Posts Tagged ‘liminality’

I have been following one of my favorite artists practicing today, Nicholas Wilton, on Facebook. I discovered his work on a desk calendar I bought several years ago and enjoy his posts on art-making and  him sharing his beautiful work. He seems to get that painting is a process that connects us to each other, our cultural history, to nature and speaks in the visual language of metaphor and symbolism. It resonates with me and my own personal relationship to art.

For several years I have been working on a series of mixed media paintings inspired by liminality, the in-between space that gives rhythm and meaning to being human. It is often a much ignored and oft anxiety-inducing “place” to be. Someone recently described it as stepping off a train in a strange town. I associate it with being adrift, at sea. I believe we have all felt like we were on a precipice of choice and change and unconscious of the fact that it is not only a part of our macro world, our psyche but also working on a micro level, too. It is the moment between inhalation and exhalation, the threshold from the past to the present.

With that in mind, I was delighted to see Wilton’s recent post about the in-between. He discusses the idea of working hard and how working hard all the time may not be the most efficient approach to being. I always wondered….what is the gauge for working hard? As artists, aren’t we working all the time? Observing, being, absorbing, expressing? Our society teaches us that if it doesn’t earn a paycheck, if we aren’t going to an office and producing tangible widgets, we aren’t working. Here’s what Wilton had to say:

“Working hard is something I have forced myself to get good at but now I think that maybe this was not such a good thing to get good at after all. Listening to the poet philosopher David Whyte speaking in San Francisco a couple of years ago I jotted something down in my sketchbook that he said regarding learning. He was talking more metaphorically, probably larger in terms of learning from our life – how to live, rather than art making, but it resonated with me. It was a quick sentence and at the time I didn’t really understand, so I wrote it down so later I would. He said, “…Visitation, absence, visitation, absence, visitation, absence, (this repeated over and over again) is how we learn.” In other words the time BETWEEN the periods of effort, the pauses in-between are fundamentally as important as the periods of work. He believes that this “on, off and on again “ process produces more consistent, more substantial results.” 

I like the words he chose, visitation and absence, as in being present to the work, and then being present to the space. There is rhythm, an ebb and flow that is stepping away, taking a pause. I find it reflected in the concept of positive and negative space in art and design. The space around objects are just as important as the objects themselves. They are both characters in our personal story, and in our art.

How does being in-between affect you? Is it comfortable or make you anxious? Can you ride the wave across the unknown sea?


Nicholas Wilton’s Symmetry – Mixed Media on 20 x 54″ panel

Stremmel Gallery, Reno, Nevada


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Today I leave Spello, my home away from home for these last two weeks. I begin slowly heading west, toward the last leg of my European journey. As I pack and clean and assess the “stuff” of travel, I always become introspective. A transition is happening both physically and emotionally with the feeling of something quite rich and wonderful coming to an end, and the anticipation of what is around the next corner building. This is maneuvering through the liminal space, a feeling of in between. It is disquieting for some, puts you on edge. There is a great wide open space of unknown.

I tend to think of it as a mourning process. Not saying good-bye necessarily, I certainly plan to be back here many times to come, but more of an acceptance that with the inevitable movement of time and us with it, there is a letting go. I try to take the “live in the now” approach. I’m happy where I am in the moment. It’s a piece of practicing mindfulness, being present, that we often forget to do. We get so caught up in train schedules and passport requirements, worry and wonder if we’ll get there on time, will we know where to go, what if we get lost?!

But the truth is, we are maneuvering through the liminal space all the time. In fact, even when we are just sitting, thinking, a memory triggered, a sound heard – no matter what, our neurons are interacting to create thoughts and that process requires a space over which to travel. Essentially we are traveling by just being, physically and psychologically through time. This form of travel is just as important as the getting on a plane kind of travel. We’re just not so aware of it. And I certainly don’t have the quantum physics knowledge to begin to explain the how’s and why’s but I feel a part of it and that’s what matters most to me.

I was reflecting on all the forms of transportation I will have utilized in these eight weeks. Planes, trains, cars, boats, elevators, bicycles, escalators, trams, gondolas and buses. I could have taken a zip line at one point as well as gone paragliding but I preferred staying on the ground. My feet have carried me the most, miles and miles of hiking, exploring and lugging up and down beautiful hills and roads.

The most travel I’ve done so far on this trip has to be time thinking. I remember trips with family, the first time I was ever on a plane, the time I got off of a train in a town in Spain that was not where I expected to be. I have moments that I wish my friends were with me, seeing and experiencing what I’m experiencing. I think of all the paintings and art that I want to create just to honor the colors and landscapes amassing in my head.

Today I will try to enjoy the packing and cleaning and getting to the train station on time. Did I really bring all this stuff? I will check to make sure my passport is in my purse side pockets, probably thirty times, just in case a magical fairy decides to steal it or put it somewhere else just to stress me out. And I will step into the liminal space bidding “see ya soon,” or “a presto” in Italian. But I never say “good-bye.” With all this traveling and moving about, there’s no end. Just new beginnings.

Buon viaggi!!

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