Gray Cross, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 6 x 7 inches.
In between my last painting, which I wasn't happy with and you can see here, and this one, I rediscovered my love of Tantric painting, and it has changed the way I am approaching putting paint to surface. I had received the new book Tantra Song as a gift and spent many hours poring over the images, and then writing a blog post on them: "The Quiet Depth of Tantric Paintings". Just like the first time I saw these works, at the Drawing Center in 2004, I was inspired to try to somehow make them my own, copy them in some way. Back then they were what encouraged me to begin making small textiles for the wall, when all I'd done before were rugs for my house.
Last week, I wanted to actually paint those paintings; I wanted to possess them, to understand their making; I wanted to capture the deep calm, the quality of the essential, that I found in them. I took out a couple of pieces of parchment and sat there looking at them for a while, conscious that the Tantric artists took advantage of irregularities of surface. I tried to breath quietly, to become calm and quiet, to get close to the best of how I feel when I meditate. And I began to paint a blue circle, being as attentive to brush, the paint, the mark, as I could be. Then I felt the circle needed a companion square, so painted that. I approached the dark green rectangle with the same intense level of concentration, balancing it with a soft haze of red.
I then decided that I was going to paint on scraps of parchment left over from the stretching process; it would be like doing musical scales, practicing a little each day, reminding me of the feeling of quietly contemplating each shape.
After my little homages, I began this painting with a very different attitude. I felt that I'd become a little lazy, a little impatient, a little rushed. So now I slowed down, worked with smaller brushes, attempted to get more subtle shifts of form and color. None of this is for the sake of "realism" but in order to have a deeper relationship with each shape and each color that I paint. It is so that I pay attention.