The Other

Figure 1: The Other by Stephen Fearnley, carbon negative pigment print, 2019-2020
“It lives of itself, and a shudder runs through the man who thought that ‘spirit’ was merely what he believes, what he makes himself, what is said in books, or what people talk about. But when it happens spontaneously it is a spookish thing . . .”  Carl Gustav Jung, Collected Works, Volume 9

Night-time. There is a strange glowing object with its own light source, moving through the forest. This is the sacred grove, the classical abode of the numina from ancient times.[1] This glowing toroid is looming out of the forest and tilting its “face” toward us. We see it and it sees us.This strange, denizen of the sacred grove was described by Jung as wanting to connect and engage with us all [2]. A proactive, individuated intelligence other than us.

‘The Other’ is a picture that delights and unsettles me. It is spooky as well as spookish. Spooky because the picture is other-worldly. Spookish because the glowing toroidal orb in the foreground was made spontaneously by a circular flourish of a candle flame. In its original negative, the mark made by the flame is a dark velvety sepia brown (see figure: 2). It is such a beautiful shape, the tonal gradations and form as well as the soft orange aura at the bottom of the orb, are compelling.  I have tried to replicate it, repeat my moves with the flame and the glass again but it is impossible. This shape is a unique one-off moment, a happy accident, a Zen gift of the ‘brush’.

Essentially an act of painting and drawing, the original negative of ‘The Other’ was made using smoke on glass, a process of building up carbon and taking it away, usually with a fine brush or with my fingers. The process is like making a drawing or an oil painting with soot, on a square piece of glass, which performs, when scanned or projected, much like an analogue medium format photographic negative. The delicate surface of carbon particles on the glass are reminiscent of the fragile powder of butterfly wings. To preserve the toroidal shape, the glowing orb in “the Other’, I had to take extreme care not to damage it, all the while working on the forest background with its fine layers of high-key shading, in the negative. (see fig 2)

Working like this, in the negative, in reverse, is a skill I think snuck up on me when I first started using watercolours. The mental gymnastics required to leave out (not paint over) the white paper, preserving the negative space, to achieve highlights and the picture’s essential luminosity, is technically challenging. This ‘praxis of the negativa’ was followed-up later when I discovered photography. It was here that I could see how a photographic negative was coded in terms of layers of silver colloid. Then it was an easy step to start making my own negatives, using the fine particulate of carbon on glass (instead of silver) and scanning and digitally printing the picture. 

Figure 2: The Other by Stephen Fearnley, carbon on glass/ negative , 2019-2020

To make ‘The Other, the stripped-back technique of fire and soot (dont forget that ink is also made of soot) and working from the negative, is for me a gateway where something liminal can occur in the making of a picture. This approach is essentially Zen and the liminality it encourages is the ‘spookish’ thing as mentioned above. ‘The Other’ is my attempt to re-imagine another way of seeing the inspirited landscape which implies a sentience which is clearly not human in the slightest.

Stephen Fearnley, Cloud Farm Studios, 2020.

1: “Roman Religion,”  in The Columbia Encyclopedia, ed. Columbia University Paul Lagasse (Columbia University Press, 2018).

2: Ean Begg, “Numinosity,” in The Edinburgh International Encyclopaedia of Psychoanalysis, ed. Ross Skelton (Edinburgh University Press 2006).