By Michael Divine
Years ago I got into a kind of creative flow that went like this: winter was for working on large, detailed paintings while summer was for getting out and doing things and events and traveling. I found myself during many winters sort of hibernating and painting because that was what felt most natural. Life feels quieter and more internal and that is helpful for allowing my mind and body to settle and focus on the finer details of the work I like to do. Come summer – when life is bursting and exuberant and busy, I’d pick up and go and share and be more social. Then I’d plan out a course of paintings to work on through the winter – a general game plan – and return to the studio.
It’s like a moebius strip where I would go far enough inwards in one direction that I would eventually circle back in the opposite direction… and then far enough out in the other direction, and so on. Back and forth, round and round.
Things flowed differently this summer. Violet was deep in the final throes of her dissertation and grad school which meant fewer events (if any) for us because it was better having me around so I could help out, make tea, etc. I also somehow ended up with several large canvases and a good chunk of time by myself while Violet was away for a few weeks mid-July.
One of the tacts I took was that I wanted to maintain that exuberant summer flow. SoCal is hot and sunny and wide open in the summer. I wanted to work with that and translate some of it onto the canvas.
I’d also just finished The Crucible of Love sometime in May. It was a monstrously beautiful painting to work on. The level of detail, the quality of light, the movement – I was very happy with all of it but it challenged me deeply. Upon completion, sitting back from it I felt like ‘Phew! Love! What a ride!’
The first painting I stepped into was ‘Big Sky Mind: Where Do We Go From Here?’ I liked the crystalline structures at the top of The Crucible of Love and felt like they just extend on and on into the heavens. So I made a painting of that part – of light cascading and refracting through the crystalline and clear Big Sky Mind. It felt like an appropriate next step and at 60″ x 36″ was big enough to let my hand fly free for a while.
Next came ‘Molting,’ a much darker painting that drops down into something fierce. It stemmed from a flash of an idea I’d had the previous fall. It’s viscerality and somewhat discomforting content dropped down out of the big blue skies and I went at it with that “live painting” sort of momentum that eventually found ground and precision within its folds.
The next piece was like a breath of fresh air. It felt like the crystalline core that had just shed its skin. I was invited to paint at The Anaheim Honda Center during the Dalai Lama’s 80th Birthday event and I wanted to paint something that just breathed beauty. That is how ‘Lightening in a Summer Cloud’ was born, named after one of the final lines of the Diamond Sutra. (Incidentally, it is the second painting I’ve made that is named after a line in the same little verse).
Again, from here, I reversed course into something with darker edges. I went to my sketchbook and said ‘whatever I draw right now I will paint.’ I made a very rudimentary sketch and sat with that for a while. Eventually, I painted my 60″ x 36″ canvas black and, with a very focused edge, started laying down the beginnings of what it would become.
I worked on it throughout July and August while Violet worked on her dissertation. If you’ve ever been with someone getting a PhD who is writing a dissertation you know it is a slog. It just goes on and on with little sleep, a lot of questioning of purpose, and seemingly endless amounts of writing. I spent a lot of time making beverages, taking care of things, being a listening ear, and painting. It just went on and on. And the more I worked on this painting, the more I meditated on the wheel of life and death and time and space, the more I realized what it was. It is called ‘Samsara’.
The other paintings – the little painting of the couple kissing – that’s for my brother and his wife as an over-a-year-late wedding gift. ‘Self & Other’ is a thought form given life from a small sketch, an exercise in stylistic choices and deceptively simple motifs. ‘Ascent of You’, from a quick sketch on a flight home from Hawaii, was begun last fall and has sat in my studio being worked and re-worked, until it has become what it is.
So, this collection of paintings – begun in the end of May and finished in October is my Summer, my journey, and it is what I have to share with you.