LYDIA CASSATT

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Bringing Forth the Light

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Applying color then wiping it away, pastelist Lydia Cassatt meditates on the luminosity of land, sea and sky.

By Michael Chesley Johnson

Maine artist Lydia Cassatt recalls a friend, an older woman in Blue Hill “who saw my painting Vast Space (at left), which has lots of pink in the sky. She told me, ‘I’m thinking about dying.’ She was, of course, thinking about her own death. ‘I don’t know where I’m going,’ she said, ‘but that’s where I want to be—in that painting.’ That’s what art is about,” says Cassatt, “bringing that feeling to people like het” Cassatt’s restful scenes, often depicting vast continents of clouds over a sliver of land or water, seem pregnant with the spiritual. A good deal of this restfulness comes from her practice of Buddhism. “It’s the ground of my life,” she says. “It’s what holds me in place. Everything comes from that.”

When we spoke, the artist had just returned from a pilgrimage to Tibet in order to assume cooking duties at Dzogchen Osel Ling, a Buddhist retreat 45 minutes west of Austin, Texas. "My husband is at a 100-day retreat, and I offered to cook at Dzogchen Osel Ling." What brings Tibet and Texas together? Lama Surya Das, who runs the center, teaches in a Tibetan tradition. “It’s a very open, spacious practice, which is perfect for doing [my] work that’s about sky, water and light—the ephemeral nature of things.”