My insights concerning my paintings and Meher Baba
In 1971-2 while studying at The New York Studio School of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture I experienced a breakthrough that opened my consciousness. I was painting from the model in early 1972 and suddenly I saw colors in big shapes, actually, space breaking apart into color islands around the model. There seemed to be an inner order that was revealed to me. I also studied at Laney College in Oakland California part of Cal. State in 1975-6. In Music History, I was writing a paper on Arnold Shoenberg’s Twelve Tone Scale and Atonal Music vs. the Traditional Eight Tone Scale and how color was related to the musical scale. I loved his piece called “Transfigured Night”. I wasn’t aware of the effects these experiences had on my art till much later. Now I understand how that inner process unfolded in my work especially in the paintings: “ I and My Father Are One” (1988) — originally named “Spectrum of Sound” and in “Tannhauser” (1991). In “I and My Father Are One”, I experimented with an idea I had read in The Genius of Leonardo DaVinci: colors reflected off the subjects unto the surrounding objects. I also saw that I was painting one color for each child’s dress that the musical tones conjured in me and each color represented the child’s emotions or mood. In “Tannhauser” (later called “Scarcity”), I did the same with one color for each of the figures, each color represented a mood and tone from the music. I also noticed here that I was starting to build a structure with the discipline and bold definition that came out of Wagner’s music consciously for the first time with my colors and shapes, a structure and foundation that has continued to unconsciously guide me in everything I have done since.
During the time, December 1989-1991, I had an experience while listening to Wagner’s “Tannhauser”. In December 1989 my friend Lindesay Reiter handed me a photo of Meher Baba with His women mandali (disciples) taken in 1937 at a roadside picnic between Paris and Cannes, France, and said, “Here, You should paint this!” For some reason I was reminded of the opera “Tannhauser” by Wagner. I had seen it on television conducted by Leonard Bernstein, twelve years earlier. When I saw the photo, I rushed out to buy the CD. I listened to it every day for two years while I was painting; I felt I heard in the music: “The German people love their land!” I got a powerful feeling from the music that it was related to the people and their land. It had a very strong nationalistic feeling. I thought, “That is odd! What does Germany have to do with this scene in France and why am I compelled to listen to this music while I am painting this?” Then nine months into the painting, I heard while listening to the music, “The German people are so happy!” I burst out crying and cried so much that I couldn’t see what I was painting. Later when I turned on the radio it was Reunification Day in Germany! I asked Kitty Davy, one of the oldest Western Disciples of Meher Baba, why I found the music so inspiring and ecstatic if it was connected somehow to this horrific time? And she said, “My brother used to listen to Wagner’s music in the 30’s. There was a need for such inspiration to uplift the world at that time.” Then in 1994, a few years after this, Lord Meher (Biography of Meher Baba written by Bhau Kalchuri) Volume 6 and 7 for the years 1934-1940 was published, I was amazed to see on page 2222, the partial photo of the photo I had painted from in 1989-1991, on the next page 2223 were also picnic photos and then on the next page 2224, I found this:
“The Spiritual Work Baba had done in Paris had taken its toll on his physical body. On September 24th, William Donkin returned to Cannes from London with Tom Shapely. Baba was to come to Capo di Monte in the morning to see the men and women mandali. But he sent a message that he would not be coming until the afternoon. Kaka delivered the message and said that Baba was unwell.
When Baba did come to see them, he looked worn out and weak, but explained, “I am not tired. But due to the work I did during the last five days, I find it very difficult to come down.” He then recounted his trip to Paris, and after dinner went back to his villa.
Later that night, Norina arrived with a German gentleman named Seiber. On Sunday, September 26th, Baba had a long interview with Seiber, who seemed eager to work for his country and people. Under Adolph Hitler the Nazi’s were coming into power and war appeared inevitable. Baba asked him about present social conditions in Germany, which Seiber related.
Seiber then asked Baba why conditions in his country were so terrible. Baba smiled and explained: Chaos and destruction are essential for reconstruction. It is the spiritual law-create and destroy. Create chaos, confusion and misery then destroy it so that it may all be rebuilt anew. How can an old house be rebuilt unless it is demolished?
Your coming to me today is no coincidence, but a deliberate plan. Mussolini has specially gone to Germany to meet Hitler and very important talks between them are being held at a meeting at this very moment! Your being here and my asking you to talk of Germany has a significant purpose. It was I who purposely brought you here today for this reason.
Hitler and Mussolini can never find a solution to the chaotic conditions all around them. They add to the misery. Only Christ can- and the time for that is very near.
Perhaps you could be my sole working agent to Germany if you stick to my instructions and do as I say.
But Seiber was too intellectual and continued pestering Baba with questions concerning how he worked, which Baba was disinclined to answer.
