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what it's aboutLast month, when I was teaching aworkshop in Gloucester, Massachusetts, I was invited to give a public talk about my work. I used that as an excuse to revise the version of my talk that I've been using for the past couple of years, moving away from a chronological telling of things and toward a more thematic approach. Less "then I did this and then that" and more, "here are the ideas that I work with." This newer version felt good to me, closer to my core. But it also opened me to some new questions. Later, in an email conversation with an old art friend those questions became more fully formed. I'm still thinking about them, because there are no easy answers. For years, I've described my work as relating to landscape and nature. More recently, the particular landscapes that enter my work are associated with my travels and artist residencies in remote and rugged places such as the west of Ireland, northern Sweden and New Mexico--places that have a strong pull on my emotions, and in which I feel the strongest connection to what is around me. I have said that what I paint is an abstracted response to my experiences in the landscape. That my work is based in memory, filtered through my emotions, and that it evolves through the painting process itself. And that it has to do with a sense of time passing and an attraction to what is ancient and weathered. All of this is absolutely true. But as often as I have explained all of this, I have sensed there is more to the story.
In the aftermath of my talk, I thought more deeply about what it is that is so strong for me about the landscape. I know it is not about literal or even abstracted depiction of places I've been. In fact, at times I struggle with being too tied to my memories of specific places. I love the moments of freedom I experience that are beyond identity of any place, even as I use the vocabulary of marks, colors, and textures that come from these places. These are times when I feel I am painting purely from my heart and soul. This is a cerebral and spiritual level that has begun to open up for me. When I was writing to my friend, I said that I feel my work expresses a sense of longing. I've always associated feeling that with the landscapes that I love, remembering the beauty and richness of those experiences. But I wondered if that was the whole story. Then with a slight shift in my awareness, in the middle of writing that email, I saw that the sense of longing that underlies my work is much bigger. It's a spiritual longing, a desire to express something...God, Divine Mind, All That Is. I try to express this with paint, even while knowing that I can do no more than touch the edges of this enormity. At the same time, it seems true to me that any bit of truth or beauty and artist creates reflects a larger reality. I don't expect I will abandon landscape as the main source of my visual language. But I wonder if my approach can become more expansive. Some form of spiritual seeking is surely at the root of what many artists do, whether or not they are conscious of it, or speak about it. We do live in a material world, and making reference to that world is a big part of who we are. But for me, right now, it feels liberating to push the other references aside long enough to say, there is more, always more.
Chimayo #1 16x16 inches, oil and mixed media on panel