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.
2 thoughts on “Negotiation”
3 very intense paintings. You go girl! Wondered where you had been. Is Mino White the same as Minor White? Glad you are back, Julie
Thanks, Julie!! Yes, MINOR White! I’ll fix my typo…. the problem of writing at the end of the day… after a glass of wine!