After Seiber left, Baba critically remarked, “He is like an empty vessel which keeps throwing out whatever is placed in it!”
On pages 2226 and 2227, of Lord Meher it continues:
From early September, correspondence had been exchanged with certain men mandali in India about bringing Mast Mohammed from Meherabad to Cannes. Adi Sr. and Baidal had been cabled to bring him, and his imminent arrival gave Baba’s Western lovers the impression that he would definitely be staying in Cannes for a considerable length of time. Baba himself placed great importance on the mast’s arrival and remarked, “If Mohammed does not come, I will send everyone back and return to India.
Baidal was on call night and day to serve Mohammed and the slightest oversight brought Baba’s stern rebuke.
Once witnessing Baba’s harsh treatment toward Baidal, the Westerners were taken aback at Baba’s severity toward one of his closest disciples. Baba explained, “ My work with Mohammed is uppermost. Mohammed represents Germany, so you can imagine the significance of his coming here to France and the importance of my work with him at this point in time.”
Baba later commented that Germany was experiencing “mass psychosis” under Adolph Hitler’s leadership, and when Meher Baba was in France at this time, Hitler was coming into full military power, as was his ally, Benito Mussolini in Italy.”
This Tannhauser painting marked a huge turning point in my life. I feel that Wagner’s Tannhauser music had great order in it and helped me to build a structure. And this structure and foundation that was created has continued to unconsciously guide me in everything I have done since.
Baba's closest woman disciple, Mehera Irani, had a tremendous influence on me. In 1986 she said, “What I want to know is, why do all artists want to see other artists’ work?” She made me understand that I was painting for God and not for the world. I think it is helpful to have an artist’s work around you that inspires you, and can be a guidepost in the beginning for you, but we all have to find our own way eventually. The hardest lesson for me was not to listen to other peoples’ opinions when I felt satisfied with my work, to learn to leave something alone when I was happy with it! I have learned that I can be of help to others by keeping my originality to myself because everyone must tap into their own creativity and their own expression and their own ideas. I asked Aloba, Ali Akbar Shapurzaman, who had taught me Persian in the early 70’s, what the different symbols in the Persian Miniatures meant; what did the animals symbolize for instance? He answered, “If I tell you what they mean, it would be my painting!”
I had many discussions with my dear friend and fellow painter Lyn Ott about painting and my work. At one time I told him I wished he wasn’t blind so he could see my work. He said, “I see your paintings very clearly when you describe them to me.” When I said I wished he could’ve been my teacher, he replied, “That’s like the story of Beethoven going to hear Mozart play in concert and saying “I could never play like that!” He said, “You are my peer, you could never be my student! You will pick up from where I left off.” After I finished the “Tannhauser” painting, I worked for Lyn for two years helping him to write his book. At this point in time I felt it was time for me to put my energy into my own work and I began working full time on my Waterfall Garden.
I had a strong desire to paint Kitty Davy into the “Tannhauser” painting. She was very frail by end of November 1991 at age 100 years old. I wanted to keep her alive by painting her as she appeared in the photo, standing behind the tree that Baba leaned against, but there wasn’t room on the canvas. I decided to do a sequel to the “Tannhauser-Scarcity” painting called Abundance, with Kitty Davy in the center of the painting. Kitty passed away in early December. The same day that Kitty was cremated I began the Abundance painting. I couldn’t work though, because I felt as if I was painting without joy.
I stopped all of my painting work finally and began building and planning the Waterfall front of my home. This project took me 10 years. Dear friends: Arlene Stearns, Yvonne Reilly, Leatrice Shaw Johnston and Shari Keller literally stood by me. Yvonne actually dug with me sometimes, giving the positive support I needed to create my Inner Garden in the Outer World. Someone once said while I was working in the garden, “Oh, Laurie’s making mud pies.” I had a lot of negative feedback, but the passion to do it was greater. I called it my “Persian Inner-Outer Garden”. As a child I enjoyed catching frogs, and tried to create an environment for them in a terrarium but they died. In creating this eco-system I have realized that dream! In my pond there are so many frogs now. Building this waterfall and pond and planting all the trees and flowers and placing the rocks taught me about being in collaboration with Nature. I would listen and ask each new plant, tree or rock where it needed to be. I was a co-creator. This created Joy in my being.
