Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Harnessing the power of the unfinished

As Christmas approaches with its welcome invitation to don my stained old kitchen apron and start rustling up the family's festive favourites, I take special pleasure in the annual tradition of climbing the ladder and stringing the lights. Each year, I braid my studio's 'spine' with tiny blue and white LEDs. It lights up more like a tall, skinny lighthouse or a mast on a boat than a Christmas tree, but that's part of its charm and I love it.

For some time now, I've had an urge to bring the sea into the studio and 'therein to dwell.' This is not a new impulse. An appreciation of water - whether fresh or salty - references a number of different things, amongst these the near-absence of this element in my natal chart, a simple love for  the ocean and an as-yet unfulfilled wish to dive in it - and I don't mean the bobbing, snorkeling kind. I'm lucky enough to have done my fair share of that. I mean the kind that requires dry suits and tanks and breath-taking plunges into deep, dark waters. (This is a metaphor, of course, and yes, life is letting me know there's work to be done before this year is up.)

An oversized painting (10 X 10ft) has been sloshing about in me for some time and wants out. Chances are it could be a messy process but we all know that squalls inevitably make way for calm. Like the ocean or psyche, the environment of a painting is tidal. Certainly, it is my hope that this one's water will ebb and flow, the spaces and particles in it opening and closing, linking up and separating, drifting in close where appropriate and otherwise cutting the ties that bind in favour of risking a ride on a different current... I'd like it to be an environment that can embrace its own rhythm, one in which heavy objects find their buoyancy and float instead of sink. Darkness and light will visit, ruffling the surfaces without clouding the depths. There will be rest and rebellion, a piece at peace with sometimes spilling over its own edges. 

This work will no doubt present me with a few challenges. If it brings me to my knees, so be it. It may never reach completion, depending on what completion means. Right now, though, I feel energized at the thought of spending the coming year in conversation with whatever tussle and magic's resident in this stable-yet-mutable universe - oops, I mean, painting. My hunch is it has things to teach me that will require me to stick at it, to stay close at hand. 

This morning, whilst doing my blog read-around, I came across a marvelous site I'd not encountered before. What a remarkable community this is. There's so much good will and generosity out there... When you get a chance, do visit Edward Byrne whom I thank warmly for his introduction to Louise Glück in the following piece from her collection, Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry (Ecco, 1994) ---   

“... I do not think that more information always makes a richer poem. I am attracted to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence. The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary. It is analogous to the unseen; for example, to the power of ruins, to works of art either damaged or incomplete. Such works inevitably allude to larger contexts; they haunt because they are not whole, though wholeness is implied: another time, a world in which they were whole, or were to have been whole, is implied. There is no moment in which their first home is felt to be the museum. A few years ago, I saw a show of Holbein drawings; most astonishing were those still in progress. Parts were entirely finished. And parts were sketched, a fluent line indicating arm or hand or hair, but the forms were not filled in. Holbein had made notes to himself: this sleeve blue, hair, auburn. The terms were other—not the color in the world, but the color in paint or chalk. What these unfinished drawings generated was a vivid sense of Holbein at work, at the sitting; to see them was to have a sense of being back in time, back in the middle of something. Certain works of art become artifacts. By works of art, I mean works of any medium. And certain works of art do not. It seems to me that what is wanted, in art, is to harness the power of the unfinished. All earthly experience is partial. Not simply because it is subjective, but because that which we do not know, of the universe, of mortality, is so much more vast than that which we do know. What is unfinished or has been destroyed participates in these mysteries. The problem is to make a whole that does not forfeit this power.”


  1. Your studio must look fabulous with its central industrial spine all lit up in a mysterious blue glow!

    Oh how I love the pretty lights.

  2. I love the pretty party lights, too, Vanda - their unapologetic bawdiness and brilliance. I have another string made in Africa - these ones, brightly coloured with intricately beaded shades. I'll post them here once I've strung them up. They transform my kitchen/living room into something between a bordello, a roadhouse and Aladdin's cave. Love it! xx

  3. 'Ruffling the surface without clouding the depths'--I hope for that too. A graceful, sensitive metaphor.