We are much in need of gentle conversation these days – conversations that reveal our inherent spirituality and invite mystery. And by that I don’t mean doctrinal polemics, theological dustups that flex our mental capacities leaving our souls depleted. I mean conversations that speak spirit-to-spirit, soul-to-soul, and heart-to-heart. And art – literary, musical, and visual – is the best of mediums for such intimate forays.
Original art, whether in the form of a freshly covered canvas or newly written song, offers us a glimpse into the inner mystery that is another. Emily Carr, our west coast diva of nature painting, commenting on her subject matter and its source, wrote that “art is art, nature is nature, and you can’t improve upon it. Pictures may be inspired by nature, but are made in the soul of the artist: it is the soul of the individual that counts.”
And this is so – for the source of all creative endeavours is imagined in a place connected to, yet beyond, our knowing. But that is not the end of the matter, only the beginning. For if the source of creative work is born in the soul of its co creator – and all creative birthing are by their very nature a co-production – it is equally true, that those who receive artistic gifts with a responsive presence, are themselves, further part of the ongoing conversation.
I know the mystery of this convoluted creativity first hand, not from my own expressions so much, as from observing the artistic process of my husband. He has been a professional musician for some fifty years, music being his lingua franca since birth, his way of connecting the dots in the unfathomable chaos that passes itself off as daily life. Music is his first love, but in these latter years, he has added painting to his artist’s tool kit.
Bruce had long desired to paint, so for his sixtieth birthday I gifted him with a weekend at Lynn Connell’s wonderful Creativity Art Retreat in Dunedin, Ontario. Bruce admired Lynn as an artist. A weekend under her guidance revealed her to be a gifted teacher.
When I saw Bruce's first few paintings I was simply stunned. When you have lived with another person for a long time, you tend to assume you know them well. But nothing that I knew about Bruce prepared me for what he put down on the blank canvas. It was a humbling lesson on the complexity and richness within the hidden recesses of our being. When I turned to Bruce in astonishment and asked, "Where did all this come from?" he looked equally perplexed and responded, "I have no idea."
Some artists look at things in life and try and recreate, with varying success, that which they observe. Bruce does some of this work. But mostly what he is trying to do is have the canvas draw something out from inside him to be placed on the canvas as a visual of something that already exists but cannot be seen. He paints in a state of surprise, not knowing what will speak through the brush. I am supposing it is not unlike his jazz playing, wherein you never quite know what will happen next.
While I was helping to put one of his early art shows together, it occurred to me that perhaps I might interview him in order to discover more fully the artist who still looked like my husband, but clearly had personas unknown to me. When I asked about the source of this work, he offered me this meandering, yet, wonderful word picture.
"When I close my eyes, I see things. When I sit in silence I hear things. And the things I see and hear are, to me, important to express. I feel lonely with them. But when someone else sees or hears what I’ve done to try and represent my imaginings, then this person has connected with me at a deeper level than simple conversation. In this way, art of all kinds connects us one to the other.
My paintings emerge from the canvas as I try to discover what I have seen. The viewer, of course, may see something entirely different. So there is a kind of conversation going on between the painter, the painting and the viewer, which is both constant and always changing.
It is an improbable conversation, and yet, there it is."
I like this idea of improbable conversations. There is an unlikely conversation between artist and medium. And then, there is a further conversation between the completed work and the viewer, an interchange that does not live in the physical world of objects held down by gravity and the heavy boot step of chronological time, but is a spiritual experience, with the created object as doula. Each observer will have a different experience, for our spiritual make up is as particular as our fingerprint. Thus each conversation between each original canvas will, in and of itself, be a unique – and improbable – conversation.
Here follows, a gathering of canvas and words I have entitled, Improbable Conversations. They combine Bruce’s artwork with the writing that emerges from my adoration – of the art and the artist. I am entranced by Bruce’s work. But even more, by the conversations that arrive on the printed page, neither mine, nor Bruce’s, but by some alchemy unknown, belonging to everyone.