Saturday, March 9, 2013

An illuminating weekend, part l

Last weekend I had the privilege of spending 2 luscious days camped out at a monastery with Michael Dowling and 5 other creative and vivacious artists.  It was an amazing 48 hours where I was reminded of my place as an artist while experiencing Michael’s many observations, one of them being the interconnection of everything and how we need to have faith that where we are is exactly where we need to be.

Michael Dowling has come into my artistic life off and on for many years, usually at a time of self-doubt and artistic struggle.  He gave me the awesome opportunity to create my installation; ‘this comes from within’ in his gallery at Medicine Wheel in 2009. So it was really no surprise that I had ended up at one of his artist’s retreat, although I almost didn’t get there.

I was coming off a few intense, emotional weeks – helping my parents after my father’s surgery as well as continuing the labyrinth of getting divorced and caring for my girls.  Upon returning from Phoenix I was feeling overwhelmed and tired. 

It was my youngest, Harriet, who encouraged me to go on this artist’s retreat when she heard about it ~ two days before it began. Harriet knew it was exactly what I needed.

I knew this was EXACTLY what I needed.  However, when Friday afternoon came, instead of packing my car, I fell into bed, questioning my ability to even drive the 1½ hour to the retreat and my role as an artist.

Bexley @ Kenyon
While I pondered the idea of just sleeping for years, my phone beeped.  It was a photo text from a number I didn’t recognize. In my sleepy state thought it was from the folks from the retreat showing me where we were going to work.  I had inquired about what I needed to bring and about the facilities. 

When I saw the picture, my heart skipped a beat. I knew we were going to a monastery and this picture had a ‘scared’ feeling. In fact it looked exactly like my old studio at Kenyon College, a place I loved and basically lived.  Bexley, the building that housed the art department, had been Kenyon’s seminary and now the theology student’s old rooms were the art student’s studios. I felt a huge connection between the past divinity school and the art department, both working from a more intuitive and spiritual place.

So out of the blue, when I was truly about to disappear from the world, I get this picture that got me out of bed.  I thought if there was a chance of working in a place similar to Bexley then I am there.  And in fact, why wasn’t I there NOW!!!
I scrambled to gather any supplies that I might need  - paints, canvases, yarn, crochet hooks and of course subscription cards.  I also figured out that the picture was in fact of Bexley, sent by artist/illustrator and friend Jeff Decoster, from the West Coast,.  He had just found it on his computer and thought I’d enjoy seeing it!!!!

Thank you UNIVERSE!!!  It was this picture that got my weary self out of bed and into Friday evening Boston traffic.
 When I finally found the monastery, in the dark, I was greeted with a wholehearted hug from Michael and a delicious meal at a table of kindred spirits!  exactly what the doctor ordered.

Once dinner was over we wandered through the building we were allotted, each setting up our work place.  I settled at a table in a library, surrounded by shelves of books about religion, and pulled out one of my subscription cards.  

The others set up and Michael wandered between us reading from John O'Donohue’s  To bless the space between us : a book of blessings’ ~ heaven.

 As the evening went on Michael saw my card and made the correlation between my ”doodles” and many of the Celtic illuminations found in the surrounding books.  At the word ‘doodle’ my being stiffened.  As much as I love doodling that word conjures up more derogatory emotions than positive ~ I was constantly criticized and penalized for my doodles in school and doodling is associated with wasting time. 
doodle |ˈdoōdl|
verb [ intrans. ]
• scribble absentmindedly : he was only doodling in the margin.
• engage in idle activity; dawdle
“Absentmindedly’ and ‘idle’ are two words that don’t sit well with my puritan- ethic training. 


So I mentioned my reaction to Michael and he questioned me. “why not call them doodles?? Doodling is the most intuitive and authentic form of drawing?!?? Aren’t the illuminations on many of these surrounding books doodles, in one way or another??? And with those words Michael found the Book of Kells and began to lay my cards among the pages. There was a relationship. 
a transfer in my tester book
By referring to my cards as doodles, Michael had stirred an insecurity.  I have been wondering about these cards, in reference to my artistic journey.  I have been questioning their integrity.  I had started them a year ago and put them away because I convinced myself they were an idle activity.   

My desire to do draw on my ‘cards’ was almost overwhelming.  I have begun a test book full of transfers of these cards ~ some that I work back into.  I have done some transfers on ‘good’ paper that I rework.  And yet I was fighting that urge and when Michael saw this he asked, “why fight it, think of these works as illuminations.”

With that suggestion I was able to breathe deeper and I felt a peace.  I recognized a part of me that would LOVE to be one of the monks that would go into these vast sunlight halls to sit at a long table and make drawings all day long. Whenever I am able to go on a retreat or residency I become extremely monastic – I just want to work!! I enjoy the communal meals, I LOVE that someone else is cooking!!!  But bottom line is that I am completely happy alone, with my art supplies.  So I ‘doodled’ for the remaining time of the retreat. 

When it was time to leave I had a few more subscription cards in my collection and some photos of a connection between manuscripts done centuries ago and my doodles that I am driven to do today. Where do I go from here??? Not sure, but I left the retreat with an assurance that I need to explore this ‘card’ journey further, even though I am not sure why. More about this experience to come . . . but for now ~

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