I was just thinking…………

…………about the various phrases we use to describe our ability to extend ourselves both mentally and physically. You’ve heard them, all those trendy clichés, ‘pushing the boundaries’, ‘stepping out of our comfort zone’, ‘thinking outside ‘the square’ or ‘the box’. It’s just the description that keeps changing. The practice itself is not a new phenomenon. We have to go back about 800,000 years ago and give some credit to Homo Erectus who probably ran out of his comfort zone when he started learning to use fire.
And the guy who invented the wheel! He definitely thought outside the square!

I think what really sparked off this thought process I’m having was a show I had the privilege of attending recently at Atwell Gallery. An extremely accomplished and talented artist, Tony Windberg, shared with us some of his life and his experiences in the outback and the resultant paintings were absolutely mouth-watering. His ability for thinking outside the square with just the right amount of balance to intrigue but not confuse the viewer, was a most refreshing experience. It wasn’t only that his ideas were so captivating, his expertise in portraying them to perfection had me wanting to sit and gaze for a lot longer than the time permitted. I left that show with my mind in a whirl of thoughts and possibilities and with a determination to step outside of my own comfort zone.

Finding myself unexpectedly sitting in on Tony’s talk was serendipitous because I’ve been thinking of this comfort zone thing ever since I began some work on the Atwell mural several weeks ago. Since then something’s been nudging my conscience, and prodding me to be a little braver. For more than ten years I’ve worked in my own safe arena, producing the work I’m so passionate about, in the style and manner in which I love to work, with no desire to venture further afield. So working on the mural has been a real experience. Never before have I used a brush with more than a few bristles in it and never before have I used acrylics or house paint or anything other than watercolour and gouache. And certainly never before have I worked on such a large ‘canvas’. It’s all just a tad outside the boundary of my neatly gloved hand. But as soon as I began slapping strokes of thick, delicious acrylic on the front wall, I was hooked. Here was a whole new exploration, a whole new discovery. I feel deliciously guilty for covering two inches of wall in a minute instead of a day!

Now I’m having lessons from a friend who actually used to be a student of mine at TAFE many years ago. So the roles have changed and it’s my turn to do the learning.
We’re working in the Art of Chaos style. I was given a large board and had to first prepare it by painting over it and sealing it. I’ve never been remotely up to the task of painting anything bigger than a leaf, so this was challenge number one. After streaking my hair, applying a nose patch of what could be mistaken for zinc cream and repainting my shoes in squiggles and dots, I completed the task to a passable degree, and handed it in.
With rivulets of white paint dripping off my elbows I was shown the next step, which was how to merge and dribble a few select colours onto the board. Then I was left alone to get to work. But all those appetizing tubes and jars and pigments got me a bit overexcited and over creative and I recklessly overused and overworked them, even tossing aside the proper instruments to wade in with my hands. I managed to stop just short of making one big shade of kak brown, proud of my restraint and as excited as a puppy.
Ignorance is bliss! I should have been embarrassed about my pitiful mess. My poor tutor must have despaired. She didn’t say much. Nevertheless, we forged on. Gazing at the board this way and that, we slowly walked around it urging some shapes to emerge out of the chaos. For a while I could only see a chocolate pudding in the making, but suddenly I got all excited. ‘Oh look! I think I found something. I think I found a lady in a long dress. Look! There she is!’ And undeniably, she’s there, wearing a chiffon gown. She looks a bit emaciated and out of proportion but she’s there, serene and beautiful among the swirling, merging mess of near brown.
Alas, the end of the lesson came all too quickly. My lady will have to wait, and so will I. Next week can’t come too soon!

This is fun, this new artistic adventure – this ‘pushing boundaries’ thing. It’s certainly not within my comfort zone! However, I’m looking forward to unleashing my creative side and loosening up from my exacting style of realism. It’s going to be a challenge but I’m hopeful that under the guidance of my very talented friend, I will eventually have something to show for my efforts. Ivana, on the other hand, may well end up a blithering mess, but maybe by teaching me, she’s stepping out of her comfort zone too – and into a padded cell!

Lori Spencer