Thus, the work on me that the garden did was completed. I was ready to pick up where I left off with the Abundance painting. In the year 2000, I was driving with my mother back from Delray Beach, Florida, when I heard on the radio, “Prince Igor,” the Russian Opera by Alexander Borodin. The musical, “Kismet”, was created from the entire score of the opera and performed in 1953, the year I was born. The song “Strangers In Paradise” has always haunted me and I love it very much. Strangers in Paradise was taken from Polovtsian Dance with Choir and Choir of the Polovtsian maidens. I worked for 2 years on the painting listening to Kismet and Prince Igor. Then suddenly my life changed dramatically and I was lead on a completely new path which brought me to Iran where I found my Persian Inner-Outer Garden materialized in the beauty of Iran’s Nature. I was finally in the land where Persian Miniatures came from and I desired to paint from the trees and nature as the great Persian Miniature Masters did so many years ago. I met Mahmoud Farshchian, the most famous living Persian Miniature Painter in the world at his show at the Shah’s Palace Art Museum in Teheran and I asked him if he lived in Iran. He answered emotionally, “My roots, my life, my heart, my soul is in Iran!” And I said “Me Too! I feel like my heart is turned inside out and I see my heart outside me here in Iran.” We both couldn’t speak a word after that. There was just a silent communion and recognition. When I sat in the Garden of Paradise to paint I had finally arrived home to my heart. When I was young I used to think there was an inner garden somewhere inside me and people said I was mad. Then when I was 15 years old I was given “Think On These Things, Commentaries on Living” by J. Krishnamurti and when I opened the book I found much about my Inner Garden, and I said, “I knew there was an Inner Garden, I’m not mad!” Chapter 10 was called “Inward Beauty” and describes perfectly the experience of celebrating New Year, Noruz, in Iran. How easy it is to be drawn into the beauty of Nature, in all her glory, in the gardens and mountains of Iran!
Lindesay Reiter accompanied me on my expeditions in search of mystical limestone rocks I envisioned and we found them! We shared the thrill and delight of Nature’s exquisite beauty. It was Lindesay who first gave me the 1937 photo of the Picnic to paint in December, 1989 that I called "Tannhauser"- "Scarcity" and now I painted its sequel: "Abundance", 1991-2007. When I started this painting I knew I had to include birds but I didn’t know how they could be worked in. One day in 2003, when I was eating with Lindesay on her dishes with hand-painted birds: Indian Roller and Hoopoe, I was inspired to incorporate them into the painting. I told her, "This is Abundance! – The appreciation of a few beautiful things in life." That year, I went to Iran and painted in the Garden of Paradise. I was overjoyed when I saw my first Hoopoes. The plate of birds may symbolize a doorway to Infinity, the Om Point. Birds symbolize freedom because they can fly. The birds can fly through the doorway to the Infinite. With the mind silenced, the door of the heart can open, and then anything becomes possible because the borders of the world are lost without the mind placing its boundaries and limitations and judgments on things. One becomes free to fly and to Go Into the Opening-The Om Point-and the plate ceases to be a flat 2- dimensional painting on a 2-dimentional canvas and becomes 3-dimensional and with the painting on it, it goes a step further to the 4th dimension which takes you through the Doorway to the Infinite Possibilities.
One of the last times I saw Lindesay before she died in the summer of 2007, she said to some of her friends, as she pointed to me, "she-IS-beauty". We had one long last embrace and I returned home and began once again painting the face of Baba's closest woman disciple Mehera J. Irani and such beautiful love was present.
Then my gaze fell upon what was just below Mehera: I saw Lindesay's things in her picnic basket and I remembered why I had written "Abundance" on the picnic basket. What we loved was truly beautiful. I wrote upon her belongings in the picnic basket, "Lindesay's Things”. I remember her love another time when I was sitting in her room and she said to me, "my beautiful friend." She died just before I finished the painting but she lives in my heart and painting forever as my dear friend and companion on the path of love. I realized Abundance was our love for God and our determination to rely solely upon Him for everything. I remember my dear friend Filis Frederick saying to me in 1972, when I said I loved to sit and paint in beautiful gardens, "But Laurie, God--IS--Beauty!"
How could I have known that the next phase in my journey was to write "Language of the Birds-It Is All the Mirror of God," my original adaptation from Farid Uh-Din Attar's "Conference of the Birds," between September 2006-September 2007 and that now I would paint my own unique birds to illustrate it? Now that "Abundance" is finished after sixteen long years, I see that those birds were the beginning of my paintings of the magical birds of my childhood imagination. Mahmoud Farshchian had told me in January 2004, before I painted "Conference of the Birds", "If you draw everything you love, you will be able to paint from your imagination!" After I started drawing it, I realized what he meant and I thought, "So that is the key to what was missing in all the schooling I had!"
Isn't it amazing that the beating of a bird's heart enables its wings to soar? The fire of its heart leaps higher with inspiration of each breath its tiny lungs-bellows absorb with exuberant flapping wings.
Absorbed in an atmosphere of light and sound, I translate that vibratory imagery into living environments of color on paper.