The Unknown Unremembered Gate

Abstract Painting & The Unknown, Unremembered Gate
Abstract Painting & The Unknown, Unremembered Gate

I love these lines from T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding, the last of the four quartets

We shall not cease from exploration
 And the end of all our exploring
 Will be to arrive where we started
 And know the place for the first time.
 Through the unknown, unremembered gate
 When the last of earth left to discover
 Is that which was the beginning;
 At the source of the longest river
 The voice of the hidden waterfall
 And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
 But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
 Between two waves of the sea.
 Quick now, here, now, always — 
 A condition of complete simplicity
 (Costing not less than everything)

The last line from this excerpt of the poem: A condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything…has haunted me for years.


Because it takes everything, and often a lifetime, to cultivate an attitude of simplicity

Picasso said he could paint like Velasquez at 14 but it took his entire life to get back to being able to paint like a child.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
-Leonardo DaVinci

It requires discipline and discernment to drill down to the essence of your work.

I’ve been contemplating constraint and simplicity in terms of abstract painting for a long while. Even as I paint intuitively and from an attitude of ‘not knowing’, I’m aware of constraints such as limiting the palette and working with 2–4 values. Otherwise, without limits, my work devolves into chaos.

There’s a decisiveness in working with constraint. I’m not trying to include everything on one canvas.

In fact there’s infinite freedom within constraint

To create your best work you’ve got to risk everything.

Heinz Pagels, who was a theoretical physicist at Stanford, one of the early minds behind the Santa Fe Institute wrote in his book: The Dreams of Reason a book about complexity science:

The price of doing what you believe in is, and always was, the same…namely, your life.

It costs not less than everything to dedicate your life to what you love

Through the hours of your life may you give yourself time and space to remember the mystery that is you.

May you remember and keep re-finding your inner creative journey. As Eliot speaks of ‘the unknown, unremembered gate’, I’m reminded of the ineffable experience of life unfolding and how we come full circle back to ourselves again and again.

Indeed it takes everything to listen to your heart’s yearnings, answer the call, and plunge into the mystery of creating with aliveness, meaning and your own true voice.

I’m deeply grateful for you. Thank you for sharing your stories, your thoughts and your artist’s journey with me.

Thank you for being in my life.

From my studio to yours-


P.S. Hit reply and tell me of your experience.

P.S.S. If you want to delve deeply into the territory of ‘not knowing’ and the mystery of creating, pair this with The Artist’s Journey course which starts July 5, 2017! You can read about it HERE.

Originally published at Nancy Hillis.