Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Rabbit Hole

by J R Shepherd

I knew it would be tough, the come down from Leafscape. It was always going to be so.  It was my focus for a long, long time. However, as usual with anything that concerns my life, the more 'contemporary' Leafscape plot was far thicker than what was immediately obvious and nothing was what it seemed to be on the outside. 

I realise that there are always lessons to be learnt when you reach big life goals, things to take stock of before you do something again, only bigger and better. However, my ability to allow such constructive lessons to percolate through me has been prevented by the colossal elusive shadows of other deeper, more primal life lessons that I have had to unexpectedly swallow this month. 


'You broke another mirror 
You're turning into something you are not.' 
Radiohead 'High and Dry'





I am currently hiding in Spain trying to give myself the space I need to recover. I am lucky to have this escape hatch, many don't. As the days trickle by at a slow Spanish speed, I am painfully aware that I am metamorphosing at the speed of light, but scarily as of yet I don't know what into. Usually I have a carefully planned out trajectory; not now though, because I am too tired to consider it and I yearn for the organic, less linear way of being. I am embracing a void to invite the next ideas in. So I have chosen to try and remain calm in Spain as I grapple with the confining responsibility that comes with freedom.


'To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive'
Robert Louis Stevenson





Recovering from the craziness of the last two months, I am now living in a cloud of mist as I navigate my way through myself. It is true to say that I wasn't expecting Leafscape to be quite the success it was. I did that usual thing of keeping my expectations low to avoid disappointment. As one can imagine, to have an exhibition that well received is on it's own enough to send anyone off kilter. It was totally unanticipated and overwhelming. However, unbeknown to many, a number of other startling events happened to me during that week, and the following weeks, that completely sent my world into absolute chaos. I realise I am exhausted, which does not facilitate my ability to make clear judgements, but with that mental tiredness the heart opens up and the soul feels things. You operate at a different frequency. The brain can't keep up and you utilise different facets of your life force to survive. Operating like this, on that plane, lead me to discover who I was - not only on a physical level, but on a spiritual one.  I learnt who I am in my work, and who I am in my relationships to both myself and others and how these relationships effect my work and vice versa. I fell into a cats cradle of interconnectedness and this made me feel, for the first time in my life, whole; even if only for three hours during a tense Sunday afternoon. 


'Did you exchange 
a walk on part in the war 
for a lead role in a cage?'
Pink Floyd: 'Wish you were here'

It really was the first time I had ever felt so solidly like 'me'. There was no ego, no history, no future, no fear, no hope - just 'me', and I have come to discover that feeling yourself this fully is perilous. Primarily, because you find yourself doing ridiculous things in the pursuit of feeling like that again. In my case, I associated this feeling with another person, so I immediately tried to schedule time to see this person in order to make sense of what I had felt. As if there was something about this person's aura that altered me. I can confirm that this was not the case. If anything, seeing them just sent me further down the rabbit hole of chaos. I found myself doing things I don't usually do, like a drug addict I was looking for that emotional hit that would never come again. I convinced myself that the other person might have had the same life altering experience as me, when in fact they probably didn't. I searched for the indefinable all day and night. I slept less post exhibition than on the lead up to it. It now wasn't about the work, it was about love. I had fallen in love but I also had experienced this epiphany - these were two separate existences which were happening simultaneously in a room. With the love thing, I asked myself if my brain was just trying to fill the Leafscape void, but I knew in my soul that it wasn't. Something incredibly profound was happening and I had unintentionally entered a nirvana-like state.  * 


'If I should die this very moment 
I wouldn't fear
For I've never known completeness 
Like being here' 
Gorecki: 'Lamb'


Minutes after this double-event, things quickly turned black and white. One minute I was hysterical, the next depressed. I understand that this is all part of the fall out after working so hard on a solo show, but there were several other issues that I was having to deal with beyond this. It was like everything that I had put on hold for two years was catching up with me. I cried for the first time in 18 months, I also howled on the floor for the first time in my life. As I did this, I uncovered my next lesson: that reaching a point in one's journey can be utterly disorientating. That achieving a goal can remove a sense of drive, but at the same time I also discovered how 'off piste' I had become. As I immersed myself in a world of people in London, Edinburgh, Bristol and Brighton, seeing old friends and new acquaintances, I realised how utterly detached I had become from reality. How Jess Shepherd was not real. She had become an illusionist of the highest order. 


