Around 2am I usually just can’t paint any more. Sometimes it’s a tad later. Sometimes a tad earlier. But usually it’s about five or six hours in and my hand is cramped and my back is aching and my eyes are starting to blur and my brushstrokes start to lose their precision. The good things is that once I get like that I usually feel pretty good about my work for the night. It means that I covered a lot of ground. Painting is about ‘the process’ as much as ‘the product’. Sometimes, it’s just a lot of blanks to fill in. You see, the story is written. The path is clear. I’m just following a dotted line that leads to an inevitable conclusion. There are nuances to be explored, and colors and lines to be enunciated but the gist of the piece – this piece that I’m working on right now anyhow – was decided long ago. I am merely completing the vision.
While I paint, my mind wanders through many worlds and my heart travels through multitudinous emotions the way one might try on different outfits. And there are pure zen moments where I’m not thinking about anything. Or elated loving moments where my heart is suddenly sort of glowing. Don’t dwell on it, though! Such feelings are mere feelings and as ephemeral as the clouds. But I do appreciate those moments. It never hurts to simply center one’s sense of consciousness in the center of one’s chest instead of in the center of the head, where we tend to look out at the world from.
O painting, it has taught me so much – so many little things that apply to my life. So many big things that have opened up inside me – grand a-has! – sublime epiphanies – eternal love – sweetly understood connections.
Here are some thoughts on painting that have tended to have metaphorical meanings to my life:
1. The color on your palate will not be the color on the canvas. That color, so carefully mixed, will likely end up looking ten shades different once you place it between the blue and the orange. Is that the color we were looking for? What thoughts do we have that are actually incongruous with reality?
2. The epiphany does not always occur when one is painting the representation of the eternal light. Most times, it is when one is in the corners, the crevices, the shadows, working out the details, trying to understand the mystery.
3. Be prepared for the unexpected. Go with it. It might lead somewhere great. However, always be prepared to completely disregard it. Sometimes the great tangent leads only to distraction. Which leads us to…
4. Sometimes, all of your hard work leads to an object that needs to be one inch to the left. Or an entire field of color that is a shade too dark. Or an entire array of minuets who must be two inches higher. Or whatever. In any case – sometimes, after five hours of work, you might step back and say: I did it wrong. If you don’t paint over it, if you don’t take the time to do it right then you will always look at it and know that the painting wasn’t quite what it could have been. And if you know this, then so will the whole world, whether anyone can put their finger on it or not.
5. When you get over the self-criticism, and do away with the self-doubt, you can create a sense of beauty that soars. How do you overcome these things? By practice. By showing up. By allowing all the voices to have their say but, in the end, following only your bliss.
6. Finally, few great paintings were ever created overnight. The painters of the greatest paintings lived their entire lives before them. They laughed with them. They cried with them. They curled up inside them. They burst out through them. They were transformed by them. Yet, we do not paint for just ourselves. We live our lives through our art in order to allow ourselves to be the shining lights that we are. In this way, by being that living art, we can be a catalyst of beauty.
To a true artist, the work comes as naturally as the breeze or the shine of the stars. Walls block the breeze from reaching our skin. Walls block the shine of the stars from illuminating our gaze. By breaking down the walls that hold back that flowing nature, we can reach deeper depths and higher heights and great NOWs.
There is a story of a bird wearing down a mountain by passing over it once every hundred years with a piece of silk. This is a long time. Think of your painting process like that. Every day, every hour, every minute, that bird is passing over that mountain. It is wearing down those heaps of self-criticism, of self-doubt, of fear of whatever, and every day the sunrise on the other side of that mountain is revealed just a bit more.
Occasionally we may burst through that mountain with heaps of dynamite. The heaps of dynamite are only successful if we are open to allowing it to do it’s work. How do we become open to that? By every day allowing for that bird to fly over the mountain. By showing up.
If we complete all the little details of the painting and bring them to their highest height, then the grand thing of the painting will be the absolute grandest thing. (until we paint the next painting. And the next painting.)
In the end, we are maybe just painting the toenails of eternity with reflections of itself. There is nothing wrong with that, especially if we do it with love.
