Twists and turns on the forest path…

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As I read and continue to make art my project is taking on a life of its own.

I have recently been influenced by the study of feminism in our visual culture classes. I find this difficult, because much of what has been written is dated, and although very relevant at the time I cannot help but find some of it as crazy sounding as the fifties housewife ads that we laugh at today. The Bitch calendars that subvert those advertisements say it all. Another reason I find it difficult is because I believe in the power of women goes far deeper than politics or any of the ism’s, and it always has. I believe that men as a race are fully aware of this although it may be in an unconscious way. This is what drives them to try and subvert women, although few men I know have ever tried to do this. I have had far more experience of women subverting men, treating men as objects of ridicule. I do like that Simone de Beauvoir was not a feminist, but wanted equality, as tis is what I believe in. Equality for all genders, and it is not so simple as male and female.

I have never seen women as the innocent scapegoat, more the Goddess, the one who holds the secrets and the wisdom. Angela Carter’s books are very refreshing because they accept that women too is bestial and it is by admitting this side of her that she claims her power. Paula Rego has something to say about this too, notably in her large and powerful drawing of Dog Woman. To quote the Saatchi gallery:

Inspired by a story a friend had written for her, Paula Rego draws her Dog Woman in pastels, referencing the raw physicality of Degas’ drawings. “To be a dog woman is not necessarily to be downtrodden; that has very little to do with it,” She explained, “In these pictures every woman’s a dog woman, not downtrodden, but powerful. To be bestial is good. It’s physical. Eating, snarling, all activities to do with sensation are positive. To picture a woman as a dog is utterly believable.

Dog Woman by Paula Rego 1994, Pastel on canvas. 120 x 160cm

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I love this work, and I want my project to have a similar nature. I want to show the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood for example, as the wild inner desire within all of us. I feel the biggest problem with life today is that we may have come too far from the cave. I love Rego’s Dog Woman as it says this so perfectly. I doubt prepaleolithic women were sensitive about hiding their animal desires, and they probably gave as good as they got.

If you want to be a wolf, be one, if you want to be  model 50′s housewife, do that too, just be happy in your skin. As for me, for all my wolf talk I will probably end up as the cat lady…or the goat lady… I have been the witch for a few years now…

Image sourced from: http://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/artpages/rego_paula_olga.htm

& so the wolves keep a coming…

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I started painting another book right away, trying to get more abstract, but again I am going with the flow. I like how this has taken on the look of the wolf becoming more of a playful puppy. I am taking up wolves as a cause, in all of their guises. Watch out for the begging letter at Christmas for my new charity. My daughter said that some of my wolves remind her of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things, and *that* is a very good thing.

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Wolves are people too…

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I spent a whole afternoon painting wolves, and I love them. These critters just came to visit my imagination and insisted on portraits… I chose my favourites and created a book, using recycled books pages, thread, and stitch. The substrate of the book is cartridge paper which I dyed using walnut shells. I thought this was appropriate for wolves in woods and I like to have reasons for doing things sometimes… just sometimes, not always.

I am not too keen on the cover at this stage… needs something, it’s that white squareness that is bothering me…

Wolves are people too…

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They are a strange combination of hidden sexuality… they are unnaturally tall

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Severus, he was a man. As gypsies go he wasn’t so bad…

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…until he got moody. He just wasn’t husband material…

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Colophon by yours truly…

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Antlered creatures

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I made this collage with my own photographs, manipulated in Photoshop, and then I used oil crayon to draw on the images and the gel medium on top to blend it all together.

I like the way that the differences between the girl (my gorgeous daughter Tabby is the model), and the wolf/deer man are subverted by both of them having antlers. I like this piece. I definitely seem to be focused on Red Riding Hood, woods, forests and wolves at the moment, so I am going with the flow.

