Sunday, August 19, 2018

Embodied cognition, Painting and Heartache.

This last year has brought me all kinds of opportunities for growth. At this ripe old age I would say that heartbreak in life is unavoidable. Heartbreak is just the process of us learning to accept the joy that comes and eventually goes in life. The gifts the universe gives us are all transitory... and if we cannot gracefully accept that all things must pass, than those gifts become barbed hooks and tear us apart as they move out of our lives again. If we can open ourselves to joy without attachment then they become waves, washing over us, and we can be open and aware of all of the new joys that are constantly becoming  available to us.

Negotiating that sometimes frustrating, and at turns transcendent act of awareness is what the practice of painting is about for me. Not everything I paint is great, not everything I see is great, but if my awareness is great and my acceptance of things as they meet my reality remains steadfast, then I feel like I am actually giving a gift back to the universe. My awareness is a gift of gratitude to the wonders of our world. The breathing leaves and skipping birds, the dark resting stones and the bright clear sky, the bent grey branch and the folded yellow petals, and maybe most wonderful, the way all these parts move with each other, breathing the same air, allowing the same precious rays of sunlight to bend all over them. Ugh. Its almost too much.

The other wild thing to me is that most of my life doesn’t feel like this. Mostly I’m stressing about work or stuck in traffic or trying to figure out how to communicate with my children, or just feed them before soccer practice. I often feel frustrated and overwhelmed, or all out scared as hell. I’m sure we share some of those feelings, however for many of us there is a practice that allows us to pause, breathe and be grateful. This practice often allows us to bend or stretch time and heightens our senses, as well as quieting the inner voices that sometimes are no help at all really.

There is a short list of things I do that really make me feel better when those stressors and negative voices get out of hand.

1)    talk therapy
2)    running
3)  spending time with friends and family
4)    drawing and painting

Your list is ( I’m sure ) different, but if your at all interested in how to make creating art into one of those tools in your life, then join me, ‘cuz I’m ‘bout to get into it again. This time by using examples of actual paintings that I may consider good or sometimes even not my faves, and doing my best to explain how my mind, body and the space around me interact to create not only that painting but the opportunity to open that moment up to my awareness., as a practice of gratitude.

Here we go. The image to the right is a portrait of the west facing slope of mount hood. There I was, a year ago, hoofing it through the dust. I was carrying a heavy heart, and my paint box, not light physically or emotionally. I carry the weight of my eroding marriage with me, as I look over the glacial landscape trying to find something I wouldn't mind staring really hard at for an hour or more. but everything looks gorgeous. How to choose? This is one of those moments I just gave up and sat down and started painting. and its one of my favorites. so much light and surface, it scared me. There was no simple one thing to look at. but the hill, scoured by ice all killed me. the small life that fought for it, came up all around me. It told me that it is ok to fight for daylight. get your green wings out in the sun, even for a few weeks. This is a barren moonscape graced by the strongest little green living things. I say thank you, to the sun and the earth, and I put the pigment on the paper. The image is what it is..what you see. But there is no way to accurately express the multifaceted sensory experience of life. Yet, we keep trying.

 fast forward a year, and one of the coolest things I've had the experience to learn happened in a workshop at Catlyn Gable school, in a workshop led by Rachel Nelson,  during traverse portland, all about...

1)your mind
2)your body
3)everything else

"Cognition does not begin and end in the brain, but actually is conducted in concert with the environment and the physical body."

 now it's all I think about when I'm painting. my mind wants to see things, and see them clearly. But my body has it's own agenda...breathing and feeling tired, hungry, and waving in the breeze, like a filament of a barnacle. MY BODY IS HUNGRY...MY MIND IS ALSO HUNGRY...and the space around me acts out its own impulses, that my brain and body respond to. The Wind or rain could change my mood or ruin the excursion for me. It is the space around me I am here to capture, or to experience. The act of observational painting is the very act of becoming aware in real time of the shifting space that is our very being, the nerves and thoughts and emotions and urges that flow like a rushing current though our bodies and minds, into and out of the space all around us. Mind, Body and Everything Else all three work on me equally, and my identity, the decisions I make, have no firm boundary between them. My decisions are not made just in my head, but in the intersection of these three vectors and so I am greater than just my mind, I am greater even than myself.

In the moment of this painting, I had sat down on some rocks beside the Wilson River. I had never been to this swimming hole before, and all my senses were open. My mind was in a childlike state of learning, taking in the bird songs and the shapes of leaves, because it was a new space for me. I was eating some salami, and crackers, looking up and down the  bank, joyful and grateful, for the love in my life. Belly full, Mind calm, and the world around me becomes the main thing. I accept the world around me and put pigment on paper.

 I would miss out on most of the joy in my life, if not for painting. Painting reveals how temporary everything is. I may return to the same views to see the seasons changing. The leaves drying out and the clouds growing dark, or the ground growing warm and soft and green shoots striking out again.

