Solo show Number 3 (2017), Afterthoughts

 

Things I noticed this time around :

I was more or less satisfied with every picture..I was proud of the totality. I see I have no issues with productivity. Quality….I met my own expectations.

I received a lot of intelligent positive feedback (supported by a willingness to buy) from people both within and outside of the art industry. People got what I was doing without being spoonfed and had as much sophistication if not more than any analysis I have read by “professional” critics or art writers.

I got and get most satisfaction from people who experience the art as an intuitive, holistic,  spiritual or supra-intellectual process….including the vulnerability of having a show. As a psychiatrist friend eloquently pointed out, it’s anxiety-provoking because someone can trivialise it by saying hmmm don’t like this bit, like this bit….missing the whole point of the totality or ignoring the presence of soul on the canvas. There is also the possibility that no one comes and you are left with your own alleged authenticity in an indifferent little world called Brisbane, which is a tiny stage. On tiny stages, you still see all the predictable dynamics played out : flattery, judgement by indifference or non-attendance, heartfelt praise, insightful commentary, straight-out confrontation.  Fortunately the bad egoisms didnt manifest and the good vibes were plentiful. I am grateful for having great friends and followers.

Although many people from within the “professional” (?) art world came and provided a lot of positive feedback without the usual cynicism that jaded employees and associates of art organisations often exude, it was apparent that one or two invited people didn’t turn up. I should give them my two bob…these strangers to me in mind and heart.

I knew they wouldn’t. I did not want them to. I hoped they wouldn’t. I had already perused their social media and seen that what we have here is a superficial follower of the latest designated paragons of the fashion industry, a faux sunflower whose plasticity does not need the sunlight of the living world. I wouldn’t go as far as to call them parasites on the lives of the top earning artists. Everyone needs a job.

Having spent the whole night speaking with people, it was a great relief not to have to pretend that I couldn’t see into the motives of this kind of person. Having seen many narcissistic individuals in my clinical practice at length, I was glad that I didn’t have to meet another gatekeeper of the school formal that is the Australian art scene.

My tolerance for the cool kids not long out of school that derive their sense of meaning from association with the “top artists” is……LIMITED. Best not to play together.

I learned who are my friends, and which friends walk the walk. (Ofcourse not everyone could make it…not talking about y’all.). Thanks guys for helping so much with prep and support.

I saw that a show always brings me into a new technique. This time I got more into my white-outs, and overall came closer to capturing the shamanic engagement with natural textures, patterns and the mathematics of the fractal world.

I came closer to filling the gap between my practice of psychiatry and my process of art, and linked the search for the underlying narratives in psychiatry with the search for the underlying patterns of the natural world. I hope I showed my patients how to live in the head and in the heart, as the magazine profile said.

I hope I showed my patients that your will to persevere and create can break on through the limitations placed upon you by the little box system of society.

In a world that is rapidly changing, with the traditional gate keepers of the arts / spirituality / political power / science all being radically challenged, we will increasingly decide who we are and achieve what we want to achieve, irrespective of the judgements of the old power structures. I dare to keep creating despite the indifference of some, and look at that, you start to get noticed and followed. I could give up medicine and earn solely from paintings but I see no reason why one cannot realise all one’s potentialities. At least the main ones.

Finally, I learned that I will continue to develop my painting and that I will also continue to develop my writing, psychiatry, financial efficacy and my travelling life. Teaching others how to get through a painting is no different to teaching someone how to negotiate life in crisis. And thus we approach a more integrated, vital life that does not depend on the approval of others.IMG_5021.JPG

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mark-making and psychiatry

 

……………………The Transcendentalist tradition includes Thoreau and Walt Whitman. My understanding of art making is based on the foundational process of meaning making. Walt Whitman in his great long poem “Song of Myself”, catalogs the many extensions and manifestations of the life force he perceives through the fog of his experience. Walt Whitman had been a nurse or orderly during the Civil War and had witnessed the trauma of the “real” world. His ability to nurture a sense of wonder in a life that included exposure to great trauma is instructive. In “Song of Myself”, he lists the many activities and old world occupations in the same way he describes the power of Nature to instil awe and wonder.

Thoreau describes the wonder and peace he cultivated in himself by living in the woods. In “Walden”, he lives in simplicity and lists the subtle changes in the ecosystems around the lake. The meaning of his life emerges from these days he spent away from the crowd. He died soon after leaving his stone edifice on the edges of the lake.

For me, art making is like this : being awake to the numinous lustre of Nature, the inspiration of sincere people, the integrity of honest creativity, the possibility of escaping the hierarchies of the narcissistic society we have inherited.

