Friday 10 May 2019

The Rite of Spring

Some people who know my work came to the show Lynne Mawson and I held at the Mahtay 
Café in March to celebrate International Women’s Day. It was such a tribute to women that the same people will probably be surprised to learn that I will be holding a show at NAC, May 25 - June 2, that will be almost as much a tribute to the male gender.

What accounts for this? I have resurrected some paintings I did in Paris in 1974-75 and have not shown before. The show also includes some new paintings, I did quite recently in the same vein. I left for Paris in 1974 to work on a sabbatical research project on Marcel Proust. This plan fell through because I discovered on reaching Paris that the information on which I’d based this project was inaccurate. Other Proust research took its place and did, fortunately, lead to publication because I was spending a lot of time with other Proust scholars.

Other people I met were the man I loved but was obliged to leave, and my artistic mentor, Basil Ivan-Rakoczi, who lived in Paris but whom I’d already met in Canada at a meeting of the Learned  Societies.

He had congratulated me there on the paper I gave on retellngs of the fairy tale The Sleeping Beauty, saying he was very interested in folklore and inviting me to look him up in Paris.

I was very keen to do so because he had offered to introduce me to Robert Graves and  Samuel Beckett. In fact, he never did do this.

I think the fact of the matter was that he had actually got to know both men by mixing in the same cultural circles but they had taken a dislike a to him upon finding he was gay. But I did meet people who know him, quite unexpectedly, by turning up at the Quaker  Meeting House in Paris and finding it full of his pictures.

When I got to know him better, I discovered that he had come to Paris from Ireland where he had worked as a Freudian lay analyst, a poet and a part-time painter.

In Paris, he painted full time, told fortunes and enrolled some young friends in a group for transactional analysis, which I joined,

Irish Quakers had invited him to join the Religious Society of Friends, which he did, although with some doubts about his own suitability.

His Hungarian father and his Irish mother, who was an heriditary witch and had introduced him to witchcraft mixed with Catholicism, had met while travelling in Ireland with the gypsies. He himself was an honorary gypsy and wrote a book on the Tarot, which he illustrated himself, as a means for gypsy initiation.

In English, the title was the Painted Caravan, and in French La Roulotte. Initiatique

He preferred to say Gypsy rather than Romany. I have this book in both versions and frequently use it.

I was not shocked or surprised to hear all this as my own mother had made me quite used to this kind of thing, although she would have been shocked to be called a witch. She considered herself a good Scottish Presbyterian.

The two of them read the same Occult magazine called Prediction.

On a typical weekend in Paris, I attended Basil’s “At Home” on Saturday afternoon, Quaker meeting on Sunday morning and the Louvre on Sunday afternoon. The love of my life visited me on Sunday evening. I also attended when I could a life drawing group led by Basil. He got me painting in watercolours on  very large sheets of paper.

I took these paintings home with me from Paris. Recently, I finished and polished them. And I painted some more pictures in the same size and style.

It is all these pictures I shall be showing at NAC in May.

Basil was known as a symbolist painter, going in for dreams, legends and fantasy. This is very much my own inclination. Recently, I had a visit from a couple of artistic friends who asked me if my own work had been influenced by the Tarot.

I said my first influence had been the illustrations in my children’s books but I showed them the Tarot books by Basil.

The paintings I did in Paris are mainly based on Greek, Roman and Norse mythology.

They represent Bacchus, Phoebus Apollo, Ganymede and the halls of Asgard. Also included are some semi-nudes of male figures.

There are just two examples from the Christian story. That is the Grail and the serpent in the garden of Eden. I have included one angel but angels are found in more than one religion.

I feel I’ve gone back to a time in my life where I was younger, more open to experience, and more poetic.

Basil died soon after I got back from Paris, but his influence is still with me. I think, though, I have finally shaken off the curse he put on me because I strongly disapproved of his using bad magic as  well as good. No wonder he had doubts about his suitability as a Quaker.

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