I brought Agnes a box of herbal tea on my second visit, since she didn't have any when we sat in her home and she made us tea the previous time.
Agnes talked about her creative process, which was quite different from mine. Apparently she told this exact same story to a number of people. She said she didn't get out of bed in the morning until she had the full image in her mind, even if she had to stay in bed sometimes until 3 in the afternoon. Then she would go into the studio and duplicate it. If she didn't copy it perfectly, it didn't work. It only worked as a painting if she replicated the exact image in all its proportions and details as it had come to her. So she had a vision and then manifested it. Clearly her modest, secluded, pared down life and surroundings were designed to allow this process to flourish.
Hearing about her mode of art-making was fascinating, since it's not the way I create art; it clarified to me that it's different for different people-- knowledge that is always good for artists to have, since we really have to trust and follow our own inner guidance. I usually get just a tiny bit of information when starting a painting, then a little more, and a little more, step by step having to trust that the next step will materialize, that the ground will keep manifesting under my foot that is about to step down on empty space. I start by picking a piece of paper and then seeing which colors of paint or pastel sticks I'm drawn to working with.
Agnes told me a story about one of her artist neighbors in New York (I don't remember who this was... probably Ellsworth Kelly or Ad Reinhard) who locked himself in his studio for six months, not letting anyone see what he was painting. Food and supplies would be delivered at his door, but he wouldn't open the door until people left. Interest grew because no one knew what the paintings looked like. Then she advised me to do the same: "Don't let anyone in your studio. Keep it sacrosanct. Let it be a mystery." After which she promptly dragged me into her own studio! (Which seemed contradictory). She plopped me in front of a large light blue and white horizontally striped canvas, and said, "What's the theme?" It felt like a test. I settled down, looked at the canvas, and told her what I thought the theme was. She said that yes, that was it.
The next time I visited, that painting/series came up in our conversation. Agnes' casual response was: "Oh, that wasn't one of my themes. I destroyed the whole series." I think she felt too vulnerable and exposed by what she was painting, that the theme had become too personal, not just generic happiness but something bordering on devotion. I know many artists routinely get rid of work they don't like, but it was disturbing to think of all those beautiful paintings disappearing, without any chance of rescue. I think I understand why someone would do this. I can't create good art that works if I'm tired or my consciousness is not strong. I need to set my conditions by being well rested from sleep and meditation in order for my creative flow to be strong, clear, and vibrant. If I try to push and make something when I'm not feeling well, I end up disappointed by weak work. And yet, as far as I could tell, there was nothing wrong with Agnes' painting--- it worked.
Agnes took me to the Legal Tender, an historic restaurant in nearby Lamy, for dinner. I'll share some more stories next post.