This is how what I do in the therapy room is similar to what is done in the studio. I am hoping for meaning to emerge out of the detritus of our lives. I go further and act as an instigator of meaning. Textures of paintings are like the rough edges of my patients’ narratives. Colours are like the nuances of mood as they flow and fluctuate in the lives of my patients. Structures in a painting are like the cognitive formations and relationship systems in the stories my patients tell.

This is how psychiatry and art inter-integrate into a single experience.

 

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we have a yellow series it seems

It’s fascinating as a psychiatrist to see how people react to particular paintings in an immediate, visceral and nonconceptual way. That’s an indicator yet again of how the Unconscious reacts to something instantaneously and the Conscious Mind plays catch up, trying to verbalise and analyse what is causing the sense of attraction (or repulsion). This is the link between art and psychiatry / neuroscience.

 

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Left hemisphere / mere words

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy paintings are like notes from the Unconscious, as I try to understand the experience of this sensual world.

 Being a psychiatrist, that work involves searching for the deeper narrative behind and below what my patients describe to me. Seeing it, feeling it, calling it by name and finally holding it long enough to work with the story. The same process is happening in my art practice.

Although my style has become more unbound, organic and sculptural over time, the underlying theme has always been a meditation on the felt experience of human being. The felt experience (as opposed to the analytical deconstruction of our lives) is what is both terrifying in it’s painful grandeur as well as electrifying in its promise of beauty and truth.

 Our lives are surface phenomena that suggest a deeper story and each painting seeks out the bedrock arc of a day, a week, a year as may be. Just as each session of psychotherapy seeks the resonances from the Deep of the human Unconscious. I gave up trying to completely separate my work as a psychiatrist and my work as a painter once I realised they involve a similar seeking after Depth. Truth. Presence.

The universal language of colour, figure and form coalesce into these blocks of Time called “paintings”, Time and Space apparently captured inside 4 lengths of wood and heavy layers of paint, accented with natural objects such as stones, bark and other detritus.

 Each painting has an emotional tone and a degree of conflict between chaos and order, just the same as each day provides a similar interplay of head and heart, bookended by dawn and dusk. “

technique

“My technique involves “hitting” the canvas and leaving it. Hit and run. Find a place to recuperate and rehydrate as my canvases are often large and I travel through many layers over days to weeks. I wear a gas mask and sweat it out. The music is probably on the strong side.

 I collaborate with the forces of perseverance and win over the better angels of our nature : experience, inspiration, freedom of action, daring, refusal to give up on a painting. I am a veteran of many failed campaigns in which the rubbish picture becomes the underlay of a memorable success.

My technique is “Get Out of Your Own Way”…….if you have an eye for colour and form, and you can turn down the volume of your L hemisphere  conceptual mind, the painting will emerge in its own way. This is the most enjoyable part for me….the suggestion of standing aside as something makes its mark on the canvas. Whether you call it the Unconscious, Nature, Spirit or a slice of the Narrative of my patient that day , the joy of painting is standing aside and seeing what has manifested. Its the antithesis of narcissistic self-absorption.”

How The Mind Changes

The Brain Changes Itself. The mind changes in step. Talking, dialogue, friends’ support, pharmacological intervention, lifestyle changes…together, the experience of anxiety and depression is slowly beaten back. That’s psychiatry.

 

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“The Trauma-Givers”

In the minds of many psychotherapists out there, as they try to make sense of the narratives they have heard in their work and in their lives, sometimes an overarching theme takes form. It is meta-explanation for all the dark material their patients and clients have expressed to them in the near-sacred space of the therapy room.

For some, it is biological : dysfunction of brain chemistry. Or it could be social : illness resulting from poverty, social exclusion, unemployment, often generational. This series of paintings is about Trauma as the overarching and central concept of mental illness and it’s cause. This is not limited to post traumatic stress disorder. This is the use of Trauma as an explanatory and descriptive concept covering most illness of the mind, from anxiety disorders, depression and even psychotic illness.

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Most experienced psychiatrists use the bio-psycho-social-spiritual model of mental illness, which covers the concept of trauma as well as social factors as well as biological dysfunction of the brain. What I am painting here is Trauma as a concept that overlaps with philosophical traditions which are premised on the ubiquity of suffering and pain : Buddhism, Existentialism, Pessimism, Realism and others. These paintings are about the personification of trauma in these wraith-like figures that crowd the canvas, ready to impart their pain and suffering. To state the profoundly obvious, humans often traumatise one another. We live in cycles of trauma. Our workplaces are platforms upon which trauma is generated and imposed. Life is trauma-filled.

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I must do a series on the Kindly Ones or the “better angels of our nature” that oppose the power of trauma.