'How can you have a day without a night 
You're the book that I have opened 
And now I've got to know much more...'
Massive Attack 'Unfinished Sympathy'


After being surrounded by people for such a long time I have come to realise how detached I actually am on a psychical level. Not only is the way I conduct my life not mainstream, but I also play games with myself. I constantly push the prize away from myself to keep me performing. Like Alice's white rabbit I don't want anyone to catch me, and yet I secretly do, but with all this work and hopping about and shape shifting no one dares go there. Who would? I am exhausting. With this realisation I have discovered that I write my blogposts and diaries to leave a trail of breadcrumbs so people can find me if I really do go completely off piste. My diaries are my life rope, my map.


'You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way'
Bob Dylan: Mississippi

With Leafscape I wasn't expecting this compounded life lesson. I was expecting to loose my mind with the show and the crash after it. I was fully prepared for that and considering my track record I feel I have managed it all very well. I have slowed down my work rate and taken the odd day off. I have been kind to myself. It's better to slowly unwind than to just stop. I have put into practice everything I have learnt when it comes to this. I know myself very well. However what I was not expecting was to feel so geographically and temporally confused and disorientated. Nor was I was not expecting to fall in love, to feel so inadequate, so hungry, so sexually frustrated and lost. I feel like a wandering mist, no one can see me or hold me - I waft in and out, ever restless.

'For he's touched your perfect body with his mind'
Leonard Cohen: Suzanne



I sat in the Poplar woods for an hour the other day listening to the song thrushes, soaking in the intense spring greens of the rustling leaves and the smell of damp soil. I made the effort to do this in my attempt to ground myself and be rested. For a brief moment I decided that this is what my soul needed and I would not move from this spot back to the UK. That it would have to be something pretty spectacular to get me to exchange my Poplar wood, but as the days roll on, I realise that even this is a silly notion. Another layer of the onion is shed, I loose another skin and I realise that you can't keep hold of anything. That the only way to have something is to let it go, so I do. I treasure the moment, the memory and let it go.





'If you don't become the ocean, you'll be seasick everyday'
Leonard Cohen

I will never know how that other person who made me feel so real felt. It is an unfinished symphony, that I cannot bring myself to complete.  I have decided for now that I will leave this story alone, just it as it was, like the Poplar wood, a moment of clarity amongst the chaos. Part of me never wants to know how they felt not only because I can't take the rejection, but even more in that I wouldn't know what to do if this person felt the same way. Of course, this is where I discover my biggest life lesson of all. I wonder what happened to me over the last 5 years to make me so driven to shroud my real self from real people. When did I become so keen on living a phantasmagorical life where no one can touch me. I now realise how much I need to be touched. My body craves it. The pain of the absence of touch is overwhelming, but the pain of the possibility of anyone wanting to touch is even greater.  


'I want to live, 
I want to give ,
It's these expressions I never give...'
Neil Young: Heart of Gold



I am acutely aware that painting is a solitary exercise mostly based on seeing and feeling 'essence'. For this reason, I find a careful balance needs to be maintained by a painter on living between fact and fantasy. One cannot help but start to question the effect that such a solitary life has on a painter's ability to interpret touch and sound in paint. As a full time painter you start to realise that you are imagining what it feels like in your mind when you want to covey that feeling with pigment. This is why I tell people to reconsider their judgement on the everyday distractions they find so irritating and interruptive to their practice. This is why I tell them how important it is to have family around. That family and fiends actually nourish the work, and do not deplete it. 

For me, I am the other end of the scale. I spend vast amounts of time in my head with little flurries of activity when I am in the UK and these moments are always intense. I was pretty happy living in this way and I thought I'd perfectly mastered the balance between painting and living. That was until a gentleman helped me out of a van on a sunny day in London two months ago. Now all I want is to feel more than the tiny vibrations of my brush running across the paper or the pictures in my head. In the space of two months I have fallen under a revelatory spell that is both excruciating and intoxicating in equal measures.


'Behind every beautiful thing, 
there’s been some kind of pain'
Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet

Walking through this thick soup of personal discovery remains to be incredibly hard work. However, there is a perfect conformity in all of this, which is why I decided to blog about it, because it precedes my next project which was going to touch on all of these elusive aspects of the human condition. The universe has actually given me the seeds in which to completely feel the thing that I wanted to try to portray in paint. That constant striving for the indefinable - the perfection, the boundless optimism and blind faith. That's love for you. Like infinity, it cannot be contained, it cannot be held. Like a mirage it teases you.


