Mist rises on a mile-long white sand beach. It’s an island — almost deserted. There’s dazzle: puddle-jumping, tide pools, crabs crawling, seaweed and sun-bleached, haphazard logs. Behind, the dark forest looms: salal, spring flowers poking. Gulls call. Eagles watch. I’m on a search.
We artists have an environment in common: we search through it, we dig in it. We look here and there for subjects, ideas, better work, deeper meaning, farther sight, creative joy. I’m on my bike, a mobile easel tows behind. The watchman shakes his head. “A couple of sandwiches short of a picnic,” he says. There’s a false start, a sortie, an essay, a sketch, shutterbugging, viewfinder-thinking, mixing and matching. “I am just trying to find a way to make pictures.” (Jasper Johns)
Smells and feelings that can almost be painted. Air that might, in a pinch, be included. Gradations, lost edges, patterns of rock, counterpoint, the pieces of my little puzzle and maybe yours, too. What might be good today? Some things picturesque, painterly, doable. Others best left to Nature or another, braver hand. “To be on a quest is nothing more or less than to become an asker of questions.” (Sam Keen)
Where am I going? What am I looking for? What am I running from? What can I do with this magnificence? Open up here. Be new. “One shouldn’t go looking for something, but rather to see what is there.” (John Cage)
I’m feeling a remarkable sense of power right now. Away from the tarmac and the dieseling in this salt air, I feel the force. “Trust the force, Luke.” It’s something to do with the mystery of the search. Perhaps the faith that somewhere, somehow, there will be something here. Do you ever have the feeling that you just know it? “Painters are amongst the priests — worker priests of the cult of man — searching to understand but never to know.” (Brice Marden)
“I am hunting lost pieces of myself.” (Berthe Kaline Naparrula)
PS: “Desire, ask, believe, receive.” (Stella Terrill Mann)
Esoterica: The American primitive painter Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917) reported watching an inch-worm crawl up a twig and then, clinging to the very end, revolve in the air, feeling for something to reach. “That’s me,” he said, “I am trying to find something out there beyond the place on which I have a footing.”
The following are selected correspondence arising from the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.
Right in plain sight
by Jan Woodford, Oregon, USA
As in the inchworm metaphor, we should all be seeking, trying to go a little further than is comfortable, inquiring. Then commenting on that which our curiosity turns up. Sometimes we find that which is right in plain sight. To someone else, it may not have been worth noticing. And yet, it may be that which we’ve been looking for all our lives.
by Nicoletta Baumeister
A line of authentic inquiry ends in a point of departure. We must jump into the unknown to gain new insight. Fresh territory is only discovered through exploration. This is not to suggest that one needs constantly to be on the move such as the person who gets tired of their field and moves to the farm, then tires of the farm and goes to the city. Finding the city dull, they move to another province, then another country, then another continent and finally starts dreaming of outer space.
There is another kind of discovery that mimics true crop rotation as practiced by farmers. It is based on the principal of limitation. Instead of altering the space (context) and continually trying to find new territory (subjects) to conquer, the traveler stays put, changes the crop (product) and the mode of cultivation, (process). The more you limit yourself, the more fertile you get in inventiveness. (Example: The Japanese book, A Hundred Ways to Wrap an Egg.)
Trust in the value of your own persistence and obey the intuitive mandate. Keep asking questions, but exercise discipline in doing so. Such a journey is made full, self-affirming and fruitful.
by Suzanne Geller, La Jolla, CA, USA
Must we always be spiritual? I just love color, shapes and I paint fresh, fresh, and more fresh- No glazes- no tricks, it’s there and I paint it!
Save the rocks until later
by Maureen O’Leary, Palo Alto, California, USA
I was a friend and a model for the artist, Leon Kroll. In his youth Leon knew Winslow Homer. Winslow Homer very much liked Leon’s nudes. Leon told me with a chuckle that Homer had advised him to keep painting nudes while his eyesight was good, and to save the rocks for his old age. The smell of oil paint still evokes childhood memories of watching in the mirrors the building of paintings.
by Alar Jurma, Montreal, Canada
For some reason, and I haven’t totally figured out why yet, I’ve always enjoyed “artist talk.” There was a time when just about all my friends were professional painters and sculptors, and what I loved the most was to hang out with them and discuss these (sometimes) lofty and obscure matters regarding painting. I learned everything I know about painting from these folks and those talks, and from hanging out with them in their studios. I never went to art school myself, but amongst my artist friends were people who had been to Slade School of Fine Art (London), OCA (Toronto), and several others from various European schools. My own training was more academic and in the regular boring school-subjects of the time, but my passion was in art. Those informal talks were like gasoline to my inner fire. With or without the glass of beer, (but more often with!), they caused me to see things from another perspective. I welcomed the challenge when there was disagreement, and I enjoyed the high when there was agreement. We inspired one another in so many different ways and which helped us all to work with more enthusiasm. Even today, I still remember some snippets from those talks, casual comments, and even laughs that we had. Painting is a communication of some pretty subtle stuff, as we all know, and it “don’t happen good in a small bubble.”
