Evening Sun Gallery

Art Talk

Courting Disaster

An artist friend asked me the other day if, and how, I courted disaster in my paintings. Perhaps courting disaster is not entirely accurate. Every time I stand in front of a canvas, knowing it is not complete, whatever I do next will destroy what is there.

That painting I am looking at will cease to exist, and something else will emerge. And until I get a sense that the piece is complete, I will continue to work with it, adding colors, strokes, textures, forms, etc., almost always in big and bold fashion.

I have learned through 23 years that if I continue, something meaningful will emerge, so I am not struggling or fearful, nor will I trash the canvas. Perhaps this is because I am not trying to create something, but rather allowing something to emerge. And I have come to totally trust this process.

"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." — Pablo Picasso

It is very easy to get caught up in day-to-day routines, and become mired in the meaningless and trivial. It often seems that nothing will ever change, despite our fervent hopes. One day morphs into another, all much the same.

One of the effects of art can be to awaken us to a larger dimension of being, feeling, and experience. Even if we view the same painting every day, each time our eyes can fasten upon another part of it and open a fresh new world.

As a working artist, it is my great good fortune to often experience this. Each canvas offers a new arena to explore, slowly filling it with colors, shapes, and movement — literally dancing with Spirit. Creative expression is a journey, not a destination, and along the way all sorts of discoveries and delights abound.

In astrology, art has strong connections with Venus, the planet associated with imagery and sensuality. Yet Neptune also plays a vital role, expanding awareness and touching the realms of myth, dreams, and archetypes. All of these energies influence my work, at an intuitive level. The important thing is to stay out of the mind, with its tendency to criticize, analyze, and control, and allow the process to unfold on its own.

In the end the paintings create themselves, with me as the channel through which they emerge.

Here are some more of my thoughts about art.

What do you want to achieve from your art?

Powerful, authentic self-expression that will inspire and challenge viewers.

The vast majority of people cannot relate to abstract art because they have been taught that the subject matter is the content. This is a failure of our educational system.

I remember a study that concluded most people liked paintings that were figurative, had animals, a few trees, used a great deal of blue, and did not threaten their world-view or confront them in any way. This does not interest me at all.

How do you feel about art school or school in general?

It can be a good experience in terms of basic instruction (e.g. learning how to read or draw) and learning to share with others. Mostly it is geared toward simply becoming a cog in the machine. I have thrown out almost everything I learned in school, and replaced it with what I have gained from my experiences, meditation, contemplation, and insights.

Here are a few of my thoughts about art, expressed as part of an interview.

Why do you think there is so much bad art out there or is all art good art or is it a matter of taste?

I think that art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. And clearly there is no arguing about taste! One person's dessert is another's poison.

But I also believe education plays a strong part in the appreciation of art. For example, most people have been trained to see subject matter as content, and therefore cannot understand, let alone appreciate and enjoy, most abstract art. So I feel that the educational system has failed badly in this regard.

The current corporate culture has made art into a commodity, to be overhyped and marketed with no regard to intrinsic value such as deeply moving viewers and assisting in the transformational process.

Galleries depend upon sales in order to stay in business, so they will only display what people will buy. And only rarely will they take a chance on unknowns. Decorative art tends to sell well; work that is challenging and confrontative will not.

I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the ratio of galleries to population is the highest in the world. In a town of 65,000, there are more than 300 galleries!

But when I used to do the rounds, I almost never saw work that was fresh, vibrant, authentic and exciting, regardless of genre. Most of the art seems constructed to go with the potential buyer's interior decor.

Many painters create decorative art because it sells, not because it has integrity and power.

To pick up and expand upon what Donald Kuspit wrote in 1980, abstraction is not merely surface decoration, but artistic unconvention that can imply depth of meaning with a rawness and directness that almost no representational art, whatever its methods, can begin to fathom. It is a means to enter the depths that representationalism can only suggest as a nuance of the surface of objects.

Figurative art, for example, can portray emotions and feelings in human faces, but cannot in any way delineate the forces that cause these expressions. Perhaps this is partly because most western societies, and particularly the U.S., do not meet the need for meaning, for a sense of the profundity of life.

