PEELING THE ONION
QUESTIONS TO POSTMODERN NIHILISM

PEELING 1.  3m x 2.1 m,  coloured pens and mixed media on black paper.

This complicated looking work is a mind map in which I am trying to understand all kinds of things about myself and my life,  and the world in which we live.  As a point of departure I took a piece of my own writing, 
We did not know if we were going to move to another country again,  or not.  We lived in uncertainty.  Should I attach myself to the people and places around me,  to this new environment to which we has just moved,  or not?  Would we move away as soon as the painful process of putting down new roots had just started?  Would it mean drawing in all the feelings you had just started investing in the new people and environment,  as soon as you had put down the first delicate tendrils?  Was it worthwhile to suffer all that pain for no reason? 
These words are rewritten once or more in each of the five sections of Peeling,  and enclosed by a circle or ellipse of sorts.  In Peeling 1 the circles are next to the left edge of the paper,  just below the middle,  and almost in the middle,  slightly to the upper left.  In each circle I chose a key word,  or maybe two or three related words,  and unpack them visually and in writing,  making up the mind map.

The long lines with  ‘blips’  in show how one thought,  idea,  emotion,  or picture links up with another,  nearby or far away,  as I try to make sense of all the bits of information with which we are supposed to construct an identity and a world view.  More questions than answers present themselves as  ‘I peel the onion’,  asking another question from each following question which presents itself.  And yet,  is there really no meaning left in anything?  There are so many links …
PEELING 2.  3m x 2.1 m.  Coloured pens and mixed media on black paper.

In Peeling 2 the journey continues.  The focal point would probably be the green circle and lines in the middle of the top left section.  In that circle is written  ‘unreal city’,  referring to T.  S.  Eliot’s Wasteland,  and its many implications.  It is particularly clear in my mind because I learnt it off by heart for my English exam.  It is very apt to the experience of a young person moving from environment to environment:  you have just constructed something which makes some sort of sense to you from the new set of  ‘givens’  to which you have been introduced,  and a feasible identity to go with it,  when you have to move again,  to a new place,  with its new set of  ‘firm beliefs’,  and unconscious acceptance of what is real and what is imaginary,  and good and evil,  and all those things.  

The word  ‘move’  coming through in dark pink in the middle left section speaks to this.  This section shows many winding path lines,  and off centre top right is the profile,  in blue,  of Ferdinand de Saussure,  who introduced the idea of how arbitrary meaning is,  and so forth.  The relationship with searching,  winding paths should be clear.  Up behind him,  diagonally,  is a rectangle,  a drawing of a city,  and further up diagonally is a square.  The square is my adapted version of Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie  (1942-3),  and there is long linking line going from it to the lower left corner of Peeling 1,  showing a grid drawing of a city which reminds me of BBW,  a copy of a landscape with a volcanic eruption,  showing a detail of a wall painting from level VIII of Çatal Hüyük,  c.  6120 BCE.  If people have such basic psychological workings in common,  why can’t we live together in peace?  Why the wars,  and groups against groups,  when we are basically the same?
PEELING 3. 2m x 2.1 m,  coloured pens and mixed media on black paper.

The continuous white line band running through the top middle section of all five sections of Peeling are,  up to the beginning of this section three,  floor plans of all the houses in which I lived while growing up.  In Peeling 3 green lines at the left middle,  touching the side of the page,  are leaves enclosing the floor plan of where  I am staying at the moment,  because I experience it as a relatively benevolent place,  although not a permanent one because I know a move lies ahead.  The words of the passage of my writing is repeated in the thinnish diagonal section,  quite small,  below the grid rectangle in the centre of the middle band. The key word,  circled,  for this section is  ‘know’,  which motivates the brain drawing.  The floor plans have now become layout templates of medieval books,  with complex references to Pythagoras,  for example.  I am following Mallarmé’s idea that everything eventually lands up in a book,  which is what is happening here and now.

 If you look carefully you will see a thin,  vertical line going down the middle of the format,  in gold ink,  and a similar gold line is and then isn’t there,  by the horizontal line band.  This is my rendering of the cross of Jesus Christ,  and I am saying that His Spirit needs to permeate our minds,  in its known and unknown regions and processes,  to help us discover this vast terra incognita,  about which we know so little,  and which contains great and in many respects as yet undiscovered potential.  There are drawings of dendrites, a word which comes from the Greek word for  ‘tree’,  and there is a drawing of a tree in the brain  -  links links links!  Also the quote about the enchanted loom,  and the duck/rabbit and old/young woman in  Jasper Johns,  and Tristan Tzara’s Reveille matin,  and brain and landscape morphed, and inside the brain drawings from previous times,  and
PEELING 4.  2m x 2.1 m,  coloured pens and mixed media on black paper.

In Peeling 4 the story continues and spreads itself out.  They key words from my writing in this section is  ‘new people’.  It is written in the circle middle left,  at the side of the two rectangles of the  ‘line band’,  and below three differently sized,  smaller rectangles next to the two larger ones.  The two larger rectangles are medieval layouts for the book of Isaiah,  and recalls the prophet’s vision of the valley of bones which got flesh on them and became new people.  The little circles which conglomerate to make the bigger clusters over the format are quick drawings of people taken from my photo albums,  which are all different and yet very similar at the same time,  which is what happens when you have to do with too many people.  It is also an aspect of moving around,  namely that the relationships which you form with people remain superficial.  You know you will leave,  so there is no point in trying to forge lasting relationships.

The flowing pattern in the lower left,  and above it,  was inspired by the patterning of the skeleton of a cactus leaf.  In spite of people becoming blurred they are still real and relevant,  and part of what is going on in the world,  the universe,  and dimensions of which are partly and not aware.   Again there are linking lines flowing between clusters and in clusters,  implying that we are all somehow linked,  organically in some way or another.  Is it a reason to say that there is no pattern or design,  no sense at all in all that we are aware of,  just because we cannot put everything neatly into words and formulas?  Should we not be more humble and say that we can’t necessarily always see a clear pattern,  without making the absolute judgment of postmodern nihilism, as we peel our onions?
PEELING 5.  3m x 2.1 m,  coloured pens and mixed media on black paper.

Peeling 5 is the final work of the series.  It  shows a cheerful somersault launching into an unknown future,  because I believe that there is a lot of hope for the future.  The band of page layouts going through the middle of the work has become mainly a series of labyrinths made by different cultures,  and yet with the same effect and purpose,  namely to still and balance the mind as one walks.  The existence of this basic design in so many cultures again shows that basically human beings have much in common with each other,  and we should learn more about each other and find what we have in common to build on.  The square drawing along the middle band is my simplified version of a drawing of one of the  ‘impossible figures’  of Maurice Escher,  which points to brain functions which we have yet to discover,  and which will help us into the future.  We have what we need within ourselves,  we must discover and use it.  ‘The kingdom of heaven is within you’  (Luke 17:21),  Jesus said,  and He also said  ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness,  and all things will be added to you’  (Matthew 6:33).  That is what we need to know as we go into the future.  He has overcome the last enemy,  death  (I Corinthians 15:26),  and all that is wonderful that life has to offer awaits us.