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Painting in the present

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. Aristotle

I trust that you, like I, have been trying to come to grips with this latest atrocity in Orlando. I was ready to post a blog on my frustrations in the studio when the news came in and I was stopped in my tracks.

Many of us are feeling helpless and hoping to convert that fear, anger and helplessness into some positive action.

In order to take any positive action we must begin with a willingness to work on ourselves, from this basis we can reach out to others. We must see goodness in ourselves and everyone else we interact with.

My personal path includes meditation and a daily practice of gratitude. I returned to my blog on the summer solstice. As it coincided with a "strawberry full moon" it occurred to me that, as this was a night full of illumination, it provided a good opportunity for each of us to look at what it is that we seek and to set an intention to become peaceful and more loving. To make the changes we desire in our lives. Taking advantage of the light, we can see, not only what is missing from our lives, but also to notice that even as we are seeking change, we already have abundance in our life. Once we become aware of our blessings, we become grateful and better able to share with those who need solace, rather than reacting from a place of anger. May we all be aware of and grateful for our many blessings and may we all extend support and love to everyone in our lives (even those who are difficult). **** For the past days, weeks and months, I have been muddling around in the studio with no idea what I am doing! I am aware that when you don't know what you are doing in painting, that is the point of exploration, and a good space to be in, because this is where the creativity comes into play. There ...easily said (or written) but not so easy to work through. It is painful and it is frustrating and it is a very common experience in the studio. Painting is an immersive state, I must be fully present to the work as it is being done, In order to progress in my art work, I have to fully give myself over to an unstudied, nearly unconscious processing when initiating a painting and then I must continue with immediacy. My painting process depends on sitting and looking, painting and reflecting, painting, adding a color then another, removing, adjusting, simplifying, complicating until at a certain point, there is a presence developing in the painting. At this point there is a flowing into a universal experience where everything comes from and converges again. My state, while painting, is similar to that in my meditation practice where I go into my room, sit quietly in a dignified posture and allow thoughts / emotions to drift by without analysis. I let pass whatever flutters to the surface. Both practices bring you to a consciousness best described as "and" and "and". As you open your gaze and allow thoughts, feelings and preconceptions to disintegrate, you naturally include more space into your awareness. Without an openness the artist might miss the significant experience when it appears on the canvas. When I begin to feel that presence developing it becomes my job to midwife it through to resolution. I must be aware and evaluate but I cannot judge, I must let it grow with my assistance and if I am not careful or if I am insensitive to this moment, I will lose it. However, in painting as in writing, I cannot completely abandon myself to the process. Once the experience registers, I alternate between a directed critical assessment of the work at hand and the receptive, nonjudgmental openness. There is a coiling and uncoiling inherent in the process.

So while the process is similar to meditation, it is not the same.

Still, this surrender to the act of painting would be unbelievably hard unless I had learned to trust the very act of quieting the mind, turning my focus away from my constantly chattering mind, releasing judgments and surrendering to the inner life, through meditation. Emotional and mental upheaval can result when you stop or abandon the practice. At such times, resuming the practice can feel like the last thing you want to do. Your mind will fill with thoughts and emotions which collide and bounce off each other. And when you try to still your mind to meditate or focus on painting you may feel like jumping and running from the room. The reward for persistence is a calming of the mind and a deep quieting, almost peaceful state. Of course I open my eyes at the end of each session, and I leave my studio and return to the market driven world that values doing and product rather than being and presence. All of this is high falutin’ language and philosophical meanderings about the nuts and bolts of the actual painting. Back in the studio, frustrated by my perceived lack of progress, I had to find a way to proceed. The "series” I am currently working on started not as a series, but as an individual painting. As I got to a point in the painting where I was not sure how to proceed I began a new canvas. As I worked on the next and then began the next painting, I challenged myself to work with similar formal concerns. I painted in large gestures, creating variations of light and dark by juxtaposing strokes of color that grade into one another. I broke up large areas of color by smaller brushwork. I limited my palette for all of the paintings in development and used the same size canvas. And so I continued, to paint, but also I continued to fret. I had a lot of information on three canvasses but was not at all sure I saw any approach to a cohesive statement in the work. Then, the other day as I was speaking with an artist friend and sharing my frustrations in the studio, I said, "My greatest fear is that after I go through all this, the paintings I finally complete will look just like all the others!" Her wise response to me was , “Just do the work.“ And so I returned to the studio, and looked for what was there. I focused not on what I was missing, but on what I already had. Suddenly, I had paintings. I was in the flow. Sometimes all it takes it to “show up”.

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