There is a certain feeling one gets when facing mountains covered in snow. The closer one approaches the stronger it becomes - the feeling of still, austere presence. Devoid of sound, devoid of scent. Unmovable, unshakable, untouchable. One could say: lifeless. But it is emphatically not that - rather it is the feeling one experiences when facing the foundations of life. The raw, bare bones of life stripped of all color and sound and emotion. Stripped of meaning, yearning, of striving. Stripped of hopes and dreams, of ambition and desperation alike. When nothing is left but the cold, hard essence of existence.
This experience of facing the raw, bare essence of existence is what I attempt to convey through my drawings. This is why I draw in black ink on white paper. Sharp, stark blackness against still, austere whiteness.
There is a cedar grove growing high, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The trees there are old, grim, towering giants with thick trunks scorched by lightning, riddled by termites, their bark shredded by generations of wild creatures sharpening their claws against them. Overgrown with moss and lichen. Decades after decades they stand still, spreading their stillness for miles around. One can not help but feel it when walking among them. One stops talking, one steps softly, one moves slowly. Birds sing, there are squirrels frisking in the high branches. They do not disturb the stillness. The stillness exists within, not without. This stillness is not passive, it is not a dulness of presence - it is its expansion. It is not slackening of awareness - it is a perfect state of tension. Tension in balance like that of a guitar string stretched to a perfect tune.
This feeling of tense, balanced, alert stillness is what I attempt to convey through my drawings. This is why I draw stony hands trapping a struggling bird. Why I contrast the softness of a flower with the sharpness of a bird’s claw. By juxtaposing beauty against ugliness, sharpness against softness, I attempt to convey the dynamic, balanced tension.
A number of years ago my husband and I decided to leave our home in California for the French countryside. Neither of us is French, neither of us spoke French at the time. Neither of us has ever lived in France. We had plenty of reasons - we had no end of explanations for our seemingly random choice to move except for the one true one: that we needed to change our lives completely, that we were rapidly sinking deeper and deeper into a rut that would eventually drown us. We didn’t know at that time that instead of waiting for this inevitable end we were taking a hammer to our life. We smashed it ourselves. We sold everything we owned. We grabbed a couple of suitcases, stuffed some clothes in them and moved into the unknown.
Once in France I chose to enroll into a language course at the local university. It was a splendid course. Very intense. Very well-structured. Very effectively taught. I hated it. I hated what amounted to going back to school. I hated the trauma that emerged. A trauma that accompanied the years of education I’d received in my home country only a few countries away from France. The educational system was very much the same. The teachers were very much the same. The classrooms were very much the same. Except for the language being spoken - there I was, back in my adolescent pain. Back in my agonizing teenage past. That I was nearly forty years old made no difference.
In self-defense I doodled. I doodled shapes and swirls and patterns and convoluted, surreal creatures. They were keeping me safe and sane among the chaotic memories and feelings emerging from the past to scream into my face in the present. I dove into my drawings. I lost myself in them and when I began to resent the teachers and classmates for bothering me with irregular verbs and conjugations and sentence structures and the proper pronunciations and interrupting my doodling, I quit the course. The course has become a distraction - the drawings were what mattered.
I’d never drawn like this. I’d never really known how I wished to draw or what I wished to draw. I tried some different media, some different subjects. I was relatively satisfied with the results but never fulfilled, never entranced, never consumed the way I became consumed with my doodles. With the sharp, stark, black lines I drew on the austere white paper, outlining shapes and swirls and patterns and convoluted, surreal creatures. I have found my medium. I knew that for certain. Underneath the teenage angst, underneath the old trauma I was forced to face and confront again and again, I found my voice and most importantly, I have found my language. The language with which I could describe the essence of my experience. The language with which I could depict the inside of my mind.
To convey the essence of my experience, to convey the insights of my mind, is why I draw. That is why I paint.
To speak to others? Yes, but chiefly to speak to myself. To create on paper a reality that is a reflection of my reality. To create an experience that is a reflection of my experience. To create an experience of stillness that is a reflection of the stillness that resides within me. To express the tension that spreads throughout me. To pour the inner reality of being myself onto paper and surround myself with the images that reflect me and amplify me, so that the outside matches my inside. So the world I live in becomes one of my own creation, my own design. Completely. Inside and out.Pausha Foley
To see more art from Foley, visit her website.