A Tea Ceremony

When I applied for the MA I was asked what I was trying to say with my work.  I am sure I waffled incoherently, and thought, there goes that avenue.  Two years later I would still struggle to articulate a coherent response, but now I appreciate that it isn’t always possible or necessary to find the language to describe a work, it can be enough just to experience the work emotionally.  I am currently reading Art and Intuition by Pat Paxson 1, and within the first few pages I feel she is talking about me and to me, and I feel comfortable acknowledging that I don’t yet, and maybe never will, know what it is I am trying to say, but that I am merely able to capture emotional responses to a subject, idea or event, in two dimensions.

In describing her practice she talks about an energy that ‘shifts out of sight’, if she attempts to describe it.  She refers to marks that appear as being ‘..beyond what my conscious mind could have, or would have, worked out by means of conscious reasoning.’, and what New York painter David Reed referred to as ‘..a double consciousness, a switching back and forth between a subjective and an objective state of mind.’

I want to record here my practice for a particular piece, relative to Paxson’s recording of a similar piece.


The scene had been set with a model, Evelyn, wrapped in her coat, with a backdrop of twigs to the right in a plastic sack, to the left standing on the floor, and entwined in each bundle were squared paper rods.  We were instructed to focus on ‘resist and release’.

My first drawing was an exercise in mark making.  I didn’t fully comprehend the instruction, but proceeded as if I did.  The dominant square above the large black form of her waist and legs, represented her upper body and echoed the square form behind her.  I drew what I saw in a simplified way.  Resist and release were not consciously part of my thought process.


Still not fully understanding the task, even though I had undertaken similar before, I concentrated on the shape, using the rigidity of the square shape to inform the body, and the twigs to inform the model’s hair.  All was undertaken at a conscious level, grappling with the logical requirement of the task.


For this exercise we were given pieces of photocopied marks and asked to work with as many or as few as required.  I found a face in the left hand piece of paper and a feeling of twigs in a sack in the piece on the right, and worked from there.  This work was less conscious.  There were fleeting seconds where I seemed to ‘permit’ myself to step beyond conscious, the ‘crackly’ marks on the right for the hard plastic sack, the square in the centre that wasn’t drawn as such, but appeared to reflect the square rods.


The final piece I approached at a conscious level, but as soon as I realised that two copies of the same marks could be combined to form the upper body, I disappeared into a trance-like state, working with and over the collaged pieces until I felt I had captured the form, mirroring the delicate collaged marks for the softly inclined head, and the deeper marks for the lower torso, unaware of time or space.  Evelyn echoes the twigs in a delicate and totally meaningful way, something my conscious mind would have rejected, or at best, undertaken in a clumsy and obvious manner.

It is evident that my conscious, logical mind creates a barrier to creativity, and that I need a ritual, much as Hachiro Kanno uses a tea ceremony before undertaking a calligraphic performance, to move from consciousness into an intuitive and meditative state.  Here I had been guided through the process, alone I would need to replicate a stepped way in, or  similar ritual.  I am finally learning that it is ok to not be ‘word perfect’ at the outset, that an authentic voice requires the ‘whole body’ commitment, and  does not come easily, even for Giacometti.

1  Paxson, P 2011, Art and Intuition, Xlibris Corporation.  Paxson is a painter and completed her Ph.D comprising theory and practice at Goldsmiths, London, in Visual Arts.

Author: susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

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