An end of year story

December 27, 2008


10 bowls of music that are also gardens    

There is a story in Ben Okri’s, Arcadia  that never fails to put things into perspective for me. I’ll paraphrase and quote it here.

You die and get to Heaven’s gate and are met by a mysterious person. Together you review the life you’ve lived. You complain that you had no breaks, things didn’t work out for you, that you weren’t helped, that you didn’t belong to the right circles, that people blocked your way, in short you pour out a torrent of excuses.

But for every excuse you bring forth, the infinitely patient person points to little things here and there that you could have done, little mental adjustments you could have made. He gently offers you examples of where, instead of giving up, you could have been more patient. Tenderly he shows you all the little things you could have done, within the range of your ability and will, that would have made a difference.  And they make sense, you see how by being more alive to your life ,and not afraid, things could have been so much more livable, indeed quite wonderful.

You suddenly see that you could have been perfectly happy during all the time that you were perfectly miserable. That you could have been free instead of being a prisoner. That you could have been one of the radiant ones of the earth. That living could have been fun. It could have been worthwhile.  That life could have been a playground of possibilities. And living could have been composed of experiments in surprise, in immortality. Experiments in the art of astonishment. Fascinating time-games. Space-games. Dimension-games.

You suddenly see that living is the place where gods play within mortal flesh. An open-ended play in which dying is the most open-ended ending of them all, opening out into the infinity of nothingness, or into the infinity of absolute being.  

Living is where amazing things can be done in consciousness and in history. Living ought to be the unfolding masterpiece of the loving spirit. And dying ought to set this masterpiece free to enrich the world. A good life is the masterwork of the magic intelligence that dwells within us.
Faced with the enormity of this thought doom, failure, despair and unhappiness seemed a small thing, a gross missing of the point of it all.

Painting is…..

December 16, 2008


Okri bowl

This piece was inspired by a section from Ben Okri’s  ‘Arcadia’.  Somewhere near the end is this wonderful lyrical ode to painting. It just goes on and on, I’ll excerpt some of it here , hoping that by leaving out a lot I don’t do violence to it.

Painting is the meaning of humanity in a visible moment… It is the frozen music of time’s justice and injustice…It is the secret history of light, the psychodrama of colour, the moment in a mind, the moment in a song.
Painting is the magic riddle of mortality. It is the longing for the eternal, the happiness of the transient, the enigma of creation, the home of the heart, the fountain where loss is soothed. It is the eternal future, for painting is never in the past tense, only in the ever flowing present tense, an eternal now, a never-ending summer, a life always living, a moment never ceasing.
Painting is water, air, fire, earth, dream, but it is never death. Painting is life,life smiling at death with light as its secret.
…Painting is secret structures, harmonies, balance, chaos, force-fields, philosophy, patience, rhythm, wit, sadness, delight, tragedy… When paintings die, they go back to God’s mind.

Painting is the nightmare of the devil. Codes in colours and shapes. It is the yearning of all things to live and persist in memory. Painting is the only mortal space where angels dwell in stillness…Painting is human love transcending human forgetfulness. It is mortality staring at itself in the evanescent mirror of immortality. It is spaces dancing, dimensions interacting, realms interpenetrating, time zones colliding, eliding, harmonising. …Painting is the shaman’s mirror, the warrior’s truest shield, the healer’s armour against fate and tragedy. The celebration of light.

Painting is the weapon the wise use against vicissitude. It will one day heal profound sickness of body, mind, and spirit. It is the technology of the wise primitive, the science and medicine of the forgotten ancients.

I am working through Carol Lloyd’s, ‘Creating a life worth living’.    In her list of creative archetypes I recognized myself in a few, such as the ‘maker, ‘the generator’ of ideas, and the teacher and healer. But the real eye opener for me was the portrait of the mystic, one I wouldn’t have chosen myself, but which in most aspects fit like a glove. Here is what Lloyd has to say about this type of creator: (partly paraphrased)

Mystics are less product oriented , their creativity springs from their ethical and spiritual beliefs. First and foremost they live creative lives moment by moment. Mystics create moments, moods, ambiences, sometimes as art, sometimes as a story or a cake.
Their art is ephermeral, they make wonderful performers…and interdisciplinary artists.

