Meet Kimberly Carmody. If you visit her web site, Urban River Arts, you will see that, like many creative folks, she is many things, but I met her yesterday at HOUSE 39 in Gladstone, NJ where she was the instructor of a wonderful art approach called Sequence Painting, which was created and developed by Ric Campman of the River Gallery School in Brattleboro, VT. If I had to tell you what I think Sequence Painting is, I would say it is a meditative form of visual expression that utilizes oil paints to create soothing landscape studies which explore color and movement. The sequencing of this approach refers to the trio of images that is created through repetition, left to right, with the objective being to duplicate the gesture and its color three times before adding the next one.
I’ve been taking art classes this year, trying new mediums and styles, in an effort to find simpler, faster and looser ways to make art… and to relax. My own collage work and paintings tend to be very detail-oriented, multi-step and labor-intensive and, while I actually enjoy a rather meticulous style of creating art, I often long for something more intuitive, something that does not require so much time and effort. At odds with this longing is a temperament that really insists on being Type A, so when I arrived at HOUSE 39 to learn that we were going to paint with our fingers, I have to admit the voice inside my head mockingly said, “OMG…. here we go… I am never going to make it through four hours of finger painting.”
I was initially reminded of a hatha yoga class I took a few years back. I’d been logging some pretty intense road mileage and my friend invited me to take a six-week class for relaxation and flexibility. I will never forget lying on my back, on the floor, staring at ceiling in a dark room, ambient pan-pipe music twinkling away in the background, as the instructor told us to imagine we were a leaf floating down a river. A million other thoughts rattled simultaneously in my brain, not the least of which was what procrastinated project I had to have finished by the next morning and how I was going to make up for the fact that I’d squandered the opportunity to burn 600 calories by pretending to be a leaf rather than pounding out six miles. I know that’s not the point of yoga but, whatever… I paid for the single class, got reimbursed for the other five weeks and laughed in my head when the teacher told me I wouldn’t be able to keep running without yoga forever. Truth is, while I know better, I don’t always do better.
So, you can see what I’m working with here, right?
Kimberly started off with a demonstration and a brief explanation of the approach… imagine the horizon of the sea and the sky, lay down a ground of pure sunshine, add the elements of what your mind finds there (at your imagined horizon line) through color and movement and contact with the paint. Forget brushes and other tools and, instead, connect directly with the paint and the canvas through your (gloved) fingertips! Focus on this one moment and keep your mind quiet. She even encouraged righties to try it lefty-style and vice-versa. Painting, (and all art forms) says Kimberly, is only a metaphor.
I think that maybe it was the sea and sky horizon meditation that unexpectedly pulled me into this approach and allowed me to embrace her metaphorical view. Living in a coastal state is a geographic dream come true for a once landlocked midwestern girl. I take comfort in knowing I can get to the edge of my world in only an hour’s drive. And, one of my favorite things to do on vacation has always been to wake up before everyone else does and get down to the beach to look out to where the ocean meets the sky early in the morning. I think about the place where air and water have collided endlessly for millennia, I marvel at the thought of the creatures who remained to live in the waves while others emerged to crawl, run and fly, and I am awed by the forces beneath the surface of the sea that are so perfectly aligned with our Moon, billions and billions of miles away. While I tend to be a rather secular person, this experience never fails to fill me with the Divine and I am sure that I could never live inland again.
My first two sequences were kind of turbulent. The first one was also a little dark. And, I was surprised to notice almost immediately that if I could not relax my hand, this was actually going to hurt. So, with no brush to clench and control, I let my hand go softer. After my second sequence, I took off the rubber gloves and got a better handle on the delightfully buttery movement of oils and the wax medium. I like the tall, vertical look of my more serene third sequence.
By sequence four and five, I abandoned the more literal notions of sea and sky and moved quickly into other colors and, I think, a more metaphorical representation. The fifth sequence was completed in only about two minutes before the class concluded.
And, part of what made this class so engaging for me was seeing everyone else’s sequences. Kimberly had us look at them on large sheets of colored paper and then hang them up on the wall together. Seen as a group, they were beautiful and harmonious metaphors that worked together for a full and wonderful symphonic effect.
But, Kimberly is no “woo-woo artist,” mind you. Her outreach in the field of education is far and she has worked with some real heavy hitters like the New York Studio School, the Teachers College at Columbia and the people at the Harvard Project Zero. For anyone who has worked closely with children, this art approach will immediately start making sense from a progressive educational standpoint. I hope to network with Kimberly in the future and am excited about the things I have already learned with regard to her interest in education and the arts, including her exciting Urban Mandala project which you should see for yourself on her YouTube channel.
There is also nothing else in the entire world like the smell of oil paints. I love it. And, the wax medium? I swear I could put this stuff on my pulse points. I’ve always thought of oil paints as serious business. The things that go with them are flammable and seem complicated, and the artists I’ve met who use them can sometimes be a little esoteric. But Kimberly brought them to me in a gorgeously simple, uncomplicated and metaphorical way. Truthfully, I have absolutely no desire to ever dip a paintbrush into oil paints but I can tell you that I have already ordered a beginner’s set so that I can get my fingers right back into them. Thank you, Kimberly.
TRY THIS WEEK: Think about the place where the ocean meets the sky.