Monday, December 15, 2008


First Breath, 2008, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches
© 2008 Diane McGregor

My work is about process, and I often find myself submerged within the painting, the paint, the brushstrokes, the moment. Starting with the grid, I slowly build up grid layers of paint, almost in a trance putting down horizontal and vertical brushstrokes. As my body of work evolves, I am finding it more satisfying to leave some of the grid intact (rather than blending the entire grid into a diaphanous structure). This is permitting me to add more textures and areas of pure color, and I'm enjoying the more dynamic interface with the act of painting and the end result. I've been thinking a lot lately about how process and contemplation are related.

I lead a contemplative life -- not full of blissful meditative moments but rather a life of hard work, struggle, and effort while maintaining awareness of the present moment. I am reading Thomas Merton's The Inner Experience, a book about the contemplative life, and he writes:
One of the strange laws of the contemplative life is that in it you do not sit down and solve problems: you bear with them until they somehow solve themselves. Or until life itself solves them for you. Usually the solution consists in a discovery that they only existed insofar as they were inseparably connected with your own illusory exterior self. The solution of most such problems comes with the dissolution of this false self.
I think process-oriented work is contemplative. Painting is all about problem solving, and process-oriented work is all about letting the problem work out its own solution. It is a challenge to allow the process to find its way through, to consciously keep out of your own way and let the paint and the process come together into a fully realized artwork. But for me, this makes the whole act of painting a spiritual practice as I learn to let go and contemplate the solutions I am given.

(The above quote is taken from The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation by Thomas Merton, page 2.)


Dianne said...

Dear Diane, thank you for this incredibly inspiring posting! My painting process is also fairly "contemplative", I love the paint to take me where it wants to. My ego or self often tries to intervene and take over and it takes a huge effort to recognise this and quieten it down. It feels a bit like a surrender of some sorts, but the more I allow this to happen, the more spiritual the process becomes.
Thanks for mentioning this book, I will definitely look out for it, sounds like my kind of book!
Happy painting!

Diane McGregor said...

Dear Dianne,
"Surrender" is the perfect word for this spiritual practice. Thank you for your comments.

Rebecca Crowell said...

What a beautiful post (and beautiful painting!) I am very interested in reading this book now--all of these ideas resonate well.

Anonymous said...

Dear Diane, I will certainly be looking for this book, it sounds a little like the Tao philosophy that I have also been reading about recently. I find it very difficult to bear problems waiting until they somehow solve themselves but I know I act too quickly on them, not realising I am making things worse. In art and life, a new year and perhaps a contemplative one for me. Thank you for this post, one to think about.

Gesa said...

I just found your fascinating blog; so many insightful posts; and, yes, I agree with how process-orientation allows for problem-solving in a curious and intriguing way