The urge to paint a butterfly was a whole new craving, a new challenge yet it was one of those uncommon times when I felt really driven and could already see clearly what was in my mind’s eye, even as I prepared the canvas. What emerged was, you could call it, almost a portrait (of one of the exquisite blue butterflies, known as ‘Common Blue’, that sometimes accompany me on my summer walks). As a play on that ‘label’ and the way I felt about the experience of painting it, I decided to call my painting ‘Uncommon Blue‘.
Because, as I stepped back to regard what I had now finished, I was overwhelmed by a sense that what I had captured here was no, mere, objective study of a butterfly but something deeply subjective, personal and tangible as I ‘remembered it’ in paint. What I saw, as I allowed my gaze to go deeply into it, was actually an experience – one that was as deeply familiar as it was vivid and moving for me to behold in front of me – like my subconscious had turned up a suspended moment, a vivid recollection, from the depths of my soul.
What I was looking at really did feel like a moment of time suspended, though there is still a sense of dynamic and graceful wings moving so lightning fast as to only appear to be still; a trick of the eyes. That suspended moment, held poised above a garden, feels crystallised, focused, centred – as though the butterfly has become the eye of the storm around which the muddle of all other things swirl. In fact, while the butterfly holds crystal clarity, the view all around it is all a-blur (which is how butterflies perceive the world). What guides them is their ability to see a higher range of colour, the ultraviolet shapes picked out as flowers and other butterflies – in other words, they see clearly what is most important for them to see, allowing the rest to blur into inconsequence.
Stepping back from the canvas to absorb what it had to tell me, I was deeply moved by the realisation of just how personal this painted experienced, and its message, felt to me; also, how universal its relevance was too. Like so many paintings before it, completing this painting felt like it was far from the end of the process but, rather, just the beginning of starting to unravel something from within.
You can view ‘Uncommon Blue’ (oil on deep-sided canvas, 60 x 70cm) in much more detail on my artist website.
About butterfly vision:
There is much that is so interesting about how butterflies perceive the world and choose what they engage with.
The butterfly’s eye has three types of colour receptors (cones), known as trichromatic vision (as with humans but with a supposed difference). Butterflies can perceive colours in a high frequency but cannot, generally, pick up lower frequencies at all (red being the lowest) although new studies have discovered a type of butterfly that is a tetrachromat, that is, has four cones covering both ends of the range. Thus far, humans are said to not be able to detect the highest frequencies, in other words they are considered blind to ultraviolet though perhaps this is a skill that we are currently evolving or returning back to (there is an interesting study out there by James T Fulton ‘The Human is a Blocked Tetrachromat“).
Interestingly, the butterfly cannot focus its vision and so sees it all as a blur – perhaps allowing it to focus on what is most important for it to ‘see’, which is whatever presents itself at the highest frequencies. Whilst I’m not advocating a literal blurring of human vision as the way forward, its been an interesting aspect of my journey through fibromyalgia that times of vision blur have presented me with some of the deepest experiences of clarity I have ever enjoyed; occasions when other sensory – you could say, extra sensory – abilities, plus my synesthesia, have become even more fine tuned and active, presenting me with far more inter-related, cohesive detail about what I am ‘looking at’ than what might have seemed most obvious or pressing to the eyes. This has also taught me to to detect and, thus, focus on the higher frequency experiences – all the ‘good stuff’ (the light) that is so readily available in this world rather than what might bring me down. It is a device I use as a visual artist, often preferring to work with squinting eye and poorest photography than with reference points that are too precise, too pedantic and which miss the point of what I am most inspired by – which is usually the way that light is busily transforming everything in its range. Its a well-known anecdote that Monet’s eyesight was failing for many years of his life and that, during those years, he produced some of his greatest ever work – milestone work – that remains as startling and breathtaking as ever; no coincidence, then, that he remains one of my greatest inspirations.
For more about my synesthesia and how it impacts the way I engage with the world around me, I have written about this in a post ‘Colours passing through‘ for my other blog.