The Dive

A couple of years ago, I was invited by a local art gallery to preview an art exhibit, choose a painting and write a poem referencing that painting.  The painting that spoke to me was of an adolescent girl wearing a swimsuit, standing at the end of a diving board, preparing to dive.  Her body looked rigid, almost like the diving board itself.  Shoulders were raised nearly to her ears; her mouth was tense and straight.  Below is the poem I wrote.

I am not there to read this poem to you.  I’d like you to read it quietly once.  And then, read it aloud to yourself or to someone else.  Feel the poem.  Pretend that you are the diver.

The Dive
©by Christine O’Brien

Feet plugged into the
sticky resin springboard,
I note the space between me and
the crushing water below.
The form I hold.
Buddha stillness.
The grace I invoke
as I design form
gliding through space.
The breath I hold.
The breath I take
like thunder in a canyon
fills my ears.
The shadow of fear
remains at the other end
of the platform
while I stand on the edge
in focused repose.

This is not my first dive
though my raised shoulders,
clamped mouth and clenched jaw
could be interpreted as fear.
There is always that
but with prayer and practice
it quickly transforms
as there is no turning back now.
The dive grooms the diver
in this conspiracy of grace, form and space.
Originally, it was a dare from friends
that sent me up the hot aluminum ladder
on that sweaty summer day.
Now, it’s a drive from within,
not towards perfection
or for judges’ scores.
There is no competition.

It is the ecstasy of flight
that sends me to this precipice.
Neither bird nor stone falling through space,
I am a wingless angel
who rejoices in
those few seconds of airtime.
Body imprinting space
air molecules conforming, buoyant.
I visualize the flex, fold, arc,
the straightening as
I neatly incise the water with my hands,
barely a splash.
I surface a few feet away,
victorious,
a different sort of Phoenix rising.

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And then I made my own painting of another sort of dive by another sort of creature.

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Try Something New

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Being an artist who is committed to growth, it helps to try something new and different.  In this painting, I completely surrendered to Nicole Wikman’s process to paint a landscape.  I love the outcome.  Although it isn’t my style, I learned several very helpful techniques that I can apply elsewhere.

She reiterates the value of a horizon line.  She has a unique technique of laying down a colorful sky.  The brush dances between colors in the sky to reflections of those colors in the water.  The way in which the land and trees are placed establishes perspective and lends depth to the painting.  These are valuable techniques to practice and learn.

That said, I love this piece, and it doesn’t feel like me.

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Land and Sea are big themes for artists.  A contemporary artist, Janette Kerr is known as the “foul weather” painter.  It seems that she spends weeks on boats heading into storms.  There are so-called adrenaline junkies out there and while I’m not one, I applaud the curious nature that leads one into the eye of the storm.  Her work is phenomenal!

 

 

Sonnet Two

Not that we shouldn’t desire more
of that which feeds the hungering soul
for such yearning, it seems, opens the door
as we stare out upon a distant knoll.

“Comfortable complacency” is fine
–we all need pauses in our quest for more–
Grateful for the banquet on which we dine
fingers laced, beside the fireplace, shut the door.

But when the bell tolls the eleventh hour
mustn’t we from our sedentary rise?
Step into our uncomfortable power–
this before our comforts become a vise.

The hungering soul feasts on freedom.
Quick!  They are capturing the kingdom.

 

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I wrote this poem a couple of years ago and again tried to merge poetry with imagery.  I’m not really pleased with the painting…but I think the message is current.  Truly, it doesn’t seem like we can hide behind our “comfortable” doors any longer although we mostly shelter in place.  I think that we are asked to be activists in a way that is true to our nature.

When any one of our freedoms is infringed upon, we are called to stand up against injustice.  When our neighbor’s freedom is infringed upon, we are called to stand up against injustice.  For truly, if my neighbor isn’t well-cared for by our society, then I’m affected too.  We’re in this together.

Remember, Spaceship Earth, so-named by Buckminster Fuller?  We’re all here together riding around on this very small planet.

“How can I serve?”

I frequently ask this question of myself.

 

Adrift

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2018 was the year that if anything in my personal life could go wrong…it did.

I had my first tooth pulled in January.  One sister began chemotherapy in January.  A month later, a second sister started chemotherapy.  My best friend became gravely ill.  One of my daughters faced a serious issue that took months to resolve.  We experienced a summer of smoke and encroaching forest fires in the surrounding mountains where I live.  I took a short trip and ended up in a hospital away from home with a kidney stone.  My ex-husband had a major stroke.  My sister and best friend died in December.  There was more but you get the gist, right?

I painted this piece in my journal as this torrent of challenges was only starting.  Already, I was feeling lost at sea.  Without a paddle.

Seeing this painting, one of my daughters thought I should call it The Bell Peppers…as their clothing is the color of bell peppers.

I appreciate when my art gives me an outlet for feelings.  Sometimes I’m overwrought and life is just too much for me to even consider putting brush or pen to page.  Most of the time, it’s the best elixir for the despair or trauma or whatever is at hand that seems too big to handle.

