A Painting A Day: Days 28-39

 Day 28: July 31, 2012
"Grandpa Helping Me"
5.5" x 5.5" watercolor on paper

Last month my boyfriend Matthew fell down some cellar stairs. We were all saddened, horrified and fearful. The worst possibilities flashed through my mind. Amazingly, he was okay, only requiring a minor surgery where doctors discovered a broken bone from Matt's accident in 2005! Every time something seemingly bad happens to Matt, it ends positively. This painting is based on a dream Matt had about his beloved grandfather helping him from the floor after he fell. 

 Day 29: August 1, 2012
"Fruit Bowl"
5.5" x 5.5" watercolor on paper

This painting is done at a friend's house. There are two framed photos, a fruit bowl and my feet. The exact ingredients for a still-life painting! It's fun to paint from life once in a while, to stretch my eye-muscles.

Day 30: August 2nd, 2012
"Sun Worshiper"
5.5" x 5.5" watercolor on paper

For the past few days, I have been re-editing photos and watercolors from a 2007 trip to Italy with the New York Studio School. For a week, I was honored to paint, cook and eat at a Tuscan house, near Todi. Every morning, we woke up to paint the sunrise. For six days, I managed to wake at 4:30am after going to bed around 1am (we had late dinners). The seventh day, however, I slept in. Blessed sleep! Next time, I will make a point utilize those dogged afternoons for hearty naps. Day after day, feverishly working into the night to organize photos and paintings from this magical trip, I have had Italy on the mind (although reading Frances Mayes' "Under the Tuscan Sun" may have also had something to do with it). Staring at those dawn watercolors from five years ago, I couldn't help but wonder if I was taking part in the ancient ritual of welcoming the sun. The Tuscan hills have been plowed over and over for millenia. Perhaps the first farmers stood on that same hill, eagerly waiting the dawn, celebrating when the golden sun pops its head out between the misty mountains.

"Lady Linda"
5.5" x 5.5" watercolor on paper

Last week at a meditation facilitated by Anthony Citro (see his website), we were asked to focus on a relationship in our lives that we wanted to heal. At first I expected to focus on my relationship with my boyfriend, or with my parents or friends, but my mind turned to Linda O'Neill, co-founder of the SQ-Foundation, a non-profit charity that does wonderful work around the world. As with many friends of friends who have passed away, I only know Linda through stories and photographs. During the meditation, I imagined her across a dark chasm, smiling at me from a close yet impenetrable distance. How I would love to talk to talk to her, to hear her story, to learn from her how to become a better person. My mind turned to other friends and family who have passed: my grandmother Katherine Kilgore and her best friend and my "adopted grandmother," Suzanne Vogel. How much we can learn from these wise women! How I wish I could talk to them now in person! In this watercolor, Linda's face is partially obscured, as if behind a veil, symbolizing how loved ones live in our memories after they have passed.

Transcription of "Purushakara Yantra" painting 
Rajasthan c. 18th century A.D.
from "Tantra Art" by Ajit Mookerjee
watercolor on paper 10" x 6"

This painting has a funny story. 

First, a description from the book: "Tantra Art" by Ajit Mookerjee, first published in 1966, Switzerland. "The seven ascending planes of experience, called lokas, are then seen (lokayanta), or the experienced; and the seven descending planes are known as talas. The center of these planes is the "earth-plane" (bhurloka) shown as a circle. The planes are not like geological strata: the ascending planes are supernormal states and the descending planes are subnormal experiences, while the earth-plane is the normal experience. The complete drama of the universe is repeated here, with one inevitable end--dissolution." (pp.122)

So, let's see. The circle in the middle of the giant person is the normal experience "earth-plane;" the scenes above (although I don't count seven) are the ascending planes of experience, called lokas; the seven scenes below are the talas, or descending planes. I wish I knew what these scenes meant. To me it looks like a burial of some type. And above, a lot of scholars or people talking. The head has more people on it and there is a crescent moon with five saint-like beings of different skin tones. What are the little boxes for, and what is the writing? If you email me the answer, I will send you a special drawing or painting from this book.

The book came to me in a most unexpected way.

Arriving early for a job interview near Union Square, I decide to shop for a few books: "Bella Tuscany" by Frances Mayes, and "The Namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri. Rather than the Strand, I end up at a Rare Books shop, the kind of place that my friend Todd Wooster would inhabit. Poking around, I quickly find "The Namesake" but am not so lucky with the Mayes. Turning to the cluttered store's single employee, I ask for the book and for the metaphysical section: a friend recommended Guy W. Ballard's writings on St. Germain. The employee examines me and the Georgia O'Keefe book I am holding, as if he is adding some equation in his head.

