A Year With Rilke

Rainer Rilke’s words have been a constant companion in my studio for many years. However, I’d never attempted to paint in large scale format the atmospheric works that are fed by his poems. There is an intimacy to painting and experiencing a large work of art, an immersion and turning within as Rilke might say.  At the beginning of 2020 I set out to do just that--paint the biggies--and sourced many large canvases.  My intention was to open up my studio every month during art walk so that people could experience the evolution of the work in person. Covid hit and even though Rilke would have insisted I get comfortable with this new uncertainty, I abandoned the project and sold the one painting I had created.. I resurrected the series last Fall and worked on the 12 paintings (with the torn out pages of poems taped to the walls) while creating many other paintings and commissions.  I’m so thrilled to share them with you and to have my studio open again. I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who continued to invest in art (and me) over this past year.  I’m happy to still be here creating works on canvas.    View by appointment.  Contact me directly for pricing and availability, a number of the works have sold.

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The Words: Go within yourself and probe the depths from which your life springs, and there at its source you’ll find the answers to the questions...Though the reflection in the pool often ripples away, take the image within you.  Only in the double realm do our voices carry all they can say...what batters you becomes your strength, move back and forth into the change...echoing the ocean’s vastness...so my voice becomes both a breath and a shout, one prepares the way, the other surrounds my loneliness with angels. (A Year With Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, December selections)

The Color: Prussian Blue, a blue most common and most beloved.   A blue that Thoreau thought needed to be Americanized.  It’s the color of waves and stamps.  It’s an accidental pigment, a happenstance color and an antidote for heavy metal poisoning.  Darker than cobalt and moodier than indigo, it is often called the first modern pigment. (Cultural histories of unusual hues, The Awl, Katy Kelleher)

 

A Year With Rilke: December
so my voice becomes
both a breath and a shout
48’"x72” oil on canvas

12

The Words: All creation holds its breath, listening within me, because, to hear you, I keep silent.  At my senses’ horizon you appear hesitantly, like scattered islands...You see, I want a lot.  Maybe I want it all: the darkness of each endless fall, the shimmering light of each ascent. (A Year With Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, November selections)

The Color: Payne’s Grey, the color of English rain and Henry Miller’s Paris.   When used in place of a true black, Payne’s gray creates lifelike shadows, artfully mimicking the blue stain of a storm cloud, the long aching darkness of an overcast evening. Landscapes washed with Payne’s gray look moody and damp, foreboding and quiet. It proved to be quite a useful tool for depicting far-away mountains, made indistinct by the scattering of light in the atmosphere.It’s amazing that a color which looks so close to black contains none of it at all. (Cultural histories of unusual hues, The Awl, Katy Kelleher)

 

A Year With Rilke: November
the darkness of each endless fall
and the shimmering light of each ascent
72’"x72” oil on canvas

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The Words: There’s a power in me to grasp and give shape to the world.  I know nothing has ever been real without my beholding it.  All becoming has needed me, my looking ripens things...The earth has no other recourse but to become invisible in us, who belong in part to what is invisible... (A Year With Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, October selections)
The Color: Celedon: the unseen green. There was once a color so beautiful that only royalty were allowed to see it. The common folk didn’t know it, but this green was (rather fittingly) one of those “ish” colors with no clear descriptive word. It was an imprecise color, a murky color, found only on special ceramics. The green-ish, gray-ish pottery emerged from the fire with a hint of brown and a fine crackle that supposedly reminded those early worshipers of imprecise beauty of jade. Later, this green would go by the name “celadon” (named, supposedly, for a fictional French lothario who wore pale green ribbons) but for centuries in China it was known only as mi se meaning “mysterious color.” (Cultural histories of unusual hues, The Awl, Katy Kelleher)

 

A Year With Rilke: October
all becoming has needed me
my looking ripens things
96’"x72” oil on canvas

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The Words: Do you still not know how little endures?  Fling the nothing you are grasping out into the spaces we breathe.  Maybe the birds will feel in their flight how the air has expanded...what is greatest to our existence, what makes it precious beyond words, has the mockery to use sorrow in order to penetrate our soul. (A Year With Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy and  Anita Barrows, September selections)

