Sunday, February 5, 2012

Maya Angelou & Inspiration For A Painting

(This is a re-post from last year.  The painting is hanging at the Celebration of Fine Art, Scottsdale, AZ until Mar 25, and is available for purchase.)

Inspiration is a full and varied thing, sometimes young and twitching, other times a vibrational note struck on a crystal glass.  It is a muse dancing in your dreams, a wood nymph catching your eye from behind the twilight lit forest.  It is shattered light from a glass clad urban high rise tossing itself across the candy apple red of your car hood.  It may be a grand philosophical book, read in fits and starts, embedding something unforgettable in your brain, or something inconsequential – a scrap of paper caught on the breeze, landing in your lap like a message from a parallel world.

Last fall I was reading Maya Angelou’s poem, I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings.  I had, at the time, been struggling with unresolved ideas for a series of large paintings about women and the patterns of their lives.  The original idea was not coming clear for me.   About to abandon the whole concept and taking a few days to get away from what I was feeling was a stuck spot, I closed the jars of paint, cleaned my tools and left the studio.  Landing on the sofa with a pile of books, I settled in for some quiet time.  Maya showed up. 

The measure of a good metaphor is how well it connects to the human condition.  The caged bird seems nearly limitless, as does the meaning of “singing” or voicing what is within.  The voice of inspiration nearly deafened me.  Books fell from the sofa in my rush to the studio.

Who knows why the Universe graces us with taps on the shoulder?  Not I.  But I do know, after 30 odd years of being an artist, that these gracious or raucous or accidental taps are better acknowledged and noted than ignored.


Begin.  The surface lies before me – the caged bird sings of freedom -  I scoop texture paste onto the board and with the largest trowel I have, spread it in quick broad strokes, leaving trepidation behind – the free bird leaps on the back of the wind – trails and rivers, paths and raindrops show up under the tool, taking me somewhere, bringing someone to me – I feel a door opening – light? Quickly I mix a wash in creamy pale yellow – pour it on, catching it in the river/paths/raindrops – the free bird thinks of another breeze – and warm lemon curd yellow floats into my world.  Are you there?

Waiting.  Slow drying, but surprises appear.  I tape the poem to the wall, print big enough to make out as I work.  So many images surface in my mind’s eye, call to me, then drift only to be replaced, crowded out by others.  Returning to my work, I see a delicate head wrap, in tiny pattern, and then a sleeve, richly embroidered.  She’s here.  Waiting for me to give her voice.  Where is the window from which you watch?  A swallow brings you an offering of berries.  You gaze at me, Madonna of the Swallows.  I hear your voice.
Madonna of the Swallows
48" x 84"


The universe sends Muse and Inspiration to whisper in your ear that there are fantastic things for you to do – soulful songs to write, luscious colors to mix into unpredictable combinations, elements and molecules to construct the never before seen.  There are birds to be let free and voices to hear calling.  

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