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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Painting Through a Storm

Outside a storm gathered force in the foothills; inside my studio the air was humid and filled with the odor of English turpentine. My thoughts rumbled like the storm, threatening a burst of creativity at any moment. In recent days this creative current was absent during my hours at work, cooking for young musicians attending music camp. I was longing to paint.

Lightening flickered like a flashlight in the hands of a playful camper. I squeezed paint from tubes on to a palette. Then I mixed Lamp black, Hansa yellow and Cerulean blue into a swamp-like shade. My canvas was covered with a field of gold leaf.

In recent months "art practice" was my focus in the MARK program. During that period, every time I set paintbrush to canvas, a storm of some nature arrived. In February the storm involved several feet of the heaviest of snow. I waited two days for my neighbor to plow himself out, and then used his backhoe to clear my drive. In March, the storm was in my work life: a promotion, the adjustment of hours and responsibilities. In May, I created my own little storm of social networking. I rediscovered everyone I have ever known on Facebook, and in a wistful moment “friended” all.

The weather report promised tornadoes with the summer storm. Tree branches swept by my windows in the churning wind. Everything felt in a state of electric unrest. My television was tuned to the Discovery Channel. I was half watching a program about energy. The lamp light flickered under a dusty silk shade. A thunder bolt touched ground close enough that the floor boards of the farmhouse trembled.

Work had been rough that day. I worked sweeping and mopping a dining hall floor in my Teamster issued shoes. The work was not within my job description and I called the local for support. This was a storm threatening to hit land in my wallet. My mind was jumping around at lightning speed to a siren of fury. Nervous exhaustion loomed like another storm cloud.

I love that Door's tune, Riders on the Storm and I have come to accept my flair for encouraging trouble. Me? Yes. I do not intentionally seek trouble but when it finds me, I stand against the storm. The consequences of this resistance have left me a few limbs short of a graceful tree. This makes me think of the poem, The Scholar Gipsy:

Thou waitest for the spark from heaven! and we,
Light half-believers of our casual creeds,
Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will'd,
Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,
Whose vague resolves never have been fulfill'd;
For whom each year we see
Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new;
Who hesitate and falter life away,
And lose to-morrow the ground won to-day--
Ah! do not we, wanderer! await it too?

-Matthew Arnold

“Waiting for the spark from heaven to fall,” is the title I gave to a recent painting. Storms are tracked and if the show on the Discovery channel is accurate, we will burn olive pits to fuel our energy needs, clutter the landscape with wind turbines and tilting mirrors for collecting solar energy. Our heaven has been measured, explored and filled with satellite signals.

Nevertheless, the storm outside my farmhouse was blowing through the valley, dispelling energy with chaotic power. Within the churning chaos loomed something fresh. The storm slowed. I used a large round brush from France loaded with turpentine and black paint. I touched the tip of the brush to the surface of the canvas and watched the paint plume. Into the blackness I rode the storm: a frisson of the world around me and my creative impulse. Outside, the storm was over. I finished painting and opened the back door. The deck was slick with warm summer rain. All was silent and the air was fresh.