The Color: Gamboge.  It’s a sunny yellow, a translucent hue as light and golden as early fall aspen leaves—or the undiluted urine of a fairly healthy person. In her excellent book Colors: A Natural History of the Palette, Victoria Finlay explains that gamboge is “one of the most efficient diuretics that nature knows—put it accidentally in your mouth and you’ll be in the bathroom all day.” Then, somewhat oddly, she points out that many yellow dyes cause bodily purging. Not lightfast, the color was used in traditional Chinese painting, and though the hue has long since faded from most pieces, it was a favorite of Flemish painters and can be seen in some Rembrandts. (Cultural histories of unusual hues, The Awl, Katy Kelleher)

A Year With Rilke: September
fling the nothing you are grasping
out into the spaces we breathe
96”x72” oil on canvas 

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The Words: I come home from the soaring in which I lost myself, I was song and the refrain is still roaring in my ears.  Now I am still and plain.  No more words... you, the song we sang in every silence, you dark net threading through us. (A Year With Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, August selections)
The Color: Glaucous. It’s not a word you’ll hear often, but you might be familiar with its etymological offspring, glaucoma. The origin of this word can be traced all the way back to Homer, who used glaukos to describe the color of water, the color of eyes, the color of leaves, and the color of honey. It’s often translated as “gleaming,” which reflects the fact that this word wasn’t really about color, but rather the reflective properties of the object and the texture and movement of its surface. Over the years glaucous has morphed to describing objects that have a dull, lusterless coating, which makes it somewhat of a Janus word since the original meaning does still hold. Look it up and you’ll find glaucous defined as “dull gray or blue” and also “shining.”(Cultural histories of unusual hues, The Awl, Katy Kelleher)

A Year With Rilke: August
the song we sing
in every silence
48”x72” oil on canvas

8

The Words: Oh, not to be seperated, shut off from the starry dimensions by so thin a wall.  What is within us if not intensified sky traversed with birds and deep with winds of homecoming?...Slowly evening takes on the garments held for it by a line of ancient trees.  You look, and the world recedes from you.  Part of it moves heavenward, the rest falls away...You are left, for reasons you can’t explain with a life that is anxious and huge, so that, at times confined, at times expanding, it becomes in you now stone, now star. (A Year With Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, July selections)
The Color: Haint Blue. Haint stories are the reason that southern porch ceilings are often painted a pale, sweet, powdery sky blue—a group of light shades known collectively as “Haint Blue.” Blue ceilings and blue doors can keep unwanted specters, phantoms, spooks, and apparitions from strolling in through the front door. It fools them into thinking that the door is part of the sky, that the porch is surrounded by water, that the house is protected by something sublime, more powerful and permanent than a coat of paint. (Cultural histories of unusual hues, The Awl, Katy Kelleher)

A Year With Rilke: July
the sky within us
deep with winds of homecoming
48”x72” oil on canvas 

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The Words: Breath, you invisible poem! Pure, continuous exchange with all that is, flow and counterflow where rhythmically I come to be. Each time a wave that occurs just once in a sea I discover I am.  You, innermost of oceans, you, infinitude of space...Soundless existence ever opening, filling space while taking if from no one, diminishng nothing, defined by nothing outside itself, and all coming from within, clothed in softness and radiant in its own light, even to its outermost edge.  When have we known a thing like this... (A Year With Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, June selections)
The Color: Fuchsia The color fuchsia was born in the mid-1800s, after decades of what Victoria Finlay calls “mauve fever” in Europe (which an English journal of the time referred to as “Mauve Measles”). Following the success of puce and the explosion of mauve, European fashion was primed for a new hue, particularly one in the pink or purple family. In 1859, French dye manufacture Renard Frères et Franc began selling an intense, dark red coal tar dye named “fuchsine” after the flower. Fuchsia has become ever brighter as the years wore on. What the Victorians called fuchsia is slightly duskier than the contemporary color, a little browner, a little more muted (this color still exists, and is often labeled as “antique fuchsia”).  (Cultural histories of unusual hues, The Awl, Katy Kelleher)

A Year With Rilke: June
clothed in softness
and radiant in its own light
108”x72” oil on canvas

6

The Words: I love the dark hours of my being.  My mind deepens into them...Then the knowing comes: I can open to another life that’s wide and timeless...Those who stand can feel how gravity plunges through them, like a drink through thirst. Yet from the sleeper, gravity drifts like rain from unhurried clouds. (A Year With Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, May selections)
The Color: Caput mortuum, Latin for “dead head,” is a dark brown paint. It is earthy and intense, and like many browns, it can run in opposite chromatic directions when diluted. Some versions of caput mortuum paint tend toward the yellow end of the spectrum, while others wash into a light, yet slightly murky lavender. For alchemists, the phrase “caput mortuum” referred to the leftover residue at the bottom of a heating flask after the “nobler” elements of a solution had sublimated. Caput mortuum was a metaphor for “how the soul was thought to ascent into the aether after death, leaving the body’s material remains behind,” (Cultural histories of unusual hues, The Awl, Katy Kelleher)

