The Opening of the Imagination
It is a challenge to try to capture with painted brushstrokes, something that is moving and changing all the time; the shifting clouds, reflections and colours; every second the landscape is changing and made new by subtle transformations
The experience of making something from raw materials is a simple and fundamental one. The coldness of clay, the smell of linseed oil, the familiar feel of wooden tools or brushes connect you to the elements. Over time the process of choosing the right colour and quality of paint becomes unconscious and instinctive. During painting hundreds of decisions are made – from minute changes to complete destruction of previous work.
The painting becomes a vehicle for ideas and feelings that are explored on an unconscious level during the building of layers. Painting helps to bring ‘feeling’ into a deeper and more universal realm.
When painting, I look for suggestions of shape and form within the background, almost like an archaeological dig, pulling the images out that emerge and then create a scene. This is an exciting way of working. Somehow you have to give yourself up to the process… and then the painting reveals itself.
Facing the edge, the necessity of facing oneself
Whilst painting I observe the strengths and weaknesses of the image. Part of the process is to look for weak areas in the painting that need to be brought up to hold strong with the others. I can see my passion, laziness, excitement and weariness as the painting develops. There is no place to hide. Sometimes mistakes and dramatic decisions can result in really interesting results and keep the life of the painting fresh.
Working with purpose and yet allowing the natural flow of the painting holds deep symbolism for me.
I hope to keep a strong will and purpose in life but not at the cost of closing out the ‘great unknowns’ that life brings. I want to be open enough to learn from life and trust it, even though it cracks you right open. It is like being on the edge.
It is this edge that interests me – the in between, the energy between things, the potential for change. There is something about committing to a painting that is committing yourself to being open to the unknown, which involves the chance of failure as well as of joy. It is a powerful place.
You have to face the edge of your deepest questioning Always starting with a question… and then peeling back the layers to uncover one’s own truthful experience of reality. Life unfolds in ways we cannot imagine; paying close attention to our longings, what is inviting and calling us can help us to understand where we fit, can create a natural flow of meaning and authenticity in our lives.
‘Am I being true to myself, therefore am I being true to the world?’
Some days I can return home and feel like my consciousness has completely shifted and changed and other days I feel stuck in old patterns and self-doubt.
I notice a stillness that lies beneath each tempestuous painting – like a writer who witnesses the same kind of character entering the story again and again. This sense of stillness can be incredibly powerful because of what lies beneath. It is the tension between stillness on surface waters and the deep currents underneath.
What are these aspects that emerge so mysteriously.
As a child the imagination felt like a pool of chaotic and tempestuous imagery in which to explore, a place of ultimate freedom but slightly out of control. The imagination was discussed in rather derogatory terms as being ‘overactive’ or as things being ‘all in your imagination’.
Loved ones do their best to try to keep us safe but lucky for us, the imagination comes in to play so that we can ask our own questions essential for our own very unique journey through life.
This is the ultimate freedom of the human spirit. As a young artist I became fascinated by the images and characters that were appearing and re-appearing in drawings and I realized they were of a deep symbolism that I didn’t understand, but knew was a part of me also.
I remember thinking… there is no language for this much feeling…
The imaginative world stood with equal weight as my reality – with its endless mystery and revelation. My body couldn’t seem to cope with the amount of feeling being experienced, whether it was feelings of power, nervousness, shyness, being loved or being afraid. I was happy and surprised to start working with the imagination and see the beautiful help that came my way when I committed to being true to it.
As a painter, you engage with a relationship. You face the painting and the painting faces you, things happen and you witness them. We have to take risks and trust what emerges. Cecil Collins the Artist and Visionary once stated that:
“The paintings are already inside me – like seeds in a garden…”
Often Sculptors say that they feel that the form of their finished piece has been waiting inside the stone all along and that they have just revealed it.
We enter into conversation with works of art whether it is a poem, painting or piece of music. We enter into that world that is created for us and it can offer huge personal meaning.
Do these expressions of creativity come from the imagination or is the imagination a portal that opens this space and allows the conversation to occur?
