After completing my Photo Journey Through Lent I had intended to carry on writing about the art project I did on my own death, but somehow that didn’t seem quite appropriate for the Easter season! So I have decided to look instead at a series of mixed media resin collages I made on the four classical elements: earth, air, fire and water.
I have reflected on these elements quite a bit over the last few years and feel that they are important symbolically on the spiritual journey. I plan to write a little about what I aspire to learn from each element and also to communicate a bit about the techniques I have used to create the pieces. Today we’ll start by looking at earth.
Oh – to be like the earth!
One thing I am very envious of is people who seem totally at home and at ease in their bodies. I am a person who is very much at home in her head and for ever feels drawn ‘upwards’ to think of spiritual things, but I don’t often have a strong, felt sense of being fully present and at home in my body. This is something that has changed to some extent over the last couple of years, but I imagine that I will be working on it for the rest of my life. (Hopefully by the time I come to leave my body at death I will have managed to get to the stage of spending most of my day being present in it!)
For me, the element of earth is linked to embodied-ness, to being rooted and grounded in this body in this real, solid world. I think that meditation practices can aid us to become more aware of this. As we learn to breathe and to live in the present moment, we realise that we are rooted in the earth and intimately connected to it.
Earth suggests connection not just to itself, but to all living things. It’s probably for this reason (and because we return to the dust) that earth is connected to humility: despite how hard people strive to ‘get on the ladder’ and to tread on others to ‘get to the top’, none of us can actually live above and beyond it (or our fellow beings) for ever; in some ways we are all intended to be humble and lowly, and this is a positive thing, not some kind of unhealthy grovelling in the dirt.
Another key facet of the earth as a symbol is that it enables things to grow. Despite looking dead and uninteresting, it has the potential to enable any number of different things to sprout, flourish and blossom. The earth exists not just for itself, but is able to nourish and sustain. The things which grow out of it bloom, then die, then become part of the earth again, from which new things grow. So the earth teaches us about cycles, which is why it is also deeply associated with the feminine. Perhaps it is because of this that the word for mother – mater – is connected to the word for earth- matter.
So, as we reflect on the element of earth, we sense more strongly our need to be humble, embodied and firmly grounded in the world. We reflect on our interconnectedness and our ability to grow and also to nourish one another. As we develop these feminine qualities we learn to trust more deeply in the cycles, intuitions and senses which grow out of our embodied selves.
I chose warm, earthy colours for most of the collage, including photos of lichen, baskets and a piece of jewellery. I tried to create a sense of movement in the piece and made a womb-like shape in the centre to represent the ways in which the earth nourishes and sustains us and enables us to grow. I used lots of torn scraps, circled in gold, to suggest precious seeds which are about to grow (and which travel from the bottom to the top of the picture). The only straight lines in the piece are those in the photo of the baskets: I wanted the shapes and curving lines to suggest movement and potential.
The art techniques
These pieces are built up on small canvases (approximately 8 x 6 inches) and are made of several layers of different materials. I have used torn photos, old magazines, marbled paper scraps and small pieces of fabric to form the bottom few layers. On top of this I have added layers of paint (acrylic and metallic poster) and ink. Some of the paint has been scraped off while wet so that lower layers of the picture show through. Once the whole thing was dry, I added a layer of transparent resin over the top which adds a sense of depth to the piece and ensures that the final surface is perfectly even. Then I made a simple, chunky, wooden frame which I later painted black.
If you would like more details about the process or materials I used, do contact me.
Perhaps over the next few days or weeks you might like to reflect some more on what the element of earth can teach you. Here are just a few ideas of things you could try:
- Sit down on a chair or bench with your feet firmly on the floor or earth. Become aware of the way you are supported and held by the ground. Breathe deeply and try to imagine you have roots stretching deep into the earth.
- Have a close look at a bare patch of earth you walk past frequently. Every few days, check in and see if it has changed at all. Be amazed by the extent to which new things are for ever emerging and growing. Reflect on the fact that this is also true of you.
- Write a poem about the earth. If that sounds too fancy, grand and difficult for you, just jot down a few words and sentences about the earth. If you then space those words out over a few lines and add a bit of punctuation, you may well find that you’ve written a poem after all… (apologies to the poets out there!).
- Create a picture or a collage of the earth and reflect on what it means to you. You could even email a photo of it to me – I’d love to see it.
Thank you very much for reading.