Monday, July 13, 2015

Seven Degrees of Separation--Part 9

From Silence into Words
7" x 21" x2 1/2"
Beeswax. Mixed Media onto
Artist Made Paper
 “Because even the smallest of words can be the ones to hurt you, or save you.” 
― Natsuki Takaya

The quote by Natsuki Takava sums up the next step in the path, Right Speech. Words are powerful for good and for harm.  The path would advise us to spend a good amount of time with no words, in silence, so that we become aware of our inner words.  I am personally on this step and although I have spent much of my early life in the silence of the convent, it is hard to quiet all of the inner noise of my own thoughts and feelings.  Right Speech would have us silent when we are tempted to speak from anger, greed, or resentment. Right Speech would have us be aware of others and situations so that our words are appropriate.  Too often in conversation we are consumed with our own options or positions and fail to listen and understand the perspective of the other or simply blurt out what is on our minds.  Right Speech would have us speak the truth, without exaggeration or omission, with honesty and sincerity.  Most importantly, Right Speech invites us to be aware of the power of our words to heal or hurt, to build up or tear down, to be crude and malicious or meaningful and uplifting.  Until our inner words align with our outer words and all is an expression of kindness, we are instructed by Right Speech to remain silent.

Singing Praise for the Morning
7" x 21" x 2 1/2"
Beeswax, Mixed Media onto
Artist Made Paper
Generosity of mind, spirit and words is the centerpiece of Right Action.  And generosity is founded  in the virtue of Gratitude.  Gratitude is the ability to see abundance in all the experiences of our others. From Christian spirituality we know that a virtue is a practice that becomes so habitual that it is an attitude in which we live.  I once met a wise older woman in one of my classes.  She often spontaneously broke out in song or in words of admiration for a color that she experienced as beautiful or when looking at her finished art that she thought good.  In all of the six weeks of the class, I never heard her say one word that wasn't filled with gratitude for the beauty around her.  It was not wonder that everyone was drawn to her because her gratitude overflowed into an immense generosity of words of praise, actions of gift giving and a self-less listening.  I've previously understood this step in the light of the Gospel, "Give. When you give, don't let your right hand know what your left hand is doing."  Grounded in the virtue of Gratitude, I now understand that Right Action is something that simply cannot be contained.  Generosity becomes the essence of who we are.

Living Uncompromising Life
7" x 21" x 2 1/2"
Beeswax, Mixed Media on
Artist Made Paper
Right Livelihood is about alignment and community.  We spend much of our life in work. Research has shown that unless our job has meaning that goes beyond making a living, we re are more likely to be unhappy. And if our work environment is unhealthy, cut throat and demeaning, we will be stressed to the point of illness.  Right Livelihood invites us to first disassociate ourselves from toxic workplace environments because we will no longer have the ability to sustain a spiritual practice.  Sometimes, it means that we enter the environment with Right Emotion, Right Words and Right Actions and the workplace might change because of our spiritual practice.  

Right Livelihood is seen in terms of ethical livelihood, meaning that our work does not involve producing products or engaging in practices that cause harm to other living community of beings. It takes discernment, consultation with a spiritual adviser and much prayer to step into Right Livelihood.

All I Need is Here
7" x 21" x 2 1/2"
Beeswax, Mixed Media on Artist Made Paper

Right Effort is the step that will take us through the rest of our life.  It is the step that is least about fan fare and most about being where we are.  David Smith, in his book A Record of Awakening, describes this step in this way:  "I would say from my experience and observation that the great challenge we in the West to develop the ability to stay with the practice.  It is not difficult to observe people wandering around changing teachers and traditions, avoiding practice when they are not getting what they thing they should be getting from their efforts, or just avoiding themselves with their restless wanderings. The willingness to stick with things is the most difficult aspect of practice that we face because it is going against the current that has been carrying us along all our lives."

In this culture of instant gratification, it is difficult to be in the stay with the deny both the illusion of grandeur and the illusion that there are short cuts to insight. Probably one of the most difficult part of this step is to realize that we don't need to go to a magic place or study with the perfect teacher or read that ground breaking book.  The terrain of our journey is right where we are.  Our teachers are those whom we meet around the dinner table and in the pews next to us.  The ground breaking book is being written in the silence of our own inner words.