Gather with those seeking enlightenment
by Brett Forrester
With regard to your recent interest in Yoga, it has influence on my artwork only in that it gives me a feeling of health. In other words, I don’t paint things twisted up in postures any more than aerobics people paint bouncy-thing paintings. How would one separate spirit from technique in any case? Yoga tranquilizes the body and mind and thus generates renewed energy. I do believe each of us bring all aspects of ourselves into our artwork. However, my paintings of Mesa Verdi or a portrait of my ex-wife would not appear to be done by a Yoga student any more than by a Fascist or a Zen Master. Because Yoga is a proactive physical activity, just as is aerobics, tennis or even “sweatin’ to the oldies,” it is neither pill nor placebo. By its very nature it has an effect on the body if not its spirit. Yoga is not a religion and never has been. Like Master Suzuki implies in your quote in a previous letter, the options become less, but only because clarity comes through an understanding of the simplicity of meditation and that applies to Yoga too. “Always gather with those seeking enlightenment, run like hell from those who claim to have found it.”
They either love or hate my work
by Jean Blades, Barbados
I am a Tai Chi practitioner. Like Alar Jurma I couple a discipline with all my life’s work including art. Tai Chi has awakened my awareness of energy that flows through everyone and everything. I sense this movement in what I choose to paint. My paintings express this flow. As a result, viewers love or hate my work. Rarely have I had a mediocre response to anything I have displayed.
Twenty minutes eating one raisin
by Monika Dery, Hinton, AB Canada
I’ve taken several weekend art workshops with Robert Sinclair who starts each session off with meditation, visualization or gazing at a beautiful scarf or cloth (a form of meditation as well.) I find these classes very creative and productive as I feel immediately more inclined to be free and open with my paints and brushes. The simple activity of meditating seems to center participants and gets rid of stress and outside influences. A few people cannot stand it. One person walked out on a class saying that he came to paint and not to spend 20 minutes eating one raisin! One question I have in my mind is… what happens to that edge or wanting to do something wild and different when we are very relaxed? I’ve always thought that the most unique and spectacular artwork comes out of frustration, depression, anxiety, fear and all those negative feelings. We who feel freed by meditation will paint beautiful works of art, no doubt about that, but we won’t produce any masterpieces like Van Gogh or Picasso who were both known to be tortured souls… will we?
Don’t throw out the kitchen sink
by Betty Newcomer, Mount Gilead, Ohio, USA
Suzette Boulais’ stained kitchen sink mentioned in a previous clickback sounds interesting to me. As Acrylic is permanent, as we all know, I wonder why she doesn’t paint something interesting in it, before replacing it. It would be one of a kind and a lot of fun, also a conversation piece. She can always exchange it, and perhaps have a small sink installed (in the basement, or closet, etc.) for the brushes and palette.
Simple but valuable system
by Norma Hopkins, Bolton, Lancashire, England
Regarding your remarks on alla prima, if I have a particular colour on my brush, I look for other places to put it throughout the work. Even if the colour you are working with disappears under or becomes mixed with other colours, your very miraculous eye will know it is there and the piece of work will look balanced and right. I use this method for my embroideries as well as my collages. I can’t help it.
Suffering from “Blurt”
by Jo Scott-B
When examining a recent, complex collage/painting as though it consisted of a series of sections joined together, I echoed an art professor who said: “each part must stand alone.” From a writing course comes another valuable lesson: “choose each word to exactly express a thought, with no redundancy.” In our age of instant communication and media bombardment, we suffer from “blurt.” Care and thought in art and writing are swamped by the instant. The leisurely pleasure of the journey is thereby lost; the end results reflect haste and glaring mistakes.
Breath of fresh air
by Lesley Humphrey
Your letter reminded me of my favorite quote from Robert Henri that goes (something like): “There are moments in a day, there are moments in our lives, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom; such are the moments of our greatest happiness. If one could but recall his vision with some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented.” I grew up longing for this beach, which is called Blackpool Beach in the North of England. My first equine experiences were sand, seagulls, family close by on deck chairs, ice cream, gently crashing waves, the smell of damp barnacles and donkeys, wonderful donkeys donned with brightly painted tack, silver and bells. The painting is called “Blackpool Beach Donkey” though it is far more than that. It is the “dessert,” the “candy” that I feed myself in between the more lofty equine commissions I’m sometimes “saddled” with, a breath of fresh air! It is the essence of my childhood and it contains all the sights and sounds I hold dear. (It’s currently part of an invitational exhibit at the International Museum of the Horse, Lexington, KY sponsored by the American Academy of Equine Art.)
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