“We went down into the silent garden. Dawn is the time when nothing breathes, the hour of silence. Everything is transfixed, only the light moves.” Leonora Carrington
I have been so very lucky in my life to be able to visit some of the most amazing art galleries on the planet. Paris, Barcelona, Florence, Brussels and Edinburgh all the way to Seattle and New York to New Zealand and Bombay. Not just paintings hanging in a gallery either- after all, the concept of having a work of art to hang in a gallery is actually still relatively new. Art was, in the past, a way of educating people. A way of showing people what lay beyond the world they knew, sometimes by portraying the world they knew in a different way. Like Jesus, showing up in a Sienese market square or the towns leaders in their own environment and yet suddenly surrounded by Archangels..
There is art in the details of Church pews. Art in the doorways of Civic buildings. Art expressing the ideals of the masses. What people want, and often, overcoming what they fear. Art has often been used as a form of sympathetic magic by which the artist expresses the desire to overcome what stands in his or her way. The cave paintings of Lascaux portrayed a successful hunt in a society which did literally exist hand to mouth and a successful hunt was the most important thing to all who lived in it. And any dictatorship worth their salt has always sought to control art. Hence the Nazi’s repression of the Abstract Expressionists, the Fauves- the destruction of any art that came from instinct, from the subliminal, or as many would say, from the heart. What replaced it was sharp, clear, linear creations of their ideal world, the Nazi family in an ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ townscape, everyone carbon copies of one another. Everything linear, logical and empirically provable with whatever means they had of experimentation at the time.
Artists by their very nature have always stood slightly outside of the mainstream. It is as if they have a calling by which they become witnesses. Witnesses that see the world and then redefine it in their own terms. If you go into a gallery and stand before a painting you can often, after a while, start to tune into the mindset of the artist. Some paintings resonate more than other and depending on the artists motivation you can get a greater or lesser sense of ‘them’. In medieval times when artists were seen more as painters and decorators than anything else and painted for commission alone then it is a little different. So I use the word ‘artist’ here in it’s more modern sense.
When I was 18 I stood in front of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ in Amsterdam and all I could think was how terribly lonely he must have been. Imagine standing in a field which should look familiar, but instead, is like an alien landscape. Like a child’s bedroom in the dark where everything you know in daylight is a monster waiting to strike. Where the stars melt and merge and taunt you alongside a cruel moon. In the Frida Kahlo exhibition in the Tate Modern in 2005 standing in front of her ‘Love Embrace of the Universe’ and sensing a woman who was so very strong, that she could truly love a man despite all his weaknesses, his vanity and see beyond them and surrender to it, and recognize that the love she was capable of feeling was but a microcosm of true and eternal love. A woman that loved a man enough to not need his validation.
Great minds. Great souls. Not people that suffer for their art but offer the suffering up and transcend it. Leonora Carrington, the last great female Surrealist is another that comes to mind. And one of the biggest influences on me, in my life and work, has been the artist Alan Davie. From the moment I saw his work in Edinburgh in 1997 I was transfixed. The way he portrayed the world with such joy. Such colour and this singing intensity. He’s combined the otherworld of the Celts with Hopi belief, with Yoga, and the theme of Zen runs through his art. That is, pure expression untouched by desire or ego. Or maybe the expression started out from a place of ego but then fell out of the ego tree smacking every branch on the way down and ended up in his world of beauty. Of sacred places.
And so how does this fit in with Yoga? It fits in beautifully. Iyengar has seen the parallel in his book ‘The Art of Yoga’. And of course Vanda Scaravelli. In everyday society what makes the artist stand out is that ability to put his or her easy comforts to the side, to sacrifice instant gratification and approval in order to honestly examine the world about them. And reinterpret it. And to then draw it to the attention the world at large in order to act as a catalyst for change in the group mind. To not care about being an outsider or a weirdo. Or at least to be able to put the cares to one side while they do the work. To be the one that rejects what most people aspire to, that can be alone if that’s what it takes. That faces their demons and dances with them.
And so if you are a student of the Yoga tradition you become an artist too. Maybe you are not standing outside of society but you train yourself to stand outside of ‘yourself’. To observe the workings of ‘you’ dispassionately. To create the twilight space that inspired the Surrealists in your own practice. To not be pulled this way and that by what you perceive as virtues or weaknesses but just to observe them. And the observations you make become a catalyst for change within yourself and so you keep growing.
As you practice you observe your patterns. You observe what nourishes and destroys you. You see all the little demons in the outskirts of the design. You see your motivations and you see your fear. All your little vanities and everything anyone has ever said to you. And you accept it. And then you step back from it. And breathe in. And breathe out. And then into the luminous dawn of space. Where anything can happen. Gravity is less of a law, more of a guideline. Things become weirdly funny and you loosen your tight grasp of the reigns. And whilst all this happens you nurture yourself physically and find solace in good company. You may find yourself vulnerable along the way.
And then you are a Yoga artist. Existing within the same room and yet in an entirely different Universe from before. Every Yogi is an artist. Every life unique.