“Art is the mirror of the Spiritual World in the World of the senses.”
-- Rudolf Steiner
JOHN Stolfo, an American master artist and eurythmist based in Hong Kong, talked about spiritual science, or anthroposophy, and demonstrated lazure painting at a workshop in the Zhuhai Log Cabin in New Xiangzhou last Monday evening. Dozens of teachers and parents attended and painted sunrises or sunsets under his instruction.
“Joy and happiness in living, a love for all existence, a power and energy for work, such are among the lifelong results of a right cultivation of the feeling for beauty and art,” a motto by Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf education and Anthroposophy, was written on the top of the blackboard.
“Anthropo” refers to “human being” while “sophy” means “wisdom,” explained Stolfo. Anthroposophy throws light on the concept of “I am” as an individual and the ability to have thoughts and develop as plants. Human being consists of three folds -- an eternal spirit, an evolving soul and a temporal body, according to Rudolf Steiner’s point of view.
Steiner believed colour has an effect on the life feeling, well-being and health of the observer. The lazure paint, a process of using brushes to apply pure translucent colour in three or more layers of wash-glazes, helps bring a breathing space into interior spaces and produce a peaceful effect, according to Stolfo. Lazure is based on the Goetheanum, an anthroposophical cultural arts centre in Switzerland named for German philosopher and writer Johann Wolfgang Goethe.
Stolfo explained why architecture was the most typical type of art in ancient Egypt, and sculpture to the Greeks. With the evolution of human beings, painting has become typical in modern times, he concluded. He also explained basic ideas of Goethe’s theory of colours with a rainbow and triangles, each angle referring to a colour. Red, yellow and blue are the primary colours at their basic essence; three secondary colours -- orange, violet and green, are achieved by a mixture of two primaries. The range between red and orange is active warm while that between violet and blue is passive cool, John pointed out. “It’s difficult to live in the pureness of colour,” he said.
A vital factor in a child’s development is the stimulation of active imagination and creativity, and water-colour can be applied as a means to encourage self-expression, and, what’s more important, to open a gateway to creativity, John noted. A young child, however, needs only one or two colours at a time, otherwise the painting will be out of control, he added.
After the lecture, John gave each attendee a cardboard with a piece of glossy paper sticking on it and asked them to paint a sunrise or sunset. He demonstrated the way of painting: applying watercolours of red, yellow or blue on the paper after washing the brush in a glass of water each time. The coulours should be light first, and then deepened gradually. With only a few strokes, a sunrise was vividly coming up.
“I suggest painting of sunrise or sunset. I’m not telling you how to paint it. Everybody paints his own sunrise or sunset,” Stolfo said, adding, “It’s difficult. That’s why somehow the guidance is necessary.”
The teachers and parents in the audience began to show their stuff then. A mother of a 13-year-old showed some reluctance and puzzlement, saying she had never painted. Nevertheless, with encouragement of her company, she took hold of a brush and began to paint her sunset -- a bright sun in the middle of two mountain peaks with misty grey in the air.
“The setting sun is not as orange as I expected and the misty grey is getting too dark,” she looked dissatisfied with her painting.
“My painting is not what I expected either,” another mother in the neighbourhood exclaimed.
“I find the colours are out of my control and I cannot deal with them at will,” a young teacher agreed.
“What we need is more practice with the colour,” Chan Sin Mei, a primary-school teacher who operates the Children’s Garden in Hong Kong, pointed out.
Painting one’s own sunrise or sunset out of experience rather than imitating a form, the latter being deadening and thus not creativity, which is opposite the classical way of painting, Stolfo stated.
When all the painters had finished, Stolfo said, “In general, I say it’s wonderful.” He explained that everyone has his own experience of living in colour, and so it’s not a matter of good or bad. Through continuous practice, people can attain what they want, he noted. The most important thing is that painting this way is a kind of gateway to creativity, he stressed.
“I find the reason why this kind of painting has healing effects is because it’s a kind of meditation,” a young man said, with an expression of seeing the light. “I didn’t do it so well, as I was not concentrating myself to the level of meditation,” he added.
Stolfo ended his lecture and watercolour painting practice with a verse:
In the heart the weaving feel,
In the head the light of thinking with the strength of will,
Weaving, enlightening, strengthening, weaving,
In lighting strengthening flow,
This is man.