May My Heart Be Filled With The True Source of Life

So, I was taking an early morning walk on Mount Tabor Park in Portland and as the sun came up, more and more people came walking, running, biking to the top and I was contemplating “Why are people so attracted to high places in the physical geography?” 

It offers a higher vantage point, more perspective and a more complete view of the surrounding landscape which offers understanding about one’s surroundings and that satisfies the mind.

A higher perspective also offers a beautiful view, which can empty the mind, offer peace, and soften the defenses, which is satisfying to the heart.

It can harmonize and unify the heart with the mind to make a person feel more complete.

It’s like an outward expression of the inner journey towards spiritual growth and wholeness - the inner place of the most complete perspective, where you’re free to love everything including the self.

I don’t want to be rigidly attached to ideals and confused about where the highest perspective is - the place of the most beauty and value in life - the true pinnacle of life - always already lives in the heart. Not necessarily at the top of a mountain or anywhere else out there.

This is the thought that came to me: 

May my heart be filled with the true source of life

May my heart be filled with the true source of love 


Avoiding the Void

Avoiding the void. 

Stop Running! Turn towards the void, move closer and merge with the void. 

I vow to set aside the time. 

Every day, I feed myself to that supreme cosmic serpent. Before a sacred altar, I lower my body into a pit of snakes with not one tightened fiber of muscle. 

Every day, I allow myself to be consumed by the Tiger. Torn limb from limb. Beating heart eaten from chest. 

Whatever prevents me from breathing life into that area where awful fear and anxiety lurk; I grow in curiosity about it. 

Whatever the thing is that I avoid the most: A physical sensation, a particular mental stimulation, thoughts I don’t like, thoughts about death, disease, etc., Emotional unrest: loneliness, heartbreak, existential turmoil and frustration etc. I want to stretch into and feel everything, touch every tension that aches for the healing love of attention. 

Go directly to the center of those dark places As Love. 

Open and soften to my worst fears, I let the breath of life touch them, bringing nourishment to the suffocated.  

Offer myself to the source of life, as it’s present and alive here right now. 

As much as I can, and to the best of my ability, I turn towards the Infinite Source of life.

A sometimes seemingly counter-intuitive turn and much of our culture and society is designed to avoid the void, or at best dance around it. So by default, I have to be kind of a weirdo to do this, I’m going against the grain in a way. But there’s a much stronger current underlying the surface of social anxieties about what the right or wrong thing to pay attention to is. It’s the more natural, courageous and enlightening turn, It’s the opposite of doing, acting, creating, it’s the ceasing of all manipulation, don’t even exert effort to breath, let the autonomic nervous system take my breath. I take off every piece of armor and lay down every weapon and allow myself to undergo a surgery at the hands of demons and angels, both divine and working in harmony. 

This is the trick, how many people are taking this step? How many are trying to avoid the void? 

Are my spiritual practices just distractions from falling into the void at the center of my being?

Can we discuss the subtleties of the turn towards the Void? Here’s how I do it: From the center of my being and with all my might, 1) stop 2) surrender 3) soften 4) open 5) allow 6) listen 7) act 8) repeat. Recognizing and relaxing the impulse to avoid the void is the way into the river of the Tao, where I feel the interconnectedness of life and all is balanced. 

The Void isn’t bad, all my gold is there. 



2013 Masters Thesis

“Keep Opening”

a thesis by Christopher Gray Slaymaker

Abstract

In these paintings I am attempting to capture the presence of  awareness in the subject as well as the subtle nuances of their internal psychological and emotional states as they express through their outer forms. I want to emphasize a feeling of openness both in the gestural expressions of the subjects and in the ground and quality of the painting. I want to invite an empathetic response of emotional and somatic openness in the viewer and encourage potential for the a heightened awareness of his or her own innate presence of being. I am using the word being here to describe the most fundamental level of existence.

Introduction

It may be helpful for me to first define the key terms I will be using in this essay, then go into the details of how they relate to my paintings.

Opening is the central theme I am addressing in this body of work. The title “Keep Opening” refers to an essence of the motion of growth - a kind of opening akin to a blooming flower. As I stated in the abstract, openness is the primary feeling I wish to convey in my work and evoke from the viewer.

