People are always asking me “How did you find your style?” I didn’t. I didn’t choose ‘the way to paint’. It happened to me… when I wasn’t thinking – at all – when I painted the following…
There have been rare times when the painting seemed to paint itself… When all I had to do was prepare my palette and decide to begin, the next brush stroke earned just milliseconds after I delivered the last. These paintings seem to come from a place of “no mind at all”, often to fill up a void or in answer to a deep, burning question. At such times, ideas seem to “hit me” out of the blue, followed by an immediate sense ofsuddenly ‘knowing what I have to do’ often with a series of coincidences, or as Jung calls them ‘synchronistic events’ that prod me until I face the canvas.
It sounds mysterious, but I think it’s part of the creative process. It was during such a time, in the wake of my sister’s passing, that the new way of working formed, not from some external lesson learned, but from an internal place, as if to fill an emptiness that such a void creates. The idea settles into your whole body complete, and feels like a filling up, a flowering even. It sounds out of this world, but it really was, and similar situations have heralded those paintings that I love, not because they are grand or good, but because I can feel them, and they contain a kernel of that which is hoped for.
I’m in no way comparing myself to these two geniuses, but I think perhaps Puccini wrote of it when he said “The Music of Madame Butterfly did not come from me. It was dictated to me, from God.” Einstein wrote of a similar “download” regarding the theory of relativity, whilst on a train. You never know when “it” will happen, you just have to keep pushing the limits previously set, by yourself or by others….
I have the sense that the only way one can prepare for such a moment is to live life fully, explore and challenge societies labels, patterns and methods of ‘conditioning’ and training. Examine how andwhat you are being “fed”, so that you eventually decide to ‘hone your skills and your Self’ to become the “lightening rod” or conduit for your particular type of creativity, that honestly feels larger than life when it comes to you. How? Each man and woman is born into different circumstances and must forge their own path, go with their own flow, and sift out what feels right and what feels wrong.
There comes a point in time when one cannot rely on what comes in via ears and eyes alone. The truth for me may not be the truth for you, and in some strange way, I feel that is exactly as it should be. They key is, don’t always think your way through things… We’ve all had times when great ideas come to us, and this is most often when our busy minds are occupied doing other things… As if creativity originates from the heart, the whole body, more than the complex mind…
People ask, “How do you decide upon your abstraction?” My truthful response is, I prepare for my abstraction, but I have no idea how it occurs. By now you all know that I have worked at my skills and have learned the fundamentals of what makes a good painting…. But for abstraction, I get out of the way and see what happens.. Literally! The best way to describe this would be to give you the story of how such a work of art occurred; the one that changed my style from objective content, to subjective content. (I sometimes say that my representational paintings are sourced from ‘above the neck’ and my soulful paintings from ‘below the neck’… How different they are)
A painting Story: Elaine’s Series
I warn you, this is not an easy story to tell or to hear. It is about how a great sadness changed the way I view the world, and consequently, how my world now views my art.
The story begins on an airplane to England. I was in the middle of reading Eckart Tolle’s book “A New Earth”, a book that had introduced me to a deeper understanding of my ego in the gentlest, most enlightened way. I was on my way to see my sister who had succumbed to pneumonia and was in the hospital.
My sister Elaine had been suffering from M.S., since she was first diagnosed at 27 years old. She was 44 years old. I arrived 4 hours too late to say goodbye. She had passed away from this life whilst I was on the plane, looking at clouds, reminiscing …. hoping.
In the days that followed, every single moment had a clarity that burned me with life. Every sight, every emotion was in high definition. Maybe because I was reading Tolle’s book, I chose to ‘feel’ and notice everything and everyone.
Going to the church, the lichen on the ancient stone walls seemed exquisite. The weeping children, glorious flowers, including our yellow roses to symbolize my Texan family. The stained glass windows poured radiant, dancing light and colors over the coffin as I held my niece to my left and my mother to my right. I was determined not to miss one second of the time whilst my sister was still in my presence. I was, in short, full on. I noticed everything and every feeling. Every word of every hymn. Every glance and every person who cringed away from the utter sadness of it all. Not I. I was there. In truth, the most terrible sadness had already occurred the day before… That of watching my poor mother climb the stairs of the funeral home, bent in grief, to see her daughter for the last time against a cold, watery sky and a setting sun. The most awful thing to see in the world. You would think it would be enough to kill you.
