Flight- Ascension of Image, Memory, Beauty

Sometimes one has the unique sensation that one’s experience, at a certain moment, takes on a clarifying and timeless quality. There are moments where one is conscious of painting- “I am in the very activity of applying paint”- but yet one feels, simultaneously, that time opens up and one’s experience becomes expansive. There seem to be layers of activity within one’s self-“I am painting”;”I am recalling a memory”, “I am flying above this scene and am envisioning this landscape a new”. “I am deeply within myself while at the same moment residing beyond myself”.The phenomenologist, Gaston Bachelard describes this sensation as a “cosmic reverie”.

I have had this experience many times, but it was particularly keen at moments when I was painting the mural. I had painted a study of the landscape I was to render as the mural, from a rocky cliff on the grounds of the golf course. It was a view that looked down to the greens but also looked out to the Catskill Mountains and beyond. This study was painted as I have always rendered the landscape- painterly, brief, charged with expressive brush strokes where color plays a key role. I did not change my style to conform to the wall. I painted like an oil painter. So the very process of re-formulating the image for the wall created such a strange sensation within me. It was my work- my painterly approach- but this was not an easel painting, but a 52′ painting. My goal was to give to it the brevity of the study and carry that in an enlarged format to the wall. I wanted it to feel spontaneous even though it was 52′ long.

After I had rendered the sky and the far hills on the wall, I started to paint the image moving toward the foreground. And it was at this moment that I started to have such an odd feeling. I was painting my painting “again” and at the same moment “living” within its borders. I felt as though I had taken flight, like a bird and began to soar above the ground and explore the very “image” in a total and complete way. I was no longer the “painter”, but was entirely immersed in the image. The image became beautiful and grand, vast and complex and I could live and breathe there. I could take flight and experience what I already knew to be present in a new and “real” way.

Suddenly an image situates itself in the center of our imagining being. It retains us; it engages us. It infuses us with being. The cogito is conquered through an object of the world, an object which, all by itself, represents the world. The imagined detail is a sharp point which penetrates the dreamer; it excites in him a concrete meditation. (Bachelard)

The mural became a  stepping stone into an imaginative experience, that was not unconscious like a nocturnal dream, but hyper-conscious- expanding one’s experience vertically. In our ordinary, daily lives we primarily experience the world in a horizontal fashion. One event follows another along a vector. This concentrates our attention on ego and rational thought. We all need this to function. But the Imaginal takes us on a vertical experience where we are still in the same spot, standing or painting there, but we experience the upward vector- the flight- the layers of sensate experience separate and multifaceted. And time seems to pause or I should say, reach its point of balance- not moving forward and not retreating but standing in an ever-present now.

This notion is the very reason that artists create their work.  Meaningful work creates a reverie within the viewer that allows for a prolonged “duration” of an experience. The artists’ moment and the viewers moment come together and one experiences that suspension of time allowing one to penetrate the moment in  a vertical and continuous fashion. It becomes like a childhood experience, where a child’s reverie expands his experience of the world ( a child can only experience a certain thing, like how to fly or tame lions, from dreaming). Art expands and memorializes one’s experience in the same way. This type of reverie becomes more than a single moment, a single experience, but multiple moments held together in an all-encompassing unity. (Bachelard, The poetics of Reverie) It taps back into memory while simultaneously mobilizing one to engage in a future, a future that is imagined and ever more real than one’s ordinary, everyday experience.

But Bachelard states that none of this is possible without admiration and joy for the world, for living life. One must be engaged with beauty itself- which is a love and admiration for the world. One must feel the “grandeur” of all things. grandeur ties beauty to an innate joy that seeks expression.

“But the world dreamer does not regard the world as an object; the aggressiveness of the penetrating look is of no concern to him. He is the contemplating subject. It then seems that the contemplated world passes through a scale of clarity when the consciousness of seeing big and the consciousness of seeing beautiful. Beauty works actively on the perceptible. Beauty gives relief to the contemplated world and is an elevation in the dignity of seeing at the same time….”Everything I look at looks at me” (Novalis).  (Bachelard)

A particular cosmos forms around a particular image as soon as the poet, artist, child gives the image a “destiny of grandeur”. (Bachelard) And one is “Astonished” at the immensity and scale of the beautiful.

“It being is at the same time being of the image and being of adherence to the image which is astonishing. The image brings us an illustration of our astonishment…In a reverie which is dreaming on a simple object, we know a polyvalence of our dreaming image. (Bachelard)

Beauty opens us up to the vertical life, a life of grandeur and astonishment where one can take flight and truly engaged the world.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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