Saturday, July 17, 2010


                                           Compassion Oil on linen 100 x 100 cm

I have been pondering the painting above...yes, while I was painting it [of course!] but also when I have been driving my car, before I go to sleep at night, as I have been eating a meal, and last night even my dreams were preoccupied with it. As I ponder, the painting seems to grow beyond its boundaries. I wanted to create an image which 'spoke' of compassion, in a similar way that my ealier painting Love 'spoke' of love.

I really enjoyed painting both Love and Compassion and could feel an emotional essence transferring to, and then from, each painting. Regular readers would know that I have written about compassion previously. Indeed, I have a post in 2008 called 'Compassion'

Compassion, to me, is more sustainable than sympathy, which relies on a relationship of giver and receiver, thus a heirarchy. Sympathy certainly has its place, particularly after a disaster. But, ongoing sympathy, given and received, allows for an emotional colonisation process that can lead to power plays. Compassion is a more equal dynamic, where differences as well as similarities are acknowledged, and where, with imagination, each party can place themselves in another's shoes. Compassion is about negotiating distances of perception and perspective, to a point where, with the help of imagination, a person can move back and forth between how they see themselves, how others may see them and how others see themselves and so on.
With Compassion I wanted to suggest a meeting of difference, which obviously has underlying basic similarities. So, I used my transcultural/religious tree-of-life/knowledge, one a dark purple and the other a dark green. As the two trees' branches move closer the colour softens, until they meet in a light pink, which seems to pulse. Small dots, yellow on the left and sky blue on the right, fill the spaces between the trees' branches. Again, the colours soften as they move closer together, until the meet in a frisson of white [light].

Difference is signified in the different colours of the two trees and small dots. However, basic similarities are 'held' within the symbolism of the tree-of-life. For me these are those things which signal life ie: heart beat, breath, as well as the urge for identity and shared stories across religions and cultures over time. The trees' branches suggest a vascular, system-like quality which is augmented by the dots, giving the circular shape a sense of movement, even a pulse.

The circle indicates continuity of life, eternity, time, humankind memory. Yet, the image may be a cross- section of something even more dynamic such as a spiral. If this is the case the past and future are contained within the image...our souls' immortality perhaps? I also wanted to create an impression of a halo hovering in the endless space of the universe. After all, halos hover above those that are perceived to be holy, and thus presumably compassionate. Halos also have connotations of light, as in the light of God. When the two trees meet in a pulse of white light compassion evolves into an expression which is much larger than the moment or place. This is the power of spirit.

The wreath-like appearance of the circle of trees evokes the compassion felt during memorial services, particularly for fallen soldiers. Indeed, compassion contains gratefulness whether it be for soldiers who gave their lives for us, or for important religious characters, such as Christ, who gave his life for humanity.
Compassion, rather than sympathy, has the capacity to affect the world in positive ways. It is sustainable because it it not hard work. It really only requires an urge and imagination.

This painting was in my exhibition VORTEX: Seeking Stillness At Its Core in February 2011. A visitor to the show brought in a pair of 3D glasses. Once I put on the glasses, many of my paintings immediately separated into multiple layers which I felt could be touched and traversed. 'Compassion' took on a spiral like impression, as if part of the circle receeded and continued back into the painting. I was thrilled! When I wrote the earlier post above I said, 'The circle indicates continuity of life, eternity, time, humankind memory. Yet, the image may be a cross- section of something even more dynamic such as a spiral. If this is the case the past and future are contained within the image...our souls' immortality perhaps?'
I wrote about the 3D glasses in a post after the exhibition. Here's the link



Rachel Marsden said...

I was so glad to read this. I have recently been pondering the meaning and purpose of compassion and I was struggling with the hierarchy problem that I saw within it. Here you have separated it by saying that sympathy is the one where there is the hierarchy but compassion is about viewing the others as equal. I like this and it has given me more food for thought. Thank you.

Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox said...

Hi Rachel,
Thank you for visiting. I have thought a lot about compassion and sympathy too. Like you, once I saw the heirachy in sympathy, my understanding of compassion expanded. Lots to think about.

Audubon Ron said...

As you know I have difficulty seeing myself through the eyes of others. Well, maybe we all do. What I know is those who are near me really love me. But, I pride myself on having no enemies. There are some who don’t like me, but not b/c I did anything to them.

I suppose by definition compassion requires a deep sense of sympathy and then a desire to alleviate the suffering. I can agree the world could use more compassion. But, I don’t have my hopes up.

The US is going through great turmoil these days. It is rather frightening. We have become more polarized and less accepting of difference. As a country we give more charitable donations per capita to other nations and to causes in hopes of saving “the world,” a world in which we ourselves live in and cannot seem to save here.

At the heart of it, and as odd as this might seem, to me at the heart of it starts with a compassion for “self” the individual. The old Golden Rule, love others as we would love our self, I say, hold on, not so fast, I have noticed many people do not love themselves very well. The same with forgiveness. I also believe we cannot forgive others until we have genuinely forgiven our self. The misery “within” is unbound and released it affects others. How can we alleviate the suffering within our self? I have finally divested myself of all blogs who use intemperate language and continue each day with agony-rants. Why my big ole explanation here? What does it have to say about your art?

The single pervasive quality I receive in your art and subject matter is very personal. As the interpreter I can imagine myself in the tranquility, which is pervasive in your art. My rhythms are my responsibility and your art is a place of visual refuge and tranquility for me. The tranquility brings patience. The patience brings understanding. The understanding brings well, compassion.

Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox said...

Ron, Thank you for dropping by again!! I completely agree with your about the need to love and forgive oneself and that these qualities are essential to developing a boundless compassion for not only self but others too.
I also agree that loving and forgiving oneself is probably the starting point.

I get the sense that the US is siezed by fear! Fear will cause a retreat from boundless compassion.

Thank you for you comments about my paintings. I like the fact that you can get something as personal as tranquility from them. Some of my other recent posts have been about stillness and quiet...and that listening to oneself is possible.