(Photo: Scott Murray)

Lately, I’ve been writing some experimental verse in Gaelic, loosely – very loosely! – based on dàn dìreach. Dàn dìreach were the verse structures used by the medieval Gaelic, and Irish, poets and were very tightly constructed using syllabic metres, i.e. the syllables in each line are counted, and there is rhyme, alliteration and assonance. I haven’t kept to the last three, just the syllabic count. The verses below are based on the metre sèadna with the formula 2(82 + 71)2+4, i.e. lines 1 and 3 have 8 syllables ending on a disyllable and lines 2 and 4 have 7 syllables. Lines 2 and 4 rhyme. The theme of the verses is the painting Closed Eyes by the artist Odilon Redon.

Who was Odilon Redon ?
Odilon Redon (1840-1916) was a remarkable painter who was one of the greatest French Symbolist artists. Despite being classed a Symbolist, he was very much his own man and pursued his own inner vision to the end. Born in Bordeaux, he spent his boyhood on an uncle’s estate in wild countryside in the Medoc north of the city. This was to affect the direction of his art. ‘The subject of art for Redon was the inner world of the imagination.’ He criticized naturalist painting and the Impressionists for concentrating on an ‘external ideal.’ Although his first teacher in Bordeuax taught Romanticism, i.e. ‘that his work should truly express his sensations, and that rules and formulae should be distrusted’, he rejected that as well.

The dark period
In 1864 Redon enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris but he found the ‘routine of academic instruction … insufferable’ and soon left to go back to Bordeaux where he came under the influence of Rodolphe Bresdin. Bresdin produced etchings and lithographs in black and white of ‘fantastic and sinister subjects.’ From then on, in the 60s and 70s, Redon worked alone, producing works in charcoal of astonishing originality. But the subject matter was strange and macabre – ‘plants, insects with human faces, severed heads, flying creatures, skeletons and masks.’ The contrast with the second half of his artistic journey couldn’t have been starker.

The bright period

Redon’s marriage to Camille Falte in 1880 marked a change in his fortunes and his life was much happier from then on. In Paris he became close friends with Gauguin whose use of bold colours ‘inspired Redon away from his ‘black’ works.’ He was 50 when he started to paint in colour and his use of colour was sensational. It was a complete change from the dark period. Now his art was full of ‘joyful optimistic images’, portraits, flowers and colour fantasies. He was looked up to by a group of artists – the Nabis – as one who almost alone had ‘pursued an expressive and spiritual art.’ Closed Eyes, showing a woman’s head and modelled on his wife, is one of his first oils and is a ‘metaphor for spiritual awareness.’ It shows Redon’s great interest in the inner life.
(The above information is from The Great Artists, pp 2593-2624 (Marshall Cavendish1995)

Dried grass stalk
(Photo: Scott Murray)

An example of the ‘seeking’ artist
For me, Redon is an example of the artist who is on a spiritual quest. There have been many other artists like him through the ages. How far these artists get to the truth about reality is another matter. But one thing is certain: they create great beauty in the process of the search. Redon is a prime example. This, for me, is the God image within, informed by ‘common grace.’ Although the Fall has obscured the image, people, including artists, keep searching. Unfortunately, often the search takes place against the background of general revelation, i.e. the revelation of God in ‘nature.’ The special revelation by God of Himself in the Bible is ignored, or even despised. So, despite creating beauty (guaranteed by the laws of reality) the real truth is never reached; the truth as revealed in Christ Jesus. And that is true whether the search is within or without, i.e. relying on the self or ‘nature’; simply because only God can reveal Himself.

Sùilean Dùinte (1890)
(le Odilon Redon)

Ìomhaigh stèidhicht’ air do mhnaoi fhèin,
‘s tha an ceann cho soillseach ciùin,
Na sùilean dùint’ ann an ùrnaigh
A’ sireadh an spiorad iùil

Sa chridhe, chan ann san àrainn,
Agus taosgaidh o seo a-mach
Iarmailt dhathan làidir àlainn
An àite na lithean brònach

Iargalt’ a lìon dealbh do bheatha
Gu ruige seo. Spreadhaidh dath
Bhod làimh mar fhalaisg, an tùrsa
A’ tionndadh gu nithean math.

Seo an ceann air a bheil solas
A’ dòrtadh mar bho ghrèin,
A’ gealltainn dhut làithean sòlais
Le flùraichean ‘s dealain-dè.

Closed Eyes (1890)

An image based on your own wife, / the head calm, effulgent, / the eyes closed as if in prayer / seeking the master spirit

In the heart, not in the environs, / and from now there will burst / a sky of strong vibrant colours / instead of the sombre, macabre

Shades that portrayed your life / till now. Colours will explode / from your hand like moor-burning, the sorrow / changing to good things.

This is the head on which the light pours / as if from the sun / your promise of golden days / of flowers and butterflies.

(Copyright: Maoilios Caimbeul)

Welsh poppy that lost its petals
(Photo: Scott Murray)