Passage

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.


This is the opening of “Wild Geese,” a poem by Mary Oliver. Oliver, an iconic American poet, has honed the art of sensing and transcribing wildness.

The passage has floated in and out of my life at different times, usually lingering for a few years at a time.

Have you noticed this in your own life? A song, a movie, a book, a quote—something seemingly relevant to your life slides in as a companion at a very specific time. More so, you don’t call it in, it appears on its own. How does the touchstone know when to come in? Have we unknowingly sent some sort of signal requesting its presence?

When Oliver’s lines come in, I’m reminded that there is a bigger picture than the one I can see. That there is a patterning, an unfolding, and my singular job is to stop the resistance. The incessant mind chatter, the fear, the search for a logical response.

Right now, these words are taped to my studio wall. This does not have to be hard as I am making it.

Anxious is the word of the day, even the year. Perhaps in a visual artist’s version of stage fright, I often feel anxiousness stirring around in my body as I prepare to face the work currently in process, the one that’s trying to stare me down. If not that version, then anxiousness about making the deadline for two solo exhibitions coming up in a year. Or, if not those, anxiousness about the financial solvency in spending so much time in the studio. Choose your flavor: which form of anxiousness do you wish to wrestle with today Anne?

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Really? Is this true? Do you have proof this is true?

I don’t have proof but Oliver’s declaration, as if it is true, is what I’ve got right now so I’m going with it. For this particular passage

Anne Truitt's Influence

When I was a teenager living at home, mindlessly scanning a Newsweek Magazine one day, I came across a picture that stopped me in my tracks. The image was of one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen: Anne Truitt’s Morning Child as it stood in her studio.

Morning Child.jpg

Staring at the photo I was spellbound. There was a presence I could sense but not articulate. An almost sentient being in a glorious deep blue color that seemed to vibrate as it stood in the middle of the floor.

Anne Truitt was an American modernist sculptor who melded color field inquiry with minimalist form. In essence, she sought to “set color free in three dimensions for its own sake.” (from Truitt’s first book, Daybook)

In my early 30’s, married with 2 kids, I went back to school to get a second undergraduate degree, this time in art. For my senior thesis I focused on Truitt and her body of work. In an incredible twist of luck, the head of the art department at that time actually knew Truitt and put us in contact with one another. Pre-email, we wrote back and forth to one another, me with questions seeking to better understand how and why she developed her work, and her with thoughtful answers that encouraged broader interpretations—no directly telling me what it meant.

As the thesis was wrapping up, Truitt invited me to her home in Georgetown, near the Washington Cathedral. The light seemed familiar as we walked into her living room. I realized it was the same light that filled her studio in the Morning Child image from years before. Grace was present.

Our understanding of Truitt’s work comes through sensing it, being quiet and letting it come in; she created it doing the same.

This is her first major influence on my own work. She spoke many times of how she would first see the finished pieces in her mind, sometimes randomly and unexpectedly; other times through focusing on a particular event or topic. It would then be her choice to bring the work into form, or not. In the studio, I often start with attaching an interesting section of a vine to the work wall and then wait until it tells me what it wants to be. Sometimes the wait is several weeks. Testing the patience.

Second, Truitt achieved the three-dimensional color by applying layer upon layer of thin, transparent coats of paint, alternating vertical and horizontal strokes. Layers and layers of blue, until it became like the sky. For me, it’s reed, layer upon layer of reed. Start with a few reeds, let them set up. Then come back the next day and add a few more. Day after day, layer after layer.

Third, is the melding of touch with transmutation. Said Truitt, “In the narrowest meaning of the concept, it is touch, after all, that I am after in my work; the touch of my hand I hope to find transmuted into something that touches the spirit.” (from Daybook).

Random weaving is the language I use to transmute reed and vine into something else, into the form they told me they wanted to become. Maybe something of beauty, maybe not. But always something Other.

In thinking of Truitt, this prayer by Krishna Das comes to mind. He offers this when closing a Kirtan:

"If we know anything about a path at all, it's only because of the Great ones that have gone before us. Out of their love and kindness, they have left some footprints for us to follow. So, in the same way that they wish for us, we wish that all beings everywhere, including ourselves, be safe, be happy, have good health, and enough to eat. And may we all live at ease of heart with whatever comes to us in life."

Thank you, Anne.