'Chaos is a friend of mine.'

Bob Dylan


'We passed upon the stair 
We spoke of was and when 
Although I wasn't there 
He said I was his friend 
Which came as some surprise 
I spoke into his eyes 
I thought you died alone 
A long long time ago 
Oh no, not me 
I never lost control'
David Bowie: The Man Who Sold the World

Transitting Neptune square natal Venus and transitting Venus square natal Neptune during a Venus retrograde.

Lessons learnt:

1. How it feels to be real 
2. The heart knows
3. Achieving a goal is disorientating
4. It is important to interact with people physically
5. It is important to pace oneself on the lead up and come down from a show
6. It is important to make yourself vulnerable
7. Vulnerability sparks creativity
8. There is so much we don't know
9. I feel I don't belong anywhere
10. I don't belong anywhere because I belong everywhere



Monday, 24 April 2017

Leafscape Second Edition

by J R Shepherd

Judas leaf, aka 'Carlos'.    Leaf 020120171416. 56 x 35 cm, Watercolour on paper, work in Progress

The second edition of Leafscape is well under way! Inky Leaves Publishing has met up with the printer and we have all agreed that this book will have a sap green cover in contrast to the white hard back edition. We have selected the papers and I am now cracking on in the studio trying my best to eek out at least four new paintings in a month. It's hard work, but I am really enjoying it after several months away from the easel. 

Working in the UK on a Fig Leaf in my pop up studio soon after posting the last hard back Leafscape book. 

So here is a sneaky preview of what you can expect, but as you know, there will be a surprise in store as there always is an unexpected element in these books. For those who purchased the hard cover, I am sure you found many things that you weren't expecting. I am also trying to paint a larger Ginkgo leaf (this is super hard going - do not try this at home) and a Rose. 

If you would like to pre-order your limited edition Leafscape book please click here to reserve a copy. Books will be posted during August 2017 at the latest.
  
All of these paintings will be for sale. Prices range from £500 - £1500 unframed. Please contact Inky Leaves if you are interested in purchasing an original. 

Judas leaf, aka 'Carlos'.    Leaf 020120171416. 56 x 35 cm, Watercolour on paper, work in Progress


Friday, 10 March 2017

Hands on deck at Inky Leaves HQ

I realise that there is a distinct lack of painting going on on this blog at the moment... can't be helped - we have leaves to post! This month I will be working hard to make sure that all the limited edition hard back books are shipped out to their new owners. I am also  working hard on my new company called Inky Leaves Publishing which has been set up with the intention of working with other botanical artists who might want to publish a book. So there is a lot of work going on right now.

To be frank, the real reason the Inky Leaves blog is in total disarray is because 2017 has actually been quite a roller coaster emotionally. I am pretty exhausted after the Leafscape exhibition and yet not. Occasionally I can feel myself glazing over and it is during these times when I realise that I am actually pretty tired, but the thrill of undertaking a project such as this sort of over-rides it and I can keep going. 


After the Leafscape exhibition ended and I got home after a couple of days of post-show interviews, I lay on the floor not really knowing what on earth had just happened over those two weeks. I had been in Abbott and Holder everyday meeting you all and felt rather happy in my little den upstairs. I was so overwhelmed after hearing about how far some of your had travelled to see the leaves. I had visitors from New Zealand, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, America and Australia. Some of you had driven miles in the storms, all the way from Scotland. It was utterly amazing seeing everyone in such a short space of time and to be able to listen to your stories and talk about botanical art and where it is going. I was visited by the second year students who are studying at the Chelsea School of Botanical Art and gave them a quick talk and then RHS weekend was a real buzz. I was lucky enough to see Rory's daughter, Samantha McEwen and eminent artists such as Rob Kesseler, Martin Sexton and Boyd and Evans and then Rachel de Thame popped with her daughter. Talk about a thrilling experience!

Being ripped away from it was traumatic to say the least, not because I didn't want to leave my leaves or because I was on some massive ego trip, sitting on my throne as the queen of bot. art, - no! It was because I was actually very happy being surrounded by the nurturing essence of Abbott and Holder in all its eccentricity and tradition. It is a mixture I like very much, it reminds me of my childhood. So yes, leaving them behind was pretty upsetting, but I managed to hold a stiff upper lip.




