Sometimes a painting can mean so much it's hard to know where to start, how to explain it. And maybe that's the point. How much do I need to paint if words do the trick? On the other hand, the words afterward can make sense of the process I've just been through....
I was walking along my favourite beach last week, taking a few days vacation, and reconnecting, with relatives and with myself. Rest and conversation do a lot to reignite the soul. We walked the beach and the long pier in White Rock, BC. As we walked out on the pier I noticed this design scratched into the sand below. But it wasn't just scratches....
The big painting is coming along, slowly, but still something visible emerging. I am in a seriously contemplative place these days, and everything is tied to everything else. It all speaks and it all sends the same message....
When I started the background for this painting I had in mind something of the colours of fire and of the sense that the colour was rising, flowing upward. I was going to do more on it but decided there was enough there. So I've begun the lines of the family portrait that is coming out of this fire. So much thought goes into this before I pick up a paint brush. It can be days at a time before I put down the next marks.
It's a small thing but I found a water-soluble India ink at the art supply store today. I wanted something that will make a strong line like India ink does, but allow it to bleed when I want it to. Thankfully there is such a thing. An insignificant detail to most I imagine, but a small victory in this process of expression.
Solitude has been on my mind a lot too and not because I love it so much. It can be so long, tedious and silent. And it is not as subtle or as spiritual as it sounds. It's so in my face much of the time. But I realized today that some of the things I'm working on require it. It wouldn't be possible to make this art without all the sifting and attention that it needs. Turns out the gift can be demanding.
At Kabbalah class the other night the Rabbi was talking about the human soul and how the soul of humanity is like a flame, always striving upward. And like the wick and candle, what keeps it anchored to the ground is the human body. It reminded me of what I was doing in this painting and I loved how it all fit together. I think when I really listen, more and more things fall into place, and each part of life speaks to the other parts. There is less confusion, when I am open to listening, and it's easier to see the whole.
The Rabbi went on to say that the seven candles of the menorah correspond to seven types of souls and the different things each flame is inspired by. As he made his way through the seven he said each of us are given one type of soul, one flame, each with its own mission in this life which we are meant to fulfill. And each flame is inspired by a different emotion. As he made his way through the seven, there were two that resonated with me. The first was the intellect or learning, and the second, bonding or connection. I asked him how we know what is primary if we find ourselves connecting with more than one flame. He said the primary flame, the one we are to fulfill, is the one that first attracts us or pulls us in. It is the means through which we reach the secondary flame. It made so much sense to me. The intellect and learning has always been such a big draw for me, in myself and in others. And it has always been the way to connecting and bonding with friends and loved ones. To me, a challenging conversation about ideas is often the same thing as forming a connection. (Knowing they are distinct though, means being careful not to confuse the two either.)
When I went back to this painting today, I realized that I am fulfilling important work. I am working out step by step what I am learning. I am putting down in a visual image what I have learned about myself through family history, through hours of thought, through conversations with others, through teachers, through Torah, Kabbalah, Tanya and G-d.
I know I don't always want to live this way, solitude is valuable to the fulfillment of my work and I will always need it in some measure, but bonding and connection are still too important for me to let it slip away. But if the flame of learning is my way there, then I am already on the path. The rest will happen when it is meant to. In my relationships and in my art.
And there is incredible peace this way. Everything fits together. Nothing is outside of the wholeness, and again I am reminded, everything is One. The soul reaches for G-d, the body moves as it fulfills its purpose in this world, the paint brush glides across the canvas, and suddenly it is clear. Everything is prayer. Everything is reaching higher. You are doing what you are supposed to do. You will go where you are meant to go.
Finished this coastal sketch today... the one that was taking me away from a bigger project and helping me avoid.... not a bad way to not deal with things...
It's the Shavuot holiday so the office is closed today and tomorrow. The kids are both gone for the summer, my son studying in Israel and my daughter further east in Canada doing an internship in social work. The nest is feeling extra empty this time because I know they aren't coming back for any great length of time anymore. I was going to say they're growing up, but the truth is they've grown up.
So the new reality has me thinking about new direction. What to do with all this Mom time no longer needed. Easier said than done. First thing today was a trip to the art supply store, my version of a candy store. It's a wonder I ever get out of there without spending hundreds of dollars.
But today I just got some charcoal pencils. They're for the large portrait/abstract painting that was leaning against the wall behind me as I painted the smaller coastal picture. It's like it was standing in line, waiting its turn, and not letting me forget it's there. The charcoal will be mixed with the paint, a rare mix of mediums for me; the right way to go for this piece, but adding further anxiety to the process. Look at it as a challenge, I tell myself, instead of a difficulty. Perspective is everything.
Last night at the Shavuot service my Rabbi was telling us that our creativity is how we most fulfill G-d's purpose for us in this world. Our personal creativity is our way of contributing to tikkun olam. No doubt he is right. For me painting is davening.
I'll need to redirect that creativity into the new painting and the new life. I have no idea what it will look like just yet, neither the painting nor the life. And not really sure where to direct all of my efforts. I do know that if I give it as much dedication as I did raising the kids, I'll be happy with wherever it is I go. And the sense of belonging will be the telltale sign that all is well.
The next painting is a turning point, and the first page of a journal recording everything that is changing. Painting is prayer, longing, finding one's way, and coming home. I am hopeful that it will both record the journey and lead the way.
