Posts Tagged ‘art’

Studio notes: a painting dream

In Abstract painting, Dreams, Inner Work, Painting, Relationship with Self on May 18, 2013 at 6:04 am
Alfred DePew, acrylic on paper, 2007

Alfred DePew, acrylic on paper, 2007

In the dream, I sit in front of a large painting of two irregular rectangular shapes. The painting was begun by someone else and appears to have been abandoned. The shape on the left is a reddish mauve. The one on the right is a cerulean blue, lighter than the form on the right. And on its inside edge is a swipe of white that has picked up the blue underneath.

I keep looking at the space between the forms and this interesting edge, until I feel nearly ready to resume work on the painting.

When I look again, I see that a student has painted over the rectangular shapes with burnt umber and yellow ochre. The top part of the canvas is full of a loopy script.

I see that she’s working very fast, moving from this painting to two smaller canvases and back again.

I’m shocked and disappointed.

I had wanted to go into the painting and work on it myself, but it was her painting all along.

I want to tell her to slow down, sit back, and look for a while.

I ask her to imagine a story about a woman and a painting or a narrative from the painting’s point of view. I invite her to write several versions and discover what happens in each.

I wonder what it would be like if in one version, all of a sudden she encountered a magic animal that asked her a question.

When I wake up, I wonder why I am so interested in the original painting and so intent upon working on it myself.

And why does it seem so important to me that the student slow down, stop, and just look? Advice I myself have been given by every painting teacher I’ve ever had.

And what am I hoping we will discover by telling stories about the painting?

And if it were my story of the painting and I encountered a magic animal, what would that animal be?

And what would it ask me?

Art = Libération: Automatist Revolution comes to Vancouver’s Baron Gallery

In Art, Art and politics, Canadian painters on April 5, 2013 at 5:23 am
Pierre Gauvreau and Janine Carreau: “La jeunesse est en nous et nous sommes la jeunesse”

Pierre Gauvreau and Janine Carreau: “La jeunesse est en nous et nous sommes la jeunesse”

Published in the Vancouver Observer news site | November 15, 2011

Circulation: 100,000 monthly readers

There are openings where the work seems almost incidental. People have come to schmooze. But last month’s opening of Art = Libération at theBaron Gallery was different. At least for me, if only because I have been obsessed with les automatists ever since I first saw Jean-Paul Riopelle’s massive triptych, Hommage à Rosa Luxemburg, in Quebec City in the fall of 2001. Les automatists and their manifesto, Le Refus global, are generally thought to have been the real beginning of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution.

My dilemma has always been this: I want to like the work of these painters more than I do—at least at first glance. What has me under their spell is their process, not what’s left behind on the canvas. Their real accomplishment was in how they painted, not what. And in the end, an originality and essential energy that has a great deal to say to us today. Especially as we watch what’s happening across North America and Europe in the Occupy Movement.

My other problem is finding a way to talk about this work. My response to these painters has always been intuitive. Somehow I can only get at them obliquely, and often only by using their own methods: automatic writing, free association, spontaneous combustion, deep sea diving … the kind of wakeful dreaming out of which these paintings, poems, dances were made—and out of which many of these artists lived.

On the night of the opening, I noticed I needed a way back into this work, in a sense a way back to Quebec. Four years in Vancouver, and I’ve grown used to the milky quality of light, the soft blue-grey cast, out of which more primary colours pop. My own palette has darkened considerably since I moved here. So when I came into the gallery and saw the work, it all seemed too bright, somehow. And too flat. Like extraordinary (and very expensive) wrapping paper, which begs the question: what, then, lies underneath this bright surface? At first, there seems no way in. I kept being bounced off, and so I snuck upstairs to be quietly with the smaller work. And for me it opened the door.

For if the work of Pierre Gauvreau and Janine Carreau can be said to be “about” anything, it is about the mind that makes it. No, it’s a level deeper—what lies beneath the mind, the psyche, in which we find the glorious chaos of images, words, tribal memories, sexual initiation and heroism. It is, as C. G. Jung kept reminding us, the source of our creativity in art and in all other areas, and it is collective—a shared resource.

It is never—no matter how much money the last Riopelle sold for—about the product. Therein lies the integrity of les automatises. And for me their relevance today.

“Le règne de la peur multiforme est terminé. (The reign of multi-faceted fear is over.)” Paul-Émile Borduas writes in Le Refus global, the automatist manifesto in 1948.

fear of facing prejudice—fear of public opinion—of persecutions—of general disapproval;

fear of being alone, without the God and the society which isolate you anyway;

fear of oneself—of one’s brother—of  poverty;

fear of the established order—or ridiculous justice;

fear of new relationships;

fear of the superrational;

fear of necessities;

fear of floodgates opening on one’s faith in man—on the society of the future;

fear of forces able to release transforming love;


I don’t know about you, but these words never fail to give me goose bumps. When I first encountered them ten years ago, I felt I’d found a whole new branch of my family tree. Allies. Kindred spirits. Where had they been all my life?

And yet, the problem I had with Gauvreau’s work the other night is the problem I’ve always had with the surrealists. I was captivated by their method, but the work itself left me cold. The artists were too self-conscious, as I was reminded during the VAG’s latest show, “The Colour of My Dreams: The Surrealist Revolution in Art.” Instead of being invited into the dream, I was made aware of the cleverness of the artist dreaming.

