Restoring the soul
As I live in South Africa, I have all around me the benefit of high skies, clear light, wide open spaces and the natural majesty and beauty of the African bushveld.
For me, nothing restores my soul as quickly as being able to follow sandy roads through natural landscapes with vast horizons as far as the eye can see. This environment allows my focus to expand and my consciousness to spread out in all directions. It not only gives me an extended physical view but, on a more elevated level, it also encourages a more far-reaching and unlimited sense of my spiritual capacity and potential.
When I can see far and wide and high, I feel as if anything is possible!
To enrich this experience even further, when I’m in a game park, there is also the ever-present excitement and anticipation of what one will see around the next corner or over the next horizon.
This could be the sighting of something as dramatic as a leopard that has just taken its porcupine kill into a nearby thorn tree or something as seemingly mundane as a herd of peacefully grazing zebra or an exquisitely marked tortoise making its steady way across the road.
Joy and peace ahead
It’s all of this that I’ve tried to encapsulate in this painting. I want this wide, open painting to remind me of the feeling of peace, expectancy and joy I always have when I’m travelling through game parks, as well as how this also encourages me to feel about my life in general.
Maintain hope and enthusiasm
I want to remember to stay focused on what’s ahead of me and around me. I want to keep looking out for the beautiful, the interesting, the unusual, the thrilling and the seemingly small day-to-day details that enrich my life. I want to know that there is so much more that’s possible, so much potential and so much space in which to expand and grow. I want to maintain hope and expectation, anticipation and enthusiasm for what may be just over the next horizon or around the next corner on the road of my life.
As people so often ask me this question I presume it’s their way of trying to understand the process of creating art, as well as a way of calculating in their own minds the value of the work.
It’s not how it looks
We generally live in a very materialistic and linear world, so it makes sense to try to comprehend a work of art in the same way that one would use to assess how long a plumber spends on a job or how many hours a lawyer or accountant takes to complete a project.
Obviously, we need to consider the skill of the work and the years of study, training and experience that all contribute to the overall result of a service, but, in deciding on the value of something as subjective and intangible as a work of art, we also need to factor in how it makes us feel.
What a painting does for you
The purpose of art, in its truest sense, is to uplift our souls and to remind us of beauty, order, ‘rightness’, loveliness and the loftier, spiritual things of a human life. Ideally, when we look at a painting, it should make us feel more inspired, more elevated and generally better and happier within ourselves.
Just like most artists, my heart and soul go into every single painting, with the intention that you will be able to sense this integrity, calm and inspiration. If you resonate with its images, colours, textures and its sense of space and light, you should then, ideally, feel restored and energised every time you look at it.
As a result, whenever I’m asked me how long a painting took me to do, I consider the wealth of my life’s experience, the purity of my intentions and the joy of my creative spirit – and I answer that it has taken me my whole life to be able to create work in this way!
The many similarities between the process of painting and the process of life can also be helpful in realising that it’s sometimes good to start something with no clear end in mind. While it’s usually helpful to have some idea of our intentions, aims and what we’d like to achieve, an open-ended approach gives many more opportunities for the unexpected and the unplanned-for to appear.
And it often turns out that the unexpected is exactly what we need – and an improvement on what we set out to do.
Sometimes I start a painting with a vague feeling or a general concept that I’ve been thinking about. I choose colours that appeal to me and that seem to embody the feeling and concept – and I then try to get out of the way so that I can more easily observe the images and textures that present themselves.
There is a subtle skill in combining the intention for the painting with letting-go and trusting the creative process.
I’m always fascinated by how the combination of a seemingly inexpressible feeling, a blank canvas and tubes of colour combine into something unique and original that translate into form what was in my head and my heart. The creative process can be magical and enchanting! I’m in love with this painting and how it developed and revealed itself to me because I can see worlds of meaning and depth in it that I couldn’t visualise until it was done.
The process of painting is an excellent metaphor for life and one can learn much about both life and painting from the mutual experiences.
When I first started painting I became aware of a tendency I had to give up on a painting if it didn’t work out as I’d planned or if it didn’t seem readily pleasing to me. My instinct would then usually be to abandon the work and to try something else.
Never give up hope
Luckily I had a wise and understanding teacher who told me: ‘There’s always a solution’ and that I needed to persevere to find it. I’d never thought about things in this way before and, ever since, I’ve applied this principle to all areas of my life.
With my paintings I learned that, if I wasn’t sure, I should give them time and keep looking at them in different lights, at different times of the day, until I could work out what was needed.
What’s also helpful is, when I’m too ‘close’ to my work and don’t have sufficient perspective to find a solution, that trustworthy friends show me what I haven’t been able to see. This gives me a solution and a way forward.
And so it is with life.
No matter what’s going on in your life, it’s important to know that it’s always necessary to ‘find a solution’. The first step to getting clarity is to realise that something isn’t working – and then to appreciate that walking away and starting again isn’t always the most efficient approach.
Taking time to step back and observe the issue from many different points of view will usually allow the answers to come. As in painting, the solution brings relief and excitement at knowing what needs to be done to move forward. And, also as with the paintings, sometimes the insights of trusted friends allow me to see what I’ve been missing.
This painting started out as something else and, after living with it for ages, I decided to work on it further. My previous brushstrokes formed a foundation for the new painting and the hints of the previous work that show through add to the depth of the new work.
The metaphor continues in the ongoing process of our lives in that all our previous life experiences provide depth, meaning, ‘texture’, history and wisdom to our accumulated experience.
Sometimes, when we’re in the midst of times that are difficult, and then, when these testing times seem to continue relentlessly, our courage, perseverance, trust and faith are called upon more than usual.
Whether these hard times are related to illness, loss, grief, overwhelm and/or general confusion, they draw on our reserves of strength so much that a sense of hope becomes necessary to keep on going.
This painting came as a result of weeks and months of pain and exhaustion from an extended bout of shingles. Never before in my life had I been so incapacitated for so long and the ongoing pain and discomfort wore me down to the extent that I felt that I would never be the same again.
And this was true – I am not the same as I was before this illness – but just not in the way I thought.
Eventually the shingles – and the depletion that came in their wake – abated and I found that I was certainly not the same as I’d been before, but that I was stronger, healthier, more courageous and more authentic, with a renewed energy for life.
It seemed that the prolonged difficulties and inevitable isolation that came with them stripped away everything that was superfluous in my life or that was no longer serving me well, thus allowing fresh, new possibilities to flow in. Overall, this experience was a very significant and meaningful turning point for which I will be eternally grateful.
This painting is my attempt to capture the immediate difficulties we all go through, as well as the greater capacities and deeper wisdoms that are our reward from enduring and triumphing over our individual hard times.
The title of the painting comes from a powerful prayer that I repeated over and over to help me keep going:
Is there any Remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants, and all abide by His bidding!