The second theme I am exploring here is: cultivating an awareness of the presence of being, which I see as the primary goal of spiritual practice, as well as the intention behind these paintings. In this body of work I am describing two aspects of being: pure being and expressive being. Which are distinct but not separate things, they are two sides of the same coin.

Pure being (the way I am using it) is synonymous with pure awareness or consciousness. It is a being in and of itself devoid of characteristics or objects of perception like thoughts, emotions, and sensations. It is empty, still, and silent prior to expression. Pure being is what we are on the most fundamental level. Being in its pure state is infinite without boundaries. It produces our experienced universe. It is the backdrop for expressive being, similar to how the empty blank canvas is the backdrop for the drama of the painting. I convey this through the open, empty environments in which I place my figures and through the subjects themselves.

Expressive being (as I am using it) describes our entire experiential world. It is the experience of being human, mind, intellect, thoughts, dreams, emotions, moods, sensation, and relationship in all forms. It is dualistic in its appearance, existing as both the positive and the negative in a spectrum that is actually seamless, but projecting the appearance of separateness, isolation, and division. Expressive aspect of Being could also be referred to as Be-coming as more of a verb than a noun. I convey this through the exaggerated and expressive forms of my subjects engaged in their various dramas. Being is the source of my creative inspiration and opening is the method by which I turn my attention towards it.

The Third theme I am exploring in my paintings is: oneness.  Oneness is a concept that refers to the seamless unified nature of reality. Oneness is infinitely singular without an “other”, as opposed to the concept of duality.

Although I am using a somewhat different vocabulary to discuss these topics, much of my organization and structure of thinking in regards to openness, being and oneness have been directly influenced by 12 years of spiritual practice and curiosity, as well as initiation and study in the Kriya Yoga wisdom tradition and the teachings of other contemporary spiritual teachers.

In this essay I will discuss how all three themes; openness, being, and oneness appear in my paintings.

Description

Openness:

There are three ways openness or opening show up in my work. The first is to use figures that express openness through their gestures. The second way is by placing my figures in an open, empty and dream-like space, rather than a specific literal environment. The third, is an opening of the figure/ground relationship, created by softening or completely losing the edges of the form, so that the figure blends into the ground in some areas. Common techniques people use to achieve somatically what I call opening are: meditation, yoga, spiritual practices, getting into a “flow state” in work and other physical activities such as sports, creative processes of artistic expression, loving relationships, entheogens (mind altering substances traditionally used for divination), rituals, lucid dreaming, drugs and alcohol, to name just a few methods or practices.

In this body of work, early attempts at expressing opening were reliant on depicting these kinds of activities. For example, in the painting Pierce I literally depicted a man meditating on a bed:

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My intention with this painting was to express an intense and calm piercing presence of Being. I was aiming to describe the focus and serenity I experience when I meditate. I have not completely abandoned this method, but it appears to be too literal. Instead of finding what the sign points to, the viewer gets stuck by the sign. And what I am attempting to point to is a heightened awareness of being. A more effective depiction of the openness I’m going for was achieved in the painting Liberated Vulnerability.

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I did not consciously  realize it when I first started this painting, but I had discovered a solution to the problem of being too literal. Mambo, my housemates dog, often falls asleep on the couch like this. I was touched and intrigued by the beauty of Mambo’s gesture; his underbelly completely exposed, his limp paws resting gently above his chest, his eyes closed, lost in some internal realm of peaceful serenity, I pictured him floating like a baby in the amniotic fluid of a warm pink womb, and I felt inspired to paint the image. In hindsight it became clear to me that I had landed on an effective expression of the statement I want to make with my work. This painting gets to the essence of what my thesis is. It also directly inspired the subsequent painting of my housemate’s parents’ dog Ringo, Awakened Being:

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This image features a similar open and relaxed gesture, yet in this one, Ringo’s eyes are open and he appears alert in an extroverted way, in contrast to Liberated Vulnerability in which Mambo’s attention and gesture are more introverted. Awakened Being is a good example of softening or completely losing the edge of the figure. Ringo’s form starts to blend into the background, especially where his right ribcage meets, making it difficult to discern where the figure stops and the ground begins. This dissolution of the figure into a oneness with the ground serves as a metaphor for the dissolving of the ego into the infinite. The nebulous, ethereal, empty space that surround the figures in these paintings is a metaphor for the infinite, emptiness of pure being; which has a quality of openness.

