Artist Reflection: Julia MacLaurin

As soon as I heard that the theme for the Transept Exhibition was (a)void, I knew that my painting would be about the overuse of social media and how it has become a way of avoiding unwanted feelings such as boredom, loneliness, isolation and vulnerability. I suggest that the dulling, numbing of the brain will eventually force the social media user to face the void, the darkness and through sitting with the uncomfortable feelings, they will experience light and spaciousness. This painting is called ‘May You Sit with the Uncomfortable; May You Not be Dulled and Distracted by Social Media’ (acrylic paint and crayon on A1 paper). For the second work, I have painted a diptych. I wanted to include an embodied work, ‘Sitting with the Uncomfortable’ (acrylic paint and ink on A3 paper), and also show how I might be when sitting with a challenge, ‘Grounded and Aligned to Something Greater than Ourselves’ (earth and acrylic on A3 paper).

I feel sad that more people, especially teenagers, are spending a greater amount of time on social media, leading a heady parallel digital life rather than an experiential embodied one. A Gallup survey carried out in 2023 in America found that over half (51%) of American teenagers (13-19 year olds) spend a minimum of n4 hours daily on social media at an average of 4.8 hours.1

In my painting the computers are floating, they are not rooted, anchored or embodied. I used a ruler to draw the computers, something I do not do when I paint and draw. Quality of line, expressiveness is important to me. I used a ruler for two reasons. The first, because making lines in this way is easy and effortless like turning on a computer. These marks are identical and expressionless. This contrasts with expressive lines which are individual, rhythmic and felt. Secondly because it is mathematical, exact and precise which for me feels limiting.

In an interview with William Furlong in 2002, Guiseppe Penone, artist and sculptor, said, when talking about digital media, ‘You have to translate reality into mathematical terms. But in art, in painting, in sculpture, we can do something different. We can make a language without having to translate it into mathematical terms.’ 2

I painted bright colours on the computers to lure in the viewer as social media pulls us in. It can easily become addictive. I suggest there are four stages in the social media process. The first is bright colours, the excitement of discovery (I have not included this stage. In the second stage, the two computers in the foreground of the painting are still bright but slightly dulled. In the third stage, the computers are completely dulled. There is an addictive quality but also a tiredness, an exhaustion, the lights have gone out. In the final stage, the computers have entered the void. Here, there is an opportunity to explore the darkness, to sit with the uncomfortable, challenging parts of ourselves that we have been avoiding.

I painted the darkness circular because it is natural. It is not opaque, it has texture. I wanted a feeling of heaviness. As Brene Brown, a writer and researcher whose work focuses on shame and interpersonal relationships, said, ‘Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.’3 I have surrounded the dark circle in light with the idea that where there is darkness there is light.

The work I do is mostly spontaneous and expressive. Something emerges. With the Transept Exhibition, I have an opportunity to explore the theme through drawings and ideas which are brought together in one painting. It evolves. To give an example, I was wondering how I would draw darkness and had decided on a circle. I saw a distinct shadow on the Henry Hoover which is round. It was a ‘yes’ moment. The shape was right and I knew I had to include a shadow.

As Carl Jung, a Swiss Psychiatrist, said in Modern Man in Search of a Soul, ‘How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole’,4 and in Alchemical Studies Vol.13, ‘One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious’.5 Ram Dass, a teacher of mindfulness and heart centred practices, said, ‘The shadow is the greatest teacher for how to come to the light’.6 I painted the shadow in a thick, brown, heavy paint, intending it to be unpleasant and uncomfortable.

In the painting, we go through the darkness and experience light and spaciousness. How would I paint spaciousness? From an earlier painting I learnt that to know spaciousness we need to know boundaries. I experimented with a circle but it felt limited and not expansive enough. I have spent many hours this winter watching the clouds and felt that they can express spaciousness so I used a cloud to represent it.

Writer and teacher of presence and the awakened state of consciousness, Eckhart Tolle, wrote in A New Earth, ‘presence is a state of inner spaciousness’,7 and, ‘it is from inner space, the unconditioned consciousness itself, that true happiness, the joy of Being emanates’.8 Author and teacher, Thomas Huebl, whose work integrates the core insights of the wisdom tradition and mysticism, highlights the transformative power of spaciousness and the importance of cultivating it. He talked about being the gardener of space in his recent Cultivating Space Challenge and shares how when we have more space, a new future emerges.9

I felt that a landscape format suited the painting, firstly, because I was using a cloud as spaciousness and secondly, because I wanted a three-dimensional feel, with the computers disappearing into the darkness. I also wanted to include the mucky cloud as I saw one just like it, with a feeling of foreboding. I find it interesting that I painted the work in reverse order, spaciousness first, then the darkness and light, and lastly, the computers. It suggests to me that spaciousness comes before anything else.

The second painting is a diptych. I wanted to show an embodied painting, messy and real, one that came about through sitting with a knot in my stomach. I painted the darkness first and then allowed the image to appear. This contrasts with the other part of the diptych, which is a suggestion of a way I may sit with the uncomfortable, that is, grounded and aligned to something greater than ourselves. I feel this painting has a sense of embodied stillness and light.

I feel it is essential that we connect to earth, and that grounded, embodied presence brings hope and clarity in an increasingly divided, polarised, ego, computerised world.

Author

  • Julia attended the Wimbledon College of Art Foundation Course and is a graduate of Canterbury College of Art Fine Arts. Her recent work is about the earth, the environment and the human impact, meeting point, ancestors, connectedness and separation. When she draws, immediacy, aliveness, rhythm and feeling is what interests her. She feels deeply connected to the earth and trees. She likes working collaboratively and realises the amazing possibilities when tapping into group energy with like-minded artists.

1. Gallup’s Familial and Adolescent Health Survey conducted June 26 - July 17th 2023, US. Data collected from 6,643 parents and 1,591 adolescents who were children of those parents.
2. Guiseppe Penone, Song of the Earth, 2002, Thames & Hudson, p146.
3. Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are, Hazelden Firm, 2018, p6.
4. Ram Dass, One Liners - A mini-manual for a spiritual life, Harmony, 2002, p87.
5. Carl Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Psychology Press, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co, London, 1933, p172.
6. Carl Jung, Collected works of CG Jun: Alchemical Studies Vol. 13, trans, RFC Hull, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967, p264.
7. Eckhart Tolle, Oneness with All Life: Inspirational Selections from A New Earth, Penguin, 2008, p38.
8. Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, Recognising Inner Space, Penguin, 2005, 236.
9. Thomas Huebl, Mystic Cafe, Day 8, Cultivating Presence, 2024.
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