Carmen Herrera is a 100-year old artist whose work didn’t really “catch on” until she was 80. But for all of those years leading up to 80 she “art-ed”; she quietly, doggedly, obsessively created the work that finally caught the art-world’s attention. I was watching a film about her and she said the following: “Artists are not very good with words. The art is their words. Besides, an artist can’t talk about art… he arts about art!” Boy… do I understand what she was talking about! When I finished my 35-piece Ohana Series one of my parishioners asked me what I was going to do with all of them, and I replied, “They’ll live in the closet, with all of the other artwork.” The look on the person’s face clearly said, “Then why do you do it!?!”
The answer is, “I do it because I have to!” The artwork is how I speak with life! The artwork is how I come to understand some things about myself that no amount of meditation can seem to reveal to me. The thought does sometimes come to me, “Why keep producing this work that is only seen by myself or others for a short while?” Whenever the question arises it automatically seems nonsensical to me, like trying to reason with lava, almost like asking if breathing is optional!
I live in a 32’ by 80’ large double-wide on the parish property. I have two “personal” rooms: a 15’ by 15’ office and a 10’ by 15’ bedroom, along with a bathroom and a closet; the rest of the house is what I think of as “public” space. I keep some of my artwork on two walls in my office and on two walls in my bedroom. During the past two years I have taken to hanging on my office walls whatever series I am currently working on, sort of like an ongoing exhibition. Every so often I go into my office and find a parishioner or two staring at the pieces on view. As a poor monk I don’t have the money needed to exhibit work at the many galleries in Savannah since providing exhibition-ready work requires money for matting and framing, and my ordering of more canvas or paint sometimes becomes a choice between supplies and food… really!
I do sometimes wonder, “Why keep producing this work?” While I get to see it as I am creating it, and some others can view it while pieces of a series are on my office walls, for the most part the work lives in the closet, under my bed, pieces tucked away in every nook and cranny and cabinet. And then there’s the issue of having to ship all of this artwork to Hawaii when I move there in June of 2019! When a new series blooms in my mind the thoughts automatically occurs to me, “What about the cost of shipping all of this work to Hawaii?!!! Why not not do anymore artwork until I move to Hawaii?” But the fact is that to not do the work would be like saying that I’m not going to eat or breathe until I move to Hawaii! And more essentially, doing this artwork feeds my soul!
In the past I have engaged in the spiritual practice of fasting, and some years ago I did completely fast from creating artwork. Feeling that maybe I was neglecting my ministry to my two parishes here in Georgia I gave away all of the artwork that I had created since leaving the monastery, and refrained from creating any other. But the longer I refrained from creating, the more I dreamed intensely in color at night, the more ideas for series ambushed me, and the more the paints, the canvas and the inks cried out to me from within the closet!. So, after two years of artistic abstinence, I brought them back out of the closet! I felt whole again!. Some essential part of myself had come back to life again!
That’s why I do it!