Another good example of a figure dissolving into its ground can be seen in the painting Be, don’t seek.

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There are a lot of ways the word openness could be interpreted. I am using this word in a way that is loosely synonymous with: relaxation, surrender, letting go, gentleness, vulnerability, freedom, liberation, curiosity, creativity, bliss, serenity, openness of heart, harmony, peace, safety, purity, honesty, generosity, trust, faith, wholesomeness, nurturing, benevolence, good will, compassion, love. It is first an introverted openness, towards ones own being, and then an opening through the more expressive features of the sentient form. An example of openness would be to tighten your fist into a ball and then relax it. This relaxation of the hand is similar to the sensation of opening that I am referring to. There are many pleasurable benefits to this kind of opening, but my aim is for the apprehension of ones own ultimate existence in pure being.

It is my hope that a gesture of openness invites the viewer into a similar state and serves as a bridge between the peace of the pure emptiness of being and the tumult of its chaotic, ever changing, expression. I am not attempting to negate or deny negativity in this work, but to simply and honestly prefer and choose what resonates as wholesome and enlivening for the statements I make with my paintings. I feel this as a responsibility.

In summery, Openness is expressed both through the open empty spaces in which my figures appear and in the expression or gesture of the subject as well as by softening and losing their edges.

Being:

I am using the word being to describe existence itself, both as it expresses through the individualized forms of my figures and as it exists purely by itself, boundless and empty of content.

In this body of work I am describing two aspects of being: pure being and expressive being.

Pure being:

There are two ways that I express pure being in my work. The first is through the empty environments in which my figures appear. This empty space serves as an analogy for pure being which is inherently empty of content. The second is through the subtle nuances in the expressions of the figures. I convey the expressive aspect of being through the expressive features of the subjects. I exaggerate their physical forms to enhance the empathetic response of the viewer. It is worth repeating that the empathetic response I am aiming for is one of openness.

Describing being in its pure state presents a problem: How do I depict what is invisible? One way is by utilizing space on the canvas where I don’t attempt to suggest specific objects or environments. This works to my advantage because I am fascinated with the miracle of the intelligent subject - awareness in a physical form, looking out through the eyes - is virtually the only thing I wish to paint or draw, and my enthusiasm is spent when this is achieved. I want to get to the heart of what I am excited about, which is opening to the presence of being.

I am rather confident, comfortable and pleased with my ability to represent the figure. One of my biggest challenges in this body of work has been to figure out where to place the subjects or what to do with the space around them. One of my quirks, or weaknesses, is that I lack interest in painting environmental pictorial space. Many of my attempts to paint the environment reveal a lack of commitment. For the time being, it appears to be more effective to paint empty space surrounding my figures. As seen in the paintings Separation, Liberated Vulnerability, Awakened Being, Seer, Be, don’t seek, and Heaven and Earth 1 and 2, and even in the paintings where I include an environment there is still a lot of open empty space surrounding the figures, as seen in the paintings Father, Truing, The Future and The Sound   

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This ethereal, empty void serves as a metaphor for pure being, with the figures serving as a metaphor for the expressive aspect of being. My goal for the empty space is to leave the viewer with his or her own subtle sense pure being reflected back to them.

One of my most successful attempts to convey emptiness in a pictorial space is in the painting Father, Truing

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in which I depict my own father in an empty field truing a bicycle wheel. Truing a bicycle wheel is a process in which one adjusts the spokes of the bicycle wheel in order to achieve a straight line of revolution and less wobble for greater efficiency of speed when riding the bicycle. This can be a frustrating process or it can be a meditative process once one accepts the tediousness of the task. I wanted to convey an expression of calm, focused contentment, and enjoyment as well as a hint of the mild distress in focusing on a task. His eyes, face and bodily gesture are meant to express an inner emotional vulnerability to the difficulty inherent in the process which makes space for inner serenity. The enlarged hands of the figure are meant to convey power, dexterity and ability as well as potential for clumsiness, an exaggerated characteristic of my father.  The empty field with the storm in the distance is meant to reflect his internal psychological and emotional state. When I got the idea to paint a picture of my dad working on a bicycle, I did not think much of it past a simple portrait. My dad is a bicycle mechanic, so it made sense to paint him working on a bicycle. It was not until later that I realized it was a metaphor for his addiction to alcohol, and his subsequent liberation from it. The truing of the wheel is a metaphor for doing the inner work he needed to do to have a little more freedom. My fathers relationship to alcohol, depression and anxiety was and has been an immense source of pain for me. And his current commitment and surrender to the process of truing his life, is very inspiring to me. That being said, it is not necessarily my personal narrative that I wish to emphasize, but a direct empathetic response in the viewer. I am aiming to touch the heart of the viewer with a resonance to the mood of the painting.

