Can You Paint a Poem?

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It’s a question a blogger friend asked one day in response to my comment that I would like to try to paint my poems.

Often my poems start with a strong visual image, and as I’m reading them I’m seeing these images flash through my mind.

When I wrote “Hot Hills in Summer Heat” I was travelling on Highway 101, looking up at the golden hills profiled against the blue sky as they cascaded down to the sea.

I watch them every summer, the hot hills

Crouched like a lion beside the road.

Something masculine and sensual about that image gripped me, and a poem was born.

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I’m not sure if my poem “A Pleasing Design” was inspired by, or inspired, an abstract drawing of the male and female forms that I created long ago.

Both appeared around the same time. I don’t remember which came first.

I like the intricate pattern we create,

Stripped bare and essential,

The piling planes and lacing lines,

The way we meet and mingle.

My poem “Walking Among Flowers” was inspired by the image at the top of this post, drawn by a Zen monk from the 17th century. Something about its blunt beauty, or stark un-beauty, struck me fiercely, as if tearing open something deep within.

Walking among flowers

Drowning in scent

Petals assault me

Cool and bent

But the poem itself was written as we lay anchored in a bay in Moorea, looking up at a house on the bluff with a garden spilling over the edge. I wanted to roam that garden, to let the deep, dark beauty I imagined there tear me apart so I could be reborn. I wanted to swoop down from the high garden wall and swallow it whole.

Even now, I want to paint that garden with the rough, blunt strokes of Pa-ta Shan-jen.

A poem, after all, is just a vehicle to express something deeply felt, some emotion or insight or new way of seeing. And a painting is another way to express the very same things. Each would be distinct, it’s own unique creation. And neither would ever quite capture what you wanted to share. Both mediums are limited.

Poems inspired by paintings are common. But the other way around less so.

Recently, though, another blogger friend led me to the website of Lena Levin, an artist who does just that. She’s  created a whole series of paintings inspired by Shakespeare’s sonnets.  Her blog on the Art of Seeing is well worth reading as well.

I don’t know if I will ever paint my poems, or how successful they might be if I try. Words and images tangle in my mind, and it’s hard to sort them out. In the past the only way I could capture what I was seeing/feeling was through poetry. Now I want to see if I can use color and contours, images empty space like words, shaping them into phrases to be felt and understood.

Perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to the works of the French Symbolist,  Odilon Redon, and his “Mysterious and Poetic Paintings.” Viewing them is like reading between the lines of a poem. It says more than words can tell.

I don’t know if I have the expertise at this stage of my learning curve to be able to do such a thing. But I do know I want to try.

You can read the full text of the poems mentioned in this post at the links below:

Hot Hills in Summer Heat

“A Pleasing Design” from The Geometry and Geography of Love

Walking Among Flowers

 

Celebrating Poetry: Music of the Spheres

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300px-Milky_Way_IR_SpitzerThe first poem I shared on my new blog five years ago was scribbled in the starlight on a moonless night while crossing the Sea of Cortez.

A few months later I received an email from Troy Armstrong, a classical composer who said he had set my poem to music to be performed by a choir. As I listened to the music, tears were streaming down my cheeks, for I knew this is what I would have heard that night had I ears to hear, sailing among the stars.

Poetry, as well as music, has the power to capture that state of wonder we all feel at times when confronting the beauty and majesty of nature, and its power to move us beyond ourselves.

In celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m sharing the original post below with the poem and a link to the music.

Sailing Among the Stars

Last night I swam among the stars. The air and water temperatures were both 78 degrees, so it felt like I was moving from one warm atmosphere into another more dense when I stepped in my pool. There was no moon and the Milky Way was strewn across the sky like scattered bones of light. When I lay on my back to watch them, it felt like I was floating among the stars.

And then I realized–I was! We all are.

We sail across the universe on the back of a tiny planet at the edge of a galaxy that swirls around us. Too often we forget that–how embedded we really are in the universe.

