Saturday, January 30, 2021

Painting peace in pandemic times...

There is a healing power and enfolding when we create. We see again as a child, in the splendor of all colors, light, and textures. We again believe, if we ever forgot, that anything is possible. 
--Maryan Myres Shumway

This is one of my favorite pictures my son who has autism has painted. I guess you could say art has rescued us from some shadows: autism manifestations that can be draining, a lingering world-wide pandemic, and not seeing the stunning beauty of this world. If we allow ourselves, even submit to the creative process in all of us, art can bring astonishing peace.

"Painting came to my rescue in a most trying time."--Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill started painting when he was 40 years old--after the colossal deaths of Gallipoli during WWI. At the time, he was First Lord of the Admiralty and was immediately demoted after the Turkey campaign. The needless deaths, in many ways, haunted him for the rest of his life. Spotting his depression, his sister-in-law encouraged him to pick up a paintbrush. She even squeezed blue paint on a palette--emphatically charging him to start painting--now! When he was approaching 90 years old, he was never too far away from his easel--except when he was prime minister of England during WWII. His beloved paints always traveled with him. When he felt a "black dog" (depression) coming, he would head straight for his art studio. Or, he would wander somewhere to paint en plein aire (outside). Painting repeatedly saved his mental/emotional equilibrium all of his life--giving him peace when the world around him was seemingly falling apart. 

One of my favorite artist's houses I have visited is Monet's Giverny near Rouen, France. In 1915 when Monet was 75 years old, with failing eyes, he took up painting his famous water lilies murals. The waterlilies murals changed his personality and paved a peaceful path for the rest of his life. Before the war, he was known as proud, steely, and prone to a volatile temper. However, the war brought him familial setbacks. Instead of becoming embittered, he was more patient and submissive. His stepson was wounded and his own son had been drafted into the French army where one and a half million French men died. Fifty kilometers away from his home, the war stretched on. Sometimes he could hear the blasts and artillery as he gustily painted. While Monet dreamt and thought about peace in his country, he decided to paint his water lily pond and weeping willow trees catching the luminous light. With renewed vigor, he painted fourteen feet of murals. Later, after the war, he dedicated his beloved murals to remember peace for the Orangerie Museum. Instead of fearfully hiding away in his house during WW1, he painted like all of France was depending on him for an armistice. 

Beyond these stories of how painting changed Churchill and Monet, an unlikely place in the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague surprised me with the transformative power of art. I will never forget the paintings in those rooms that were filled with empty dreams and visions for ill-fated Jewish children during the Holocaust. Their art was created within the wretched conditions of a concentration camp. The profound need was met by a well-known artist, Friedel Dider Brandeis, who started an art class at the Terezin Concentration Camp. She gave hope to those scared, sad, and lonely children in the most desperate and bleak times imaginable. Out of 15,000 children, only 132 would survive after going to Auschwitz. Some of the children who later survived remembered that painting and drawing in the Terezin concentration camp were some of the fondest memories of their lives. Brandeis, their teacher, helped them to draw their memories, aspirations, and nightmares. She was a candle in a very dark tunnel. Here is a blog that I wrote about it: Children's Art: Candlelight in a Concentration Camp

I can honestly say art has rescued my son with autism. He is neverendingly fascinated with art--mixing colors, dabbing the paint on the canvas, and how a fond memory can magically become a painting. Art has given us peace so we wanted to give the gift to others. For the past three years, he and I have taught children, teenagers, and adults with special needs art in both the Middle East and China. It never fails to astonish me how a piece of paper and some paints can bring smiles and laughter to children who sometimes do not even speak. Conversely, I have taught typical teenage boys and girls who have not held a paintbrush since kindergarten. Initially, they are fearful, tentative, and edge away from others who look like they have more experience. But the colors on the canvas gradually draws them in. They too want to swirl and splash the paint again. There are smiles and a faint remembrance of the fun they had as children with a paintbrush. Another blog on Lessons from having an accidentally art-filled life

In a silent studio or a noisy classroom, peace enfolds when creativity begins. As a painting begins to have dimensions, the image gives clarity to what we are trying to understand inside of ourselves. The feelings we want to convey like a lost dream take shape. We begin to connect with something deep inside of us that has not withered but just been buried. Our souls become more luminous and alive, and we smile, knowing we have sparked beauty we did not know we had in us until now. 