I am excited by painting the ground around my figures as an empty void because it de-contextualizes the figures, liberating them from a specific narrative and placing the emphasis on the emotions of the subject, not as they relate to a more complex narrative but as they relate to their own state of existing or being. I want attention to linger on the emotion or subtle nuances of human expression and the presence of being, rather than allude to an elaborate story about the subject or mood. This is a difficult endeavor to navigate because if there is not enough content, it may be too easy to get bored and dismiss the image altogether rather than linger and contemplate. It has been a fine dance of offering just the right proportions of given content and open-ended mystery. I would rather leave one with a sense of open-ended mystery than provide a concrete affirmation that can be grasped. Without a specific environment for the subjects to orient towards, it is my hope that the viewers attention falls on the content inherent in the expression of the figure. Which is a good segway to the next section.

Expressive Being:

capturing the expressive qualities of the subject:
Drawing and painting from life has been a crucially integral element of my creative process. I have always had a strong and quiet observational personality that has served my ability to see and draw. Picking up on the subtle nuances of intelligent expression requests a delicate sensitivity to the subject. I aim to capture the most subtle manifestations of awareness as it expresses through outer forms.

Therefore, I endeavor to paint figures in a way that suggests intelligence, emotion, and a resonance with their internal psychological state. It is the ineffable “spark of life” that I am after. That intelligent, aware, spark that is most vividly expressed through the eyes and face of the figure and more subtly through the overall gesture of the body, limbs and hands. My paintings often emphasize the eyes, which serve as a transition between pure being and expressive being. In my experience, the eye has been the strongest and most effective symbol to convey awareness or being. I often give special effort to the so called “windows of the soul”.

To achieve a vivid sense of the expressive qualities of being, I try and make myself really believe that there is a physical form directly in front of me and I make sure that my painting lines up with that somatic sense. In other words, I vividly feel and imagine the presence of a form in front of me. I want my paintings to appear hyper-realistic by utilizing traditional techniques for creating the illusion of form and three dimensional space and I want to get into an empathetic state of mind in order to transmit that sense to each movement I make with my brush.

I exaggerate certain proportions of form in order to enhance the sense of  what it feels like to be in a physical body. For example in the painting Seer:

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I bulged and relaxed the lips so that the viewer could viscerally feel the relaxation of the mouth and jaw in their own body when they look at this image. I also softened some of the edges so that the figure starts to blend with the background. In this image I was attempting to convey a sense of relaxed focus - vividly aware, alert and awake yet deeply relaxed.

In the painting, Separation I was addressing a very personal narrative. This painting is about the dissolution of my marriage and all the pain and confusion in that process. This painting highlights the point of surrender to what is; it describes my personal oscillation between acceptance of these new circumstances and the painful disbelief of the separation. The male figure is turned away from a faded and disappearing form of a female head, whose expression is also one of helplessness, but with an additional note of mild distress expressed by the contraction in her brow and the slightly drooped open mouth that exposes her bottom row of teeth. His gesture is one of dumbfounded surrender as one hand reaches limply towards his heart and the other hand rests open at his waist in a gesture of surrender. He appears to be staring: not at anything in particular, but into middle space, as if the gaze of his mind’s eye is turned inwards towards his own internal psychological and emotional state. He is not yet aware of the open, empty space and potential that is directly in front of him. Again, the personal narrative aspect of this painting is not as important to me as the raw empathetic response of the viewer which I hope to evoke through the expressions and bodily gestures of the figures in the paintings, promoting an enhanced awareness of the presence of being.

In summary, My aim is for the open empty space that surrounds the figures to leave the viewer with only his or her own subtle sense pure being reflected back to them. I have heard that Zen practitioners will sit and stare at an empty blank wall for hours: I assume they’re trying to evoke a similar response (awareness of pure being).This ethereal, empty void serves as a metaphor for pure being, with the figures serving as a metaphor for the expressive aspect of being.

