Archive for February 8th, 2021

So don’t be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don’t know what work they are accomplishing within you?

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Funny how often the words of the poet Rilke mesh with the message I am seeing or hoping to see in a painting of mine. It’s certainly the case in this new smaller piece, Standing in Shadow, that is part of the Little Gems show at the West End Gallery that opens this Friday.

For me, the message I wanted to distill here was that we all live in the shadows of places, people, and events. Even the past and the future cast a shadow on our lives in the forms of regret and fear, among many others. 

In a way, we are shaped by shadows, depending on how we react to them. In the best case, we seek to step beyond them, to find a place in the light where the only shadows present are those we cast in our wake.

That is where the words of Rilke come into play. It is while we are in the shadows, that we must use those feelings that thrive within us there, the anxiety and pain and other deep emotions, to find a way forward.

To use the shadows as building blocks toward the light. 

I’ve discussed this here before, this idea that it is most often that our hardships form our character and that our creations ultimately– and hopefully– reflect that character. I’ve always thought that the appeal of my work was in the shadows that came through in my work. I am not talking about physical shadows though they sometimes are manifested as such in the work. It’s more in the underlying darkness, the acknowledgement that there is dark behind the light. That even the optimism and hope carried in the work is tempered with a wary eye cast toward the shadows.

Our hardships do, as Rilke points out, accomplish work within us. That’s not easy to see when you’re deep in the shadows. But once one recognizes that the shadows are the place where the deepest emotions are spawned, that one can use these feelings as a way to the light, that it is the place where creation is born, it becomes a less scary place. 

At least that’s how I am reading this, in both Rilke’s words and in this painting.

I could be wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time and it certainly won’t be the last.

Maybe you will see it differently with the benefit of your own shadows. That’s how it should be.

Have a good day.

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