Where the Heart Beats – John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists by Kay Larson (Penguin Press 2012) is a wonderfully rich and well-written book. It provides current artists with an opportunity to rediscover the thinking and work of John Cage, a pivotal figure in 20th century art and music. It also introduces readers to the influence and aesthetic reach of Zen Buddhism, and opens doors to new ways of making and looking at art.
Stars Fall is one of a number of paintings I’ve been working on while reading Where the Heart Beats…and it reveals the influence of Cage. I started the painting with the idea of making a large gesture suggestive of water…similar to the way I worked on the small, 6×6″ Crescendo Series paintings. But the change in scale also changed the effect, demanding more content to fill the space. As I pondered what to do, I looked at the empty top of the panel and decided to let it be a black void contrasting with the sea below. With that in mind, I defined the two major parts of the painting with colored borders and worked to enhance the definition of the sea below with glazes and some highlighting of the water patterns.
At this point, the painting seemed almost finished – but not quite. I kept looking at it and wondering what was missing. So much of Cage’s work is about following chance and intuition. I had followed chance by starting the painting with a monoprint’s slightly out of control technique of rolling on paint and then taking it away with splashes and rags. I tried to follow what the painting wanted to be, rather than any pre-existing notion on my part of what it should be. This led to leaving the black void as is. After a week with the painting leaning against the studio wall looking at me, I realized that something had been in the void and had fallen out – stars. I quickly painted in the falling stars. The painting seemed finished, content with what it was – as was I. Enjoy!
Below is an enlarged detail from the painting.