The creative process is mysterious, and I actually relish its unwillingness to be quantified and codified. Ongoing attempts to measure and metricize what it is and how it works are reminiscent of the classic image of the bubble under the tablecloth—that pocket of air that you can move around but cannot eradicate or hold in your hand.
Here is another layer in that mystery, or at least a layer in my version of creative thinking. Call it prescient imaging, precognitive viewing or presight, it is an experience I’ve had so many times I have quit questioning its validity and just celebrate its existence. Because it is, after all, an extraordinary way of working that has somehow, and wonderfully, engaged me in its field.
Here’s how it works. Every once in a while my painting takes on a major shift. New images, new colors, new ways of working, all of them a departure from my previous approach. Because I am a “process painter”—letting the actual process of making teach and lead as opposed to a carefully preconceived conceptual approach–I don’t ask why or let myself get too cognitive about it. I just surrender and let it lead me.
Within some reasonable period of time after this shift has manifested in my work I will be somewhere new—usually on a trip to a place I’ve never visited before—and see the source of that shift. I am a non-representational painter, so the connection between my work and what I see is not a direct mapping but usually more subtle. But the connection is obvious to me as soon as my physical eyes see it.
This sounds like the classic description of an artist being inspired, but the whole thing happens in reverse. Something I have not yet seen shows up in my consciousness months before I encounter it “in the flesh”.
The first time this happened was right before a visit to England. Before that trip, my work started showing shapes and images suggestive of stones, circles and menhirs. At that time I didn’t know what these things were, but I did in fact end up spending most of my time there searching out the neolithic stone circles that dot the Celtic coastline of Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
Then it happened before I went to the Outback in Australia. And Bhutan. Viet Nam. India.
The latest was not travel induced but something quite different. Over the last few months I could feel an inchoate energy moving me away from my old way of working and into a new set of explorations. As is usually the case, I didn’t have a way to describe what was happening but just let it pull me forward.
So when I was invited to attend a lecture sponsored by my college alumni group given by Dr. Sandra Faber, head of astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, on the images from the Hubble telescope, my interest in attending was the promise of a visually rich and intellectually stimulating evening.
It was all that but so much more. As I sat in the dark room while Sandy blew through the most spectacular images of space I’ve ever seen, I felt myself lifting right out of my body and into some other dimensional consciousness. The images were so closely aligned to what I have been doing in my studio I could barely stay in my chair. And all that talk about birth clouds, baryonic matter, dark energy. Wow. I’m still buzzing.
So now I have found this profound parallel world and its trove of breathtaking images. (There is an extensive gallery on the Hubble site.) All this is speaking to me at a deep level. It isn’t derivative but more inspirational. (Preferring innuendo to inflection, in Wallace Stevens’ famous duality.) But I feel as though that one evening with Sandy moved me down ten layers into the matter that exists below my consciousness. Whether Magellanic clouds or black holes, I am an artist in thrall.