The work of inhabiting space involves a dynamic negotiation between what is familiar and unfamiliar.
I’ve been painting. I haven’t been writing. The two have always been a negotiation for me. Writing, painting and walking are three intimately connected practices, but writing and painting are often at odds. Both rely on walking. Walking provides a sense of embodiment that enables both creative acts. But I can’t easily code-switch between them.
In addition to preparing for the show that opened today at Four Eleven Gallery, I’ve been attending to some commissions. For a number of complicated reasons, I agreed to make three paintings of the outer beach on speculation. In the end, and completely fairly, none of the paintings aligned with the client’s needs. I like the paintings, but I also think I overthought them — or maybe I over negotiated them. Nevertheless, I came away from the process more intimately understanding the space that inspired the paintings. And I feel better prepared to return to this setting to investigate it more.
Tonight, over dinner, my friends and I discussed the difficulties of painting in a place you don’t know well. In the past, I’ve found it impossible to travel and paint. I’ve always needed to immerse myself in a place before I try to engage it creatively. I no longer know if this is true or just a scripted fear that I continue to enact.
I’m preparing for teaching a new undergraduate course next semester on the sources of our creative content. In service to that course, I’ve been reading John Daido Loori’s book, The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life. Loori was the founder and spiritual leader of the Zen Mountain Monastery. He was also a student of Minor White, a photographer who used Zen practices in his teaching and photographic practice. Loori’s writing, and his reflections on White’s teaching methods, have me rethinking my position on how I inhabit space — and how I transform the unfamiliar into the familiar.
Drawing, in many ways, is a specialized form of presence. When you’re engaging the process honestly — and not relying on the tricks you’ve accumulated over time — drawing is an intense form of observation and a transmutation of what’s before you into a deeply personal manifestation of the phenomenon witnessed. What’s seen travels thought the body and emerges as a unique vision. This kind of drawing has a dimension — a spark — that’s missing when one relies on pre-existing knowledge (or style). Honest drawing is an act of creating new knowledge.
Witnessing and presence are hard work — regardless if they’re in service to painting, writing, or spiritual life. But it’s the work at hand. And the work I need to get back to.