Of Stones and Waves
I love being by the sea. I don’t live by the sea nor did I grow up by the sea but I feel at home by the sea.
I love the wind blowing through my being, the smell of salt and seaweed. I love picking up pebbles and find their shapes and markings grounding, comforting and at times exhilarating and hugely inspiring.
I’ve been known to go into a stone trance…
A few years ago I found a fossilized sea urchin, which had very distinctive markings on one side. I soon came to think of this shape as being a ‘sea shaman’, anthropomorphic, neither fully human nor animal, gender fluid, belonging to the sea and the shore, communing with the elements, the marine wildlife and plants.
And yes, I am aware of the controversial use of the term ‘shaman’, and still, the term stuck. This stone started me off on an ongoing series of sketches, paintings and prints.
Here is a painting in a sketchbook looking at both sides of the fossil.
Seashaman riding a whale
Seashaman surfing, surrounded by sea mammals
One night I had a dream. Of finding another stone, smooth, round, a flint pebble, nearly black, with stark white markings. The stone showed the seashaman figure, surfing, followed by an enormous wave, threatening to engulf them but at the same time I knew that they were able to ride the wave, and were in no danger. Able to ride it out.
This resulted in a series of prints, in which I tried to capture this dream image.
And endless sketches of waves
I started creating sculptures that I would take to the sea and photographed them in a way where their size was unclear in the context of the background. Sculptures that became part of the shore and sea landscape, melding with stones. I would take most of them home again, yet some I would offer to the sea
I researched selkie stories, seal-folk that can take on human shape when they slip out of their sealskin. If somebody finds their skin the selkie no longer is able to change back into their seal shape but have to stay land-bound until they regain their true skin. These stories hardly ever have happy endings.
Here I created a seal-woman with her seal child/pup
And a seal head on the shore
I took one of my owl women to the sea. I photograph her in all sorts of environments, wherever I go, so too at the sea
Recently I started creating otter linoprints.
This is my latest otter linocut, and currently my favourite. The group made me think of three otter-Nornes, contemplating the fate of seafarers and landlocked folk alike. Note the little sailboat on the left…
[Note: the otter group was inspired by a photograph by Brydon Thomason]
And here are two otters, diving, delving through the water. I am fascinated by the playfulness and underwater acrobatics of otters, their agility and ability to lithely twist and twirl.
The otters above are delving amongst some kelp plants. I find kelp incredibly beautiful in their own way, undulating in the currents. I fell in love with kelp in a big way watching David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, ‘The Green Seas’.
There is a correlation between sea otters, kelp forests and sea urchins, with sea otters feeding on sea urchins, which are able to destroy kelp on a massive scale when left unchecked; healthy kelp forests in turn contribute to absorbing vast amounts of carbon for photosynthesis and helping global environmental health.
I love the idea of sea otters being the guardians of kelp forests.
Below is a polystyrene print of an otter diving for sea urchins surrounded by kelp plants and a jellyfish. I am not sure whether jellyfish co-exist with otters, sea urchins and kelp in the same time-space continuum but I think they work together very nicely on a visual level. Artistic license and all that…
Otters also wrap themselves (and their young) in strands of kelp rooted in the ocean floor, anchoring themselves so they won’t drift away on the ocean current.
Years ago I came across a photograph of a group of kelp plants, photographed from below, their stems and leaves growing and reaching upwards, suffused with sunlight, floating through the water surface. Their floating shapes somehow reminded me of the Nike of Samothraki, which has been displayed in the Louvre in Paris since 1884 (with ongoing petitions to have her returned to Samothraki); she is one of my favourite sculptures ever. If you don’t know her, do look her up…
I created various versions of a Kelp Nike of Samothraki. See one of them below. I might return to this subject matter again another time.
So… the sea, the element of water, marine creatures and plants; this is one ongoing thread in my creative work. I find I do not work in a linear way, I do not do ‘projects’ that I follow through to a specific end. I have themes that I dip into, immerse myself and then come back to, sometimes after many years.
I could create threads similar to the sea-inspired one above on many subjects I have been pursuing. Owls and owlwomen. Bears. Goddesses. Ganesha, tantric deities, yantras. Not to forget Hookland (and I have been known to drop everything else for a while when a quote by Hookland’s C.L. Nolan or Emily Banting captures my imagination).
Labyrinths would be another thread…
The image below shows the first labyrinth I ever built, made up of stones gathered on the beach. No doubt it was swept away by the next tide. At times I wonder whether the blueprint remains and whether sea creatures swim and wander this labyrinth at high tide
And possibly Owlwoman is there, too
I’ll conclude with an image of the last labyrinth I built, which was on the same beach as my first labyrinth. And: this also is the location where I found the fossilized sea urchin that started the journey outlined above in the first place.
I have a background in sculpture (I studied Sculpture in the 80s in Germany) and Theatre Design (Central St. Martins) but did not take well to formal art education. I am happiest when I am able to be creative in a playful and experimental state without any fixed ideas or expectations of outcome.
At the core of my art is a strong connection to nature; the spirits of animals and plants, landscape, stones, the sea and the elements. My art is about pattern recognition, weaving dreams, stories and images into a whole.
Have a looksee if you like. Browse, enjoy!
You can also see a selection of my work on my website, which I haven’t updated for a while, so it has a bit of an archival feel http://mariastrutz.co.uk/
I sometimes post new prints or work in progress on Twitter as @mariastrutz