The Artwork of Michael Divine

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Posts from December, 2009

Art Basel III: Moksha Art Fair II

December 10th, 2009

transformation

The Moksha Art party that occurred on Saturday night (and well into Sunday) was a particularly crazy affair with the silk dancers, performances, fire dancers, art art and more art, lights, music – live and otherwise, vendors, carousing, spoken word performances, multiple dance areas, etc etc. One person told me it was the best party she’d ever been to. Awesome.

I was honored with a chance to paint on the main stage alongside Shrine, Alex Grey, and Allyson Grey. The painting I painted through the course of the night is called something like The Immutable Core. It is pictured above. I like the idea of creating a painting, from start to finish in one night. Granted, I will, in time, sharpen some of the lines and clarify some of the corners but, for the most part, it is a complete piece. The painting had six stages to it and I knew what I was going to create from the beginning. The best part was the white line: o how beautifully it connects the whole thing – that simple straightaway. Delicious!

Live painting enabled me to get out some disparate emotions, dive head first into a painting, and bring it to it’s conclusion before the end of the night – along with bringing my own mind into a sharper focus.

The tough thing with parties of this sort – where the intended focus is on the art is that the art sometimes gets lost in the spectacle of it. I wish people had been there for the lectures or in the daytime for some of the other things going on – where there were some real opportunities to learn something. I think that, as such, the level of respect for the art and the quality of it’s container is, in some ways, diminished.

In this, I think, is where the crux of the problem of how to bring this work to a broader audience lies and, as such, command a higher price point and find truly interested art buyers. While some might feel this sense of “monetization” is too mainstream or commodity oriented, the truth is: we artists need to eat and like to sell our work at a value that reflects it’s true worth. The broader audience is sometimes a bit put off by that porous container that this work is often presented in. Personally, I would want to give people some solid ground to stand upon – some firm footing for the ride the art might take them on. Also, while there are certainly differences between the way the work was presented (and the set and setting thereof) and perhaps a more austere and spacious setting, I feel there has to be a way to bridge that gap.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like parties and have gone to many, many events over the years. Some were centered around art. Some around music. Some around music and art together. As I’ve gotten older however, it’s not that I’ve grown out of the parties, but, rather, I’ve become more and more aware of how the artwork is presented and the container through which it is perceived.

Looking around the rest of Miami, The Nada Art Fair, for example, was such a conflagration of booths, randomness, and unconsidered angles hung and strung with a mishmash of “contemporary” art that the art made even less sense than it might have edged upon otherwise. Scope Art Fair, with it’s breezy interior, bright wood floors and well-organized layout, seemed to support the edgy modernness it hoped to present. The main Art Basel event had all the trappings of a museum quality show that seemed to offer some reasoning for why they might be asking such absurd amounts of money for some seriously atrocious pieces of art.

Along the way, through these places, I ran across many gems. I saw some work by Jeff Soto, an artist I was familiar with but had never seen in person. It was quite lovely with a strange inner language, dreamy and dark. I saw an original Magritte, something like doves of stone agcruainst a blue sky. There was a beautiful chess set of brass fingers (literally) made by Dali, as an offering and response to Duchamp’s own Dadaist chess set, with small snow shovels as pawns (for whatever non-reason). There were all sorts of things and dreams like this, tucked away, along the many cubicles and corners. While, with all of these shows, there is a vast amount of drivel, there are also some really well done pieces. Such is art! Such is life!

When I looked at the Moksha Art Event through that same lens of “frame” and “container”, I had feelings that were about as mixed as my experience with all of the other events.  Much of the artwork presented at the Moksha event was quite beautiful, well-rendered, and deeply moving. I was especially struck by a gorgeous piece by Autumn Skye Morrison and a large and truly impressive thanka-like painting by Luke Brown.

What needs to change, I feel, for this work to reach a wider audience – and, mind you, I want it to reach a wider audience – is for us to reconsider the container we present it in. If we really care about raising consciousness (and not just of ourselves and our friends and mutual appreciators) then we need to open our doors a little wider and consider a broader audience and how they respond to our container as well as our work. We need to really deeply and honestly consider the frame within which it is presented. I challenge the artists to push the envelope a bit and, at the same time, sharpen the edges of the container just as they refine the edges of their own lines and gradients. In doing so, they can create crisp and beautiful visions of reality as it can be experienced. I think the challenge is to find and create spaces that reflect that solidity of vision and work with those who seek to create such spaces. If this doesn’t happen then this artwork will continue to be relegated to the fringes.

