Not Judging By Appearances

Fonda Clark Haight likes to access the “Down Deep.” Photo by Kim Forman.

Fonda Clark Haight has a favorite story from Sufi teaching, about an aging master whose disciples worry what will happen to them when he dies. “All these years I’ve been with you, I’ve been pointing at the moon,” the master tells them. “I hope that when I die, you will finally look at the moon.”

For decades now, Haight has been teaching high-risk students facing institutional incarceration, as well as general audiences, how to look at the moon — to use art to reach the rich imagery and spiritual strength of deeper layers of perception, what Fonda calls ‘the Down Deep.’ “It’s my shorthand for what is stored in our subconscious,” she explains. “We need that knowledge now more than ever.” 

She keeps a full schedule of classes and workshops, like this month’s “Storytellers” workshop at the Random Arts Center in Saluda. “We all have stories to tell, and most artists struggle with getting that story out onto the page. We’ll be focusing on relaxing into that process, relaxing into telling the truth on the page.” 

Her own work draws on figurative and expressionist traditions using mixed-media and digital tools to explore deeper levels of everyday perception. Most striking is her journal art created from old books that she collects and repurposes. “It’s my form of meditation,” Haight says about the journals, which she works on at night. “I create a container for my thoughts and experiences of the day and often get short phrases of messages showing up in my mind as I work. I put those down as a placeholder, and I can look back at a page and instantly recall what was in my mind.”

Whatever her medium, the creative process takes precedence over any artistic value the work might be judged to have — by others, or even by the artist. “What happens if we like a piece of art or hate a piece of art? Nothing,” Haight points out. “The art is still the same; it hasn’t changed. If we can realize that our judgments are not the truth, but a way to keep from telling the truth, then we begin the process of discovering what our truth is and putting that on the page.” 

Refining that perception, getting to Fonda’s Down Deep, can lead to discoveries from the most mundane sources, like the increasingly decrepit upholstered chair that’s been sitting under a maple tree in her neighborhood for more than a year. “I make up stories about that dang chair,” Haight says. “What’s it for? Is it performance art? No one ever sits in it, but it’s out there day after day, rotting. It wasn’t as interesting the first few weeks as it is now. It’s a container for my imagination, some sort of metaphor. It’s a perfect example of the Down Deep for me. True story.”

Fonda Clark Haight’s two-day “Storytellers” painting-and-drawing workshop will be held at Random Arts & Apparel (481 Louisiana Ave., Saluda) on Saturday, April 13 and Sunday, April 14. $200 includes two full days of instruction and art supplies. To get on the wait list for class openings, visit randomartsnow.com or call 828-749-1165. Haight’s work can be seen online at fondaclarkhaight.com. 

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