Art, Art, Ten Thousand Days

When Life Imitates Art

February 20, 2020

Photo: Markus Spiske

Day 2009 – Day 2014

Over the weekend, I decided to spend some time painting.  I’ve got about a million things tugging at my time but I am battling a cold, so I decided to stay home and just paint, on Sunday.  I sat at the easel for hours.  Then I went and did laundry and came back and sat for hours.  And then I went and cooked dinner.  Back to the easel, for more sitting and looking.  In all those 12 hours, you would have thought I’d have started six new canvases and finished at least one work in progress.  But, no.  I managed to make very little progress on the two pieces in front of me.

I work on several pieces at the same time, in order to just keep working.  While one piece is drying, I move on to the next.  And, when I’ve got paint left over, I often will start something new.  I have probably a hundred WIP pieces and I’m tired of having them around.  Right now, I’m into finishing them and furthering a new style of painting, to build a new body of work.  I’m grateful to be able to say that I finished several old pieces at the end of 2019, but I’ve got many in the pile to be completed.

I am what you might call an intuitive artist.  I suppose what that means depends on how you define that term.  I think you might call me an expressionist.  One of my favourite figurative paintings is by a lesser known Austrian painter who is arguably, the first expressionist painter.  For me, expressionism sometimes takes abstract form and I absolutely love abstract expressionism.  Klee, Rothko and Martin are among my favourites.  But, it’s hard to be a good at abstract expressionism, no matter how it might look to the museum-goer.  To me, it has a lot to do with being great with colour, light (Klee and Rothko were amazing at this),  composition and texture in order to convey abstract emotions, ideas or states of being.  It can be approached scientifically and theoretically, but I tend to approach my painting intuitively.  Another way I paint is to start by laying down colour and patterns and then I keep turning the canvas around and around, adding to and painting over the colour, shapes and patterns until a figurative form or forms begin to emerge.  It has to be something that organically emerges to my eye.  I know that many people see things in my work that I never saw and that’s wonderful.  But, if I haven’t seen it, I’m not going to be able to relate to it and to bring it to life.  The final way that I often work is a form of outsider-art/primitivism that I was taught by Jesse Reno, where I lay down colour and symbols, then ‘grab’ parts that I like the most and see where that grab takes me.

Of course, I have done some art works where I set out to paint or draw a particular ‘thing’ – whether it is a still life or model in front of me, or from a photograph, or from my mind’s eye.  I never find these things have the same kind of energy that my intuitive pieces have.  While I’m grateful for the instruction I’ve had, frankly, I’m not that great at the technical aspects of painting or drawing.  Many artists plan out their canvas before they even touch it.  I don’t.  And so, I often end up with challenges in framing the final piece or with weird compositions.  But, I kind of like the results and the process is a deep one, so I keep working in the way that I do, and each painting teaches me more about myself and about composition that somehow I intuitively bring into the next piece.

I’ve been wondering if life imitates art.  I don’t particularly mean in the way that Oscar Wilde meant this twist.  I don’t mean that we see beauty only in the way that art has trained us to see beauty – although there is something in that.  I do think our ego has been conditioned to perceive things in a certain way and we forget to look with fresh eyes and to stay receptive, with wonder.  But I actually mean something more base than this.  I wonder if the way we are comfortable creating isn’t reflected in the way we end up living our lives.  You don’t have to be a painter or a writer or a musician to create.  Everyone cooks.  Some people follow a recipe to the precise measurements.  Some people make tasty food but have no eye for presentation.  Some people cook by principles, creating and tasting as they go, so that no two attempts at a ‘dish’ will ever be the same.  I tend to cook the way I paint: intuitively.  And what I am realizing is that some of my frustration with my life comes from not giving myself permission to live the way that I create.

In life, I plan out the small stuff – the steps to a particular goal.  I probably could make a lot of decisions intuitively but because this kind of lifestyle is not valued, (at least it was not valued when I was growing up), I do a lot of research and wrestle with the question for a long time before making a decision.  I even have some goals that are pretty much ‘life goals’ but if truth be told, I’m not so great at figuring out the steps to get there.  I could look objectively at the steps someone else took to get there, and I’ve tried this, without much success.  Their steps wouldn’t be my steps because there are so many different environmental factors at play.  I think that I need to find my way to the goal within the set of circumstances, talents, opportunities and insights that I have.  And if I don’t find my way to the goal, then I would like to have sufficient faith that even though the goal was something I wanted, it wasn’t something that was meant for me.  I’m grateful that I’ve usually found a way to make peace with my failures, but I admit that sometimes I really believe that what I want is what the Universe should want, and I struggle with the pain when it doesn’t come to pass.

