In his book The Finger and the Moon: Zen Teachings and Koans, Alejandro Jodorowsky postulates that, "Our culture teaches us to remain in a relatively mediocre state of ourselves... We are ashamed of affirming our primary beauty - that incomparable beauty that represents the best of us." In these words, he is describing contemporary society's tendency to shun beauty. The beauty spoken of here refers not only to the appearance of beauty, but also to a deeper sense of the wow-inducing qualities that can be found in life. Those morsels of temporal form that inspire, open the heart, or cull out laughter and gratitude.
In the modern world, pursuits of beauty are often deemed frivolous or impractical, a savory yet unnecessary luxury. If we express thoughts of beauty and appreciation of life, they might be met with skepticism or disregard. Some might call them corny. I often catch myself holding back such expressions of beauty because a part of me is afraid others won't be receptive to them, that I'll be judged or dismissed, and even because I am judgmental of those thoughts myself. There is another part of me that will just say them anyway.
I would proffer that the felt experience of beauty has immense value. Not just to feel good and send our heads floating through the clouds, but also to increase the quality of collective life and shift its course along a trajectory that supports life. How? The more connected we are with that sense of beauty - in ourselves, in others, and in the world - the more we want to constructively engage with life.
I reached out to artist Josephine Rice because of her connection to beauty and the way it finds expression in her work, her words, and her presence. Enjoy!
BEN JON MILLER: Flowers have been the visual focal point of most of your work that I’ve seen in the last couple of years. Can you say why you are attracted to use them in your work?
JOSEPHINE RICE: I grew up loving flowers, my mom had a garden and dad had a wild flower field. We gave flowers as presents. Dad would be deeply affected when a piece of natural land got bought and built on. We would go along to dig up and "take" flowers on sites that were going to be torn down. We went to the Chicago Botanical Gardens and Garfield Park Conservatory. [There was] Grandmother's rose garden across the street. I know I started drawing them when I was young, but kind of stopped somewhere in high school. I got the impression I shouldn't draw flowers because they're kind of cliché, like "think outside the box". In undergrad art school I had this feeling I couldn't just paint something just because I liked to. It had to have really deep meaning or explanation. The projects, critiques, and time deadlines made it not fun to paint. I became very stressed. And I switched my major to interior architecture. I can't draw other things very well. I just know I can draw flowers and love them.
B: When a person focuses on one subject for a long time, I think we tend to find ourselves within that subject. Working with the chosen content can become a lens through which we learn about ourselves and our conception of reality. Has working with flowers had this effect on you? If so, could you describe that?
J: It dawned on me I loved them so much and wanted a job where i could be surrounded by them. I became a florist. I work for a wonderful wedding florist and I've worked at the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market where the special local product comes in. I think about how i could never get sick of them. Like true love, you never get tired of them. When I get to a mountaintop hike and breathe in god up there, I think I'd never take this life for granted. Flowers are the ultimate symbol of death. Fading the moment they are cut or growing. To be appreciated as they blossom. Shining bright. As they last and eventually deteriorate. I look at most things like this now. That everything is blooming, living, flourishing beautifully, and then will die. I don't get to keep anything. Everything I love leaves me. This is a very sad thought. I can also know that a flower is never not beautiful. We should just appreciate what is happening right now. You can't force a flower to open, and you can't stop it from dying one day. It's amazing how flowers can come back to life season after season.
B: If it’s relevant, and if you’re comfortable sharing, could you say how art has helped you process pain and work with the obstacles that are part of being alive?
J: Art is obviously self expression. You can pour your emotions out on paper, like musicians play. I started getting sick a long time ago. I would have short times of debilitating pain. Then it became constant pain. The kind where you don't want to be alive if it's gonna be all this suffering from now on. I know emotional things that had happened had caused my illness. And life is just that shitty sometimes. It caused me to be in a place where I literally could do nothing other than paint at home. I didn't want to - [or] could not - go anywhere, and painting something beautiful was what I had to do. It was a distraction. It was what soothed me. It was what made life worth living, among other things like love. I could paint something beautiful while feeling like shit. I could make something beautiful out of overwhelming pain. It's like I tried to round up all the prettiest things on earth, and condensed them into one eye-full. A reminder - look at all this beauty!
B: Can you give an example of a creative work that has made a significant impression on your life and/or art practice?
