People sometimes ask me if I have an image in mind before I start painting. It varies. If I want to do a rose, for instance, I will have a general vague image in mind, but it is my arm and hand that paint, not my mind – so any rose I create is not a rose I am actually looking at.
Many years ago I was in love with irises and I painted hundreds of them. Sometimes I would have a vase of irises nearby and look at them deeply before painting but I was not trying to copy what I saw. Instead I was seeking to get the feeling of the essence of the iris.
Many times, especially in the early years, I would read books on oriental art and then try to copy the pictures in it. In these cases I was definitely led by my eyes, but it was more technique and brush work I was trying to understand. Now when I paint landscapes, for instance, I do not have a picture or photo before me, but carry the feeling of mountains and plains in my heart.
I find the most interesting work is with abstracts. I have absolutely nothing in mind then, not even a feeling. I try to remain totally receptive and responsive to the desire of the ink, water, brush and paper to express themselves. The ink splashes around, the water swirls, the paper sighs and the brush emotes.
When I’m done painting for the day, I will hang the abstracts on the wall and look at them off and on during the next several days. Over time, one or two or three of them will let their presence show. There will be an energy visible or latent. At some point I will ‘recognise’ what it is and be able to name it.
For example, I was laying on the couch looking at the ‘abstract wall’ when I recognized “Orphan Child Sleeping”. The head, the down turned face, the back and tucked up legs were so obvious. I jumped up from the couch delighted with this new picture. I could never have created it myself – it created itself. My job was only to recognize it.
So is it really art when it is unplanned? Am I really an artist if I have so little control of the outcome? The only time these questions are important is when I feel I need to take credit for the work, when my ego wants strokes. I believe that in my best work, I was not there at all – just the brush and ink and water and paper were present.