestic ‘bounds,’ and creates multi-layered fluid terrains of typically invisible Subjects.

A common treasury for all is a painting aiming to create an aesthetic of interconnectedness, social responsibility and ecological attunement.

Barbara Bolt writes of ‘painting as an event, a ‘summoning forth’. I wanted to create a ‘dynamic, entangled in counterpoint movement’ and ‘move in and out [of]… pictorial possibilities’, to create a chaotic yet connected profusion of figures. Using a limited palette of colours, figures and patterns are criss-crossed with green lines that are constellations and conjunctions between; the main figures lead an army of patterns in which figures invade and act. Even their clothing contain ‘interwoven information fields; with further figures. In total there are 48 figures in the patterns and landscape, and 34 more in the clothing.

This cast of approximately 100 figures, they all forge a ‘relationality-between’; proposing a dynamic view of women and a principled equality of Subjects in space. Snakes are utilised as a symbol of change and transformation. They are no longer a biblical indictment of women (through the temptation of Eve by a snake), snakes symbolise women’s potential for change and metamorphosis.

Moving through time and space, women can be free to choose how to represent themselves. Representing the value of care and compassion is the root of a vision of the world where women are gatekeepers, not only for the birth and care of future generations, but for caring for what really matters to the future of human kind. It is almost unimaginable to dream of how the world might change if this philosophy was adopted by all ‘mankind’.

painted figure of a woman like angel

The devil’s in the detail, A common treasury for all, 2023


More writing about domestic bodies in nature, narrative & engaging with 3 ecologies (Guattari)

History has mapped nature as a political space with visible boundaries. Escaping beyond the Romanticism that has shaped our preconceptions of nature and wildness, and the appropriation of landscape and nature part of social-political ordering as a socially construct or ‘scape’ (Foucault). The nature of landscape is that certain activities are excluded from particular spaces. Demolishing monstrous domestic enclosures and renewing our relationship with open outside spaces (even if it is over-determined, and historically ‘scaped), and exploring how to transcend the ‘bounds.’ Opening out space is part of a project to,

‘take up and transform the discourses that hold sway, to rearticulate rather than run from whatever has cultural potency..[and] develop and promote alternative visions’
Stacey Alaimo

In the politics of location, space, and place women have been victims of socio-spatial boundaries that confine them through care and domestic labour. Confinement is a recurring image in women’s lives. ‘Space surrounds us in imagination that we are not free to move beyond’ writes Marion young, who also writes of potential bodily boundary confusions for women for whom birthing as an extreme suspension of inner and outer ‘the inside things emerges between my legs, for a short while both inside and outside me.’

Discovering in nature a feminist space of possibility that is outside of typical (and is antithetical to) domestic values and enclosures has the potential to create ‘parodic subversive confrontations’ that destabilise and transfigure women’s historical association with nature. Performative actions are not static or passive connections to nature. Women have not been authorised subjects or ‘knowers’, through movement and action, women have the potential to find different ways of being and knowing

Objects and actions associated with home simultaneously contradict and mock the notion of ‘wildness,’ creating a geographical desire and marginalised resistance to it that is differentiated and paradoxical (the coexistence of sameness and difference; of contrasts between nature and nurture). Performing domestic objects and tasks outside in natural settings at once conflates and negates women’s connections to home and nature.

Countering persistent mythologies through the ecology of the body is a paradoxical resistance. It dis-places domestic care, placing it outside ‘home’ and in alternative material environments addresses complex relationships between our bodies and ‘space’. The potential pluralism of narratives that face out whilst facing ‘in’, creates a complex web of new narratives that transform the stratified and confined Self and creates de-territorialised Others.

Working in local landscapes and nature is ‘expressive of specific cultural meanings’, it works with natural phenomenon that stand for something else. Different forms of knowledge are explored through aesthetic and metaphoric elements that incorporate nature in oblique and symbolic ways. Using narratives to make work that aims to create connectivity and ethical engagement, paintings, performance and film involves each of the 3 ecological concerns that Guattari speaks of: social ecology, mental ecology, environmental ecology.

watercolour painting of rocks and woman

Seeing through and being seen, watercolour, 42x30cm, 2023

Some notes on the use of opaque and translucent figures & porosity 

The most opaque colour is white, it does not absorb light giving the impression of purity and luminosity. We cannot see light, we rely on the impression of absence and of depth and shadows. Like a mirror white cannot be seen through.

I use the opaque lightness of figures to explore visibility and absence, yet also try to balance it with translucency. The figures are white with the merest hint of depth and shadow. They are both ‘opaque’ and ‘translucent’; both full of light and yet porous. Porosity interests me as women its seems are often more permeable than men. Porosity and permeability have been used to describe the ability of humans to think of others, to have fewer boundaries and greater empathy. I love the seeming contradiction of working with opacity and translucency; impermeability and porosity.

As a way of evoking connectedness, these female figures are visible and meld into their landscapes in many ways communicating the loss of self through others. Something the human race depends on yet is often given by women at huge personal loss.

Image Seeing through and being seen was inspired by porous rocks of the Algarve coast, Portugal. View other work inspired by ancient landscapes and rocks. 

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