 Even in the course of a single painting the light is never the same as when I began. The practice of awareness through impermanence helps build in me, a sense of gratitude for the moment as it is happening and an acceptance of change. The two being linked, awareness and a capacity for joy and an acceptance of life slipping through our fingers.
 The reality of things as they appear, is not the same as how they are. There ARE multiple realities at work. My perspective is unique. The sun screams through space, and we, on earth, scream around it. Light does not stay static. Only by accepting change can we paint life. None of my paintings look like reality, as it might be captured by a camera, but all of my paintings capture the emotional state of the hand. That kind of arty sentiment I would have rejected as a younger man, but now I can hear it. Not to say that the emotional state could be universally interpreted, but it is embedded in the color choices, and strokes, and by recalling the moment of craft, I can recall the emotional state.

The practice of true and open presence, in nay form has the capacity to change our lives for the better. Being aware and connected, allows experiences to be more clearly imprinted in our memories, because it allows us to take more of our experience in. That practice is carried into all aspects of my life. So thanks saved one more soul today.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Changing my life with plein air painting. Year one.

About this time last year my life got kind of shaken out. Im not here to tell you about my personal drama, but suffice it to say I ended up having to spend a lot more time by myself and kind of had to decide if I liked myself enough to want to be my own main hang.  I was left with a gaping void in my life that just made me want to curl up and give up and generally turned me into a heaving wet mess of a human being. After a few jagged weeks I realized how much my inner dialogue had been controlling my life, specifically getting in the way of my own happiness. 

You ever forget the radio is on in your house and after a while you cant figure out why your so annoyed and then your like "ugh, Im listening to car ads" and some guy with a growly voice is yelling at you to "get on down here and scoop up this awesome low financing option!!!!!!" That's kind of what had been going on in my head for the last thirty some years of my life. A running commentary track of negative self talk, that I had tuned out suddenly was turned up to full volume and I had the opportunity to deal with it directly. 

I began actively seeking out the things that bring me the most joy in life and of course painting was high on that list. I also ran a ton, and cooked food for myself and enjoyed every minute I could with my kids. I read a lot of books about improving your life and went to conferences on self empathy. I even fucking meditated for a while. Just saying there was a lot going on, a lot of self care, a lot of learning. So all that and also I started really focusing on painting outside. Thats what I really came here to tell you about.

 First off there is a pretentious french sounding art word for painting outside that you have to get over if you want to go down this road. "Plein Aire" painting is fancy talk for sitting your butt down outside and cussing through an afternoon getting sunburned and bitten by bugs just so you can end up with a drippy mess you might have been better off just snapping a photo of. I mean half the time after an hour and a half I realize I wouldn't even want a photo of this dumb lake or whatever. But theres a secret joy to it, I'll explain. I just have to start out being unerringly pessimistic cause thats true to me. Thats really how I feel a lot of the time. Thats the noise in my head.

Those last two nautical scenes are the first two real plein air paintings I feel like I have done. I mean I painted stuff I saw outside before. I have been making art my whole life but somehow this was different. It was like I knew I was just there to learn, that nothing grand may come of the time I spent seeing those trees and waves and boats and trying to interpret the weight of the warm wet air that separated me from everything I was trying so desperately to see that afternoon, as I sat on the edge of the RV park I was camping in, on the coast of Vancouver Island BC.

The old timers walking their dogs out to the otter strewn dock, commented as they walked past and again on the return trip. It was clear people saw this as a good thing. A real and brave attempt at humanity. That was encouraging, and despite what some people say about doing art for yourself, I am totally honest about the fact that I started drawing as a kid to impress other kids. I wanted a super power, something that made me special. I can't separate myself from that core desire to be recognized by others, but what I have started to learn, is that in addition to that there is a person looking at my work from inside of my own eyes and that seeking to make that man proud is maybe worth something too. Ugh, I'm crying, again, another thing I have learned this year is that turning my love inward is about the hardest thing for me to do. I don't understand the riddle of my life well enough to tell you why, but even saying that I deserve to love myself, that I deserve love at all, cuts me so deep, opens me right up. I know I can't be the only person going through this, so I hope it's not totally selfish of me to share it here. You deserve love too. We all do.

My mother in law is a painter as well. She makes beautiful watercolors, and a few years ago she gave me a super cute painting box. A little wooden case with drawers and a pop up easel. Manufactured by Royal Langnickel, oddly enough I didn't realize until much later that art company makes my favorite sketchbooks too.

This little art box sat in my garage for a couple years, but it came with me when I went out to find myself last year. It is about as big as a big ass toaster, and holds paper and paint with room for a jar of water and a book to read if painting isn't going well.

After a year of travel and adventure it is mostly held together with stickers and dried paint, and last week I passed it on to another painter in hopes of building a contingent of friends who might want to sit on our butts under a blue sky and paint what we see all together.

It came with me and the crew to Hawaii over the holidays and I must say some beaches are more fun to paint then others. There was a lot of growth and practice between these two trips, and the road ahead sometimes feels wide open, but it's like exercise, you don't always want to get out there. When you do though, you can feel your soul opening up like a new leaf in the sun.

There is a lot more I want to share about how this little paint box changed my life, opened up my heart and let me feel real peace and joy, and opened up the conversation with the self hating critics in my mind, so I can take them with a grain of salt....all that and a frosty coors time.
Big island, the 69's

My travel buddy.

You cant really see it in the photo above, but that is Mauna Loa up there with snow all over it, while I sit in the sand at 75 degrees. What? 

Embodied cognition, Painting and Heartache.

This last year has brought me all kinds of opportunities for growth. At this ripe old age I would say that heartbreak ...