My Beloved Mentor
Along the way, I was lucky to find an extraordinary painting mentor, Philomene Bennett. She encouraged me to do what felt most authentic, allowing me to push past my own confines and delve into what felt most true and aligned.
Early on when attending her studio class, I was working on a large painting that was getting worse and worse the more I worked on it. Something welled up in me and I slightly mixed magenta and pyrrole red oils, stuck a big brush in it and drug it across the middle of the buttery wet canvas in a sort of thrilling rebuttal.
Philomene said JANE, that magenta LINE! Do you see that line??? It is extraordinary, can you SEE what just happened?
I said What what? You mean I can do THAT (that intuitive movement that wasn’t analytical, that was so juicy and real and impassioned)??
Right then, somehow, she had knocked a hole in the dam of restraint that was keeping me from developing a more truthful and intuitive way of working. With that line, with that comment and discovery, my work began to become an extension of me, flowing from and beyond me, through a larger dimension. That one day changed my life, entirely. I began to paint with fervor; painting became akin to air and food and love.
Many years later, our teacher/student relationship has become a treasured friendship. Recently I dragged an old, shot-full-of-holes Oliver combine into the field by the studio to create a painted sculpture, and invited Philomene to come over and work on it with me. I had a bag full of spray paint and Philomene brought a bag full of Burger King breakfast biscuits, and she sat on the golf cart sipping coffee, offering thoughts and pointers. As she would speak, I could feel what she was going to say, sort of like lifelong canoeing partners who knew how each others paddles were going to strike the water and which way they were steering the canoe. In perfect unison, with me running the spray paint and her long jeweled finger pointing this way and that, occasionally an uh huh or OH, we worked on the combine nearly wordlessly, some kind of energetic communication flowing between us. It was a heavenly experience.
Recently, I kidnapped Philomene and brought her to the studio to share some wine and look at art. When she looks at art, she settles in quietly, taking some time to really wholly look, reading it carefully from side to side, up and down until she really sees it. From this place, speaking philosophically, musing about distances and pull and feeling and place and memory and what’s in front and what’s the atmosphere, and from her few studied comments, her words acting like the strike of a match to a fuse, allow me to hear deeply and translate for my own, and with a few washes and marks, the paintings came into wholeness. I captured some of it on a time lapse camera:
Of all the teachers in all of the world, I happened to run into Philomene. I am deeply, profoundly grateful.