This morning I gave myself a legitimate reason not to paint - at least that’s what I am telling myself. My paintings are about 75% developed, and the hardest part has arrived. The cohesive orchestration of the imagery in my four individual paintings is upon me. If successful, the paintings will ‘hold together’ as four independent works, and flow together as a series of four(sequence to be arranged later). ‘Cohesion’ refers to how individual parts relate to each other, to the overall, to the format; to colours, to forms, and to energies. If the work is not successful, the overall may appear ‘un-resolved’(premature) or worse, confused. I have no fixed formula for painting - just a general sense of direction. I improvise, assess visually and hope to achieve coherence.
Regarding the orchestration of moving parts. I don’t really like the word ‘harmony’ - it connotes angels singing - I prefer ‘unity’ or ‘resolution’. This part of the work should not be sentimentalized - it involves much looking and critical thinking, supposition, and a measure of guesswork based on painting experience. This is where a good critic can help me understand what’s going on. Or, if a competent critic is not available, I ask a child. They state the obvious.
The unity I strive to achieve in a painting, (if recognized), occurs in a moment when all the elements included are necessary; and any non-essentials have been eliminated. Then, all that’s left should appear sufficient - TO MY VISUAL ASSESSMENT, and I declare the painting(s) finished. “So subjective” - I can hear the muttering of those who need to measure, and yes, it is because the painting is as much about me as anything else. Hence, my mood, method and mindset are determinate in the results.
By ‘mood’ I mean the emotional state(s) I am in when I paint. The way I feel effects most aspects of painting. What the ‘feel’(mood, emotion) is, doesn’t matter to anyone else but me and my capacity to sustain and re-evoke it. My moods can range from calm to engaged, from frustrated to angry - a varied spectrum of feeling that I accept. When I recognize how I feel, I name it. Can I change one mood to one more optimal for painting? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sustaining a mood over a period of time(5,10, 20 minutes) is possible, but over hours, weeks, even months, requires a effective capacity to ‘re-evoke’ the original state of ‘feeling’ in order to recommence working with the same energy, touch, and general sensitivity to previous passages. If I cannot re-connect to my previous ‘reality’, I risk introducing other and varied elements into an already established visual arena. Eeeeeeek, a cat in the henhouse. Confusion, contradictions, different ‘styles’ or energies of visual expression will result, a decorative bazaar or confusion.
To help me persevere and survive the three-ring circus of life and art, I’ve practiced various disciplines over decades: Yoga, Kendo, Iaido, calligraphy, and lately Tai Chi. These paths share capacities for calming the mind, activating the body, and focusing attention. They also connect me to long traditions of self-understanding and self-improvement. Although painting and teaching art were my primary learning tools, being a novice Samurai, taught me physical courage, humility and loosened my teeth.
Alongside mood exists mindset - my perceptions, interpretations, communications, beliefs, politics and opinions. I suppose what ‘sets’ my mind is a combo of genetics, experience, and learning. The ‘set’ can be narrow, broadened or influenced to change - but that requires determination, effort and modesty. We speak of changing our minds, but that is a major effort. Guiding students, I constantly addressed and questioned myself, as I grappled with their dilemmas. For my particular visual intuition-intelligence to emerge, old habits of control and self-limiting mind-sets, were needed to move aside to open space for invention, serendipity, disorientation and surprise. If I don’t succeed I risk boring myself, (and others)with superficial, belaboured, repetitive artwork. Urgg, so true that unlearning is harder than learning.
Lastly, comes ‘method’. My methods(practice and theory) derived from centuries of other painter’s trials and errors, and are deeply grounded within me. But, flexibility and adaption are needed if I want to keep developing my person, circumstances and art. If we are integrated souls, our lives, moods, philosophies, politics and work methods - the whole package - are interwoven. A close rapport exists between the who(me), the what(painting) and the how(methods). By cultivating an awareness of mood and mind-set, I can alter or adapt my methods, by working differently to achieve purposeful results. It sounds easy, but takes practice to understand the dynamics needed for evolving. Often I need to get totally fed-up with myself in order to stop cowardly(fear of doing something new), repetitive, habitual, dawdling around and just start painting. Certainly challenging, but the rocking chair awaits. Often, sitting on my arse and looking, is the only way I can reconnect and re-evoke the sensual ‘feel' of the existing imagery. The duration may vary, but time is necessary for the painting to speak to me. And for me to listen to the whisper.
Credible historical accounts attest that artists frequently experimented with performance enhancing, and hallucinatory drugs. They sought to broaden their minds, create new exciting perceptions, and thereby vitalize their art. Drugs may stimulate the senses and provoke visions(I was a hippy once) but, over time they do not necessarily improve skill-sets, and too many forays into lotus land dilute discipline and motivation. So getting high on mushrooms or Jesus is fine, but does not guarantee improved, authentic results. Pity.
Keeping a balance between solitude and living life is a juggler’s task, since too much introspection can be self-defeating - ‘me, myself and I’ = boring, but too much engagement with life limits the prioritizing of painting. So, my senses need to engage with life, AND, I need to be left alone to play with my coloured mud. My private sanctuary is my studio, where I can stand on my head, yell, cry or blast loud music. Whatever it takes to push me beyond inertia and into the next painting, I’ll do it, but I do it in private. So please, knock before entry.