I've titled the last piece in this series, All I Need is Here, because it sums up the Eightfold Path.  The spiritual path begins where we are, as we are, with whom we are with. It is a life long process of becoming authentically human...and perhaps, if we are faithful...the reign of God.

When you make the Inner as the Outer 
and the Outer as the Inner
and the Above as the Below
And when you make the male and the female 
into a single one where the male shall not be male
and the female shall not be female,
Than you shall enter the reign of God.
Gnostic Gospel of Thomas

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Seven Degrees of Separation- Part 8

 Although I am a Christian by tradition and practice, I have read and studied the spirituality of all of the other main religious traditions.  Every tradition outlines a path to follow to holiness or enlightenment or peace.  Each tradition is steeped in its own culture, often originating from different parts of the world.  As I wondered about the path I was on in creating this series, I was reminded of the Nobel Eightfold Path of Buddhism, which is a life map for personal transformation.  When I looked back at these first three pieces of art, I realized that they were, perhaps, my own expressions of the first two steps along this path.

In all traditions, the spiritual seeker begins walking a path when he/she experiences the lifting of a veil enabling us to glimpse in a profoundly significant way, the true nature of reality..or a trans-formative experience of God.  Sometimes this happens through a near death experience or in bereavement.  It can happen through a profound insight or intellectual breakthrough in reading or study.  Experiencing great art or another's story can confront us into a new way of seeing reality that puts everything into a much bigger perspective and initiates our journey. I've titled this first piece, Lifting the Veil to express this first trans-formative moment.

Lifting the Veil 
7" x 21" x 2.5" 
Beeswax, Oil, Mixed Media on Artist-Created Paper Canvas

 The first step in this Eight Fold Path is Right View.  Simply put, we need to come to acceptance that there IS a path.  It is a faith in the unseen, it is a vision of something beyond ourselves and it is a willingness to begin a journey of transformation.   It sounds easy and perhaps even trite, but from experience I can say that it may take a good part of a life time to truly believe that life has meaning beyond what I see.  Or, as one of my mentors, Hildegard of Bingen, would say, "All is ordained in God for good, and so this too."  I have had to go through a lot of "this too."  Each of these life events both challenges and strengthens by belief just a bit more.

I've titled this second piece Through the Veil of Time because it is only through lived experiences and authentic relationships that we can leave behind our biases that often become dogma in our own mind.  Right view is about letting go of those artificial mind constructs that keep us bound by our illusions.

Through the Veil of Time
7" x 21" x 2 1/2" 
Beeswax, Oil, Mixed Media on Artist-Created Paper Canvas

Right Emotion, another step on the path, is a foundation for the rest of the journey.  Right Emotion or Right Intention, as it is sometimes called, encourages us to develop positive feelings for ourselves and for others.  This step is grounded in forgiveness.  I've known many people in my life who can't get beyond this step because they have never been able to either forgive their parents or siblings for hurts and painful childhood experiences or to forgive themselves for missteps or past transgressions.  It then becomes hard to see positive motivation in the actions of others.  To embark on this step, we often must step back into our past, realize that others have hurt us and we have hurt others....then make amends and move on.  We can then begin the slow work of appreciating our own value, caring for ourselves, and approaching each person--and all living things---we meet with positive good will.

Stepping Back into a New Tomorrow
7" x 21" x 2 1/2" 
Beeswax, Oil, Mixed Media on Artist-Created Paper Canvas

To see the next four pieces in this series and how they follow the Eightfold Path, see the next blog entry.

Seven Degrees of Separation, Part 7

A Turning Point

I don’t know why it is, but the third piece in a series is often a turning point for me…and it is always a difficult birth!  I started this one with two major strikes against me.  The first was color.  I had picked up a rich umber color at the paint store, but I found that after working with such lovely colors in the first two pieces, this color was dull…dull…dull.   The second strike was the image I chose from Pinterest. 

