Friday, February 10, 2006

The painting over the couch

is kind of odd. It's called "Birth," and is four feet high by five feet wide. I hung it there after the worst breakup of my life.

I painted this painting near the end of 2002. It was the first one I did after the evening when I lay down on the couch and spontaneously took a tour through my future retrospective at the SF MOMA. It was particularly clear in the vision; I had no idea what it meant, but I took notes and did my best to reproduce it as well as I could. I wasn't sure if it was successful, and I still think that I may do it again someday, bigger, and with more detail.

Another artist came into my studio while I was working on it, and said "I painted that painting once, too." So perhaps there's something archetypal about it. People see different things in it, though; I think of it as a green sun with a rose corona, with birds surging out of it in all directions. Other people insist that it is a planet, not a sun, and that it is turquoise with a terra-cotta corona. I don't gainsay them, even though I was the one who mixed in the viridian and cadmium pigments with my own palette knife. What is important is that it is doing something.

Even though I have been studying chakras for years now, it did not occur to me what those colors were for at least a couple of years after I painted it. Green is the color of the healthy heart chakra, and rose is the color of unconditional love. When this painting was in my gallery, people would come in and say, "what an unusual color combination." When I am lying on the couch under the painting, particularly when it's late and I'm worn out and sad, I can feel it healing me. Sometimes I can almost see the standing wave projecting out from the canvas.

The reason that I founded a gallery named "Healing Arts," the reason I became a painter, and the reason that I became a bodyworker are all the same. Art is more than just a pretty picture, a formal experience, or a conceptual postulate; at its best, it is a unique combination of specific energetic wavelengths and frequencies, which exert a powerful effect upon its surroundings. This is why you have to be very careful what sort of art you have in your home. Too much of the wrong thing and you could become disconnected and homicidal.

I keep thinking that art dealers, curators and critics should be able to see and understand this. Unfortunately, it seems that they rarely do. So I have decided to start being a little more explicit about what I think I am doing with my work. Much of the time I am working intuitively, but there is a larger framework of reason behind it. In this one, for example--the layering of light color over warm yellow underpainting causes the center to glow. The asymmetrical composition makes it feel dynamic. The bold arch of the sun/planet contrasts with the fiddly, complicated patterns made by the birds, making the sun feel more dramatic and the birds more chaotic. The spots of neutral color, such as dun, brown, ochre and black, make the colors seem brighter and more luminous by contrast. And the richness, complexity and abstraction of form make it fun and interesting to look at every day, over a period of years.

This painting is probably the riskiest one I have ever done; I still feel vaguely insecure about having strangers come into my living room, which is also my office, and see it as the first example of my work. But at the same time I have experienced the fact that it does do what I make paintings to do. This is why I am proud of it; this is why I love it; this is why I would charge the person who wanted to take it away from me quite a lot of money.

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