Meditations on Painting, Performance and the Ground of Being

"Mind is often compared to the sky, the space in which clouds appear, yet is not sullied by clouds. The mind is what creates the experience of inner spaciousness, particularly through meditation."

- Lama Tsultrim Allione, Wisdom Rising

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I am pleased to announce that I will be performing my project Museum of Me with the support of CreativeMornings Field Trips at The Other Art Fair this Sunday at 1:30pm. Museum of Me (MoME) is a guided visualization where I lead participants in a meditation where we imagine our own bodies as museums and take a tour through these imagined spaces, observing what arises.

The catalyst for this project was a chance encounter with a drinking fountain the the Museum of African American History in Washington, DC (more on that later). Yet I would not have been attuned to this catalyst, nor would the project have unfolded as it has, had I not been on a journey to deepen my own practice of present moment awareness.

This path has exposed me to insights that have helped me understand my work better, or at least to begin to trust it more. A few years ago, I began to pull together the various threads of my creative practice: drawing and painting, installation, design and sewing, voice, performance, poetry and play.

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As Above, So Below. 2019. Oil on Canvas, 30" x 36"

The first step into this cross-disciplinary practice was a painting. I painted a backdrop of an iconic desert scene and called it Walliecamp: Modular Epic Landscape. I found that when you have a backdrop, you suddenly have a stage. While a painting is a window into another world, a backdrop is an environment for activities taking place in space and time -- a place to mix the image of the background with “real”, physical space.  

In Tantric buddhist philosophy there’s a concept called “Lila”, which can be interpreted by saying that consciousness, which is the common ground of being from which all things arise, creates individuation and suffering for its own entertainment. It wants to see itself. In this construct, consciousness is ultimately playful -- it wants tosee itself seeing and feel itself being.

This concept of play as an oscillation between realms and states of being has become a metaphor for me to understand my art practice and how it can hold painting, conversational performance (relational aesthetics) and various modes of thinking and making that pop up in between.

First to last : Walliecamp Fortune Factory Performance. 2013; Rest Stop. 2017. Oil on Panel. 36" x 36";Cosmic Apricot. 2018. Oil on Panel. 20" x 20".

"Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water….the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is the color blue."

- Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Paintings are portals into other worlds - interior landscapes where the imagination, the unconscious and the “thinking” mind manifest visually. Recently, I have been leaning into the idea that my blue paintings, which have always been about the relationship between the sky and a mysterious object or architecture, are truly about the ground of being. The blue background of the image is the protagonist of the picture, the main event. It is the ever-present of consciousness from which everything arises.

My access to the images I’ve been painting of late has often been through meditation practice. Meditation is one place where we have the chance to recognize the ever-present nature of the ground of being and feel into the fact that it is always with us, connecting us to everything and everyone. One visual metaphor for this clear yet encompassing space is the color blue.

With Museum of Me, I have brought meditation, in this case visualization, into a participatory performance meant to transform the relationship between viewers and cultural institutions. The animating question of the project is, how do you relate to a museum if you are also a museum?

I hypothesize that when we experience the power of our own imaginations and sensations, we are more likely to be able to take the position of the other -- find inroads for communication between ourselves, an artwork, or an institution. In short, when we are more present, the world presents us with more: meaning, insight, connection.

Letter from the Elizabeth Murray Artists Residency

Dear Friends,

After two weeks upstate at the Elizabeth Murray Artist Residency, I return to New York with a renewed focus and sense of purpose to make art as a way to live, and particularly to make paintings as fields for thinking.

Together with a rotating group of 5 other artists, I worked in studios built into the hay loft above what had been Murray’s own studio in an 18th century dairy barn on the New York - Vermont border. Each artist had been invited to this inaugural year of the residency because they were connected with the Murray family or had shown with Collar Works, the Capitol region art collective that has been tasked with organizing the residency.

During our stay, we lived in the farm house, which was equipped with two staircases and separated living quarters on the second story. It had been built in the late 1800’s for two families who lived and farmed together, sharing kitchen and common areas.

Elizabeth Murray managed to carve her own path in life and art — a celebrated career that included raising children; painting monumental abstract paintings that also managed to speak about women’s experience. It seems appropriate that she would find this unusual house — made for two families working together — that debunks the myth of the nuclear family unit alone on the frontier as the default formulation of rural American life.

Murray managed to decolonize a variety of symbols to create the fullness of her world: the classic New England farm is, and has been, a place for communal living and collaboration; abstract painting becomes a site for the dream-logic of domestic entanglement; a woman artist takes on the role of the male genius, “reshaping modern abstraction.”*  

As an emerging female-identified artist making work in conversation with painting and practices of being, I am energized by the way Murray demonstrated that our lives and careers can be what we make them. Murray’s work shows a commitment to taking and making one’s own path is a practice of both relating to others and acting in integrity with one’s own gut motivations. This manner of working is in itself a way of practicing feminism and dismantling the guiding patriarchal fantasies of individual genius and zero-sum economics.

It was an honor to spend time in this place, molded as it was by an artist who lived her life with such courage. It was also a pleasure to share space with the artists, members of the Murray-Holman family, Collar Works board members and visitors who came through.

Below are images of the farm and works I made there, as well as a list of my amazing fellow artists in residence.


In gratitude,

Alex