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The Company of Wolves

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Angela Carter was one of the first *grown up* authors I read, when I was about 8, I got her book, The Magic Toyshop from the library, (I am sure it was wrongly shelved in the children’s section),  and loved her world. Years later Irish writer, Neil Jordan, wrote a book called The Dream of a Beast, which I read and enjoyed, and so when I heard that the two authors had made a film called, The Company of Wolves I had to see it. I was not disappointed. I love this movie, it is so packed full of symbolism, dreamscapes and surreal scenes and it is far from Hollywood pap. I have watched it a few times and I am always reminded of the paintings of Samuel Palmer… so I decided to do some research to find out if movie-makers did use his landscpes for inspiration, and it seems I may be right. I found this fantastic article posted by Jez Winship.  It was originally posted by Neil Snowdon on From Out of the Shadows blog, and although I rarely do this I decided it was too good to mess with and so I am reposting it here in it’s entirety.


The Company of Wolves was a slightly belated addition to a mini-revival of one of the more neglected of the repertory of gothic monsters, the werewolf. Even Hammer, who had done so much to revive the fortunes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the mummy, only managed one outing for their shape-shifting cousin. Perhaps its power has been diminished as the untamed wilderness of which it was an embodiment has been swallowed up by the spread of urban civilisation. Like so many other species, it is a victim of habitat destruction. The lycanthropic surge at the turn of the 80s saw the release of John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London and Michael Wadleigh’s The Wolfen, both of which stranded the creatures in the modern city, and Joe Dante’s The Howling, in which a new age forest retreat made for a perfect sanctuary and hunting ground of tamed wilderness. The Company of Wolves was released a couple of years after these films, and draws out the werewolf theme from the gothic primer of the fairy tale. In something of a triumph for independent producers Palace Pictures, who operated out of offices above the Scala Cinema in Kings Cross, this modestly budgeted British film received its premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square on September 21st 1984.

Keeping to the path

The film was adapted from her own short stories by Angela Carter, in collaboration with the director Neil Jordan, himself an author turned director. Her collection The Bloody Chamber had explored the thinly concealed substrata of the fairy tale, that relic of the oral tradition of storytelling long since defanged and consigned to the nursery. Carter had also edited and introduced two volumes of fairy stories published by the Virago press, the first of which was retitled The Old Wives’ Fairy Tale Book for its US edition, highlighting the female provenance of the tradition. These children’s tales bore a wealth of secret knowledge, allowing a feminine perspective on life to be voiced, and it is those voices which gives the structure to the film, through a series of nested stories which respond to and unfold from each other. Carter also knew her Freud, and the film is soaked with imagery drawn from his theories on the interpretation of dreams and the nature of the uncanny. But the feminist writer and anarchist spirit begged to differ with the bearded Viennese figure of authority, whose theories didn’t, of course, apply to himself (a cigar is sometimes just a cigar, after all). This story is one in which an adolescent girl interprets her own dreams and finds her own path through the woods, learning to become the author of her own self. She refuses to be subsumed by the stories told by others and the version of the world which they would impose upon her. As such, the film argues for the vital importance of the fairy story and the fiction of the fantastic in general, of the need to re-imagine the limits of the possible. It also challenges the role of fearful victim commonly ascribed to the female characters of gothic fictions, as represented on the cover of the magazine we see lying on the young girl’s bed at the start of the film. Stray from the path, Angela tells us, in contradiction to granny’s aphoristic commands, and explore the dark spaces beyond the village’s safe boundaries. The tales of terror you’ve been fed may well prove illusory when fearlessly faced.