I became acutely aware of this one night when we were crossing the Sea of Cortez from Baja to mainland Mexico. There was no wind, no moon. The sea was perfectly still like the surface of a dark mirror, marred only by our trailing wake.

Above us the bare mast stirred a billion stars, which were reflected in the sea’s surface below. I felt like we were on a starship sailing through the cosmos.

Later that night I wrote this:

Night Crossing, Sea of Cortez

The sea appears so simple

With a dark, indulgent face,

The stars there twice reflected

Like a world spun out of space.

Our sloop shoots through the cosmos,

Through a mute and moonless night,

Our wake a fiery comet

Streaming effervescent light.

With all the universe inert

We slip from star to star,

Then reach across the Milky Way

Toward galaxies afar.

Eons swirl, light-years unfurl

And none can still our flight,

Leaping toward the infinite

To apprehend the light.

I’m not alone in seeing the overlap between the ocean and the night sky. Various artists are fond of depicting whales and dolphins and other sea creatures swimming among the stars. The ocean and the universe stand at the edge of the wild, the last two true frontiers we have to explore, except for the human consciousness, of course.  The ocean and the universe have become symbols for consciousness as well as adventure.

We seem to grasp that there is something that connects all three—some deep, dreamy, ever-flowing, ungraspable, powerful yet nurturing element in which we all are steeped. That calls us to move beyond ourselves, beyond the safe and familiar, the already known. That inspires us to reach for something that lies just beyond our grasp.

You can listen to the haunting music Troy Armstrong wrote at this link:

http://troyarmstrong1.wixsite.com/troyarmstrong/swimming-among-the-stars

Celebrating Poetry: Blown Away By Matthew Dickman

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Matthew Dickman

In celebration of April as the National Month of Poetry, I’ve been looking back at posts on poetry that I’ve written over the years, and thought that I’d share two “firsts” with you:

  • the first poet I blogged about back in September 2012, and
  • the first of my own poetry that I shared in July of that year, which, coincidentally, was turned into an exquisite piece of music by a classical composer.

I’ll save that one for next time and start with Dickman under the original title.

Wild Poet, Talking Nerdy: Matthew Dickman

I stumbled across him by accident.  One thing led to another and another, the way it often happens surfing the internet. And there it was, a video of Matthew Dickman reading at the San Francisco Zen Center.

And I was blown away. Yes, I actually was. The same way Emily Dickinson said poetry affected her—as if the top of her head had been removed—“blown away” I believe is the expression we’d use today.

Now, Dickman’s poetry isn’t Zen, or even spiritual. It’s earthy, sometimes crass and crude, lightly humorous. Hip, you might say, in the way the beat poets were hip, so clued into the “street life” of their age, with such insight and understanding, that they could be said to speak for that generation.

So I think is Dickman’s poetry, though since I’m not from that generation, and don’t normally speak that language, I may be wrong.

So please listen and tell me. Am I right? Does he capture something from today’s youth that expresses its particular angst and yearning , love and loss, in a way that both elevates and exemplifies it?

I’m trying to figure out just what captivates me in listening to him read his poetry. It’s so unpretentious and unassuming:

Like a scrap of paper blown down a dirty sidewalk that takes on a beauty of its own without meaning to.

Like that paper bag being blown around and around in the film “American Beauty.” Remember? It’s like that.

In this way, it may be Zen-like, after all. In that his blunt, sometimes unbeautiful images strike you as an unexpected blow, like that “thwack” from the Master’s stick on the student’s head, that makes you wake up and “see,” but you’re not sure yet what you’re seeing, only that this quick-silver clarity is already fading, while something solid and meaty seeped unawares into your bones and shored them up.

If you’ve felt this way before, you know what I mean.

If you haven’t, don’t stress, you will.

Listen to Dickman reading his poem “Slow Dance”, or read the poem “V” I’ve posted below the video. See if it happens to you. Tell me if it does or doesn’t do what I say. I really want to know. People either love his work or hate it, I’ve heard, so either way I’m open.

