by Elle Charalambu

“Do you ever look at the stars?”
“Often and often,” Will answered
“And do you know what they are?”
“I have fancied many things.”
“They are worlds like ours,” said the young man. “Some of them less; many of them a million times greater; and some of the least sparkles that you see are not only worlds, but whole clusters of worlds turning about each other in the midst of space.”

– Robert Louis Stevenson, Will o’ the Mill, (1878 )



While Aaron Aryadharma Matheson mentions a story beloved by him, Will o’ the Mill, I gaze at his paintings. A firefly flickers in
the imagination. Mountains fade in and out of a radiant sky. A mist descends over the moon; moons become stars – the
brushed air hums. Energised with a dreamlike clarity, I’m compelled to sit on the ground and be pulled into their centres.

After looking at the paintings for a while longer, they begin to appear like celestial flags. The spheres hanging on the walls like
prayers to the sun. The light emanating from each is evocative and nuanced. We see this in ‘Carn’, a work that is cool in
temperament but has a warm halo. Are we witnessing a brilliant moon or adjusting to the earliest glimpses of dawn. The light is
familiar; other times mystical, like the ethereal purple in ‘The Scent of the Stars’. The hue disperses and softens the gaze,
twinkles rise from beneath. The paintings remind me of a poem by Emily Dickinson:

I’ll tell you how the Sun rose –
A Ribbon at a time –
The Steeples swam in Amethyst –

The opening stanza of Dickinson’s poem speaks of amethyst light. I see this in ‘The Scent of the Stars’. The sun’s
luminescence also spreads and shifts across Dickinson’s poem as it does throughout the exhibition. In the poem, the sun’s
rising rays are like ribbons across the sky; later, the light transforms into an amethyst glow; finally (in the final stanza) it bathes
children in yellow and gold before disappearing below the horizon. Yet something else about the poem reminds me of Aaron’s
work. I find this to be a curiosity in, and surrender to, the difficulty of comprehending natural forces. His paintings model the
kind of awe one experiences when meeting the sublime. He imagines the stars from the ground, knowing we don’t know them,
trying to reach them through painting. When the warmth of the sun touches us, we perceive a closeness to it. Though once we
confront these cosmic entities as images, their distance is palpable. Wonder is the antidote to dullness, allowing us to delight
in beauty, making time move slower; gentler.

While Aaron’s paintings resemble portraits of suns, I incline to call them landscapes. They are layered, there is depth,
sometimes a ground is implied; the psyche can dwell within their atmosphere. Sometimes the spaces feel almost tangible,
more authentic than the industrialised environments we inhabit. But they are not landscapes, not fixed settings or based on
any particular land. When speaking of his images, Aaron states they are “neither representation nor location but a bridge
straddling worlds inner and outer, past and present, dreaming and waking, presence and emptiness, love and relinquishment.”

I keep returning to ‘Bloom upon the Mountain’ – the most distinct piece in the series. I’m taken to a rocky and ancient world,
then somewhere else, and I keep seeing a dragonfly — but it could be anything. Dream imagery and nature intertwine. The
background, covered in an earthy lustrous gold holds me on this bridge. This gold is reminiscent of a particular gold used by
the French Symbolist painter, Odilon Redon. Redon’s art was also preoccupied with dreams and nature. He believed society’s
desire to control natural phenomena led to the suppression of its dreams. Freedom and fluidity thrive in the paintings of A
Flash of Lightning in a Summer Cloud.

Aaron approaches his work with openness. Meditation informs much of his practice, facilitating a spaciousness of the mind to
clear and prepare the ground for new growth. A spiritual vitality seeps into his work and radiates from it. For Aaron, paint is
alchemical. He describes it as “both containing and representing space, power and light, not unlike the philosopher’s stone”,
expressing a desire to “show it in a suspended state full of energy and potential”. Alike the properties of the sun, a force
materialising from nothing – generating life, sustaining life – being everything. The act of painting is an act of presence itself.
When Aaron paints, he explores the medium’s possibilities with visceral intensity. The practice is sensual and experiential;
intuition often guides him. While wonder emerges when viewing his work, it also exists in the artist’s approach to making.
Traces of the hand dart across the linen, fingers rub and fade colour, gravity intervenes – paint drips. Again Redon comes to
mind, for something he once wrote: “painting depends on a gift of delicious sensuality, which can with a little of the most
simple liquid substance reconstitute or amplify life, leave its imprint on a surface, from which will emerge a human presence,
the supreme irradiation of the spirit”.

And so later, I read the story, Will o’ the Mill, about Will, a boy who dreams of “the true life, the true bright sunshine, [that] lay
far upon the plain”. The story tells of “tribes that came out of the North and East…they travelled to wine and gold and
sunshine, but their hearts were set on something higher”. They were in search of something. Something impossible to locate,
something beyond the horizon – something unreachable. Something… I return to the paintings and imagine stepping outside,
following the setting sun, wandering up a tall mountain – the strength of the wind. Enveloped by calm, searching in a field of
light – I catch a thought: Dwelling on a planet, navigating through it, dreaming while awake.


Elle Charalambu, 2021

by Elle Charalambu | 2021 | Uncategorized