Mirroring Empathy

A few months ago, I started a new series of paintings that, instead of fragmenting multiple versions of one source image, I began building new portraits by combining sheer layers of multiple source images. The paintings aren't completed yet, so I have no great reveal for you right now, but since I began this work, I keep bumping into parallel universes that are signalling to me I may be on the right track.

Inspired by the connection of the mirror/image to the desire for empathy and intimacy, I felt the fates twist in my favor when I recently came across a reference to "mirror neurons". Seriously, MIRROR neurons? If things couldn't get any better, it turns out this is science's name for those neurons in the brain identified as the source of our empathic instincts. I just had to know more. To start, I found this pretty good video produced by PBS's NOVA series that explains the current research findings.

And if that wasn't awesome enough, I then came across a random Tweet about an amazing artist, Megan Daalder, (who I am now painfully jealous of!) who took this idea of the mirror neuron one step (or perhaps more accurately, a million steps) further by creating a "mirror-box" to enable two individuals to physically merge their mirror reflections into one another in real time. It is a living, breathing version of what I am exploring in my paintings, and it could not be more inspiring. I beg you to watch the video about her work -- it's an amazing story of the power of art, the promise of technology, and the mysterious science of empathy.

Slow Dancing

I always think I can do more in one day than I can. I set big goals (finish 5 paintings in six weeks) and little goals (complete 4 shards of the blue painting by Monday) and even smaller goals (no lunch until the eye is finished), and yet I generally find I am so much slower than I expect to be, than I want to be. I often envy painters who seem to be able to crank out work with abandon. But as I began to blog about in August (see August 4 , 2009 posting entitled "Slow Art"), I think there's a compelling argument to made for the value of taking it slow.

This week, I began a new painting, and several other paintings are waiting in line to be started. The conditions are ripe for a hyper-productive painting marathon. I'm so excited about the new works I've planned, I almost can't wait to see them in paint - I want to paint faster, sleep less, ignore the phone, cancel my dates, finish as quickly as possible. And I'm doing much of that. Except for painting faster. Once I have the paint brush in hand, there is no moving quickly - I immediately shift gears from being enamored with the image to being enamored with the surface.

It is true that you can pick at a painting too long, sucking the life out of it by fussing. The brushwork can get too tight, and the color can begin to muddy, especially with oil paint. But there's a lot to be said for continuing to work the surface, finding more complex relationships among the forms, more subtle shifts of tone, more surprising hits of color than would have emerged from a first or even second impulse. In my work, the changes that I play with are all pretty subtle, but every small shift makes a difference. Just when I think it may be time to move on, suddenly the paint reacts in a way that makes it that much better. And then I think I should stay a little while longer. Maybe something even better will happen next. Of course, sometimes the magic does strike early, and it is only with fresh and patient eyes that I don't act too hastily and destroy it. Ultimately, the magic happens when the paint is allowed to take the lead. It is left for me to watch carefully for its cues and respond with grace.