26 September 2014

Letter to Malevitch

Dear Kazimir, 

I first met you during a slide show in a gloomy lecture theatre as an art student at the University of Cape Town. Those lectures were pretty early in the morning so if I wasn't always that awake, when you came up, forgive me. 

Also, a slide of a painting of a black square is a little ho hum, I think you might agree. Last week, we met properly, eyeball to canvas, at the Tate Modern and I saw I had misjudged your work entirely.

I remembered that you were a Russian artist who painted a black square on a canvas and then a white cross on a white canvas and that was a Big Thing at the time, which was somewhere in the tumultuous context of the peasant revolts, of Stalin and Russia in the 1930s. 

(History isn't my strong point Kazimir, so that's roughly about right I hope.)

It was a surprise, on meeting your work at the Tate Modern again, to discover that you also painted portraits of your dad and later your mum. Tender, naturalistic portraits. And wooden bungalows, peasants in the fields. Homages to cubism, to futurism in rich, deep colour. Not the sort of thing I saw you as doing at all when we first met.

I had no idea that you were so into colour. Richly glowing hues, shimmering like icon paintings sometimes. 

The chalky limestone-white backgrounds of your abstract work, the deep almost black plums, yellows both sunny and dirty. Red squares talking to black squares, pinks. Soft greys. I found the language of Suprematism to be surprisingly lyrical. 

The Black Square and all the critical engagement where you were finding a new place for art, was but the half of it, I see that now. 

As a painter, you also paid your dues as a master of colour, space, and the dance of shapes both abstract and figurative.You brought your heart into painting as much as your head, and as such it was a pleasure to get to know you better.

12 September 2014

Everything Changes/Goodbye Summer

Hey, where did the summer go? Seriously. I painted this before heading to Turkey for a week of swims in the Med (which I am deeply grateful for, for sure). The holiday ended, in my case, in a stinking summer cold which meant I was indoors for 10 days watching the sunlight dancing in our London garden. 

A few more weeks of answering emails and next thing I know is I'm packing for a ten day vipassana meditation sit in Herefordshire. Reluctantly. I wanted to bail and seriously considered a last minute cancellation. 

So much time away. So many things to take care of, so much to enjoy and do as an illustrator, as a social media trainer, as a wife and friend. So much on in London.

I got on the train though. And, by the end of the ten days, I was super glad that I did.

I wish I could say it was a time of thoughts landing as softly as autumn leaves on the forest floor, that ten day sit. In the interests of full disclosure though, my mind was more like a bucking filly, clanging into every thought, kicking and rearing at every unpleasant sensation for most of the time. Nothing special about that, I guess.

So much wildness in the mind is revealed when all else is stilled, when life is lived with an inwards focus, sitting in meditation for many, many hours a day as is the programme on mediation courses in the tradition of U Ba Khin and SN Goenka. Unpleasant sensations abound, to put it mildly.

But there are breaks, respite is possible. The woods are my place to soften focus, to loosen my grip a bit. As I walk in the heightened state of sensory awareness that slowly arises on about day 3 or so, I find there is something new to see each time.

Small things: the moss among tree roots, tiny scratch marks around mouse holes in the ground, a pale spider, backlit in the early morning sun, waiting, just waiting in absolute spider trust for the next sustaining moment to unfold.

Tiny, slow changes also, things I'd usually miss completely: over the ten days, small patches of yellowing leaves turn here and there, the beginning of autumn. Apples ripening.

Time to let go of the summer, smilingly, as our meditation teacher, Goenkaji, would say.

Of course, there are also wonderful moments: long, deep, spontaneous in-breaths, the gentle blessing of Hereford rain on the roof of the meditation hall. Space between interior conversations expanding, softly. The capacity for healing opening up, compassion and joy arising as thoughts began to land more gently. 

Thoughts that gradually lose their importance and sense of permanence, no more and no less worth clinging to than the yellowing leaves floating onto the woodland floor. Everything changes, all in a flux, all in a flow (in Goenkaji's words).

More information on 10 day Vipassana sits in Herefordshire and worldwide is here - do feel free to contact me if you're at all curious to know more. It's the best gift you can possibly think of giving to yourself all year. Of that I am sure.