But the “fringes” are not the “edge”.  Perhaps there are those who would prefer to be on the fringes since the light there is dimmer and one can be less transparent. If that is the case however, then the work that is created there will forever be tainted by that dark unsettledness. Myself, I have no fear of darkness. It is the murkiness of that fringe that I am uninterested in. Murky, muddy colors: what good are those?

I’d rather step to the edge and experience the crisp endless darkness that lies at it’s depths because, only through that, can one experience the piercing light of day with a clear conscience. Yes, my friend, we have nothing to hide. The roots of our work, of the truly visionary art, lie in compassion and wisdom and that adds a depth and a height that these words will never be able to express.

Mansions of the House

December 8th, 2009

Hypnogogue II

I’ve got to step up inside myself and stand there at my door sometimes; you know, not hang out deeper inside the mansions of my mind, thinking someone might find me back there, painting or daydreaming, biding my time, enjoying the view. Sometimes I’ve got to step up and be the doorman. Welcome! Welcome I say, politely, but with gusto, not over bearing but with just the right amount of exuberance tempered by tactfulness as a good host must be.

There is often, I think, a great hesitancy of inviting people in like that: what might they find there? How well do I, myself, the supposed master of my house, know this mansion? Did I leave the doors unlocked? Are there any demons hiding under a bed or behind a door with sheets over their heads? How might it show it’s face? In what glance or gaze or quirk of speech or passing phrase might it be evident in the course of the conversation between you and I?

I watch these things closely. Not because I’m afraid of what my hand might show, but because I, too, wonder: what might be in there still. What is the meaning behind that statement, what is the intention behind that phrase or point of reference or inference. I watch them because I am curious about what might be the underpinnings of my belief systems.

I remember when I first took ayahuasca and the shaman who was leading the journey, an older man, small and wrinkled and from Peru, said something like ‘let us explore the mansions of my father’s house.’ I always felt that phrase aptly poetic for the experience of the inner world and for the journey we were about to undertake into the fractalizing and sometimes very compartmentalized nature of our minds. There are no closets in these rooms inside, only more rooms, closets that open into foot ball fields, rooms within rooms ad infinitum. Within some are altars. Within others, the dirty laundry. I suppose it’s for us to examine for whom or what the altars are for and also, while we are at it, separate and clean the laundry.

There were times in our lives when we revered a way of being, paid homage to a trait of personality. There were other times when a reverence was laid at the feet of the holiest of holies. The holiest shifts in meaning, growing deeper, wider, broader and, sometimes, completely redefined. Old  altars are forgotten, new ones constructed. By the same token, shrines to belief systems now defunct are not always torn down only because we have a hard time letting go. Instead, new belief systems get built and a room gets closed off, forgotten, unused, but still taking up  space. Maybe house cleaning isn’t all that is in order. Every house could use a little remodeling.

So we stand at the doorway because inevitably we go out into the world – we discuss ourselves, what we do, from whence we hail and to where we are going, and we tell a story that treats us well as we attempt to elicit something from the viewer: a sense of pardon, a chain reaction of empathy to endearment to love. Because really, in the end, we only want ever to be loved, accepted for who we are and we wonder: am I the living room as much as the basement? Will this person understand?

‘Welcome,’ says the doorman. ‘Welcome to the mansions of my father’s house.’

His statement is a layer cake of meaning, a fine paella of statements mixed with nuanced spices.

Take heed, fair guest: my rooms are wide open. Let us explore together. You never know what you might find and, to be fair, neither do I. Together we explore and, in this house of mind and in the mansions of it’s rooms, let us hope we don’t lose ourselves and, if we do, let us hope that which we find is a greater treasure than that which we’ve lost.

In the exploratory stories, half way between the top floor and the deepest basement, in a storage closet that opens to forever, I’ve got a pile of sketchbooks that go back to the drawings I made as a lonely scared child. I keep them to remind myself of where I’ve been, where I’ve come from and where it’s all gone to. I did my best to dispose of the drivel. What’s left is enough of a cross section that it can let future historians have a sampling of where I’m from.

Here, in this attic, is a bottle, the first bottle and only bottle. It’s never been emptied. It’s always been half-full. I’ve done my best to finish it. I am in love with new beginnings.

This right here, this balloon, half-deflated, is quite significant, or rather, it was, at one time. Good thing the things of the mind are biodegradable!

How about this door? What might we find inside it’s corners….

Oops!

Where are we now? What, you say, you know this place?

O this is your old kitchen, from as a child, as a seven year old, scared from the bee outside and your mother was nowhere to be found and you felt it best to find her and when you did she was a disinterested mess? You know this place. This is your house. This is your mansion. It’s true, I’ve been to places like this myself. I think my own place like this was nothing like this. But you’re not the first, so let us navigate it together.