My aim in painting the more expressive qualities of the subject is to provoke an empathetic response that encourages openness and awareness of being.

Being is incredibly difficult to explain and express, because it is simultaneously everything and nothing, yet I have to try, because it is what I am most interested in. This body of work is currently my best attempt to creatively express it.

Oneness:

There are a few ways that I express the concept of oneness.

One way of conveying oneness is by considering the physical reality of the painting, which is ultimately just an object with a flat surface that has pigment and medium applied to it. Painting the empty void around my subjects, allows me to exercise my interests in pure abstraction, a kind of modernist sense of what is considered more “Realistic” and honest. I take time to I consider the painting as an object in and of itself, sans image, without alluding to a secondary narrative. One of the primary ways I do this is before beginning each painting to apply a thick oil ground to the surface of the canvas, giving it a similar texture as applying frosting to a cake. I do this to attract attention to the surface on which the image is painted. This also creates the illusion that there is a second more subtle dimension to what is happening on the surface. I find some agreement in the sentiment that “the form is the content”, although, because it is also a picture, I accept that it will probably not be commonly interpreted this way without some explanation. The flat surface of the canvas and the paint that is applied to it serve as a metaphor for oneness. All the dualities present in my paintings: figure and ground, being and becoming, form and formlessness (form and emptiness) are unified by the fact that they are relative interpretations rather than ultimate realities. While the figure and ground appear as distinct things, there is no actual separation because they exist on the same plane in the same medium.

Considering each painting from a perspective of pure abstraction like this is a joy, because it liberates me from the demands of the pictorial reference and representation. By not alluding to a secondary meta-level of interpretation, I get to focus completely on what I am painting in a process of pure spontaneous creativity. It provides rest and refuge from the difficulties of trying to manipulate paint to look like something, which demands a sharper focused concentration - equally enjoyable and fulfilling, but is challenging in a relatively more liberated way.

Another way I have conveyed oneness is by presenting a singular figure with two sets of eyes having two opposing views that are unified in their common subject. As seen in the paintings Heaven and Earth 1 and Heaven and Earth 2

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In these two paintings it is the very body of the seeing subject that unifies the attention of the opposing gazes.Within the expressed realm, things typically exist in spectrums of polar opposites, the proverbial “2 sides of the same coin”.  I want to present these opposites as extremes on a seamless spectrum rather than separate or opposing realities. The eastern concept of yin and yang exemplifies what I’m talking about in regards to the term duality, dual meaning - two parts, or the co-eternal binary opposition. In my experience I have noticed that we get hypnotized by sensation, thought, and emotion to the point of investing in them as if they are our identity, as if they define us, even though we can watch these experiences arise and fall away. Relaxing into or opening up to our own innate presence of pure being offers relief from the incessant tumult of the expressive dimension of experience. Being in its pure state transcends and includes both emptiness and form, it is the common thread: it is the witness who can be aware of both aspects and integrate and unify them towards wholeness. This is why I wish to express an underlying oneness in my work.

Another method to express unification in oneness is by softening the edges of the figure to the point of being lost, so that the figure and its ground blend seamlessly in some areas. As I pointed out earlier, this dissolution or dissolving of the figure can be seen clearly in the paintings Awakened Being, Seer, and Be, Don’t Seek.

In Joseph Todorovitch’s figure painting class I learned the four distinct categories of edge, which are sharp, firm, soft, and lost. Using soft and lost edges gives the appearance of the subjects dissolving into their environment and softening the separation between figure and ground. This extreme softening of edges is also a metaphor for the dissolution of ego, or separate sense of self.

I once had a dream that offers a good example of the kind of oneness I am referring to. In the dream a black lion was aggressively attempting to enter my house, I was struggling at the front door to keep it shut while the lions paws were swatting through the crack, I was fully engaged in the drama of the dream, in the midst of this struggle I turned to my sister who was standing dispassionately about 7 feet away from me. In exasperation, I shouted frustratedly at her to help me. She just stood there, and as my attention turned towards her my awareness started to balloon out to encompass the whole space in which the drama was unfolding, I was the calm, still, emptiness in which all this intensity was happening, I became identified as the medium in which the dream was happening rather than the drama, which was no longer directly relevant to “me”. I woke up and the sense of this experience lingered. I wasn’t “me” as an object but I was “me” as the space in which things were happening

In my paintings I want to expose this underlying oneness by poking through the confusing veil of duality and suggest an underlying unification.

