Phantasmagoria – Art Born From the Void

Sam Agnew

Recently I held my second Solo Exhibition entitled Phantasmagoria. The exhibition was born out of relating my own inner experiences to my outer situations. In a bid to express my intensely felt inner world, to give it a voice – I hope in time to strengthen a channel that can be used to inform my work as an individual, a therapist as well as an artist.

Phantasmagoria is a collection of my paintings created in the last two years that exemplify imagined arenas that can be so potent as to feel physical to me. They are often full of texture, emotion and information relating to waking life and can be felt through my senses. These different realms have been accessed historically through Dream, Visualisation, and Daydream. Usually spontaneous, they can be brought on by focus or life events. I value these messages from my unconscious that are usually symbolic and can help me to work with their ideas in conscious life.

I chose the name Phantasmagoria to reflect the constantly changing, unknown qualities of what I am trying to express and how intangible this can be

By cultivating a relationship between my art and these realms I have been able to carve a stronger sense of self, as well as an increased confidence in my own voice and opinions. I chose the name Phantasmagoria to reflect the constantly changing, unknown qualities of what I am trying to express and how intangible this can be. Translating them into visual pieces feels validating and allows me to reflect on them further during the creation of the piece.

Many of the paintings in my exhibition serve as a monologue of my past and current life events at the time of painting, usually in a layered collage format, with each layer added as another element comes to the foreground.

Aspects of being in relationship; how hard this can be, realising what is unreal expectation and social conditioning that may not be working for me any longer. Focusing on painting these restraints has allowed me to sort through my thoughts and questions and (in a way) start sieving for gold to find the gleaming nuggets of insight that may pave the way through the darkest moments.

Recently I have been through major life changes, prompting in some ways a focus and perhaps a return to the self via a multitude of reflections, questions and soul-searching in a bid to realise my views, searching to find what I prioritise.

Phantasmagoria marked many endings for me. The ending of 5 year long relationship, the ending of my tenure at the caravan counselling centre and ending with my contracted and drop-in clients I saw there, the ending of my contract in my rented accommodation. This sudden shift, a pulling away from the previously deemed unmovable parts of my life. I felt this as a reminder that all I have is what I came in to this world with; myself. It marked then a return to myself.

The Void

A recurring and important concept in my artwork for me is that of the Void. A feature frequently visited in my life and therefore my work, this is felt in the past through dream, upon waking, during sleep paralysis and when I was very young as night terrors. In recent years I have been able to feel it consciously, through my senses. It is surfacing out of the depths of the unconscious.

I was in the stratospheric depths of sludge panic.

The malevolent void; the familiar duration of hell, of purgatory or waiting, a place where one cannot not live nor die a place of suffering and seemingly created only to torture, and consume me. Introductions would start innocently and build up to unfathomable numbers towering in to an abyss, taking me with them into fantastical height leaving all I knew well and truly behind. I was in the stratospheric depths of sludge panic. Suffocating with no holds barred; no kind souls to offer input, words or concepts – just sinking, falling eternally forever in the black as everything else falls away.

Research into theories on the Black Sun Archetypal energy as well as the unthinkable anxieties appear to have some potential clarification here. I have also felt some indication of a link with research in to the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi- Perfect Imperfection as well as writings by William James.

If Void is to be represented visually as a circle, a realisation came slowly to me. Circular objects have always invoked the familiarity of the Void and its related physical worlds. Inanimate objects may leap out from it, powered by the contrast of black and white tones combined to provide a definite shape of shock as it comes in to my awareness.

I consider this linked with the proverbial life death and rebirth; the Oroborus – a snake eating its own tail, a perpetual cycle ad infinitum. This is the Intense message of the Void. Perhaps when this message is learned, only then is there space for development.

The Self Archetype

 It appears as nearer to me now and instead of being an unconscious place held at an arm’s length I am viewing it as something altogether more interesting and multi faceted.

