Sunday, October 20, 2013

Painting Intuitively

Green 5'x 6' oil/cold wax on canvas  ©2013 Janice Mason Steeves
I'm preparing for an exhibition in November, at the Burlington Art Centre in Burlington, ON, a beautiful public gallery located on the western end of Lake Ontario.

As is so often the case with art, if you can allow the process to unfold and trust that it will, amazing things can happen.  I believe that art is it's own spiritual journey.

The paintings in this series have led me on such a journey.

Last spring, Denis Longchamps, the Director of Programs, asked to come to my studio to see how the work was progressing. I had an idea for the show and had begun work on it. I had been working on a series of paintings I called Lines of Desire.  This series was an inner journey, where I was exploring my feelings related to the sudden life-threatening illness of a close friend. Denis liked the direction I was going and suggested we meet sometime in September to select work for the show.  My intention was to paint 7 large canvasses, each 5' x 6'.

Shortly after the studio visit, I was away for three weeks, teaching workshops in various parts of Canada.  When I returned, my idea for the series of paintings had simply dried up.  My painting is very much about following my intuition. With no more ideas or enthusiasm for the series, I had to move on to something else. Trouble is, I had no idea where to go. None.

I work in a very intuitive way, not knowing what the outcome will be.  It becomes a conversation between the spontaneous and the deliberate.  I generally begin by playing with my materials, waiting for something to fall into place, rather like the tumblers in a combination lock.  It can be a terrifying experience with a deadline looming. And I was terrified. After several long days of experimenting, the idea came to me to make very transparent rectangular shapes overlapping each other.  I began working with brayers and paint rollers of various sizes.  I still had no idea of the meaning of the work or the direction.

I decided to begin to work on one of the large canvasses with red as a base colour.   As I gradually built up the layers, one over another, working quite slowly so the paint would set up between layers, I added soft oranges and pinks.  The colours transitioned into lighter and lighter colours, ending with very light yellows and oranges.  I had a strong sense then to do a painting that was a monochromatic orange. Various shades of orange.  After that I had a clear idea to make a monochromatic painting using green. When I stood back from the work I saw how the paintings appeared to shimmer and move as though sunlight were moving through panes of glass. I realized that the work was exploring more deeply the idea of the fragility of life.

As I painted, it also became apparent to me that for these seven paintings I would work with the colours red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo/violet and white.  These are the colours of the chakras. Chakras in the metaphysical traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism, are the centres of life force or vital energy in the body.  The work clearly was about the body.

Each painting was painted over many times as I personally explored the chakras and their effect on my own body and life.  I had great trouble painting certain colours.  While I had worked with intense colours before, I had never worked with bright yellows or emerald greens or french ultramarine blue or indigo.  All new territory.

These seven paintings are about the body.  They speak of the balance between vitality and the delicate, fragile quality of our hold on life. 

The exhibition opens on November 24, 2013 from 2-4pm in the main gallery at the Burlington Art Centre, 1333 Lakeshore Road, Burlington, Ontario. It continues until January 12, 2014.

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