I was so pleased yesterday: not only did I complete a painting, start to finish, but it was all mine, not driven by something I'd seen or photographed, or by someone else's artwork, but just an honest, moment to moment interaction between me and the canvas.
The feeling we shared, the painting and I, was surprisingly intense. And to be honest, it was a bit unnerving. When I was done, I went to my husband and said, "Honey? I think I may have just painted a vagina..."
"Do you even know what a vagina looks like?" he asked. "Perhaps you should let me be the judge of that?"
I won't bore you with the amusing discussion that followed, but it was dinner time, so we eventually moved on to other things, watched another episode of Frankie and Grace, stuff like that. At the end of the evening I went back to the studio to put the cat down for the night, and, out of curiosity, I took another peek at the painting -- and realized that it was one of THOSE paintings.
Let me explain: twice before, when I've painted solely in response to the canvas and where my heart leads, current events have taken shape. Once it was a tornado in Oklahoma, and then there were those two wildfire paintings, the ones that led to our putting on a benefit.
But this one broke my heart: when I went back to look at it again, it looked like a sort of heart-shaped impression of America, surrounded by storm clouds and split down the middle. And I had to realize that this time, when my soul had a chance to speak, it declared that my heart is breaking for my divided country.
It probably won't affect others this way, but I felt a huge welling up of emotion when I looked at it, sort of a "Jesus wept" kind of feeling: deep sadness for all the pain and anger I've been seeing.
So I told my husband it wasn't a vagina after all. Of course he had to go look, and when he came back he laughed. "That is NOT a vagina!" he said. "Actually it kinda reminds me of Yosemite..."
We all see what we care most about, I guess. But now it's official; I am broken-hearted over what's going on in my country. And I have no idea how to fix it.
It's at times like this that I'm grateful to be a person of faith. I'm hoping God can fix this. Because I sure can't.
My first husband was a jazz musician, and one of the many attractions of the woman he finally left me for was that her ex-husband, with whom she still resided, had a terrific music studio with all kinds of instruments and recording equipment.
So at some point my ex rented the studio for a week, intending to make a record all by himself, as he could play most instruments and could get electronic renditions of those he hadn't yet mastered.
But after a week he was very disappointed in the results. It emerged that however impatient he might be with the inferior calibre of the other musicians he worked with, he needed their input; needed that different way of seeing and hearing and being and playing in the world, and without that his work was dry and uninspired.
We artists need so much alone time to create that we tend to assume that's all we need; that to go out into the world is somehow an intrusion, an interruption to our creative process, when, in fact, we need the refreshment those interrupts provide. We humans cannot grow alone; we need to be prompted by the interrupts of the world; need the inspiration provided by other ways of being and seeing. However irritating it may sometimes be, it's through that interaction with the rest of creation that our souls are truly fed.
And so this little song appeared in my head this morning:
You must return to the well, my friend;
You must return to the well.
The memory of water is never enough:
You must return to the well.
First I'll choose a canvas, large --larger,
more ambitious than I've ever done before --
and cover it with black:
the dark mystery, the fear,
the wonder and the loss
that lies at the heart of being found.
Then comes the fire --
bright slashes, red, yellow and orange;
gliding slick across the black,
and when they overlap, the tension --
as it always does -- between opposing colors
gives rise to the rich texture
that begins to invite the viewer in,
both hiding and revealing
that dark seductive wound that lies beneath,
and then intention, sharp and clear:
here come the familiar, beloved colors,
layered on in confident and satisfying strokes...
But the canvas, larger than I've practiced with before,
takes energy, and my arm begins to tire,
but still I'm pouring on the color;
feel the subtle pull at overlap, and lift the knife
(ever so slightly) so the paint, which now begins
to have a mind of its own, can pull at itself, creating gaps
where the darkness and the flame that lie beneath can breathe through:
bright promises of all we might discover if we were patient,
looked hard enough and long enough until our eyes glazed over
like the glaze I now apply to smoothe that ruffled edge
delineating sea from sky, suggesting all that firmament,
those hills we've yet to climb --
and now the white, the inevitable, the clouds, some streaked,
some pulled, some brushed in circles to enhance their fluffy charm,
their gift of adding definition, bright reflections even as they cast
dark shadows on the sea that lies beneath --
but stop! You asked for sailboats, wanted that triangular suggestion,
the steady little masts, the wake behind, and though I try to follow through
that hint of man, with all its promises of struggle and dissension,
generations of deceit, labor and war -- I balk,
and after several attempts to add what you request,
I lay the knife and palette down, refusing to suggest
an interruption to the endless sea,
the spirit that now moves over the face of these still waters.
The waters that have gathered here together won't be sundered,
and I stop, and now declare it to be done.
Perhaps another day, on a canvas larger still,
a sphere, perhaps,
this process will begin again, the darkness and the flame,
the waters and the sky, and I'll have the strength to populate
creation with the consciousness that you so long to see...