Michael Divine

On New Directions in My Work

If you’ve been following my creative trajectory for a while, you may have noticed a shift in my approach and output. The subject of the paintings has become more fluid. Ideas seem to be less specific with greater sweeps of color, more spontaneity of brushstroke. Most of all (and what I hope and aim for): more visceral and emotive of sensations and less illustrative of a particular idea.

Like any relationship, my relationship to painting has continued to change and grow over the years. What I want out of it – how I want to express myself. WHAT I want to express. I look at my 20s and wonder: what of that was the wildness, the hormones of youth, and loading myself up on [primarily] yoga, buddhism, and the outdoors. Later, into my 30s I found myself wanting to slow down and focus more on the individual elements of the paintings. For each piece, I made detailed preparatory drawings and then a moved forward into the painting with a very slow methodical approach. Some of the best pieces to result from that are ones such as The Glass Onion, The Myth of Freedom, and First World Problem Child. Still, later, we moved to where we are now and, to me, the pinnacle of that approach has been the paintings The Apotheosis of Hope and Only Love Can and The Bricklayer’s Dream.

But times change. Moods change.

The sketches to drawings to painting pipeline – with its pre-destined spaces to fill on the canvas and the long under painting periods that resulted – has gotten incredibly boring. It feels like it sucks the life out of me now. I feel rather unenthusiastic when I approach it like that.

See, along the way, I began to notice more the rhythm of my brushstrokes and how the paint layered from brush to canvas. I noticed the sweet imperfections and wanted to follow those mysterious eddies of color and form that trailed into wordless sensations. I found, more and more, and with practice, the rhythms of my mental states and the warp and woof of the world around me could be transferred to my brush so that the mood, sensations, and feelings if I just… let go of WHAT I wanted it to be and focused more on HOW I wanted it to feel.

If you spend too long painting the thing, you lose sight of the feeling. For me, the feeling began to feel compartmentalized. It was too tidy, too compact and constrained.

Over the past few years, I’ve tried to give myself permission to be loose and trust the flow of my hand and the paint, allowing for more spontaneity. To watch the brushstrokes and see what they have to say. To let the rhythms of the world around me dictate more of the process and less my own mind saying ‘this is what it SHOULD look like.’ To ask the painting – and myself – each step of the way – “We know where we want to go, how do you want to get there?”

My studio opens onto my garden which butts up against some spacious woods. The garden is a semi ordered chaos of growth and decay. Birds swoop in and out. Our paths weave in an unordered fashion – no grid is this but instead it follows the slow of the land. Bees swirl and dragonflies flit about. Plants bloom and flower and fade. It’s all a dance and within it there’s all these moods and feelings, all these curves and folds. Within each moment there’s a thousand momentums of sensations. There are very few straight lines.

When I was living surrounded by cityscape – with its cordoned spaces and sharp edges – the boxes within boxes within four walled boxes – I found myself struggling to find looseness, trying to break out of the sense of structure. And I’d find moments and little epiphanies and hope to pause enough to catch my breath for that moment and follow it to its nth degree but then the hum of the city would pick up again and I’d be back in the step-by-step process.

Then we moved here where, within the whirls and whorls of nature, there is a tremendous amount of freedom and the sensations that echo back into my artwork reflect that sense within of I AM, this ineffable sense of being.

My goal as an artist has never changed: to echo the world around me; to try to bring into the world beauty; to be a mirror in the vast hallway of mirrors that are the interdependent relationships of this entire causal chain and to be a light amongst the lights within that chain. Living out here amongst trees and gardens has allowed me more breathing space. More perspective. A more objective vantage point from which to see the world around me. The trials and tribulations of the world – replete with their gossips and chatter, their wars and revolts, the struggles and the salvations – all make it into the painting but this central nervous system that governs this body and works to keep that creative channel open for what my come through can relax some.

So, along the way of this reinvention of my creative self, I’ve thrown out some of the planning, instead deciding to do my best to trust myself. I do, afterall, have 25 years of painting under my belt and can draw from all of the years of tools and processes and approaches. I’ve learned it’s best to start with a limited palate. To add a few more somber tones to temper the brightness. Most of all, and no matter what, to embody the sensation that is being explored and see what happens.

[I would be remiss if I didn’t also note that, of that 25 years, 18 have been spent with Violet – my most ardent fan and fiercest critic whose vision I trust, whose inputs are, for the most part, sound (can’t agree on everything) and whose belief in me and this process helps me to keep diving back in. Words cannot express the input she has had on my process and trajectory and I know that I am a better artist – and human – than I would have been if she were not in my life.]

As for the creative process, there’s still sketches and drawings, no doubt. Still ideas percolating that want to be expressed, some of which are quite rich in detail. But there’s less mapping out of the idea. Less ‘this little corner is this thing which has to do this thing and relates to this thing telling a story about this thing’ and so on and more spontaneity within each of those whorls, more discovery, more riding the waves of the beautiful chaos that is creativity.

There’s plenty of those highly detailed paintings of worlds within worlds yet to come but their early beginnings become far looser. I want more to build on that raw emotion rather than making an over burdened map for myself to follow.

It can be hard setting sail into new unknowns. At the very least, in painting for me, there’s more going back and painting over the things that aren’t working which can be, at times, tedious. But in a broader sense, the older we get the more we want to settle into sameness. There is safety in that sameness. I’ve spent 25 years building a reputation – a brand – for a certain kind of expression. I know I’m bound to lose a few people along the way when I decide to veer off into other forms of that expression and, yet, I want only to be less rigid, more fluid.

If I am to grow as a human then my art – this expression of myself in the world, of the world, reflecting the world – needs to grow and change too. I make plans for new ideas, ponder new approaches, and still marvel at the light that can come through.

Thankfully – and gratefully – I have the time and space for this exploration, borrowed tho it may be at times But all of our time here on this planet is borrowed and I can only hope to give back as much as I have been given.

Thanks for sticking around. 🙂

Acrylic/Panel – 12″ x 9″
Michael Divine

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