sipping tea, sensing presence

Introducing the practice and paintings of Bev Byrnes.

 

As boundaries between subject and object dissolve, the phenomenon of presence becomes amplified.  Presence, in this context, is something ‘beyond’ what is seen; it imparts an unseen and yet ‘felt’ sense of illumination. It is this presence which ultimately guides and shapes the direction of my work. 
– Bev Byrnes

 

Bev Byrnes: Bowl with Mandarins, detail

 

It’s probably a given for artists whose practice concerns itself with presence that entry into their creative space will call for quiet, for silence and stillness. As poet Mary Oliver puts it,  Stillness. One of the doors / into the temple.  My own imperative is to establish stillness and silence, both externally and within: I sit down and shut up and empty and keep on emptying…

For Bev Byrnes it starts with a tea ritual.  She’s a serious tea drinker and a true connoisseur.  She writes:

Every morning begins the same.  The dawn quietly fills the studio with gentle light.  To my right, a brown clay water kettle set on a low flame to keep the water hot.  In front of me a small, low table, cut from a slab of rough wood; teacup and teapot at the ready.

 

Bev Byrnes - Studio Tea Ritual

 

The sound of water simmering.  The smell of wet tea leaves.  The stillness of morning.  The taste of the tea.

Drinking tea this way is an exercise in mindfulness.  It quiets inner chatter and brings energetic coherence to the body.  This daily ritual is an important part of the creative process that plays out each day in my studio.  As the focus of the tea session washes the mind clear, an inner silence grows.  From here the work proceeds.   […]

The way the creative process “plays out” might be to birth a highly realistic still-life painting in the tradition of northern European early Renaissance painting, or, perhaps it will initiate a conversation with handmade water-based paints and the processes of Japanese nihonga painting.  She says she loves each approach equally.  To me, there’s something quite remarkable about this bi-hemispheric capacity.  It’s the mark of an artisan fully at ease with her materials, free to wonder where they will lead as she follows them into the great (un)Knowing.

 

Bev Byrnes: Studio set-up for 'Three Bowls'

 

Usually the realist paintings are a still life of a few simple objects lit with the soft light of a north-facing window.  The first layers of paint are straightforward descriptions of form but as layers accumulate and observation becomes more subtle a felt sense of presence grows.   […]

Some paintings are more abstract in nature.  The beginning of these look like haphazard mark-making.  They get the flow going.  From this point on, it’s a matter of listening. The listening must be silent and clear, with no owner, and sometimes it would seem to the mind there is no good coming of it.   […]

 

Bev Byrnes: Landscape of (un)Knowing, detail

 

This post is just an introduction, an appetiser…  
Please view Bev’s page at the artisans’ gallery, where her thoughts are shared in full and you can see more of her stunning work.

 

Bev Byrnes: Red Onion and Winter Squash with Birch Sticks, oil on panel, 12”x24”
 

seeing – painting – being


artisans’ gallery


Images, from top:
Bowl with Mandarins, detail
Studio Tea Ritual
Work in progress – Studio set-up for ‘Three Bowls’
Landscape of (un)Knowing, detail
Red Onion and Winter Squash with Birch Sticks

All images provided by, and copyright Bev Byrnes.


seven questions for Leonardo

Dear Leonardo,

This is a letter from the future.  500 years have passed since you lived your days in the salubrious era we now refer to as ‘The Renaissance’.  You wouldn’t recognise this 21st century world, and it strikes me that you’d find the segment of it known as ‘The Art Scene’ a very odd circus indeed.  In this day and age the makings of celebrity artists are commodified, while at grooming institutions called Art Colleges young aspiring creatives routinely endure brainwashing (i.e. psychological trauma) as they are prepared for entry to, and status within, the art market.

Just recently I was delighted to revisit some of your drawings of Deluges and Maelstroms.  I realise that these works are but a tiny portion of your creative output, yet it seems to me that they exemplify much in our contemporary art world that has been trivialised, or lost altogether.

I’m no art historian and have scant knowledge of the details of your own art education, so when these questions popped up in response to the drawings, I decided to put them to you personally.
 

Leonardo da Vinci - Deluges and Maelstroms, The Royal Collection

 
1          Did anyone in a position of assumed authority (teacher, curator, dealer, media critic) ever tear apart your work/practice in a critique, then inform you as to how it should look, and/or how you need to proceed?
 

Leonardo da Vinci - Deluges and Maelstroms, The Royal Collection

 
2          Were you ever advised to subvert beauty?  Were you cautioned that expressing the beautiful is beneath the concerns of any significant artist?
 

Leonardo da Vinci - Deluges and Maelstroms, The Royal Collection

 
3          Were you ever told that you needed to loosen up and express yourself more spontaneously?  That you might benefit from courses or workshops where you’d learn how to find your inner artist?
 

Leonardo da Vinci - Deluges and Maelstroms, The Royal Collection

 
4          Was immaculate attention to detail and painstaking craftsmanship sniffed at in your day?  Were artisans who worked this way considered anal or seen to be avoiding unresolved issues?
 