In summery, oneness is expressed by considering the painting as literally what it is, exposing the figure ground relationship to be an illusion. Secondly by presenting subjects with two opposing views, unified by their common body in the seer. Third, oneness is expressed by losing or blending the edges between the figure and ground or subject and their environment. All of these themes (openness, being and oneness) could be interchangeably used as adjectives for each other, as their meanings overlap in many ways.


Research

There are two basic sources or inspirations that have been my research for this body of work - artistic influences and spiritual influences. They both exist mostly in my own direct experience, and in my own personal memory bank, which is where I’ve been going to do most of my research for these paintings.

Artistic influences:


George Pratt and drawing:

Drawing from life is one of the most important fundamental research practices I do as a visual artist. I had the opportunity to take two life drawing classes with George Pratt while I was studying at Virginia Commonwealth University. His classes dramatically altered my relationship to art and aroused in me a native passion for the creative process. These classes were 5 hours long and they started with 5 second gesture poses. 5 seconds gradually increased up to one minute by the end of the class. It was impossible to make a good drawing in 5 seconds. That was the point; it relieved me from the burden of having to make a “good” drawing. It taught me to relax my over-analyzing mind and to trust my instincts. I found that thinking too much about drawing was an obstacle to the act of drawing. The mind has all these simplified ideas about what a person looks like that get in the way and cloud receptivity. This style of drawing teaches you to break through the mental filters to a more direct witnessing of what’s actually in front of you. It places emphasis on the seeing of the subject rather than the product, because you don’t have time to check the drawing. This technique taught me quickly to get to the point, and pick out what is most essential and interesting. It taught me to truly see the subject and to be empathetically sensitive to all their subtle nuances of expression. This kind of drawing has helped me to uncover my personal “voice” - the unique way my character manifests in spontaneous mark making.

Kent Williams and Drawing:

At Laguna College of Art and Design, I’ve had the opportunity and honor to mentor with Kent Williams. One of the first things we discussed was the fundamental importance of drawing. I’ll never forget the example he used, which I’ll paraphrase: “Egon Schiele…. can’t paint worth a damn, but people love his work because the drawing is interesting.” He suggested drawing from life for at least 20 minutes a day or 3 hours a week and how important it is to keep that consistent. Like staying in physical shape through exercise, I stay visually fit through drawing.

The research practice of drawing from life, is important to the formal appearance of my paintings, and it is important to the theory behind my own thesis of being remaining open, and aware of being, and oneness. The receptivity it requires to draw at this level is similar to the quality of openness that I describe.


The work of Kent Williams:

Kent Williams is one of my favorite artists and biggest influences both as an example of the intuitive practice of being a visual artist and in the formal appearance of my own work. Much like Alex Kanevsky, Kent’s work transcends its own genre of figurative art, which makes it more accessable throughout the artworld.  His work is an amalgamation of many art historical influences, including everything from Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints to contemporary Asian pop culture, to artists such as Willem De Kooning, Milton Avery, Francis Bacon, Gustave Klimt, Egon Schiele, Howard Pyle, Joseph Clemente Cole, Winslow Homer, to name a few. His own contemporaries, students and teachers including Barron Storey, Rico Lebrun, George Pratt, Jason Shawn Alexander, Andrew Hem and many more. All of these influences are nested within the appearance of Kent’s work, which makes it an especially relevant and potent resource for inspiration.


In the book Kent Williams Eklektikos Peter Frank describes his work:

“Williams’ unlikely, often dreamlike naturalism, faithful to appearances but not at all to reality - a kind of surnaturalism, parallel to (but free of the conventions of) surrealism - relies on an entirely confident and convincing kind of figure painting, one that acknowledges but does not honor the verities of the body. Williams, blessed with an awe-inspiring command of line, can draw (in any medium) a hunk of flesh with a drama and precision that brings every fold, every bulge, every ripple of muscle of facial expression or cellulite to life - no matter how unlikely might  be the body itself, or the position it assumes. The modeling is so thorough, and yet so un - preoccupied with detail, that, rather than recapitulate how we are, it recapitulates how we seem. Given this, the distortions that Williams introduces in his figures, from the foreshortening of limbs to the exaggeration of faces and swelling of heads, read as unremarkable, even proper…….. In their fraught, brittle presence and strenuous, often tortured choreography, Williams’ figures counterbalance the debt they owe to Thomas Eakins with one owed to Egon Schiele.

