Can’t draw a stick figure? No matter. “Everybody is an artist,” Matt Canale passionately believes, and he explores this notion in his Open Art classes every Tuesday at the Sacred Arts Research Foundation in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
True to that premise, Matt has designed his Open Art class for any skill level. He tailors the lesson to whoever shows up. In the first class there were people with no previous experience, who primarily wanted technical advice to learn how to draw. He set up a still life and conducted exercises to help them coordinate eye, hand, and brain. Concentrated focus and some surprising art were the results.
Evoking a beatific hippie, Matt was peacefully sketching a still life of flowers in a jar when I arrived. The loft,known the Ark, has a nice, early 70s ambiance, with a Moroccan carpet, an altar, various instruments set along the perimeter (as if Ravi Shankar might appear any moment), potted plants and artwork, and an office and kitchen, all sharing a space infused with the aroma of Indian spices.
Formally trained in graphic arts, illustration, and animation, Matt remembers being singled out at an early age by an art teacher who saw promise in his paper mâché Ninja Turtle. It spurred him on, yet he grew up wondering about the kids who never received that nudge of encouragement. Matt wants to not only give back, but also get back to the true essence of creativity, by reawakening the seed of potential that each of us still has within. “If we isolate that area of potential, the ripple effect it has is profound,” he says, not knowing that with me, he is preaching to the choir.
Within this ideal class, novices and seasoned artists collaborate in an energy field not confined by labels or judgments. Feedback is welcomed. So is stepping outside one’s comfort zone.
As a visual artist, I know how essential both of those actions are. I remember being encouraged, even lauded, as a young girl (drawing Disney-esque princesses in the early 1960s), up to the point where I became a professional illustrator.
Along the way I had detoured, of my own free will, from the path of “art for art’s sake.” Carving out any career in the creative field will do that, especially over the course of several decades. Stepping outside my comfort zone now means reconnecting with my truest creative self, the closest I have come to samadhi in my life. Picasso was spot on when he said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
Since Matt is also a professional illustrator, I ask about the challenge and dichotomy of this dilemma. He advised, “It’s necessary and OK to do art for service-based reasons, but keep it separate from the things you do just for you. That’s sacred--that’s for your own healing.”
And healing is the mission here. He adds, "When we have energy that doesn't get used, it gets trapped in the body as tension. Connecting to our creative potential allows that energy to flow, and we heal ourselves."
About that ripple effect, he notes, “It is important to know that the energy we release into our art is taken in by people who see it. Therefore I encourage the artist to make an intention to heal or awaken the observer. I find that this raises the vibration of the art and the artist."
All paths explored at the Sacred Arts Research Foundation lead back to the way creative expression was woven into the spiritual and practical lifestyles of Native American tribes.
Besides the Open Art series, one can also learn how to weave Peruvian-style, build a drum or didgeridoo, make a chakra mandala painting, and even master that New Age classic, the macrame plant hanger.
Finally Matt shares with me something he’s been working on for himself: a large, ethereal blue painting of a majestic deer, striated with what seem to be energy waves. The symbolism is known only to him, but I can feel something as I take it in. If nothing else, it’s awakened me to the realization that I have not been doing enough art just for myself lately. A trip to my favorite art supply store is definitely in order.
But first, food! Right around the corner is a sister venture to Sacred Arts, the Jungle Cafe. I load up my plate at the vegetarian buffet and sit at a long table, reflecting on the path I’ve traveled, from Velveeta to (almost) vegan, and from princess-drawer to fashion illustrator to assemblage artist. Today, this little patch of the metropolitan map known as Greenpoint feels like the vortex of healing that will begin for me.