A Year With Rilke: May
to drift like rain
from unhurried clouds
72" x 72" oil on canvas

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The Words: We, when we feel, evaporate.  We breathe ourselves out and gone...Does Time, as it passes, really destroy? It may rip the fortress from its rock; but can this heart, that belongs to God, be torn from Him by circumstance?  Are we as fearfully fragile as Fate would have us believe? Can we ever be severed from childhood’s deep promise? Ah, the knowledge of impermanence that haunts our days is their very fragrance. (A Year With Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, April selections)
The Color: Xanadu: It's a Chinese city, a 1980 musical flop, and the gray-green color of the philodendron leaf.

A Year With Rilke: April
the knowledge of impermanence that hauntsour days
is their very fragrance
96”x72” oil on canvas 

4

The Words: Allow your judgments their own undisturbed development, which, like any unfolding, must come from within and can by nothing be forced or hastened.  Everything is gestation and then birth...most of us know only a single corner of that room, a narrow strip on which we keep walking back and forth.  That gives a kind of security. But isn’t insecurity with all its dangers so much more human? We are not prisoners of that room. (A Year With Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, March selections)
The Color: Puce is a color that blurs the lines between brown and maroon with only a hint of pinkish-gray. History says that  Louis XVI strode into a room where his wife was hanging out, wearing her brand new silk dress, and exclaimed, “That is puce!” He had observed, and rightfully so, that her dress was the same color as a flea. This rather crudely named insect-inspired color with a conceptual link between fleas and desire is now known more for its sexy/gross associations than its actual use. (Cultural histories of unusual hues, The Awl, Katy Kelleher)

A Year With Rilke: March
to allow one’s feelings
an unhastened unfolding
40”x72” oil on canvas 

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The Words: You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing that is more than your own.  Let it brush your cheeks as it divides and rejoins behind you...fear not the pain.  Let its weight fall back into the earth; for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.  The trees you planted in childhood have grown too heavy.  You cannot bring them along.  Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold...Louder than all the storms, louder than all the oceans, people have been crying out: What abundance of quietude the Universe must yield if we humans can hear the crickets... (A Year With Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, February selections)
The Color: Rose Madder. Pink, as a concept, arrived in Europe in the late fourteenth century. As the color began to appear more often in clothing and paintings, early European languages began to seek words to describe this watered-down red. In French and Spanish, the flower chosen for the honor wasn’t a rose, but the carnation (otherwise known as “clove pink”), picked for its supposed resemblance to the pasty European complexion. Even if you’ve never heard of Rose madder or madder-based dyes and paints, you’ve seen the brilliant red and warm pinks that result from soaking and pounding the yellow-flowered perennial. Raphael, Rubens, and Vermeer and all used Rose madder in their works as famously did Hieronymus Bosch in The Garden of Earthly Delights.   (Cultural histories of unusual hues, The Awl, Katy Kelleher)

A Year With Rilke: February
give yourselves to the air,
to what you cannot hold
60”x72” oil on canvas

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The Words: It seems our own impermanence is concealed from us.  The trees stand firm, the houses we live in are still there.  We alone flow past it all, an exchange of air.  Everything conspires to silence us, partly with shame, partly with unspeakable hope...Be ahead of all parting, as if it had already happened, like winter, which even now is passing.  For beneath the winter is a winter so endless that to survive it at all is a triumpth of the heart. (A Year With Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, January selections)
The Color: All the whites you cannot name.  Colorless landscapes often are richer in tone than you might expect; that pink and blue and yellow shine so strangely from colorless crystals. Refracted and reflected, light bends and changes in the greys and whites of our world. Color is gone, but color is everywhere.The mercurial nature of white makes it particularly difficult to define. White is a function of light waves, but it’s also an idea. One could define white as simply “all the wavelengths of color mixed together” but that doesn’t really capture how we use the word white.   (Cultural histories of unusual hues, The Awl, Katy Kelleher)

A Year With Rilke: January
we alone flow past it all,
an exchange of air
60”x72” oil on canvas

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    SHARON KINGSTON