           Lessons for life from painting peace in pandemic times...

 1) Perspective

Step back regularly to view the whole picture. If you just work sitting next to the painting, your view becomes myopic, blurry. The creator of a painting or the creator of a life needs to periodically view the entire composition. How are the background, foreground, and middle ground arranging themselves in the painting? Step back and do not focus on the details. When looking at a painting or a life in the entirety, perspective becomes key. 

2) Constantly look for the source of light. 

When you are painting, watch where the source of light is coming from. Shade and layer everything in that path of light so the light is distinguishable from the rest of the picture. As in life, look for your source of light. Those who know their source of light in life know how to spread light. 

3) Be prepared for a lot of layering when you paint

Layers add texture, richness, and depth that bring a multi-dimensional vision to a painting. You can almost put yourself in the scene. It feels that real. As in life and in our relationships, every layer of experience matters. Adding the darker and then the lighter colors add contrast, beauty. The most important relationships of my life have layers of history, with myriads of colors, that give me profound joy. Art is hundreds, sometimes thousands of strokes that eventually make a masterpiece.

4) Watch for the happy accidents

Of course, we always need a plan, image, destination of where we are going with our painting and in life too. However, notice that if it occasionally does not turn out as we wish, we can see the happy accidents. There is room for a stream we had not observed before or the sunset is more brilliant than we originally planned. Just as in life, we can watch for intersections, experiences, relationships that we had not expected. A twist in the plot can bring unexpected joy. The clincher? We have to be willing to note the change in design adds more texture, interest, and beauty. That means not be afraid to be a game-changer.

5) Art is an awakened voice that shows what you love and are connected to

Watch for the individual voice that beckons you to emerge from your vaulted cave. Gradually, you will know and understand what that voice is telling you to paint and become--if you have the audacity to do it. Conversely, notice the unique voice of others. Everyone has a beautiful story to tell. Look for the voice you see in others' creations and lives. 

6) Sometimes you need to come back and finish the painting

Lately, I have been coming back to paintings we started a few years ago. I thought I was finished with them. It has been wonderfully fascinating to return to a canvas refreshed with new ideas of how to make it better. With the passage of time, I notice the source of light more in the picture or it needs more contrast in color. I have added a few things to make the composition different. Just as in life, we often come back to a place or a relationship recharged to do better. Our eyes see differently and we want to try and do it better.

7) You cannot see the light without the dark. 

Like life, art is bland unless you have contrast, color, definition,  texture. The simple notion of working with light and darkness invigorates a painting--allowing us to view tension and balance. Think of a sunrise or sunset. Without the collision of darkness and light, the beauty would not be so sublime. Thus, with our lives: we need to know and understand how to mix the dark and light together in our lives. Both are inevitably part of life--and paintings.  

Here is a painting we started three and a half years ago, but we finished, I think, this week. Before, there was no stream. I added a bluebird, more grass. The barn and mountains have far more texture than before. 
This painting means a lot to me. A group of us went to Grand Teton National Park with our dear friend who would pass away from cancer five months later. You could say it was the last day we saw her with vibrant energy. She saw a bluebird as we walked, and commented that a bluebird sighting was good luck and brought blessings. Tresa was always looking for the beauty around her. I wanted to capture that day. 

Constantly stepping back and looking at the composition and how it is fitting together. Gradually, it will come to be the photo that is below. Again, the photo below is a special memory of when we did an Art in the Dark night at an art barn. The sun was about to set, and all the wonder of that night and what it came to be are in this photo. The painting is the first one in the blog. 

Photo of sunset that we have painted. 

The texture starting to gather in the storm here. 

                 I absolutely love all the texture and layering in this picture. Each layer adds depth, interest, and color.  

                                            Elias's rendition of the shepherds this Christmas

   My own painting of the shepherd fields. I titled it, "I can finally hear the angels singing." When I painted this picture, I could feel the angels pushing away the darkness and coming into light. As I painted, I heard and felt the story I have heard hundreds of times more in my heart and head. 

Looking for the light source in this picture at twilight when the sun is beginning to set. 

This is is the first picture we ever used a palette knife. There are so many layers and contrasts in this painting. 

                                   We kept looking for the source of light constantly in this picture. 

If you want to watch our YouTube about art and autism. It is called My Journey of Colors.  

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