If you want more, pick up his book All-American Poem.

Or go to the blog where I first found Matthew Dickman reading at The San Francisco Zen Center. It’s about 22 minutes long, but well worth the time it takes to listen to it.

Matthew Dickman reads his poem “Slow Dance” at Narrative Night 2008 in Seattle, Washington.

V

By Matthew Dickman

The skinny girl walking arm-in-arm

with her little sister

is wearing a shirt that says

TALK NERDY TO ME

and I want to,

I want to put my bag of groceries down

beside the fire hydrant

and whisper something in her ear about long division.

I want to stand behind her and run

a single finger down her spine

while she tells me about all her correlatives.

Maybe she’ll moan a little

when I tell her that x equals negative-b

plus or minus the square root

of b-squared minus 4(a)(c) all over

2a. I have my hopes.

I could show her my comic books

and Play Station. We could pull out

my old D&D cards

and sit in the basement with a candle lit.

I know enough about Dr. Who

and the Star Fleet Enterprise

to get her shirt off, to unbutton her jeans.

We could work out String Theory

all over her bedroom.

We could bend space together.

But maybe that’s not what she’s asking.

The world’s been talking dirty

ever since she’s had the ears to listen.

It’s been talking sleazy to all of us

and there’s nothing about the hydrogen bomb

that makes me want to wear a cock ring

or do it in the kitchen while a pot of water boils.

Maybe, with her shoulders slouched

the way they are and her long hair

covering so much of her face,

she’s asking, simply, to be considered

something more than a wild night, a tight

curl of pubic hair, the pink,

complicated, structures of nipples.

Maybe she wants to be measured beyond

the teaspoon shadow of the anus

and the sweet mollusk of the tongue,

beyond the equation of limbs and seen

as a complete absolute.

And maybe this is not a giant leap

into the science of compassion, but it’s something.

So when I pass her

I do exactly what she has asked of me,

I raise my right hand and make a V

the way Vulcans do when they wish someone well,

hoping she gets what she wants, even

if it has to be in a galaxy far away.

 

Poetry: The Thing We Die for Lack Of

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Paul Klee, Versunkene Landschaft, 1918

Paul Klee, Versunkene Landschaft, 1918

Wallace Stevens once famously said: “You can’t get the news from poems, but men die every day for lack of what is found there.”

It may be hard to argue the truthfulness of that statement when we consider the widespread unpopularity of reading poetry. A recent study finds that “since 2002, the share of poetry-readers has contracted by 45 percent—resulting in the steepest decline in participation in any literary genre.”

Poetry, it appears, is less popular than knitting, jazz, and dance. Perhaps that’s why we need the month of April to celebrate poetry, to help curb the decline and rekindle a comeback.

But Stevens wasn’t arguing that we die from the lack of reading poetry, but from the lack of what is found in there, the thing that inspires poets to put pen to paper, and artists to pick up their brushes, and musicians to play their instruments.

The thing we find in poetry that saves us, that renews us, that keeps us from dying for lack of, is the “poetry” we find in life, in nature, in human experience. In our deepest feelings and highest aspirations. So much of written poetry is about that, discerning the poetry in ordinary life, in things forgotten and overlooked and dismissed, and unfurling it in words on paper for all to read.

The ability to see poetry in all the aspects of our lives is what saves us. We don’t have to be poets to see the beauty, symmetry, grace in our surroundings, the imperfect perfection of ordinary things; to discern the repetitions in patterns, the rhymes and rhythms that surround us, to hear the alliteration, and the way assonance and dissonance complement and complete each other; to understand the contradictions and similarities of things, the subtle differences and deep complexities, to appreciate the humor and irony, the paradox and profundity that weaves itself through our lives.

In all of this is the poetry that poets write about. It’s what makes life rich and diverse and meaningful. It’s what moves us toward compassion and forgiveness, and inspires us toward greatness, and fills us with hope and humility.

