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December 24

Peter Sparling


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December 24

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I am drawn to canvas of this size (24” x 36”) because it is large enough to have a physical impact on the viewer but will focus and contain the figure and its energy in one eyeful. With these four paintings on black canvas, I was trying to obliterate any actual figures and reduce them to their pure fields of emanating energy or electrical charge. A Buddhist teacher once told me I was a light dancer in a previous life and was a dancer in this life because I am a young soul and can’t give up old habits. It’s the way I experience my body in this world, despite the limitations of gravity. The colors float in the void, suggesting their own unique life forces and embodying their own magnetic fields. Painted on Christmas eve, Dec. 24, 2020!

36"H × 24"W × 0.8"D
acrylic on canvas
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As a dancer for fifty years of my own choreographic work and as former principal dancer with the companies of Martha Graham and José Limon, I bring to the practice of painting an interdisciplinary sensibility. I am also a video artist, so my practice of composing imagery for moving bodies within both the stage proscenium frame and the screen’s frame inform my consideration of the canvas as site for visual and visceral encounter. A picture of motion is created in the mind’s eye every split second as the eye seeks to comprehend what it sees, what catches its attention. Bodies in motion attract our attention, and a dancer’s motion is my main attraction. With my paintings, or “motion pictures”, I engage my painter self to join the dancer self: I call into play the action of the paint brush in my hand, and my brush hastens to capture via the stroke of paint an essential thread or indelible trace of the dancer’s movement. I hold the brush like a lit sparkler in the darkness and paint the void with traces of its light. What remains is a web, a nest, a cluster of intertwining fibers, ribbons, networks, ganglia: a light dancer, if you will. A picture of motion. A motion picture. My hope is yes, that each of my paintings imprints its unique kinetic branding on the inner eyelid, or a flurry that evokes a fleeting image of a body in motion: some of its delight, fierceness, lyrical effusiveness, animal alertness, its desire to catch my attention, its ability to draw its elusive pictures in space and time. If every instant of our waking and dreaming were seen with such x-ray calligraphy, would we lift off into weightlessness, like the timeless, floating calligraphy on an ancient Chinese scroll painting, or gradually plunge deeply into the microscopic neurocircuitry of our eternally moving bodies, grounded forever and yet newly mobilized in light? I am reminded of a quote from William Goyen’s “The House of Breath”: “Who knows what frescoes lie painted on the inside of the skull?”

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