For me, July and August have been all about the intricate dance of creativity. I am devoting most of my waking hours to preparation for my October exhibition, and creating a new body of work involves a kind of total immersion that I can’t do any other way.
Dancing is an art-form that has eluded me all my life, and the metaphor reminds me that even at this stage, 22 years into my creative practice, there are seasons when I still feel like a beginner, awkwardly learning and re-learning the moves. It’s a dance where the steps go backwards into self-doubt and disappointment and forwards into excitement and exhilaration. Every single time I engage in this dance for an extended period of time I forget the steps and have to be reminded. Even though this is my 14th solo exhibition, even though I’ve taught thousands of students and seen the pattern and the dance steps repeat themselves throughout the human experience … I. Still. Forget.
This year I’ve added ceramics to my collection for the first time. (I’ve come out of the ceramics closet, so to speak.)
The thing about ceramics is that there is a fair level of certainty in what you are creating. You know the form and function of the vessel. You know, as you are making it, approximately the size and use it will have. Your creativity has a “shape” and also holds the delightful idea that this piece of art will be able to be used – to drink out of, or serve cheese on, or eat off, or hold flowers in – rather than merely looked at.
I start having a fair idea of how it will look in the end.
That is a distinctly different feeling to creating a painting, at least the kind of painting that I create. I begin my piece by introducing a fair bit of chaos into the canvas… and gradually, alter the balance, emphasis and overall composition such that chaos evolves into something pleasing, with varying levels of order in its appearance.
I start having absolutely NO idea of how it will look in the end!
Just the other day, with a braveness that I didn’t actually feel, I made a pronouncement to my fellow potters in the studio, “placing work in the kiln is a great way to learn Detachment… to learn about letting go of outcomes!” They looked at me with surprise. Our chatter doesn’t usually extend to the existential metaphors within the process of making a pot, and instead tends to hover around learning the best way to join clay slabs, how to avoid uneven drying, and what techniques create the loveliest surface decoration.
But I said that because in ceramics, the kiln is the Big Unknown. Imagine placing something you’ve carefully made into an oven, and then heating it to 1200 degrees Celsius (twice). Let’s just say, each firing is an act of trust. Its a process of letting go and submitting your creation to the fiery depths, not knowing if it will survive the process. And even if it does survive, how will its appearance be altered?
In contrast, there is less drama in painting, and how the composition will look when it’s complete is the Big Unknown. Every layer works off the layer below it, but never removes the underlying layer. I trust and keep going.
The metaphors in both are rather poetic and beautiful.
For me the beginning of the painting holds the excitement and colour and promise of a new relationship. It’s energising and floods with me joy as witness the serendipity and controlled chaos in the swirls and eddies of paint and water and texture.
As the painting progresses, a quieter relationship forms, reminiscent of the steadiness and warmth and familiarity of a stable, long-term human relationship. There are annoyances and challenges for sure, and sometimes, you want to just walk away (or punch them) … but if love and respect prevail, you go back, you work on the relationship, and beauty and structure emerge. The layers of paint and texture mingle and build on each other. Eventually, your heart fills with a kind of familiar surprise. This worked. Again.
Working with clay feels like the opposite. The first part, when the clay is wet and wild and slippery is terrain I just have to forge through. Keep going, keep going, you’ll get there. Clay demands your patience. It wants what it wants and it can’t be rushed. You have to wait til it’s at just the right stage of dryness before you can finesse it. This is when I relax into it, as I stroke and shape the vessel. Sometimes I carve into it, and leaves and lines in three dimensions emerge from the surface. It’s joyful and satisfying to feel their shapes and witness their emergence, perhaps something I’ve always wanted to have happen in my paintings, and cannot really accomplish on a canvas, no matter how much texture I introduce.
I first heard the idea that we can be ‘the architects of our own delight’ from designer and author, Ingrid Fetell Lee, in her uplifting, accessible and surprising book, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness.
The idea of being the ‘architect of my own joy’ now feels empowering and attainable. It gives a new flavour to that intricate dance of creativity. The stumbles and missteps are still there, but I notice the joyful moments when the steps flow one to the next with a different awareness, one that has made me feel like I’m building an internal structure of joy, even as I build a new collection of work to share with you.
PS My 14th solo exhibition will be held over the last 2 weekends of October, when I have the honour of being one of 37 open studios for Art In the Hills 2023! I would love to see you there, in my home and studio perched above the forest, and share a cuppa, a chat, and a whole bunch of paintings and pots (the ones that survive the kiln!). More info here on all the artists www.mundaringhillsopenstudios.com
PS. I plan to resume teaching workshops in November 2023, so stay tuned for my updates on when they open for enrolment.
PPS. Thank you for reading my post! You can leave a comment on my post here, (scroll right down to the comments section). I truly love that you take the time, and read and reply them all.