We know that art is healing but through my own work and the process, I have also found out that it can be quite meditative. So even if you are not a professional artist and you just dabble, there is something to be said for the process.
The meditation comes through in the process where your entire body and mind is in tune with what you are doing. My process includes sketching, composing, modeling, texturizing and colouring. This is basically a step by step process that flows into each other. Everything I do, every thought I have is concentrated on this one thing. One of the questions I get asked as an artist is if I work on several pieces at once. I do not. Everybody’s brain works differently so I can’t say it’s wrong to do multiple projects simultaneously.
Squares in a World of Circles, 2018 Acrylics mixed media
For me, working on two pieces at once does not give me the kind of concentration I want to put in a single project. The composition of a painting needs attention because I’ll have to decide where the focus lies. This takes place from sketching a single line to sketching a figure; to modeling a face, carving lines, delineating spaces; choosing and applying texture and colour.
All of this is very meditative. My mind has one clear path. All my actions are details that come together to support the whole. At the end its almost like giving birth to something and now I can move on and conceive fresh ideas for another project.
There are many people who feel that they do not know art or the world in which it exists. Maybe this is true. You may not know art terminology, you may not know what piece sold at Christie’s or Sotheby’s or for what price, you may not know a lot of art stuff but the one thing that I am sure of is that you know what you like. And isn’t that all that matters. Buy what you are emotional about. Buy the piece that pulls you in; that you feel a connection to.
Carrying the Light
You should own some art even if you are not rich enough to buy a Picasso. Art is not only for the rich. Start where you are. There is a lot of good art out there at many different price points. Art is made for everyone’s soul so here are four fantastic reasons to start looking for art.
It enhances the feel of your space, giving that room character. There is nothing like a piece of art to transform cold, stark walls into a warm, interesting and aesthetically pleasing space. You will literally feel the difference in the space and in your own persona. This can extend to your mental state as well. Your mood is enhanced and we know that colour can affect mood positively. This is something you should want for the space that you occupy.
Art can start conversations. The right piece of art can start interesting and thought-provoking conversations. You invite friends, from time to time, into your space for food, drinks and of course, conversation. You want your get togethers to go well and that really depends on the conversation. The art you have purchased can be a great way to start and sustain the conversation. There are lots of issues and current affairs topics that we all have our opinions on. The discussion brought about by art can produce additional information, a different viewpoint, and possibly a change of heart. Art can be a force for change through conversations.
Art appreciates. Unlike a car that depreciates in value as soon as you drive it off the lot, art appreciates in value as time passes. Wouldn’t that be something you want? What other thing that you own and have in your space does that? You could be enhancing your space while making an investment. It’s a good, passive way to make money and a good legacy for your children or grand children.
Art can be a special legacy. It can capture the changing times, a great occasion, a person of note, just about anything. What if the art work you bought and are leaving behind was not only valuable in terms of money but in terms of your own culture – a legacy of cultural significance? To own and a Basquiat or a Kehinde Wiley would be more important to me than passing down a beautiful piece of jewelry or anything else because it speaks to black achievement and artistry. You may not be able to afford any of the artists mentioned but you can afford other good artists who have not yet made a name. Basquiat was not always famous. Go out there; buy some art and create a special legacy.
If anyone has bought any new art, let me know. What was it about the piece that pulled you in and held you?
To Leave the Beaten Path. Art allows me to leave the usual path. I could paint what everybody else is painting, I can do the popular thing. But how will I make my mark as an imitator? How will I be different? Leaving the beaten path allows me to discover new ways to create, allows me to take risks and to learn new things about myself. When I am on the road not travelled, I am alone and have only my own creative thoughts to depend on.
To have an open mind. To leave the well travelled road, forces me to have an open mind. I carve out my own style. I paint the subjects I want to paint. I experiment with different paints and use various found objects in my work. Opening my mind leaves me available and open to new things which will enrich my mind, my art and my life.
To let go. If I am going to have an open mind, I have to let go. It’s much easier to do this in art than in life. But as I said, I am using one to inform the other. We all have perceptions that we hold dear; we are slaves to our culture, our family, our friends, our ancestors and we could go on. We are all colouring within the line but what if we coloured outside of it? What would we discover within ourselves and within our world?
All I need to do is start. I don’t need to be intimidated by a blank canvas. The empty space is waiting on me to make my mark. The canvas is yearning for me to use it to bring a story to life. I don’t always know what I will paint but I stand before the canvas and I think about what I can create that will be impactful. As soon as I start, the path starts to reveal itself. The reveal is not always quick but if I persist it becomes sure.
