Renowned artist Degard details her search for her lost ancestors and how this has influenced her art.
Degard is researching her ancestral history and, horrifically, has discovered that she has lost 27 members of her direct family in concentration camps. Before she started looking for relatives on Ancestry.com she had no idea these people ever existed. She discovered aunts and uncles all over Europe who had been scattered and murdered by the Nazi killing machine.
Degard’s experience as a child was that there was very little ‘real’ family. She has no first or second cousins, and only one aunt. As a child there were her grandparents, her mother, father, and aunt: a mini family. With the discovery of all these missing and murdered relatives, she became aware of how large and abundant her family could and would have been if the Holocaust had not happened.
This has been a profound personal loss for Degard which helps explains her feelings of loneliness as a child. She also is aware that there are thousands who have suffered the same loss, loneliness and lack of ‘real’ family.
Through Ancestry she could find only the name, date of birth, place of birth and death of her ancestors. She longed to meet them. She learnt a technique in a single class with the visionary artist June Elleni- Lane at The College of Psychic Studies. Degard realised that the only way to meet her ancestors again was to create spirit portraits of them.
What is a spirit portrait? Spirit portraits capture and represent the energetic essence of individuals, often deceased or absent. These portraits are not meant to be literal depictions of physical appearances, although there are always faces which appear, but rather visual representations of the spiritual and energetic presence of the subject. While appearing in distinctly human form, they also capture something of the nature of the subjects that have long since passed away.
Degard believes that each individual had a distinct energetic signature or vibration that can be accessed and portrayed through her artistic process. Through her intuitive abilities and connection to other realms of consciousness, she aims to channel the essence and aura of the subject onto the canvas. This process involves intense focus, meditation and an attunement to the transcendent energies surrounding the individual. In this way, she is able to bring back to life something of the character and nature of her ancestors lost in the Holocaust. She seeks to give them a place in history.
The spirit portraits created by Degard are characterised by intricate patterning, vibrant colours and abstract compositions. These visual elements are not random but rather intended to convey the energetic qualities and vibrational frequencies she perceives within the subject’s aura.
With each portrait, she produces a small accompanying book which describes what the aura means for that person’s nature or character. She is keen to state she is not a medium but hopes she channels her relatives accurately, depicting them as they would have been before their lives were cruelly cut short.
In the 20th century, Spirit Portraits were considered deeply personal and often served as tools for healing and self- reflection. Degard believes that by engaging with these portraits, individuals can access the energetic essence of the subject and experience a profound connection. The portraits are intended to evoke emotions, insights and transformative experiences. They enable viewers to connect with the transcendental dimensions beyond the physical realm. This process of finding her ancestors in portraiture has certainly been a profoundly connecting experience.
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