“Loving What Is”: Notes on my creative process
I should have known when the collectors offered the phrase, “loving what is” as a working title for the commission, that it was going to require me to grow in my ability to love what is!
Unfortunately, loving what is is not the pleasure you feel when you’re getting what you hoped and planned for and things seem happily predictable, make sense, and tie up easily and swiftly with smooth pathways and neat, redemptive endings.
Tight and trying too hard
The colour palettes and a single word for each of these paintings came very early and clearly to me, but the rest was so hard. I watched myself struggle to relax and play and work intuitively, even though I’ve been able to work in this way before. I was creating frustratingly tight, overworked, “trying-too-hard” paintings that kept slipping into more recognisable/ name-able representational/ figurative expressions for a while before I remembered that art is a self-portrait and took time to reflect on what was happening when I was making the art, and what that might tell me about what I was resisting and what growth these paintings were asking of me.
Art as a self-portrait
I realised I was trying to avoid the discomfort of uncertainty by trying to resolve the painting too early, rather than letting it evolve intuitively. I wanted to avoid the chaos phase of abstract painting – that phase where you’re sure you’ve messed up anything that was good, nothing makes sense anymore, you doubt everything you thought you knew or could do, and you feel like you’ll never be able to resolve it. I knew from experience that this is all part of the creative process, amplified in abstract art-making, and that if I could stay with it, paying attention, feeling, and adapting intuitively, I would come out of the chaos and successfully resolve it. But I was finding this phase intolerable and tightening up instead of staying relaxed and playful and present.
The chaos phase feels a lot like grief
This year I’ve lost two close friends, one to suicide and the other to cancer. A third friend who is younger than me moved to hospice care last month after the cancer was declared untreatable. Alongside this grief, my friends’ illnesses and deaths this year have been bringing up my own memories of various “dreaded news” days with my own health and vision, traumatic medical interventions, and all those feelings of being on an awful ride that I couldn’t steer or stop. Being far away from them and their families has left me feeling outside of the grieving community, without a place to share my grief, and unable to offer them and their families the support I’d have liked to. And that has triggered my immigration grief.
Between this, the ongoing uncertainty I live with because of my vision and health issues, and the brutality going on in the world, it’s not surprising that I was resisting uncertainty, ambiguity, and chaos, and wanting to bypass that part of the process and only experience familiarity, control, understanding, and guaranteed successful outcomes.
Art is always offering opportunities to heal
Since art is always offering us the opportunity for healing, it’s also no surprise that these paintings were asking me to notice, love, and let go of those fearful reflexes, and to choose instead to embrace chaos, uncertainty, the scariness of what’s new and unfamiliar, the “ugliness” in life, and my fears of loss and failure … and to trust in my creative resources, that I can create and love in response to all of it – to love whatever “is”. Even when it’s unfamiliar, unpredictable, uncontrollable, chaotic, senseless, uncertain, and nothing at all like I had imagined, previously experienced, or hoped for.
It took many more iterations of paintings to let go and allow the shapes, lines, and forms to emerge and even surprise me. I had to take turns to step away from the paintings to give myself some time to get used to what had emerged, and to open myself to more possibilities for next steps. I practised curiosity and experimented with several new-to-me materials and art-making techniques, some of which ended up in these three paintings.
I took time to notice how I was feeling and how any stress or fear or grief that I was holding onto was tightening up my work and disconnecting me from my ability to discern what I was liking in my paintings and where I wanted to go next.
I made space for grieving. I practised deliberately re-membering all the reasons I can trust. I walked in nature to release stress and fear and relax my body, and to find more ways of embodying a greater sense of trust – trust in myself, in the creative process, and in life.
Creating these paintings deepened my appreciation that art-making, loving, and living all offer us opportunities to find and create love and joy in (or out of) the experiences that seem senseless, chaotic, uncertain, unfair, or lost forever.
Every commission I’ve ever done has had it’s own gift to me, just like this one (though not all were as hard-won! Ha!). To my wonderful collectors, Lynne and Chip, thank you for trusting me with this commission and for gifting me the opportunity to grow in my practice of loving what is.
And here are the three paintings I created…
This was a 3-part commission for a wonderful couple in the USA. They selected 3 of their favourite pieces of music/ songs, and asked me to create an abstract painting inspired by each of these (very different!) pieces of music. Click on the images for more about each painting.