When Eugene (my husband) saw this work-in-progress this morning, he told me that he knew my early childhood memory that inspired it.
This memory is labeled “Много Лен” in the family history, which is pronounced [‘mnoga len] and means “lots of Lenas” in Russian.
It is about this huge ancient wardrobe in my grandparents’ apartment, with three mirrors on its huge doors, which opened in such a way as to let the person see themselves from three vantage points. What I loved about them as a toddler was that there weren’t just three reflections there (as grownups seemed to believe), but also reflections of reflections, and then reflections of reflections of reflections, a seemingly infinite number of little “me”s, further and further away. So this space in between the three mirrors was my first destination whenever we visited my grandparents. I would go there right away, open the doors, and jump up and down, endlessly, turning in all directions, and shouting (you guessed it, right?): “Много Лен! Много Лен!”…
It is easy to see what my husband meant, but for me, there is more to this painting than this.
I woke up with this idea for a painting on June 26th: an artist in her studio. Integration of the artist into her studio, and the studio into the artist. Colour planes, and their interplay with contours: dissolution of boundaries between the inner and the outer. A painting in which the artist and her studio are not two separate things, but the same whole.
I didn’t quite see it yet — or rather, what I saw was a whole field of potential, not a specific painting, so I decided to start with a tentative study, to explore the painting’s emergence in action.
My plan for the day was to crystallise the plans and intents for my art practice for the summer: my mind was seeking a way to integrate all its multitude of aspects seamlessly, into a unified whole.
But I opened an unlimited SpaceTime for the painting process in the beginning of the day, not only because I longed to paint, but also because I felt that this painting is, in some sense, the crystallisation I am looking for, a way to feel into this elusive integration.
In the realm of “objective” linear time, my first approach to this canvas, on the same day, only lasted forty minutes: I stopped not because I had to, but because I didn’t see where it wanted to go.
But something remarkable happens with time within the painting process. To put it simply and directly, as I perceive it, time disappears. It has nothing to do with what is happening there, in the studio — nor with the outcome of studio work (either visible or invisible).
By the end of the day, what was tentatively emerging into the realm of the visible was an empty, moving, colourful space: a spiral of colour through space.
But I didn’t quite see yet how the presence of the inner and the outer within the same space would be realised. The painting was unfolding, it was beginning to clarify itself — but where? Where does such an event take place? This is, in fact, the question of the painting, the question this painting asked of me: where does this happen?
On the next day, I suddenly realised where the final inspiration for this painting came from: it was Chagall’s self-portrait with seven digits, one of the twenty eight paintings I was writing about for my “Art of Seeing” masterclass.
After all, wasn’t I looking for integration of all aspects of my art practice? Here it was, or at least the beginning of it: working on the Art of Seeing Masterclass was channeling inspiration into the painting practice itself.
Everything is present in Chagall’s self-portrait, the inner and the outer, the past and the present, and perhaps the future too.
But my emerging painting was something different, something far more abstract, and more transparent… It was bringing back another memory, my first childhood experience of oneness, this perfect and unexpected moment on the morning of my eighth birthday, intense and tender at the same time, which surprised and overwhelmed me back then so much that I didn’t share it with anyone, not even with my parents, but just let it stay within me for years to come.
And now, it is there in the painting — it is the essence of this painting, and one of its faces is this barely eight-year old Self of mine…
In the process, the original idea seems to have transformed, mutated. And I know that there is much more to my “artist in her studio” experience: more than this is always present, and more will enter the final painting, which is going to be much larger, 60”x48” perhaps.
But as I look at this study now, I see a resolution of a long healing process, because although all of these faces are me in my studio, two of them are also my parents.
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