Who is the author?
Dr Bo Jeffares Sekine has lived and worked in Europe and Japan. She explores environmental imagery East and West. Her experiences with literature and landscape, teaching, writing, gardening and painting have all sparked questions about our evolving attitudes towards the earth. Bo has exhibited internationally. Her large, colourful works are peaceful and optimistic.
How did this book evolve?
How do we form our relationship with Mother Earth?
This question lies at the heart of this book. Like me it has evolved like a snail. It explores two loves: art and nature. I have painted and drawn since I can remember, inspired by nature’s colour and beauty. As a young child in Australia I was fascinated by dazzling exotic flowers, scented trees and intricate shell shapes. I became increasingly intrigued by nature’s varied interactions and our own contributions to this complex game.
In ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy scientific enquiry and aesthetic excellence went hand in hand. Not so when I was young. As I took arts subjects I was not allowed to study biology. So I compensated by exploring plant remedies, practical gardening, and cultural traditions which interpret nature intuitively, such as Chinese Taoism and the Aboriginal concept of Dream Time.
Starting to weave complimentary interests together, seeking holistic harmonies, I first sought areas where art and literature cross-fertilise. I studied fine art, art history and art criticism, and wrote a book examining the role of artists in fiction. Later, given a chance to write on European landscape painting, I wondered how we all relate to landscape. How do we feel about the earth? Why do we adapt earthly scenery to express imaginative ideas about heaven and hell? This universal theme is explored more fully here. Why do we project ideas of perfection into so many media, including pictures, poems, parks, gardens, films, photographs and earth art? Earth artists highlight wild sites and rearrange organic materials to publicise private concerns about the environment. We all adapt the arts while trying to express our evolving relationships with the earth.
Emotional connections with the land are strong, although we are sometimes unaware of our exact responses and their resultant consequences. As our impact is frequently lethal we are necessarily becoming more self-aware. Reflecting on what the earth means to us individually we frequently fine-tune our thought processes as we evolve into new caretakers rather than old exploiters.
Having lived and worked in Japan and been lucky enough to visit some Zen gardens, I wanted to explore an East/West polarity. Staged, spatial experiments exploited by Tea House architects lead the mind from the mundane to the marvellous. Where else can we find artistic works which move us from everyday spaces to evocations of the infinite?
A dextrous writer and a subtle visual artist achieve this from a European standpoint. The Tempest by Shakespeare and The Spinners by Velasquez illustrate how spatial imagery can entice our imagination away from hard facts to creative dreams. Art works can help us to expand or dissolve old mental boundaries. Modern quantum physics reiterates the wisdom of ancient mystics suggesting constant flux or interchange between solids and vibrations, seen and unseen worlds, an eternal dance between matter and energy.
We all deal in invisible energy all the time. We ‘send love’. We get ‘hunches’. We use electricity, try acupuncture and intuitively guess who is about to phone us. We generate thoughts and feelings like little power stations. Largely intangible (unless you hook up to a competent brain scanner or brilliant telepath) our potent ‘brain waves’ are high energy sources. We are, therefore, all creators, all contributors to the universal energy field, all responsible for the planet’s welfare, as our ideas feed into actions.
Some art tries to shock, scare and confuse. Some is cold, impersonal and mechanised. But celebratory art constantly makes ‘good medicine’. Optimistic imagery provides a positive charge, contributing to the universal feel good factor. Whether deeply sensitive or deceptively casual, positive pictures provide heart-warming catalysts. Samuel Palmer’s harvest moons illuminate rich fertile fields to evoke nature’s intangible mysteries. Matisse’s palmate leaves bounce about amongst his stars and flowers to evoke nature’s abundance with jazzy joy. Both work.
Immense and minute aspects of nature can connect visually to link cells and stars, microcosms and macrocosms. In sacred geometry, whether Celtic or Classical, circles represent completed lifecycles and emotional fulfilment. Circles can fuse old visions of earthly playgrounds with new ecological advances to help germinate new seed thoughts.
How many world religions envisage heaven as a perfect place? Heavenly harmony is traditionally expressed through control of the elements within an idealised or geometric composition. As a young student I created an abstract paradise place: this early environmental had a central tree of life and a fountain of wine. Its scarlet and blue floor pattern was reproduced on a small game board, anticipating a curiosity about life games.
Exhibiting landscapes internationally, I have tried to create colourful pictures to capture the essence of land, sea and sky, creating distilled catalysts for meditation. These peaceful paintings are interspersed with energy splashes of pollen, fire or water. Calm images of open vistas, luminous skies and empty beaches antidote overdoses of technology and industrialisation.
Colours are vital, like emotional foods. They stabilise or energise. They create moods. Imagine eating grey strawberries or watching a beige sunset? Would you? Hot suns are both physically and emotionally warming. Cool moons pull our oceans and inspire poetic reflection. Our physical environment provides a shared global language. Roads help us to map our physical journeys and also to plot metaphysical ‘life paths’. Fertile fields, where we successfully cultivate food for survival, are adapted to suggest other fruitful interactions with nature.
Beautiful landscapes, such as those in Cornwall which combine wild scenery and artistic interpretation, provide valuable cultural deposits within our memory banks. Creating mental blueprints, we move thoughts and feelings through spoken and written words into concrete form. The expression ‘Carbon Footprints’, for example, demonstrates us processing change at an ideas level. Bare-footed ancestors left their footprints on local ground. Now we start to realise that we influence the whole planet all the time. Carbon Footprints refer to our polluting presence to increase a shared ‘ground of understanding’ and promote environmental awareness.
But are footprints made of carbon? No. But by bringing scientific information down-to-earth, by fusing it with our own body language, we clarify a global problem. Each person and each footprint is unique. So by blending the impersonal element of ‘carbon’ (for the way we poison the earth’s atmosphere) with the image of individual ‘footprints’ we create a composite metaphor. We encapsulate a shared challenge and personal responsibility.
‘Down-to-earth’ doesn’t imply leaping head first into a red hot volcano but common sense, practical wisdom, being securely grounded in heart and mind. Common proverbs and popular phrases illustrate how we continually adapt landscape imagery in everyday conversation. The word ‘earth’ means planet or soil. Sometimes these two ideas become interchangeable. We continually juggle themes and meanings, concepts and visions. Nature provides the matrix, or the raw materials for these experiments, the results of each person’s inner growth, the flowering of their creative minds. As John Updike said ‘any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right or better.’
So imaginative food for thought generates food for survival.