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What Shelley said

April 14th, 2017

What Shelley said

One of my favorite memories of Easter is the sweet bread-basket that held a hard boiled egg. My grandmother made these every year. One for each of us, the sometimes colored egg would be nestled on a tiny dough basket with more dough criss-crossed atop the egg for handles. The bread was coated with colored sprinkles and it was a trick to eat all the bread from around the egg without breaking the shell.

As a high schooler I remember going to my then girlfriend's house and watching Godspell on TV with her. Her parents weren't home and I was pretty well behaved. I must have managed to subdue any impure thoughts in the presence of a TV Jesus. That happens to be one of the few musicals I like. Mostly I believe musicals were sent by God to punish me, but I think that one in particular seemed to stick with me because I was a teenage Jesus freak and because a hip, singing, Good-News Jesus suited me more than my Catholic school prescribed tortured-on-the-cross Jesus.

Now I think more about the symbolism. I think of Jesus as the best example of a seed planted in the ground, human with latent divinity, and coming forth, as a seedling from a seed, as divine. How we each suffer and die to these less than divine aspects of ourselves and how we are refined and become the children of God. I think about how we “hide” the eggs which are like a seed (that grows into new life) and then we go about finding them. I think about how the egg is carefully nestled in a basket made of bread and passed from one generation to another and with it sustenance that is both sweet and at the same time sustaining.

And I think that Easter is always and most importantly about hope, hope that we can be better, hope that life is not always a dark, hollow place, hope that there are Plans, hope that there is Love. Easter is a promise. I think of Shelley's words though he may not have intended this meaning:”The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” Easter is the answer we have to the darkness of dreariness, despair and death.

With hope.,behold, it is WE who are risen!

If you celebrate, Happy Easter!

Virgins and votives

March 20th, 2017

Virgins and votives

Now that the time has changed I spent some time weeding in the yard after dinner. The sun went down behind the hills and a cool breeze came up. It feels good to move, to be outside and not perched at my desk as if something on a screen could save me. And now that its dark, it feels good to be here, my body tired and feeling ready to slow down.

Saw my oldest friend last weekend. We have known each other since first grade (thats 54 years!). Some of our best times were attending Catholic school together. One of our best friends passed away a year ago and I sort of dreaded the anniversary and talking with him about this loss we both have shared. He worries about me not being a proper Catholic anymore. I told him about a life-changing spiritual experience I had once that allowed me to be confident about my salvation without the guidance of Catholicism. His pragmatic suggestion was that perhaps I could be both confident and Catholic.

I know he worries for my soul. But my reality is that the scope of God is so much more than any of mans religions. That my friends understanding of this life and my understanding are as nothing compared to what Is. I feel entirely comfortable knowing that I cannot know everything. I just want to be an amiable traveling companion on this Earthly journey. The mortal and venial sins of my youth were just misunderstandings I had about who I was and who you were.

Mr. Leatherman

February 19th, 2017

Mr. Leatherman

Its a dull gray morning, droplets fall from the roof, the morning fog having condensed on the roof as it passes by. So, I am going to write about this image, one of my current favorites called Drawin a Bead.

Every part of this image except the man, the gun and his shadow was shot a few years ago at Mt. Ranier National Park in Washington state. Susan and I had been visiting my sister Teresa and niece, Mickey, in Olympia and we made a day-long visit to the Park. It was glorious, the bright sun, high mountain meadows and the snow-capped peaks surrounding were stunning to this flat-footed flatlander.

As with most of my composite images, I go back to the work of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers, whose work is in the public domain. You would certainly recognize the Depression era work of Dorothea Lange, arguably the most famous of these photographers. The FSA photographer who originally shot this rifleman was Russell Lee. The subject is only listed as Mr. Leatherman. His worn blue jeans and less-than-white shirt tell me he works hard. The euphemism to draw a bead on something means to target or take aim at something. Whatever Mr. Leatherman was aiming at is outside our frame.

I like this image because it feels genuine. If you could travel back in time a short while, you might have stumbled upon this mountain scene. Technically, the sun and shade look right, he looks like he belongs here. The greatest difficulty was placing his shadow on the landscape and getting the correct degree of shadiness (sorry for the technical jargon). And Mr. Leatherman isnt posing, he is in action. In the next second you might see a puff of smoke and a sharp report from his rifle.

I like this image because in those days, I like to romanticize, we lived closer to the Earth, planted, hunted and lived on the earth. As my son has said, I may have been born in the wrong century but knowing myself as I do, I would last about a week before begging for the creature comforts I am now afforded. But I wonder about the life of Mr. Leatherman, if he found comforts of his own, a wife and children, a small bit of land to call his own, if he enjoyed the work and beauty of his day. In that way, we might be much alike, and that, especially, feels good to me.

