A universe under my feet


I have a new treasure under my house.

As a child, I was fascinated by underground spaces. Manchester, England was crisscrossed with disused railway lines with their long tunnels, and Victorian-era street drains with brick-lined tunnels that went underground for miles. In an era before they were fenced off for safety, I could disappear underground with a flashlight and appear somewhere else in town. I could traverse my neighborhood before I was old enough to be allowed to cross a main road, by journeying under them. I am not sure it was safer, but it was certainly more exciting.

Nearby, in the limestone hills of the Peak District, I’d enjoy visiting the deep cave systems that wind deep underground. More recently, I’ve enjoyed visiting caves in France and Spain where, far under a mountain, ancient paintings of bison and abstract images continue to intrigue me.

So when I bought my current home a few years ago, I was in intrigued that it was built into a granite hillside… and there were crawl spaces under the foundation that ended in walls of solid rock.

The most accessible of these is under a set of stairs that runs from the main floor down to the garage. Though a small access hatch, I found an area large enough to stand in, with the underside of the stairs rising in parallel with a steep, imposing face of honey-colored granite that is well over 100 million years old.

It was a little ominous, surrounded by bare wood, gray cinderblock and concrete. Not very welcoming. So I decided it needed something special.

My friend Sheena Rae Dowling is well known in San Diego’s contemporary art community for her work in a variety of media, subjects and styles. Naturally, I’d always gravitated to her large works showing swirling astronomical effects. I asked her if she’d be interested in the challenge of painting this space with something similar. Fortunately, she was intrigued, and agreed.

Over a couple of months, she worked away in this area, often up on the rock face with lights set up, looking more like a miner than an artist. It was fascinating to see galaxies gradually weave their way up next to the rock, over the wood beams at the top and then snake down the other wall. The final result has turned what once felt like an imposing, dead space into a special underground wonderland, and an art installation that I believe both kids and adults will enjoy. I know I would have loved it as a child. It’s impossible to truly take a photo that captures the immersive, three-dimensional experience of the area. I encourage you to visit.

Sheena Rae Dowling’s work can be seen at https://sheenaraedowling.com/

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