We arise, we fall. It’s like that. We traipse in and out of each other’s mental spaces. It’s just like that when two people open up to one another.

And in the nuances of our speech, in the subtleties of our movements, are written the understandings of our lifetimes. At times, there is nothing but joy and if you find me on the right day, I will have naught but love, dripping and dancing off of every note of my being. Find me on another day and it might be different. I might be a bit more like coal, for real. No one is to blame for that but me and the only reason I have is that I’m still turning that chunk of coal into a diamond. With enough concentration and patience, enough focus and mindfulness, it all turns into diamonds.

And one way or another, the dancing love, it remains. Why am I so convinced of that?

A little birdie told me.
And I listened.

Art Basel II: Moksha Art Fair I

December 8th, 2009

The antithesis of “The Art Basel Art World” was the Moksha Art Fair, put on by a family of local lovers of “visionary” art and alternative lifestyles. Part art show, part warehouse party, part performance, and, for better or worse, a lot of craziness, it spanned Thursday through Sunday, with an all-night party planned for Saturday night.

Thursday evening, featured two panels of artists discussing their work – the process, intentions, etc. The first panel featured some of the “emerging” artists featured in the show: Amanda Sage, Andrew Jones, Nemo, Adam Scott Miller, and Shrine. The latter panel was older more established artists like Martina Hoffman, Robert Venosa, Alex and Allison Grey, Mark Henson, and some others I wasn’t familiar with.

The “emerging artists” panel seemed to have an interesting and positive take on what they felt their art was for, where they were going with it, etc. It was an interesting talk that nicely glossed over the world of psychedelia because, at this point, that kind of talk just seems redundant.

The latter “established artists” panel left me feeling somewhat disappointed. Asked about considering ones audience when creating their work, one answer was:

“Well, if they’ve taken psychedelics then they get it and if not… they usually don’t.” The artists didn’t seem to care much about the ones who don’t and felt that those who do get it required a key of some sort to understand. So much for helping the world to grow! But then, perhaps that was not the mission of said artist.

The truth is, and here is where my disappointment arose is that the entire panel seemed to devolve into a flag-raising, banner-wielding conundrum of ENTHEOGENS AND ART! LSD AND ART! to the sounds of a whoop or a cheer every now and again and, well, for me – that gets old.

Yes, yes, psychedelics are a doorway and a gateway and they can open one up to all sorts of interesting vistas and understandings. We know they are powerful, we know they are helpful but: tell us something different, please. The truth is: great art is not made by taking some drugs and grabbing some paint. Great art is made through patience, dedication, imagination, and vision. And all of that takes work.

I have always felt, and I may be wrong, that the work created by the “visionary” artists has some deep intentions around healing, spreading enlightenment, raising consciousness, etc. So I thought that the comment about work that almost requires the viewer to have had a psychedelic experience seemed selfish and self-indulgent. I considered my own artwork: should it require some kind of magic decoder ring in order to be understood? Sometimes the people who get it the most or who seem to be affected by it the most are the ones who’ve never seen anything like it before and now, in front of them, is this vision. And some little old lady reacts as if she’s waited her whole life to see it. It’s beautiful and affirming and rewarding. Some kid, fresh out of high school sees it and recognizes an element, an archetypal experience within it’s lines and colors.

True art, something truly beautiful, should require nothing more than the senses needed to experience it – and that is really just two eyes and some mode of transportation to be able to arrive in front of the piece. If it is good, then it will be received as such and will be able to stand on it’s own. Otherwise, we are merely (and rather self-indulgently) painting pictures along the walls of our own castles, letting in only those whom we see fit and are no better or worse than the rest of the “Art World”.

We can’t change the world by living in our own bubble and waiting for others to make it through a door or a veil we have constructed. If that is the case then we have fallen prey to the same sort of selfish elitism the plagues much of the art world. If I sound cynical, well, in some respects I really may be, but I am also hopeful. Incredibly so.

In conversations with the so called “younger” artists (a category that I certainly fall into as well) I found, through subsequent conversations, a similar feeling that the old cry of “Entheogens and Art” or drugs-will-change-the-way-you-think-just-look-at-me should be taken out back and given a proper burial and a new and broader understanding must be integrated.

This art, these visions, doesn’t just come from some psychedelic experience. It comes from an integrated and holistic approach to life. It comes from personal exploration and deep inner work. It comes from yoga and eating well. It comes from deep inner work, a consciously aware mind, and a desire to push ones edge a little further every day. It comes from living a well-lived life. Some people, with a good imagination, might just hit on something along the course of that path. With an adequate amount of talent, they might just create something beautiful. If they have the passion for it and the drive, they might just continue onwards, exploring, broadening, unveiling profound understandings of how the world works and, along the way, create more artwork that reflects that, bringing visions into this world that speak of that well-lived life.

