Friday, 25 May 2018

the rock pool

I am currently reading Twyla Tharpe, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life. I've just finished chapter 3, 'Your creative DNA', in which she talks about finding out what your patterns and inclinations are, the thing that it's right for you to do.

In that chapter there's a questionnaire. I got to number 25 no problem... no surprises... nothing I hadn't thought about before.

Then no 26: When you work, do you love the process or the result?

I wrote yesterday that everything is process; that process is all there is. I know this to be true, but the slant of this question was clever, because my response to what I love turns out to be the product.

It's my love of the product that motivates me. My excitement about what appears; lines on the page, shapes and forms. This is also what can stuff me up, because I want so much from every line, every smudge of paint. Lines and smudges are pregnant, bursting with mystery; ciphers, codes containing the world and everything in it. I can scarcely bear the fullness of them.

In the end, though, while the binary extremes of 'product' v 'process' are useful for stimulating thought or having a conversation, they're not really very helpful.

And then there's input.

I can dive into the history and present of my experience, looking for shapes and forms and codes. For ten years, I swam, picking stones up from the ocean floor, noticing where the light from the surface cast its beam through the gloom, turning over the things I found.

Now I have a vocabulary. I have a language, a means of processing. And it's no longer enough to be swimming down here alone. I'm bored of my own tropes. Well, not bored, but they need energy from beyond me to bring the language to life. They need the breath of interaction.

My language does not exist to be a conduit from the closed container of 'me'. Because there is no closed container. All of my symbols and shapes and forms, the desire of my line to flow, these things are not products of a closed system, an entity that is singular.

They flow into the vessel of me, like tidal waves eddying into a rock pool. The energy of the wave sweeps around the edges of the pool, causing deep maroon fringes of anemone to ripple, tiny green fronds of algae to wave and breathe, and then the wave is gone, sucked back out into the sea.

In the rock pool there are objects, living molluscs, things attached to the smooth stone; for moments, or months, or aeons. And there is every kind of non-attached, or partially-attached thing. Slime and weed and viscous transparent texture; visible, part visible, invisible living forms, packed in fractal layers, interlocking jigsaws of living material and tiny creatures.

Without the inflow of the waves, the pool is nothing. If the tides no longer visited, if the waves ceased their pulsing visitations, their in and out, in and out, the pool would die within a few hours.

So now I wait for the waves.

And they come. Invitations, opportunities, chance openings - invaginations from the flux, momentary involutions creating vessels for new forms, new flows. I am a vessel, but nothing that emerges was made by a me. I am a student, studying the art of holding my coat open.*

(* An old story about three men on a windy cliff top. One of them is near the edge with wads of paper money. The other two are standing further back, downwind from the man on the edge. The man with the money suddenly throws it all up into the air. The wind catches the notes, scattering them in all directions, towards to the two men. One of the men starts running around, grabbing at the air, chasing the notes, trying to catch as many as possible. The other man slow opens his coat....)

Thursday, 24 May 2018

You are the eye of the universe, looking at itself

A friend wrote to me yesterday with some questions.

How did you, or indeed did you decide what form your art would take?

I never decided. It was more like a process of elimination. Not this, no, not this. Not this portrait, not this landscape, not this oil paint, not this art game, not this bohemian posing, not this boring still life. Now I see that those rejections were the key to everything. Not accepting what the culture, the art college, the friends, the gallery, the critic, told me was art, or worthwhile art. 

By noticing tiny moments, and trying to stay true to the feeling of them. I remember staring into a tree trunk in Italy and feeling something moving, in it and in me. Some deep mystery. I had no idea what it was, but nothing else would do. Better to stop making art completely than listen to other people or continue with work that didn't move me.

How did you decide what you wanted to communicate through your work?

I didn't. I don't try to communicate anything. I make images that interest me, or that seem at least to hold a promise of interest. In some ways I think I started trying to make images that I wanted to look at, because I was so uninterested and unmoved by most of the art that came my way.

I don't know what I'm working with most of the time. Sometimes I can make sense of it with hindsight. What actually appears shows me what I'm interested in, I don't decide it. I need to remain open and interested, and just DO SOMETHING. Not care so much what comes out, move on if I don't like it.

I encounter many doubts and fears. The critic is always sitting on my shoulder ready to laugh at my efforts. That's mainly ego, trying to keep me safe, safe from being ridiculed. But if I try to make art that fits with some idea of what I think art should be my art is boring, to everyone, including myself. We don't need more repetition of old cultural tropes.

