“Il y a des fleurs partout pour qui veut bien les voir.”
(There are flowers everywhere for those who really want to see them.)
— Henri Matisse
This quote by Henri Matisse captures how I want my paintings to feel to viewers as they are hit with the joy of color dancing across a painting – moving and alive. My paintings work as an orchestration or symphony where deeper cellos layer over violins, high pitched flutes, and booming drums. For me, color has musicality in this same way. Dull colors put pressure on brighter ones, while complements of similar value vibrate. There is no single aria like in great Italian operas and other masterworks of art where a single voice or shape dominates. Instead a wealth of visual information flirts with dissonance due to colliding visual forces. What makes painting interesting to me is how I fuse the fragments all together and make it work immediately. I never want a painting to exactly balance – I prefer imbalance because I think life is never completely balanced and I don’t want the paintings to feel safe, sentimental, or repetitively easy. The fun is not knowing how to figure it out. I never know exactly what is going to happen and it seems when I stop controlling it the painting comes to life. I sort of never know exactly how I am going to do what I am going to do, but I have to absolutely believe that a painting will surface and that I can construct whatever it is I need to construct. Otherwise, doubt and disbelief will destroy the painting or limit its dynamics– making the painting come alive requires suspension of disbelief and being completely invested and focused.
Recently, I’ve started running and there is a point when your body stops being tired, your heartbeat is up, and it starts to feel great. I think the same thing happens in the studio. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls that ‘flow’ or the moment when you are so engrossed in doing something that time passes very rapidly and you lose the sense of where you are and what you are doing. In the studio, I’ve had experiences where I was rapidly laying down paint midday then suddenly it was dark outside (when the light goes it’s hard to see color so you notice it). I’ve had friends prefer to call this state of being completely engaged in the present mindfulness. Artists have to have tremendous focus on what they are doing and let go all at the same time. When this happens it’s like I can think only visually and the painting seems to paint itself. It’s wonderful when that happens and I’m in the zone. I think that kind of communion which feels like a different kind of prayer is a big part of what makes me continue to paint for many years now. Several years back I began to realize that you can help put yourself in this mindset by doing things like only listening to a certain kind of music while painting. This cues me into what I am about to do so I save certain music just for the studio. Other rituals like setting up to work or moving things around help with this. I’ve noticed many artists keep trinkets to play with in their studio, clay/wood, and other materials for quick doodles and dioramas. The immediacy of these materials helps them dive into their studio production.
Part II of Chatham's blog will post soon. We are grateful for her wisdom and insight into a very
special world. The world of art and creativity.