This is not psychedelic art. It is not “visionary” art. However, It is certainly art with a vision, and it is certainly based on many types of experiences – from the sacred to the profane, from the profound to the mundane. And it is art based on a long long tradition of exploration and discovery. It continues the narrative begun by those unknown artists who created the paintings and hieroglyphs we find along the walls of caves and canyons. It grew and changed: through the hands of ancient sculptors, painters and writers. It was Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Bosch, el Greco, Blake, Monet, Picasso, Boccioni, Kandinsky, Dali, Magritte, Fuchs, Klarwein, and many others, on and on, into today.

What is this art we create? I am waiting for a cohesive name that doesn’t make me cringe each time I hear it. Visionary. As if we are the ones with vision and everyone else was just doodling.  I’ll tell you one thing, this art is as substantive as anything that came before it. Another thing: It is as relevant as anything in the pages of Janson’s History of Art.

And, for the most part, it is highly nutritious. Eat up!

The Emperor's New Clothes (or: My Visit to Art Basel Miami)

December 6th, 2009

“What really got me,” said Myra, “was how that one woman was passing along those black canvases and, whatever she was seeing in them, I don’t know. But she was really trying.”

Yes, whatever she was seeing in them. She was trying to see into them, really. But what could that have been? She was seeing if these three long rectangular canvases, painted a thick matte and slightly chunky black, standing on the wall at six by two feet, really were worth the quarter million dollars or whatever was being asked for them.

Walking through the Art Basel Convention Center in Miami I got the feeling that there is no soul left in art. I had a hard time finding the love, life, energy, exuberance, exploration, joy of discovery and creation. It seemed there was only the academic and monetary commoditization of art as it is defined by whomever deems themselves to be the spokes people of the Art World. And between the two, all that is left is a lot of mental masturbation.

Blank canvases, framed and anointed. Small pieces of felt tacked to the wall. Little fluorescent bits and pieces of wire and scrap glued together to form a hoop or something garish. A giant word in neon. A cube. A square. A conflagration of paint. NOTHING. NOTHING. And more NOTHING.

Amongst all of this artistic drivel I found maybe ten really interesting pieces. Out of thousands. I found them interesting because these few pieces I saw had some sense of discovery, fine use of color, a unique view point and some actual skill and stood out like sore thumbs, or a welcome respite.

Yet, amongst all these people and all this “art”, I got the feeling that someone is tricking someone else. Someone is being convinced of the substance or lack thereof in all of this. Is it the artists, somewhere along the way, who tricked the gullible world into believing there is something to what they are doing when in fact, it’s just a naked and shameless attempt to make money out of nothing?

Or maybe it’s the art dealers who, not wanting to have to look any deeper, have decided to settle on something that is meaningless and, in doing so, have created both a market as well as the producers.

Quite possibly it really might be the public themselves who are at fault. Is this artwork, that which is presented and lauded as the creme de la creme of the art world, really just a reflection of the empty lifeless and superficial world we are living in? A vapid reflection of where we are as a people?

I watched a young girl, dressed elegantly enough but reminding me of the naive light hearted girl in the movie “Brothers Bloom” that I just recently saw, go walking through the crowd, holding a handful of roses, saying “If I had a billion dollars, I would buy all of this!”

I thought to myself that If I had a billion dollars, I would buy it all and burn it, although that might be terrible for the environment. Instead, maybe I’d just put it in a large museum. The Not-Art Museum.

But then, maybe in this who-is-tricking-whom game, maybe all of the players – the artists who have run out of ideas and regurgitate the past in weak attempts at the avant garde, the art dealers who then hawk it as the next big thing, the art collectors who salivate over another expensive object to acquire, the media who hovers around gawking at and applauding the spectacle, and the general public who just wants to feel like they are a part of something. They are all just agreeing to the same uncomfortable truth: let’s not dig any deeper, it gets hard to understand. Let’s not push any further, lest we find something meaningful and, should we find something meaningful, at which point we’ll have to confront the meaninglessness of so much that we do. And that would be a disaster.

The truth is, what is going on in the art world is very much akin to what is on TV, or is playing at the movie theater, or lining the aisles of the grocery store, etc. That is to say: it’s an empty sort of substance, seemingly lacking anything truly nourishing.

In the end, we left there, back into the slighly muggy Miami evening rather hungry. I  found the Cuban restaurant we ended up at, along with the company and the mojitos, to be infinitely more satisfying.

The Artwork of Michael Divine

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