March 17, 2009

Working with Themes

So, way back in an old blog I mentioned about writing each morning for two weeks on the same topic or theme, pulling out of a subject all the facets you could find.  This is very helpful to be able to draw inside the subject and open out beyond our typical thinking.  In writing or painting/sketching this way, you find out about the self.  In my discussions with Rebecca in her studio, we came back numerous times to the question of working with a theme.  Rebecca paints with a theme, as I do and have, and I write with a theme in mind waiting to see what's going to happen, and to find out something about the self.

Numerous times in our discussions we returned to Robert Motherwell, perhaps because I'd been reading Mary Ann Caws' ROBERT MOTHERWELL WITH PEN AND BRUSH.  Motherwell had a lifelong affinity with James Joyce.  Caws writes:  "It is sure that Joyce, Stephen Dedalus, and Leopold Bloom all share the philosophy of receptivity, saluted by Motherwell....the Joycean attitude of absolute openness to what happens.  Everything remains to be discovered, newly with each human, about human vice and worth....The action painter had to believe in his own talent, for in some profound sense the entire experiment of action painting puts the artist at the centre, and his act of painting becomes the supreme act of emotional gravity.  If FINNEGANS WAKE is a circle, so is the act of painting.  Its action reveals the self in its circular mythologizing.  Thus the passion for series, for variations, for returns:  Motherwell's passions all fit one into another." 

Joyce worked with verbal associations and Motherwell found this useful in working with associated colors and forms.  Rebecca works with associated emotions, feelings, and color which we can see in her series, "The Puritans."  Rebecca painted out a series of explosive and sometimes seething feelings related to the influence of Puritanism in our culture and in her life.  These make their way into an expression of truth that is transformative in life.

Motherwell worked with other themes such as in Spanish Elegies lamenting the tragedies of Spain under Franco and the encounter with death.  In these paintings, Motherwell takes his primary shape, the ovoid and uses it to show the weight of darkness, the somber blackness of the experience.  In the repetition of the theme and the form you feel the force of his meaning and the power of the message.

Motherwell was equally at home in writing as in painting and he made no distinction between the expressions.  Painting or writing is an energetic gift transferred from the poet/painter to the one who reads or receives the painting.  This doing was his practice, and he was not afraid to work hard.  How hungry are we to discover ourselves, to get to the crux of the matter?  Herein brings us again to the 10,000 hours it takes to become competent at what we do, or to find out what we need to find out.  At least we can say that the belief in ourselves, the belief in expression, keeps us at it, keeps us writing and painting when things around us are going to hell.  The theme we use can keep the ground fertile.