âLoneliness is too complex a dimension to be captured by a single definition. -Douglas Zaruba
In a new installation at the Delaplaine Art Center, Douglas Zaruba invites the viewer to contemplate loneliness, which can be an art in itself.
In front of each of his paintings, a meditation cushion has been placed on the ground and faces an altar-like decor, decorated with candles, inviting guests to spend a moment seated, alone, contemplating the work in silence.
As a culture, we’ve become familiar with loneliness since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Zaruba caused his own “social distancing” many years ago, when he left Frederick for an island in the off the coast of Panama, in the name of healing. He has since returned to the United States, living and working in Hagerstown as a fine jeweler and artist.
The art of loneliness is the one he built on over the years that followed, and his wisdom is found throughout this show.
The work, a mixture of painting and sculpture, oscillates between solitude and isolation. Maybe where that line is drawn depends on the viewer.
Below is our conversation with the artist.
Have you read Stephen Batchelor’s âThe Art of Lonelinessâ during the pandemic?
I read it before the pandemic. When I was offered a solo exhibition at Delaplaine, I chose the title âThe Art of Solitudeâ – before the pandemic brought it to a halt. I work in solitude anyway, so very little change for me when it all closed.
Do you meditate ?
I meditate daily and have been doing so for years.
I want to know more about this enigmatic reference to living alone on an island for four years, which I read in the description of the online exhibition. Where did you go? Why?
In 2005, I sold my Frederick business to my son Andrew and moved to Bocas del Toro, Panama. I had Lyme disease and could no longer work in the jewelry store. In Panama City, I found a doctor who could treat him and made a full recovery.
While living in Bocas del Toro, I bought a property on a remote island, an hour and a half by boat from the nearest town. I built a small cabin over the water and lived alone with my dog, Tank, for four years.
How has your lonely time affected you so far?
When you experience loneliness and embrace it, the loneliness fades. It is replaced by a feeling of deep peace and an appreciation of all life.
On the island, the air was much cleaner. The world was much quieter and I could hear the wind coming long before it came. At night the world was pitch black and there wasn’t even a single light except the stars.
Yeah, I miss it.
I always go out in my canoe as often as possible, but even in western Maryland the skies are never so dark.
What has loneliness taught you about yourself or about life?
Too often we equate loneliness with loneliness. Loneliness is unwanted loneliness. Loneliness can be a great experience. It can be the delight of someone in deep meditation or prayer, it can get lost in a piece of music or the stillness of a starry night in the desert.
I saw so many people start to panic when they were forced to stay in their homes. For me, it was just a continuation of life as it was. I liked being able to wear a mask when I walked into a bank!
What was your daily life like during these first times of the pandemic?
When I paint, I find myself looking for that familiar place of inner calm. I woke up every day at dawn to experience the magical light of a new day. When I work on my jewelry bench, I am completely focused and patient.
A lot of your paintings have a meditative quality, and some of your titles almost act like mantras or koans. I’m curious about your tracks “Ghosts in the House of Time” on this show. What was the thought behind it?
âGhosts in the House of Timeâ reminds us that there is only the present moment.
I hope my paintings will create a sacred space for the person viewing the artwork. Those who have hung my work in their homes have told me that they feel a sense of peace every time they walk into the room where the painting is hung.
I believe that the real art of every painting is not the painting itself but what the viewer experiences from the painting. For example, when you think of a Tibetan singing bowl or a church bell, it is the sound you feel, not the shape of the bowl or the bell.
Tell me a bit about the sculptural element of this exhibit and why was it important for you to include 3D work.
I have been working with 3-dimensional objects for a long time. My jewelry is in 3 dimensions. Sculpture was the first direction I worked on in the fine arts; I made sculptures based on pendulums. I love the movement of a pendulum at rest and in motion. A pendulum always swings back and forth as well, until it comes to a stop.
In our lives, we sometimes act like a pendulum that is frozen. We can cling to spirituality and deny the reverse movement, sensuality. We can hold on to life and deny that death is part of life and the movement of our pendulum. You must accept and experience the full swing of the pendulum of your life.
This interview has been edited for more space and clarity.