When we witness an experienced dancer, we are moved by the beauty and confidence of her movements. We use terms like ‘gifted’ or ‘god given talent’ but actually we are responding to her close relationship with what her body already knows.
She has engaged with a flow or deeper wisdom that lies within her. Her commitment and practice increases her power as an artist and we feel a sense of awe when we witness the fluidity of her art.
For me, the imagination opens us to deep wisdom. Of course sometimes we can’t always understand our dreams and desires but they are held I feel, by a supporting platform of innate presence.
It is this presence or steady light that seems to carry into life outside of the studio and taken the place of existential questioning from my younger days.
I think a good question to ask oneself is: When do I feel most alive? For me, when in the ‘flow’ of artistic practice, unaware of time and belonging to some other rhythm.
Falling in and out of time.
When there is an understanding, and true acceptance through friendship. Where there is true connection – there is ecstasy. When the breeze touches your face and you witness nature throughout your whole being, this to me is ecstasy.
This open channel – somehow it is like death. So perhaps death is a form of sublime ecstasy.
Then there is despair when there is no connection felt, no dance, no union – some existential void. An artist friend in crisis recently told me “I can’t paint, therefore I have lost my connection to God”.
Learning to be free
When we walk through into the imaginative space we start to experience concepts such as eternity and we meet with a completely different feeling about the priorities that are expected in everyday Western society.
The imaginative world opens our sense of possibility, which can also bring fear, hence the warnings of our close ones. We are worried perhaps about ‘losing our minds’ or being out of touch with the real world. We fear offering a different view to that may be mocked or won’t fit in with ‘the norm’ Shakespeare said of the Imagination:
“It is the prophetic soul of the whole world dreaming on things to come”
And most of all I believe we lack trust in ourselves that we can create our own moral codes and boundaries from a deep lived experience of being human.
We can feel utterly lost in the abyss of timelessness and yet also find strength enough to appear and be counted in our own unique way.
Trusting that my imagery could teach me something set me on a path of discovery that gave me a direct relationship with life.
The Poetic Imagination
On discovering the idea of ‘The Poetic Imagination’ I felt like I was coming home. At last something settled and I knew this was the way I experienced life.
Opening to the poetic imagination can be incredibly isolating and deeply blissful when you recognize that connections made with others can be of the highest truest kind.
However it is challenging to sustain the openness and vulnerability that this life demands. It can be exhausting to sustain amidst a ‘normal’ family and work environment – rather like currents streaming against each other at times.
Making art doesn’t stop and start in the studio. The revelations and despairs change you and are carried into your whole life; the desperate need for aloneness, the taking stock – where am I now? Trying to follow the soulful flow that our spirit invites us into.
Disruptions can prove very tiring because of how much investment goes into getting there in the first place.
As we live our lives open to the imagination our relationship with it strengthens. The imagination creates a spacious narrative for our past and for the present. It is a place where we can be absolutely free.
Valuing our creative imaginations is essential to our society. Artists offer Vision, Invention, Imagination and Original thinking, all the aspects of human beings that help us evolve.
As the years go I have sensed a shift where the imagination has a supporting role in my life. I do not fear the spaciousness of it. The Imagination for me is still a resource and yet there is something more deep and profound taking place. The imaginative powers have a serious and steady role now in the way life moves through me.
It seems that painting and poetry amongst other things strengthen my relationship with it and therefore my relationship to all things.
The creative process I am involved with grounds my whole life. The notebooks and images offer a view of ‘soul’ and it’s unique place in this world as we all have. Images express a deeper Universal ‘human condition.’ when you become aware of this it teaches you humility.
Art, for me is a form of prayer.
The imagination is infinite. It is opened and closed by our levels of protective and defensive layering. It is beside us, within us, outside of us, it is perception; it is energetic meeting points between people. It is prophecy and timeless travel and empathy and nothingness all at once.
Poet speaks of a kiss
That ends all life
The God once seen
Through her transparent cheek
Perfect in our brokenness
We hold together
Through all the measured hours
Of the day
Through all the golden pathways
Unable to find the name of it
Helen Garrett 2014
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