That is frustrating, but faith doesn’t mean believing only when things go my way.   I do believe that when my will and the will of the Divine Quantum are in alignment, the obstacles are cleared.  I believe that the Divine Quantum is always opening doors and laying out a plan.  It is me that hasn’t always been fully receptive.   As humans, it’s tempting to want to plan every step and control every outcome.  I’ve done the planning and tried to achieve things through self-control.  But there’s an old joke – if you want to make “God” laugh, make a plan.  Sometimes the joke is on you when you don’t achieve your goal.  Sometimes the joke is when you do.

I don’t use ‘Divine will’ to be lazy.  I graft with the best of them.  Yes, I’ve worked tirelessly to achieve huge life goals only to get there and realize it wasn’t what I wanted, after all.  I’ve wasted years in jobs I should want and ruined my health trying to be everything to everybody except what I knew in my heart I should have been.  Nowhere along the way did I allow myself to question whether I was being drawn toward or guided to something better.  Well, that’s not true.  I did question.  I didn’t follow.  Instead, I went with what seemed a bit more practical.

I remember one instance where I had my eye on the prize and I broke down all the steps to achieve my goal.  I kept track of my progress so that I would make it to the end game as a success.  For more than 18 months, while I held down a full time job, I worked every morning from 4-7:30 am and 7-9 every evening with an additional 12-28 hours of work every weekend just to achieve the prize.  I spent all my holidays working toward that goal and I took 6 weeks of unpaid leave to get to the finish line.  I remember that the night before the final hurdle, I turned on the television to relax for an hour and there was Felix Baumgartner about to leap into space and skydive to the earth.  I knew nothing about it and I wasn’t certain whether I’d be watching a man fall to his death, but oh, how he was living!  For me, my greatest professional achievement to date will always be a part of the gestalt of that moment Baumgartner said “I’m going home, now” and stepped off the platform.

I achieved my goal, and yes, I felt grateful and proud of my accomplishment but it wasn’t going to lead to a life that I really wanted.  It didn’t give me anything of the joy of watching Baumgartner that day.   That was the beginning of the end of that phase of my life.

This weekend I went back to a painting that I’ve been working on, in my studio, for over 2 years.  It’s a small painting.  It’s nothing momentous but I feel that it is special – at least to me.  I keep looking at it and I see this brilliant potential but I’m not sure where to go with it.  So I put it aside for another few months and then bring it out again.  Maybe I do a few brushstrokes but then I put it away again and forget about it.  This past weekend, with a renewed commitment to receptivity, I worked on it again.  For the first time, I could see what was there, all along.  I see it.  I know the title.  I’m so close to giving it life.  One of the hardest lessons in painting is knowing when to stop.  And now, I’m stuck.  I’m afraid of the next brush stroke, in case I ruin it.

I feel like I can’t live my life in the flow of receptivity, following my faith, if I am afraid of the next step.  And yet, here I am.  I know that change is ahead and has been in process for some time, now.  I’m really trying to be receptive to where it will take me.  Some days I dream about going walkabout, of renunciation, and walking the earth.  It has been my experience that when I wander, small but profoundly beautiful things happen.  The pilgrim walks in faith, not always knowing the destination and I don’t know if my will is going to align with the Divine Quantum on that dream or whether, by focusing on being receptive, the Universe will bring the mate for whom I have been longing and who has been questing for me, for so long.  Maybe it will be neither of these options and I will be led to something completely ordinary where there is some meaning that I may never fully comprehend.  I know that my one job right now is to be receptive.

And so, I keep turning this life around and around, looking at it from different angles, and waiting for that which needs to be born to emerge.  But all day, I sit at my desk and my painting haunts me.  I can’t work on it but I can’t forget it either.  Maybe tonight I will go home, and with a single brush stroke, destroy what was waiting to be.  Maybe I will give birth to something beyond my wildest dreams.  Sometimes in life, it can go either way.  But who are we to say that what we call a mistake was not aligned with the intent of the Divine Quantum?  I believe every downfall is an opportunity to learn and grow.  And equally, who are we not to be receptive to the call to a great leap of faith into something beautiful?

 

Photo: Kamil Pietrzak

 

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

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