I’ve recently started painting again. After a trip to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC I came back to St. Louis with a desire to paint with bold colors on big canvases. Inspired by Jackson Pollock, all of the ‘big paintings’ have been laid on the floor of my basement and painted while standing over the canvas and letting the paint drip or flow onto the canvas in random fashion. I like deciding the color palette for each work and then being afraid that after only two of the five colors, the painting might be ‘done’ and worrying, “if I add another color, will I ruin it?” So far, I haven’t ruined anything. (I do them for fun, so I don’t have too much ownership over the artistic outcome.) I work slow, adding one color every day or three or four, depending upon what the painting and/or Spirit is whispering to me. But the one thing I realized today – I always paint barefooted.
For some reason, I feel it is sacrilegious to paint with anything on my feet: I need to feel the floor. Without socks of shoes in the way, I can feel the floor, or the energy of the earth rising through the floor, and I feel grounded in the task at hand. Being barefooted makes me more present to what I’m doing, and more attentive. I think I might start taking my shoes off when I pray and see what happens.
At MoMA, it is intriguing that in the same gallery where priceless pieces of Impressionist art demonstrate the beauty of minute brush strokes, there are also pieces with broad brush strokes and unfinished spaces on the canvas. (Maybe its the name on the bottom of the canvas that determines whether a piece hangs in a museum or not.) The difference in style and technique within the same gallery space made me realize there are many ways into beauty. There is subtlety and finesse and there is bold, brash, and even unfinished. I think for too long I’ve tried to paint my life with too much subtlety and finesse, working too hard to get it right. I’m going to embrace bold, broad brush strokes and color and unfinished and see how that goes.
Standing at MoMA, in front of Van Gogh’s icon painting The Starry Night, and the person to my right is trying to position himself so as to take the perfect selfie, his head framed just so against a backdrop of beauty and intrigue. Click. Done. On to the next selfie, with a Picasso. He did not, for one moment, stop and look at the painting. He did not stand in awe of the beauty and mystery. The painting was only a backdrop for his self-portrait. As an introverted thinker, I do not get ‘selfies’. As a lover of art seeing The Starry Night for the first time in person, I get selfies even less.
I wish there were cellphone-free zones (like museums and grocery stores, maybe just on Wednesdays) so that people could just focus on the one thing that lies before them.
Once in a while I have these moments where I think St. Louis is too quiet, too slow, too suburban (where we live), too ______________. Well, one trip to NYC completely reoriented me to the blessings of fly-over land. To be able to sit in my backyard (and to even have a yard) in peace and quiet with my coffee in hand is a blessing. To drive 5 minutes to work, without hearing one horn honk, is a blessing. To not have everyone act like it is another season of Keeping Up with the Unknowwho’s is a blessing. Tranquility is a blessing. St. Louis is a blessing! Go Cards!
I spent last week in New York City accompanying the church choir on their trip to sing at Carnegie Hall and then remaining for a few days with my wife to be tourists. It is difficult to find stillness in the City that Never Sleeps. The volume of energy, people, noise, light–it is overwhelming for an introvert. Staying in Times Square did not help. I have much to learn in order to be still in the midst of unrelenting noise and busyness.
I did find a bit of quiet. Coffee at 6:15AM in Times Square when it was 32 degrees. Of the thirty people I saw, I was the only one stationary (although not for long as it was too cold). Still, the billboards flashed and the sea of taxis parted down either Broadway or Seventh Avenue. There was movement, but at that hour, for a moment, the noise abated and I could smile at the absurdity of sitting in the midst of a concrete canyon trying to listen for the whisper of the Spirit.