A Picture of Me
My friend, Manita, took this picture of me during an impromptu "photo shoot" with her phone after participating in my art first show on Seattle's Pioneer Square Art Walk. This is not my vanagon, but I have always wanted one. I even have a miniature one (it's even red) in my studio. I posted this photo on facebook, and my friend, Chris, commented that it's the first time he's seen a picture of what I really look like on the inside. So, this is a picture of ME.
Art has the power to transform how we experience the moments that compose our lives. It's Wednesday nights rush hour, stand still traffic between I-90 West and I-5 South. I feel like a hockey player stuck in the pen, wanting to get where I'm going as quickly as possible, frustrated, helpless, hating this moment of my life.
Then I notice the sloping curves of the highways, the way they cross and become an archway over the traffic. Suddenly, I am sitting in a beautiful space. I'm imagining the cars as a school of fish, moving through coral archways, towards a glowing blue and green dome in the background. I am a scuba diver experiencing wonder and awe. It occurs to me that fish probably don't get frustrated trying to get somewhere; they're just feeling the water on their scales, the swish of their fins, the colors of the sea. I am in a beautiful space, and loving this moment of my life. I believe that any moment can be transformed by a willingness to unwrap it like a present, with childlike anticipation and a certainty that it will surprise and delight; this is the work I undertake as an artist.
I use an improvisational process to unwrap my art pieces. I choose a medium, and then I give myself a suggestion. This could be as simple as a line of ink wandering across a blank sheet of paper, a smudge of yellow oil paint on canvas, or a stack of broken boards. I might also have a pattern from a sheet of origami paper, a glimmer of Ancient Egypt, or some physical motion in mind when I begin.
Once I have made a movement that leaves some sort of visual imprint in the space around me, the conversation has begun. My job is to stay present, be curious, and listen.
"What does that line look like?"
"Hmm...A little like an elephant ear."
And then I might draw the rest of the elephant.
"That Elephant looks a little sad. I wonder what he's sad about."
"Maybe he has a friend in jail."
And then I might draw a cage with a bird in it, and then I might want to free the bird, or wonder who the jailer is, or muse on whether anyone can be truly free when others are imprisoned, and on it goes...
I love stories, especially creation stories, myths, and faery tales; so of course they come up a lot in "conversation" as I make my improvised art, along with whatever I might be dealing with in my life at the time. A figure moving away from a small circle in a painting reminds me of riding a ferry away from my mother after a visit home, and then generations of women's ovaries filled with eggs, and the stardust in all of our matter, and our cosmic ancestry, and there we have my painting Celestial Separation. Someone looking at the painting won't hear my conversation, they'll have their own.... and unwrap their own present!
Being an improvisational artist means there are no mistakes, just whatever there is now, and whatever can happen next. It is important to be fully committed to each piece because there will be ugliness and doubts, and it will probably look like a mess in the middle, but there will also be discoveries and learning, and the sheer delight, the tickling surprise, of staring back as something I never could have imagined when I started unwrapping the present.
Now that's what I really look like on the inside!