Monday, February 26, 2018

Mindfulness in Art: Trust

Iceworks 44  12x15"  Oil/cold wax on panel  ©2018 Janice Mason Steeves

Iceworks 45  Oil/cold wax on panel ©2018 Janice Mason Steeves

Last fall I started a series of blog posts based on John Kabat-Zinn's 7 attitudinal foundations of mindfulness from his book: "Mindfulness for Beginners".  I thought it would be interesting to look at the relationship of  these 7 fundamentals to painting. Trust is one of them.

 In a personal story, as some of you know, I had two consecutive knee replacements in 2017.  Much of 2016 and most of 2017 was spent in pain and then later, healing. By the fall of 2017, I was back in action. However, during the healing process, I had a bit of a crisis of faith. Faith in myself to continue to create.

Normally I have pretty continuous creative ideas. They arrive like pictures in my mind. Unlike Agnes Martin who had  a separate vision for each painting,  I seem to get pictures in my mind of a series of paintings.......or maybe it's just an idea to follow. I'm not sure. But I do get visual creative ideas. During my artistic hiatus with operations and healing this past year and a half, I had none. Zero. I also wasn't working in my studio. I had no desire to. I did have guilt about it though whenever I passed by the studio area in my house, and looked in. Most often, I didn't even look in.

I thought that perhaps I was done for as an artist. That this was a clue that I was to retire-hang up the brushes.

And then I went to Iceland, to teach a workshop and to stay on for another 2-week artist residency. I had previously done an artist residency at the Baer Art Center in July 2016, when I was in the throes of great pain while waiting for the knee replacements. Both times I found the residency inspiring and restorative. I didn't expect the series I began there to continue once I was at home. In the previous residencies I've done, I turned aside the residency work and resumed where I left off in my studio practice. 

This time was different. Very gradually, I began to work in the studio again, slowly at first, feeling my way along. Playing with ideas. Working with the images I'd produced in the residency, adding quiet  panels of colour. Gaining back my confidence. 

Still. I wasn't getting any inner pictures. 

Slowly, slowly, in the last three months, I began again to get pictures in my mind. I can't begin to express the joy I had when this happened. It was a long slow journey back to the studio. Unlike some who have had an artistic hiatus for health reasons, but who yearn to return to the studio, I had none of that. No desire at all.

Normally, I have good advice for those of my students who struggle to schedule their work time in the studio. But could I follow my own advice? No. Could I push myself to get into the studio? No. Sometimes it just takes time. Sometimes it means surrendering to what is.

I can see now that I needed the time away from my studio to heal. To watch all 156 episodes of the West Wing, countless movies, and to read tons of murder mysteries. 

There was a part of me that hoped that my creativity would return.

Perhaps it was that that saved me. That desire.

Perhaps it was just the timing of my body's healing. I needed to learn to trust in that. Trusting not only that I would return to painting, but that my paintings had a life of their own. That they had their own plan. I needed also to trust that path. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Following A Series: In Search of Poetry

How does a series come about? What is it that makes an artist want to follow a few paintings along to see where they lead? Is it simply making the decision to do so? Or is it something exciting about them that sparks other ideas?

The current series I'm working on began at my artist residency at the Baer Art Center in Iceland in 2016. It took a few days to settle into the residency. As I walked the treeless farmland that hugs the coastline of Skagafjordur where the residency is located, I became fascinated with the dark and imposing cape. It would be an island except for two long bands of stones that join the cape to the mainland on either side, creating a freshwater lake in the centre with a black sand beach.  Seen from the water, the cape is a breathtaking expanse of basalt columns that have formed into overlapping layers which flowed into various curved shapes as the volcanic columns were cooling long ago.

I didn't interpret this landscape directly, but I was certainly inspired by it as I tried to paint it in an abstract way.

I painted every day gradually letting the work change as I focused on one element or another or as the landscape grew in me.

I continued this series in the fall of 2017 when I came back to the Baer Art Center to teach a workshop and to stay on for a 2 week residency.

When I came home, I wasn't sure I could maintain the energy for the work without being in the landscape. But then as I continued to look at these pieces, I wondered if I could work with them in another way by adding on panels that would describe the colours of Iceland. I'd made a colour chart when I was there and decided to use it to help me remember the colours I'd seen.

And then, I began to play with the colours alone, using various sizes of panels. Pursuing what I find interesting, following the feeling of the work.

The work became even quieter. Barely a whisper.

I've been following where these paintings have led me. In search of poetry.

And it was at that age ... Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.     
Pablo Neruda