One might think that one might surmise from the general nature of my work and my posts that I’m not a particularly political minded person. I almost wish that were true. What is true is that I pay attention to the politics. By that, I don’t mean just the ‘political figures’ but ALL of it. In my opinion, it’s all politics. Since man first understood the connection between ego and a sense of power there have been politics. Unfortunately, today there is a deeply rooted connection between money, politics, and power. This quality is a sad thing to watch and yet it is what shapes the most important affronts to our health and well being from an entity outside of our own minds that exists today.
And it comes at us from all fronts – from the health care to the war mongers to the internet freedoms to the agricultural debacles to the religious pandering… it doesn’t seem to end.
I’ll be honest: I can live in my own bubble. It’s not that difficult. I live in California where it’s easy to forget the rest of the wold exists. The weather is beautiful, food is aplenty. I have a rood over my head, a happy marriage. Why should I be concerned? Why should I not just spend my time whiling away the hours painting pictures of my surreally visionary flowers? Because I care.
That said and the reason I started this whole piece of writing, there’s a place a find some of the most focused political writing – writing that mirrors not just my ‘opinion’ but also my sort of cynical raised-eyebrow approach. It’s Rolling Stone.
Ha! Didn’t expect that now did you? Well, Alternet is good and Mother Jones is interesting but they often don’t cut to the chase as quickly as Rolling Stone. While Rolling Stone might get lost in the fluff when it comes to music these days (who wouldn’t – mainstream pop is all autotuned fluff! Imagine if Nirvana has been autotuned!) they have rarely ever failed to have quality political commentary, exposes of political goings-ons, and all sorts of political insights. They are to politics what Playboy was supposedly to interviews.
So, here’s a few recent links to some stuff you should read if you care about the current political climate. You should though: if you’re a woman, the ‘establishment’ is always looking to take away your rights. If you’re not for war, the ‘media’ is always war mongering. If you’re for… well, you get the picture…
Here are a few articles to get you started.
How this country is framing it’s march towards war with Iran (which would be idiocy)
The war on pot that wasn’t supposed to happen (and although I’ll probably lose style points with some, I don’t even smoke pot. I just believe in personal freedoms… and hate seeing people fined and thrown in jail for stupid reasons)
A wonderful story about the truth of the war in Afghanistan (ok, it’s not all that wonderful. A friend told me that her husband who is stationed in Iraq stated that no one is leaving Iraq or Afghanistan – they are just repositioning things for another war)
How the GOP transformed itself to serve the rich (The republican party is a pyramid scheme, as any poor republican that I know would attest to is they would get their heads out of their asses…)
OK. That’s enough for now.
I’ll tell you though: in the end, love is the only thing.The monk in jail will tell you this. Love is the only thing. If you, by the end of your day, find the very direct path of love, of compassionate and wise love, then I would suggest that you get to work.
You see, we exist in this so-called “secular” world. Here we are. Speak up for freedom but, most of all, speak up that each individual on this planet may experience happiness. When I see my fellow man caging another’s potential for happiness, that causes me to ask – WHY? If someone else has created a simple method to, say, send a letter to my congress woman to ask her to keep that person in mind, to pass a bill to defend her or his rights, free him or her from the legislative chains, then I should do so.
In a sense, it’s an agreement that I entered into when I said: “I wish all beings to be happy.” If I can’t click a few buttons on my computer that might just make a difference, what good is that wish?
I started cataloging our art books today. Very exciting, I know. We have quite a library of books all together – between the art book collection, the dozens of philosophy books and the many volumes in between it spans more than a few centuries of knowledge and inspiration. What boggles my mind, when I look at the couple hundred books of paintings and drawings, is the lifetimes they represent. Hours, days, weeks, years of the lives of men and women who dedicated themselves to the creative urge. And each book – each artist – is a facet of a jewel that allows the light of inspiration to pass through it in a particular manner creating shapes, motifs, themes and designs, entire stories, entire lifetimes.
The books on the shelves are organized into several sections. One shelf holds the rather modern day visionary artist types – Robert Venosa, Mati Klarwein, Alex Grey, Gil Bruvel, etc – then a shelf of illustrators – Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen, Harry Clarke, Dr. Seuss, and more – then art history – historical movements like Art Nouveau, Surrealism, etc – and then, of course, many shelves of just artists – Vincent Van Gogh, Max Ernst, Michelangelo, Salvador Dali, Frantisek Kupka, Hieronymus Bosch, Gustav Klimt, and more more more.
