My creative process is now in a new phase with a couple of clear parameters: Marc Lancet’s tea bowls painted in the center of a square foot. I walk into the studio and see the first six paintings in the silvery north light.
I’m struck by how the tea bowls appear to be floating. Now that they are more developed, they seem to defy gravity. This is especially odd as they have so much gravity about them; the solidity of the stoneware, the somber colors, the connection to ancient traditions. They are heavy. It’s not like I’ve painted six butterflies or feathers or flowers. And yet, there they are, floating. Like spirits, like ghosts, like the tombstones in Shinto graveyards I once saw rising above the ferns. They seem to hang in the blue air, silently staring at me.
I get to work, weighed down by more questions and doubts. What does this work mean? Do I need to know what it means? Am I floating?
I observe my emotions and thoughts changing my point of view. I try to bring my attention to my breathing, my heartbeat, the warmth of my head under my hair. I start to think the muted colors and close values of the tea bowls make them appear somber. “Hollow”, “empty”, “dark”; these words come to my mind. The paintings start to look sad and lonely, paintings of empty vessels.
Is this a stage I am at as an artist? “The stage of the empty vessel”? They seem as if they are calling to be filled, as if they are waiting for something to happen, to fall into them from the sky. They are like open mouths waiting to be fed.
The studio is quiet, like a monastery. The bowls are like stone pillars, ancient and silent and strong. Their form creates the emptiness that fills them. Am I painting portraits of emptiness? Or might all this emptiness represent potential, opportunity, freedom, open space to be filled?
I know I just need to keep working and my relationship to this effort will keep changing.
I’m painting a background color. What and where is the background? Is it just space? As I make it lighter, darker, warmer, or cooler, my feelings change. I am mixing color to make iron red quieter, muting it with its complement, green. Complementary colors neutralize each other and soon the tea bowl is vibrating right on the border of the two. I make the color green, then back to red. Suddenly I realize there are tears in my eyes. Strangely, the effort of walking this edge between opposite colors is deeply moving. Why?
As I work, the values become more and more accurate and the marks better describe the surface. It’s like an alphabet giving way to words and then words to sentences. As the image becomes richer, more considered, and more “real”, my ego-association with it and doubt about it fall away. It takes on a life of its own and I become more and more intrigued. I judge less and observe more. I become more collaborator then creator.
When a painting of something starts to become real in this way and catches some of the fire of the original object, it takes on meaning. For me, it starts to speak of everything that object is part of.
Of the clay dug out of the earth.
Of the loving care and skill of my friend, its maker.
Of the depths of the culture and heat of the fire that gave birth to it.
Of the appreciation that motivates me to paint it.
The painting teaches me about my way of fashioning reality. But it cannot answer the question of it’s own existence: What’s the point of painting a tea bowl?