“To see God everywhere is to see Him nowhere. We go from day today, one day much like the next, and then on a certain day all unannounced we come upon a man or we see this man who is perhaps already known to us and is a man like all men but who makes a certain gesture of himself that is like the piling of one’s goods upon an altar and in this gesture we recognize that which is buried in our hearts and is never truly lost to us nor ever can be and it is this moment, you see. This same moment. It is this which we long for and are afraid to seek and which alone can save us.”
A group of us were painting in Pepin, Wisconsin last weekend at Barbara McIlrath's farm. I found this poem at Barb's. It's how I feel painting: "imagine! imagine! the long and wondrous journeys still to be ours." The poem is Mary Oliver's.
Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me
Last night the rain spoke to me slowly, saying,
what joy to come falling out of the brisk cloud, to be happy again
in a new way on the earth! That’s what it said as it dropped,
smelling of iron, and vanished like a dream of the ocean into the branches
and the grass below. Then it was over. The sky cleared. I was standing
under a tree. The tree was a tree with happy leaves, and I was myself,
and there were stars in the sky that were also themselves at the moment at which moment
my right hand was holding my left hand which was holding the tree which was filled with stars
and the soft rain— imagine! imagine! the long and wondrous journeys still to be ours.
It is a certain light that I love and melody and fragrance and embrace that I love when I love my God—a light, melody, fragrance, food, embrace of the God-within, where for my soul, that shines which space does not contain; that sounds which time does not sweep away; that is fragrant which the breeze does not dispel; and that tastes sweet which, fed upon, is not diminished... Augustine of Hippo
My painter friend, Katherine Treffinger, asked me to say something about this question for her blog: “What I am wondering is why do you as an artist show up in front of the canvas? How does just the act of creating art hold enough meaning for you to show up and what is that meaning?”
If there weren’t something that remains hidden from us much of the time, something precious and wild, I don’t suppose I would bother with painting.
I do love paint. I love the smell of the linseed oil and the raw colors squeezed from the tube. And I do love painting: standing before the easel; the open window of a fresh canvas; the first brush stroke of paint dripping and clear; the deliciousness of seeing shapes and patterns and shifts of value and intensity.
But for me painting is—above all—a way of being present. It is the daily practice of paying attention with enough intensity that when the hidden world steps closer, I have a chance of noticing it; so that when the wolf stops to sniff the air outside my window, I can catch a glimpse of her.
These studio notes are scraps of poetry and ideas that feed my work as a painter. I hope they establish a bit of context for the paintings and my intention in making them. Whatever I paint, I’m trying to create some space for us to sit with the questions that are not meant to be answered.