The discernment and appreciation of the subtle and glorious intricacies of this grand tapestry in which we are woven–this is what saves us.

And this is what we find in reading poetry, if it is poetry at all.

I’ll leave you with the following poem.

Poetry

by Pablo Neruda

And it was at that age . . .  Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open,
planets,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
riddled
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
void,
likeness, image of
mystery,
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

 

The Luscious Light of Sorolla’s Paintings

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Rocks and white boat, Javea - Joaquin Sorolla:

It was love at first sight when I discovered the paintings of Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923). Known as “the painter of light,” his seascapes and beach scenes are drenched in a warm, buttery light, and swim with dazzling swirls of color.

They evoke a dynamic sense of playfulness, as if capturing fleeting moments of the here and now, brief snapshots frozen in time.

They reveal a deep love of nature and the simple pleasures of life.  Sorolla was a family man and many of his paintings feature children at play, mothers with flowing skirts, young women with veils and parasols.

As I enter each painting and let it wash over me, all that luscious light and sensuous movement thrills me, and I feel bathed in bliss

I couldn’t help sharing some of my favorites with you. Enjoy!

Joaquín Sorolla SPANISH NIÑOS BAÑANDOSE ENTRE ROCAS, JÁVEA (CHILDREN ON THE SHORE, JÁVEA):

 

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Sorolla:

 

Sorolla:

 

On the Beach at Valencia - Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida:

 

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Joaquin Sorolla - Csak ki a tengerből:

 

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida  1863 - 1923:

 

'Clotilde and Elena on the Rocks at Javea', Oil by Joaquin Sorolla Y Bastida (1863-1923, Spain):

Promenade au bord de mer | LASKO:

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida  ArtExperienceNYC  www.artexperiencenyc.com:

Sorolla - A Spanish impressionist who doesn't get enough recognition.:

Mending the Sail Painting  - Mending the Sail Fine Art Print:

 

Sorolla.1919:

 

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (1863 –1923)  "Maria Watching the Fish at La Granja":

 

My Art or My Novel. Which Would You Choose?

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Mother and children Lange-MigrantMother02

Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph

Someone asked me recently what I loved more, my painting or my writing? Or, she added, is that like trying to choose which child you love most?

It is a little bit like that. Writing has always been the love of my life. Like a first child, I never thought I could love another as much as I loved him. And then number two came along and I learned that I could. Just as much, but differently.

Some children are easier to raise than others. My writing, like my first child, has wild mood swings. It’s like riding a roller coaster, one moment were up, up, up, dizzy with exhilaration, and the next were down, down, down, hating each other and sure we will never write another word again. But painting, like my second child, couldn’t be easier to live with, and there’s never been a cross word between us. She’s always ready to play when I am, and she keeps me delighted for hours.

Painting gives me more pure pleasure than writing. There’s pleasure in looking for a new project and in planning it. Pleasure in the process of painting and in the finished product. Pleasure hanging it, and every time I enter the room to view it anew.

There’s pleasure in writing too, especially in those first few hours, or days, or weeks, when the writing is hot and flowing out of me like I’m taking diction from some inspired muse. There’s even pleasure in the revision process where I’m weeding out what is extraneous and trying to make it as lean and luscious as possible. There’s pleasure in reading what I’ve written when it goes well, when I’m in the right mood, when I’m feeling confident or inspired.

Those are the peak moments. But in between all this pleasure are deep, deep lows. The sense of futility and frustration and despair can seem overwhelming. And then there are the long droughts when nothing inspires me. And the long, cold slogs when nothing is going well. And the times when I cannot force myself to sit down and try again, to keep it going. When I’d rather clean the toilet or go to the dentist or pull out my own teeth with pliers than sit down and write.

With painting, I never have to force myself to start or finish a project. If anything, I have to force myself to leave it be so I can do the laundry or prepare dinner. It’s not that I absolutely love everything I paint. But at the end of the day, it’s deemed good enough. And I feel my time was well spent. Sometimes I’m thrilled with the results and hang them on the wall. Other times I’m mildly pleased and lean them against some bookcase or pin them on bulletin board. Either way they keep me company. They suffice.