Leonardo da Vinci - Deluges and Maelstroms, The Royal Collection

 
5          Did anyone ever advise you against your instinct (and awesome capacity) to express a sense of the sacred in your work?  Were you ever told this devotional quality had no traction in the world of serious art?  (i.e. What sells.)
 

Leonardo da Vinci - Deluges and Maelstroms, The Royal Collection

 
6          Many of your paintings carry a narrative, whether sacred or secular.  Did anyone ever tell you these narratives weren’t edgy enough?  Not original or conceptual enough?  That they lacked the irony and anxiety required to be really relevant?
 

Leonardo da Vinci - Deluges and Maelstroms, The Royal Collection

 
7          OR …  were you blessed to have guidance from some inner angel who ensured that your imperatives were never at risk from the ideas of others?  Who ensured you’d never be led astray from your own way of expressing the wonder of being alive – of inquiring, exploring with innocence and joy?

 

Of looking ever more deeply into the suchness of your world?

 

Without apology?

 

Rhetorical questions, I know.  Please excuse me.  So many young (and seasoned) artists of my time encounter and believe dogmatic and arcane opinions issuing forth from the self-appointed pundits of the visual arts.  Sometimes they abandon their creative practice entirely.

Most of these questions will make no sense to you, since in your day concepts such as “inner artist” had yet to be dreamed up;  the whole mind-field of psychology wouldn’t be mapped out (invented) for another few hundred years.  But I know you’ll understand the bit about an inner angel.

Please accept my heartfelt gratitude for your relentless curiosity and unswerving commitment.  Thank you for reminding us all, as the centuries roll on, of the high art of making authentic art.

Yours sincerely,

MLS
Maker and misfit from the 21st century.

 


 

About the drawings:

I am indebted to Stephen Ellcock, curator of the ultimate virtual ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ on Facebook, for this collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings from The Royal Collection.  (Ellcock’s page is an ever-expanding, online museum of images, visual delights, oddities and wonders drawn from every conceivable culture, era and corner of the globe.  For artists, it’s quite simply the best – and perhaps only – reason to hang in/out with FB.)

From his page:  “The series of drawings by Leonardo of a mighty deluge are among the most enigmatic and visionary works of the Renaissance.  Modest in size and densely worked, each shows a landscape overwhelmed by a vast tempest.  The drawings were probably made for his own satisfaction rather than as studies for any project.”

 


 

News from The Royal Collection:

In February 2019, to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, 144 of the Renaissance master’s greatest drawings in the Royal Collection will go on display in 12 simultaneous exhibitions across the UK.

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing, a nationwide event, will give the widest-ever UK audience the opportunity to see the work of this extraordinary artist. 12 drawings selected to reflect the full range of Leonardo’s interests – painting, sculpture, architecture, music, anatomy, engineering, cartography, geology and botany – will be shown at each venue in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Southampton and Sunderland, with a further venue to be announced.

For more information:
www.rct.uk

 


Have you read I, Leonardo, written and illustrated by Ralph Steadman?
It’s a masterpiece.  Check it out by clicking the cover image below:

And don’t miss this beautifully illustrated review by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings:
Beloved British Artist Ralph Steadman Illustrates the Life of Leonardo da Vinci


The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.

– Leonardo da Vinci


 

one is the vast space itself

Photograph by Jerry Katz

 

If, in any painting or photograph, a person is depicted as very small within a wide space of nature, there is a possibility that the viewer will recognize that small form as one’s self and that this self is not separate from the vast space.

That is to say, such a picture may inspire the realization that one is the vast space itself.

When it is recognized that the vast space contains the form and that one is both the vast space and the form — at the same time — this is a realization of nonduality.

– Jerry Katz

 


Reblogged from Jerry Katz’s treasure trove of nondual expression:

nonduality.org

Jerry, whose contributions to this site go back to its launch in 2007, has agreed to pen a guest post in the near future. This is something to look forward to!

In the meantime, have a look at these pages:

what is this nonduality?

a parade of nondual perspectives


 

the devotional act of sustained observation

For many artists, a passion to record a selected natural object – how it moves, or is moved by, light and circumstances – and to do so repeatedly, forms the substance of their practice.  Consider Georgia O’Keeffe‘s flowers: “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment.”   Claude Monet painted water lilies, haystacks and cathedral facades over and over, always looking deeper and seeing more profoundly.  And how many times did Paul Cézanne return to paint his beloved Mont Sainte-Victoire? The high priestess of education in the creative arts, Corita Kent, would instruct her students to “Look at things until identity, value and description dissolve.”  
This is my idea of devotion.

