Thursday, September 30, 2010

Notes from a Ridiculous Retreat

Rickey Hoefnagel
as told to
Richard Buntin

The September 18th Fusionart retreat led by Rassouli at the Mayfair Hotel in downtown Los Angeles featured some remarkable guests and intriguing developments. New seeds are being planted, and older seeds are beginning to take root and spread out. Fusionart is about much more than painting. Fusionart is the process of bringing creativity to all aspects of living. It spans all art forms. Rassouli is continually looking for ways to transcend perceived limitations and broaden the scope of Fusionart by creating synergy with other forms of artistic expression, as we saw again last Saturday.

We arrived early to setup. The floor was already covered with plastic and the table near the registration desk was heaped with love offerings in the form of delicious goodies, thanks to our Fusionart angels – Kelly, Barbara, Nikki, and June. We greeted our fellow Fusionartists warmly as they arrived. We have built such a strong bond over the months and years by coming together and experiencing the joy of creating individually and as a group. Painting is a tool that we use to express what is inside us that wants to come out. In the end, however, not only do we develop as artists, we also learn together how to tap into the infinite pool of creative energy. The more we share the energy the more it expands. Each participant can both give and receive creative energy which benefits everyone.

The two dozen or so of us sat in a circle as Rassouli opened the retreat. He began talking about how we need to be aware of all the opportunities to bring more creativity into the world and share it with others. He introduced the word which would be the theme of the retreat: ridiculous. Overcoming the fear of being seen as ridiculous is essential for an artist. History is filled with examples of ideas and art works which were initially seen as ridiculous and are now regarded as brilliant. Instead of immediately rejecting the ridiculous, we should pay attention to our reaction.

As a specific recent example, Rassouli told us about an email he had received from Cathy Lee, which she wrote after attending the retreat last month. In it she discussed her concept of a contemporary cafĂ© for creative endeavors (, which would be online but also include the capability for meetings at physical locations. It would provide a broad network for a wide variety of creative people to interact with each other, as well as a forum to present and discuss their work. Rassouli’s first impulse was to dismiss the idea as ridiculous, but he quickly realized that his judgment was preventing him from seeing the positive potential. Cathy Lee then explained to us how this vision had suddenly come to her, and how the power and clarity of this vision had energized her to take action. She has found others who share her excitement, including financial backers, and now this “ridiculous” idea is moving forward rapidly.

Rassouli then introduced his artist friend, Jesh de Rox. Jesh spoke simply and beautifully from his heart about some of the insights that have guided him in his successful career as a photographer and in his life as a whole. He began by observing that “mine” is the favorite word of very small children – and most adults as well. Tragedy is the great remover, which forcibly reminds us through our suffering that we must let go. There is a much less painful alternative, which is to let go of attachment consciously and voluntarily. When we let go, we realize how much energy it takes to resist. Holding on chokes off the flow of life. From Jesh’s perspective, what we call greatness is actually the efficient use of energy.

As artists, we must learn to let go in order to create space within. We are most full when we are most empty because we make room for the continual flow of inspiration. Jesh offered us a marvelous metaphor: Be the scent not the hound. Rather than being a hound constantly running after a scent, be the scent that attracts the hound. Be what you seek. By flowing freely like a scent in the wind, your capacity to attract is infinite. Avoid unnecessary steps; only go where you need to go. Remove distance. What you are seeking is within you. Knowing who you are is being in the flow of life. Great art is about remembering who we are.

Rassouli then gave us our assignment for the day: to eliminate “what “and “how.” In other words, let go of the need to know what to do and how to do it. Instead, focus on allowing whatever comes forth from the creative, empty space within to express itself freely. Don’t think about what to sing or how to sing it, just let the song come out. Allow the excitement of exploration move you. Be ridiculous.

Saturated with ideas, images and energy, we returned to the painting area to begin. The creative experience is different for everyone. For me there is a feeling of joy, peacefulness and complete relaxation. As I become more and more absorbed in the process, it seems at times like a conversation with the canvas without words. My muse is speaking through my brush or rag then. At other times I feel like I am dancing with the colors. Each painting is a new journey where anything is possible. The freedom is intoxicating and it feels ridiculously good.

As we shared lunch together at a long table, Rob applied his creativity in the culinary area. The hotel dining room ran out of vegetarian lunches, leaving Rob and several other vegetarians without an acceptable meal. When the waitress insisted that only meat dishes were available, Rob visited the kitchen himself. He immediately began taking whatever suitable ingredients he could find out of the refrigerator and supervised the chef in preparing a meal. He emerged a short time later carrying plates piled high with a pasta primavera, which was far more appealing and delicious than the unimaginative veggie burger provided by the hotel.

The retreat continued with the second painting session after lunch. I was able to complete my first painting and begin a second painting, which I finished later at home. As frequently happens, I looked at my paintings and wondered who had painted them. When we gathered for the discussion of our work in the late afternoon, I was amazed again by the incredible array of color, feeling and imagination on the canvasses. The “first timers” got things started, and their beautiful expressions were clear evidence that everyone has creative ability.

We were fortunate to have Mamak Khadem join us for the retreat. Mamak is an internationally recognized singer whose vocal art is rooted in the music and poetry of ancient Persian masters. Rassouli asked Mamak to express with her voice the feeling of each of the 3 paintings placed on easels in front of the group. Her voice carried such passion and beauty as she sang spontaneously that I knew the sounds were coming from the depths of her soul. Tears welled in my eyes at the purity of her brief impromptu performance. The discussion continued as we each took our turn and received comments on our work from the other participants and Rassouli. Representing the written word, Richard read a poem he had written that day titled “What Is Ridiculous.” When at last we had to depart, inspired and fulfilled, we floated home high above the freeway on a ridiculous cloud of creative energy.