Painting an Old Church, Sant Pau del Camp, Barcelona
Passing by Sant Pau del Camp (Saint Paul of the Fields) a couple weeks ago, I paused for a moment to make a sketch of it. This painting is based on that sketch. Sant Pau de Camp is a church and former Benedictine monastery located in the Raval district of Barcelona. It is the oldest church (circa 977) in the city, and it’s also a personal favorite, as I am quite fond of Romanesque art and architecture. But I also like it for its quiet modesty and simple, earthy beauty. And for the way it sits there, firmly planted in all its unassuming grace in the midst of the hustle and bustle and frenetic energy of city life. And while it is one of the few remaining examples of Romanesque architecture in the city of Barcelona, it’s said to have one of the best cloisters for its state of preservation. You can find more such churches and monasteries scattered around Catalunya, and I hope to get out of the city to paint some of them as winter gives way to spring.
Surrender through the painting process
While painting this, I reflected on the practice of surrender, not only in art but also in life. Throughout my life, I have often felt that I need to be “in control” and maintain strict and constant vigilance, lest things dissolve into chaos and formlessness. But lately I ask myself, “How much control do we really have in this life? How much do I, we, really know? And is not knowing really such a problem?” With all this in mind, little by little I am learning to surrender and to trust in something other than myself. Something higher but which also flows through everything, or so I believe. I don’t know what you’d call “it” and it doesn’t matter. We humans like to attach names to things, but maybe it’s not always necessary. Words aside, it’s this invisible but felt energy, or vibration, or life force, that I feel connected to through the painting process and which is the real subject in the painting.
In-between-time and listening to birds
For the past two years, I’ve had the habit of welcoming each new day with a 15 minute meditation practice. After doing so, I sit for a moment in a post-meditation ritual (a minute or so maximum) and just “be” before commencing with my daily routine. Sometimes during this brief interlude, unexpected thoughts and emotions arise, sometimes not, it doesn’t matter, I try not to have expectations. This is one of the most cherished moments of my day, there’s only the silence in the room and the distant, cheerful chirping, cooing, and warbling of birds, greeting the morning with their serenades. There’s no burden of expectation or even a name for this ritual. It’s just an in-between-time. This short time for mediation, along with the regular, almost daily practice of yoga have made all the difference to me in terms of feeling more open (physically and emotionally), connected and focused. These practices are now an integral part of my life, alongside the painting.
A poem about the art of losing
Yesterday morning during this in-between-time, I thought to myself, “You are getting better at letting go of most things”. Then I recalled a fragment of a poem entitled “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop. I identify with her poems because there’s a painterly sensibility about them, maybe it’s in her descriptions, or the details, I don’t know. In fact, she was also a good painter and had many artist friends. Anyway, in her poem “One Art” she seems to be suggesting that writing (or painting perhaps?) and the art of losing are one and the same. Call it losing, call it letting go, we are compelled, obliged, to let go of practically everything and everyone sooner or later, along the way in life. Her poem speaks to that in a powerful way.
A pause, stopping time, being in flow
There’s a balance I strive for while painting, between letting go and holding on, freedom and control. In this most recent work, I’m going for a little less control (more surrender, more freedom). I’m not sure if this painting communicates that, however I am sure that I experienced this while painting it, and that’s enough for me. Painting for me, like meditation and yoga, is a way of freezing time, or at least slowing it down. When painting (or practicing meditaion or yoga), I feel more open and connected. This connection extends to each and every living thing, and also to something eternal and omnipresent. Something which was here long, long before us and which will no doubt be here long after us, a little like the old church in the heart of the city of Barcelona.