Reflections on the past
The earliest human response to our condition in this universe is marked by the decorative art found in caves and objects. These first human gestures are what have been left behind; our shared history. It has always been true: some people scream and shout, some roll about in the dust and others create; any kind of creation involves observation, knowledge and interaction with your environment.
From the start the decorative art developed a language which employed: colour, texture, form and luminosity or reflection to create a narrative which although they have come from independent cultures with thousands of miles between them and no knowledge of each other, shared a common vocabulary.
Our early creative vocabulary would have been informed by the immediate natural world and the extent of communication with any neighbouring cultures. The most simple geometric designs employ light and dark with an apotropaic intent, these geometric designs would be seen as marking the threshold between the worlds of the living and the dead. The practice of using these type of geometric designs which not only trapped your line of vision,but also harmful forces , was used to protect people; with amulets, body painting, tatoos and clothing. The idea that such designs could neutralize malevolent forces was also later applied to buildings with paint and relief work.
There was a shared understanding for the significance of colour:
- White (spiritual world) life, newness, creation (semen, milk)
- Red (liminal world) transitional states (blood, mother to son, war, fire)
- Black (the world of the living) an imperfect human world ( earth, rain clouds, faeces)
ʺHis robe is the black of the last blood.ʺ Ted Hughes, King of Carrion
There are so many, but one of my favorite examples of these colours in action from the ancient world are the columns from the site at Ninhursag, close to the city of Ur (2500BC)
Also found in Mesopotamia is the earliest known use of glass , reflective material which eluded Europe for a few thousand years, until like so many things was ‘brought by the Romans .’
Reflective materials like copper, glass, shell were seen to signify otherworldly presences, or an ʺaesthetic of spiritual powerʺ Murphy (1992). This creative language can be seen in cultures from Australia to pre-Columbian America.
The modern decorative language borrows heavily from this early spiritual narrative, on occasions it has been regurgitated with no regard for its past , or future , but other examples are lovingly crafted and add life to the original idea.
Slumped glass, a method of slumping clear float glass over a carved mould to produce a textured glass, can produce some very interesting layers. Glass traps light in a very special way; as a material glass is described as an amorphous solid a state of matter, so no surprise it affects the light passing through it.
This unique ability to capture light and yet transmit , layered with colour and form , can present a very special material, something that retains a sense of ‘otherworldliness’ that the ancients must have felt.