A Process of Birth

Our house is filling up with paintings!
Where do they come from?
From inside me, of course.
I’m one of those people
who has to create Art,
it seems, to be happy.

But not just anything.
There were years when I
could get nothing on the canvas
to live!

Now, again,
for the past year,
these wonderful images—
I think they’re wonderful—
are blossoming inside me
and taking birth in the world!

They don’t just pop up.
Some deep association
creates a picture in the mind.
There has to be energy.
It has to be something you need
to see in front of you,
and you have to make it so others
can see it too!

Maybe it’s just that I’ve
decided to care.
It’s in my chart somewhere,
probably, I have to write, paint—
do music, too.
Just to show off
for Mom? Nah
Just to be a good boy?
Excel? Be brilliant and creative?
I don’t think that, either.

I think it’s more—mystical.
These plastic images,
these mental pictures
with no measurable depth—
it takes labour
to birth them—
and they change,
oh yes, they change
as you do it!

Now, I’m a lazy man,
and what’s more,
I don’t know how
to do this!
Oh, I went to art school,
for awhile,
but I’m not your
“realistic artist.”

Figurative, yes,
most always, these days,
but a bit—let’s not say surreal,
and “visionary” is not a word
it’s polite to apply to yourself.

At best—hopefully—
and it sure feels that way,
these days—transcendental,
integrative. archetypal.
Dealing with symbols, things
I care about!
Paint? Hell no,
this is heart’s blood!

And now, today,
the latest layer
is peeled off the mind
and transferred to a canvas
that’s hanging on the wall.
I’m happy with it!
And as sometimes happens,
I’m asking, “Who did that?”

Because I can’t do it.
It came out exactly
as I’d envisioned,
but I knew from the start,
I didn’t have the skill
to realize this vision!
From the first stroke
I was literally
taking a stab, then another,
starting with a quick
basic outline in colours
that might or
might not be right.

There are two figures
in monk-like habits,
embracing in the foreground,
but they don’t
have human faces.
The face of one is the Sun,
and the other, the Moon.
It had to be dramatic!
That little nexus of faces,
forming a larger mandala,
but still only a small
part of the canvas,
had to rivet a viewer!

The faces were the easy part.
And a very dark, very starry night
to set them off.
And the monks’ habits? What colours?
I started with a smoky blue
for the Sun, a whitish beige
for the Moon,
just to get something down.
Enough for a first look.

That was yesterday.
Today I went back
and just started to play.
Who was guiding the brush?
It was like that joke punchline,
“Oh my God, am I driving?”
More gold in the Moon’s attire,
more sacredness.

And for the Sun’s:
smoky blue? Why?
Is he depressed?
I mixed some lighter blue
and tentatively loaded
a brush with it and made
some strokes. Then more,
pausing now and then to look.

Yes! The Sun has nothing
to be depressed about!
He doesn’t need
to hide, to dress down!
The smoky blue
had just been
my own lack of confidence!
OK to start that way, but now,
celebrate a Sun
clothed in Sky
or something like it!

But when to stop?
How light to make it?
How does it affect
everything else?

No one there
to tell me what to do.
Except … my deepest Self.
Whom I had to trust!

Then: integrate
the basic elements.
The scene. The two
upon a flat ochre plain.
A shrine in the background.
Green hills. That dark
and very starry night.

Go over the details:
execution, as near
to seamless as possible.
And then, I realize:
it’s finished!
One more stroke
would be too much!
Just then, Barbara
comes in and says
the same thing.

Voila! The child is born!
No longer in utero—
out in the world!
And I, breathless
as a new Mom,
having just experienced
the miracle of Birth!

Now to start to get
a handle on
this galloping joy!
And send out pictures,
as with any newborn.

And then see
what comes next.

Three more recent paintings:


Gestation painting by Max Reif - A process of birth

Painting during a creatively dry period, while feeling the need for patience and meditation, led to the emergence of this image of something new in a slow process of being born.

The Only Sure and Unfailing Guide

The Only Sure and Unfailing Guide painting by Max Reif - A process of birth

Dealing with the daunting prospect of a Trump presidency, as well as a general feeling of creative discouragement, led to the initial choice of a bleak desert background. Later, it seemed so bleak as to be uninteresting. Playing with an old tube of gold-leaf paint (finger-smearing it in) and adding some bright crimson, too, “magically” transformed the desert. 

Two Temples

Two Temples painting by Max Reif - A process of birth

This painting is an affirmation of a remarkable experience years ago, when my attention was dramatically drawn to the emphatic biblical words, “THIS [my body] is your Temple!”

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images: Max Reif