J: Of course the sunflower painting at Van Gogh's exhibit at the museum. I remember having this awesome realization when I was a kid, that it was better to be kind of out there, kind of crazy cut-your-ear-off cool guy than boring.
B: What helps you maintain your connection to creative ideas and inspiration? This could be a habit, an intention or motive, a material, a place, a person, a book, or anything else.
J: I had to make peace with deadlines. So I started a cycle of painting. First I find the image inspiration [in] walks, parks, gardens, and work. Then I draw with Sharpie pages of flowers at a time for a chunk of painting. Then painting two layers of color. And then the fun and timely linework. Cutting them out and photographing them is pure satisfaction. Then I go with my mood. I do not force myself to create if I don't feel like it. It could be weeks or a day before I start another cycle.
B: What kind of experiences would you like audiences to have through your work? This could be broadly open-ended or specifically intentioned.
J: I simply want people to think my pieces are beautiful. Comforting, soothing, eye candy. I thought they were about happy flower things, but they are much deeper than that to me.
B: Are there any projects you’re working on now, or would like to work on in the future, that are exciting or stimulating you? Could you describe the motivation behind one of them? Why are you drawn to it and where do you want to go with it?
J: I'm preparing for Surtex this spring, a surface pattern design show. It is a challenge for me to make peace with the computer. I'm learning to turn my pieces into repeat patterns so they could be used on a number of products. The possibilities there are endless! Also, murals really excite me. They are fun, random opportunities. It feels so good to do one when the conditions are right. When I get past the beginning hard part. And the worry of "this looks like shit". Then I get to paint in the lines I've drawn and it's just smooth as butter.
B: Do you have any interests or practices that are not directly connected to your art practice (eg. sport, yoga, cooking, sailing, or anything else) that influence your art? How do they affect your creative process?
J: Having a job is something to work around for the creative process. Some people can still paint everyday. Even though I love my job, I can still relate to something I heard once. It was in Basquiat's documentary. He said he used to cry, having to go to work. It's tough to have more than one desire, a side hustle if you will. It pulls you in too many directions and causes stress on the body. I usually save my days off for marathon painting 15 hours just sit down not leaving the house that day. I am incorporating more self care these days, making room for travel, cooking, yoga, snowboarding, hiking, acupuncture, reiki, fun with friends.
B: Are there any challenging aspects of your creative practice (or your life) that you enjoy or appreciate, despite the difficulty? How do you respond to those challenges when they arise?
J: I have found it hard to just create all the time. I have to be in the mood to paint. I have periods that I cannot paint at all. There is no interest or new ideas. I have learned to just let it be. I know I will get the urge again. Other times, I feel that as long as I'm painting a flower, I'm happy. I don't have to know exactly what it's for.
B: Have you had any life experiences that impacted or shifted your approach to art-making? If so, could you describe one of them and share how it affected you?
J: Art changed when I moved to Seattle and started back up again drawing flowers. The nature was everything and everywhere there. I could see the mountains everyday. Flowers were fun to draw so I just went nuts on them with no job, no friends, new city, pretty broke. I would always be looking out for them and started seeking out places to see them. I also like thinking about a time I got a job at Bed Bath and Beyond after looking [for a job] for a while. I became very angry on that first day, [thinking] that I could do more than this. I was gifted in art. That is what I'm supposed to do. It hurt me so much that I had to work and it took time away from practicing my art. Honestly stepping away from painting in college was probably great for me. I could just keep painting my safe place, for fun.
B: Is there a website or link you'd like to give people to contact you or find your work?
This interview is part of an ongoing series of conversations on creativity. In these discussions, we focus on how people in various fields access creativity, work with it, and apply it in their work and in their daily lives. On this blog, you can find more of these interviews, essays on alchemical thinking, psychologically-oriented reflections on tarot, a podcast series of abstract-absurdist storytelling titled Lila Radio, and more.
- Lila Radio
- Dec 29, 2016 How to Make Magical Oranges
- Jan 16, 2017 Following Fear
- Feb 19, 2017 Why Does Heartache Happen?
- Jul 7, 2017 Nerves and Tutus
- Aug 8, 2017 Three Reasons to Destroy Yourself (Or Not)
- Sep 15, 2017 Art is a Portal
- Dec 2, 2017 Why the Tutu?
- Jan 6, 2018 Chaos' Playground: Finding Gold in the Shitstorm