50 SHADES OF GRAY
Most of the colors we look at, if we are really honest in our account of what the eye actually sees, are 50 shades of gray. There is a drama of color that happens when a swatch of bright pigment is smattered across our field of smokey browns, silvery sages, and ominous ochres that compose most of our visual world. I suppose the reason we feel so uplifted on a cloudless day is that the purest azure blue comes into us somehow, and fills so much of our field of observance with a purity of color. The drama is often unnoticed, but it is a drama.
There are certain colors I probably indulge in too much, as they are the ones that run dry first in my paintbox of watercolors. Oranges, reds and yellows go down the fastest, in that order. Then the turquoise blues and greens. Then the ochres, browns and grays. One could make a case that I am not realistic in my depictions of what is there. I am a child of the bright. I am a child of the fire.
What can I say. One of my painting professors at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Julian Stanczak, accused the painter William Bailey, a fellow art professor who taught at Yale, of painting “dirty dishes.” That was severe, but his palette was mostly the somber browns, ochres, umbrias, siennas and brownish grays of a kind of orderly cantata of dullness, albeit mightily perfected. He clearly lived in the 50 shades of gray version of looking and seeing, especially in the browner ranges.
Julian’s work, on the other hand, was all about the exploration of pure color, like a burst of a sunset that explodes into our spiritual world. I do not even recall that he used grays, or browns for that matter. Literally on different ends of the philosophical and color spectrum, the notion of 50 shades of gray had very little to do with his palette. I suppose I inherited his love for orange. And that is why it runs out fastest in my cache of colors.
Now mind you, Julian immigrated to the US after the war, from Poland, having escaped the Nazis, but not the bad luck of wartime injury. One of his arms was badly damaged, paralyzed almost completely. So he did all his painting with one arm. And, he did not have to prove some philosophical statement about suffering because he had already suffered so much himself. He wanted to lift people up and out and far beyond suffering—and give them a beatific vision of pure color. He wanted to take them to an epiphany of brightness. And he did!
The Fire of Transformation
The action of painting is a spiritual practice for me. There is a fire in it. Just the action itself requires a huge inner fire. It is woven into the fabric of my day. When I paint it is integrated into the other actions that are essential to my life. It is always a meditation in which I’m throwing myself into the Unknown without quite anticipating what the final result will be. I have to “burn up” what I thought I knew before, and just proceed into the flames. This is a small Italian Book of small paintings.
The scale of the drawings and small works gives me the space to explore quickly some colors and basic patterns and structures that may serve the larger works. The tools and size of the paintings affect the subject and the quality of the strokes. What works in a book that is only a few inches wide and tall may not work on a canvas that is a few feet wide and tall. But it gets me in the movement of a current intuition.
There is a Fire that ignites a whole new world within. Tara Singh was that Fire for me. Sri Herakhan Babaji was that Fire for Sondra Ray. What are the results of this “fire?” If you allow it to burn away massive chunks of your ego, you are lucky. But usually we resist this kind of conflagration. Too scary and brings up massive unwillingness. But if we push a little further, and take a step toward the flames, the fire transforms us for the better. We rise up as the phoenix of our true Self. Or at least closer to our True Self than we ever would have got on our own.
The Fire of Transformation is something that happens when we want to ascend to our greatest potential here on earth above everything else. This inner transformation employs all of our talents to the best degree, and puts us on a trajectory that meets up with the people, situations, and events that we need. It may not always feel comfortable. In fact, this kind of transformation requires that we usually “step out” of our comfort zone. Life can look dramatic. Just like the colors in our world can be dramatic. There is a drama of color, emotional and physical, that moves us into new encounters and exchanges. Can we move ahead and trust our intuitive directions? Can we face our fears and act anyway, even if we don’t fully know what we are doing?
New Discoveries Are Made
Tara Singh took me to India and we traveled down south to Ramana Maharshi’s ashram at the foot of the holy mountain, Aurunachala. It was one of the greatest and most challenging trips of my life. I started out kind of a “boy,” even though I was in my 40s, and I came back a man. It was like I lived a full couple of decades in just a couple of weeks. My teacher took me through the paces of the Fire of Transformation. There was a drama of color that happened, which lit the Promethean flames inside of me, never to be extinguished again.
New discoveries were made. Mostly, I saw that I could withstand the heat of the changes needed for me to outgrow my ego and make contact with something deeply holy within myself. I was not only “on fire” after that trip, I was the “fire.” The drama of color made me more partial to orange, as I said. Then the reds and the yellows. I could not but dip my brush into that fire of color more times than any other. And so what! I just buy more tubes of the orange-yellow-red tones than the 50 shades of gray.