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These days we feel things coming at us right and left.  Top it off with a pandemic!  Yet, there has always been an undercurrent of unrest with social injustices, political and corporate greed, economic inequities, media manipulation, repercussions of climate change.  The list goes on.  What’s been undercover is now on the surface.  I’m told that this is good because now we know what we’re dealing with.  Now, we can begin to address these inequities and other imperative issues.

What is your way of dealing with “TOO MUCH?”

 

The Ugly Stage

When painting a portrait…you soon arrive at THE UGLY STAGE!  That is when your mettle as an artist is tested.  You don’t see how you can possibly convert this ugly piece into a thing of beauty.  This is the time–you’ve been working on this for awhile already–when you want to walk away and abandon the piece.  It’s hard to imagine something
“pretty” coming out of this.

That said, experience has taught you that this is only a stage.  Stay with it.  Don’t give up too soon.  So you go forward in conversation with the piece to see what’s next. Then, what follows that?  You step back and then forward and bring this being forth to become who she is determined to be.

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Sometimes, often or always, there is a message in a painting.  The artist may have a clue  before she begins painting.  Then again,  it could emerge during her process with a piece.  Blending words with art is often an intriguing way of stating the message.  The word that sits in the lower right corner of the piece is “STORY.”  Like each one of us, the subject of this painting has a story to tell.  While we may not have a sense of her exact story, we get the idea that she has a depth of experience.  Those eyes convey something.  The mouth, neither smiling nor smirking, shows determination.  There is character in her chin…and so on.

If she were the heroine of your short story, who would she be?  That’s the thing about art, each person views a piece and then their imagination begins to conjecture a story.  We do that when we meet someone new also.  “Who are you?”  “Where are you from?”  “What brought you here?”  Then our judgments and old information come in and create a story before we even really know who we’ve actually met.  Interesting that we do this.  Make up stories all of the time.

Abstracting

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This painting evolved from a fun process developed by artist, Basia Zielinska.  It involved a large canvas or sheet of watercolor paper.  Acrylic paint in colors that play well together.  Spraying water and dripping paint.  Line work.  Layering and allowing to dry between some of the layers to avoid making mud.   And then, I wanted the image of cairns.  It seems that I typically want to bring an image into an abstraction.  I’ve always been attracted to cairns, so cairns it was.

“A cairn is a man-made pile of stones. The word cairn comes from the Scottish Gaelic: càrn. Cairns have been and are used for a broad variety of purposes, from prehistoric times to the present. In modern times, cairns are often erected as landmarks, a use they have had since ancient times.” (Wikipedia)

We occasionally see cairns while hiking in the mountains here where I live.  They signify that you are on the right track or if there is a fork in the road, they mark the correct trail to follow.  Basically, they are trail markers guiding you in cases where navigation becomes difficult and the trail may easily be lost.

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Wouldn’t it be cool if we had cairns along our life path as signposts to the best way to proceed when faced with a life choice?  In a sense, we do.  But we don’t always listen to our intuition, do we?  What is that strange human capacity, like the Vasilisa Doll story as told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book,  Women Who Run With the Wolves“Go left, go right, don’t go that way, do go this way”.  Why are we so suspicious or doubtful when it comes to our own intuition?  Do we associate it with the occult or witchcraft or is it so demeaned in a rational patriarchal system that we don’t trust it?

I remember a film with Brendan Fraser, Still Breathing, where he created cairns.  It’s also very much about following one’s deep intuition and guidance.  It’s a quirky and  captivating film.  It’s one that I’ve seen several times.

Everyone Needs an Ally

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This painting was prompted by a class in Paint Your Heart and Soul. Not initially knowing what a painting wants to express, I allow the images to show their presence.
I added the wolf and turned the figure into an angel.

What was new to me in this class was learning how to paint a lacy dress.  I couldn’t imagine how an artist could imply lace fabric.  I’m not 100% pleased and I appreciated acquiring a new art tool.  Another painting challenge for the artist is PAINTING HANDS!  I remember the painstaking effort to paint this one arm and hand.  I was pretty pleased at the time and by no means have I come close to mastering hands.  Sometimes an artist, not wanting to take the time and effort it requires to paint a hand let’s it disappear off the page, in a pocket, or hidden behind a skirt or another shielding object–a bouquet of flowers, a table or anything that fits with the painting.

This angel has an ally.  He is an ethereal wolf…part of the night, yet real to her as she is real to him.

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In 2018, I encountered a gray wolf as I was driving down the mountain from Bunny Flat.  I had visited a new friend who was camping there.  We spent a sweet time together getting to know each other.  The vista was smudged by smoke from surrounding fires.  At this higher elevation, the air was breathable.  At one point she offered to lead me through a qigong set.  I agreed.  For the next twenty minutes, we moved our bodies in harmony with the nature around us.  A magical time.

I left her well before the sun set.  As I was rounding a curve in the road, I spied a large animal not very far ahead.  He seemed to be in no great hurry.  I slowed the car.  As happens, my brain tried to comprehend what this creature was.  Bear, no.  Dog, no.  What’s that in his mouth?  Finally, as I drew closer, my mind settled on a gray wolf with another rather large animal in his mouth!  He slipped down the side of a slight slope.  I pulled my car into the space beside the road.  I got out of the car, no fear only wonder.  I watched as he slowly meandered off into the shrubbery and trees.

