11. Painting In The Spirit

Dear Sade,

Only at a great stretch of the imagination can I speculate how you will feel about this letter. All I can ask is that you keep an open mind when you read it as the phenomenon described here is, to say the least, mystifying if you have never experienced it. So, trust me on this one for it is truth and not the result of an over-active imagination. Over the years I have experienced a fleeting phenomenon whilst working when the painting 'takes over' and you the artist feel that you are relinquishing creative control to become a bystander. When it happened I was as puzzled as the first time I saw algebra. Imagine it, Sade, the brush in your hand takes on a life of it's own and does things you would never do with colour. " Mix mauve into the chartreuse." says the painting. "No, no!" you object. "Do it, as it will give me life." comes the response. You do it, the effect is wonderful. "Not too bad hey?" says the painting, "now add a wash of Alizarin Crimson." "A wash of WHAT?" you shout in your head, "Crimson... trust me." answers the painting. You bite your lip and you do it - the outcome is spectacular. Sade, I can't explain this strange, wonderful and elevating experience, however when it happens to you don't challenge or resist it or it will leave you - simply ride the wave and go with the flow. My very best paintings were created when I was only the vehicle and had very little to do with the outcome of the work. The experience is so profound yet so simple - my only regret is that this truly spiritual occurrence does not manifest every time I paint. I am grateful for the times that it did visit for it gave me the opportunity to ride the crest of the creative experience and to broaden my painting vocabulary. Recently I was pleasantly surprised when in my research I came across artists of note who in their writings described similar experiences, so possibly you grandfather isn't losing it after all! I give you excerpts from the writings mentioned: In an article in LIFE magazine sculptor Henry Jackson said: "It'll (the sculpture) say: 'Touch me there, put more clay on my cheek.' When it starts talking to you, you just listen. You don't even know why you're doing things."

Artist Piet Mondrian said:
"The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel."

"When the Spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art."
Leonardo da Vinci.

Edgar Degas:
"Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things."

Emma Sergeant wrote that she loved
"the mystery of being taken over by a picture."

Jackson Pollock:
"The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through."

Henri Matisse wrote:
"Truth and reality in art do not arise until you no longer understand what you are doing and are capable of but nevertheless sense a power that grows in proportion to your resistance. So you have to offer yourself up in all purity and innocence, almost cleared of memory...what it seems we must learn is to leave experience behind and retain the freshness of instinct."

In his thought-provoking book 'A History of Art', H.W.Janson wrote:
'Clearly then the making of a work of art has little in common with what we ordinarily mean by "making." It is a strange and risky business in which the maker never quite knows what he is making until he has actually made it, or to put it another way, it is a game of find-and-seek in which the seeker is not sure what he is looking for until he has found it. To the non-artist it seems hard to believe that this uncertainty, this need-to-take-a-chance should be the essence of the artist's work.'

Love Gramps
February 23 1999