Once I had spent some time with Gauvreau’s work, as I say, I could enter it more fully. The longer I looked, the deeper it carried me. And where it seemed to lead me was, once again, to the present moment.

From my first encounter with them in 2001, there’s been something about the automatists that felt eerily resonant with the present—as if they had expressed in 1948 something that was wanting to be said today but which couldn’t quite find its voice.

True, there were people who were skeptical about the US election results in 2000, and those who raised troubling questions about the terrorist attacks on the twin towns in 2001. True, there were the usual candle-lit marches against the US invasion of Iraq. But more and more one felt a growing silence and complicity among journalists, Senators, novelists, and poets—with all too few, however notable, exceptions.

What exactly did I see in the work of the automatists that captured my imagination in 2001? Again, it was what lay behind the work itself, the process of making, a shameless and apologetic reliance on dream, spontaneity, random association—a belief in the value of the inner life, the seeming chaos of the psyche—perhaps most important of all: the willingness to be in the process, to surrender to it, to follow it  and to keep following it in the spirit of discovery, always careful not to fall into the reductive habit of interpretation. Instead, these poets and painters devoted their lives to listening and unfolding

If I were to fault them in any way, it would be because in a sense they were too deeply located in themselves, too subjective, and yet, I’m not even sure that’s true. To get at that, I’d need more time and space than I have here. The truth is right from the start, The Global Refusal addressed, history, oppression, the Church and proclaimed an entirely new mode of expression and way of life—from the inside, yes, but always moving out toward others.

“Make way for magic!” writes Borduas. “Make way for objective mysteries! Make way for love! Make way for necessities!”

The self-seeking act is fettered to its author; it is stillborn.

The passionate act breaks free, through its very dynamism.

We gladly take on full responsibility for tomorrow. Rational effort, once in its proper place, will be available again to disengage the present from the limbo of the past.

Passions shape the future spontaneously, unpredictably, necessarily.

Spontaneous, unpredictable, and in some sense necessary—all seem to describe the Occupy Movement, especially in its earliest days. In New York, San Francisco, Chicago, people began to gather without really knowing why. Social media aside, there seemed a deeper dreaming impulse here. In many cases, it was only after they’d gathered that protesters began to discuss why they were there. And in the discussion, they discovered more about what they wanted to see happen. On some level, the convergence of people in  a public place was the whole point. Strategic planning, letters to legislators, withdrawing money from big banks are almost beside the point. What mattered most was the face-to-face meeting of people who were from surprisingly divergent points in the political spectrum.

The issues weren’t at all clear. Even who was to blame was almost beside the point. The “enemy” was an address, a street in Manhattan—also something nebulous—the banks—capitalism—a timespirit of theft and betrayal. Very different from the mass protests of the 60s and 70s, which had clearer objectives: ending the War in Vietnam, for instance.

Here there is an indistinct sense that something (hard to say what) is wrong and has been for some time. And as much as it is outside us, it is also within us—our own blind craving and greed.

Finally, it’s the automatists’ courage to stand in unknowable mystery that I most admire. It seems a skill that is particularly useful to us in 2011.

And whatever else the work of Pierre Gauvreau and Janine Carreau is about, it is most certainly about that.

What we talk about when we talk about relationship ….

In Realtionship on July 25, 2009 at 5:19 am

We all know that “Are you in a relationship?” means “Are you—dating? Living with someone?” For most of us the word brings to mind our nearest and dearest—spouses, friends, and family. For some, the word refers exclusively to the person with whom they share a bed and a mortgage. Relationship suggests intimacy. It can be a tender subject.

Relationship simply is. It infuses every conversation, is, in fact, the ground of the conversation itself if not the subject. It’s the context, the air we breathe, the water we swim in. We are never not in relationship. Which is why it’s so easy to overlook. We often take it for granted, and only become aware of relationship in its extreme states: its highs or lows. In fact, to suggest reflecting upon relationship seems to suggest that something is wrong. Our motto tends to be “if it aint broke, don’t fix it.” And so we tread softly, avoid conflict, settle for less, all the while building resentments—until the relationship itself demands attention.

Not a bad thing, just what tends to happen. At least in my life.

My purpose here is twofold. I want to open a wide-ranging conversation about relationship, using the word in its primary and broadest definition: “the state of being related or interrelated.” Couples, families, friends, business partners, corporate teams, organizations, communities. Relationship to work, play, the body, Spirit …. Relationship in all its various forms.

I also want to stay curious about relationship itself—that thing that is bigger than the sum of its parts. That “state of affairs,” as Webster puts it, “existing between those having relations or dealings [italics mine].” I have come to think of relationship as a living being, conscious in and of itself, and capable of learning. To many of you this is not a new concept, but to me it was baffling at first. And yet I had a sense in my own bones that this was true.

As my colleagues at the Center for Right Relationship are fond of saying: relationships are naturally generative. Get two or more people together in a room and something happens—small talk, laughter, shared interests, fights, babies, book deals … you name it.

Here are a couple of questions to consider. Think of a relationship you’re in and notice what is getting generated. What would you like that relationship to generate more of and how you might help it to do that?