"Would you be interested in Yoga art?" he asks, in the manner that one would invite an initiate to a secret club. "Yes," I answer without a pause. "Come here." He takes me to a back room with books practically falling off the shelves. He emerges with two large volumes. They are about one hundred dollars each, very rare, and the last owner was reluctant to sell. He goes off to chase a shop-lifter and I open the volumes, leafing through page after page. What images! Some are eerily close to my own works, as if done from a single mind split in two. Others, like the one above, are out of this world. What could they possibly mean? I examine the covers: one book is Yoga Art and the other, Tantra. My pulse quickens, face reddens and tears leak from my eyes: This is what I want to paint. My true art teacher lives in these books! And then a realization: If I don't buy these now, I will never see these books again. The coincidences are too profound to pass up this opportunity. If this store takes credit cards, I'm going for the gold.

Fifteen minutes or so later, the deflated employee sits at his desk, unable to stop the Swiss book-napper. He sells me the books at a discount, quietly rewarding me for my patience, enthusiasm and for a missing page (whoever you are who did this, how dare you!). This is my first transcription from the books. Many more to come. I will share my knowledge and insight from the pages and from my life. Feel free to leave comments below or on my Facebook Page: Ariel Elizabeth Churnin-Artist.  

 Day 33: August 5th 2012
"God as Dynamic Female Figure"
transcription from "Yoga Art" by Ajit Mookerjee
5.5" x 5.5" watercolor on paper

This piece is based on a seventeenth century engraving by Robert Fludd. The original contains writings in the different sections of the geometrical shapes. The outer triangle is female whereas the inner triangle is male in orientation. It resembles a sri-yanta, a yogic symbol of overlapping triangles which I will paint shortly. The sri-yantra also symbolizes creation, as brought about by the fusion of male (upward pointing) and female (downward pointing) triangles. More on this later.

 Day 33: August 5th 2012
transcription from "Tantra Art" by Ajit Mookerjee
5.5" x 5.5" watercolor on paper

I love the expression on this guy's face, as if saying: "Who are you standing on my chin?" This piece is taken from a seventeenth century Nepalese scroll. The flower on the top of his head symbolizes the crown chakra, or our energetic connection to the divine. Many call this chakra, related to the brain center, "the thousand-petaled lotus." According to the description in the book, a yogi who has knowledge of the six chakras can awaken the dormant kundalini, or life force energy. When the kundalini is awakened, it "uncoils itself, and begins to rise upwards like a fiery serpent breaking upon each lotus as it ascends, until the Sakti merges with the Purusha in the Brahmarandhra in a deep samadhi or union." 
(Mookerjee, Ajit, "Tantra Art," Ravi Kumar, 1966, pp.130)

 Day 33: August 5th 2012
"I am the Universal Form"
5.5" x 5.5" watercolor on paper

This quote was taken from the "Tantra Art" book by Ajit Mookerjee. The quote reads: "Svadharanarupa: 'I am the universal form.'" These words were the first image on the paper. Then, I began sketching the J train, which rises over Broadway avenue in my new neighborhood. Under the train tracks is darkness whereas on the platform, one enjoys a grand view of the Brooklyn and Manhattan skylines.  During a meditation last month, I imagined the neighborhood under the tracks filled with flowers. Actually, the raised tracks resembled Chelsea's High Line native garden on the raised tracks. Wouldn't that be wonderful? A park above Broadway? Since I am new to the neighborhood, I don't want to impose my dreams prematurely. Perhaps in a few years, the city will change its plans about the neighborhood: bring more light, more flowers and children-friendly areas to life!

Day 34: August 6, 2012
"Objects for sale in Mopti, Mali"
from the New York Times article by Holland Cotter, 8.5.12
watercolor on paper 6" x 10"

My roommate Alex subscribes to the New York Times: the real paper, not the website! The first page of the Arts & Leisure section caught my attention with these images. I have always had a fascination with African art. I confess I know little to nothing about it, but I wish to know more. All the hours spent studying Greek and Roman statues has made me hungry for ever more ancient, more elemental artwork. This article by Holland Cotter discusses the controversy over African art: many radical Islamist groups are destroying ancient tombs; ancient cities have been sacked for rare African artifacts which the countries are now demanding back; convincing fake African art floods the market; it is now illegal to sell or purchase art (such as the objects above) from certain African countries; Africa itself plays a dubious role in perpetuating the artifact market.