I have a rule, of sorts, that states, “you can choose any image or two that you want, but once chosen, you can’t go back to Pinterest.”  Why you ask am I so strict with the rules?  It might be my Catholic school education that kept us on the straight and narrow…and it might be a way to make myself push beyond my stuck places.  Whatever it is, the rule exists and I work with it.

The art work I chose had a tag “ceramic” from the Duane Reed Gallery in St. Louis, MO.  It reminded me of a Chihuly piece that was commissioned by our public library.  I could vision paper-wrapped wire swirling out of one of my canvas windows.  It actually might have been a Chihuly after all because the links led nowhere; I couldn't find the art work on Google images or in any of the works of any of the current artists.  That IS one of the draw backs of Pinterest.  Images are pinned and repined constantly with no artist credits—I’m guilty of that as well—and the descriptors and links get detached from the images. 

I decided to keep the inner window unpainted and planned to somehow wax “squiggles”.  I worked for a week on that darn idea!  Nothing looked good.  Nothing was working…but in that length of time, at least the color was beginning to grow on me.  I know from long experience that I can’t force a painting to go where I want it to go.  It has to take its own course.

Here are some of my trials and errors. 

In frustration, I did what I sometimes do...I tore off the waxed paper and started over with the same form. The Chihuly images suddenly morphed into the former Du Chau work, leaving behind the umber for the "bubble gum" pink chip I had chosen from last summer.  I kept seeing soft rain through a window.

By this time, I had to know where I was going.  I've always liked the phrase, "Make your way by walking..." but there are times when you have to look at a map.  What did these three pieces have in common?  What did I discover so far?  Where did I actually want to go?  Every series is about a path.

The word, "path" actually gave me the insight I needed and the direction that had been embedded in the series with all of the intuitive decisions I had made from the start of the project.  To see how PATH and the meaning of this series are entwined, stay tuned.

Seven Degrees of Separation, Part 6

Experiments, Misconceptions and Brick Walls...

Buffalo Spirit by LuAnn Ostergaard              Inch by Inch by Du Chau

To fit one of my window-less canvases I went back to Pinterest  to find more inspirational steals.  I selected what I thought was a painting by Lu Ann Ostergaard. I loved the way the “paint” in her work lay on the dark canvas and I wondered if I could use that element, but reverse the process having the wax flow downward, leaving some of the canvas a contrasting white.

I also selected what I thought was a paper work by Du Chau titled “Inch by Inch.”  I was intrigued with the idea of perhaps using the “ledge” I had created on my paper canvas as a shelf from which to add a kinetic element to my work.

One thing I like in the process of “stealing” is its ability to lead me to new artists and media.  I was surprised to learn that Lu Ann’s work is actually digital photography and that we share a kinship in visual inspiration.  I, too, am drawn to distressed surfaces—old fences, decaying walls, rusted metals.  While my photos are references only, she enlarges her photo collages of naturally occurring patterns and textures into fine art.  I swear I thought she was a painter!  

Du Chau is actually a pathology technical coordinator at Methodist Dallas Medical Center by day and an award winning ceramist in his off hours.  After discovering that simple fact, I knew why the many attempts to create a similar kinetic element in paper had not been working.  He was using the weight of fired clay attached to musical instrument wires!  I didn’t have enough weight with the paper nor enough flexibility with waxed threads.  Luckily I had moved on by several days from these fruitless experiments when I learned about his medium of choice.

The color I chose from my paint chip stash was a red/purple that was close to one of my favorite R&F Pigment sticks, Quinacridone Magenta.  I thought that it would work well with the Indigo that I had planned to use as the dark element.  

The painting actually came pretty easy and I was able to achieve a lovely and complex surface.  I also enjoyed moving away from my usual palette and into such rich reds and blues.  That’s when I came up to a brick wall….

The ledge needed something….  I played around with several ideas, including some generally awful ones!  It wasn't until I set the finished first piece and the almost finished second piece side by side, that I got an inkling as to what that would be.  If this were to be a series, I needed common elements, so what I needed to add was a paper “veil” or “scroll” and the element of writing.

This photo was an experiment with getting to a sense of “language” from burning tissue quality paper.  It seemed to fit, so I created the final element and #2 was down.

To see how the third painting in this series transformed these two paintings into a series with meaning and direction, read the next blog!