by Stephen Mead

by Stephen Mead

According to Feng Shui, mirrors are supposedly good power representatives, just as long as they are not cracked or divided in any way. Stains or spots where the reflective coating has worn off probably isn’t ideal either, but that’s what I’ve got to work with since I didn’t buy a new one. In other words, I take my chances and live a little.

The bathroom medicine cabinet is a good example of my daring devil-may-care. It has a wonderful carved gothic shape that has grown permanently tarnished around the edges. No problem. A little glue stick and a couple postcards creates another dimension. The two images I chose are black and white, each done by a local artist. The first is a photo of a statue rising out of the grassy earth like a maenad. She is carrying a large pitcher on her shoulder and looks peaceful as well as strong. This particular postcard found its way into a watercolor pencil on canvas I did for a series titled, “Weightless.”

As a self-taught writer and artist, I have been pulled between both passions since my teenage years. It was not enough to just work on a drawing (pencil, pastel) or painting (watercolor, acrylic, oil) and then neglect a piece of writing or vice versa. In order to succeed financially and ethically, I had to practice each vocation daily or I was not living up to some ideal. Not only that but neglecting my relationships with others and obsessing about any form of creativity somehow felt bad and selfish. It wasn’t until my early thirties that I started letting go of this rather sabotaging masochism. Adopting certain practices such as Feng Shui, the somewhat superstitious idea that arranging one’s surroundings in just the right way invites positive energy, has actually helped me accept my creativity as necessary and inherent to living.

Getting older I realized I never practiced art to make money. It spoke to some primitive spiritual instinct, one which felt more comfortable giving work away than getting money for it. I also realized I was an outsider mixed media artist. “Weightless,” like most of the series I do, developed organically, one piece unconsciously leading to another, mixing with lines of poetry (in my brain and then on pages) both during and after, until suddenly I was out of my depth with 30 images done.

In some ways my surroundings  became installation pieces that slipped into my multi-media world by osmosis. Directly across from the bathroom mirror maenad postcard is a second postcard – a print of a painting revealing an Asian woman done as either a graphite or ink wash, something rather runny and thin anyway, so the woman’s face, with steadfast eyes, has a haunting blurred aspect. Her lips, however, remain generous and pronounced, as though she is aware of the nature of time, the difficulty of keeping one’s head above water in any eon, but also a trust in ultimate perseverance.

It has been said that shamans are doorways, and there is something of the in-between which these images convey to me, a reminder of metamorphosis as one’s reflection floats in the midst of both. There is genuine compassion in the face, and perhaps that’s why I chose it, having once met such a good spirit.

I was thrift shopping one autumn day downtown when the overcast gray turned into an actual squall. Suddenly a magnetic light blue filled my senses, a lightness on my skin as well, for this passing kind Korean woman was cloaking me with her rain cape. “Take, you need,” she said, laughing over my protests as she hopped onto a bus and disappeared. Reverie. I’ve never forgotten that incredible generous occasion, having both written of and painted it, the poem acting as midwife for what turned out to be a long pregnancy. More than a decade went by before I actually dug out the rain cape and let the muse work its healing onto canvas not only with paint but various glazes and glitter glue. This slow-growth is/was certainly true of the postcard maenad statue, a work I see as Aquarian, a water-bearer, as my Mom was. The germination to do the sketch which became the painting in “Weightless,” took years.

In fact, not only in the bathroom, but throughout my apartment, are various postcards and clippings which have either found themselves incorporated into my work, even if just as oblique reference points, or may still one day. Very rarely has a postcard or clipping launched some immediately new art piece. I keep a wicker basket in addition to several folders filled with these tokens of inspiration. Often I find myself like a beach comber or gold prospector fanning through them. Especially since I don’t use actual models, the post cards, as well as my photo albums, serve either as anatomical perspective studies, or as triggers, keys, for remembered individuals/experiences. These, when mixed with the notebooks where I jot down ideas, act as alchemy. I just never know when the seeds of chemical gestation may sprout. Even as I write this, feeling a bit guilty about taking the time to do so, time away from painting, time away from loved ones, there’s a fluttering of colors and lines taking shape like a kaleidoscope behind my eyelids, shifting and calling, but not really waiting.

Yes, I might bid them to come again, yet it’s not as if they’ve ever really left. I was the sidetracked one. Colors. Lines. Shadows. Light.  Whatever I capture or don’t, these things remain, belonging to themselves.