The sense of wonder I felt stayed with me for a long time.  A visitation from a rare animal has meaning for me.  In the Native American Tradition, wolf is a teacher.  From Jamie Sams book, Medicine Cards:  “Wolf is the pathfinder, the forerunner of new ideas who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine.”

When I returned home, I googled the Gray Wolf.  I remembered reading that the Gray Wolf had crossed the border into northern California a couple of years before.  They were being tracked and protected by a team of rangers.  Their exact whereabouts were kept a secret so as to avoid hunters.  Then the team lost track of the sly wolves.   How fortunate I was to see one of these amazing beings that memorable day.

The Koala

koala61

What inspires you to paint an animal?  Especially one who isn’t native to your place on the planet?  Where does that inspiration come from?

Regarding this painting, the image of the Koala arose from creating a background first.  This painting was definitely intuitive.  I believe that when we are tuned in, things show themselves to us or want to be seen by us.  That is what I would say about this Koala Bear.  He literally showed himself to me, arising from the background and wanting to be seen and painted.

As an artist, it is my responsibility to respond to what is asked of me.  Yes, in this case, to paint a Koala Bear.  In one sense then, this little koala bear image floating out in the larger world beyond my art studio becomes an ambassador for all Koala Bears.  Whoever happens upon this painting is reminded that we share the planet with many other amazing creatures.

If I were to paint this again, with what I’ve learned since, I’d define the image of the Koala Bear by employing light and dark values.  This would give emphasis where it is needed.  I’d also probably paint over some of the background.

Regardless, I like imagining him in his Australian forest, likely in a Gum Tree.  As seems to be the case with many of our planet’s precious animals, the Koala Bear is considered to be vulnerable to extinction.  This is supposed to be one step above endangered.  Yikes!  The threats to their survival comes from habitat destruction, bushfires, dog attacks and accidents on the road.

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I wonder how many animals have to go extinct in our lifetime before we change our ways of harvesting and using resources.  When do we begin to value, through our actions, all of our relations and the earth herself?

A Friend Was Dying

I continue to post paintings from the year 2016 on this blog and recall the inspiration behind them.  It was a prolific year for me.  I painted almost daily.  And when I couldn’t, I felt antsy and frustrated.  Picking up that brush and moving paint around often felt like the most grounded and satisfying part of my day.

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There was an early winter blizzard–a storm that blocked impasse.  The highway north was closed.  My friend was in hospice care thirty miles north of where I live.  There was no chance of me getting there to sit with her.  Thus, this cow…this pink cow!  I have no idea where this came from or what it actually symbolizes.  I only know that this is exactly what I was supposed to paint in the moment.

 

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Making art engages you.  It takes you on a parallel journey to whatever else is going on in your life.  Surrender is a large part of the creative process.  Through surrender, you discover something beyond what you already know about yourself and
the creative process.

Inherent in the surrender is a leap of faith.  Faith that what you are painting is serving some purpose beyond what you realize.  Yes, it is a distraction or a diversion from whatever else is going on in your life.  And, it also helps to integrate a difficult feeling.  It can offer a degree of acceptance in a circumstance where we feel helpless.  Calling on creativity in these moments heals something within.  There is a sense that this is exactly what you’re supposed to be doing in this particular moment in time.

My friend passed away later that day.  Whenever I see this painting, I am reminded of her Goddess presence.

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What purpose has art and creativity in all of its forms served for you?  The old biblical saying “Don’t hide your light under a bushel” comes to mind…we each have a gift to be shared.  In the times of sheltering at home, it seems to take an added effort to discover ways to share your light…but then, you are creative beyond measure and I’m guessing you’re going to come up with some way to let your light be seen.

That Feeling of Spring

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Splashes of color,
drips, droplets, dabs,
sprinkles, sprays
–marks, translucents,
opaques, frivolity, whimsy,
abstract, realism,
imagination, fantasy,
figures disappearing
into a mist…

When making art, you can create what you desire, design and allow.
The artist can choose to be detailed, intricate and precise.  The artist can choose to be abstract as heck and expressive.  And there is everything in between.
That is why I believe that

EVERYONE IS AN ARTIST!

As I also believe that everyone has a hidden poet (because everyone has a voice), I also believe that everyone has a hidden artist.  Perhaps one who has been shamed into
hiding, but she’s there just the same, waiting to be invoked, invited, induced to come out and play.

That is what this painting was to me.  This was painted at the beginning of my discovery of art as a possible way to express myself.  Playing on Aquabord, a substrate that was new to me, the paint flowed in a surprising way.  Yes, substrates make a difference as to how the paint behaves.  Substrate is the surface on which the artist paints.  There are many types of substrates these days!  Sometimes, any substrate works.  I’ve painted on gessoed cardboard.

With so many online opportunities to learn while playing–that is the perspective to take when you are beginning to paint or painting after many years of not painting.  Or at any level of experience.  Play and learn.  Make many mistakes.  And carry on playing, learning and practicing.  Like any practice, you have to do it daily.  Best to plan it into your day.