Here’s what I remember. I was 13 and my mother and I were planning a trip to San Francisco. My father had recently passed away and mom needed to work full time. So any time spent with her, especially alone time was welcomed. Part of our trip was a visit to the Museum of Modern Art. We purchased our tickets, went up the elevator and walked into the large rotunda. And then by chance, it happened.
The enormous paintings captured me and wouldn't let go. Their size was unbelievable and the colors were brilliant. The paint was splashed, sprayed, dripped and dribbled. There was brilliant red, dark purple, pure yellow, bright blue, green and black. The white of the canvas was as important as the paint. Then there was the subject matter. These painting were not about a place, a person or a time in history. These paintings were about paint, color, light and motion, and they had a feeling. They were about joy, spontaneity, risk and freedom. It was life affirming. I stayed in the rotunda and looked at the work, mesmerized and captivated by their sheer size and color. My mom was patient and eventually left me “alone” with a watchful eye.
She told me that the paintings were done by Sam Francis. He was a California born artist and his work was called abstract expressionism. I would later learn what that meant, but at that moment, I didn't care. It asked something of me. And at the same time, it wanted to tell me something. I wasn't sure what that was, and to this day I’m still not sure. But what I do know is that we were having a conversation, a conversation that was between my heart, head and the paintings. The conversation has grown deeper and more profound as time has passed.
I don’t think my experience is exceptional or uncommon. I think that we all have experiences with art that speak to us in profound ways. It could come from a piece of art or a piece of music. It could come from a story, or a poem. Age is not a factor. I believe that there is something in all of us, way down deep, a mood or a feeling that is longing for an understanding and a conversation. When we hear a piece of music or see a piece of art, that longing has made a connection and it's invited to have a conversation. It has found its companion. It becomes a friend that communicates to us unconditionally with affirmation and acceptance.
When I studied art and became an abstract artist, I would learn about color fields and abstract expressionism. I would learn about the work of other abstract artists; Helen Frankenthaler and Mark Rothko. I would learn about the artists that influenced Sam Francis; David Parks and Clyfford Still. I would learn the facts. The facts were validating, but the facts I might forget. What I didn't learn, but would never forget was that when I was 13, I had been moved by an artist that I would never meet. We had a conversation. It was about both the subtle and blatant quality of paint; it was about the importance of leaving empty space; it was about the power of large; it was about spontaneity, risk taking, joy and beauty. We’re still talking.
And you? What art is talking to you? Listen very closely. It might have something important to say.