"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." from Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice.
For my Places Project, I'm choosing locations that, for all sorts of reasons, send my heart reeling. Alaska, Wales, and Bavaria are on the horizon in the coming months. I'm sticking closer to home for now.
For this work, I'm adopting Beginner's Mind, reaching back to the four-year-old Laura with her box of unlimited possibilities, aka the 48 crayons. I want her spontaneous response to her surroundings, a response unfettered by the history of stylistic shticks and tricks that any artist working for a while has. Shorthand techniques are useful, but rely on them too much and your art becomes inert. Inert is the opposite of what I want my work to be.
My first numinous place is Peregrine Farm, in Alamance County, about 30 minutes from my house. This is land owned by friends of ours, Alex and Betsy Hitt, who have farmed it for 35 years. Their place exerts a pull you'd have to call spiritual. Here there is natural and human-made beauty, order, and, though it's a mightily productive farm, here there is peace.
The things Alex and Betsy grow are of a rare quality, both in taste and in appearance. Terroir is at work here. It is a concept usually applied to wine, but I think it explains so much about anything alive and issuing from the earth.
: the combination of factors including soil, climate, and sunlight that gives [....] distinctive character
I want to embody (literally!) in my art this phenomenon of terroir, a distant country cousin to the ch'i, and to do so, I start with la terre itself, the soil.
Soil is our everyday experience of our earth, whether we are just trodding on it or working it for a purpose. This spring I have been digging soil, collecting rocks, and making my own paint out of that very earth where the Peregrine lettuce and the flowers and the peppers grow.
I am bowled over by the granulation of my paints made from the earth! I could make them more refined, but then I would lose what I love most... a sense of the paint's/soil's essential nature and energy.
Soil into paint is just the beginning. I'm also making drawing tools and materials out of found objects, like the incidentally formed charcoal Alex led me to in his 35-year-old burned brush pile.
Here is a sketch of Big Branch, a tributary of the Haw River that provides one of Peregrine Farm's boundary lines. Sitting on a large rock in the middle of the creek, I drew with a piece of burned blueberry bush from Alex's ash pile. Later, I will make ink out of some of those ashes and I will draw with it, too.
More blueberry bush charcoal put to work:
In keeping with the many possibilities of Beginner's Mind, I am branching out in lots of directions. In early May, I made use of rainwater I collected and the sun to produce my own images of Betsy's gorgeous anemones:
Mixed media: watercolor and rainwater:
Cyanotype: sun and anemones:
I'm at the beginning of Beginner's Mind, on this Places path. I'm where I need to be.
I'll be back soon with more images from Peregrine Farm and some thoughts about origins. Happy June to you!