“The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing, no matter how you get there.”  — Patti Smith.

I thought I would try and make a fairly quick painting (almost never happens but hope springs eternal), of a heart with a traditional folk art bird and floral motif since I have a bird themed show and Valentine’s Day is on the horizon. I made a quick sketch with birds, flowers, vines, dots, and proceeded to add color. This is pleasant I thought and should be fun. After a few hours of adding color and working the paint the excitement of beginning and possibility diminished; disappointment set in. The image was not coming anywhere close to the ideas I had envisioned in my head. It felt boring, uninspiring, and unimaginative. What was the point of a mediocre image?

I stopped working and stared dejectedly into space. After a few minutes, I picked up a large paintbrush, dipped it into umber paint and wiped it out. I could still vaguely see some lines and gradations of shadow. Immediately this palimpsest was interesting to me. Adding color, I pulled out some shapes and ideas that suggested themselves. Just like that I was reengaged into the mystery of the creative art process. I let my head and imagination wander over to Patti Smith whose hypnotic voice was reading her dreamy book “M Train”, a beautiful, plaintive recounting of her inner/outer wanderings through space and time. Unconsciously elements started seeping into the painting. There were evocative descriptions of tempestuous weather, moons, stars, light, cats, lists, fairy tales, and a recounting of her favorite books, music, philosophers, poets and TV shows. The tendrils of her energy transferred into me and into the artwork. I drew a moon over what had been an untethered geometrical element. She spoke of childhood, children’s books and lullabies. Dots became floating dust motes under a New York City skylight.

In the story she spends a fair amount of time with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. I drew in a simple primitive bird and reminded myself to read that book. In it he is looking for his cat. Already I am pulled into the narrative.

In this manner I entered the zone, and my painting “Heart Lullaby (Song for Patti)” came together quickly. I was pleased. Not long after I painted the portrait at the top of this post. Patti’s work is transforming me, leading me to question how I live my life, and inspiring me to be more true to my artistic vision.

Additional Patti stuff:

Her book, Just Kids, tells the story of her youth in New York along with Robert Maplethorpe won the National Book Award.

Dream of Life, documentary of her: poet, musician, parent and activist.

M Train, Poetic memoir

Hope you all had a fun Halloween.

My studio is open this weekend 11/3 and 11/4. Check out my Events page for more information.