Where Am I, If Not Here?

In previous years, I have published two illustrated books – Salome and the Ars Goetia (both available here) – and having enjoyed the challenge and the subsequent warm feeling of “successful real artist”, I started to punish myself if I began to work on anything that I could not immediately think of how to market, or make popular online.  This is a disgusting mindset and I had to be rid of it the moment I acknowledged it.  So, to remedy this, I decided to spend the year working on something completely inaccessible to everyone that would aggressively take up all my creative time.

I began this project at midnight between 2015 and 2016, after agonising about how to spend 2016 creatively. I have spent much of my life furiously homesick.  I moved to Cambridge in 2005 after a difficult divorce with Sheffield, and have yearned for places from my past ever since.  I decided that there was no time like the present to explore these feelings, and to map out the person I was and have become through the exploration of landscapes.  This is, therefore, a psychogeography project.

Psychogeography means, to me, an exploration of landscapes, urban and otherwise, material and astral, as a means of documenting, learning about or shaping one’s self.  The term as I apply it to the project I undertook in 2016 is as documentation of myself, ways in which I have developed, and ways in which I am continuing to develop, through places and the memories attached to them.

It is a concept that I have always understood but without a specific word.  It is more than just the idea of “places meaning things to us” – moreover that places hold parts of us, mean things to us beyond just our memories of being in that place, and tell us things about who we are and how we relate back to the world.  I also feel a distinctly magical relationship to places: they empower me and I shape them in turn.

The whole project produced 366 images, all of which can be seen in their entirety here, but of which I have a monthly selection of my favourites below.  I learnt a great deal from Where Am I, If Not Here? and here is a short list of that:

  • I have learnt how I relate personally to landscape and structure, and what role both of these play in my spirituality and magical practice.
  • I consolidated the presence of an old-new new old god in my personal pantheon.
  • I have made some headway into feeling less debilitatingly homesick all the time by processing residual feelings, regrets and pain from my growing up through the landscapes I associate those feelings with.
  • I have consolidated a few “inner”-world locations of import, and am making (admittedly frustratingly slow) progress on securing my ties to the same.
  • I am embarking on creating a “directory” of this-world simulacra for “inner”-world anchors to make myself more comfortable in this world.
  • I am apparently perfectly capable of creating a completely new piece of original art every day of a whole year, and am only waylaid by the admin of scanning/retouching/colour correcting/uploading, and the occasional day-to-day pitfalls of household maintenance and events.  Three hundred and sixty five whole drawings!!  All while working full time, running VAPVLA, and only having one and a half free evenings a week!
  • I can actually draw landscapes and buildings. I am less good at buildings, but I am apparently really quite good at landscapes.  The ones I have produced this year are genuinely the first I have ever made a real attempt at.  Previous cursory attempts were nothing that would constitute practice or real artistic development.  My landscapes are, I think, immature and in need of real-life observation to tighten them up a bit, but they are emotive, desolate and suitably “voidolatrous”, which is everything I want from a landscape drawing.
  • The project has a whole has been fantastic for my artistic integrity, confidence and sense of self.  I have successfully excised the budding exclusive drive for commercial success from my mind.  I believe in my work now more than ever.  I am confident that what I produce is wholly mine, wholly myself, and is totally candid as to the position my art has within my spiritual practice.  If anything, this comes with it a grain of self-consciousness as I have also coincidentally (and unrelatedly) experienced a lot of weird interpersonal noise as a result of being more open and honest about my spirituality more generally.  I can only hope I continue to develop my impenetrable armour-like hide.

Excerpts from Where Am I, If Not Here? are available to purchase as prints, and as part of my 2016 artbook.  I have no plans to make the entire project commercially available.  OR DO I