Dream Window

The film opens in the world of external reality, but it already seems at some remove from the everyday. A Volvo drives through an autumnal oak wood, paced by a racing Alsatian, until it reaches the drive of an old Georgian country house and the plunder of a trip to Sainsburys is unloaded. The camera glides into the house and up the staircase, the walls becoming increasingly grimy and dilapidated as we ascend, until finally we discover a young girl locked in the disarrayed sanctuary of her room. This is the place where the mad woman in the attic of gothic fiction would be hidden away, but the girl has exiled herself, locking the door from the inside. Her bedroom mixes the standard paraphernalia of teenage bedrooms with relics of a childhood soon to be left behind. Posters of New Romantic pop stars abut Beatrix Potter and Ladybird fairy tale books, the latter perhaps giving a hint as to how these stories have become neutered over time. The antique toys which perch on the shelves give a glimpse of older childhoods where such expurgations may have originated, staring down with glassy Victorian eyes. The screenplay specifies a poster of Lon Chaney as the Wolfman being on the wall, declaring a direct link with gothic cinematic antecedents, but this is absent from the final film. There are only so many symbols and meaningful objects you can pack into a small span of space and time. On the door, a white, bridal-looking dress hangs and sways back and forth in the breeze blowing through the open window, as if animated with its own inner life, struggling to unhook itself from the clothes hanger and fly free. This may be a homage to a similar symbolic image at the beginning of Powell and Pressburger’s film I Know Where I’m Going, another tale of a woman who decides to stray from the path set out before her, in this case the road which leads to the highlands and islands of Scotland and an opportunistic marriage into wealth and society. In Angela Carter’s published screenplay, the girl in the room is named as Alice, bringing to mind another young adventurer into dreamworlds. She is thus separated from her dream double, Rosaleen. It is Alice rather than her sister who meets her end in the borderlands of dream during the first exploration of the forest’s edge, a graphic enactment of the death of childhood. But in the film, she remains anonymous, unnamed other than by her sister’s hissed ‘pest’, and thus more closely linked with the Rosaleen of her inner world. The womblike inner sanctum of her room is the atrium of the dreamworld, and the camera leads us weightlessly though the window towards the dark forest, the Grimm heart of the primal stories.

The borderlands of dream

This forest is the central gothic locale of the film, and one which indicates a journey into an inner landscape. The village huts, the church and even the gravestones have an amorphous, rounded shapelessness which suggests this interior nature. Insofar as the overarching clusters of soaring columns and the stone-carved foliage of medieval cathedrals seek to emulate the forms and the hushed ambience of the forest, it could indeed be said to be the birthplace of the gothic spirit, the wildwood constantly threatening to encroach upon the narrow compass of civilisation. The borderlands to which the real Rosaleen consigns her sister are still filled with the transformed objects of her room, the personal materials from which her dreamworld will be fashioned. Freud’s theories of the uncanny are realised as the inanimate comes to life, those Victorian toys, creepy enough in themselves, taking on the oversized menace of nightmare avengers. Semi-organic organ pipes blast out gothic chords and enormous mushrooms emphasize the dank darkness of the forest. The tree trunks seem to have the striated, reddish consistency of muscle tissue, an inner world literally built from fleshy matter. But this is only the edge, a territory still connected with the waking world. As with Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood stories, which excavate the strata of the mythical matter of Britain, the heart of the story lies deeper within, and we must venture towards more immaterial, symbolic realms.

Samuel Palmer sets

The forest was built on a couple of sound stages at Shepperton Studios, and it never loses the feel of a stage set, an enclosed environment. This is entirely to its advantage, and in keeping with the notion of an inner landscape. The mixture of props and painted backdrops and the freedom to play with lighting effects creates an artificiality perfect for the telling of a fairy tale. It enhances the enchantment, the feeling of being told a story, of being led through a series of book-plate illustrations in an old Edwardian tome. It is similar to the mood created in The Wizard of Oz, where we are entranced by the painted backdrops of a landscape which takes off where the studio set ends, the yellow brick road winding through fields and up over the hills to the distant horizon. Powell and Pressburger’s recreation of the Himalayas at Shepperton for Black Narcissus exerts a similar spell, with its beautiful glass paintings of lush distant valleys and pastel blue mountains visible beyond the set of the nuns’ missionary school. The forest set of the Woman of the Snow episode of Masaki Kobayashi’s 1964 anthology of Japanese ghost stories Kwaidan also bears a strong resemblance, and similarly creates a self-enclosed atmosphere of the uncanny through lighting and the striking non-naturalistic use of colour. These are atmospheres, relying as they do on the creation of a painterly look by the cinematographer, which the virtual palette of CGI, for all its manifold marvels, cannot hope to recreate. Indeed, the work of artists have a strong influence on the look of designer Anton Furst’s sets. Samuel Palmer, in particular, is a primary source, as a look at paintings such as Coming From An Evening Church and The Magic Apple Tree will affirm.