I also did a very personal piece about my family but that somehow feels self-indulgent and actually quite private.

The personal is where interesting art begins. You can decide later whether or not you want to show it to anyone, or show and explain. One way of seeing it is that your art is the wisdom and depth of all of your experience trying to talk to you, as dreams try to talk, or symptoms of chronic illness. That's interesting, to you. Your system wants this exploration, it wants you to dive into yourself, into the everything of yourself, to follow its leads, to see where it wants to take you. 

Follow your personal fascinations. So what if a thousand people have painted a rock pool? What area of the rock pool makes you catch your breath? You don't have to tell anyone, just find that response in yourself. Start with this. Work out what to show and what to tell much, much later. 

This is a conversation between you and the universe. You are its mirror, its own eye, looking at itself. Find that private ecstasy, that connection, that fascination. Follow and follow and follow. See where it takes you. Forget about anyone else.

I love the process but not sure at all about the product.

It's all process. This doesn't mean that you want to burn any product that results. Products come, you assess them, note them, then carry on. Don't linger on them, at least not at first. Later, linger on them, but as an adventure of seeing and feeling, and adventure of your most private self. What thrills you? What works here, but not here? The answer to that question is your guide. You're on an exploration into the heart of things, using your body and mind as a portal. Ultimately it's a flow, something continuous, which gradually takes over from your conscious mind with all its intentions and desires.

And the strange thing is, that though so much in the culture will tell you that this all sounds very indulgent and self-oriented, it turns out that what comes from this starting point seems to have more likelihood of touching other people as well.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018


In some traditions of Indian image-making the image-maker (shilpin or shilpini) has to purify and prepare themselves in order to make themselves into a suitable vessel for the activity they are about to perform.

Shilpa (शिल्प) refers to any art or craft in ancient Indian texts, while Shastra means science. 
Together, Shilpa Shastra means the science of art and crafts. The ancient Sanskrit texts use the term Shilpin (शिल्पिन्, male artist)[6]and Shilpini (शिल्पिनी, female artist)[7] for artists and crafts person, while Shilpani refers to works of arts of man.[1]
Shilpani, works of art of man,
imitate the divine forms,
by employing their rhythms,
they metrically reconstitute,
and interpret the limitless knowledge,
of the sacred hymns,
from the limits of being human.
— Aitareya Brahmana, Rig Veda, 6.5.27[8][9]
The meaning of Shilpa, according to Stella Kramrisch, is complex. She writes that it consists of "art, skill, craft, labor, ingenuity, rite and ritual, form and creation."[1][10] The range of crafts encompassed by the term Shilpa extends to every aspect of culture, includes sculptor, the potter, the perfumer, the wheelwright, the painter, the weaver, the architect, the dancer, the musician, the arts of love, and others.

All of the arts were/are one with each other, part of the same thing, and all of the arts were/are one with daily life and living. Indians do not, even to this day, naturally recognise a distinction between what we separate into 'secular' and 'religious'.

When you wake in the morning, you might do a ritual that makes you listen to the early morning sounds, which helps to remind you that you are breathing, and calms your mind before it starts to make lists for the day ahead.

If you're a woman in a village you might step outside your hut and make a pattern in your doorway with ground white rice, with the intention of inviting auspicious forces to come towards you for the coming day.

video link in text above image

People in India perform all kinds of alignment practices as a way of grounding themselves in their ordinary day to day lives.

Many of these practices act to intensify the sense of everything in the world (and its generative forces, however you understand these - the laws of physics or God...) being connected and embedded into everything else. The practices act to bring the relatedness of everything into the field of awareness, an awareness that includes all of the sensations of the body.  For example, a person may feel that God is everywhere and that He/She can be seen and worshipped in any form in any place, or indeed in the formless. That person may still on some days go to a temple rather than worship at the altar in their home, if they feel that they need some extra-concentrated awareness of what and where they are.

In this context, anyone can make an image. At the same time, there are people who have the specialised  task of making images, which are largely made to serve other people's 'helping you to connect up' intensification practices.

I am one of these people. This is why I think of myself as a shilpini (image maker) rather than as an artist in the 21st century AngloAmerican sense.

In order to make images that will serve my purpose, I need to be aligned.