While I love the books and the sort of intimacy they afford, it can’t be denied that I also live in a world where the work of these artists is available at the pressing of a few keys on a keyboard. There is one Van Gogh book in which there is a painting of his in which he reproduced a classic work by Delacroix. According to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (which I had the pleasure of visiting once thanks to a many hour layover)
This Pietà – the Virgin Mary mourning over the dead Christ – is based on a lithograph by Nanteuil after a painting by Eugène Delacroix. Van Gogh painted it in 1889, during his confinement at the hospital in Saint-Rémy. It is more a variation on the original than a true copy: the painter adopted both the subject and composition, but executed it in his own color and style.
You see, the “copy” he copied was black and white. It was perhaps torn from a book. In those days, it wasn’t very easy to study another artist’s work.
Granted, at one time, even for me it wasn’t as easy as it is now. Back in those pre-internet days (ok, there was internet but it was an ox cart compared to today’s superhighway) – back then, living with friends or traveling, I painted here and there and had very little access to other artists. I barely knew anyone else was doing anything like what I did. I know that a number of my friends and contemporaries felt the same way. We just did what we did because of that inner urge to create – the same inner urge that drove the artists to create the works that grace these hundreds of pages that are lined up in the bookshelves beside me. The beauty of that solitary confinement of sorts – away from other artists in any case – is that it allowed many of us to find our own voices and get clear with what we had to say.
The clarity of the inner voice, it’s integrity and authenticity, is so important in creating a work of art. You can have all the creativity in the world but if there is no authenticity to the experience then the final piece will feel flat, uninspired. So back to the books here beside me… These artists – all of them – were on paths of discovery. Authenticity and discovery go hand in hand, I feel. When we are inauthentic, we are being something we are not. If we are being something we are not, then we are a projection of something we either wish to be or wish for others to perceive us as. Inauthentic living is like walking through life wearing a mask. That mask, we hope, sticks and stays and is unchanging. I am THIS THING OVER HERE, we might say. And there in lies the death of discovery.
Life, the universe, this thing that we are in – it’s an ever changing sea of wonder. And in that is the discovery. If we move through that sea with a gentle sense of curiosity and leave ourselves open to whatever we might find then it is likely we will discover great things. Great in the way that we appreciate how the sun arrives through the window at 4:30 in the afternoon and bathes the room in gold. Great in the way that we notice the divine radiance that is reflected in the drop of sap upon the concrete sidewalk from the pine tree overhead. It shimmers. Great in the little things, great in the big things.
This is how one lives one’s life as an artist: by living life from a place of authenticity and living it with a genuine sense of curiosity and discovery and applying that sense of curiosity and discovery to the work that we do. Take time to pause. Stop and smell the roses. Notice the curve of a brow, the crook of a tree, the blur of the mountain behind the close up of the cherry blossom. An artist leaves no stone unturned. There is beauty even in the worms.
In conclusion, I want to clarify something: I have a bunch of books by people that society has proclaimed to be artists. I’m not going to argue with them. Surely the work they’ve created is great. This is not however to say that “only painters (or sculptors, etc) are the artists”. I feel that any one who seeks beauty, who allows the natural rhythms to flow through them, who lives a life of self-discovery, who does their work with love and joy, is an artist. There is an art to living life and being happy and while it seems like it should be an easy thing to do, our human minds, while brilliant at times, have done everything they can to invent every possible little hook that might tug us away from that artful happiness.
Make greatness. Make it with love.
My wife, Violet, sent me the following excerpt from “The Myth of Sisyphus” by Albert Camus last night. I have sometimes suggested that her sometimes rather arduous trek through grad school (for her PhD in philosophy) sometimes seems like Sisyphus and his boulder. Unfortunately, in the case of Sisyphus there is no happy ending – the boulder rolls down the hill again and again and again and he is stuck pushing it back up again and again and again in perpetuity. At least grad school does have a final punctuation mark, of sorts, upon it!
I also felt that this bit of writing was relevant here because of a previous piece I’d written about ‘the absurd’. The truth is, there is beauty everywhere. There is love and joy in everything – even this head cold I’m feeling! Read on….
