The origins of the ‘Spirits’

How a new series of artwork began

Isn’t it interesting how one set of experiences in our lives affects another quite separate set? It can literally change how you see the world. It’s all about making new connections. Creativity is essentially about connecting previously unconnected things, then making something to express that new perception.

Harbinger charcoal drawing by Tansy Lee Moir
‘Harbinger’ Charcoal and conté on wooden panel 30x30cm

I wanted to share a little on how my ‘Spirits’ series came about. It’s not always obvious how ideas for new work emerge but in this case there has been a clear path from experience to artwork.

A warning – this isn’t a particularly cheery read, you could skip to this post instead if you’re not in the mood for some rather dark stuff.

Struck by a tree

For me, seeing this particular beech tree at a particular moment in my life made me connect it with the anatomy of breath and reflect on the process of it ceasing at the end of life.

a decaying beech tree with one remaining limb

Shortly after my mother’s death from terminal cancer in the autumn of 2016 I began a 6 month residency at Howden Park Centre in West Lothian. She had a pulmonary embolism a week before her death. I was present when she died and witnessing that moment had a profound effect on me.

The residency involved me exploring an ancient woodland location called Calder Wood and this striking tree there had a similarly strong impact on me in my vulnerable emotional state.

pulmonary angiograph

So, during my residency, I looked a lot at expiring trees and medical imagery of lungs, in particular pulmonary angiography. I made lots of notes and sketches but the feelings were too raw to do anything with these at the time. I also collaborated with my friend Steve Smart who wrote a collection of beautiful poems which we gathered with my drawings into a book called ‘Drawing Breath’. His title poem still stops me in my tracks. You can listen to him reading it here.

a black and white photo of a beech treee in winter

Six weeks into the residency my own illness, a persistent and exhausting lung infection, left me breathless and at times panicky about whether it would ever improve. It did thankfully, but the months of healing were difficult. Art making energy was limited but I realise that the ideas I worked on in my sketchbook then are only just coming to fruition now. ‘Spirits’ are one of these.

Why make ‘Spirits’ now?

Honestly I don’t really know, the images just nagged at me to get made. It seemed urgent and obvious this autumn, after a five year incubation. I’m constantly trying to get better at trusting my subconscious – it’s really much cleverer than the thinking brain on these things.

three black and white drawings by Tansy Lee Moir on a gallery wall

I’m certainly not the first artist to make the connection between the forms which tree branches and lung branches take, but for me this was a novel and meaningful coalescence. If trees are the lens through which I see my life then it was a natural connection to make.

This body of work means a lot to me. I hope you find meaning and perhaps a bittersweet hopefulness in them too.

View the full gallery here.

Read about the process of making ‘Spirits’ here.

They will be available to collectors soon – get in touch if you’re interested in owning one.