For years I have wondered why so many artists paint in series or paint multiple versions of the same composition? Is there something to be gained by repeating yourself? Over the last twenty years, I have undertaken several series of multiple paintings of the same view, and in my painting practice I have come to believe that the idea of repetition is at once a myth and at the same time a powerful tool that guides me to the unique present moment.
There is something profoundly human about getting up and doing what appears to be the same thing over and over again. Many so-called “spiritual” practices employ repetition. I began this 12-month project thinking that it would involve a lot of it and that I may grow tired or even bored. Another day comes and I am up at the pond again, repeating myself, with the same humble effort, like the rhythm of breath or the beating of my heart. Every breath is the same, and yet is also unique, singular and distinct.
A young friend of mine recently saw me painting that view again and asked me why I would want to paint the same thing over and over? It seemed crazy to him. Certainly in this society great value is placed on the new, something never done before. Yet, I have found that repetition leads me to depth, to familiarity, to intimacy, which is to say it leads me into relationship. Paradoxically, repetition leads me to the living moment where everything is new and fresh and each moment can never be repeated. Repetition leads me through the myth of repetition to the truth of uniqueness, the truth of the present moment. In time, I see my view of the corner of the pond as more and more dynamic, both on the obvious level of changing light and shadows, changing colors and forms, and on a more subtle level as well. I have noticed that as I change, the scene changes. I am creating what I am seeing as much as I am seeing it! My ever shifting moods and thoughts, my attractions and affections, my energy level-all these changes, change the view. In effect, every time I look at my subject, I witness change brought about by both the internal and external condition. I am not just observing the view but I am participating in making it.
In this way, I have learned that stillness is not still and similar things are not the same. When I am in relationship with nature, both within and without, even if I intend to repeat myself, I find I never really can. By facing the anticipated boredom and monotony of repetition, I have gained access to the unique present moment.