“The Artist is engaged in a spiritual activity whose essence consists in the precise delineation of reality, which is revealed to the visionary Imagination.”
Rockwell Kent taken from William Blake
This quote hangs on the wall of my studio and it clearly expresses my approach to painting. Kent, who traveled and painted the Arctic landscape, exemplifies Blake’s concept. Kent’s landscapes go beyond merely depicting the vast open spaces of the Arctic but embody an imaginal element that speaks to the viewer about our own existential place on earth. He places humanity in the realm of Zarathustra (see Kent’s, Wilderness).
But Kent’s paintings do not negate in any way what rose up before him. He places man precisely in reality and is true to his experience of the moment. But what makes the work remarkable, is that Kent allows freedom for the imagination to occupy that same place as the visual reality before him. Both can exist simultaneously and each can have a voice in the image. Kent’s passion for the North, particularly Greenland, comes from the immensity and expansiveness of that place unmarred by man. It is a place of solitude where the imagination can easily find expression.
Is it even possible to find that balance of isolation and imaginative freedom now? I think every artist has that place somewhere where they feel the expressive possibilities of both worlds- the depiction of reality within the natural world and a place of visitation for the imagination. In my own experience, the sea provides that space of immensity, expansiveness and acts as a portal of an imaginal vision seeking it’s imprint upon reality. It is the very reason I travel to the coast of Maine as much as I can. It is a retreat from my normal, harried existence and an immersion into another realm removed and yet a more concentrated experience of reality.
The sea is a symbol that has effected painters and writers of America. They have qualified the sea as a medium in which we see our true existence amplified. I often think of Melville’s, Moby Dick, and how the whale symbolizes those deep, unconscious realities that we only have a mere intuition and feeling of. But it is these realities, the spindrift surfacing deep from the sea floor (Rumi), that gives meaning to our existence, creates a longing to know our place in the world, that cannot be suppressed. Ishmael needs to get to sea because he has lost touch with his inner self and if he remains on land his longing will be too great to bear. His inner life will be annihilated under the superficiality that consumes much of our daily existence.
So, this year, I present to you my Maine coast paintings as a way to meditate on the beauty of the sea amid an imaginal vision seeking to call us back to ourselves, back from the brink of forgetfulness.
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As an artist, one always tends to think in images. But it is important to step back and rethink what an image is. Too many paintings are composed as conceptions based on a rational part of ourselves ( what one “ought” to paint) and are not true Images. Image is the soul of a piece deeply connected to the soul of the artist. It stands as a hallmark as well as a guide to the artist. The artist must have a deep connection to the world in order to craft images that speak on this level. In a letter to his brother, Keats wrote: “Call the world, if you please, ‘the vale of soulmaking.’ Then you will find out the use of the world.”In this very act of crafting the image, the artist partakes in his own crafting of soul through his deep feeling and participation in the world.
Noel Cobb states beautifully in his book on “The Archetypal Imagination”,
“We must remember that image is not just some object or other out there; it is not the same as a picture, not the same as an optical, visual thing…Nor is it an optical event, an afterimage, or even the same as memory. It is neither inside us, nor outside us, but somewhere in between. What I am reaching for is that sense of the image we can find among the ancient Greeks and again in the Florentine circles of the Renaissance- the image considered as the way in which the heart perceives. (p.30)
The perceptions of the heart create image. Being attuned to that delicate movement of the heart is the foundation of the artist’s journey. It becomes less about what one sees and more about how one sees. The material world, that inspires and which one renders with such devotion, becomes the isthmus that takes us to the world of images. And the imagination is what gives one the wings to travel there. “Without this taking in of the world, there is no awakening in the heart, no poetry, no making, no craft or crafting. Events remain events, soulless occurrences; they do not become experiences. Pictures remain two-dimensional happenings of form and composition, unless through soul they become images.” (Ibid.p.30)
“Images are angels- or rather diamones”(Ibid.) because they are living things, embodied and particular; They have a life of their own independent from oneself. Because of this independence, one cannot just call the image forth but must await for its appearance with attentiveness. And when it does appear, such as described by Lorca, one must wrestle with this being in crafting the poetic image. One must fully participate and allow oneself to be transformed by it. One must be ready to risk all. Rumi states, “there is born within… a spiritual Child having the breath of Christ which resuscitates the dead.” A resurrection within the heart of those that see and partake of the image is what the artist is called to facilitate. “When the heart is inspired a new life and new image is born.” (Ibid.p.29)