In black and white

February 8th, 2017

In black and white

This one called Thirsty Boy. It is a composite image. The boy and well are from a public domain image and the abandoned house I shot in Caliente, California recently. The image is very much a metaphor for how I see my life at this stage. I see the house representing my body as I age, its been abused and neglected for far too many years. I have not treated it well. But it houses the thirsty boy.

I see the thirsty young boy as my spirit, ever in need of quenching. But filling my desire requires work (pump and handle). I cant just turn on a tap I must do the work that is required to satisfy my thirst. The boy seems oddly content here. Of course, I find my life in a setting that has seen storms blow through (fallen tree). And my entire life is colored by the past (throwback to black and white days).

I look at this image with detachment, as if it is but one of the many (thousands) of views of me in a lifelong volume of such images. I cant be defined by just this one image but as I age it preoccupies me for the moment.

People, places and things

November 22nd, 2016

People, places and things

This has been a year of transition. In keeping with the theme of change, we have changed houses, purchasing a modest home in a quiet little canyon where the coastal mountains transition to the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Here, bears and mountain lions still roam (I have yet to see either in person). We are excited to make this new place ours but, as with all change, it's a struggle to stretch ourselves in ways we are unaccustomed. But, we can still learn and adapt and it's probably good for us.

In this process, I have taken a break from art. I look at my work and see I need to transition some things out to make way for something new. I don't know yet what the new is. That is the constant mystery of life, seeing all the potential but not knowing for sure where life will lead. But life always leads somewhere and we get the lessons we need the most, it seems.

Thanksgiving is this week. It will certainly be a time to remember that life brings us people, places and things. Some we deserve, the rest, well that's the mystery isn't it? Maybe it's grace or karma or fate or luck. I wouldn't know, since the move, I still haven't found the shampoo.

The power of words

September 4th, 2016

The power of words

They were in a dusty cardboard box at the back of a dark garage. I didn't come to the garage sale to buy anything. The real estate agent who was emptying the house for the old owners had promised Susan some small wooden tables and here I was poking around while they chatted. The box had been unopened and so I was curious about what was inside. What caught my eye was a bundle of envelopes, they were the old international air mail envelopes, dozens of them. I pulled one out and saw large unusual postage stamps of some important potentate and the return address was from Borneo. Although I didn't read the letter, it was several pages of rough but legible handwriting. The envelopes were all addressed to the couple who had lived on this property. Missives from a loved one perhaps, a relative or dear friend, they were cherished enough not to be thrown out, but stored away.

I thought seriously about buying them for a few seconds but the thought of clutter overcame the curiosity about other people's lives. Still, what remained with me was the power of written words from people far away. When I was in high school, I worked for two summers in a small touristy retail shop in a town in the Rocky Mountains. Back then, there were no cell phones and calling long distance was a costly matter that involved the use of operators. Consequently, letters were of tremendous importance being so far from home and I cherished then, as I do now, the words of my own loved ones set to paper for my benefit.

More than their words, a letter was a physical keepsake that could be read again and again. The handwriting itself, distinctive, and belonging to one and only one person, mirrored the speaking style and individual thoughts of that one person. Unlike emails whose contents are made of electronic ether and come in a variety of prescribed fonts, letters were a physical treasure, carrying the happy and sad travails, the loves, hopes, disappointments and tragedies of the sender, which we held in our own hands.

The power of handwritten words transferred all the emotional energy of the sender across whatever the distance, even from places like Borneo, and placed them in our hands to be relived and felt anew. The letter itself becomes a talisman of the sender, the sender we hold in our hearts, the letter we hold in our hands.

Unlocking the gate

August 27th, 2016

Unlocking the gate

Buying property is such a strange concept. On the one hand, it's nice to think "Oh this particular house is our home, it's ours!" There is usually
a deed which legally confers ownership of a duly measured parcel of land upon which is a structure where it's okay to have our stuff. And a good title company can provide a "chain of title" which shows every owner this plot of land here has ever had going back, presumably, to the days of the Mexican Land Grants (and maybe farther). On the other hand, the land a plot sits upon has been here farther back than humans have recorded history. "Ownership" may have been established by whatever brute claimed it, whether the brute was a cave dweller, an indigenous clan or tribe, an imperial country, a country manifesting destiny and, possibly someday, another post apocalyptic cave dweller.

