Sunday, April 27, 2014

For Every Thing, There is a Season

Close up of Painted of yet this is untitled
Painted Door

It's been the spring of slow beginnings here in Door County Wisconsin.  It's April 27 and it's a chilly 37 degrees today.  None of the bulbs in our woods have bloomed yet; we have just lost the last snow from the melting banks along our driveway.  Nonetheless, setting up shop for the Gallery season is on the agenda this week, for an opening on Memorial Day weekend.  The days of getting lost in painting all afternoon and reading and writing in the evening, if not coming to an end, are going to be rarer than busy days of business ownership.
It has me reflecting on balance.  Many of us spend a great deal of our lives trying to understand our lives.  My painting is my meditation, my vigorous practice where I find meaning.  Listening to archived podcasts of On Being with Krista Tippet today I listened to an interview with Brian Greene, "Reimagining The Cosmos."  At one point in the interview Tippett asked Greene if he experienced the relativity of time or only understood it through mathematical equations.  I was surprised at the answer.  He wholeheartedly believes the proof in the math that time does not have the linear and regular structure we understand it to have in Western Thought, it is the same equations that bring us our technology, our cell phones and our podcasts!  And yet, in his daily life, he does not experience time to be fluid, changeable and relative.  If asked if the past is over and the future hasn't happened he has to be truthful, that is how he experiences it.
I can't wrap my head around the math, but I feel that I am able to experience the non-linear nature of time.  Within the time at the easel there is "lost" time, and during those intervals of being I experience things differently than I do when conscious of time.  I "know" things I would not otherwise know and I can experience life differently, with a spaciousness that otherwise doesn't exist.  Perhaps seasoned meditators feel this way.  When I get caught up in the linear aspects of life, paying the bills, keeping up my online shop, shipping orders, and setting up shop for customers, the structure kicks in out of necessity.
I enjoy having a Gallery to open, am looking forward to seeing my regular customers and meeting new people, and set up is a fun creative project.  Meanwhile my time at the easel is going to be a fraction of what it was this winter.  And moving back and forth between ways of being is not always easy.  So how to find the balance....?

Wishing Stones.
I have more questions about this than answers right now.  I would love to hear what other artists do.  For now I have embarked on smaller projects that focus my energies into a specific idea, something I can meditate on.  They may not take my thoughts to the depths of my larger paintings, but they take me out of the cycle of work, production, and earning that we all have to do to survive.  It'll be interesting to see how that changes my ideas and work.

The Stones are characters in a larger story that I can experience individually.
Perhaps the seasons demand different ways of being, and the progress made in the summer season make it possible to do the expansive work of the winter.  I am pondering these things this week.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

In Life As In Art

In Life As in Art: Lessons from the Studio

William Blake
"Behemoth and Leviathan"
c. 1805 - 1810 

I love the paintings of William Blake.  I don't share his religious sensibilities, but when I look closely at them I share something beyond the literal interpretations, into the vision.

Many people will marvel at his work but dismiss his genius as fueled by insanity.

Sometimes I wonder if the greatest insanity is the compliant acceptance of the culture we live in and the restrictions it imposes on our vision.

Look at a Blake painting for a very long time.  The next time you look at a flower, look for a very long time.  Look at another person's face for a very long time.  

Apply the same thing to your thoughts.  The next time you are contemplating an issue, look at it from all angles, look at your emotions as they form themselves around your thoughts and move them from side to side, shifting their very essence into something new... more tangible perhaps.  Or more accessible, more palatable, more digestible.  We blind ourselves to the truth of our own existence and shrink ourselves to fit into a world that needs to keep us small and obedient.  And it is safer to stay small than to expand into a space we are unfamiliar with.

   "If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite."
                                                                                              William Blake  "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"

Work in Progress from the Studio  (This one is mine)

There is a lot of insanity around us in this culture we live in.  And so little time to contemplate.  The Buddha told his followers not to believe what he said, but rather to go out and find the truth for themselves.

We find by searching, we see by looking, not for what we already know, but for what we haven't known yet.  And that takes a lot of time, an excruciatingly long look without turning away.  

Old thoughts need to be released in order for new thoughts to arise, and when we hold onto our beliefs and opinions we don't see what is before us.

The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.
                                                                                                   William Blake "A Memorable Fancy"

In life as in art, the experience is entirely up to us.  It just depends on how long you are willing to look and how wide you are willing to see.  The possibilites are infinite.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Aftermath of Speaking Out: What Breaks Us, What Puts Us Back Together.

With every new painting I essentially say the same thing, "I Am Here."
This blog has become a public platform for some very personal topics.  I am driven by the belief that our most personal stories are in fact the most universal.  Everyone has their own way of making peace with life.  And that peace brings us closer to our truth. In truth we have no grand illusion to blind us from the incomprehensible mysteries of life. In peace we have no outside pressure to cause us to fool ourselves.  In my life I have found that true peace can only come from my own individual search and the lessons I learn, which come from a life of searching.

In the process of I confronting my past and facing the fears that had held me prisoner,
I revisited old letters, journals, and now I am revisiting another older painting.

