Mandrakes, Fairyfellers and the search for Re-Enchantment

I haven’t posted in a bit, but my hands have been busy and so has my imagination. I’ve been making, clarifying and meditating upon the theme of Re-enchantment. I’ve mentioned before that my childhood was far from halcyon, more precisely grim in the lower case. Yet in spite of the anxious tension I was quite frequently in a state of wondrous enchantment. I had the good fortune to have a beguiling  and magical woods behind our suburban home. A solitary boy, I spent hours in quiet delight, there was simply so much to explore : salamanders, bullfrogs, carnivorous pitcher plants, skunk cabbage, blankets of velveteen moss, fungi galore and most delightfully sweet and wise box turtles. Truly, who needed humans when such fairies and imps kept you company?

That enchantment has slipped a bit in my golden years, I stumble upon it now and then, in the garden, with my animal friends, but most especially in my studio (my studio is my sanctuary) but if I were honest, a great deal of my time is spent in pursuits far from enchanting. 

Hence this interest in re-enchantment, in my work, in the studio and in my life. I am actively searching for the extraordinary in the quotidian, mindful and appreciative of the minor miracles of the day-to-day, the unfurling of the hairy leafed begonia, the topaz gold of a hornet, the diamond trail of the garden slug.  My seven year old self was well aware of these delights, I’m in the process of being reacquainted .

Undated photo of yours truly, seven? nine?

In that spirit, a new body of work is emerging, I’ve coined it as Fairyfellers (inspired by the fantastic Victorian fairy painter Richard Dadd). Fairy-telling is my aim, visually expressing that wonder found in the gentler, enticing realm of toadstools, ferns and tadpoles.

The following are examples of some of my labors:

The Mandrake Titus, Defender Against Reality (he lost)
Mixed fiber media
72 by 40 by 27 inches

Much of my time has been spent just sketching out re-enchantment, my studio journals are full of spontaneous bursts of wonder.

Fairyfellers, page from sketchbook
Concept sketch for The Mandrake Titus.
Initial pose for Titus, triumphant against Reality; I preferred him defeated. Truer.

This figure of the Mandrake Titus was inspired by my visit to the V&A, in particular the heraldic, near life-sized Dacre Beasts.

Two of the four Dacre Beasts (1507-25) at the V&A.

In particular the heraldic banners, I’m wild for banners in general, these beasties compelled me to design and stitch up my own.

Artist’s sketchbook
Detail: heraldic Mandrake shield.
Reverse view of the figure.

The Mandrake’s cape was inspired by a detail from my latest painting (previous post). Cross pollination of ideas , across mediums, is a common occurrence in my studio.

Further experiments in “stuffed paintings” resulted in this elfin trio of Fairyfellers: Rufus, Derrick and Seamus.

Studio shot of Rufus, Derrick and Seamus (and Robin Goodfellow).
Derrick and Rufus.

I’ve also been busy working further upon paper-doll making (as fairyfeller an activity  as you can imagine).

Daisy Chain
Mixed paper and fiber media
Approximate dimensions 96 by 51 inches
Concept sketch for Daisy Chain
Daisy Chain, detail
Daisy Chain, detail
Daisy Chain, detail

The last image of the daisy loin cloth betrays a bit of self censorship, increasingly I am re-evaluating how much nudity to portray. Not so much out of prudery, but I’ve heard myself described as a “penis artist”, and that isn’t my intention or interest. In this case I think the work is improved by the discretion, plus it is more playful; playfulness a key element of re-enchantment.

“Uncensored” detail

So far that is it in the Fairyfeller realm, more fairyfellers  are on the way. Right now however I have returned to painting , stitching is hard work, my fingers begin to ache and the fabric and needle pricks have caused some damage to my fingertips. So for now this fairyfeller is at the easel.


Author: babylonbaroque

I am a painter and printmaker working towards creating a body of work that reflects my own developing aesthetic. New work ,first link. The second link is an on-line portfolio.

2 thoughts on “Mandrakes, Fairyfellers and the search for Re-Enchantment”

  1. There is so much to celebrate in what you share with us here Leonard, which is why I wanted to take the time to properly comment about your post. Joseph Campbell writes, “Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” I, for one, will be cheering you on if finding your own joy means you going back to embrace your delightful seven year old self, who appears to hold the key to all the wonder-full things you may be forgetting, as you go about your adult life. Funnily enough, I could see the very same kind and gentle spirit looking out at me in the portraits taken at your “Fairyland” exhibition last year, which is also when I first felt a real sense of wonder breaking through in your art. I am delighted to read that you are now planning on continuing down this same path, in the company of your fine troupe of Fairyfellers. From the outpouring of ideas you share with us here, I am guessing that this could well be a significant journey for you on the way to your sacred place.

    My professional career has taught me that when we get our schema, or foundation right, then the ideas start flowing from there, and really don’t stop, which is evidenced for me by all you are sharing with us in this post. What I am seeing is that you have let yourself go wondering and wandering to a place which is where the innermost essence of your being lives. Deepak Chopra writes of this search, “You must learn to get in touch with the innermost essence of your being. This true essence is beyond the ego. It is fearless; it is free; it is immune to criticism; it does not fear any challenge. It is beneath no one, superior to no one, and full of magic, mystery, and enchantment.”

    In the past, I have found myself empathising with your self-doubt, which you partly put down to not having a formal training as an artist. I completely understand the dangers of getting too self-conscious when it comes to our definition of what a “real” artist should be. In my own case, I often find myself throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, when I am consciously setting out to be a “writer”, whereas things often turn out much better for me when I approach writing sideways and take myself by surprise! What I can see here is an artist showing me, as opposed to telling me, about himself and I find that this is when art truly speaks to me.

    Before I sign off, I am going to leave you, once again, with the words of Joseph Campbell who would appear to be confirming that you are heading in the right direction in the search for your sacred place, “I think a good way to conceive of sacred space is as a playground. If what you are doing feels like play, then you are in it.”

    1. The sideways approach is spot on , I feel that as well . Yet so difficult to just let that be the point of entry into the creative process . The revelation of self through the sideways making , the telling it slant to paraphrase dear Emily , is challenging yet so rewarding ; that you find the results significant means a great deal to me , more than I can say without sounding hyperbolic .
      Thank you for being such an advocate , a guide and an inspiration, and a friend .

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