Friday, when I was traveling through New York City on my way home from a business trip, I detoured to the Metropolitan to see the Walker Evans’ postcards and the Bonnard, Late Interiors. The curator chose this quote to inform the viewing of the paintings: “Material concerns and worries about the future are troubling me a lot, and I’m afraid that painting may abandon me because of a lack of mental freedom.” Pierre Bonnard to Henri Matisse, September 1940.
The quote made me think of the yoga principles of ardha, kama, dharma, moksha. In classical yoga, in order to reach liberation (moksha), we need to have our material life — how we eat, consume, dwell, etc. (ardha), our love and relationships (kama), and our work/life path (dharma), in right order. From a tantric perspective, when ardha, kama, and dharma are aligned so that mind, body, and spirit are united in our day to day being, then we are living liberated — jivan mukti (moksha).
In 1940, the Nazis were growing in power and World War II was impending. Bonnard had lost his love, Marthe, was ill and aging, and was in some financial difficulty. He was afraid of losing his vision, his creativity (dare I interpret “painting may abandon me” as “loss of connection to spirit”) because ardha and kama were out of alignment. The late paintings carry a sense of yearning of spirit — perhaps because of the consciousness that struggling physically and emotionally challenges our ability to truly see, to feel connected to spirit. The paintings are lovely with color and light. The subject matter makes them accessible at a surface level. Shadowy figures and ambiguities, though, give a sense of longing and seeking. Although there is a certain basic prettiness because of the color and the subject matter, they are not comfort paintings. They invite one to think about whether color is enough, whether home is enough, what we need to be in a place where we can rest at one with ourselves.