Those of you who have been following my blog already know that a little over a month ago I wrote about my experience of domestic abuse, and the years of harassment that followed.  I was driven by a need for freedom, and I knew by speaking out about my personal experience I would be opening Pandora's box, in a sense.  I had no idea how it would all unfold.  What I was doing was opening a dam that had been holding back my own flow for far too long.  I felt strong enough to ride the tide and let it take me where it would.  A deep and hard earned appreciation for the logic of intuition in this life, a trust in life itself, was the only faith I had to go on.  I can tie these things in to my paintings, because it is often and sometimes only through painting that I understand my deepest feelings and thoughts.

The month that followed that post was tough.  I ended up filing a harassment/stalking restraining order and a few days ago, I won that in a hearing in a local courtroom.  The order is for four years and it doesn't guarantee my complete safety, but it secures my freedom to express myself in my own blog and other public forums without being harassed, frightened or bullied.  The fight for those rights meant going to court where I could legally and safely stand up for myself.  It was an essential step in the process of putting my pieces back together after being broken apart so many years ago.

Sometimes the events of our lives fracture us.  In my case, I had split into two, and each half co-existed.
A sense of detachment, a shadow self, prevented my connected self from fully participating.  

Healing, as I now understand it to be, is not a return to what we were before.  We cannot stay in one place and we cannot go back.  What we move into is our choice, but so often we go through life unaware and half asleep.  We make excuses, we blame, we escape into distractions.  Being fully awake means to acknowledge all the sides of ourselves, even those that have been neglected, disavowed and overlooked in the struggle to keep up, move on and live life in the world as we know it.

When the reality of my own life became too painful to face, I escaped.  This does not mean I became bipolar.  I chose, not knowing it was a choice, to sometimes not "be here" while going through life.  It can best be seen as stepping back, letting life unfold but being somewhere else in your mind.  So many of us, the childhood dreamers, know what I mean by this.  My mental escape became more extreme, and a convenient hiding place when unwelcome emotions surfaced.  Fear, anger, anxiety, sadness... they were unwelcome.  What happens when you push these away is that their counterparts, joy, love, peace and bliss also move into a murky space where thay are inaccesessable.  Because the pain of the loss of my son drove part of my self into a private and safe place, the other parts of my life missed knowing all of me.  I can feel regret, for how long it took to see what had happened, but regret is a backwards road full of pitfalls.  This is life, it is messy.  It is a series of questions that just lead to more questions.  But it can be entered into everyday with open eyes and a recepetive heart.  That is the truth of life I had missed by escaping.  

In the past four years I have become increasingly withdrawn from the relationships in my life as I entered
into a "cocoon" phase.  This was a necessary step towards understanding my own boundaries
and gaining the self reliance and acceptance to assert these boundaries.

What I now understand as the "cocoon" phase, a time of intense introspection and hermetic isolation, has been a wonderful experience for me.  It required many hours at the easel.  Although I had to pull away from the world in order to access my subconscious and begin the healing process, my family and most friends have understood and given me the space and freedom required to turn inward.  There I found the strength I needed to see my own life with open eyes.  The confidence I gained from these recent years has been exactly what I needed to recognize what a violation the harassment and stalking have been.  The courage I had gained made it possible to assert my rights without further fear of retaliation.  I know I have to live my entire life knowing safety is not a guarantee, this person who violated me may at anytime act out of anger.  I have prepared myself for this possibility, and a big lesson for me was that 90% of that preparation is mental.  Our minds can be our strength or our weakness.  It takes a strong heart and a disciplined mind to face a dangerous world.

As I paint this autobiographical painting that I started three years ago, I give form to all of these abstract ideas.  The gestation of my heart in it's cocoon phase, the splitting apart with two significant events, the birth of a child and the death of another.  The incubation of a self-realized identity that arises from the wounds and divisions caused by violence.  The images all arise, situate themselves in the context of a human figure, and I organize them.  I highlight some while glazing over others.  I reflect on their existence.  I acknowledge their purpose in my life.  A swan symbolizes the unseen world, the parts of life where intuition and trust are needed most.  A pair of eyes peering out from my brain, the self reflection and honesty needed to repair.  A grieving mother, a watchful mother, and a hand with a weapon.  A victim, a protector, a survivor.  A heart, a mind, a past and a future.  All the pieces that are put back together, a familiar but transformed and unified version of self.  

Being awake inside of oneself is the now the only option.  It is a the key that unlocks the cage,
the prison so many of us live in.  A cage with a key that has always been there.
 With every new painting I essentially say the same thing, "I Am Here."  It seems an odd thing to do.  I wonder if it's really what we are all doing, all of the time, and I have just found the way that works for me.  I don't feel a great sense of belonging to any particular group, religion, race, social caste or political organization.  As I grow older the purpose for my own existence becomes something that only I can unlock and live.  More social people might think it seems lonely.  But I'm not lonely or unfulfilled.  Those who seek validation in fame or riches would be disappointed.  I have a roof over my head and I eat three healthy meals a day.  I paint, I live my life and I face each problem that presents itself when I'm ready.  It feels like an integration of the broken parts, and it brings me great peace.

At this point in my life the studio is my workplace, my place of therapy, my place of peace.
I am happy here and that is never something to take for granted.

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