Andrea Mclean and I became friends a long time ago because of our mutual love for the art of William Blake. I first heard Andrea talk about her art, William Blake and maps at a Blake Society event in London. Andrea had collaborated with Henry Eliot on designing a map based on William Blake’s quotes and art and Blake’s imagined city called Golgonooza (A video interview on this map is included below).
Hermes chatted to Andrea about her art and other inspirations.
Hermes Q1-Can you tell us about your background, what brought you to art?
I grew up in a small town called Coleford in the Forest of Dean in England by the River Wye which borders with Wales. A place with an amazing geology and ancient history, there was also the mining of pigments – the purple ochres especially were magical. The Forest landscape has puzzle woodland, caves, rivers and pools – some of which can be found along a journey down into caves.
My parents opened up The Forest Bookshop, my two brothers, our tabby cat, and I could go down a spiral stairway from our home above into the bookshop when it was closed and look at books. Illustrations and maps in story books first brought me to art. Seeing the Mappa Mundi in Hereford brought me to larger scale art. It’s an encyclopaedia that can be seen all at once with interweaving stories.
Hermes: Many of your pieces of art are maps, perhaps you can tell us more about that.
I’d say that my works are about maps in the same way that they are about poetry and mythology. My wish is to make the invisible visible. This, is something that I believe can be done by a form of spiritual mapping, over half my paintings are circular.
A map to me, has the qualities of a Medieval Mappa Mundi, a Mandala or a map for pilgrimage. These ancient templates have been redrawn over and over, but bring about new change. Recently, `I’ve been delighted to introduce students to ways of mapping and each produced unique, personal circle maps.
Mapping is also a way of seeing the world in a moment of time, experiencing cosmos. After art school at the Slade I has a scholarship year to The British School at Rome. There, once, when walking along the cobbled streets I had a vision of the whole city laid out like a beautiful mosaic. A similar thing had happened after I’d first left home in Bristol – seeing the city as if from above.
Hermes: Would you describe this as spiritual art, or esoteric art?
Making the work is a form of meditation where you see the colours to work with ahead of time. It is very close to the creativity seen in dream life. The idea of the ‘dream’ has never ceased being important to me. The word ‘dream’ is even put of my name!
I would describe artmaking, for me, as a spiritual practice involving the imagination, creativity and the finding of symbols. By self-actualisation and self-realisation, symbols of self are found then re-hidden and this allows for micro-macro experience of cosmos.
‘Cosmos’ is my other important word. I aim to make pictures that are both full of busy life and calm and tranquil.
Esoterically, I’m interested in transformational placings of diagrams and figures within the image.
Hermes: What is the medium for these pictures? Why do you work in this medium?
My ‘landscapes of the Imagination’ works on paper start with monoprint with printing inks and are worked into further with watercolour. I developed this method after studying some works by William Blake in the Prints and Drawings library at the British Museum.
The large Paintings on linen are oil colours, some of the circular ones, like the Mappa Mundi painting I painted in 2005 which is now in the collection of the British Library, is linen stretched over a bell wheel. This is because I read about the, now lost, Mappa Mundi that was in Siena Town Hall that used to be stretched on a wheel until it fell to pieces with time, with the last scrap of the map left being eaten by a tame wolf. Hopefully there are no tame wolves in the British Library. My map hangs near the Map Room on the 3rd Floor.
I’ve now found some circular cotton paper for sale at L. Cornelissen & Son art shop that I’ve been using for a series of mixed media drawings. Every art shop is a place for the materials of Alchemy.
Hermes: Please comment on how you were influenced to make this art and about who influences you.
Lascaux Cave Paintings, William Blake, Charlotte Salmon, Hildegard of Bingham vision paintings, all kinds of engraved emblems, especially symbolising the soul, mostly I’m very touched by the painted line and how it can show mythologies of creation and the night sky. As far as being influenced, I seemed to be an artist rather than it being something I wanted to do. Saying that, I have come to really enjoy being an artist, which is as much about looking at nature in a certain way and visiting galleries and exhibitions as making artwork.
Hermes: How do you prepare yourself to make this type of art?
I prepare to become lost in the work by first emptying my mind. I have easels and materials ready but also many cushions and rugs. Much of the work is done sitting crossed legged on an office type chair at the easel but also with the canvas placed on a coffee table that has wheels fitted. All my furniture has wheels fitted as I so often need to make new spaces.
It’s a bit like stepping on to a train. There’s organisation needed to plan the journey, but once there there’s this time outside of time. With the train it could be reading some poetry by or drawing tree or water patterns in a sketchbook. With artwork it seems to go deeper and a four-hour session seems both a long and a very short time. Coffee is also important!
Hermes: Could you tell us more about the colours, why do you use certain colours? Do they have a significance? Are the colours representing anything?
The ochre pigments, purples browns and reds are the ones from the Forest of Dean and they are the earth colours. I also use raw umber and many kinds of transparent green. Then there’s the sky colours blues, pinks, grey-blues. I use ‘jewel’ colours – cobalt violet and transparent mauves and darken a little with different kinds of black, lighten ultramarine with zinc white. Sometimes I use certain colours for certain projects and these may be based on dreams.
Hermes: What direction is your art going for the future?
I’d like to have an exhibition of just the circular paintings and drawings. The circular drawings have been the main way of working in 2020. Making small worlds one after another. I am reading widely about world Mythology currently which I hope will reflect back into my artwork. I’d like to make more work to do with constellations.
Thank you very much for the interview. I really appreciate your paintings. Where can people find your art-do you have a website? Any upcoming exhibitions?
I’ve no planned exhibition, but I’m about halfway through a new body of artwork and am preparing to teach on two public courses at the Royal Drawing School in Spring 2021. One on ‘Mythology: Drawing Narratives’ and one on ‘Mapping: Internal Landscapes’.
My website is www.andrea-mclean.co.uk