Art and Nature in Conversation
The gardens in Lunuganga estate are breathtakingly beautiful, vistas of water, trees, granite sculptures, stone work, rolling lawns, nooks and crannies of shade and light capture your senses as you walk in. It was here that I, along with other fellow students of Anoma Wijewardene’s art class settled in for the day to draw, sketch, paint, photograph, walk, and muse to our hearts content.
Lunuganga estate, located in the south of Sri Lanka, is the home and experimental lab of the renowned Sri Lankan Architect Geoffrey Bawa. His work was known to bring inside and outside elements together, so that over time the edges blur as nature takes its course. He was also known for his simple clean. straight lines of architecture.
Johann (my friend and long suffering caretaker of my hair for 15 years and now art partner in crime) and I walked around in the hot and humid day, with our cameras, capturing, framing what was catching our eye, wondering how these would translate in to sketches or paintings. After about an hour I reviewed the pictures I have taken, and realized that there was a particular quality or feel in my pictures. I was capturing where buildings met trees, or where windows looked out in to more windows and doorways, places where trees framed buildings, where dark and light was meeting, blurring.
In choosing to sketch I chose the frames that would in someway test my ability to show perspective, something that I struggle with as a wanna-be artist. I abandoned my big bag of art supplies and concentrated on only my A5 sketch pad and sketching pencils, and set to work, to do as many 5 minute sketches as possible for the day, so that I could later on pick what I like to re-sketch and colour at leisure on a bigger canvass.
Of recent I do not have the opportunity to attend art classes regularly, neither do I have the discipline to draw on my own, hence, Johann and I have occasionally tried to get together to inspire each other to sketch and paint. It is only when I become the wanna-be artist I am reminded how much I enjoy this process. I am by no means particularly good at this, but the fact that I don’t care that I am good or not, to enjoy it and share it says something about what it does to my creative soul. I do find myself immensely engrossed and focused, as I struggle with my frustration of trying to recreate a particular picture frame on my sketch pad. I feel exhilarated when I feel I have captured the essence or feel of the picture. I feel blissfully full.
In the evening a hot, sweaty and thoroughly tired but inspired bunch of artists met in the main house to critic and feedback each others work. We were a proud lot, of our own work and each others and looking for ways to give constructive feedback for the growth of our craft.
While I was drawing during the day, I had been musing on the particular frames that catch my eye, the way I like lines, geometrical shapes, the structure in the unstructured, the way in and out merge and blur, existing paradoxically and in harmony at the same time. I knew there was some reflection hidden in my artist’s eyes that would inform the particular inquiry question that I carry around with me these days – what are the ‘arts of conversation‘?
In the spirit of sharing this I offered to the group a small exercise to wrap up the day, to bring the artists eye to the minds eyes of expressing through language what was expressed through pictures (or ‘marks’ as Chris Seeley my doctoral research supervisor and Anoma, our art teacher would say).
I invited each person to grab the first 6 words that come in to their mind when they think of today’s experience, of what they drew, felt and smelt. Thereafter I invited them to explain each word in not more than 4 or 5 words, and then to play with arranging these phrases if they like to see if there was an emerging pattern, a piece of poetry that would inform them of another way of knowing and understanding their experiences and what other connections it may have for what else is going on for them.
My words were – in, out, light, calm, deep, soul. I had already worked on these words and a few lines of poetry had come to me a little earlier, and I was able to share this with the group. One or two of the others in the group shared their reflections as part of this exercise. I am not wholly sure how this exercise was for all, while one or two commented that they were amazed by the connection of the words, the experience to what else was happening in their life. Most felt that it was a nice way to conclude their imaging of the day.
Outside in, light streaming
Inside out, light beaconing
doorways to heaven
windows of soul
carved in granite
flowing in water
separating and merging
expanding and contracting
Artist as a conversationalist
I realized that as an artist I too was picking and choosing particular frames, to tell a story of the place and was seeing the place and space from a particular eye.
I was captured by how doors framed and let in light, or how one framed view led to another. Lunuganga evoked in me how things that seemed separate existed side by side and as one. Concrete pillars and vines and giant tree roots and enormous brass pots and wooden benches rubbed and leant on each other. Gravel walks led in to crazy design steps in to grassy patches and merged and separated spaces.
I was struck by how practical man-made structures supported and blended in with the complex and flowing patterns of nature. How overtime they have coexisted side by side and become one. Blurring and merging. This seems like a lovely way to view conversations. A good conversation should be like Lunuganga – there are practical structures – such as language, semantics, and best practices of framing questions and responses, while allowing them to merge seamlessly with the natural flow of thoughts, feelings, intentions of building relationships and shared futures.
As an artist I compose my picture – so that the audience gets a particular frame – perspective – of course it does mean that all possible perspectives are not contained in that frame – but in reality we cannot consciously process all the infinite possibilities of perspectives, while maybe neurologically they maybe stored in some manner in our brain. Framing tries to bring in to light the aesthetic appreciation of the artist, the message the artist wants to convey.
My reflections have moved me to consider how this insight of how I capture a picture, a story in image form, informs my inquiry question of the ‘arts of conversation‘. I am particularly drawn to the idea of how we frame conversations. We pick which words, which thoughts to present to the listener, we pick the drama we want to create or draw attention to, in the same way that as an artist I frame and compose to bring to notice a particular story. It is my story, my message, but could be interpreted in many different ways. If the picture evokes different perspectives in different people and all parties are able to create and share perspectives they haven’t had before, this would be a really good piece of art – as would be applied similarly in a good conversation. If we can all explore our multiple realities and create and share new realities we didn’t have before, we cant help but grow in that conversation.
Of course in a drawing or a painting there is a stillness to it, while in a conversation the picture keeps changing and being recreated at every interaction.
Anoma, always encourages us to sketch 6 frames of what we want to draw (maybe 3 portrait and 3 landscape frames) so that we can then decide which frame is the most interesting to draw. In our conversations also, if we could say ‘before we settle in ‘mile deep’ in to one part of the conversation, can we look at the topic from 6 different frames, and see which one has the most energy and interest and drama for exploration’, we can then acknowledge the multiple realities in our conversations, in our perspectives.
On exploring the concept of framing in a piece of art or photograph, my friend Chris (learning group friend) inquired as to “what goes outside the frame”? Ah, would these be the un-sayable?
Depending on the intention of the conversation the frame could be narrowed and focused and we engaged in mile-deep conversation or ‘mine for clarity’ (Scott, Susan; 2002). On the other hand we could keep moving the frame further back (as suggested by my learning group friend Shiobhan) to include more and more perspective.
I feel as if human-made structures and nature in Lunuganga are engaged in continuous interesting conversations in living in the present and in creating shared futures. It is hard to tell whether either mind being taken over by the other, it seems more like they are happy to merge and blur together as they become one, yet while maintaining a sense of their individual identities.
I think I would like to have conversations like that, with my friends, family, lover and clients and the world – to be a lovely synthesis of who I am and who they are.
Wishing you conversations that help you merge and blur in to each other, creating intimate shared futures.
Explanations – ‘Learning Group’ – this is the supervision group of 4 other doctoral students at Ashridge School of Business, where I have recently started my doctoral studies
Please visit http://www.lunuganga.com/ for more information on Lunuganga
Image credit (and sketches) – Mihirini de Zoysa