As I pondered this post introducing the work of Scott Morgan and his page at the artisans’ gallery, I was almost overwhelmed.  Scott’s creative output is enormous, and it covers all manner of activity; he’s a creative director, designer, artist, writer, poet, photographer and film maker…  What to choose as a sampler of his work?  To my mind however, the thread that runs through all his projects – in addition to exquisitely clean, fresh design –  is a sense of quiet awe and devotion.  I finally decided to share photographic images he gathered by standing in the same place and simply recording what was showing up in that moment – and doing it again and again.   Just like O’Keeffe, Monet and Cézanne.
 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 
Scott calls this project One Hundred Days and writes:

The basic premise of the project was simple: Photograph the exact same image; same spot, same angle, same camera, same lens, same proportion of water and sky, for one hundred days. Positioned on a hilltop 800 ft. above the water, facing due south, without the familiar sunrise or sunset poetry of east and west, create a series of images that record the elegant yet minimal transformation of the threshold between two worlds, sea and sky, and the focused ritual of doing it one hundred times over a two year period.

After being landlocked for almost seven years in New Mexico and Toronto, the One Hundred Days project was conceived as a process of my being reacquainted with the vast presence of the Pacific ocean and a return to the fundamental practice of seeing; slow down and be present.  Document the process.

The images purposely contain no reference points. The elevated vantage point removes the waves and sand leaving the surface of the sea, which could be any large body of water. This strips the images of the specifics of place and sets them free to engage the viewer on many levels both real and imagined.

 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 
You can see more works from this series here.

At the artisans’ gallery: Scott Morgan – from silence to symphony

Images and quoted text copyright Scott Morgan.


websites:
scottmorganart.com
scottmorganstudio.com
thissimplegrace.com


 

on losing the plot and regaining the world of the holy fool

Michael Leunig is a much-loved Australian cartoonist, writer, painter, philosopher and poet whose newspaper work appears regularly in the Melbourne Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.  He describes his approach as regressive, humorous, messy, mystical, primal and vaudevillian – producing work which is open to many interpretations and has been widely adapted in education, music, theatre, psychotherapy and spiritual life.

His commentary on political, cultural and emotional life spans more than forty years and has often explored the idea of an innocent and sacred personal world.  The fragile ecosystem of human nature and its relationship to the wider natural world is a related and recurrent theme.

‘Leunig’ is a household word here in Australia.  Who else consistently reminds us of our collective and individual vulnerabitlties? Our defences, needs and neediness? Who else – like an innocent wide-eyed kid – points out the elephants in the room and the unclothed emperors?

In total disregard of the snobbery around “content” in contemporary art, Leunig sows his seeds of simple sanity in the intimate space where the artist and viewer meet. He speaks in language we can understand, and as we listen to him – immersed in a mix or humour, poignancy and delight – our own wee holy fool smiles and skips about.

To my great delight Michael has given ‘the awakened eye’ permission to share one of his pieces of verbal artistry, an essay titled Regressive Painting and the Holy Fool.  In this work he covers much territory relevant to the theme of this site and of importance to all who take their playful creativity seriously:  What is genuine creativity and what blocks it? Where has our authenticity gone? What is the relationship between the ego and the holy fool? How can we find our way back to the world of our holy fool? Why does it matter?

As an introduction to the illustrated essay – which has its own page here –  this post offers a few quotes. It’s a teaser – read the whole piece and be reminded of what you know so well.


It is a way of painting.
It is a way of living.
It is a way of transcending the banal inhibited self and finding the divine.
It is a struggling downward journey – this stumbling, daring and devout pilgrimage back to mature innocence and raw beauty; to the sublime joy and the natural intelligence and wisdom of the holy fool.

 

Michael Leunig - The Holy Fool

 
… there is surely a measure of the holy fool in all of us.  What adult has not been a delightful or shocking little holy fool in childhood: the primal young creature who reached out innocently for what was forbidden, or sincerely said out loud a simple embarrassing truth?  ‘The emperor has no clothes’ cries the wee holy fool.  And who did not draw and paint in beautiful peculiar ways, or cry and sing freely for a short early chapter of wide-eyed creative life before the ways of the world began to impinge and inhibit?  Who has not known a time of free flowing reverie and wonder in the rich solitude and sanctuary of early consciousness?  Whose outlook and imagination has not been indelibly adorned by the daydreams and visions of childhood?

~

The dire pursuit of creativity in affluent societies is to a considerable extent driven by egotistical art ambition, but underlying this drive may be an intuitive attempt to recover the capacity for wonder, spontaneity, playfulness, openness, mindfulness and access to raw beauty; the qualities that were so natural and easy in childhood; a search for connection to one’s lost little fool – who is indeed the archetypal personification of creativity’s wellspring.

~

The artist needs to know how to lose the plot
– how to not care and how to not know –
and how to actually enjoy that freedom
and understand what a blessed revitalizing state all of that mess can be.

 

Michael Leunig - The Holy Fool

 

The most joyous painting is not done for the art world, it is done for the inner world; it is a self delighting other-worldly thing – a getting lost in regression and solitude; a sub-literate, semi-delirious way to be with the spirited little fool in the depths of one’s being for a while – there to invent one’s art freely, and there to find enchantment, infinite surprise and the bright wondrous question ‘What is this?’

~ Michael Leunig

http://www.leunig.com.au

Michael Leunig Appreciation Page on Facebook


regressive painting and the holy fool