As my artwork has developed I have become increasingly interested in animal symbolism and folklore. The animals often become symbols of different aspects of my identity, experiences or needs, including the internalised relationships with those around me and my experience of the wider world. The several meanings and symbols embodied in the animals I make grow over time and allow for new discoveries and meanings to develop often linking to partially processed and unconscious associations. I am interested in anthropomorphism where people project human characteristics on animals or inanimate objects. I feel this is perhaps in an attempt to understand oneself or experience a sense of oneness with the world around us. I am also interested in the history of spirit animals and the symbols of animals in different cultures and how this impacts on my understanding of the animals I create and meet in my artwork at different times. In her BBC interview in April 1937, Virginia Woolf speaks about words being “full of echoes, of memories, of associations – naturally…they have been out and about, on people’s lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries…they are so stored with meanings, with memories...” (Woolf, 1937).
In a similar way to words, animals are infused with local, personal and collective meanings that have developed over thousands of years, sometimes so buried within historical and cultural knowing that some seem to arrive from a mysterious, felt place connected with deep collective associations, never completely new. So many animals have crawled, prowled, padded and galloped through stories, folk tales, personal accounts and memories that they carry a weight of meaning often before we have even encountered them in reality. I am always reminded of the importance of my openness to the infinite meanings that each animal can have for any individual at any given time in varying contexts. Many of us have become increasingly distant from nature and animals and in many areas the wildernesses that has provided safe harbor for animals outside of the domestic sphere is gradually diminishing. When working with animals I find there is naturally a political element, in symbols and within what animals represent in wider contexts. The view of everything personal also being political is a strong underlying theme in my work. I will often spontaneously choose an animal that comes to mind and as it develops there is a process of uncovering wider symbolism and meanings within the images in relation to what is happening locally and within society at large, as well as often seeing my own emotions and expressions reflected back. Animals often naturally arise within the images when working as an art psychotherapist with children, young people and families. Due to the diversity and versatility of the meanings held in animals, the developing understanding of why and how the animals come to be in my work as an art psychotherapist and artist become centric to growing understanding and transformation.