The Stillpoint Paintings you see here are by John Diamond, M.D. an Australian born retired psychiatrist and medical doctor who moved into holistic health when he relocated to America. His first experience in understanding the role art played in the healing process was when he was in hospital as a young child, trying to recover from an illness that the doctors could not understand.
From his hospital bed, he could see a fairy-tale come to life in a mural in the children’s ward. This along with “You’re the Only Star in My Blue Heaven,” which played over the radio, helped, he realized later, to actuate his will to be well. The mural was created by the Welsh-borne Australian artist, illustrator and poet Pixie O’Harris, who was awarded the Queen’s Coronation Medal, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal, and was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for her work.
He later saw art’s role in the healing process, when he was working in the back-wards of asylums in Australia. Art could also encourage others to see beyond the patient’s illness, to something more, to their innate creativity, a commonality humankind shares.
Dr. Diamond only began to paint himself much later on in life, in his seventies, as part of his daily active, or action, meditation. He had no formal training, similar to the photographer Harry Callahan, who often wondered if formal instruction was an impediment to natural, spontaneous creative expression.
He always encouraged friends, students and patients, including professional artists, to adopt a much freer style to painting reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. This free approach, much like a child’s early mark making, supports the expressive needs that we all have, but that have often been hindered by pre-scholastic and scholastic institutions imposing the reproduction of real objects.
This reminds me of a story that Dr. Diamond told me, about his first Pollock-esque painting, and the only time he ever signed an artwork. When he was a teenager, out it the garden, he dipped worms in colored paint, and let them wriggle all over the canvas. He signed it W.M. for worm, and when it was dry placed it on the mantelpiece. His family and friends could not stop talking about the William Morris artwork, each person seeing and imagining something quite to different from the other!
This story is important because it shows an additional dimension to Dr. Diamond’s approach to painting, that I believe no other artist adopts. The worms were completely unaware that they were creating art, and yet they did. They were doing what they do naturally, without artifice or ego. Yet, most adults do not feel that they are naturally creative, simply for their lack of technical accomplishment in pictorial representation, which always requires ego-based decisions. This is why Dr. Diamond's approach to painting is so vital. It returns us to how we drew as a child, or even to sound ridiculous how the worm painted, free of ego, or more aptly free from fear of judgement, and a way to realize our innate creative potential. The child’s first drawings are a natural extension of their gestures, gestures that have intentionality and reflect the dynamic aliveness the child perceives in the world surrounding them.
As mentioned, Dr. Diamond started painting as part of his action meditation, which is different from inner-directed mediation, in that you go inside in order to give out. As such, he had little intention of displaying his art, but at the bequest of his students who felt its intrinsic therapeutic quality, he has had numerous international exhibits.
You’ll notice that his paintings have these beautiful, round, flowing movements, that are simple, yet sophisticated. It is not, initially at least, easy to paint freely, particularly for those with formal training, because we are so accustomed to either representation or formulaic patterns. We have to un-train ourselves in order to paint freely, as we did when we were a young child, to realize a creative capability that is natural extension of ourselves.
There is an Eastern Aesthetic to Dr. Diamond’s art; the Chinese literati, artists who were doctors, healers, herbalists, etc. and most often government officials, and the zenga & nunga painters are a source of inspiration. Their concept of Empty and Full is central in his paintings. He does not cover the whole painting, he leaves space, and it is a balance of yin and yang, white and black, empty and full, which is as much an outward expression of the artist’s internal balance at the time of painting.
The empty space is of equal importance as the full space, so when you go to painting yourself, the empty paper in front of you, is already most of the painting. All you need is to balance it with just a little black, for black is powerful, it holds onto all its color, whereas white dissipates, or gives away all its color. This can help the artist to overcome any stage-fright, or rather page-fright, as the painting is almost complete, only waiting to receive the black.
In Western Art we are so accustomed to full paintings; we have to fill the entire canvas, but it actually requires courage to stop after a simple gesture, a simple brushstroke. We have a tendency to do more, which is when our ego takes over, and it becomes something other than a natural extension of our innate creativity, or the humanity in each of us, that we all so desperately need to express.