With their purity of vision and strength of convictions, mystics can have a tough time in our materialistic, logic-based culture. As children they were are often ridiculed and excluded. As an adult they are often adored because of their ability to connect to others in intimate creative ways, but in the professional world they are still expected to be hard nosed and clear headed. Driven by a burning core and nothing else, they are fiercely independent thinkers.  They are less likely to be interested in business or large scale organisations.  They do best living lives of simplicity. Since they tend to be unwilling to work the system, networking their way through a heirarchy or schmoozing their way into a job can be an onerous and unnatural chore.

Um, tell me about it.

However, if I only had the mystic in me, then I would retreat to an island somewhere and live quietly and keep my mouth shut. But there is also another part which wants to affect the world in a positive and tangible way. And which keeps me writing proposals to organisations which have never heard of me,  making cold calls,  and other tasks which indeed I feel are onerous.  In my saner moments, I think I would rather leave all of this pioneering stuff to someone else, and just quietly get on with making and writing about art.

I just might.

Emily Young’s angels

December 7, 2008


Angel by Emily Young

London was in the middle of a heat wave.  The familiar streets of Kensington where I’d spent childhood vacations were strangely Mediterranean in feel, Holland Park was tropical.
It would have been a beautiful time except my mother was dying in a hospice in St. John’s Wood.

I was staying with my aunt and uncle and would travel by tube every day from the High Street to St. John and Elizabeth’s to visit mom. She felt she was there for respite care and would soon be returning to her flat and beloved piano. During my visits, we would chat and read together and reminisce a bit. The room was warm but cozy and light. I’d leave in the early evening and return the next afternoon.

In the mornings while she was receiving care, I would be free to wander my old haunts in the neighborhood. One day when I looked down from my aunt and uncle’s fifth floor flat, I saw that there was a sculpture garden in the back of Leighton house.  That morning, I met for the first time, Emily Young’s angels. And I recognized them from deep in my soul.

For me, angels have never been those sappy fat little girls and and naked baby boys. They were always vast, fiery and dangerous in their huge intensity. My angels don’t fit on a head of a pin, they spread over galaxies. And dance.

Walking among Emily’s giant winged angel heads I felt that deep kinship and returning to oneself that great art always catalyzes.  The gardens were deserted, sheltered, holy with presence. I felt enfolded and comforted and strengthened for the impossible task of letting my beloved mother go. No, letting her go was easy compared to seeing her in the hospice and knowing she would never come home again.

Every day during my mother’s last week on earth, I visited those angels and rested in  their large presence. Looking closely at the Purbeck marble used for some of the heads, I found endless little worlds of fossilized creatures, like filigree on those great winged heads.

I don’t remember now, which came first, the call that my mother had died, or looking down from my aunt’s apartment to see bare grass dotted with yellow postage stamp squares where the angel garden had once been.  But these two losses will be forever linked in my memory. As well as gratitude for being carried on those stone wings during that  hot summer in London.

Calligraphy box breakout

December 6, 2008


This is the companion piece to ‘Enchanted Vessels I’  which appears in a previous post.

Both pieces are based on the following quote from ‘The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life’  by Thomas Moore:

    ‘Enchantment arises whenever we move so deeply into anything we’re doing that its interiority stirs the heart and the imagination’.

They were done in the context of an oil pastel series, so inadvertently solved a problem I’d been having with calligraphy:

As  result of working in the field of calligraphy for most of my adult life, I had become enclosed in a box I couldn’t see my way out of.  That box was ,’ Calligraphy is making beautiful legible letters to express a quote you like’.  When starting a calligraphy piece I would simply reach for my calligraphy materials, and somehow also my calligraphy mindset.

Though I’d done a lot of abstract calligraphy where the emphasis lay on the markmaking and expression, I’d not yet been able to find a satisfying way to respond to the many literary quotes that continually inspired me.  I’d end up ‘doing a piece of calligraphy’, and it was more of the same old same old.

So this piece, saturated with the magic of Moore’s quote, resolved my dilemma. Snatches of the quote are legible, but most importantly the essence of what touched me is expressed in this piece, and only in part by the calligraphy. The colours, the  monoprint, the handwriting and more formal letters, the  collage and drawing and stamps all work together to form a whole.