Blueberries and Unconscious Knowledge

A very Canadian West Coast cultural experience is starting again: blueberry season. Spot prawn season arrived and we will have local cherries soon.


I spend a part of the year in Florence, Italy teaching and directing a Master of Fine Arts program, and am always struck by the differences in seasonal rituals. In Italy, it is the new olive oil, figs and artichokes. And while we might envy the italians, many of my Italian friends envy us.  A certain friend waxes on about how he loves maple syrup, which is almost impossible to find there. He was though a little skeptical when I suggested he put it on a breakfast sausage as we do, because their relationship to these rituals is quite rigid.


I was thinking about blueberries and how I used them as a subject in one of the paintings currently in my show at the Beaty Museum. Many people have commented on the “personality” and the movement in the blueberries that climb up the branch and the humor they display. The initial motivation for placing them there was to show them “invading” the branch, and I tried to make their form recall a caterpillar.


Ultimately every time I look at them, they remind me of the blind beggars in Pieter Breugel the Elders’ painting The Blind Leading the Blind.  Why? I don’t know but it amuses me.


Current research and books such as Hair Brain Tortoise Mind by psychologist Guy Claxton posit there are other ways of knowing besides reason and logic which conscious thinking employs. Suspending the need to explain something can let other information arise and new associations to be made. Creativity in any field, many have argued, requires a stage of “incubation”, which allows a problem to just be, allowing any new insights or links to arise from both conscious and unconscious thought.

I am always trying with my work to subtly shift how we look at nature, so we can see it in a less instrumental way and know it as a source of cultural, emotional and aesthetic value.