Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pilgrimage and Painting: Influences on my Work

With two artist’s talks scheduled for late January, and two more in the spring, I spent the early part of the month learning Power Point, which may seem easy to those who have newer computers with no internal glitches.  Let’s say it was a challenge for me and for my computer.

In the end, once I figured out how the program worked, and with the help of my daughter and her husband as well as the use of their computer, the whole process turned out to be incredibly enjoyable.  It gave me the chance to look at the hundreds of photos I take every time I travel, reliving them and considering what I learned on each trip.  Each feeds into my life journey and the trajectory of my work.  I loved the creativity involved in putting the photos together, making a slideshow movie, and adding in music that I had brought back from each trip.  I decided to call the talk: Pilgrimage and Painting: Influences on my Work

The idea of going on pilgrimages began for me before I had actually named the trips as such.  Pilgrimage is defined as a journey to a sacred centre, and/or life viewed as a journey.

In 1994, at the Ontario College of Art and Design, I was enrolled in a class called “Symbol”. Our assignment was to find an important personal symbol on which to focus our work for the semester. I struggled with this. That same fall, I went to Greece for two weeks.  On the island of Crete, I became obsessed with the huge, ancient, pottery vessels that were still standing on the archaeological sites.  I began actually dreaming of them.  One night, I dreamt for the entire night about a light-filled vessel that had a sacred pattern around the edge.  When I came home, ‘vessels’ became the obvious symbol that I began to paint in my class.  I understood it to be a universal symbol, almost archetypal. That image was a container for many ideas: nurturing; the body; the earth; the spirit.  This image continued to feed my work for several years.

I realize now, looking back, that the idea of pilgrimage or journey constantly informs my work, whether directly or indirectly. In this slideshow presentation, I show images of my journey to India with Andrew Harvey, a mystical scholar and author who was born in India and began his spiritual journey there.  He led a trip in 2006 called “Shiva’s Dancing Ground” to South India where we visited sacred sites and prayed in incense-filled temples.  However my pilgrimage to India really began for me the year before, when I traveled on a tour to North India.  The focus was on visiting tourist sights.  But India is sacred.  You can't avoid it.  Each journey there becomes a pilgrimage. We visited the Holy City of Varanasi and plied the Ganges at dawn, lighting small candles in leaf boats that floated away with our blessings inside.

At the nearby burning ghats, we had to walk around a dead woman who was laid out on the pathway, soon to be creamated.  She was dressed in a fine sari with a marigold in her mouth. I won't ever forget her. We hide death in our Western culture.  Ignore it as though it will go away if we don't look. 

At Sarnath, we circumambulated a stupa. Buddha preached his first sermon here after he attained enlightenment.  Every stupa contains at the very least a life tree and holy relics:"When a great teacher passes away, his body is no more, but to indicate that his mind is dwelling forever in an unchanging way in the dharmakaya, one will erect a stupa as a symbol of the mind of the buddhas" - HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

                                                     SOUTH INDIA

In South India, in 2006, we chanted as we circumambulated the sacred mountain, Mount Arunachala, where holy men, sadhus, begged for food. Mount Arunachala, made famous by Sri Ramana Maharshi, is said to bestow enlightenment and moksha (liberation from reincarnation) to the pilgrim who circumambulates its base. We meditated often each day.  The journey became an increasingly swirling experience of incense, chanting, meditation and blessings. I fought to keep my feet on the ground.  That feeling continued after I came home. I wasn’t able to paint for months and struggled to integrate what I'd learned there.

“It is not enough that one surrenders oneself. Surrender is to give oneself up to the original cause of one's being. Do not delude yourself by imagining such a source to be some God outside you. One's source is within oneself. Give yourself up to it. That means that you should seek the source and merge in it.”  Sri Ramana Maharshi

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Doris McCarthy one more time

Fantasy Iceberg #40   1989  by Doris McCarthy

Today I was reading Robert Genn’s newsletter, where a young woman from Brazil wrote to him saying that she was having difficulty getting back to painting after the death of her grandfather.  Robert said how important it was for her to get back to work, it’s what her grandfather would have wanted. He said, “His passing is your gift; it is his breath you continue to breathe, and the brilliance that was within him is now passed on to you. It is a legacy not to be passed up".  Robert mentioned how, "We the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Artists need to be aware of the continuum.

Mentioning the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Artists, made me think of the funeral service held yesterday for the young Sgt. Ryan Russell, a member of the Toronto Police Force, who was killed last week in the line of duty. Twelve thousand members of police forces, RCMP and military came to Toronto from across Canada to attend his funeral at the Toronto Convention Centre. The funeral procession wound through the city all morning, arriving at the Convention Centre in the early afternoon.  The Lieutenant Governor of Ontario was there.  In their very numbers, the police presented a strong, ‘family’ show of support for their fallen member and his young family. It made me somewhat envious of their close sense of comradeship. 

As artists we normally work alone in our studios.  There is some degree of competition between us as we vie for grants, for our work to be hung in juried exhibitions, for sales in galleries, for public gallery exhibitions.  Perhaps it’s our individualistic personalities that create this relative isolation or the nature of our work.  Imagine so many other artists from across Canada coming to the funeral of one of us. There were not twelve thousand artists at the funeral of Doris McCarthy last November.  She was a 100-year-old icon in the Canadian art world.  She enriched the lives of all Canadians with her work and made a huge contribution to the history of Canadian art.

Alan Bryce, who holds the largest private collection of Doris McCarthy’s paintings, opened his exhibition of her work last week at Spazio dell’arte, 400 Eastern Ave. Suite 201, Toronto.  The exhibition, called:  Honouring Doris McCarthy, A Collector’s Passion runs until February 12, 2011.

In the entranceway you are met by these words of the artist:

“oh, I love the world!
I love nature!
I love creation!”