Balnacra Arts & Pottery by Vicky Stonebridge

artwork from the yelabuga symposium

This time last year myself and Lynn Bennett-MacKenzie were in Tatarstan Russia on our life changing adventure. I never really got decent photos of the artwork I did, but Photographer Aktas Hamadeev kindly sent me recently some that he’s taken for the book that is being put together about the ‘Breath of the Epos’ symposium.

Aktas plays us a tune while we waited to photograph the sunrise.

Its strange for me to see these paintings again. We arrived at the Symposium expecting that it would run like a residency, we would set up in the studios and see what artwork started to flow in response to the theme, place and other artists. However everyone else arrived with pre-prepared artwork to execute! We thought we’d have plenty of time , but the deadline kept moving forwards and we were in great demand for meetings, interviews and events. So it was a highly pressured painting time. I hadn’t really been free to paint these sort of subjects in this style before, what style?!  There was a heat wave on so my acrylic washes needed a drastic rethink, at 45degreesC the paint was drying virtually before i could squeeze it onto the palette. However it was such a warm, supportive and inspiring environment. There were many revelations to see ourselves as Scottish artists from such a faraway perspective. I think we both became angry realising how suppressed we had become back in the UK, how narrow and shallow the art confines are here.

I was of course less than happy with my finished pictures, but i did my best. The one above was a mixture of a few silkie, seal-people, lost lands, siren and mermaid stories from the Celtic world. Many of these stories imply themes about the old religions verses Christianity, fear of the feminine principle, the idea that wolds become submerged as a punishment for the acts of a woman, the mysteries of women, and of course the sea and nature herself. I deliberately chose a sea theme as we were so far inland in Yelabuga. In the UK I  find inland claustrophobic, not so there, the majestic Kama river wound its way across the steppe to the Volga, those endless eastern skies held hope and freedom.

 This was the first painting I started by way of a warm up when we first arrived ‘overseas’ . That glorious sense of flying, freedom and possibility launched faraway into the unknown. surrendering to where the winds may take you.

I wasn’t happy with this’ The journey ‘, I loved painting on the circular canvases, it was about 80cm across, but i didn’t have time to weave in as many decorative elements as I wanted. Its rather simplistic & crude. The idea was about my own personal journey & story, the animals that accompany me and have joined along the road, but of course micro is secondary to macro- the journey of ideas, or stories of peoples, migration, symbolic memes across continents and thousands of years.

This was tricky, ‘ Boudicca- a mothers duty’ . I’d never thought to paint something like Boudicca before. Our ancestors have been so devalued in our society, our cultural past, reduced to a sanitised fairy story, a joke, nursery rhymes. Historical and mythological subjects are in art a curiosity in ancient paintings and sneered at as kitsch in contemporary art. Not so in Russia. I’ve always looked back to the Picts & Celts for inspiration, joking that Boudicca was my great great great great great Auntie. I figure that if my family tree goes back to the area where the Iceni tribe were, people moved around less in the past, the further back in time the more we are genetically related, yes why not!  Out there in Russia people were immediately saying i was like a celtic queen, like Boudicca- ahhh such lovely kind people! so it seemed a good time to tackle it.  I figure this is the scene where Boudicca is about to go into battle to avenge the wrongs done to her daughters and to her people, the Hare ( symbol of Goddesses ) was an omen that the battle would not go in her favor. She knew this, but for her daughters she had to make that sacrifice. A difficult subject for a mum to paint. I was still working on it when the other artworks where getting hung, sweat and tears. Needless to say I’m not happy with the result. but it is what it is.

 Now this one I did have fun with! ‘The Guardians’ the day I learn to paint with the same intuitive ease as I draw I’ll be happy( er ). Many of the celtic squiggles drawn in here ( hey no rubbing out, no tippex, no mistakes, no pre-planning ) are worn on my own skin, if not yet, they will be by the time i’m finished. The Tattoos became a means of communication, those symbols transcended the distances from the Celtic kingdoms across Scythia and the steppes, they wove throughout the stories that the other artists painted. I was so proud when a Yakut artist painting a massive and dramatic scene from his culture in Northern Siberia pointed to my arm and then to his canvas, nodding approval. Those Deer with their antlers pointing to the skies like a tree of life, have been leading and inspiring me for over 20 years now, a totem, a symbol, a story an idea? it straddles time and place. Where to next?

2 comments on “artwork from the yelabuga symposium

  1. Lunar Hine
    August 20, 2011

    I'm loving your paintings more than you, but isn't that often the way? As artists we are so tuned in to the flaws and what we would do different next time. Great to read both your blogs in tandem.

  2. Vicky
    August 20, 2011

    Thanks for your comments Lunar! The way i figure it is if i 'liked' my work at the end of it, i'd not be so driven next time to do better.

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