freefall : infinite box project

Tomorrow’s daylong workshop at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art is entitled “Shake Up Your Art” for good reason. Adults who are “trying” to make art need shaking up. And what better way to upend stiff, ingrained art-making habits then drawing with crayons? Or inverting the painting you’re making (that you think is so great) so that you can more clearly see what it may be, instead of what you believe it to be? It may sound like the Anything Goes approach to leading a workshop, but there is a method to my madness. A few years ago I read Natalie Goldberg’s seminal work, Writing Down the Bones, which refines and crystallizes the idea of a “writing practice.” In essence, Goldberg encourages writers to “keep your hand moving, lose control, and don’t think.” These ideas, in combination with a her brilliant illumination of the Zen concept of First Thoughts culminated in what is easily one of the most popular books ever written about writing.

At the time of reading Writing Down the Bones, I was looking for a new way to begin my mornings, a way to immediately, without a formal idea or plan, immerse myself in color and shape and form. I honestly can’t remember precisely how I then began making boxes, but I can tell you that like most things that we dive into with curiosity and no expectations, it bloomed into something special.

I created my boxes from squares of foamcore (I have loads of it in my studio because I frame my own photographs), and then approached them with no idea or intent, other than to make a mark, and then respond, with color, shape, line, pattern or texture. These intuitive, spontaneous, unedited, un-erased marks evolved into a unique, free-flowing visual dialogue.

I found that making boxes placed me in a deep state of beginner’s mind, where I was so fully present, that I had no sense of the direction in which a box might move. If only I could step out of my own way, especially when a box seemed to be going in a particular direction, it might become what it wanted to be, as in the box below, which unfortunately seemed to be moving toward a literal writing practice/chakra symbol thing:

Until my very upset friend called me, and we spoke for a long time about the complicated crisis she was navigating. When I returned to my box, I completed it for her, and entitled it My Friend is Having an Awakening.

My collection of boxes grew and grew, and the completion of each one only inspired me to create another. This one is called Flow:

And this is called Lower East Side:

At a certain point I began to use them in my workshops and I immediately saw that I wasn’t alone in feeling captivated by the white box as a canvas.

So tomorrow afternoon, after coloring with crayons and making paintings alone and as a group, and after making collages and drawings prompted by words, the participants in my workshop will be given their own small, white, empty, six-sided box.