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Art and Soul
Inside ourselves there are 1001 stories waiting to be told, like in the Arabian Nights. Some of them are beautiful, some are mysterious and some are sad. By revealing them we become conscious of the stories we are telling ourselves.
When I paint I’m not content enough to paint what is in front of me, I want to paint what is unseen as well. However I neither want to get lost in the unseen, spiritual dimension, nor do I want to become limited by physical laws. I am constantly looking for a balance. It is an evolving journey back and forth. Being sensitive, aware and open enough to the subtleties of the hidden realms but bold enough to delineate and fix them.
This way of painting relies initially on a spontaneous and playful approach. In this initial stage the critical, judgemental mind is by-passed, so what is hidden in yourself can come to light. The more spontaneous and free the painting is at this stage, the more the hidden and mysterious imagery will reveal itself. Even when you’re using your imagination you’re deliberately conjuring up something, whereas in this method there is no conscious control. You allow something to happen by itself. It is very much a question of trusting the process.
Once the paint has dried you can then look reflectively into the painting and after a while recognisable images start to be seen. These images will later define the subject matter of the painting. Now comes the tricky part, to carefully reveal these subtle forms and make them clear and defined. These images are very personal. Another may see different images appear in my painting, whereas I see what is relevant and pertinent to me. This resonance to your own work is crucial, as it is reflecting and revealing what is going on in a deeper level within yourself.
Clarifying these images can be done either by dissolving away the background around them, or by delineating the form or figure itself. Here one’s Art school skills come in handy. But even at this stage you can become too smug in your aptitude and lose the magic and subtlety of the painting. Great humility is required to proceed well. Your touchstone is your feelings. When a painting is going well, a good uplifting feeling is felt, when it doesn’t a bad, heavy feeling resides. When you feel sick, then it’s time to stop altogether, stand back and review your work, or have a break.
Having no skill, or Art school training is an advantage, as it allows a child-like naivety into the work. There is a fresh, unblinkered approach, without any of the learnt or studied rulebook to interfere. Here there are no ‘rules’, only what is trying to reveal itself from the chaos. If a face is blue with three eyes, if a lion is also a sun, if there is a whole landscape within a man’s coat, then that is how it is and you accept it. These are like dream images where the rules of perspective, anatomy, sense and scale all go out the window.
In a painting, once an image is clarified, another area of chaos suddenly reveals itself and offers itself to be made clear. This process may happen a number of times until eventually the whole painting is complete. This may all happen in an afternoon, or may takes weeks, even months. Timing is all-important. The unconscious will reveal itself when you are ready to receive it and not a moment sooner, however frustrating that can sometimes be.
If a part of a painting doesn’t work, doesn’t feel right, then it’s a good idea to dissolve the offending part out and let it dry. This in itself can immediately resolve a stuck painting, or more usually free it up so progress can continue. Stuck paintings become so because something is unresolved, something needs removing, or it is not the right time. This can take weeks and regular returning to a painting with fresh eyes eventually helps to resolve it. When this happens it is often accompanied by a huge sense of joy and relief.
When a painting is finished, that is when you feel a sense of completeness about it, the final stage is reached and you ask: “What is it all about? Who are these characters and why are they here doing what they do, or being the way they are? How does it all relate to me?”
A way to interpret one’s picture is as follows. Ask yourself the following:
1. What is each character or key component’s quality and colour?
This could relate to a figure, an animal, or a significant shape. Is it bold or ethereal? Does it take centre stage; is it balanced with the other characters?
Is it deep blue and mysterious, fiery red, heavy and brown, or a radiant yellow?
2. What feelings or emotions do each character or component’s part evoke in you?
Does it evoke a memory from childhood? Does it make you happy or sad, peculiar or uncomfortable?
3. What is each character or component doing?
Are they active or still? Is there a lot going on within them?
4. What are the different characters or components relationship to each other?
How are they arranged in the painting? Does it look harmonious, lopsided; is one part higher than another? Are they separate, joined together, is one closer than another? Are they relating to each other? How are they relating to each other?
Once you understand what the characters or components parts of your painting are doing, a story begins to emerge. When you can relate it to your own life, or your own story, then it becomes profound and possibly life changing.
Throughout this piece I use the terms unseen, spiritual realms, unconscious to refer to the deeper mystery that is beyond our conscious minds, yet is the common ground that is our Greater Self. One’s painting is a reflection of our Greater Self and is telling you a story that when you understand it, will further yourself on your own road to completeness.