My obsession: finding magic in liminal spaces

For years I felt stuck in a certain situation I couldn’t see past.

I was between two phases in my life, on the threshold between two things. We call these liminal spaces. I’ve since come to learn that there is magic in the discomfort. Instead of fighting it, I chase it.

Morning Fog, oil on canvas board, 14 x 11 inches.

“Morning Fog.” Oil on canvas board, 14 x 11 inches.

The word “liminal” comes from the Latin limen, which means a threshold, such as a doorway or portal, anywhere you enter or exit or begin or end. So a liminal space is that time between “what was” and “what’s next.” It’s a period of transition and transformation.

It’s often uncomfortable.

Richard Rohr describes it like this:

… It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.  It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing. 


where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible…This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy.

There are all kinds of reasons for finding yourself in that transitional space: job or career change, moving to a new place, financial stress, quarter-life crisis, midlife crisis, divorce, changes in health, becoming a parent, and so on. It’s a time of transition and transformation that has an enormous impact on you in such a way that you have a lot of uncertainty about the future.

We all experience these things, and they impact us in different ways.

My roller coaster ride with liminal spaces

2020 has been a strange year for a lot of us, but for me it has simply been a time when everyone was experiencing the same strange sensation of “no place.” There’s nowhere to go, and you lose track of where you’ve been.

Yet a few years ago, I was in the middle of some turbulent times. In the space of five years, I:

  • got married
  • became a parent
  • lost my job
  • moved several times
  • started a new job
  • had another kid
  • changed jobs a couple more times
  • lost a grandparent
  • had another kid

It was a lot to take in, and I had a sort of “I’m in my thirties” crisis.

Meanwhile, my painting subject matter reflected this transition in my life.

Over that five-year period, I shifted from urban architecture to foggy abstracts. Urban structures are rigid and clearly mark a place. I painted buildings and markers for buildings and highways and architectural details. In time, I painted a few parking garages and abandoned buildings. Parking lots are by definition liminal, since they are a space you occupy briefly on your way to another space.

Then my work evolved into to hazy, foggy abstracts that could be anywhere. I had fully moved from the concrete to the ephemeral, although my instinct for the manmade structures was one of a slow ephemerality as buildings slowly decay and give way to nature.

“Boot Country.” Oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches.

West Park, worms-eye view of building

“West Park,” oil on canvas, from the Nashville 365 Series.

"Morning Mist." Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 24 inches

“Morning Mist.” Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 24 inches

Abstract sunrise painting with blue and red sky

“Morning Drive.” Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 8 inches.

My tendency to paint sunrises and shorelines emphasizes the liminal, as the sunrise or sunset marks the transition between light and darkness, and the edge between water and land is itself another kind of transition.

I’ve come to embrace those transitional, liminal spaces as sacred.

Now, when I find myself in those transitional periods, I embrace them. There’s something sublime about them. I get the sense that something important is about to happen. I want to relish the opportunity. It’s easy to get paralyzed or push as hard as you can. I don’t want to run away to avoid the discomfort. I believe those experiences have much to teach me.

Are you embracing liminal spaces, too?

Nearly all the artwork I’ve made in the past five years touches on some aspect of liminality, and it has only increased now that I recognize it. You can shop for it here.