The nostalgia of prehistory.

Is ‘nostalgia’ a dirty word? Too close to sentiment? Well, if, as I believe, sentiment makes us human, it prevents all sorts of horrors. As a species we are all nostalgic for the past – I suppose it’s logically impossible to be nostalgic for anything else.

However, in ecology there’s something called the ‘Shifting Baseline Syndrome’ (SBS), which in its simplest terms means relating current perceptions to those of (our) childhood. Phrases such as, “In my day…” / “Time was when…” / “In the old days…” / “When I was a lad this used to be all fields round here.” And so on. In fact, this last demonstrates perfectly because if we could live as long as an Oak tree we might say “This used to be all forest round here” because of course fields came much later.

Whereas an ecologist or conservationist should be mightily conscious of SBS (though all too many are not) and should always be aware of how the NATURAL world (minus human influence) would be, I’m now more than happy, yea delighted, to doff my science hat to art and be utterly seduced by SBS, knowing no better.

When we think of art movements, most of us are seduced by Impressionism. After a difficult birth, never out of fashion, it remains to this day a fundamental part of our cultural awareness despite none of us being alive at its arrival. My own significant baseline comes a little after that. Post-impressionism and Expressionism are the art movements I most relate to. Perhaps because this is what my ever-so knowledgeable elder brother introduced me to before I knew anything about any other type of painting, save a jigsaw of a Monet painting of women in a garden.

So, I don’t know if this is why, eschewing all contrivance, I naturally paint the way I do even though I try at times not to.

My SBS seems to involve broken down old things (apologies to Mij, but she hopefully knows what I mean) – wrecks, tumbled down buildings, overgrown wild forgotten corners and weeds (about which, according to AA Milne, Eeyore once said “…are flowers too, once you get to know them.”), and my paintings are unpolished, turbulent and raw – a coming together of what I respond to and how I paint it.

A recent chat with Sue Austin http://www.wearefreewheeling.org.uk/sue-austin-home reminded me of just how much of a caveman I really am, and yet surely I’m only continuing a tradition which goes back to earliest human origins: making images on surfaces with minimal technology. It has lasted that long and will last a lot longer after all the cool technological have become obsolete.

The detail at the header is from one, and here are another two ‘Prehistorics’ being resurrected as oils on canvas..

Prehistoric 02, A memory of Sheelagh, Prehstoric                      Prehistoric 03, Cavewoman   

A memory of Sheelagh                                                Cavewoman

I’d already recognised my own remembered nostalgia for the feminine beauty of my youth – women or girls seen today as quaintly old-fashioned. The boy can’t help it but, never mind, I don’t mind if we regard them as “prehistoric”, so maybe all such works from now on should carry that prefix. I hope there are some others out there who, like me, find these enchanting and as relevant today as romantic impressionistic landscapes or the Downton Abbey syndrome. Happily, my models and some women friends do but I’m less sure about the men. Any thoughts anyone?

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