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Ad Astra (To The Stars)

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Ad Astra (To The Stars) Acrylic on Canvas by Michelle Chermaine

Acrylic on canvas 24" x 24" 2009

"I seek the road to Neverwhere
To find that which I once left there.
That which I lost, yet never owned
Back in the lands that never were.
Horizons veiled, to charts unknown…

Excerpt from Neverwhere

©Michelle Chermaine A. Ramos

Can you find all the symbols in this painting?

Learn more about this intricate painting's many hidden symbols, and mythological and historical sources below:

The little boy sits in his rowboat hesitant, yet curious to explore what lies beyond the mouth of the river. He wears a green sweater, which represents youth in this piece. Orange, the little boat’s color, is the combination of red, representative of energy and determination, and yellow, representative of intellect. The oars that the boy controls are symbolic of the skill, strength and knowledge he has to apply in order to get from one place to another. The ship in the sky may or may not reflect the future, but being much bigger than the rowboat, intangible and out of reach for now, it is symbolic of the child’s dreams and ambition.

Ad Astra - boy in boat close up
Ad Astra - Distant fairy lights in forest
In many different legends all over the globe, forests are mysterious places, often filled with strange supernatural creatures and secrets to be unearthed. In contrast to the comforts and safety of homes in the city, the forest harbours many different dangers that children are vulnerable to. In this piece, you can see tiny little fairy lights glowing from the trees. What used to be unexplored territory has now been explored. What used to be a realm of fear and darkness now shines with the light of knowledge and wonder ever since the boy ventured into its depths to confront his childhood fears. He has now grown out of that early stage of his life and is moving out to explore what lies beyond the forest along the river’s path.
Ad Astra closeup of fairies in the bush
Ad astra - closeup of dead tree

The mouth of the river represents change – moving on to something greater. In the foreground is a dead tree. However, like the graceful willow, light dances along its branches and shines out from the bottom of its hollowed out trunk. Although a plain picture of death on the surface, there is much more to it. Even in death, it seems to stand with more beauty and spirit than it probably ever had in life. Older, and having experienced more of Nature’s cycles than the willow, it shines the light of wisdom and experience. It too, along with the willow, points towards change.

Some of the tiny forest fairies are accompanying the boy on his journey to light his path. They too, are symbolic of all he has learned up to this point in time. While some fly overhead, several swarm together to swim beside and ahead of the boat. From a distance, it looks as though some strange monstrous form is following the boat, but upon closer inspection, you'd see that the "monster" is simply made up of friendly, relatively harmless creatures. Things are not always what they seem. Some of those ahead of the boat rise up from the water to push aside the curtain of willow branches symbolizing transition, to encourage the boy to move on.

Compared to the river with its relatively smooth course and defined route, the larger body of water is darker and has no routes. You don't know what lies beyond the horizon and what you might find there. Unlike the forest from which you can turn back along the worn path or find a place to stay for the night, here, there are no paths, no shelter and no protection against what mysteries lie beneath, and the skies' fury in the event of a storm. Realistically, it's impractical to go out there in a simple rowboat, but that alone in this piece shows the risks the boy will have to take if he does decide to pass through that veil to venture into a greater unexplored territory. Being a site of risks and challenges, it is also a place of self-revelation, the journey across which can be viewed as the journey of life.

Aside from the fairies and the lamp, the other main source of light is the moon. Inconstant and ever changing, according to astrology, the moon is symbolic of the soul and a person's ability to adapt to changes and reflect upon those experiences. Being the middle ground between sunlight and the darkness of the night, it represents what lies between consciousness and the subconscious. It often represents inner knowledge, intuition and creativity. In this piece, it shines in a waxing crescent, symbolic of youth and growth.

Ad Astra - Closeup of Poseidon guiding the ship in the sky

Although there will be obstacles ahead, the sky shines with hope. Look closely and you'll find an image of Poseidon in the clouds making way for the ship to pass through safely. He represents guidance at sea, safe passage and mastery over the waves. Look at the upper left and see if you can make out something less visible.

Ad Astra - Closeup of eyes in the sky So many stars, but which one to follow? Their numbers may be overwhelming, their distance discouraging. Sometimes it's hard to choose which one to follow. However, one must never be afraid to retain some of that childlike faith and wonder to wish upon a star and aim high. You may miss the one you aimed for, but with the vast number of those shining nearby, you will always land on another, perhaps bigger, brighter and made just for you. It may be temporarily out of reach, but never out of sight.

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