Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What is impermanence in life and art?

I went for a walk today to look for images for a new painting.  As I moved through my neighborhood forest, that borders a small cemetery, I thought about impermanence in life and in art. I have just finished a great book by Donna Tartt titled The Goldfinch.  The main character comments often about how art works go on beyond us, like a long distance runner that passes through our attention, but whose end of the race is far beyond our time and often even our culture.  So I was thinking about the impermanence of paint on paper, and life in physical form, and yet how art is immortality made real.

I noticed how last night's rain left water sparkles on bushes, but the image lacks both a central focus, and seems too obvious in its symbolism of the tangled foreground and dark recess beyond.

The path along the back of the cemetery has visual interest and balance between the vertical and horizontal elements, plus the large rock gives the eye a place to rest...but there is no tension between the concept impermanence and the image.

This old piece of perhaps logging equipment left to rust away in a corner of the cemetery has potential with some careful cropping so the "arrow" dominates.  The chain and wire fence and rotting wood all have symbolic meaning but now the concept is too visible, and the visual elements become only illustrations of it.  I prefer the relationship between concept and image in my paintings to be more like my reading the Journey Oracle cards--where interpretation is not based on fact so much as on intuition, symbol, synchronicity and analogy.

Some images are not really to inspire a painting filled with meaning about the impermanence of life and art, so much as they are a visual residue of a moments's emotion.  The broken pot, the accidental juxtaposition of words from the headstone, the poem written on stone.  As I walked on I was thinking that of course this combination of objects, feelings, and action is perhaps the most true experience of impermanence.

As I came back along the road I took a quick shot of the ferns because I loved the curving shapes, textures, and colors.  Now as I look at the image I am intrigued.  The complexity of detail is balanced by the large dark and light areas that give shape to the confusion.  The layers of concept are interesting: frail and substantial life, light and shadow, growing and cutting down...with the whole visual image washed over by a brightness that almost feels like cake icing.  And if the painted surface is large, more than 2 ' by 3 ' in size, then the shamanic teaching that everything that is, is alive and has meaning, may shine through with its own lesson about impermanence in life and art.