The elements that draw me to his work are the dream-like atmosphere and implied environment that blends into a rich buttery appreciation for pushing paint around a flat surface, and the raw confrontation of human content, emotion and consciousness. His work leaves me deeply moved and inspired: it is imagery that I’ve considered and contemplated repeatedly over a long period of time. The distortions of figures, dreamlike atmosphere, and sensitivity to paint application, are three things that although I do make my own and they serve different purposes in my paintings, are directly inspired by Kent’s work.


Spiritual Influences:


Currently, one of the biggest influences in my thinking about the concept of being is a  contemporary spiritual teacher who goes by the name Adyashanti. In his book The Way of Liberation, he describes being like this:

“Within each of our forms lies the existential mystery of being. Apart from one’s physical appearance, personality, gender, history, occupation, hopes and dreams, comings and goings, there lies an eerie silence, an abyss of stillness charged with an etheric presence. For all of our anxious business and obsession with triviality, we cannot completely deny this phantasmal essence at our core. And yet we do everything we can to avoid its stillness, its silence, its utter emptiness and radiant intimacy. “

Adyashanti uses the word being to refer to what I am calling pure being. I expand on this definition to include the more expressive aspects of reality, making it a whole instead of a part.


The book Putting on the Mind of Christ by Jim Marion was the first book to influence my thinking in regards to openness, being and oneness. I read this book when I was seventeen and it completely dismantled my perception of reality. Putting on the Mind of Christ maps out the stages of psychological and spiritual growth. The highest stage is what Marion calls the Non-dual stage of consciousness. He suggests that this Non-dualistic stage was the same level of consciousness that Jesus of Nazareth was operating from. Marion Describes Non-duality as “the ultimate goal……of all the great spiritual Paths”. The Non-duality that Marion describes is the same as what I’m calling oneness: a perception of reality as one seamless supreme Being, expressing through infinite forms and always interacting with only its self. Non-duality is one without another and transcends, yet includes all dualities.

Shortly after I read this book, which sent my mind reeling and searching for some stable footing, I was introduced to the work of Roy Eugene Davis, who is a spiritual teacher in the Kriya Yoga lineage and a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda. Roy has a very simple and straightforward way of describing metaphysics and the ultimate nature of reality. He presents Consciousness itself as synonymous with god, or the absolute ground of reality, the Source from which everything is created. The pure Consciousness that Roy refers to is the same as what I’m calling being in this essay. In his book Satisfying Our Innate Desire Roy states: “A compelling urge from the deepest level of our being makes us yearn to have our awareness restored to its original, pure state and we cannot be completely satisfied until this is permanently accomplished.” Roy’s teachings heavily influenced me in my late teens and early twenties. When I was 19 I was initiated into the Kriya Yoga lineage by Roy with the intention of becoming a monk and eventually a spiritual teacher. The basis of my thinking about spiritual matters is greatly influenced by Roy’s teachings.


The ideas I am using to describe this work are an amalgamation of over 12 years of spiritual practice and study. I am presenting research material here however I want to emphasize a balancing of that with direct observation and experience rather than blind dependence on systems of belief or teachings. The same is true in my creative practice.


Most of the inspiration or content for this thesis is derived from a personal experience I had in the fall and winter of 2003. I think of my life in terms of before this experience, and after this experience. I had started an increasingly rigorous spiritual practice, which involved yoga, meditation, contemplating reading spiritual books and inquiring into the true nature of reality and what I am. These mild explorations avalanched into a feverish passion when I started fasting. I went for weeks at a time without eating anything. This allowed me to experience radically altered states of consciousness. For a period of about 3 months, I was on cloud nine; I had a slew of experiences of non-dual states of consciousness in which my sense of personal boundary burst and the intricate connections and workings of everything around me were revealed. On some occasions, my awareness would balloon out and I could sense the entire city as my own body, everything became perceptually transparent. The whole world around me came to life: I became extremely sensitive and aware of things previously unregistered.


