In 1980, in the middle of winter, I sat in a freezing apartment in New York writing for my life. I was about to be evicted. To save myself, I wrote an art manifesto. I am driven to create art come hell or high water, and I could not live otherwise.
Eight years later, I was enjoying being new to Juneau. I walked into Juneau’s famous photography shop, Southeast Exposure and met Tony Tengs. Tony is a free spirit who loves art. He would be important to my art ever since, collecting my oil paintings and cheering me on. He even gave my large flower painting to his mother in our Pioneer Home, cheering her on.
I told Tony Tengs about my art manifesto. I said it was called “First Historical Illuminist Manifesto.” I said I had started an art movement in the manifesto and that it was called Illuminism.
I asked Tony if I should come out here about Illuminism. He has urged me to talk about it for years. Without hesitation, he said, “Yes, it is important to your art story.”
He thought of a quote for us. Illuminism is about spiritual light, but his quote is about my personal vision: “In this gray part of the world, Illuminism is a great antidote to the grayness.”
He is talking about the light shining from my paintings, the yellow sunshine that surrounds every form and is implied in the blue in which almost every painting is immersed. Henri Matisse said, “I wish my works to have the light joyousness of springtime.” So do I. I only paint the spring and cannot do anything else.
Matisse also wrote, “I am after an art of equilibrium and tranquility, an art that neither unsettles nor confuses. I would like people who are weary, stressed and broken to find peace and tranquility as they look at my pictures.”
That is my sentiment exactly. I work hard so as not to confuse the viewer but to allow the viewer to deeply relax. Deep relaxation is crucial to health of an individual and of a society.
Years ago, Robert Henri, an American painter, wrote in his book “The Art Spirit” about society’s need for beauty and peace.
“We are living in a strange civilization. Our minds and souls are so overlaid with fear, with artificiality, that often we do not even recognize beauty. It is this fear, this lack of direct vision of truth, that brings about all the disaster the world holds, and how little opportunity we give any people for casting off fear, for living simply and naturally.”
Today, the situation is far graver. Many of our children do not grow up taking long walks in the woods or sitting looking up at the stars. They do not know how to meditate peacefully alone. They are not even taught cursive writing, so they cannot sit in peace and write or read a hand-written letter.
My art movement means to support real, spiritual artists to create peace in the world. In the early ’90s, when I put on arts festivals in Juneau, I would put out a call for serious artists. They all know who they are and would come out. No one who was not a serious artist ever came out. It is true that an artist is born not made.
Matisse wrote, “All art worthy of the name is religious.” He wrote, “Nothing can be accomplished without love.”
In my manifesto, I write:
“In the collective unconscious of the modern age there is still a great faith that can immediately be reached… The truth is so very easy to demonstrate. It’s just so obvious that things flourish with love, stagnate with unlove, and die with hate. Once people learn my particular language— and it isn’t that hard, it’s just new— they will see that I am painting the great epic tales of faith. They will immediately understand what I am saying because there is only one thing to say. I intend to demonstrate my faith. I intend to communicate.
“I intend to show the world that there is no limit to the possible and no force stronger than love.”
Illuminism needs to happen.
• Page Bridges is a member of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Friday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.