But writing, when I’m finished, disappears from sight. I might get pleasure re-reading it from time to time, but mostly I don’t bother. The few pieces that get published seem to go into a dark vault and are forgotten. Worse are the pieces that were much-loved but remain unread, unpublished. Instead of pleasure is a sense of loss and regret, of unrequited love, of stillborn life.

Given all that, you might wonder why I bother to write at all. Why not give it up for painting?

Because I can’t imaging life without writing. In some ways, for me, it’s like breathing. It seems a natural, intrinsic part of me. I can’t live without it, as difficult as it might be. I’m writing in my head all the time. Thinking and writing gets all rolled up together. Writing–putting thoughts on paper–takes me to a deeper place, and sometimes I don’t know what I think until I write it. It’s like the act of writing pulls up astonishing things from my unconscious and twirls them before my eyes so I can see what I’ve never seen before and be amazed. How could I give up something like that?

Writing this blog gives me pleasure and is a great outlet for my need to write. And your “likes” and comments help to sustain that pleasure, make it seem worthwhile. I don’t feel like the writing has dropped into a black hole or disappeared into cyberspace. I don’t feel I’m engaged in a futile exercise.

But my novel. My poor, poor novel. Unless I return to it, it will remain stillborn. And that I can’t bear. Pleasure or no, I must do it justice and publish it myself if nothing else. But all that takes time. Days, weeks, months of dedicated painstaking work. And I’ve become bewitched by painting. I can hardly stand to be away from her for a minute, let alone days, weeks, months.

So if you were me, what would you choose? Pure pleasure, or high anxiety and uncertain results? The answer seems obvious.

And yet, and yet, in the still of night my novel still calls to me.  In soft, wistful whispers.

Still Playing – Still Life and Florals

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I’m still “studying the masters” and playing with style. Most recently with two contemporary artists.

The first is a floral inspired by a David Peikon painting of pink dahlias. I love the way his flowers and surrounding garden fill the whole space, a riot of colors, lines and shapes. I found I enjoyed painting that tangle of leaves of the left as much as, or more so, than the flowers in the center. I didn’t try to copy his leaves but created my own, each shape leading to the next and the next, making it up as I went along. The same with the garden on the right. I tried to keep this side lighter, hinting at what was there and using less detail. I’m happy enough with this to want to frame and display.

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I’ve discovered that I like painting detail in a complex design, that I can get lost in it. I’ve also found that I like vibrant colors that fill the whole paper leaving little white space.

That’s probably why Shirley Trevena’s work and her book Taking Risks with Water Color caught my eye. In her book she details how she painted “Pink Pears Red Flowers.” I tried to follow along but kept getting ahead myself. I didn’t want to copy hers, but use some of her techniques and basic design, simplified somewhat, as seen below.

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I liked how she started with the rich, red blossoms on the blank white paper and worked outward, filling up the space, placing objects and background patterns, often from her imagination rather than what’s actually before her.

I used some of her techniques to create my first still life drawn from objects collected around my home: an African violet and orchid in bloom, two oranges in an antique bowl, a clay figurine, and a crocheted doily. I wanted the cobalt blue to be the unifying color, and a mix of warmer hues of yellow, gold, orange, and sienna as the complement.

 

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When I finished painting the main objects, I created the surrounding background from my imagination, inspired by the way Trevena breaks up her still life,s with bands of color and patterns.Thus the coral background and strip at the top left and the purple/yellow combo on the right.

While some parts of the painting I like more than others, altogether I’m pleased with my first still life drawn from real life, from things that I love.

Studying the Masters, Playing with Style

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Not long after I finished those first three watercolors paintings I shared last week, I was inspired to try to capture something of the style and subject matter of some of my favorite artists.