So then I got back to HQ with only three unsold paintings and stood in the middle of my temporary room staring blankly at the walls for a good solid ten minutes, not really able to think. Then I tried to think and work out what actually had just happened during the past fortnight. Stunned, I lay on the floor and decided to just stare at the ceiling instead. Then I howled for a bit then I got up off the floor and started signing books. Life goes on.





Maybe I will process everything when I am back in Spain. That'll be a weird five minutes won't it? Smelling the fire wood smoke and the dried paints in my studio for the first time in months. That'll surely hit a nostalgic nerve?! Yesterday I made the mistake of getting all of my old things out of storage, smelling it all. Inbetween the folds of forgotten fabric from my London home were pockets of forgotten time - a lost world - and yet it didn't sting my heart in the way nostalgia usually does. I realised the smells of fabric conditioner combined with Elizabeth Arden and old shower gels that had been trapped in the weave of the fabric smelt of a past life, of an old Jess and I guess I just didn't feel like I missed her that much. That was then and this is now. 

























So with both the slip boxes and postal boxes having arrived this week, I am now busy packing all the signed books into their packages with the CD inside. It's fun work. I am catching up on two months of radio broadcasting while I do it. Yesterday my house mate Holly Markham joined in on the action with her camera and took these shots. It was a gloriously sunny day outside and we took a short break on the beach. It is lovely to be by the sea again. 



























So there you have it. Inky Leaves is still busy beavering away...  Hopefully by the end of the month I will be painting again. Watch this space.











Thursday, 16 February 2017

The opening night of Leafscape


Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Jess Shepherd at Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Jess Shepherd at Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Ceramicist Morag MacInnes (background) at Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Tom Edwards (leftt) and Phillip Athill of Abbott and Holder opening Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Illustrator and Animator Natasha Pollack and Jess Shepherd at Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Leafscape before it got really busy - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Artist and poet Martin Sexton with Jess Shepherd at Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Producer Brock Van Den Bogaerde (right) at Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Ceramicist Kitty Shepherd (left profile) at Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Jess Shepherda at Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Hattie at Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Designer Andrew Leeds Burton at Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©



Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Painters Fionnuala Boyd (background) and Les Evans at Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Artist Adrian Holme and Jess Shepherd at Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Ceramicist Kitty Shepherd (middle) at Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©

Leafscape - Helena Misciocia Photography ©
Jess Shepherd with musician and composer Derek Thompson (aka Hoodlum Priest) Leafscape
- Helena Misciocia Photography ©


Photographs by Jade Wheldon Photography

Abbott and Holder Jade Wheldon Photography ©
Opening night of Leafscape by Jade Wheldon Photography ©

Leafscape opening night by Jade Wheldon Photography ©
Leafscape opening night by Jade Wheldon Photography ©

Leafscape opening night by Jade Wheldon Photography ©
Artists Jess Shepherd (left) and Samantha McEwen (right)

Leafscape opening night by Jade Wheldon Photography ©
Textile artist Georgina Gordon Smith at the Leafscape opening night by Jade Wheldon Photography ©

Leafscape opening night by Jade Wheldon Photography ©
Painters Carlos Salvador Mira and Jean Harvey at the opening night of Leafscape by Jade Wheldon Photography ©

Leafscape opening night by Jade Wheldon Photography ©
Mural painter Roberta Gordon Smith at the opening night of Leafscape by Jade Wheldon Photography ©

Leafscape opening night by Jade Wheldon Photography ©
Leafscape opening night by Jade Wheldon Photography ©


Photographs by Jamie Denyer Photography

Leafscape by Jamie Denyer Photography ©
Artist Jess Shepherd at Leafscape by Jamie Denyer Photography ©

Leafscape by Jamie Denyer Photography ©
Leafscape by Jamie Denyer Photography ©

Leafscape by Jamie Denyer Photography ©
Botanist Tom Christian and Jess Shepherd at Leafscape by Jamie Denyer Photography ©

Leafscape by Jamie Denyer Photography ©
Leafscape by Jamie Denyer Photography ©

Jamie Denyer Photography ©
John Gainsborough, son of Dr. Richard Gainsborough - founder of ArtReview and Jess Shepherd at Leafscape
Jamie Denyer Photography ©
Photographs by Holly Markham Photography

Holly Markham Photography ©

Holly Markham Photography ©

Holly Markham Photography ©

Holly Markham Photography ©

Holly Markham Photography ©