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The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower

April 5, 2010

An interview with Connie Cantor, a Pittsburgh-based artist whose work appeared in Cluster, and is currently on display at the Rock Paper Scissors exhibit.

Connie Cantor

When I saw Connie Cantor’s painting, it spoke to me. I understood it on an intuitive level and had no logical reason, nor even words, to describe the feeling. I am not accustomed to this experience because I generally rationalize my intuition. I like to see things from a mathematical perspective; I deduce, infer, derive. Wanting to understand why I had this reaction, I set out to find answers through a logical process. My first step was to see Cantor speak at the Cluster panel discussion.

At Cluster she said, “I give myself permission to make art.” She spoke about how her art was not pre-conceived, and was based on intuition. Her explanation suited her art, but it did not explain why I felt a connection to her painting. In order to get a better understanding, I sought her out for an interview. I wanted to find out how our two different outlooks could have found a point of convergence in her painting.

I have come to the conclusion that the answer lies in our similar views of what consciousness is, but our divergent ways of handling our own consciousness. I see consciousness an illusion, a thin veil over the unconscious mind. It is often the traffic guard of the unconscious, directing attention. But it is also the policeman, judging the ideas that are fed to it, censoring. It is this action of the conscious mind that Cantor wants to circumvent. She says, “Your conscious self is your worst enemy. It is programmed with things that have nothing to do with you. The more you depend on your consciousness to define you, the further you get from truth.” She wants the full self to express itself without the intervening judgment and censorship of the conscious mind. This means that art isn’t preplanned consciously, yet what emerges is an authentic representation of the artist, and of an aspect of reality that needs to be expressed.

Being aware that I suffer under self-imposed limitations, I was drawn to Cantor at the Cluster discussion when she said that she gave herself permission to make the art that she makes. I ask her to describe this phenomenon to me. “It is the nut of the whole process. How do artists deny they are creative? How do people deny they are creative?” she asks. “They don’t give themselves permission to fail, to look like an idiot, to stumble around. What I am doing is stumbling. Stumbling is the only way to find something authentic.” To make art, you need to have a certain faith. It is a “faith in the core of yourself, a faith that something will emerge.”

Intuition is the driving force behind Cantor’s art, and she feels that art is made when the creator stops judging herself and allows the art to emerge. At this point, “the false self peels away,” and the artist is an integrated whole. When making art, she is not in control. “I surrender to some deeper wisdom that I have to trust won’t let me down.” She refers to this as “spiritual physics,” the law of which is “if you approach your work without judgment and fear, and with trust and faith, what you need is in you, even if buried under a million layers.”

In Cantor’s paintings, a variety of symbols tend to emerge. There are little houses, big forks, bones, chairs. When asked what these objects symbolize to her she says, “nothing. It is not my job to ask what they mean. When meaning is in your conscious brain, you stop. It is not helpful to deliver a conscious meaning. Don’t codify, solidify, freeze information or shape.” She likes what the recognizable objects do visually, “what they allow me to do.” They give her “the freedom to juxtapose and to transplant. I like them for the sheer fact that they are weird and out of place.”

Cantor does not plan her work, but rather allows the images and information to emerge. “For me, when something is planned, it falls flat.” She has a dialogue with the work and makes decisions, but tries to minimize that dialogue to allow what needs to come. She quotes Leonard Cohen, “’I write until something better than myself emerges.’ He doesn’t mean better than who he is, but better than he could have created consciously,” she explains.

Ceasing to judge yourself, having faith that there is something great in you that will emerge, and giving yourself permission to explore and grope until that light emerges are the underpinnings of her artistic philosophy. It is this approach, this freedom from the negative aspects of consciousness, that spoke to me through her painting.

For Cantor, making art is an all-encompassing process. Physicality and movement are important aspects of her work. She enjoys “accessing from the body as opposed to the mind.” The work becomes an extension of her body. If she feels separated, she stops, and gets back into the flow. She asks herself, “What do I need to do in this moment? Whatever the answer is, don’t censor that.” Judgment is a form of self-sabotage. It limits the artist. To make art, one must let go of judgment. One needs to grope. Here she quotes Dylan Thomas: “’The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.’ That is what art is to me,” she says. It is that vital force.

Connie Cantor’s work is currently on display at Artist Image Resource as part of the Rock paper Scissors exhibition. This exhibit is open until May 23rd.

Her work is also on display in a duo exhibit with artist Janise Hexon called Inside Glance at the Christine Frechard Gallery in Squirrel Hill. This exhibit ends on April 8th.

She will also be chairing the Interplay exhibit at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. This exhibit runs from June 25 to August 22, 2010 with the opening reception on June 25, 2010 from 5:30 – 8:00 pm.This is a major collaborative event with the PCA, AAP and the 8 guilds. It will be juried by Eric Shiner of the Warhol Museum.

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