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ASHOKA BIRD and its meaning


‘Ashoka’ is a Buddhist word meaning ‘state of no misery’.

I started using the bird motif during an artists’ residency in Kerala, Southern India in 2003.  My studio was in the courtyard of a traditional Keralan house and in the courtyard was a caged mina bird.  I made many paintings about the courtyard and its caged bird, often using the bird as a motif to define the courtyard and its surroundings in a spatial way within the composition.  My work was influenced by the colour and flatness of Indian miniatures.

A month later I spent time painting in Udaipur, Rajasthan in Northern India, and was invited to find a place to work from in the beautiful Shiv Niwas Place.  I chose a small internal pavilion overlooking Lake Pichola and the Lake Palace.  A frieze of coloured glass birds lined the bottom of the walls, and so the bird motif continued to feature in my paintings in Udaipur.

Back in my studio in North Wales, UK, the bird developed new meanings in my paintings.  Not just a reference to a physical space, as in India, it became a metaphor for dreaming or harmony and spirit in the landscape as in the Song Bird series.

The Ashoka Bird paintings identify the bird as spirit coming down to earth as the Bible describes in the story of the Annunciation, or receiving enlightenment through meditation as in the Buddhist tradition.

The Sleeping Bird paintings depict a body close to death.  The bird below sleeps before it can be freed as spirit after death.

All my paintings relate to personal experience and the bird motif is also included in some of my artist’s books  ~

India Books : Seeing, Breathing and Being books relate to the different visual experiences of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Rajasthan.

Finca : Time spent in a Spanish olive grove, being in nature under the sun, moon and stars, hearing the Golden Oriole “...An unearthly, other-worldly, high repetitive call with an echo-like ending, high like a reed instrument.  It is absolutely beautiful, tears fill my eyes...”

Garden : “All we need is a garden, a dwelling, a tree, a stone.  And in our silence and contentment, a bird sings.”

Ramallah Garden : This book was made in response to the attack on Gaza by Israel in 2009. “A garden, a refuge, a place of beauty.  Order in a world of chaos and danger.....How long will it be before a garden can be planted in Ramallah?” with text listing events in Palestine 1918 – 1968, and the Israeli-Palestine Peace Process 1993 – 2007.

A Garden with its Birds : “....How long will it take for a man to want to find a garden?  A garden with its birds, flowers, rocks, trees.  The dream of trees not yet planted....”