Samuel Palmer – Coming from an Evening Church

The film is peopled with a solid cast of dependable British character actors. Principle amongst these is Angela Lansbury, who plays Rosaleen’s grandmother, the source of the old wives’ wolves tales of she is told. Lansbury portrays the grandmother as an outwardly comforting figure who betrays steely hints of malevolence in the glints of light which reflect from the lenses of her wire-rimmed glasses. Her stories encourage a fearful and conformist view of the world in which the other, that which is different, is to be shunned. The poisonous core of these tales is like the maggot found wriggling inside the seemingly perfect apple which Rosaleen picks up from the ground of her garden. When Rosaleen starts to formulate her own stories, they are essentially ripostes to her granny’s tales. It is something of a story duel. Rosaleen reshapes the matter of her granny’s stories and uses them to work out her own burgeoning feelings. Tentatively testing her tales on her mother, she challenges the view of the world offered by the received wisdom of the older generation. This is evident in her final story through the inclusion of the vicar, for whom her granny has nothing but open contempt, as a figure with compassion for and acceptance of the other, the wild wolf-child who comes into the village naked and lost. Rosaleen’s empathy for this scorned outsider turns her granny’s stories inside out, and exorcises the fear at their heart. The wounds are now inflicted by the supposedly righteous, driving the despised innocent back into her underground retreat of alienated introversion. The wounds of the wolf-girl will never wholly heal, and her tears will flow forever, filling the well from which she emerged and to which she now returns.

Suave devil – Terry wears his wages well

The vicar is played by the redoubtable Graham Crowden, who reads his passages from the bible with much the same quizzical cadences he used to read passages from history as the eccentric bicycle riding teacher in If… Also on hand are Brian Glover, who plays Brian Glover to a tee, and Terence Stamp as the immaculately tailored devil, holding what apparently is a pygmy skull before him, as if he’s working himself up to a soliloquy. This was Stamp’s first film in some while, having retreated into self-imposed exile for reasons unveiled in his evocatively elegiac autobiography Double Feature. The suit was the price of his appearance, and excellent value it was too. Remarkably, Neil Jordan wanted Andy Warhol for the part, and Andy was indeed interested, but circumstances conspired against the fulfilment of such a startling cameo (gee, what a shame). The gaily attired huntsman who Rosaleen meets towards the end of the film was played by the dancer and choreographer Micha Bergese, who was later to be the artistic director of the Millenium Dome show, for his sins. His performance is archly mannered, every movement carefully considered and balanced, as befits a dancer. He brings a muscular physicality to his transformation scene that lends it an intense immediacy that elaborate effects couldn’t have captured. With his blue brocaded frock coat, tricorne hat and high riding boots, he could be the original model for some of the New Romantic pop stars that deck the real Rosaleen’s walls. Could this in fact be ‘the dandy highwayman who you’re too scared to mention’? Post-punk goth singer Danielle Dax makes an effective silent appearance as the protagonist of Rosaleen’s final story. She plays the pitiful wild child, rejected by the world into which she tentatively emerges, sheltered for a short span by the vicar before crawling back into realms below. Sarah Patterson in the central role of Rosaleen bears much of the weight of the film, and she does so admirably, portraying the innocence and freshness of her character, but also the fortitude and questioning nature which leads her to forge her own path. Patterson didn’t follow up on this initial foray into acting, but has recently appeared in two films by English director Lisa Gornick, ‘Do I Love You’ and ‘Tick Tock Lullaby’. Mention should also be made of the fine score by George Fenton, which incorporates elements of Irish folk music and the impressionism of Ravel and Debussy, the latter rising to lush heights as Rosaleen climbs the largest tree in the forest. Fenton has gone on to be a prolific composer for film and TV, as he already was at the time, and has scored many of Ken Loach’s films as well as providing the sweeping orchestrations which accompany the awe-inspiring photography of the BBC’s Planet Earth series.