There is always another way. If I start and I realize that my creation is not going the way I envisioned it, I can change midstream. I have created works that I did not like. I gesso them over and create something new. These paintings are always the better ones because they have been through the fire of failure and came out popping. There are many ways to fill an empty canvas – different colours, different textures, more pop. This is the reason we should not be afraid to start. We have the ability to adjust.
To surround myself with people who understand my dreams and encourage it. This is the final one and it is a big one. The business of art is already challenging so I do not surround myself with naysayers who sap my energy and diminish my creativity with negative thoughts. I sever any cord that would tie me to discord, to anything that will let me lose focus, to anyone that feed self doubt. Self doubt can mean death to a creative. I surround myself with light; with people who encourage and help me to find my path. This is a very important life lesson – hold fast to dream builders; let go of dream killers. Light in; darkness out.
There is no perfection. There is only the best I can do in this moment. Every piece of art that I have ever done could have been done in many different ways. Perfection is really just a prerequisite for procrastination. We know where procrastination leads – nowhere. We must do all we can with the skills that we have and then let it go.
Silence and alone time is the best time for new ideas. We live in a very noisy world with so many things pushing and pulling us that it can be hard to think. It can be hard to hear our own thoughts and separate trivialities from substance. Alone time is precious and can lead to our best ideas. I come up with some of my best ideas when I am alone and there are no distractions.
Patience is indeed a virtue. A piece of work may not always take the direction I want it to but I work through it and persevere until I have something I can be proud of. Patience is a sort of waiting game and sometimes waiting is not a bad thing.
Art has taught me to be more observant; to see more. I see spaces, lines, colours depth and how they are used and how they relate to each other. I have come to appreciate the spaces between as much as the focal point itself. I take this into other aspects of my life to listen more, to observe more and to be more present. Awareness enhances life.
Details matter. It is the details that make the big picture. Every shadow, every line, every colour, every space, everything matters to the whole.
Will be on show at the Ben Navaee Gallery September 20 – 29, 2013
Many people do not feel that they understand art. They feel intimidated by it and do not know how to interpret a piece that they come across. They also feel intimidated by most galleries with their highfalutin prices and unapproachable atmosphere. I wish people did not feel this way because art is fun and much of it is left up to your own interpretation. Art is an engaging activity that requires you to really look and experience a short story that is told in a composed, colourful and conceptual way. All of us can experience this.
I am going to use a piece that I did called “Shrouded” to explain my thoughts while I was doing it and to demonstrate that the viewer can have a totally different interpretation that is as good, if not better than what the artist intended.
The piece, shown above, depicts a woman, wearing a head scarf, who is hidden behind what appears to be bars. My thoughts as I was doing the piece was that there are a lot of us who are hidden behind something. This thing that we are hidden behind can bring us a sense of comfort, security and escape. We can have a feeling of protection and a sense of belonging within this shroud.
Paradoxically, we can also feel trapped, imprisoned and stifled by this very thing. All we want to do is escape from it.
That was the dichotomy present in my mind while creating this piece. I showed a picture of this painting to my friend Himanshu. He told me that the woman is a mystery woman who many have tried to get to know but cannot because of the impenetrable walls that she has put up. I thought that was a very insightful comment and interpretation. It was never something that I the artist had thought of but it fits right into the shrouded theme. How cool is that?
This ability to look, see, experience and interpret is not out of anyone’s reach. Take some time to experience a piece of art. When you get right down to it art is really an experience. You might be surprised to find that you can figure out more than you think you would all because you took the time to look.
We all have favourite seasons. For many people the most popular season is summer. The sun brings about a feeling of warmth, literally and figuratively, and brings with it the thought of sea, sandals and skin. But what about a favourite month? We all have those too.
One of my favourite months is October. The trees and the ground are usually filled with colourful leaves that remind me of a vibrant artist palette. There is also a sense of expectancy in the air because the leaves are shedding themselves from the trees. This calls to mind a certain kind of death, not only of leaves, but also of autumn. It says that winter is around the corner. This is worth writing down because the duality is so stark – the simultaneous sense of beauty and the sense of death. Many times life is like this, filled with dualities.
So what is your favourite month? What is it about this month that gets to you? It could be April/May because it’s time to plant and you get to watch things grow, it could be a month in winter where you get to ski or partake in other winter sport, or it could be a month in summer where you get to go hiking and camping. Whatever the month and for whatever reason, this is something that you can journal about. These seemingly mundane pieces of information give us opportunities to learn more about ourselves. What we like and why we like them can be a window through which we look at the choices we make and help us to make more informed choices.
Go ahead, write about your favourite month.
Remember there is nothing like words in black and white to help you see where you are and where you are going.
Author “Journal According to John.”