My paintings have evoked a sense of movement and potential in the Void which previously remained unseen. It has the capability to hold overwhelming material as well as spew out such intense feeling. It can be familiar as well as timelessly punishing. Recently I have been focusing on its ability for renewal and ability to protect me. For as long as I can remember the most important aspect of it is that its awesome power was completely overwhelming, and as such terrifying, as if it would destroy me. Since the last exhibition I felt a real shift in the energies of my work and my life; I am noticing the helpful aspects of the Void.  As such, my life has taken many brand new directions and I feel as if I am becoming more embodied in its events. Instead of waiting to live, I have suddenly been thrust in to situations that have been out of reach.

the most simple form of a mandala possible, a circle

It then occurred to me that the Void was not only a terrifying and awesome power, able to bring destruction and apparent resolution but also the circular motif (which I had not considered before) is much like a mandala, the most simple form of a mandala possible, a circle – reminding me of the first archetype: The Self. The archetype to which all others may be contained, or activated within. 

Recently as I have focused on the paintings in my mind’s eye I have witnessed petals; changeable forms that flow through the piece as it came alive before my eyes. Subtle representations of potential. I felt the potential for growth, rebirth, new life and transformation. I received it as proof that nothing is static, how wrong I was to get caught in the trap of feeling eternally held in an unchangeable space. Now with the acceptance of this regeneration there comes a sense of living, a sense of expansion is now possible. Past set paradigms can be shattered with the realisation that they were only held by me and without my minds decision to grip them tightly; they do not exist. It was the fear of this power that so imprisoned me and produced such an intense response. This concept I notice can be applied to many real life situations and perhaps my unconscious uses it to communicate this paradigm to me.

A blessing and curse, marrying to form a new landscape, one which can create as well as destroy

The petal – like new overlaid concepts that I could never see before – is much more subtle, an overlay of energies on top of the sinewy dross that forms the familiarity of the void. The delicate handmade lace overlay created as mist that simply wavers over the heavy depths of the void. This textured material, this non Newtonian complex arrangement of particles, an impossible silver, a colourful pearlescent draped ethereal solution that can be manipulated but pressured for it again to pass through ones finger tips. A texture that can change state; a fabric that holds many states, the potential for so much as it refuses to decide on one direction, as all is possible here.

The new-found meeting of the Void, as it has paired with the ethereal textured overlay, seems full of potential and perhaps the combination of the two previously estranged counterparts are producing a more fertile environment only through relationship with each other. A blessing and curse, marrying to form a new landscape, one which can create as well as destroy, but one that requires both parts to continue. The Apollonian and Dionysian are at play in the same arena. A journey to heal a fragmented consciousness has instinctively been developing all along. The way this is felt is so visceral.

I used to feel the presence of this overlay at my window when I was a child. I saw the overlay glistening there in the sunlight, an impossible happening it only captivated me more, what is it where does it come from why don’t I understand it ? What is it trying to tell me? What are the sounds and images I can make to convey this experience? It appeared forever benevolent an ineffable substrate with the ability to be.

Marriage of Opposites 

With this new view of void, these subtle overlays and reminders of times past, the positive meeting the negative, the cyclic happenings remain but instead of utmost terror its power is able to be directed in to useful directions. Instead of swallowing me whole, there may be a body of land to stand on to bear the floods, a foundation to weather the storm, a stone building to dwell within whilst chaos descends.

As bones break and flesh turns inside out there is the knowledge that this is not forever. It will end soon.

As bones break and flesh turns inside out there is the knowledge that this is not forever. It will end soon. I am not digested by the beast, I become indigestible. prepared stone in the eyes of medusa-with the disaster digested there is no threat.

Primed and prepared, less can be done to one who has fired themselves in the oven. The threat of torture holds no potential when the action has been carried out by choice, what was always required had somehow to happen and will continue to try to do so through the path of least resistance.

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