Rosaleen and the dandy highwayman

The film is visually ravishing and full of beautiful poetic images. The sensual red of experience mixes with the pure white of innocence as blood in milk, blood on snow and tears staining a white rose red. The latter image brings to mind the drop of menstrual blood staining the white daisy petal in the 1968 Czechoslovakian fairy tale fantasia Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, which could be considered something of a sister film to The Company of Wolves. Both represent, through the forms of the fantastic, the breaching of a young girl’s innocence and the encroachment of the cares and experiences of adulthood, but both show their young protagonists taking control of the symbolic landscapes in which their fables unfold and ultimately embracing the change which has come upon them. The moon occluded by the blinking of a superimposed eye is an image which also appears in the Woman of the Snow episode of Kwaidan mentioned above, and could be seen as representing the ever-watchful gaze of the omniscient overseer of the subconscious. Freudian protuberances are ubiquitous, whether they be the tumescent pump of the well at the centre of the village, rising above the wet, shadowy darkness of the shaft like a westernised Shiva Lingam, or the suggestively gnarled and knobby knot at the base of the tree which Rosaleen climbs. The bright red of Rosaleen’s riding hood shawl makes her stand out vividly against the drab, earthy colours with which the village peasantry are clothed. We also briefly see carts filled with glittering gemstones being pulled along rails emerging from mine shafts, suggesting a new, neighbouring locale for further fairy tales, extending perhaps to a whole continent of contiguous storybook worlds. There is a whole menagerie of symbolic beasts scattered throughout the film. Crows, toads, rats, owls, hedgehogs, storks, lizards, snakes and spiders; All the creatures of fear and magic, looking on with disinterest from branches and rocks, just as they do during the night-river journey in Charles Laughton’s film of Southern fairy tale gothic, Night of the Hunter.

Innocence tames the wolf

The film ends back at the Georgian house, back in Rosaleen’s bedroom. As the magazine cover had foretold, her dream is indeed shattered. Things will never be the same again. For once you have strayed from the path, the complex kaleidoscope of the imagination is shaken from its static pattern and can unfold into an infinite array of possibilities. The only boundaries are those of the mind. And they can be very wide indeed.

Beyond the forest canopy – exploring the boundaries

Little Red Riding Hood

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I have decided to focus on Little Red Riding Hood for my first theme within the fairy tale series. I have read many versions of this tale and I still like the original Perrault version, apart from the ending. I dont want Little Red or her grandmother to actually die.  Maybe I will write my own version with all the best bits from the many re-tellings of the tale.

The illustrations below are by Gustave Doré. This is exactly how I imagined it as a child. Sadly I lost my original books of fairy tales during the itinerant lifestyle I led in my teens and twenties, so I am not sure who they were illustrated by, but it could well have been this artist as they feel so familiar. Gustave Doré reminds me a little bit of Edgar Allan Poe in his looks, his art certainly fits the Poe genre and he did some fantastic illustrations for The Raven.

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I like wolves, I have been looking for my own wolf since those lost childhood days, when the biggest treat of the week was Mum coming home from work on Friday evenings, with a Little Red Riding Hood style basket full of gorgeous smelling library books for me to lose myself in. Books were my security and sanctuary then, as they are now.

These images are very suggestive, the way the girl eyes the wolf, and him rubbing himself against her in the woods. She certainly doesn’t look afraid, more daring I would say. I think I like these images because of that, they hint at the deeper meanings of the tale.

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Perrault wrote a little poem at the end of his tale, a kind of moral:

 

Little girls, this seems to say,
Never stop upon your way.
Never trust a stranger-friend;
No one knows how it will end.
As you’re pretty, so be wise;
Wolves may lurk in every guise.
Handsome they may be, and kind,
Gay, or charming never mind!
Now, as then, ‘tis simple truth—
Sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth

Images sourced from: http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/ridinghood/index.html

Multi Story houses

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I like houses that tell stories.

This three dimensional fairy tale scene is a follow on from my last installation project, based on the effect of shadows and light, and how you can transform a room to a place that is a doorway to another world. That too was influenced by fairy tales.

