“The studio serves as a haven for me,” says 36-year-old self-taught artist Landon Metz. “When I enter that room, something special happens to me. I have created an environment that helps me get there. ” In his minimal white cube of a noisy work area in New York’s Chinatown – a space dotted with plants and iconic pieces of designer furniture, including a pea green Varies Extreme wiggle of a chair – “that place” is one of calm and quiet. It is a meditative state of focus, translated into fluid abstract forms, created with softly nuanced washing of dye in compositions that can span several canvases. The canvases themselves are also stretched by Landon, part of another ritual process. “But when it comes to the visual language only in the paintings themselves,” he adds, “they come out just as they come out.”
This meditative approach to abstract painting goes back to Mark Rothko’s color fields and the minimalist grids of Agnes Martin, who advocated an emptying of the mind according to her belief in Zen Buddhism. While artists are once again exploring the connection between mindfulness and creativity, so are psychologists and therapists. While a 2012 study by Italian cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato concluded that certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking, the 2019 study conducted by Dr. Daisy Fancourt, an associate professor of psychobiology and epidemiology at University College London, that artistic activities trigger strategies for emotion regulation – mechanisms that are increasingly seen as the key to good mental health. Further research shows that engaging in creative activity can reduce the level of cortisol – the primary stress hormone.
At London’s Waddington Custot Gallery, Metz’s current show (Love songs, on until Jan. 26) – a rhythmic sequence of biomorphic forms seeping across raw canvas – is immensely soothing. “My hope is that someone will have a similar experience in front of the work I had while I was doing it,” he says of the works, which were quickly overtaken by collectors from Zurich to Hong Kong. “For me, the process keeps me in a place that makes the rest of my life more manageable. I am a sensitive person and life is very sometimes. So I think study practice is a means of metabolizing the world, working things through, and getting more present out of it. More available. And only for myself, more skilled. ”
It’s art as self-care, something that also applies to the work of Los Angeles-based Jennifer Guidi, whose nine large abstract canvases managed to create a moment of quiet contemplation when they were shown – and all sold – by Gagosian at Frieze London in October. . As part of a series with the title Painted Universe Mandalas, several colors are built up with layers of sand and paint and finished with a radiant pattern based on the circular motion of Tibetan monks working together on a sand mandala.
“I think of all my work as a meditation and also a source of energy,” she says. “The idea of energy vibrating and coming from the heart is very important to me. I guess my process is similar to yoga; like when you know you’re going to be in a position for a long time and it looks like , that it’s going to be hard, but you’re pushing yourself beyond that point, and then you get the benefits of it.I think that when you can let go of yourself and your thoughts, then you can really be open to channel new ideas. ”
In Portland, California native Chris Johansson’s swirling “abstract streams of color” also refer to mandala paintings. “I focus on not knowing what I’m doing while my body gently and slowly paints these colors side by side,” Johanson writes in Considering Unknow Know With What Is, And (published by New York Gallery Mitchell-Innes & Nash). “All the time I think about everything else – past, present and future, myopia and hyperopic.” Working on raw canvas slows down the painting process. “You also think slowly about things,” he says. “The process is completely time consuming; it just softens me completely. These are peaceful paintings to make. And I think you can see it. That’s why they resonate. ”
Active or dynamic meditation was first explained by the Indian spiritual guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (the controversial topic in the Netflix series Wild Wild Land, who moved his ashram from India to Oregon in 1981), but the general idea is also the root of a new wave of art classes primarily aimed at promoting mindfulness. California is, not surprisingly, well cared for. The California Center for Creative Renewal, located on the coastal hills of Encinitas in northern San Diego County, offers art therapy sessions along with garden-based drawing and painting classes. In LA, The Art Process offers “mindful mixed media art workshops for creative exploration and wellness,” while artist and teacher Ariel Fabian Lijtmaer leads transformative meditation workshops using art and live music.
In London, former city banker Zena El Farra founded the Belgravia workshop MasterPeace in 2019 to explore painting as a form of mindfulness. “Towards the end of my career in banking, painting was my way of de-stressing,” says El Farra. “I was thinking, how could I make painting as accessible as yoga for busy companies to relax and unwind? Our core audience is the person who says ‘I could not draw a stick man’.” The signature-trained painting class, which is based on projecting a photo onto a canvas, predominantly attracts “a 25- to 35-year-old professional woman, probably with a very busy job,” says El Farra. “The well-being of the company is also a really important part of what we do.”
The connection between mindfulness and art is also increasingly being considered by museums – from the Manchester Art Gallery (whose head of health and wellness is a mindfulness practitioner) to MoMA in New York, which holds monthly “quiet mornings” with guided meditation sessions. This year, the charity Wellcome Foundation will launch Mindscapes, a cultural program that includes exhibitions, films and artist residencies from Berlin to Bengaluru that will focus on mental health. The purpose is to address the fact that “one in four people experience a mental health problem every year, but for decades, the treatments have hardly evolved”. The answer? “A holistic scientific, social and cultural approach is needed, now more than ever.”
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