Artistry Evolves

Ram Chatlani and I had been meeting and speaking for years about engagement with the creative force, myself through artistry practices and Ram through martial arts and meditation practices. We decided to offer a proposal together. We called it Artistry Evolves.

We spent a week in the foothills of the Pyrenees, in southern France, at the magical venue of Tourné, home to Ram and Paula Chatlani, their son Jiva, and a host of cats, dogs and donkeys. Paula and Ram hold such an impeccable space for rejuvenation and transformation. If you’re ever looking for either sanctuary or if you bravely wish to turn your face into the winds of life, then I couldn’t recommend highly enough, that you visit Tourné and its inhabitants.

Rather than try and describe what we got up to, I’ll share the wording for the flyer that we used to bait our hook, and some of Ram’s ruminations, and some reactions from the participants themselves.

“Discover, explore or deepen your art practice, with practical guidance and technique tuition, but at its heart, this proposal is not just about art and artists, it is about the creative force itself as a means to resolve life’s challenges as artists, in business, in the pursuit of any activity. To use the energy body in conjunction with the physical body to release creative force, not just to produce art, but to evolve and to deeply relax. Being relaxed is a sign of confidence and mastery; equally, it is the path to confidence and mastery. But the mastery we propose is the mastery of abandon, utter confidence in the creative force as mastery itself.”

A quick warm up followed by the Jellyfish Grlz first performance.

One of the Jellyfish takes a rest, before emerging again. And Ben shows participants the joy of squinting fiercely at a wall.

An artist’s smorgasbord, gathered from the garden and forest, laid out as inspiration flows.

Billy Childish once gave me some advice on a technique for loosening up that involved painting with your non-dominant hand. It’s a good leveller, and can jolt us out of the usual eye to hand relationship that we may employ.
Participants were seated facing a large mirror so that they could either paint just their own self portrait in this way, or also paint in their comrades shoulder to shoulder. Here are the results of our collective non-dominant endeavours. I had time to do a quick version of my own, painting the participants painting the participants.

Some aspects of the course were pre-planned, but many were spontaneous co-creations. One early idea that was adopted was to take turns to design, stage and photograph a daily group portrait. A lot of creativity and hilarity that came form acting out this daily ritual!

We didn’t restrict our creativity, and applied it to many things, including a spot of gardening that morphed into the creation of a very beautiful riverside shrine. It was a lot of work clearing and levelling an area of bank, hidden away amongst the saplings at the river’s edge, hoisting rocks and stones up from the river bed, but at different times throughout the week, different people would appear and work for a while before returning to other, more gentle, pursuits. At the end of the week, we held a little ceremony to say thanks to the river, and to each other for the experience that we’d all shared.

“The minds ramblings about mistakes and judgements cause a constriction in me, and the tension prevents the flow of creativity. The impermanence of the entire project delightfully removes this concern – nature is imperfectly perfect and the whole piece will rot and decay soon, so I feel free to allow this expression to emerge.”

“My heart and mind were with the piece even while I took breaks, so my breaks were only what was necessary, and I poured myself into this for two more solid days. The stint of near obsession finally gave way as the piece felt complete. I had a small insight into what it must have felt like for the countless starving artists who neglect all but their art in a frenzied attempt to channel the divine force in this way. I did retain balance, however, thanks to the scheduled Qi Gung and deliciously prepared meals! Such luxury!”

“Amazing!!! This retreat was life-changing. HIGHLY RECOMMEND!! You don’t actually have to want to be an artist either, it has affected all areas of my life… totally inspirational.”

“A beautiful, empowering and very liberating experience which I am very grateful for.”

“I  would not have described myself as an artist before this retreat, because I had never tried any kind of hands-on artistic medium at all. I learnt more about artistry in this retreat than I could have hoped for – partly through the impeccable example made by Ben of what it is to live ones’ art, and through the direct experience of creating it. The environment, ethos, and setup made it easier to overcome blocks and obstacles, and give myself permission to try new things without fear of “messing up”. What came through surprised me, and I was inspired with what I made even though I didn’t expect it. What I feel has happened is that through opening up a new way of seeing the world, and engaging with artistic mediums, is that I have owned the part of myself that really is an artist, and my life feels rich.”

“I love the poetry of this process — the whole universe and the creation story itself is a beautiful metaphor of expansion and contraction — the microcosm and the macrocosm infinitely reflecting one another (like in opposing mirrors) — one, an infinite spiral inwards, and the other an infinite spiral outwards”