I fell in love with the paintings of Odilon Redon and especially his paintings of boats. It’s not surprising, given my own love affair with the sea and boats and sailing. There was something so iconic about his images. His seas capturing the deep unconscious, his amazing skies, and the boats themselves, so graceful and buoyant, evocative of vast journeys into the subconscious, the unknown. I had to try my hand at that.

I created studies of two pieces, the one above in the header, and the one below. They aren’t copies. The colors are different, the composition. But if you know Redon’s work, you definitely know who inspired these.

The drawings themselves were simple, the people harder, but capturing some of his techniques, done in oil, with watercolor was a challenge, and the part I actually enjoyed the most. I wanted my paintings to have the richness of oils, to have that “primitive” look, and to look “old.” The blue sail one was my first and easier to paint for some reason. Here’s the original I painted.dscn2101

I ended up toning down some of the gold at the bottom and the colorful reflections at the right in the final version. Now I’m not sure I should have done so.

The gold one was more of a challenge. It’s a study of his painting called “The Yellow Sail, Final Journey, Guardians of the Soul”. I love that title! It was challenging capturing the “souls” in the boat and those little bits of light floating away (the souls moving heavenward?) which I translated into butterflies (he paints lots of butterflies in his works). And that sea. I wanted blue/green, rather than his gold, but getting the right color, and getting a reflection of the sunset in the water, that was difficult. I reworked it too much in some places, but I think that added to the “primitive, old” look.

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I think I’ve succeeded to some degree  in what I wanted to do. Enough to want to frame these and put on my wall in more prominent places, our foyer. They just got back from the framers. But they looked a little lost in the bigger frames I’d ordered and wide matting, so I trimmed it down and put them into smaller frames. Here they are lined up on the couch. We’ll hang them on the wall later today.

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I was especially pleased that my husband liked these as much as I do, even more than my paintings of our tropical travels. He likes the other study I did below as much. No, even more so. It is in our bedroom over a dresser where we see it each morning when we wake. I’m so lucky to have a husband who has the same taste in art and who loves my work (or me, least) enough to want to show it off.

The following is a study of the work by a contemporary artist, Holly Irwin. I used one of her paintings in the header for my post “Able to Be the Mother of the World.”

I love the way her images, mostly women and girls, seem to appear out of thin air, or melt into it. That sense of oneness with one’s surroundings really speaks to me. Then of course the iconic image of Madonna and Child, mother and infant, is so heady with the evocation of unconditional love and acceptance, of nurturing and birth and creation, of life itself, that it’s hard for me to resist wanting to capture some of that.

And I think I did. At least enough to want to wake to it each morning. What do you think?

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Dare I Share? Paintings in Progress

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Family and friends have been asking me to show them some of the watercolors I’ve been working on, so I posted a few on Facebook the other day.

I thought when I first started that my painting would be “just for me” and not shared with the world at large. But it’s hard to keep things you love, that bring so much joy, to ourselves, it seems. And I’m curious to know what others think.

I’m averaging one watercolor a week, and so far, all have been deemed “wall-worthy,” unlike the pastel paintings I worked on last year. My walls are filling up fast. A year from now, will there be any wall space left to fill?

I’m reminded of an immensely talented but public-shy artist friend. She’s been painting for 13 years, but rarely shows her work and does not display for sale. “What do you do with all your paintings?” I asked her one day after class, which she attends for the camaraderie, since she needs no instruction at this point. “Your house must be full!”

“Oh, yes,” was her nonplussed reply. “My house, and my garage, and a storage shed to boot. I trade them in and out of the house to mix things up a bit and give each a chance to shine.”

What a shame, I think. So much talent and beauty hidden from public view. Then I wonder what I’ll do when my own walls are full. How soon will I need a storage shed?

What a think to worry about! Especially when I’m having so much fun, and when there’s still so much I want to paint. I have at least a dozen paintings in my head that I want to get on paper. And there’s more inspiration every time I go to my Pinterest boards and view all the amazing artwork I’ve collected there.

