Paintings from the Rock Garden

Under a full moon and lunar eclipse, the opening reception for my watercolor exhibit, Paintings from the Rock Garden, in Lanesboro, MN felt… well— auspicious. Visitors came from Saint Paul, Winona and the surrounding area for food, wine, music and art— discerning eyes saw beauty and death in the rock garden paintings. Lanesboro gallery lighting is outstanding; my watercolors are alive with color on the black walls. I appreciate the warmth and generosity of the kindred spirits who came to explore watercolor with me. If you missed the opening, the show is up through May 31.

Fleeting World #2 ©Kristine Fretheim
Fleeting World #2 ©Kristine Fretheim

I was particularly grateful for a conversation with nine year old Daria. She was fascinated by two paintings of dragon flies from the “Fleeting World” series. Until now, I’ve never displayed these paintings; the subject doesn’t fit conventional views of beauty. And, well, art is supposed to express beauty, isn’t it? Daria loves dragon flies and she was intrigued by these images. I was surprised when she and her father fetched me to discuss the dragon fly in this painting. Her father told me Daria had a question. She asked, “Is the dragon fly alive… or is it dead?”

I confessed, “It’s dead.” Yup, it’s a dead dragon fly painting. Daria’s father, commenting on it’s beauty, wanted to know why I chose this subject— death in a garden flourishing with beauty, and so commenced one of the most interesting and rewarding interactions around a piece of my art ever!

Death is an uncomfortable subject and it’s difficult to find beauty in something we prefer not to think about. As a Zen student, during one 7-day meditation retreat I remember how a flower on the altar became my intimate friend and teacher, a guide through impermanence, awe, frustration and the beauty and perfection of it all. Sitting meditation in the pre-dawn darkness until the nine o’clock evening bell, I watched each day as the petals of a rose opened, seeming to mirror my own state of being on the meditation cushion. I wondered if the rose endured as much pain in those first days of retreat as my body did, slowly letting go, opening to rest in awareness. Just as the rose petals opened, meditators practice opening to experience, moment by moment. After several days into the retreat, the flowers on the altar faded and rose petals dropped to the table. Much to my dismay, a zealous, well-meaning Zen student replaced my wilted friend with fresh flowers. I was incensed. Couldn’t she see the magic, the wondrous beauty of the whole universe in that faded flower?! Ha!

I believe, as much as possible, it’s important not to turn away from things that scare you. I don’t know how the dragon fly in my painting came to die on the cradle of rocks, or if a bird eventually carried it off for dinner. If you give yourself even a few moments of stillness, you may be surprised by what you find. Learning to see the world with wide-eyed curiosity is key to being fully alive in each precious moment. I hope my paintings remind people of their own capacity to wake up to the world around them, and of how fresh and new each moment truly is.


2 comments on “Paintings from the Rock Garden”

  1. As always your words and painting are beautiful and so timely for me! Seeing the perfection in death… All wonderful reminders for me to “stay open to the whole of experience and rest in awareness…seeing it all with curiosity…” And – “not turning away from what scares me…” Ahhhhh that’s a big one 🙂 but one that I needed to hear. So much of this spoke to me tonight. Thank you!

  2. Thank you Christine! Hope you are happy and well, and enjoying this new season as it unfolds. Namaste!

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