My favorite time in the life of a canvas is when it is still blank. While some might think that a blank canvas says nothing, I think I disagree.
Hanging up a blank canvas in preparation to paint, for me, is equal parts reckless optimism and foolish ambition. It is literally a thing hoped for, and a conviction of the unseen. For a lot of people, that is essentially the definition of faith. Creating anything, but in particular art, which is not a chair or a smartphone or anything particularly useful at all requires a great deal of faith to believe that there is any purpose at all for making it. It has no use but beauty and no audience but perhaps one out of all of humanity. Art is like an open electrical circuit waiting first for the artist to activate the current, then for an audience to complete the connection. A blank canvas is the vista over which all of that glorious drama proposes – but not promises – to unfold. Before it becomes anything, a blank canvas is everything: expanse, depth, darkness, inspiration, insanity, a comfort, a call, a barrier, a blanket, a vision, a voice. It is all silence, all choice.
I have come to think of it as a mirror. Not a typical mirror that pastes surfaces onto itself, reshaping the world from three dimensions to two, but a smart mirror that interprets the reflections beneath the surfaces and creates a new world. That is, a simple blank canvas can be itself oracular, showing you what you need, want, hope for and dread to see.
Throughout my art-making experience, I find myself continually fascinated each time by the beauty of blank-ness, and a word sits up in my mind:
This is a word, a concept, whose deep and lasting implications I have only come to understand later in life, and its presence in my thoughts as it relates to creating seem to me to be utterly complete in its sense.
A blank canvas is Sabbath.
It is silence and choice, longing and waiting. It is working out and working on. It is holding and giving, clutching and releasing. It is all patience and love, long-suffering and just. A blank canvas is prayer, and the carefully chosen words of God. It is a picture of what has not yet been revealed, and in that, there is great hope. When we paint we are imprinting an identity and a spirit onto an object, and it is doing the same to us. The act of creation is paradoxical in that promotes wholeness by strategic and selective removal and relocation of the self onto canvas, paper, wood, or into sculpture, architecture or song. You imprint on the art, the art imprints upon you, and neither is left the same.
As much as art is discipline and difficult work – especially so for me – it is also a practiced encountering of God, or the spiritual, or higher power. Whatever you call it, art can be a respite from all that is un-reciprocal and divisive.
Art is hard work, but it is such deep rest.