The Importance of the Ground

There’s something pleasing about rock art. Natural rock provides an interesting surface with quirks and irregularities – landmarks – as any landscape should, rather than the boring uniformity of a piece of paper. There are a lot of YouTube videos showing how to make paleo paints with Earth pigments, which I’m all for, but on the rare occasions when they show them being used to create art, they always seem to be used on watercolour paper. I can’t understand this at all. For me making paleo-paints is about opening a dialogue with our inner paleo hunter gatherer rock artist or cave painter, a part of us that feels more connected with nature and is ready to embrace a rewilded world. In hunter gatherer ways of being in the world, culture and nature weren’t disconnected into separate realms; engaging with the rock surface in this way was a direct interaction with the natural world.

So, for me, for the paleo experience, it shouldn’t be on paper with a painted background representing the ground. It should be on rock – the ground itself. With my monitor lizard here, this is particularly apt, as lizards do hang around on rocks in the sun.

In short, if it ain’t on a rock, it ain’t rock art.

When making rock art, you get the earthy feel of the materials of this particular kind of art combined with the mindful flow state you can get when making any kind of art that requires care and concentration, as well as a sense of connecting up to a very rich tradition.

This type of art was practised across the world by hunter gatherer peoples for thousands of years, so you can get a sense of going back to a time before the hustle and bustle of the modern world, and linking back up to a noble ancient tradition from a period when humans felt themselves to be more fully a part of nature. Because they didn’t see human art on the one hand and the world of nature on the other as being entirely hermetically sealed off into separate realms, but instead felt them to be magically intertwined, their art was part of a different way of being in the world, a different ontology. Rather than creating art on paper within an image that has an artificial ground representing the landscape, the rock itself was the landscape, and so the art was a direct engagement with that landscape. So painting an animal on the rock was a process of putting an animal onto the land, and as such it was like a re-enactment of the mythic creation of that animal in the time of origins, which gives it a numinosity, yet because you’re engaging directly with the real ground, it also feels grounding.

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