 Basil and Ivy
5.5" x 5.5" watercolor on paper

Paying attention to my basil plant: am I over or under watering it? This morning I notice dry crispy leaves, which indicates under watering. When I pour water into the dirt, some spills on the tray below. The plant sucks it up from underneath. Definitely under watering. The ivy is a cutting which bent during the move to Brooklyn. So I make a cutting of the cutting. A quick peek at the submerged stem shows signs of root growth. I am hopeful for my basil...a bigger pot is in order, and more friends to play with.

 View of Dekalb Avenue, looking towards Broadway
10" x 6" watercolor on paper

I love the view from my apartment deck. What a treat, to have a deck overlooking a busy street. I love the tree outside my window, the children shouting and playing below, the colorful stream of commuters waiting for the bus. I also love the train passing through the top of my vision, just below the steeples of nearby churches. What's amazing is the amount of green in this neighborhood. You wouldn't necessarily think so at first glance but I guarantee you it's there, popping out of sidewalk cracks and peering out from distant buildings. The tree is large and cooling on these hot summer days.

 Red-tailed Hawks for Mom
5.5" x 5.5" watercolor on paper

The previous night I take a long walk from my apartment to the Lower East Side, the first neighborhood I lived in when I moved to New York, six years ago. As I pass my old apartment, I imagine myself six years ago: a young woman scared yet excited for the future with a full life ahead of her. I say a silent prayer for myself as if I were still up there, anticipating my first year at the New York Studio School, unaware that I will spend three years there, venture to Vermont, then Ohio and back again. I remind myself that there will be hard times ahead, harder than I can dream of, but also blissful times and opportunities beyond the scope of my imagination. I tell myself that the bumps and bruises make you who you are; they bring you back to yourself and strengthen you. The friends and relationships that you believe lost will give way to an abundance of new ones. I tell myself that I love myself very very much and there is no need to be afraid.

And then I realize that I am talking to myself now, in a nearly identical situation, six years later. But instead of school, I face a new job, an apartment in an even less explored area of New York (Brooklyn), and I have the same damn fears and anxieties. But this time I have experience and I know that these feelings, too will pass.

Late to bed, early to rise. I wake with the image of a red-tailed hawk flapping its wings: one wing is extended and the other tucked. There was another animal making the same movement that I forget upon waking. Perhaps a sea creature? A word on my mouth: Mom. This red-tailed hawk is for mom. So in the hour or two before leaving the house, I paint these images from the internet, as I don't know how to capture that dream image. Here you go, Mom. I love you and maybe this bird will help you on your own journey.

Some garden photos (for fun)

 Day 37: August 9th 2012
"Show me the man with mastery over the self
And I'll show you a gold medalist."
5.5" x 5.5" watercolor on paper

This watercolor came about after a night of watching the London Olympics. My roommate subscribes to the New York Times and there was a picture of Michael Phelps grinning widely and gripping his medal. Unlike four years ago, he didn't seem as happy and the world has shifted its focus. What to do when you've done it all? Last year at breakfast, a few of us were discussing ADHD. I mentioned that because Michael Phelps had it as a child, his mother threw him in the pool and now he's a gold medalist. A friend who's a psychoanalyst chipped in: "He still has it, you know." My mind raced to tabloid images of Michael smoking pot, perhaps easing an over-active mind when not in the pool? The friend went on: "I was almost in the Olympics, you  know, but what is a gold medal if you don't have a medal of the Self? Show me the man with mastery over the self and I'll show you a gold medalist."

 Day 38, August 10th 2012
"DeKalb Avenue, looking down"
5.5" x 5.5" watercolor on paper

A tired afternoon spent reformatting images on the computer. I go outside to enjoy the sunshine. Only hours earlier I was soaking wet from a mid-day shower. Bedroom windows open to catch the breeze let in a pool of water, and some electronics need replacing. Funny how wetness seeps into you. I feel drained still. Looking down, I enjoy the shape of this truck. There is graffiti on it that I wish I had captured, for later that day in the Upper West Side, I see a similar truck...could it be the same one?

Day 39: August 11th 2012
"Reductive Diagrams of Lunar and Solar Mansions"
transcriptions of gouache drawings from Rajasthan, c. 18th century
from Ajit Mookerjee's "Yoga Art," 1975.
5.5" x 5.5" watercolor on paper.

This one's for you, Kathy. Slowly, slowly I make my way through the massive illustrated texts of Ajit Mookerjee's "Yoga Art" and "Tantra Art." Some images are exquisitely elaborate, while others like the ones above, are sweetly simple, like the doodles made on the phone. According to Mookerjee, the solar and lunar diagrams "associate phenomena with metaphysical hypotheses. The kunda are a specialized system consisting of a series of interrelated divisions and subdivisions of the terrestrial and celestial spheres." (Mookerjee, Ajit, "Yoga Art," New York Graphic Society, 1975, pp.66)


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