The house has its own story, it is constructed from recycled book pages which I rescued from a tip. There is no glue or tape holding the house together it is just paper folding. I like that it is held together by the words and pages that make up the stories, houses should be held together by stories. Everything in this scene is recycled, including a few tatters from my dreams, little wisps that caught on the branches as I was waking…

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Art that’s lived in…

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Warning… this post rambles. It is thinking about art, out loud, and dripping paint all over the place.

When I think about making art, and selling art, I often get all maudlin about the whole thing… whats the point? Whats it for? I have no BIG statement to make, it won’t change the world. But then I look around my home and it is full of art, in all different forms, and it all gives me a warm wintery afternoon when it’s snowing outside feeling, (which for me is the very best kind of feeling in the world). A lot of well known contemporary art is controversial, it has a statement to make, often a statement that subverts the world it exists in.  Some of the Turner Prize winners for example… some I love and I get, Simon Starling’s Shedboatshed, now that is my kind of art. But the work of say, Jake and Dinos Chapmandoesn’t do it for me. I don’t want what I find ugly or miserable, neither in my home or in an exhibition in some gallery.

My kind of art is of course very personal, just like your kind of art. I like art that you can live with and be joyful about, or art that you can live in, and be happy living in. Joyful doesn’t have to be all bright and cheery, I get a lot of joy from dark, bleak landscapes.  I could happily live with Starling’s In Speculum which I was lucky enough to see in Wellington earlier this year. It has a story, to me it has meaning. Just like my artists books, limited edition prints, original paintings and screen-printed tea-towels. Whether it cost £2000 or $10 matters not, whether it was done by a Royal Academy artist or a postman in his spare time, matters not. All that matters is that  for one reason or another it speaks to me loud enough that I want it in my world.

And so, the big challenge I have with my own art, is to make sure that it has a place in my world, or one of my worlds. My art and writing is very much about making other worlds, twisting reality to fit my concept of joy. I need to have a reason for it to exist, for it to be created, and  if it brings a good feeling when I look back at it, well that is reason enough. If I like it, then maybe someone else will too. I have in the past, made controversial art: giant tea pots lined with photos of the poverty that tea workers live in, child sized coffins made out of Nestle Smartie boxes, etc. I have my corners to fight, but right now I don’t want to do it with art. It doesn’t mean my art will have no message, just that the message may be ambiguous, foggy or for some, silent.

The photos below are not mine, but they kind of say something about how I like my art, kind of lived in...

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I am not sure what it is about this guy, I have a phobia of the *F* – word, but I love this…, and I love how its is sitting there, not hung on the wall, just part of the furniture. The room below is a bit orange for me, but that chair looks so comfortable, and I like how the art is just nestled in there.

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Images sourced on 8/8/2014 from:

http://tinyurl.com/ocoj6d8

http://tinyurl.com/266zhym

 

Abstracting wolves…

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I am feeling a bit under the weather and frustrated at having no energy to get on with my project work, and my brain being too fuzzy for any theory reading, I played on my iPad.

I am not keen on either of these, in fact I liked the wolf much better before I added the text, but it was just for fun, getting in the mood sort of stuff for when the energy returns.

Repression…

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The wee gal in red

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Into the Woods…

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 Inevitably they find their way into the forest. It is there that they lose and find themselves. It is there that they gain a sense of what is to be done. The forest is always large, immense, great and mysterious. No one ever gains power over the forest, but the forest possesses the power to change lives and alter destinies. – Jack Zipes, 1988

The above quote by Jack Zipes takes me to a place I remember and yet cannot find on a map. In this project I want to explore the meaning of this lost place within the concept of fairy tales. I will also look at archetypes, stories, memory and individuation.

My draft project proposal was due for Studio today, so I was under pressure to nail things down a bit. This for me is the hardest part of any project, decisions! I have so many ideas and they all go wandering off down different tracks, so I am carried from one journey to the next until I am totally lost, and cannot find the place I started from. Anyway the beginning of this post is the intro to my project. I called the project Into the Woods, because I didn’t know about the new movie of that name until later. Anyway if it’s good enough for Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp, it’s good enough for me.

INTO THE WOODSImage sourced on 5/8/2014 from: http://tinyurl.com/m7ndsrz