Sitting on the sofa with my daughter, feet up, legs stretched out, after a long day at the office for me, and she recovering from a long flight. We're sharing our space, because that's how she likes it. She's loading pictures from her trip to Japan and listening to Beyoncé. Which means I'm listening to her too. Some of it's good, some of it I ignore. My daughter tells me that Beyoncé and sharing the sofa with me makes her feel peaceful. Never thought I would be in such cool company.
And I'm looking too at how a couple of paintings are coming along. One of them, a large watercolour (30x40") is abstraction mixed with the beginnings of a family portrait. It's a harder piece for me. Portraiture doesn't come naturally for me, I can do it, it just doesn't come easily and I'm not too often that interested by it, at least not my portraiture. But that's not all that's keeping me from this one. It's digging into family history again, and while I may feel compelled to go there, I don't necessarily feel like it that much. I'm drawn and repelled. I want to go there, and I don't. But it draws...
While I try to well up the guts to address what needs answering in that painting, I take a break and start a small (4x16") landscape. It's coastal of course. It's a peaceful, easy place, and the sky has a lot to say as usual. Yet it says it so minimally. Less is more when I hear what nature has to say. It's poetic.
Like the evening I am having with my daughter... peaceful, poetic, comfortable, beautiful. Lots of details that may not be right in life, but there's always something perfect and lovely if I look for it. Sometimes it comes all on its own....
I'll keep writing as these two pieces progress, and as I in turn progress as well.
At Kabbalah class tonight, Rabbi was talking about energy, and our portion, and how the smallest energy can have such a huge impact. Our smallest action can change the world. So pay attention to the small things....
My kids laugh when we are driving somewhere and I react with amazement at the colours of a wonderful cloud or the beautiful tulips that have bloomed along the road. But I realize I am amazed at the power in seemingly small things. And my son and daughter aren't laughing because they think I'm silly, they laugh because somewhere inside they know my response to the wonder of it all is entirely appropriate, just unusual. But they recognize joy.
And then, my Rabbi explained how there are times when just before a great action we need to step back first in order to come at it with greater energy. Like stepping back to kick a ball. The stepping back can feel like things have been taken away, when in fact the stepping back is part of moving forward.
It reminded me of this song of Leonard Cohen, it has always been indicative of my relationship with G-d, and tonight the Rabbi's thought...connected with Leonard's...connected with G-d's...connected with mine. Everything is One....
"I swept the marble chambers,
But you sent me down below.
You kept me from believing
Until you let me know:
That I am not the one who loves
It's love that seizes me..."
I was sitting with my son a couple of nights ago at the first night Passover Seder held by my shul. We were seated at a table of people we didn’t know at all (because the high holidays brings out all sorts of people you don’t see at other times of the year), in a very large room that was really loud. I love my shul and my Rabbi and am so grateful there is somewhere to go for Pesach now that I live in a tiny apartment in Vancouver with an even tinier kitchen and no dining room. I feel very embraced and supported by the community I’ve found. But I sat there thinking not so much about the observance of Pesach as it was happening that night, as I did about rebuilding vision and where I belonged. And I couldn’t stop thinking about the kitchen I once had and wished I could have again so that I could host those family Seders as I had done for so many years. A picture came back to my memory of a kitchen. It is my dream kitchen, and judging from the surroundings it’s also a dream location. And I saw me and my partner, who also does not yet exist in my life, serving a wonderful dinner that we had created together, to the sound of loved ones talking around the table. It was what I had, and what I want again.
I realize now that rebuilding vision does not mean everything old is taken away and replaced by all new and unfamiliar things. The people I love won’t change. They, and the desire for connectedness, are things I bring with me into the new vision. As well, the things I already love to do may be added to, but the core of them won’t change either. I will always love to paint.
So another piece of this vision has always been the success of my art career. I had a bit of a setback last month when I had to pull out of a gallery that was representing my work. After a month-long solo feature of my art and no sales, suffice it to say it was not a success. And yet despite disappointment, I don’t feel that bad about it. The gallery was beautiful, the owner and I had an excellent relationship, I came across more people for whom my art resonates, but this particular gallery was just not the right fit for my work. It seems it was another place where I did not belong. The crux of the issue with galleries is not just getting into them and convincing them to represent you, it is getting into a gallery where your work is actually a good fit and can sell. Just as I resonate with the people I love most, my art will resonate with the right audience.
So once again, life imitates art, art imitates life. You’re not going to feel comfortable where you don’t feel like you fit it. And you won’t fit in if that’s not where the vision is going. Following the vision is key… to Pesach dinners, to dream kitchens, dream locations, to a future partner, to connectedness, to being in the right gallery. It’s not a reflection on others at all. It’s only about where you really belong. And when I follow the vision, there is no one I need to convince to let me in. They just want to participate because I’m part of their vision too. Likely the only person who really needs convincing is me.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t work involved. As with relationships, finding the right gallery means being sensitive to what you hear and careful about what you do. I still have to send out submissions to galleries. I still have to work independently and sell on my own as much as I can, and I still have to expect that while I have the vision for my own work, it may take time for the right galleries to get on board with what I see. And as always, when other people become part of your dreams, the dream changes somewhat to accommodate everyone’s vision. As with all parts of the vision, when you’re doing what you love and are surrounded with people you love, adjustments that help make everyone feel they belong are a labour of love. It is not hardship to adjust so that things run smoothly and continue to flourish and grow.
That’s the thing with vision, it’s built one step at a time, it takes turns in the road you don’t expect, but it always does what’s best for you. And of course it throws the occasional curve ball…. Just to keep things interesting. Which is okay too. I love surprises!