Scattering the dark mist
Among the various early 20th century -isms that helped shape the direction of modern art was the most alt-worldly of them all — Surrealism.
Tearing its way out of the rubber sac of the nihilism and anti-aesthetic of post-World War 1 movement Dada, Surrealism explored the strange world of the subconscious through dream-imagery, automatism, accident and what Salvador Dali called paranoiac-critical method (seeing forms in other forms, basically).
Wairoa-based artist Tish Scott is not necessarily a proponent of the movement, formalised in a 1924 manifesto by Andre Breton to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality”, or surreality.
She does, however, use Surrealism's principle of deliquesced rationality to step away from her earlier style of lyrical abstraction and to free, or reveal, what lies beneath — possibly not unlike the child in Salvador Dali's 1950 painting, Dalí at the Age of Six, When He Thought He Was a Girl, Lifting the Skin of the Water to See a Dog Sleeping in the Shade of the Sea.
“I'd fight with lyrical abstraction,” says Scott. “I'd go in there and not know what I was doing. That fight led to inventive breakthroughs which I will return to at a later date.”
Although she has moved more towards Surrealism, she does not necessarily adhere to the movement's manifesto. She has always responded to her gut feeling, to her instinct, she says.
“I sit outside the narrative of what we are in the outer regions of what we are as a species. I've been outside for a long time. I don't work under any doctrine. I just absorb and absorb.
“Art, to me, is a sounding board for finding the truth. Going back to connection with the source, that pure, unadulterated love for all humanity. No doctrine or religion can interfere with it.”
People now live in an inverted reality, she says. Pharmac, for instance, is the guru who decides which pharmaceutical products are subsidised for use while ancient treatments such as acupuncture are now called “alternative”.
“We have 12 strands of DNA, 10 are renderd (sic) dormant,” says a speech bubble from the monoculared head in a dinghy from Scott's painting, Intrepid Journey to Truth. “We function on 2 . . . WHY . . . imagine th (sic) infinite possibilities if we functioned on all 12.”
Since taking on the character of Surrealism in her work, Scott has begun to include the New Zealand landscape.
“Artists who go deep are connected with nature,” she says.
Which is possibly why living in Wairoa suits the artist down to the ground.
“I love nature so much — the nature of where I am, and the earth — I love aesthetic, so I wanted that balance between nature and where we are in this reality, and the other-worldly.”
During lockdown she felt like she was in a Dali painting, she says — so she included an image of Dali's famous moustache coming through the clouds in one of her larger works.
“Dali was extraordinary. I love his eggs and how he had an obscure upbringing. I'm all about the eggs.”
In a 1943 work, Geopolitical Child Watching the Birth of the New Man, by Surrealism's enfant terrible, a human form struggles to be born from a large, rubbery egg with the South American and the African continents in impasto.
So it should come as no surprise Scott is interested in the Orphic Egg.
A reformation of the Dionysian ecstasy cult closely associated with wine, the Orphics were an ascetic sect whose intoxication came by way of “enthusiasm”, of union with the god, wrote philosopher, historian and social critic Bertrand Russell in 1947.
“They believed themselves, in this way, to acquire mystic knowledge not obtainable by ordinary means.”
The Orphic Egg — often depicted as an egg with a serpent wound about it — was believed to have hatched a primordial hermaphroditic deity who in turn created the other gods.
“It's all about frequency of the cosmos energy, the unlimited potential of the mind,” says Scott.
“It's out-of-worldy, other-worldly.”
She cites a line from an Orphic hymn that talks of an ineffable, hidden scion whose whirling and wings “scattered the dark mist that lays before your eyes”.
“When I found that quote it was just what I'd been looking for. It's become me.
“If your mind is truly open you know there is so much hidden from humanity. It's the job of artists and poets to go deep. You look for that intuitive depth.
“This is a whole area for me to face my fear. You have to look at everything because there are certain tricks in all indoctrination. There seems to be a lack of critical thinking.”
Intrepid Journey to Truth, an exhibition of Surrealist works by Tish Scott, Wairoa Museum, from January 26 until March 5.