But today, we think nothing of fencing off our small bit of refuge to demarcate ours from theirs. And the entrance, whether it is the door to a flat in a high rise, a small white wooden gate in front of a cottage, a secured entry in a gated community or a wide red ranch gate usually has a lock and our key unlocks our entryway to our home. But spending time here in the wide open spaces, I wonder about this notion of ownership. In the history of the land our ownership seem meaningless, a millisecond of an eon in which we claim our dominion over all we survey (within the boundaries of our deed, that is). And though the millisecond may be our lifetime, to the land, our paper deed is nothingness, it's not even the dot of the i in the word nothingness.

But we want a place anyway, even if it's for a millisecond, it will be our millisecond.

Bowing to the wow

August 20th, 2016

Bowing to the wow

This figure, clearly a dog, was found on an ancient piece of New World pottery in a Los Angeles museum. For hundreds, if not thousands of years, humans have shared their lives, hearts and homes with canine companions. For a relationship in which there is no common language, we seem to understand each other very well. And a home with a beloved dog seems and feels happier, to me at least.

If you've lived long enough, you will inevitably have to say goodbye to one (or maybe many) of these four-legged friends. And people's grief for their pets is as real and heartfelt as any can be. I've often thought it a shame that our lifespans are not equivalent, or even close. I'm certain there are many scientific reasons why this may be so, but I am convinced that dogs are much better students at learning unconditional love during their Earthly existence and graduate sooner than the rest of us bumbling bipeds.

I have known and loved a line of dogs in my life, their antics and personalities each a quirky marvel of magnificence, their joyfulness and playfulness a constantly moving model of how-to-be in this world and their patience and undying loyalties, quiet and gracious gifts held close to my heart. That we honor them in our heart as well as in our art seems a given.

Old oaks

August 13th, 2016

Old oaks

We leave the two-lane for a single lane paved road that moves from the grassland valley up into the oak-forested hills. Summer has turned the ground cover a golden yellow and the canopy above a sharp, dark green. The deep veined crevices of the oaks make them feel old to me and, I'm told, some of these are hundreds of years old. We are on a trek to look at a hunting cabin for a group event in a remote part of the Tehachapi Mountains. Here, bears and mountain lions outnumber people. This land, a working ranch, is undisturbed except for wayward cows and wild pigs. We turn a bumpy corner to find a golden eagle drinking from a cow trough and it takes startled flight, lighting upon an oaken branch to settle itself.

My companion, a biologist, shows me the telltale sign of trees distressed from drought. I feel an odd sense of heartache at this for reasons I can't explain. He says the trees give up on parts of themselves, allowing those parts to die and eventually fall away. Cells at the periphery of these areas are poised to crank up again should water relief come. Sacrificing some to save the whole seems noble to me, but then everything about oaks seems noble to me. And I feel blessed to be here amidst these old masters.

I captured this image of an oak back in the Spring. The colors behind the tree are the green and wildflowers of the time. This one is called Oaken Dreams.

What you tried to say to me

May 13th, 2016

What you tried to say to me

I was a teen when I heard the Don McLean song Vincent about Vincent Van Gogh and his painting Starry Night. I had seen the Van Gogh work in an art book we had at home and found it hauntingly beautiful. Any teenager could certainly relate to the pain of feeling like an outsider, of wanting to be loved and feeling unlovable and McLeans song captured the tragedy of it quite well

Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and gray
Look out on a summer's day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul

Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils
Catch the breeze and the winter chills
In colors on the snowy linen land

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free

They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now

Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue

Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free

They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now

For they could not love you
But still your love was true
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night

You took your life, as lovers often do
But I could've told you Vincent
This world was never meant for
One as beautiful as you

Starry, starry night
Portraits hung in empty halls
Frame-less heads on nameless walls
With eyes that watch the world and can't forget

Like the strangers that you've met
The ragged men in ragged clothes
The silver thorn of bloody rose
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow

Now I think I know
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free

They would not listen, they're not listening still
Perhaps they never will.

But, somehow, we grow past the loneliness and turmoil of the teen years. We hear new songs that add context to our lives. Still, I never lost my love for Van Goghs work and have taken every opportunity to see originals when I could.

So, I found myself one day at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I knew Starry Night was there among a million other treasures. It became the object of my intentionally slow quest, proceeding from one floor to the next taking in works, one after another, until I turned a corner and there it was.

I was stopped dead in my tracks.

Standing before it I felt overcome, I felt a timeless sense of longing, that burning sensation around the eyes just before they tear up, and at the same time, wonder, wonder at the color, wonder at the texture and reverence, reverence knowing that Vincent had touched, created, handled this work a few feet before me not so long ago. I felt moved.

The power of art is the power to touch us in a deeply moving way. It is as if to say I understand now. Even though we may not, as we look at an incredible work, be able to verbalize what that understanding is. We find truth in it.

Starry Path (shown here) is my homage to Vincent Van Gogh.

 

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