Being isolated is something that I've become accustomed to throughout my life. It becomes a contemplative time, full of reflections. It is also a time to clarify concepts and ideas, dreams and theories. The act of creativity is a blessing we all possess whether we are aware of it or not. It happens when we make a choice of one thing over another. Creating a composition not only through choice but also with the heart. Art has many realities. To some it is earning a living through teaching art. For others it may mean achieving wealth and fame. Yet others say art heals their minds and souls in the same way religion can heal. In one way or another I've been involved in this profession throughout my lifetime, whether as a child making drawings for lunch money or carrying limestone lithography stones to the presses. We all need to become much more aware of our effects on all whom we have touched and those whom we leave behind after we are gone.
Reflecting on the pandemic, plagues have invaded different cultures throughout history. I looked at art made during pandemics and there are masterpieces such as Pieter Breugel's The Triumph of Death, created out of fear and despair. The works not only document the times in which the artists lived, their works offer warnings and insights to us now. And I believe the sheer act of being creative offers hope not only to the artist but also to those who see the artist's work, understanding the message conveyed.
Is a pandemic only of the type we are living with now or does a pandemic also include the mental and emotional issues mankind has suffered with throughout the ages? I think of Edvard Munch's The Scream. Munch said of this work "that he sensed a scream passing through nature." For me it is both a cry from nature and from the darker human condition. There is light if we act and art is one way to reveal the light.
The Earth is a tiny blue planet floating in space and from that distance there are no borders other than natural ones. According to some NASA astronauts, seeing the Earth from space can shift one's awareness. This shift is known as the "overview effect," one aspect of which is the profound experience of wanting to and needing to protect our one blue marble. There are websites now showing before and after pictures of greenhouse gases over areas most affected by the coronavirus. Wuhan, China went from severe pollution to almost none once the government decreed a lockdown in Hubei Province. On the ground, we know there are billions of us now who are, it could be said, a form of plague with respect to our poor treatment of the Earth, our only place to live. Our home, depending on how we treat it, could mean the difference to human survival. All of us must accept responsibility for our contributions to harming our planet.
For the most part, the art world right now seems like the periphery. We live in such a politically and financially polarized world, art reacts to and interprets the events related to these disfunctions. I live in Santa Fe, a town that has galleries on one particular street from one end to the other. I only go down that street for the traditional Christmas Eve walk after 10:00 PM when most people are gone. My reason is that I see a lot of objects but they do not feed my soul, and yet tourists cannot buy enough of them. Many artists are sensationally promoted, stirring emotional attention, but longevity in the work is often lacking. I long to experience art that makes me stand back and absorb what is confronting me. I want to be stunned without having to read a three-page explanation for its existence. When I'm working on a piece I feel its heartbeat pulsing outward from its core. I believe the periphery is like a "frame." It may surround what is called art, but art is actually present only if there is that heartbeat, that pulse.
The heart of art has to be the culture and how the artist translates this in the studio. Artists create that which is inherent in their nature, mixed with the cultures we experience growing up and as adults. It is as if it is in our DNA. We as artists do and will find a path allowing creativity to flourish with anything we can use when, as I believe, we are in "the flow," a river of consciousness bigger than ourselves.
Upon reflection, Lockstep was created by solving problems with intuition as well as the possibilities and limitations the material allowed. I made a hanging piece because I had no floor space in the studio. I used mica because it is a mineral with values to humanity that are both prehistoric and current day. I used wood from a hard maple tree that sat on a mill lot for more than a generation. Pushing through four months of logistics about weight, size, and fabrication. Finally, I can see it outside my mind's eye. I can walk around it, under it, watch it turn on its axis. It makes its presence known. The light undulates throughout in different tonalities depending on the time of day and the light source. Now, back in the studio, building a sister piece to Lockstep out of remaining leftover materials and whatever is available, I want to shoulder up to a higher elevation of consciousness and aesthetics. After two weeks in the studio, I forget what day it is, remembering only what task is next to finish the concept. I find myself in the flow, searching for the pulse that makes the heart soar.
Don Redman lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico.