The Promise Of The Creative

©Parker Stafford

©Parker Stafford

Many years ago I had a series of dreams where Picasso would show up and teach me something related to art.  I don’t fully understand why I would have Picasso of all people showing up in my dream landscape except to act in a symbolic role as a creative catalyst.  Picasso casts such a long shadow on so much, and from a historical perspective, I get it.  I just never connected with his work that much.  These dreams though ran the gamut from technique to content concerns in art.  One of them helped to cement a notion that I probably had rolling around in the back of my head which I managed to bring more to the forefront of awareness, which is how as artists, we take nothing for granted.  It is this sense that birthed the modern movement in art, breaking away from sheer representation of objects as had been the way for centuries, to a complete departure from what all of that entailed.  It has given birth to Pop, Op, Surrealism, and a slew of movements within modernism.
In this dream, I am looking out across a grass-filled yard and I see a figure down on his knees looking at the ground.  There he was, and he was beckoning me to come closer.  I walked up to him, wondering what this was all about and he looked at me with these wide eyes and said, “If you look at the surface of things, you wont see it.  Don’t take what you see for granted; there are worlds right in front of you!”  He then nestled his nose down into the grass and urged me to stick my face down in the grass, which I did.  He pushed me to nose down deeper into the grass.  As I looked, I saw how the grass became a canopy, and that canopy opened up into a dense realm of life beneath seeing.  He urged me, “Look deeper!” and as I did so, I saw ants, which had been nothing but specks, explode into view.  Small mushrooms that were growing beneath the grass loomed into view.  He kept pushing me, telling me how everything was animated inwardly by a life of its own.  It was this life that artists seek to bring to life, to show the inside of what life is about.  As I did this, I noticed how the mushrooms began to glow with something, a kind of light or life within them.  It was in some ways indistinct, and yet, what it told me was that what I normally would pass over, had its own reality, its own importance if we could stop long enough to just see it.  We miss these things because we simply do not take the time and focus in a very particular way to soak this life up.  This might seem “woo-woo” to you, but it is widely known amongst the mystics and inner seekers that a part of all seeing is only possible by looking within.  There is a reason for this, but that is a story for another day.  This is where the realm of the ordinary doesn’t just transform but is revealed, perhaps for the first time.
For the last two years I have been slowly but surely studying glass in a way that is not too differently from that day in the grass with my Picasso.  I have begun to take my camera and use its power of magnification to get closer and deeper into the material in a way that most people do not see into.  Glass is itself not animate in the way ants or grass or mushrooms might be, but it is nonetheless a material that responds to the environment around it in fascinating ways, in ways that we might not always see simply because of the vast amount of information that our eye takes in and that our brains filter out.  I have begun this “close look” with no notion of just what I will find, and like an adventurer, have gone looking to see what is there.
Artists often pride themselves in how much control they have in their craft.  It is most often what makes artists what they are.  What they do is called art because they are able to transform the mundane until it becomes profound.  Whatever that means, it most often entails a technical capability to lay paint onto the canvas, or to push and shape raw clay into a myriad of amazing forms.  In my case, it is glass.
What I have been doing is filling folders with visual information, snippets, pieces, parts, and more.  I am like a woodsman gathering wood, thinking he might light a fire only to find that he is actually building a house.  Where this leads is already taking shape, and begins to form the corpus or body of a whole new direction creatively.  And it wasn’t really intentional, but the possibilities are so exciting that while it moves me away from my familiar 3-D orientation as an artist, it also moves me into realms that I find are marvelous.  In this way, the material I am gathering suggests certain directions. I am making decisions all the way, but it feels far more collaborative a process than has been the case in the past.  I like this.  I like tricking myself into thinking I have no earthly idea what will come next, because in truth, my intuition has built a realm of possibilities all floating in front of me, or just behind my eyes and sometimes behind my awareness.  I LIKE working this way for the simple reason that when I work so rationally and intentionally as I used to, the results are rarely as good or as exciting as when I let go and allow something a little broader and perhaps beyond the scope of my rational to take the reins.  Again, that might sound woo-woo to some, but it is in truth what all the great thinkers and mystics down through the ages have been pointing to as a hitherto lesser known part of ourselves.  Its less intending as it is letting go of the vast filtering and biasing effect that take place within our minds every single second of every day in order to touch on another aspect of who and what we are.  Mind you, I am not saying that I am relying on accident.  Accidents can sometimes suggest new directions simply because you never had thought of it and some random movement or event in the studio results in such an outcome.  Certainly Jackson Pollock looked down at the paint dribble that had landed on his canvas and decided to try a little more, then more, and then wound up filling canvases with it.  This is less accident and more suggestion.  But the suggestion exists simply because I am so open to it.

Orbital #4

The images that you see are copies of images that exist in high resolution taken in certain kinds of lighting and at just the right angle.  I am seeking to get the glass to show me how it can look different as I move it around in the light.  From one single three-inch swath, I can get five completely different results based on the angle the glass has to the light and what lies behind the glass itself.  I am investigating just how interactive glass is in its environment.  It offers up some amazing possibilities.  Many of the images that I am showing here came from just a couple of pieces of blown glass from the studio.
I call these “Orbitals” partly because the forms that the glass pieces take.  They are round, and they suggest environments, worlds, planets of some sort, perhaps.  Some beg to be scanned, and some have no focal point.  This is where I come in by using these images as the basis for assembling a new form with these images as part of the material from which I will draw.  This work is in its early stages, even after two years of doing this close up work.  It has grown and developed from a series of photos taken from some of my pieces by a client and friend who found them fascinating up close.  I do too, and I have taken this and run with it, although in the beginning I had no idea where it was leading.
To be clear, though, the images aren’t manipulated in post production hardly at all.  The most I ever do is to adjust lighting and adjust sharpness.  Everything else, though, is as I saw it originally, which are amazingly rich and fascinating landscapes, environments, and even worlds within the one we normally see.
Orbital Landscape 2

Orbital Landscape

Certainly these will lead to painting on large shaped canvases of some sort, but exactly how this all comes together is a work in progress.  And really, this is what I am doing, giving you a peek into this early stage process and hoping that perhaps in some small way, it can serve as inspiration for you in your day to day to see things differently.  Sometimes, looking beyond the obvious is all that it takes!