Painting The Universal

I recently completed a commissioned painting for a client in West Virginia and the piece – while created for a2014-01-07 02.20.31 specific person – offered universal lessons and insights to me as I witnessed it come to life at my fingertips.

My assignment was to create an image to reflect my client’s personal journey and to inspire her while she writes. After gathering materials, ideas, and reference images, I felt stuck. How can I put a dynamic, full human story into a single image? How can a painting communicate changes and movement, along with wholeness and peace?

My brain worked on this riddle for a few days and didn’t get very far. Then I decided to allow my hands to move without thinking. I surrendered to movement, to color, and to my intuition. Letting go of thinking was a great idea. Through action and experimentation,  developments happened with ease. My hands began sketching images, asking in color, ‘what does change look like?’

My hands made circles, over and over again. I spent hours, resisting the frustration from my brain, allowing my hands to make circles. ‘This is what change looks like’, I thought. And in this circle, divisions appeared like chapters of a large cycle. Figures from different life stages, seasons, and energetic qualities came to life within the chapters.

Here are a couple of the sketches:

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Looking at the sketches, I recognized the divided circle as a medicine wheel, depicting the four directions. The four directions correlate to the seasons, times of day, the life stages, and phases of the moon:

The North, winter, roots, ancestors, the crone, the new moon
The East, spring, sprouts and new growth, youth and innocence, the waxing moon
The South, summer, the flower, sexual maturity, the full moon
The West, autumn, the fruit and seed, the mature and full adult, the waning moon

Once I understood this system, the entire painting made sense and I knew how to begin. The infinite images that were asking to be expressed no longer felt overwhelming. This circle was a visual frame that could hold and articulate the infinite.

When I paint, I experience an intense level of focus that is difficult to describe. I feel a deep connection with the images I create and I develop real, living relationships with the subject matter. In this particular painting, while I began to paint, I decided to begin in the East section and work my way around cyclically. I did this, with few exceptions, through the entire painting process. And, each time I moved from one section to another, I felt the transition as if I were moving from spring to summer or from the Los Angeles to Seattle.

After transitioning from one section of the painting to another, I would become totally engrossed in the new section and forget about the part before. Little by little, a sense of completion would settle in me and I would feel a need to move on, knowing I would revisit this place again and that all the work I left undone would be waiting for me, but that I would have a new perspective after traveling the wheel again.

Today in West Virginia, Winter is fading into Spring. I feel a strong awareness of the gradual, yet undeniable, transition taking place on the micro and macro levels to make this seasonal shift. And I wonder how I can integrate into my daily life the lessons I learned while painting the medicine wheel. How can I fall madly in love with every moment, while always holding perspective of the larger cycle? How can I practice enough non-attachment to allow myself to flow effortlessly from one phase to another? I invite you to wonder with me.

Here are some images of the final painting:

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