Which brings me back to this blog. Perhaps I will start sharing some of my work here, despite what I wrote in a previous blog post about my painting being “just for me.” I’ll start by sharing my first three watercolors, which already have a place of prominence on a bathroom wall. They were inspired by photographs taken when we were sailing on La Gitana. I’m planning a whole series of tropical paintings–seascapes, boatscapes, landscapes, all from our travels.

Lately though I’ve become sidetracked from the sea to try my hand at some more impressionistic or symbolic paintings, as well as some florals and still lifes. I’m still experimenting with style, you see. While I admire realistic, representational painting, and I think it’s so important to be able to do this kind of painting well, I find myself drawn to a looser, more imaginative style that captures the essence of things with all its attending emotions and conotations. Like the paintings from artists I’ve featured on this blog.

Of course, representational painting in the hands of talented and inspired artists can do the same thing. But I’m not there yet. And these first three paintings I’m posting aren’t there yet either. But they capture enough that I’m pleased with. Enough to inspire me to keep practicing, keep painting.

They don’t capture that “something more” I’ve been writing about in one of my last posts on art, the form and the formless. But each hint at it. Something in the shimmer of the sea with the rocks half-hidden beneath. In that white-sand serenity of a turquoise sea. Something deep and dark in the dream-like beauty of those mountains rising out of the mist during our first tropical landfall in the Marquesas islands after thirty days at sea.

They hint at, but do not quite capture what I was after. Yet viewing them with the mind’s eye I can still go there and feel it. And that to me is what art is all about.

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Snorkeling in the Bay Islands, Honduras. Watercolor by Deborah J. Brasket, 2016

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Anchored in the Isle of Pines, New Caledonia. Watercolor by Deborah J. Brasket, 2016

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Landfall at Nuka Hiva, the Marquesas Islands. Watercolor by Deborah J. Brasket, 2016

 

“Able to Be the Mother of the World”

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holly-irwin-madonna-and-child

Madonna and Child by Holly Irwin

These words from the Tao Te Ching are my mantra. They inspire me to identify with and live larger than what I appear to be individually. I turn to this felt-sense of self when I want to have a clearer, purer, more expansive sense of who I am at heart, when all that’s extraneous is removed.

The words refer to the Tao, that which is all-pervading, all-embracing, unchanging and unceasing. But I take them in a more personal way, as something to aspire toward–as a mother, a writer, a homemaker, artist, citizen. The world has much need of our mothering.

Each part of the mantra inspires me.

“Able to be” speaks to the capacity, the potentiality, of all humans, male or female, to aspire to something more, something beyond our current understanding of who we are or can be. “Something more”–that intangible, mysterious Other we yearn toward.

“Mother” is the symbol of all things round and fertile, life-giving and nurturing. Unconditional love and acceptance. The ground or source of being. The creator.It refers to inscrutable urge to turn ourselves inside out, to bring that which we love into fruition.

“World” refers to the entirety of creation, the universe and all that lies within. But it also refers to all that is yet to be. All those intangible, interior unwritten landscapes.   It refers to that hidden nebulous thing within which longs to be brought into full, vibrant, elegant being.

The mantra leans toward the female but the male is not excluded (note how the words  male and man are included within the words female and woman).It’s impetus is the male and female in blissful, rapturous union. The male rooted within the female, the female pierced by the male, the two wrapped together, one being. No “mother,” no “creator,” emerges without this union. No creation, no art, no worldly domain. No new life or exterior being.

There’s a sense of fullness here, within the mantra. A sense of  completion, satisfaction, fulfillment. A sense of power and presence. Powerful presence. There’s nothing static or final about it, despite the fullness, the sense of completion. It doubles back to the “able to be” part:  Capacity. Potentiality. Ever fertile. Ever reaching toward the intangible, the unknown, to bring it into being. Ever reaching toward that “something more” waiting to be born.

When I meditate on this mantra and feel its full potential within, feel myself as some reflection or expression of that woman “able to be the mother of the world,” I know I’ve come home. Home within myself, and within this world that embraces me.