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To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour*

As an antidote to our technologically driven world and a tribute to the land, the large-scale collage murals of London artist, Stephen Livick, incorporate a myriad of landscape details that, recontextualized, create a powerful and moving celebration of the collective history of the earth. Labour intensive and monumental, the murals are composed of either silver prints or those created with the more enduring gum bichromate process. A system of reduction, in which the elements are clarified to their essential features, the details of rocks, water, earth and trees, together, comprise an enduring vision of the land.

Yearning to reveal the unseen and immanent forces of nature, Livick plays with the arrangement of the photographs, constantly moving them around until the mural image seems complete. Often viewing the images of the natural world as a metaphor for the Earth's body, like the tree branches that become veins transporting the sustaining blood of life, Livick has polished and honed his conceptual ideas. There exists equilibrium between the world of ordinary objects in a recognizable time and space, and an intensely subjective inner vision of the elements. A highly intuitive process, it allows him to draw out the ineffable qualities of the land, where the viewer is left with a deep understanding of the transcendent spirit of the natural world.

Not simply a collection of photographs, Livick's murals are inspiring tributes to Mother Earth. With a fastidious attention to detail at every level of the process, the murals are labour-intensive and all consuming. Though the silver print process allows for greater speed, Livick's devotion is to the gum bichromate method that he's mastered with years of experimentation and commitment to his craft.

Made popular during the late 19th century, the gum bichromate process is malleable, allowing for greater tonal subtleties and resonances. Using three colour separated negatives--yellow, red, and blue--Livick enlarges each to the desired size. With pre-shrunk paper, he brushes on a light-sensitive solution of gum arabic, potassium bichromate and yellow watercolour pigment. The first negative is laid on the emulsion-coated paper and exposed to a strong ultraviolet light. Developed in a series of water baths, any area exposed to the light hardens while the remaining pigment is washed away, with the process repeated for the last two colour negatives. A time consuming and painstaking endeavour, it is one that Livick is continually drawn back to for its enduring and metamorphosing nature.

Large-scale, the smallest measuring 152x250 cm, many with more than 112 images, the murals suggest infinite space, burgeoning beyond the borders of the works' edges. Intense and engrossing, the monumental odes to nature exude a strong sense of place, a rootedness that connects the viewer with the elemental forces. Highly tactile, their texture enhanced through Livick's choice of paper and process, the murals portray the passage of time and a sense of the eternal through the evocative awakening of the senses.

Rather than striving to capture a transient moment on film, Livick's challenge is to present the permanent and enduring earth. Concerned with the plundering of the natural resources and our increasingly distant relationship with the land, he eschews the notion of ownership in favour of stewardship. Livick continues in the strong Canadian tradition of artists like Emily Carr and Lawren Harris who looked to not simply manifest the primacy and indelible imprint of the land, but also to reveal its essence. Carr noted that "artists have searched beneath the surface for the hidden thing that is felt rather than seen, the reality...which underlies everything."** For Harris as well, the challenge was not to reproduce what was before him, rather to go beyond appearance to a transcendental expression of the Oneness of the universe. Similarly Livick, revealing the immeasurable in the minute, doesn't just describe the land, he enacts it in all its space, quietness, and magnitude. It is a spirit both of and beyond the rocks, moss, and trees that he photographs; a sublime and universal life-force that underlies everything.

The concept of the earth as the cyclical sustainer of life is central to a broad spectrum of traditions from ancient Goddess cults to Native American religions. Attuned to the intimate connection of all existence, natives learned to live with the earth on a deeply spiritual and intuitive level, a connection increasingly severed by the fragmentary demands of modern society. Primeval and generative, Mother Earth is the archetypal womb of nature whose mysterious power awakens everything to life and then enfolds it back into her sheltering arms. The beginning and the end, the creator and the destroyer, the Great Mother encompasses all that is or will be. Incorporating all the dualities of existence, she represents the entire cosmos: yin and yang, continuity and change, spirit and matter, all are facets of the Absolute. Both the body of life, she is also the path that must be followed.

Within the patriarchal tradition even, psychiatrists like C. G. Jung perpetuated the Great Mother concept, the partial aspect of the Archetypal Feminine. A biological pattern of behaviour that transcended time and space, the archetypes, for Jung, were the primordial and universal language of the collective unconscious, a preconscious psychic womb from which all things spring.

Within the ecological spirit of reciprocity, Livick strives for harmony in his own relationship with the earth. We read both the individual photographic details but also the collaged whole in which the elements are recontextualized. The intensity of the images, multiplied across the mural, enhances the resonance of the finished work. Creating tension between what is seen and unseen, material and spiritual, Livick strives to reveal the sacred nature of existence. Like a fourth dimension, the image that emerges from the collaged details is felt rather than seen, a manifestation of that which is always already there.***

From the finite comes the infinite, from time comes the eternal, the paradox of existence is, for Livick, understood through the eye of the mind rather than the intellect. Begun in 1995, the murals are an evolution for Livick, both in pushing the boundaries of photography and his own personal journey to envision the land in all its manifestations. Both a homage to, and a lament for, the earth, the works celebrate and explore the diversity of nature in all its generative power.

Notes:

*William Blake, Auguries of Innocence, in Vistas, ed. Ken Roy, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: Toronto, 1993, p. 317.

** Doris Shadbolt, Emily Carr, Douglas & McIntyre: Toronto, 1990, p. 116.

***Martin Heidegger explores the nature of the "thingness of the thing" in his treatise The Origin of the Work of Art, a revelation of the way in which art is the happening of truth.




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