The Witness – Helen Norton
On a trip to Broome, Western Australia in 2005 I was fortunate to come accross a painting I had somewhat fallen for, the year before, whilst working in a lively Italian cafe called Sandrinos in Fremantle. The artist is Helen Norton, and the work is of a medium sized dog, perhaps an english bull terrier, and is titled “Worthless”. After having spent many an afternoon gazing at the forlorn dog through the window of the cockatoo gallery in Fremantle, I decided to treat myself and buy a limited edition print on canvas of the work when I saw it on my trip to Broome. The piece has been awaiting framing ever since.
My partner remidied the situation for me this Christmas, so now “Worthless” framed and takes pride of place on our living room wall. The painting is one of a series of 20 which examines the relationship that man has with dog and how developments in human life can affect our best friend’s.
I have included my selections and the artist’s narrative from “The Witness” collection below. Enjoy!! 🙂
1. All Once Bubba’s
The notion is that we are all born with the “potential of future and growth” ahead of us. Sometimes its hard to recall this “opportunity” once when we find ourselves staring back at a life that has taken many strange turns with some not seeming to be so “idealistic” or “good for us”. Many times we just suddenly realise in mid-life that the “plan” went pretty much to “someone else’s” schedule and somehow evaded our own wishes and desires to live a life as whom we really are.
There was once a time in every person’s life when the “options” of life were in front. Here we see our “man” as a baby.
It’s important to remember that “the options” of life are never gone while we breathe and it is this sense I am trying to portray in this baby going on 50’s face.
2. Everyone a Mother’s Son
Continuing with the idea of growth and development of the child when all hopes are broad and sweeping and it seems “wide of eye”. We still “see”.
Perhaps our “options” close quickly once we advance into adulthood and the tidings of restrictions, burdens and impositions of culture, society, religion, family rules and expectations
Naturally come the stages of learning and teaching as we establish our “placements” in our cultural and social families. Amongst this the arrival of expectations and boundaries. With the onset of seeking our expectations to be met by others in our outer world, comes the natural and opposite partner to those personal outward demands.
This exposure to “disappointment” is the bipolar element to those needs being met or satisfied. Where there is a self-generated measure from ourselves towards others, there will always be the potential for a deficit in what comes to us from the others who will have their own version of reality in what they have planned to give to and get from you.
As disappointing as it may seem it is the balance of how the universe works. How are we trained to “deal with this”? That seems to be the elemental problem causing many neuroses in our modern society that are possibly not necessary.
4. Questing and Bull Bonding
In this story the time of bonding between these two friends begins to take place as they share ceremonial events and crisis in their adolescence. They form loyalties and connections as we do. They are very much focused on the outer world and their participation in that. In this case it is through masculine expression and competition.
5. The Blue
The story moves to start to show how the man lives his emotions through his dog. The dog is seen as an extension of himself, where the dog’s defeat is his as is the victory. It is seen in the city in “competition” among the corporate world between men and women in suits and in the bush there is no less sophistication or level of expression in a “dog brawl” out the front of a pub in the dirt.
6. Oblivious and the Animus
Moving right along we suddenly see things start to turn to natural mating urges. The man suddenly becomes aware of “something missing” from his life. His yearning comes to him in the form of the true “lacking within himself” in this picture. It appears as the mysterious “Anima” (the unconscious feminine element of his own self), fleetingly available as something “unreal” and not of “earthly” dimensions. She calls to him from deep inside his unconscious realms and he will probably not understand or see the “real myth!” again for many years. The Dog gleefully escapes such a complex process and mates with the female with no such handicap, as our man has to carry.
7. My Master the Idiot
The Master becomes smitten with the first “human materialisation” of what he first sensed as being incomplete in himself.
Romantic love enters the scene with all of its infatuation and power to elevate (albeit temporarily). He projects his neediness onto the outer woman passing by.
She walks past in a frock, curled hair, mascara, bright red seductive lips and a penchant for roses. He is pleased that he can call to himself this “seeming missing bit”, in the form of a woman. And so we go.
Dog is suddenly aware of the emotion of “distraction leading to the rejection” in his relationship with the man. His special one on one intimacy is suddenly watered down and split. No longer is he the one. Elements of “co-dependence” ring in the air.
It was a one-way dumping for the dog with the dog not choosing the incoming relationship himself as so often happens in families, friendships and even business. He is not content to just let go of “his man”, after some years of being the main focus. The dog companion demonstrates his fear and confusion physically as we do when we are threatened with the loss of a relationship due to a “change” in circumstances.
9. You Look Stupid
Dog mimics the feeling for the man and for himself. He ridicules the man by showing him what it looks like to him, and on the other hand Dog may be exposing his own vulnerability as a last attempt to re-connect with the man in intimacy now changed and lost.
