Being present to COMPASSION in the everyday.
The choice of paintings presented in the exhibition, 365, reflects the preponderance of images of warfare, crime and suffering that we find on a daily basis in our newspaper of choice. For Ghislaine, the choosing of the images is intuitive: not every one relates to scenes of tragedy. Each is dated on the reverse, but other than that, no further reference is made to the wider context of which they are a part.
These works spring from a dual need: to bear witness and to affect some kind of palpable response in the viewer to events that seem at times beyond our comprehension.
The philosopher, George Klein has written in the culminating chapter of his book Pietà, how walking through the Christian quarter of Jerusalem he caught sight of an inscription beneath a relief of the crucified Christ, O vos omnes, qui travistis per viam, attendite et videte si est dollar sicut dolor meus (All you who pass this way, look and see: is there any sorrow like the sorrow that afflicts me) Lamentations, 1.12
Our technology allows us instant access to a constant flow of images and news items: we are all of us witnesses. How should we counter the weariness brought on by the repeated exposure to such images of violence or degradation? These images, how they repeat themselves: each day more images arrive and each day the paper partly read, goes in the recycling bin or on the fire. The photographs disappear with it, only to re-appear in a slightly different form the next day. It is startling to realise just how often these ephemeral images taken from real lives, echo compositional motifs familiar to us in the work of those artists we admire – Michelangelo, Titian, Goya and Delacroix, for example. By bringing these images back from their ephemeral existence and giving them some kind of permanence as paintings, Ghislaine closes the circle – reminding us of the constancy of human gestures and experience.
These images taken as a whole remind us of the sheer callousness of violence – its barbarity. The photographs from which the works derive address our tragic sense of life and evoke feelings of pity (pietà) for those who suffer. Perhaps these paintings may help to arouse a shared feeling of our fragility of what it is to be human.
The paintings as a whole invite the viewer to create their own narrative from the assembled 365 works. Hindered by the lack of accompanying information, one is inevitably forced to fall back on remembered and half-remembered news items from the recent past. Such actions might remind us of the importance of the context in which the original photographs were encountered. How much knowledge is actually available to us? Knowledge is one thing – understanding another.
These works tell us that suffering is entirely specific. A tragic event witnessed at second or even first hand is not the ‘same’ experience as the one the people undergoing the original experience endure; however much we may empathise.
by Michael Howard
In Ghislaine’s 365 series her daily practice is a form of visual Examen, an ancient spiritual discipline practiced daily by many as a form of prayerful reflection in order to detect the presence of God and discern his words to us.
In reviewing the day, Ghislaine mindfully and intuitively considers which moment, which happening, to paint. Her choice of subject becomes an act of compassionate prayer as she pauses from the busyness of her own life to give time, attention and thoughtful reflection through each colourful mark she makes.
These small paintings do not shy away from the pain and injustices in the world, but instead they become a form of lament, a personal gift of empathy from artist to subject, but also a collective tool for us all to find a deeper love for our neighbour no matter what our differences; to begin to see and feel our shared human condition and therefore to respond with acts of mercy within our own immediate daily experiences.
Take some time to review your day mindfully and prayerfully. In the same way that Ghislaine has given time to meaningfully hold someone in her thoughts through her creative mark making, take time yourself to either journal, write a poem, a letter or draw a response to something or someone that has moved you this day. Consider how you can practically attend to and act upon the growing compassion you observe and feel within yourself.
The Examen, like these small paintings call us to be still and to take notice, to become more aware of your surroundings and the presence of goodness in all situations. Be thankful for the small pleasures in your everyday, the simple acts of kindness bestowed upon us by God and our fellow man. And then become aware of your feelings, your emotions as you reflect on the day.
What do I discover as I consider the goodness I have seen at the end of each day?
Can I use this discipline to begin to develop a spirit of gratitude and compassion within me?
In secular mindfulness we are taught to notice our feelings and then let them drift away, but within the tradition of the Examen we are asked to go a step further, to own them and bring them to God, to ask for forgiveness, acceptance, loving understanding and to let go of them by leaving them in His loving hands. We are then invited to look to tomorrow and to consider how we want to grow and be changed. This is not about striving to be better but instead a gentle knowing that the more we learn to let go and to trust in the slow work of God the more compassionate and loving we will become.