The best of modern art, especially abstraction, attempts to find and express that depth of meaning and significance in an increasingly banal and materialistic world.

I have been reflecting upon art as an offering, to oneself, the community, humanity, earth, spirit. As such, the artist cannot have expectations of anything coming back, even praise and encouragement, for as an offering, it is freely given as an expression of one's innermost being. Indeed, a gift, a giveaway.

As for commoditization — certainly these times are ones of overwhelming materiality, yet the artist in some way must stand outside this, in order to create from the deepest levels of self, to be authentic, to speak the truth.

So all this makes me grateful that I am not immersed in the art market per se, the gallery scene. But then the challenges of wanting the work to be seen and experienced by others, in person, becomes even more poignant.

Clearly, an ongoing process and continuing inner dialogue.

Someone recently asked how I know when a painting is finished. Good question!

There is a feeling of completion inside, that the process has reached a conclusion. Going on would only ruin the piece.

Then I live with the painting for a time, placing it where I can look at it regularly. Only rarely will then add more.

In the end, though, I would say that a painting is never finished. It only reaches a stopping point.

Up until a relatively short time ago, I believed that selling a piece would validate my worth as an artist. With my experiences over the past several months, I no longer need that validation — I deeply appreciate my paintings, and even more so, the process by which they are created.

On the other hand, selling my first piece is certainly another big step along my unfolding art path, wherever it may lead, and I definitely honor that, as well as having someone respond to the work by purchasing it.

It is clearly a further recognition of my focus and determination; of the efforts of photographing lots of paintings and creating the gallery section of my web site; and of the creative force that moves through me.

Looking at art is an experience. The moment we begin to think and/or talk about it, the experience is gone, and then we are simply telling a story about our experience.

I began painting about a month after my father died. The impulse to do so seemingly came out of nowhere, with such force that it could not be denied. Although I began playing classical piano in childhood, which continues today, art was not at all encouraged in my family. I remember reading once that the death of a parent frees one in some way, and this is the form it took for me.

I paint with acrylics on canvas in a style best described as abstract expressionism, in the spirit of Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, drawing upon personal experiences and the natural world. In my work I explore the edges of awareness, where the conscious and the unconscious intertwine, through the play of color and form. My interest is in the power of art to uplift, inspire, challenge and transform.

In that sense, the process of painting is often therapy — issues come up and/or are reflected in the work. One recent piece ("For all those...") is a great case in point. It began looking like a de Kooning, and then like a Kline, but was still unsatisfying. Finally, after a few hours it became an Emrys, and along the way I got in touch with just how repressive an influence my father was in terms of my creative expression and ability to be true to myself.

Whenever I look at the painting, I feel a mixture of joy and sorrow. Joy in finally being authentic, real, and having greatly liberated myself from childhood, and sorrow at how long it took, and how different it might have been if my father had been able to meet and accept me for who I am, rather than as a projection of his own desires.

The ideas and shapes in my painting come from within, from thoughts, feelings, visions, nature. The important thing is to let the energies flow, and from that space to allow the paint and colors to form their own shapes.

When I first began working on a much larger canvas than I had ever done — 60" x 54" — I simply stood in front of it for awhile, and after several minutes the image of a color to start with came into my mind. So I mixed up some paint and began, without preconceived notions of what strokes, forms, shapes, and so on to use. In other words, the painting created itself.

I think that too many ideas ruin the whole thing. For me, painting needs to be free, expressive, unlimited. In other words, just paint! Try it for yourself. Be bold — use wide strokes, whole body motions, big brushes and palette knives. See what emerges... you will be amazed!!

Paintings, like people, need room to breathe, expand, and express their essence.

For me, a painting does not end at the edges of the canvas, but goes on forever. The edge is simply a stopping place. And since they are powerful expressions of my inner landscape I in no way wish to limit them, nor for them to be limited, by frames or anything else.

What is the purpose of my life? What is the purpose of art in general, and my art in particular? What is the function of the artist relative to society? What constitutes success, or failure? What are the yardsticks?

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