The inevitable happens and the “disaster” is confirmed in a ceremony. Dog is down graded from first mate to “accessory” or so he feels. He is “bound” to stay for the sake of duty and commitment, despite his misery at the changes. His life is now changed and he is forced away from the comforts of what he once took as “a part of himself”. (That is his self-identity as being linked to being a part of a whole, namely a relationship with the man). He is thrust into a new space. Suddenly he is alone within “a triangle”.
11. The Triangle Feeling
This picture could sum up many situations in real life. The classic “triangle” as it is referred to. Dog is involved in the “dynamics” of the existing relationship therefore he cant escape, but a new element has been introduced to the situation. To a large degree he feels like “a dog” in how he senses he has been rejected. He feels his importance is of the status outside what the woman can give the man but mistakenly seethes with contempt and feels as if he is competing on the same level as the “romantic love”. Again like so many situations in real life where a “new partner may be introduced to existing children for example. The “relationship meaning” is unlike that between the man and the woman, but he can’t see that at this stage. Dog is trapped in this triangle and to make matters worse the man is unable to negotiate his own relationship to the dog and acknowledge that it is still important to him. They have confused the “issues” as so often happens and leads to unnecessary hurt and pain for all parties.
The natural progression for Dog is to spiral down into a sense of rejection and neglect. Loneliness sets in as he can only reflect on his losses and the deep personal injury to his doggy heart.
A dynamic sets in that is possibly a little unhealthy. Dog has to deal with the days after, still unable to leave the situation of course. The man gains more “ego identity” as he rises above his achievements. He breeds and multiplies, and carries out what he sees as his destiny through “seeding and ploughing”. All natural progression, however our Dog reverts to other behaviour that may indicate he is either trying to get attention, or doing naughty things (killing the cat) because no one cares anyway as he sees it. Maybe this is similar to our children when they feel “on the outer” of a similar situation. Do our children express their grief and rejection through simple acts of rebellion? Of course they do. Dog is no different. He doesn’t want to be naughty but it is his only chance of attention. Any attention is better than none as the saying goes.
Soon however Dog’s better self gets a hold of him and he gets no satisfaction from doing things that bring no sense of achievement or inner joy just to gain outward attention. Killing cats just led to a mouse plague, chewing thongs just led to more kicks up the bottom, and all he got was a load of criticism and disapproval and talk of putting him to sleep. He has run out of ideas and so begins the lonely journey into himself seeking the answers to his despair.
15. Despair and Darkness
He exposes himself to his deepest fears and insecurities and attempts to sacrifice himself in his awful state of loss. There is seemingly no hope. He is so far down he can’t go any lower in the conscious world. There is nowhere to go when you are sitting on the bottom of the world. He is not aware at this moment of how close he is to slipping through the floor on the bottom of the world and into what lies beneath this. He didn’t even know there was something under the floor of the earth. He is about to find out. We might call this ‘other place’ the “unconscious” of our psyche.
16. The Shadow Emerges
Down he goes into the arms of darkness within himself into what some religious terminology refers to as Hades, which is the opposite to the elation of their external belief of ‘Heaven’.
Instead of separatist and extreme opposing views of “the realms and extremities of life and after life” being external and isolated from something merely within ourselves, perhaps we might consider these places to be the less explored realms of our own capacities. Our inner mind. Neither being the good or the bad. Then the journey into this place may be laced with far more constructive benefits for us all and used for positive and personal development. The reward being that acceptance of this as part of ourselves and our ability gives us keys into the “underworld” of unexpressed potential and ability, rich with texture, surprise, power, spirituality and gifts un-describable as they are custom made for each individuals journey into this place. To be frank, it is custom built for each of us.
Dog surrenders to a new realm that surrounds him, and somehow finds peace within the darkness, chaos and confusion. He finds himself calm and accepting, and realises this is a lone journey and somehow through his hardship he has unwittingly stumbled upon something he never imagined possible from his pain in his conscious life daily life.
18. Defining Moments
In this place there are moments of definition where his senses are heightened and he experiences all things as if they are new and born to the moment. Strangely he looses the burden of judgements from and towards others and feels innocent and stunned by the beauty of the world around him. The invisible bonds of his emotional chains are lifted as he has surrendered in some way although there is no sense of defeat in the surrender as he was taught to believe would be the case in his conscious life. His conscious life was about competing, and winning. Defeat or surrender was shunned. He can see again it seems.
19. The Seeing
There comes a moment a little further down the track when he moves beyond his own pre-occupation with his mortality and individuality. He becomes almost like an Egyptian symbol, where he sees his placement in the universe as not being apart from it but that he is “a part” of it.
He feels the movement of Archetypical identity. To describe it in simple terms he feels like a cave painting.
Having achieved such noble and brave inner growth and having accessed a different level of existence within himself, Dog feels more peaceful about his life and no longer is wracked with anxiety, competitiveness and panic. He is contented with himself and so removes the burden of expectation and disappointment so common to us in our youth and developing middle years. His contentment is contagious and a gift to all those who come into contact with this peaceful reliable ambiance he carries.