Camp Wabi Sabi, July 2013

By Austin Art Space Resident, Marilyn Rea Nasky


“Tapestry” tempera on paper, by Marilyn Rea Nasky

Last March, I was blessed to find sanctuary in the home of R. Carlos Nakaii and Pamela Hyde Nakaii, in Tucson AZ. Pamela suggested that I meet her at Camp Wabi Sabi in July, as a way of processing grief due to the devastating loss of our beloved son, Evan, in March 2011. Pamela had been to two previous workshops and had enjoyed the freedom of this type of work.

I had never heard of “process painting” before, but I liked the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi.

I was also interested in using the creation of artwork to free some of the immense despair and perhaps transform some of the grief. I decided to sign up for Camp Wabi Sabi, July 2013.

I had never heard of Dixon, NM, before and had no idea what to expect.

My husband, Brian, and I drove to Albuquerque NM, where we stayed with friends, spent a day in Santa Fe, and visited my niece. Then Brian headed back to Austin and it was time for me to drive out to Dixon. Suddenly, I was terrified! I wanted to get back in the car and head back to Austin TX, with my husband. But the arrangements had been made. I had to go forward with life on my own.

Driving out through the immense landscape of the desert Southwest, even though it is a familiar place to me, felt like traveling through a moonscape I had never seen before. I felt like a visitor from another planet. I arrived in Dixon about 4PM and checked into our lodge beside the Embudo River. As I walked out onto the deck overlooking the river, I knew instantly that I had made the right decision in coming to take part in Camp Wabi Sabi this summer.

The small village of Dixon NM, is an unincorporated township nestled in the Embudo River Valley. At the heart of “downtown” there is a small food coop, a church, a post office, a school, and one restaurant. It was almost scary how small it was, but after a week, I grew fond of the place. There is a winery on the way into town that I especially loved. It gave the place a feeling of being part of the “world”.

That evening we had our introductory circle to the workshop at the home of facilitator, Sarah Oblinger. While going over the schedule for the next day Sarah mentioned that there was no talking allowed in the painting sessions, no critique of another artist’s work…basically we were to work in silence. This was a foreign concept to me, as I had always enjoyed the conversation with other artists in previous workshops. The other “rules” were no reference material: no pictures, no magazines, calendars, drawings…no visuals at all. We were to paint from within. Gulp! This was truly a scary concept to me, but I found out later that it was not a rule strictly enforced if an image was needed to complete a painting in progress. No picture taking was allowed in a painting session. This allowed us total concentration on process.

The next morning we picked a space on the wall in the studio that would be our work space for the remainder of the camp. The paper we painted on was 20 x 30” pinned on the wall in front of us. We each had a small container of brushes and an array of communal tempera paints from which to choose. I was the only person in the group with any formal art training so I immediately went with the biggest brush I could get my hands on. I began with the feeling of being an alien in the Southwestern landscape I had grown up in and loved.

The image of my beloved Southwestern landscape began to form and flow off my brushes. Since the paper was vertical and I was using water, the paint had a tendency to create wonderful drips that mirrored the endless ocean of grief in which I drowned every day. There was a feeling of reconnection to something lost and a powerful upwelling of emotion. Thankfully, Sarah has a backyard available for those in the group who need a place to talk, laugh and cry without disturbing other painters.

The work became a mediation and the hours passed like mere moments as we painted together in silence. Each bringing up feelings to apply in whatever way we could on the white paper. The comfort of being surrounded by others engaged in the process was enormous. When a painting was finished Sarah would stop by for a brief visit. She is a wonderful facilitator, able to gently speak to the feelings on the paper. Sometimes the conversation would call for a bit more work on the piece. When completed the painting was pinned on a nearby door without comment, and when dry would be signed and dated on the back. From there the work went into a folder, only to be seen by the artist. The next painting would emerge when the artist felt able to begin again.

Some of the painters worked on one painting the entire five days and others, created several.

At our last circle we talked about what to do with the work. We were advised not to show the work, but to find new work in what we had done, and create from the feelings we put onto paper in that scared space. The painter’s imperative is to make the feeling more important than the painting: process more important than product.

I completed ten paintings there and have only shown the work to my family. But, I know that each piece contains the new work that will come from deep inside. I know that any critique of my work from this point forward will be based on the feelings the new work evokes. Before I said my final good byes, I went in to the empty studio and inscribed my work space with a simple statement:

“Evan was here.”

The next day it was time to continue the journey up through Taos, NM. Leaving Dixon felt a bit like leaving home. I wanted to go back to the studio…back to the space of sacred painting and stay there. But, as we drove out over the Rio Grande Gorge, from Taos, I felt at home on planet earth again. If only for a short time, there was comfort in the familiar. The immense New Mexico landscape seemed to envelope my heart. The heart where Evan will always reside in perfect peace and absolute love.

Below are two links that will provide further information.

~ Marilyn Rea Nasky