During this strange and seemingly endless time of viral uncertainty, I’ve found it challenging to get centered. I’ve let go of some of my old routines and habits, some by circumstance, others because when the ground under one’s feet feels unstable it gets me calling into question where I apply my energies. I realize this sort of problem is for a privileged person like me; here and across the globe many are struggling just to get by. They don’t have the luxury of philosophizing about purpose. Very fortunately I’m surrounded by dear family and supportive friends. Their stability is helping me recover my purpose.
Though my travels have rarely been beyond US borders, I recognize how traveling to other regions “fills me up” with new sensations that are inevitably revealed in my art. This was absolutely true following a wonderful trip to Peru last October with Uttara Yoga Studio. During these times of isolation and limited travel, It was great to connect to a fellow sojourner recently and be reminded of that colorful experience.
It seems to me there’s a certain “palette” of colors in all parts of the world. At least those places not yet totally homogenized (as so much of America) by Walmart, Coke, and McDonald’s. I feel such a cultural palette evolves from a people’s connections to a particular place on the earth. The flora and fauna, the necessary clothing, the indigenous foods, all are part of it, even the weather affects and subtly dictates the colors that come to epitomize a culture. So it was high in the Peruvian Andes.
Aesthetic traditions are never entirely static, and continue to adapt and be affected by interaction with other cultures. They sometimes add their own accents and spices to the dynamic mix. Colonization and religious domination often have leave their heavy marks over the ages. But so did and does the more peaceable marketplace—hence one may see Pink Floyd T-shirts or turquoise Chuck Taylor All-Stars in another part of the world as status symbols, or because the particular colors have an appeal or aren’t available locally. In Peru, we traveled beyond big cities to some regions barely westernized. In most places there was electricity, plumbing, cars, and internet service, yet few highways, air conditioners, or clothes dryers. Very many people were still living simply with few material things and little means. I don’t judge their situation as “bad” or sad, nor do I romanticize the challenges of their trade-offs. It’s just what I saw. Beyond catering to tourists, I had the impression it was not a “consumer culture.”
As a visual artist I was dazzled by new chromatic harmonies everywhere — influenced by the dramatic mountains and skies, plant forms, delectable local foods, the stones, streets, and architecture, even the subtle shades of skin colors. But especially prominent were the incredible weavings that abound. More than any flag could ever characterize a culture, the lush beauty of this traditional art form resonates in my memory still today. I took some notes, recorded imagery with my iPhone, but didn’t create while there. There was simply no time—my eyes and being were too occupied absorbing all the fantastic wonders. When I returned it still took a few months to digest what I took in, only revealing itself as I began creating a new series of works related to my travels.
Although we certainly have our own views, and may at times approach things differently, my sweet sister Helen and I are often on a similar wavelength. She makes quilts and, typical of her, generously has created one for each of her nieces and nephews as they graduate HS. It’s a wonderful “heading away from home” keepsake. Every recipient has fondly embraced their treasured quilt as they headed to college and grown into adulthood. She sensitively works with each graduate to determine the color scheme of their choosing.
I find it fascinating to consider colors as wavelengths of light, and the impact on us of the unique wavelengths of energy interacting within an arrangement on our being. How and which colors affect or reflect our souls? And further, am curious how this relates to a culture. I know it’s a generalization, but the local Quechuan people in the areas we journeyed radiated a quiet contentedness. In this reduced-oxygen altitude, everywhere we traveled they seemed to not waste energy — especially on things that in most other places I’ve been, would have elicited cursing or at least exuberant hand gestures. Yet these same people also had the energy to build amazing structures mostly out of immensely heavy stone, largely through human labor—I’m not referring to long ago, in many areas, they were still not using heavy machinery or earth-moving equipment. They also have incredible stamina to spin wool, dye it, and weave very intricate swaths of cloth.
Clearly there was a vitality cultivated within their soft-spoken restraint. To me, their presence and cultural colors spoke of the ever-shifting skies that within an hour could go from bright sunshine to heavy clouds dumping hail; in a moment transforming umber and gray pebbled stone streets into shimmering silvers and slate blues, opening buds on dusty moss green plants to reveal bursts of bright fuchsia-toned flowers, or turn greenish streams into rushing cascades of misty white water.
When I posted this painting, which alludes to that weaving, and used a detail as the image on the invite for an upcoming exhibition, Helen immediately messaged me to mark it “sold.” I was very happy, and very honored. I told her I’d need the painting through the show’s scheduled run in April. But very soon after, COVID-19 arrived, and the planned large show of new works was postponed a full year. As with so many things, my art was now consigned to hover in limbo. IDK, maybe it was my “Aries” impatience that kicked in; or my familiar desire to try to solve my discontent by actions that would “change the picture.” Whatever the catalyst, during these cautious, restrained times I engaged in a spontaneous gesture and shipped it to her. It felt right and empowering. She and my brother in law Scott could enjoy the beauty of Peru and flavors of Cusco and Pisac sooner rather than later. Their interest and support felt a profound affirmation of my creativite endeavors, so getting the painting to their home kept the flow of energy moving. Especially in this moment, it brought some light to the vague bleakness, and eased my frustration about the show being put on hold. I’m so very fortunate to have been born into this wonderfully supportive family.
After years of quilting for others, Helen finally is readying to embark on a making quilt for herself and her spouse Scott Morlock. This spring she began considering designs and color schemes. She’s also a kind and reflective soul, and on a spiritual retreat a long while ago particpated in a creative workshop exploring expressive colors. She painted a small abstract sample of her favorites, which she saved — I pasted it below in the comments.