Sunday, 27 June 2010

Diverting from my core business

Just recently, I’ve developed a strong desire to paint. Odd because in the last six years, I’ve been rather stubborn about NOT painting, seeing myself as a hardcore printmaker and nothing else. Short-sighted I admit; several people have told me lately that painting would help my etching, especially now that I’m using aquatint in quite a painterly way. I blame my old adversary, time – there never seems to be enough of it for printmaking, never mind painting.

I’m not sure exactly what’s triggered this urge to paint. There have been a number of contributing factors I think. Recently I taught a portrait drawing class to twenty-five or so members of a local art society which was great fun and took me outside printmaking. My students obviously enjoyed it too as I have been asked to do some more sessions with them. I’ve been looking at a lot of painters too of late – or should I say relooking. They’re all artists whose work I’ve admired for years; Lucian Freud, Caravaggio, Stuart Luke Gatherer. The cream of international portrait painting is now on show at the BP Portrait Awards which has just opened at the National Portrait Gallery (it’ll be interesting to see if visitor numbers are lower this year). And of course there’s dear old Flagstaff Jim feverishly painting away out there in the Arizona desert; a constant source of inspiration for me.

I love etching and still have much to learn and master, but I think part of the painting urge has to do with size. I’m limited in how big I can work by my press and I think I want to work really large for a change. My head is reasoning with my intuition and says that practically, it’s not a good thing to do (time, space, cost…) but my intuition says do it. And as I’ve decided (rationally of course) that I need to listen to the latter more, it’s time to head off to buy paint.

Top: Self-Portrait: Reflection, Lucian Freud, 2002
Middle: Lucian Freud
Bottom: Decisions, Stuart Luke Gatherer

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Doing non-doing

Following on from my Art practice as meditation? post, I thought I’d share a passage of the book I’m reading at the moment – Wherever You Go, There You Are by mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn.

‘Non-doing has nothing to do with being indolent or passive. Quite the contrary. It takes great courage and energy to cultivate non-doing, both in stillness and activity. Nor is it easy to make a special time for non-doing and to keep at it in the face of everything in our lives which needs to be done.

But non-doing doesn’t have to be threatening to people who feel they always have to get things done. They might find they get even more “done,” and done better, by practicing non-doing. Non-doing simply means letting things be and allowing them to unfold in their own way. Enormous effort can be involved, but it is a graceful, knowledgeable, effortless effort, a “doerless doing,” cultivated over a lifetime.

Effortless activity happens at moments in dance and in sports at the highest levels of performance; when it does, it takes everybody’s breath away. But it also happens in every area of human activity, from painting to car repair to parenting. Years of practice and experience combine on some occasions, giving rise to a new capacity to let execution unfold beyond technique, beyond exertion, beyond thinking. Action then becomes a pure expression of art, of being, of letting go of all doing – a merging of mind and body in motion. We thrill in watching a superb performance, whether athletic or artistic, because it allows us to participate in the magic of true mastery, to be uplifted, if only briefly, and perhaps to share in the intention that each of us, in our own way, might touch such moments of grace and harmony in the living of our own lives.’