Monday, April 21, 2014

"I Am in The Surrender Business"

Fragile 22 50x50"  Oil/cold wax on panel  © 2014 Janice Mason Steeves

In his book, Free Play, Stephen Nachmanovitch, an improvising musician,  wrote, "I am not in the music business, I am not in the creativity business; I am in the surrender business. Improvisation is acceptance, in a single breath, of both transience and eternity. Surrender means cultivating a comfortable attitude toward not-knowing, being nurtured by the mystery of moments that are dependably surprising, ever fresh".

Last weekend, I taught a cold wax and oil painting workshop in my studio with eight artists, some of whom were very advanced.  I always teach the elements of design in my workshops-a good refresher for those who have studied them and an intro for those who have not.  One artist who is an accomplished figurative painter, had great difficulty dividing the painting surface into shapes.  I tried in various ways to help her understand what I was after, drawing some pictures for her, showing her the work of other artists, and explaining in various ways.  Yet she didn't understand what I meant.  On Sunday at about 1pm (the class was to end at 3pm), she asked me if she could pretend she was painting the figure in order to divide up the space.  Yes, I told her, do what you need to do.  It was like a lightbulb came on in her head and she was on FIRE.  In the space of 2 hours, she worked on 5 paintings with all the energy she had stored up over the weekend.  Based on a context she could relate to, she now understood what I meant and within 2 hours, had 5 exciting paintings on the go!  She surrendered to what she needed to do and I surrendered to how she needed to do it.

In my work this week, I  felt a reluctance to get into the studio even though I had recently completed two more paintings in my Fragile series that I really love including the painting above.  I kept finding all manner of other things I had to do first.  Finally, remembering the fun that my student had had last week in my workshop, I pulled out my large palette knife and began to work on small panels with a free abandon, creating thick textures and strong shapes.  As I have done so often, and seem to forget just as often, I was surrendering to play.

New Work  12x12"  Oil/cold wax on panel ©  2014 Janice Mason Steeves

I think that my large ephemeral paintings from my Fragile series, might need the balance of the small and more earthy, immediate, wild and free paintings.  Or at least, I need the balance of ephemeral and earthy. That surrender to play, has brought me back to the studio again. I had been trying to make things happen in my work, rather than surrendering to what I needed to do at the moment. I had the idea that I should be continuing the Fragile series, even though my heart needed a short break from it.  I was fighting that, until I surrendered to play, disappearing into my work and letting go of expectations.  Surrender opens us into a whole new forms of creativity and takes us back again into our other work, with new eyes.

"If you surrender to the wind, you can ride it."  Toni Morrison