A spiritual conversation with God through brush strokes

— Yusuf Arakkal

Recently I came across an article by a critic on a painter who creates ‘spiritual’ paintings.

‘It is the spiritual content in these paintings that defines the painter’s commitment’

As art critics goes today she went on exaggerating the important of spirituality in the works on show. Unfortunately I had to search for a long time in vain to find the spirituality in these works - from the accompanying reproductions. Art critics have great flair for categorizing works of art. History is full of such attempts. While they think it helps artists and connoisseurs to understand art better, in most cases it works the other way around. Robert Hughes once said the predictions of art critics seldom came true in the history of art. How true. While raving about the attached spirituality of these works our art critic forgotten a simple and eternal truth about creative activity.

‘Every creative attempt is sacred and spiritual.’

When a musician sings a note, an actor makes a gesture, a dancer moves her feet to a beat, a writer scribbles a line, a sculptor’s hammer strikes the chisel and a painter dips a brush into the paint, all these become an act of great spirituality. It is an attempt to have a dialogue with God

Every painter wants to make pictures as good as God makes.

He wants to have a dialogue with God. He knew it is only possible through his pictures. A serious artist knows that creativity is having a conversation with God. The more creative ones get God to listen to them but the genius gets God to answer him. It is the answers of God that are the great creations of man. When he began dabbling in paint he realized that every brush strokes are questions to God and the realization of the beautiful hues are the answers of God. When God doesn’t answer the hues become muddy and ashy.

Great artists knew God smiles through colours and the smile has myriad heavenly hues. Artists spend lifetime capturing those hues and seldom succeed. The ones who succeed becomes Michelangelo s, Da Vincis, Van Goghs and Picassos. The nature is God’s studio and his palette is overflowing with brilliant colours. He could alter the colors at his whim and spread it into the lives of his subjects- the humans. Unfortunately very few of his subjects realize the importance of the colors of God. And those who realize seldom understand it. But those who understand it becomes creative people. And those who recreate Gods colours spread it on to other human beings and becomes Gods among humans. Talking about colours as a young orphaned child, barely eight years I became a loner at heart. I would sit at the sea shore alone looking at the setting sun in the evenings. When the sun begin to go down in distant horizon dipping into the sea the colours of gold spreading across now flamed horizon was an amazing sight. My eyes drinking into those myriad hues of gold and blue will become moist with excitement and happiness. When the sun goes further down and darkness began to creep in the burning umber and the streak of golden yellow defining the horizon will melt into my heart filling it with prayers for almighty whose form I see in those colours. The sky above the horizon that was a shimmering silver begins to become a mild copper and burning red that slowly turn into a mixture of umber and blue. As the sun dips slowly into thes sea the umber began to acquire more blue and becomes darker and deeper and slowly the horizon melts and become a dark patch with the sea. Divine light fades into the darkness as humans lit their lights in their abodes. The invading darkness covers the sea and the sky with a shimmering bluish unholy light providing a little concern for the lonely. Perhaps it is from these divine experience that my palette derived in later life as an artist. That light still play around in my canvases, even after five decades. The light which is a divine provision is truly found in very few artists works.

Rembrandt Van Rijn is perhaps one of the very few artists who has discovered the truth of that light and in consent of God he has applied colours of divinity infused with light. Whenever I looked at those magnificent works of Rembrandt they initiated a conversation with me, conversation in spirituality and divine essence. The emerging patches of light in the shadows are certainly borrowed from the treasury of God’s colours. There is a large self portrait by Rembrandt at the Frick collection at 5th avenue, 71st street in New York. The shadow filled back ground from which the emerging figure of the artist shines through gold and dreamy yellows slowly spreads to those areas the shadow becomes deeper and more darker brownish. These gleaming yellows create a dreamy ambience where those fine fusion of light and colours emerge.

Here the artist brings out a great spiritual truth that there is light even in the darkness. This is definitely a work of art created by a man in deep meditation and in dialogue with God. It is a collaborative product of human creativity and divine influence.

Thus every creative act becomes godly and spiritual.

Michelangelo was lying down on his back with his out stretched hand to the ceiling of Sistine chapel struggling to correct a small figure that was not shaping up to his liking. His brush went over and over to achieve a particular contour his imagination wants to realize. Pope Julius second on his customary round to inspect his favorite art project looked up the ceiling from below and saw Michelangelo fighting with that figure.

“ Son, why are you struggling like this with that figure which I can’t even see from here” The pope said.

“Holy father, but, I can see it” said the artist and went back to his work ignoring the pontiff’s presence.

Well, the fact is that the artist was having a dialogue with God by insisting that every detail in his work has to be perfect. When he is in a spiritual conversation with the almighty even the pontiff could not interrupt him. Every brush stroke he applies has a spiritual connotation that culminates in the realization of true art. The Pope quietly returned realizing the involvement of the artist and letting him continue with the work of God.

The artist destroyed his earlier attempt on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel because he was not satisfied with the result. Then he ran away from Rome. May be a momentary failure must have dented his confidence. The pope’s guards went in search of him on the orders of the pontiff, who was determined to get him back and the mural done. Michelangelo went to Carara mountains in hiding. The pops army searched in vain. One morning God appeared to him in the form of a cloud formation above the rising sun seen through the Carara hills looming over the marble quarry. The cloud formation in heavenly hues painted a perfect picture of God creating the man. Looking at it in awe and fear the artist felt that God wants him to paint that ceiling and create the story of the Genesis through it. His hands became Gods hands and it began to churn out drawings for the composition of the mural. He Came back to Vatican and began the work afresh. When he was doing the God’s work even the pontiff was not allowed to interrupt.

‘Genesis’ the mural on the ceiling of Vatican’s Sistine chapel is one of the greatest work of art mankind has ever witnessed. It would not have achieved such greatness but for the tapass of the artist.

The ultimate realization of his dialogue with God.

Vincent Van Gogh painted the colours of the yellow sunflower in a trance his eyes and hand guided by the almighty in creating a master piece world has never seen before. A painting of a simple subject it exudes a devine quality that is generally seen in works that are spiritually motivated. Van Gogh’s frenzied brush strokes perhaps was his chanting of hymns to initiate a divine presence. Looking at those brush marks one could see his urge to create some thing similar to God. The devine yellow of a flower that smiles at the sun he wanted to recreate in his hymns of brush strokes, was achieved when he became one with almighty and painted them with the creative finesse of nature, in other words God.

I stood looking at another painting of him mesmerized with its intensity and sheer boldness, a self portrait at the Courtauled Institute in London. A reminder of his love for a prostitute to whom he presented his slashed ear to proclaim his intense desire. The painting of his bandaged head after the incident said the tragic story in all its gory details. The eyes in that painting is piercing and intensely sad. The women spurned him and his attempts to reach her. But one look at this work would prove the God stood by him in creating a master piece that is not a mere human creation, but of a spiritual incarnation. In a frenzy that is very obvious in his works throughout that many people termed as madness was evident in these works. What they mistook for madness was the ultimate creative fervor that is associated with only a genius.

Creativity is Godly act and those who immerse in Godly act becomes divinely spiritual.

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