In a way, I think it did… Kill part of me, I mean. My ego cracked open, and over the coming days, literally fell away. It was in this moment that I knew my life would never be the same again. I did not know how I was going to change, I just knew I was forever changed. Things that mattered before, were completely insignificant now in the waning light of this moment, this scene that is forever emblazoned in my heart and mind.
I returned to the U.S. a changed person. Aching, yet fully present in my grief. I announced I was closing my gallery to the chagrin of family and friends, and from now on, I decided to do what I was led to do, not what others said I should do.
But I could not paint. Not a lick. Nothing was worth it. As Alex Powers once said to me “Filling hallowed halls with testaments to rich men’s egos is no reason to paint.” It was all so true. Bereft, now in an empty gallery and studio, the thought came to me that my greatest sadness was because of Elaine’s youth. That she had been taken over by M.S., before she had time to live at all… robbed of the seasons of her life. Then it ‘hit me’. I will paint the four seasons for her. For her alone.
There was no image in the world to contain my memories and my emotions, so I just let my brush move what the next second ‘dictated’. I had four tall canvases stood in the corner, one with a sketch already upon it. My friend Judy C., and I had chipped in to try some gold gesso and I had prepared all four before I had left for England. They awaited me….
In case you are interested, these paintings are on permanent exhibition at Tomball Regional Hospital Women’s Center Foyer, where women go to heal, to give birth, finding themselves in the throes of life and death every day. A plaque dedicated to Elaine is with them.
These four paintings took me through the pain of burial, hope, our lifetime together as sisters, and finally to goodbye. Once the four paintings were done, I had learned not to “not think” trusting instead that all I knew was instinctively on hand at a moment’s notice.
I could paint again, but never in the way I had before. When I revisited my prior style, it felt flat and hollow. Yes, I could paint likeness with verve and brave brush strokes, but I wanted that “internal connection” that had been missing until this moment. I never was the same again, and nor was my aesthetic.
Do you have to suffer such pain in order to find your own style? Heck, no! This is just probably a testament to what it took for my own ego to finally ‘give way’. My hope is that you don’t have any problem at all “letting go” and letting your own style emerge.
Many students feel that I am a deeply spiritual person and are interested in my religion. You might be thinking that I was attached to a mainstream religion, but you would be wrong. I do not wish to offend anyone, so don’t read this if you don’t really want to know….
A wonderful, local author, who is married to a minister and knows I do not align with any one religion once asked me “Lesley, what would the perfect pastor be like for you?” After a minute I responded “The perfect pastor would be one who’s calling in life is to make himself/herself completely obsolete. That your connection to ‘The One’ was so absolute, that you would have no need of him/her.” I had the good fortune of having two: Dr. B. Glenn Wilkerson and Laurel Plesnicher, both will be forever beloved to me.
What do I know? I don’t know anything. I only seek, wander, and wonder, always searching and finding glimpses of Light and love wound into synchronicity and inspiration, here and there along the way.
I have also receive great inspiration from the works of Paramhansa Yogananda and SRF, Eckart Tolle, Julia Cameron, Lao Tzu, Joseph Campbell, and many others yet to come…. I honor the life force and the spirit of creativity that I find throughout all aspects of life, especially in the Arts, nature, and in particular abundance in the eyes and arms of family and friends.
….that we are connected; Each one of us beautiful threads woven into a wondrous tapestry, isolated only be the insatiable appetites, needs and fears of ego. As we go about the day, we tend to see only the surface, concerned with its image, its flaws and its facile beauty, but beneath it, we are, after all one, big, incredible tapestry.
This is how I repair our connection, as we each must in our own way. This is the way I remind you, via the play and poetry of art, that we are still woven of the same lovely fabric… Such is the power of Art, for when we are in the process, and our ego at the service of our full ‘Presence’, we are safe, and we are happy, playing ‘beneath the surface’. So pass it on; help to repair, and weave the net. Expect nothing in return, heeding the advice of all our great spiritual leaders who remind us; “What you do for your neighbor, you do for yourself”.
PAY IT FORWARD
My life is a living testament to the old statement “What comes around, goes around”’; or “What you do for others in an act of generosity, comes back tenfold”. In honor of this code, I began writing down everything I know in these lessons in 2011 and began to offer them out, for free…. But it’s very valuable information. The lessons constitute a lifetime of learning, and are lent to you as an act of generosity to help you on your artistic journey. If you find this material helpful, continue to ‘pay it forward’ by sharing this website with others so that they too can be inspired with Art through "Lessons With Lesley."
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