Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Spiritual Art Juried Painting Exhibit 2013

I have four paintings, one of them a group of four smaller paintings that are a series or cluster, in this juried exhibit of "Spiritual Art."

I was encouraged to enter my paintings in this show by a friend, although I had hesitated at first. On one level, even though I did a lot of acrylic paintings in my youth, I hadn't put paint to canvas or paper for almost thirty years till I began painting again last year. So I am both a total beginner at painting, and a very experienced visual artist with years of design, composition, and photography under my belt. In the past I've won awards for my visionary visual artwork, and photography. So, I had mixed feelings.

The call for entries of this show of "Spiritual Art" left their definition of Spiritual very open to interpretation. Being that this is a fairly conservative small town region, I expected that they would receive many entries of frankly sentimental religious art—for example, pictures of angels, and of people praying in church. So I hesitated to be part of that.

Frankly, sentimental religious art makes me cringe. I mean no insult to any artist who paints that kind of art, and I mean no insult to anyone's belief system. The problem I have is not with religious subject matter, but with thoughtless sentimentality. There is so much imitation rather genuine in bad religious art. On the other hand, finding a piece of religious art fresh and filled with life is rare enough that it ought to be celebrated.

My own spiritual tradition lies far outside the mainstream of organized religious worship. The details don't matter, what matters is that the points of convergence I have with the organized religious tradition are all normative to the mystical threads of tradition and usually controversial to the mainstream. As for painting, if you want to see a genuinely glorious and praiseful depiction of Creation, I recommend you take in a van Gogh exhibition.

Painting for me has become a form of personal therapy. I mostly do it for my own needs, and not to illustrate or depict a theme or subject that I want to present to an audience. I use a lot of vibrant colors in my paintings, often in many built-up translucent layers that create depth and subtle lighting effects. Most of what I paint is very abstract. Since I've been doing brush calligraphy for a long time, I have made a few paintings based on that kind of brushwork, even an enso or two, painted rather than ink-brushed. I "follow the brush" when painting, and it is expressive for me, but I don't particularly feel like I am in any school or have any purpose. A lot of what comes out is big bold fields of abstract color, with sometimes just a hint of form that might be a hint of subject. I feel like what I am doing is closer to what Kandinsky originally described in his theories of expressive color, than any more recent school of painting. I know a lot of art history, and I don't want to be part of a school or -ism, I just want to paint. Less theory, more art.

Even though painting for me is a personal expression, mostly, what comes out is abstract enough that it's not a journal entry, or overly personal. People can look at these mostly-abstract paintings and read in whatever meaning they wish, that is their own and not mine. I've talked many times of what I call abstract realism, which is abstraction from nature, but also abstraction not divorced from the form that inspired it. In painting, for me, this might look like an abstract painting that for me evokes a memory of the aurora borealis; but I'm okay with another viewer finding something else in it, or just looking at it purely as abstraction. If they get some kind of emotional or aesthetic response from the painting, I feel it's succeeded.

With all this in mind, I also knew that anything I submitted to a "Spiritual Art" show would probably be quite far outside the box, different from other entries, and quite possibly beyond the pale. I did end up submitting four paintings to the juried show, with no expectation that any of them would get in. I deliberately chose paintings that broke convention, and are very much experimental. One of them is even a three-dimensional work, not a traditional painting. The joke is on me, because all four got in. So what do I know?

Here are thumbnails of the pieces I will have in this show, all of which were painted in 2013:

Void: Emergence

Earth and Sky II

Enso (Meditation in the Marketplace)

This depicts for me the classic saying from Zen meditation practice: "Anyone can meditate alone on a mountaintop. The real test of your meditation practice is when you return to the busy, noisy city, full of sound and lively action, and try to meditate in the marketplace there."


A group from an ongoing series of paintings inspired by prehistoric cave art, petroglyphs, ancient civilizations, and the colors of the rocks and land where such art is to be found. The other source of inspiration here is Byzantine icons, with their formalized styles and color palettes. I'm really enjoying this series, and have done a few more since submitting this grouping to the show. The icons are all the same size, and can be displayed in several different ways.

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