I have spent the last two days at an art/collage workshop with Nick Bantock, a lovely, sensitive soul who plumbs the depth of his experience in an effort to offer serious practice and direction to artists. He has spent years developing his process, pacing his studio, conducting dialogues with himself and approaching his personal truth with pastel, paint and bits of paper. It would appear that it has been a richly textured journey and he has emerged as a wise and generous guide who shares his gifts with compassion and a twinkle in his eye.
Bantock spent the weekend encouraging us to go deeper, sounding a lot like a Zen monk at many of the twists and turns along the way, playing "Born to Be Wild" and The Clash to try and stupify our inner control freaks and coax out our Johnny Rotten. He reminded us that art doesn't come from the head, it comes from somewhere deep inside. It's about a gut feeling. Our authentic, intuitive self will lead the way, if we let it. It's the old "the mind makes a good servant but not a very good master" idea. Ultimately we are not in control. Sound like the Dharma? You bet.
And he reminded us that the art that truly engages and hooks the viewer speaks from a deep inner core that is at once personal and universal. If we can be deeply authentic in our creations it will speak to others. Look at the art you love, the art that speaks across the chasms of time and culture, what is the binding thread? Someone has reached deep into their gut and scooped out a little bit of their insides for us? How could we not be touched by such offerings?
Bantock skillfully led us through a progression of exercises that showed us how to disengage the mind. Create your own country. What's the population, the weather, the landscape? When we went round the circle we could see how we were skimming the surface; boring, nice,predictable, yawn. He suggested we go for detail, quirky ones. He suggested perhaps we needed some shadows to flesh out the landscape, a trickster or two. He showed us what we were up to, surfing the flat, slick, surface of our little kingdoms. We were awakening to the invitation to go deeper, to find the poignant, touching places in our countries, the ones that speak to the vulnerabilities and joys of being human.
He pulled the final trick from his shock of grey hair when he cunningly cut us loose to create our own works from scratch. I got caught on the "making pretty art" hook. Too much conscious design going on here, too polite, Bantock observed. It doesn't reflect the person I see in front of me. I got it. I understood it in my head. My poor little ego was writhing and smarting but that was fine. I didn't come here for the good housekeeping seal of approval. If I wanted an easy-bake oven I would have ordered one on ebay. Bantock moved in with his scalpel and chalk dust. It was just what the surgeon ordered. If he told me my work was lovely and fine, would I be motivated to stretch? I would go home and keep on doing what I'm doing.
So I have a delicious invitation with my name on it, that I will open tomorrow and the day after, and the day after that. It is an invitation to go deeper; an invitation to open the cage that holds the golden bird of a deeper, more authentic self. Sit a while, have a cup of tea. Breath deeply from the hara. Have patience and faith. Oh, and don't forget the paint and the brush, and perhaps a few bits of paper.
4 days ago