Bits of zen flotsam & jetsam from the daily practice of a zen fool with shards of modern Buddhist art from my studio. Sometimes cranky, sometimes inspiring, mostly entertaining.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Painting As Social Activity?
I started this little abstract at a painter's group I went to last Friday. I was invited to join a little group at the community hall near where I live. It's not a class, no instructor. But painting as a group activity? I couldn't quite imagine it. To me it seems a solitary process. I usually scratch and scrape and wipe paint on and off. I sit and look. Scrape some more. It's a messy, bumbling kind of process and often I haven't much to show for it at the end of the day. It made me chuckle really, what would I take, what would I work on. I imagined myself looking a bit like a mad person with my sand paper and filthy paint rag, hands a moldy shade of green.
My little ego would have been happy to stay home, so in direct contravention to it's self protective desires I packed up a little box, secured it with a bungey chord and headed for the hall. I took a book I'd picked up on painting abstracts by Rolina van Vliet (Painting Abstracts) and some canvas paper that I ripped into small squares. I took some sunflower seed pate (not for rubbing on the canvas) but for the eat, drink and be merry part of the afternoon that happens before the paint comes out. At a certain point in the afternoon, chatting naturally subsided and everyone worked. It was interesting to be in silence in a group of people (not sitting meditation). Occasionally someone would ask for input. It was a relaxed, supportive atmosphere, comfortable and pleasant. After 3 hours I had two tiny paintings to finish up in front of the fire the next evening. I am happy to report that snacks were tasty and the company convivial. One aspect of the group is social but also members seem to appreciate that mapped out time to sit down and work, no house tidying or avoidance activity.
As you can see from this second little paint creature I'm still street fighting with composition but I attach hope to Malcolm Gladwell's idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. And I've got a lot of hours left! A couple of weeks ago I found two second hand books Rolina VanVliet on abstract painting, a great score for $15. There are lots of exercises for exploring materials and composition. I like the composition exercises best, and sometimes it's just nice to come at something from another angle. Jeane over at Art It has a great post on how she reconstructs a painting she's not happy with. I love the way she continually turns the canvas. Why didn't I think of that? Always new things to learn! That's what makes me jump out of bed in the morning!
More on the painting front-- Last week I received a 2 1/2 hr video of Peter London painting. My daughter and I poured a glass of wine (each, no sharing!) and sat down to watch. The video appealed to the voyeur that lurks in all of us. Have you ever wished you could just watch an artist paint and hear their thoughts as they work, that it might offer some clues or just satisfy some curiosity? To this end, Henry Ganzler filmed London from start to finish as he creates a painting. For me the video fulfilled the wish to be the fly on the studio wall. It was fun to watch his calm approach to the whole process, his reverence for his materials, his measured way of working and his personal, quirky way of using materials. I felt the long hours of his studio work in the confident way he approached the whole process. He talked about where his idea for the work came from and it was great to see how he made his choices at different turning points along the way. When he encountered "a problem area" that he said was going to "come back to haunt him", it was so interesting to see how he approached it. He didn't ruminate on it, like I do. He didn't rush in to try and "fix" it. He worked another part of the paper and came back to it later. He appeared to have faith that there would be a successful resolution to the "problem" area. He took a break when he was tired which seems like a no brainer, but I often keep working, hoping to resolve some paint issue and get myself in trouble. He talked about not doing the predictable "cute" thing on the paper which is important in keeping the element of surprise and freshness in our work. I often find that my urge to create balance and harmony can create predictability and a boring end result. It was great to just see someone with years of experience at work. You don't get this in a class, where someone is instructing and talking, not just working at their own craft. Undoubtedly I will watch it a number of times and new things will pop out for me each time.
And what of the schedule I wrote about in early January? Gone the way of large prehistoric creatures or tired new year's resolutions? Not really, but it has evolved. It started with blocks of time alloted to certain activities. It had 2 work periods and an exercise time as it's main components. The schedule and I have adapted to each other. I think someone in the discussion of schedules on the earlier blog post said, "it's really about intention." I think that "intention" is more like what I have ended up with than a schedule. The schedule has I been thrown in a pot and boiled down to it's essential ingredients which seem quite tasty and nourishing and it has been energizing and rewarding for me. It has evolved into 4 hrs of work each day (writing and/or painting). This seems comfortable and possible. It's the exercise that has eluded me, that requires some tweaking. But I find I am getting more work done that I have for a long time. It is partly the season which hold no garden work, but it is definitely the intention and the awareness of that intention that the "schedule" has given me.
So happy creating to you in this season of indoor time! May your intentions manifest and bring you joy!
Buddhism & Art...if I had to pick two words that give an overview of what I get up to in this world those would be my choices. Buddhism is the ground upon which I rest all else. I like to think it brings me some sanity. It helps me think in some logical way about what I am doing and look at it as deeply as possible. What did I just do? Why ? What's that all about? ...To try and look at my life without sliding over things or fooling myself...To be present for life, not rejecting or preferring one experience over another. Buddhist practice makes my life full and rich, sometimes filled with joy and sometimes with a deep experience of the suffering present in this world.
After all those words does it seem odd to say that it is the simplicity of Zen that appeals to me? This inclination to simplicity pulls me to try and integrate my practice and work, to paint Buddhas, to observe my process as I work.
I am drawn to mixed media, integrating script and words with images and colour.