A new friend, after viewing some of my paintings, asked me about the stillness, or emptiness, he saw in some of my work. The question struck me as important – worthy of a detailed response. I could have answered him with language that I learned in graduate school. There could be an argument made for the eyes needing a resting space – not unlike placing an item in a room to ground it, or a space in a building design in which one could feel less overwhelmed by scale or detail. I could point out how overwhelming it is to the senses to have every space filled with something (horror vacui) – like viewing a Gaudí in Spain, or entering someone’s home that has an extensive collection of something, spread to every room, and available space, in the house. But no, that would be the easy answer.
I often say that my paintings are an expression of my emotion made visible. It would be more accurate to say that the emotion, visually expressed, is a result of honoring the stream of consciousness that a personal story or memory, present or past, entails. I meditate, and have learned to acknowledge the passing thought and return to my breath. My painting is a different sort of meditation – with the stream of consciousness, the breath. Occasionally, I title the paintings to reflect the emotion captured, and sometimes a single word, encourages the work to be viewed in the light of the word. The title may even deflect the curiosity of the viewer seeking to know what the painting means in terms of my personal story. Certainly, something in the painting is a reflection of my inner life, but I could not, would not care to, explain what background, what context, that emotion rose from.
I meet many people. I not only like people, but am curious about them. I want to hear their stories; I want to understand how other people perceive the world around them. I want to comprehend how viewpoints which are not my own, fit into my belief system. It is in meeting people, getting to know them, beginning to sense who they are, that relationships are built. I have come to love many people for their perceptions, energy, or quirks, and some of them have greatly influenced my life, and my art.
Like most people, I have experienced life in its full spectrum of emotion. I have had great joy, hardship, accomplishment, sadness, love, loneliness, and loss, to name but a few. Those emotions are the basis for my stories, they are, to paraphrase Joan Didion, stories I tell myself in order to live. I’m told that people sense my inner life in my outer presence. Some of those people are around me often, some occasionally, and some are gone, or moved on. Perhaps they look into my eyes and see my soul. Perhaps they want to stay there, the observer, wanting to gain whatever wisdom, silliness, laughter, or peace they find there. Perhaps they leave, because it is too painful to look into my eyes and see the sadness, the failures, the opportunities that went unfulfilled, or the soul mates lost. If they are perceptive, they realize what they are seeing is their own reflection.
So it is with my painting. I could create a story to explain the painting – some elaborate jargon written in art-speak. I could tell you what emotions were running wild in my imagination as I painted. I could tell you about the sensations – the taste, smell, touch – that I sensed as I painted. But it would still not reflect the entirety of the story, it would lack the nuance of the childhood scraped knee, the touch of a grandmother, the fear from an assault, the joy of the baby held close, the tenderness of an awaited kiss. How we view anything is determined by everything that went before. That experience is not replicated in another. We each are unique, and in some ways, alone, in all of our revelations.
So I would ask my friend, in looking at the paintings, did you see my emptiness, stillness, or did you feel empty or still?