The most astounding realization to occur during this period were my perceptions of  oneness. Instead of perceiving my self as distinct from my environment and “others” in it, I saw that everything is one presence, being, life or substance, expressing and interacting with only its self. I can remember one of these episodes vividly as I was stopping my bicycle at a traffic light, I couldn’t believe it, yet the oneness of being was somehow more blissfully real than anything I had ever experienced before.

On another occasion, I awoke one morning at my mothers house where I had gone for winter break. and everything appeared to be illuminated from within. As I got up to take a walk, my awareness expanded and I remember experiencing my body as if it were a puppet floating inside me, I found this amusing and started to skip, closing my physical eyes, but still able to “see” the road, which made it even more hilarious.

Because these experiences were mostly induced by a change in my body chemistry that was not sustainable, they fell away. I exhausted my capacity for these blissful shifts in consciousness; I stopped being able to access the transcendent perceptions of reality. I plunged into a hell like experience of reality., I had severed myself from things that grounded and nurtured me. I had become addicted to the bliss of absorption in pure being. I am still working to integrate what I experienced during that time. It was too much too fast; it was more than I had the capacity to absorb into the structure of my mind and body at the time. The memories of these realizations are always with me. I can’t deny them, or forget them, no matter what I am doing on the surface, I have to confront, assimilate and embody them. This is the source of my interest with openness, Being and oneness discussed in this essay and it is my core inspiration for these paintings. It was through this profound openness that my sense of Being oozed out beyond the boundaries of my “self” and winked back at me from everything I observed. This experience is why I am so fascinated with opening, being and oneness. This oneness of being is what I want to express with my paintings.

I am not as driven by ideas or mental content as I am by immediate feelings and direct experiences. My research is mostly of intangible content. Hopefully my paintings serve as a tangible reflection of this research.

Methodology

Generally speaking, the basic map of my studio process starts with a vision in my minds eye, sometimes aroused by some external stimuli that catches my attention: a line from a book , a scene from a movie, a photograph, an event from my life, a conversation with a good friend, another work of art, or an experience of nature. Or alternatively, a vision will spontaneously come to me in between sleep and waking or while I am doing formal meditation or some kind of meditative activity.

After the initial image comes to me, I will set up a session with a model in which I will either make drawings directly from life taking photographs to be referenced for color and value when it is time to execute the painting, or I will just take photographs and then at a later time set up a drawing session using the photo reference. Usually, each work hinges on the initial drawing of the figure, which is the central focus of all my works.

After that I will move into finding references for the environment or other objects to be included within the final painting, mostly from my own photo cache or from imagery on the Internet. Then I will make some planning sketches to work out the final composition.

When this is complete, I project a photo of the initial drawing onto canvas. I do this in order to preserve the spontaneity of the drawing, which is important because the line drawing expresses my own unique character of being.

Using the photographic references I have gathered I will start the actual painting. Once the drawing is transferred to the canvas, I usually start with a monochromatic underpainting to get all the relative values dialed in, either using a warm, a cool or a neutral pigment. Then I will start fleshing it out with layers of color. I use a combination of glazes, transparent painting and direct opaque mixing of color to create and realize my paintings.

Openness is not only what I wish to express in the content of my paintings, but it is also what I want to experience when I am painting. I approach the creative process like it is sacred. When I paint I want to get into a mood that allows me to loosen my grip on ego identification. I want to let my
guard down and open up to the space within and around me. I become more sensitive and receptive to subtle sensations in my body. I can physically feel tension in my chest releasing when I start to paint. I think this opportunity is at the root of my drive towards the activity of painting. The psychological, and emotional state I am in when I am painting is similar to the statement I want to make with each painting.

Conclusion


With an emphasis on intuitive knowing rather than intellectual speculation, it is not so important that you understand completely what I am talking about. in reference to openness and being, these concepts may seem extremely foreign, and I do not completely understand them intellectually. Trying to grasp these concepts in the mind, is like an eyeball trying to see itself; it is a more visceral understanding that is called for. It is more important for you as a viewer of these works, to know that I simply want my paintings to serve as a harmonizing influence, like tuning forks to more positive states of existing.

While the formal appearance of my work may change, more or less dramatically, throughout the course of my artistic career, these central ideas, inspirations, and intentions will likely remain consistent.


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