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Daniélou, Alain – The Way to the Labyrinth – On painting as an ecstatic pursuit

Identifier

021185

Type of spiritual experience

A description of the experience

Daniélou, Alain – The Way to the Labyrinth [translated by Marie-Claire Cournand]

In 1920, while spending a holiday with my mother in an isolated hotel in Croix-de-Cavalaire where she was recuperating from a long illness, I discovered painting. I was thirteen at the time and had never been taught drawing or gone to a museum. Someone had given me a box of watercolours to keep me busy. My first attempts at painting were quite satisfactory and I got into the habit of going out on long walks every day to paint landscapes. I discovered the abandoned village of Grimaud, a small port called Saint-Tropez, various deserted beaches and capes, several beautiful villas with magnificent gardens, and a small cabin where lived two lady friends who grew flowers in their yard.

The discovery of painting was an important event in my life.  I had found a way to commune with the beauty of the world in a language that expressed feelings better than any words can do. Through painting it is possible to analyse a landscape and reveal its secret. For me, the act of painting soon became a sort of ecstatic semi-conscious rite, and it has always remained so. I would let colours and shapes express themselves through my paintbrush, which seemed guided by forces other than my own.

While I painted I would talk out loud, asking the colours what they really were, for they are never quite what one thinks: the sky is never blue, the grass is never green-they are subtle combinations of mysterious and unexpected hues.

Through the medium of the painter, the landscape or model expresses its true nature. One can never touch up or perfect the product of such direct communication without destroying the poetry or betraying the model. The more systematic type of composition that I, like most artists, later practiced has nothing to do with this kind of experience: the first drafts of a painting are always more alive than the final version.

The act of painting caused me such intense emotion that the landscapes have remained forever engraved in my memory.

The source of the experience

Daniélou, Alain

Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image

Activities

Observation contributed by: Neffy Limb