There is nothing quite so pleasurable as lounging in a beautiful garden on a summer’s evening. The colors of the flowers are vibrant again after the heat of the day. The scents are alive and intoxicating and the birds seem to catch their breath and chant in renewed and festive song. My garden has become a space that holds my imagination. A place of rest in which I can contemplate. It is a place of creative reverie where my imagination can impose its place in my world.
When I reflect on the gardens and intimate places created by artists for themselves, I can see how the care of their gardens becomes analogous to the cultivation of the imaginal place that exists within themselves- the energy and source of their work. Gardens need care and cultivation. One must plant and weed and nurture one’s garden spaces. One makes plans for a certain type of garden, formal or cottage style, but in all cases one must allow for the spontaneous to enter in upon one’s plans and cultivate that as well. This adds an element of surprise and query and calls one to be attentive to this new creature.
If I reflect on the most famous of artists’ gardens, Monet’s Giverny, I see how Monet, the observer of the landscape his whole life, comes to understand that what exists without also finds its place within. Monet’s garden becomes a mirror of his own understanding of the greater world. It also manifests the power and scope of his imagination. Late in life, Monet no longer felt the need to seek out his images in the greater landscape, but painted mostly within his own garden. Monet’s life contains a unity of experience that few of us will come to know. All that had lain hidden in his inner world becomes manifest in a way for all to see through his garden. His vision, late in life, is one of an entirely unified experience of the world. There is no demarcation between his inner life and outward experience. His unique vision is one of wholeness. Monet’s garden is his vision of himself and of the world- beautiful, joyful, full of life and vitality. Monet ‘wandered’ (and wondered) in this space. It became a place of profound reverie freeing him to experience the unity of the imaginal world without division.
Artists’ gardens act as a bridge to a place that calls forth images and ideas that are seeking form. These imaginal reveries cannot find us in the noise and chaos of our daily activity. They can only approach one by an obtuse path in quiet and solitude. If the artist is attentive he will recognize these elusive figures and images. The more he resides in such a space the more receptive he will become to the call of the imagination.
“But at the heart of everything is the imagination and I think that we cannot free the soul from fear or learn to open ourselves to the world in all its glory, complexity and beauty unless we free ourselves for the imagination. It is the heart, after all, that is the “organ” of the imagination. And it is that pulsing, hot and muscular star within us that creation and discovery merge. It is in the heart that the inner and the outer become one.” [Tom Cheetham, Imaginal Love, The Meaning of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman, p.137]
Yesterday, I was finally able to return to a landscape painting begun about 4 weeks ago.The site of this painting was on an isthmus, running north to south, parallel to the shore line of the Delaware river near the town of Cochecten. The day after I had begun this painting, the river flooded and this isthmus was under water for about a week. All the river grasses, which were in the foreground of the painting were pulled down river to the south or were removed entirely. It took about two weeks for the water to recede enough that I could get back on this peninsula which temporarily had become an island. On my return to the site yesterday, I found the isthmus as I thought I might- Many grasses were washed away and the stones themselves were all pointing north, their faces buffeted by the strong currents. I was left with no option but to reconfigure this painting and re-approach it as a new experience.
It was a wintery cold day, overcast but not entirely. The clouds were shifting diagonally and allowed some of the early morning light to penetrate. There was no wind but the river was moving surprisingly fast. As I stood there, ice floes- semi-transparent, were floating past and as the day warmed I could hear the crunching of the ice hitting the near-by bridge. This was followed by a surprising loud ripping sound as large chunks of ice broke free from the shoreline. Erie and awesome sounding. A moment to reflect on nature’s independence and inherent force.
Lately, I have been reading about Monet’s series called the “Debacle” or ice floes. During the winter of 1879-1880, France experienced an extremely fridgid winter with the Sienne freezing throughout Paris as early as November. One could walk across the river everywhere. This was followed by a sudden thaw in December followed by a massive thaw on January 3rd,1880. ” The snow run-off and the cascading ice that accumulated as the Sienne’s thick layer of ice broke apart resulted in massive devastation. Monet, invigorated by this once-in-a-lifetime surge of ice floes, created a memorable sequence of paintings to capture the river in its frozen immobility as well as its surging floods and blocks of ice.” (Carole McNamara, Monet’s Vetheuil Paintings: Site, Subject,and Debacles, p.77)
I can only imagine the power of nature that Monet experienced, but even in my small way I felt the awesome beauty of the moment- alone and immersed in an elemental nature, free from any human presence. I felt transported, able to grasp in a new way this environment and hence my painting. Only in such solitary moments can one experience profoundly a new reality. Monet’s paintings reflect this separation from the world of human affairs and in this isolation one can sense only the presence of the artist- present with himself in this new experience of reality. Landscape paintings that reflect, not only the the natural elements that lie before one, but also mirror the artist’s interior world- reflecting the correspondence that lies between the artist and nature, are the most profound. The painting becomes a conduit or isthmus between the natural forces and the artist’s own interior experience of the moment. When a painting is re-formed it reflects this “new” self. Although, I lost the brooding sense I originally had in my painting, it has re-emerged with clouds parting and a clear path to an ever- flowing river- renewed hope for a new year.