“One does not discover the absurd without being tempted to write a manual of happiness. ‘What!—by such narrow ways–?’ There is but one world, however. Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable. It would be a mistake to say that happiness necessarily springs from the absurd discovery. It happens as well that the felling of the absurd springs from happiness. ‘I conclude that all is well,’ says Edipus, and that remark is sacred. It echoes in the wild and limited universe of man. It teaches that all is not, has not been, exhausted. It drives out of this world a god who had come into it with dissatisfaction and a preference for futile suffering. It makes of fate a human matter, which must be settled among men.
“All Sisyphus’ silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is his thing. Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols. In the universe suddenly restored to its silence, the myriad wondering little voices of the earth rise up. Unconscious, secret calls, invitations from all the faces, they are the necessary reverse and price of victory. There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his effort will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate, created by him, combined under his memory’s eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.
“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
The Myth of Sisyphus
At some point, somewhere, I read something about Surreal art and it’s propensity for delighting in the erotic, the absurd, and the bizarre. Maybe it was Wikipedia… In any case, the truth is – Surrealism, as an art form, tends towards the erotic and the absurd. Was a painting in the Surrealist vein meant to make any sense? Or is it meant to simply jostle forth a free association of patterns, concepts, and ideas from the subconscious – placing a seemingly randomly associated sequence of images together, allowing the viewer to stitch them into some sensible relationship, a sort of Rorschach test in paint. I think that if the piece were “directed” towards some conscious goal or had too much consideration given to composition, then it would no longer be a mapping of that subconscious void space. I think that this is why Dali was ultimately ousted from the Surrealist Group – he began to try to direct that inner eye.
I think it a wondrous thing to paint the randomness as it arrives and kill of the self-editor that tries to squash our visions. However, I also think it is also a wonderful thing to be able to direct the vision and work with it – lead forwards without getting distracted by the swarming fetishes and the fireworks throwing cavalcade. Hand in hand, you can allow it to lead you, the artist, to the highest point you can imagine. Every corner, each nuance, is a chance to pull the painting higher, deeper, and into more profoundly illuminating realms.
Let’s look at Dali’s work over the span of his life as a painter, as the psychoanalytical quality of his work from the 20’s and 30’s moved towards motifs inspired by science, religion, and the culture around him (while still of course being mixed with his own distinct style). One can see how he chose to start “free-associating” less and instead began to consciously use the tools he had, as well as the talent, vision, and momentum, to open up new worlds. His work however did retain those absurd and erotic qualities that were the hallmarks of early surrealist painting. His paintings also round off, so to speak, at their peaks with Christian motifs and images of Gala – she is always there, at the climax of each piece. In this way, I think, Dali could not break through his own mental constructions.
I feel that, in the time that followed the peak of Dali – in the daliances of psychedelic art that then matured into todays more spiritually minded vision – we can see elements this directed inner eye. However, I think that the work that I find most inspiring is that which seems to have a very grounded sense to it, that develops it’s darkness as much as it’s light – work that flirts with randomness and free association while maintaining a vision and clearly expanding on it.
In my own work, while there is, at times, a free associative quality about it, I try to push each angle, each curve, in the direction that is, in my opinion, the most illuminated of visions possible. This inevitably leads, I think, towards an art that is spiritual in nature. In the end, I am not interested in expressing the absurd or the more deeply erotic or the bizarre convolutions of my mind in my work. In the reveling in dark and depraved corners and neuroses, one can quickly get hypnotized, succumb to the ego reflections, and get lost in the sidelines. I want, in my art, to follow each piece to it’s highest possible outcome – in so much as I can pull that off anyhow.
There is a ‘but’ though. But!
This is not to say that all of that absurdity doesn’t arise in my mind. It’s all in there, writhing and forming and distracting. And this is not to say that there is no value there. There IS value in the sidelines. Every piece is just as important as the last. What I mean to say is: there ARE no sidelines. I think that a truly mindful life addresses all of the voices and desires in our beings. When we allow one desire to rise – the desire towards enlightenment, the desire towards health or wholeness or whatever, all the other desires arise as well, with the same gaping mouth. So how do we feed them? How do we nourish? They are all parts of the same I.
When I look the bizarre permutations of Dali’s work or the strange collages of Max Ernst I see the weirdness fully formed and explored down to every last minute detail. By allowing for this full exploration – by seeing it through to it’s end – they were able to then move further, deeper, and higher, into an art that was beyond anything anyone had seen before. You see, to run from that absurdity is to deny oneself something truly delicious in life for, within every mental construct that seems absurd – whether it be a needy little beetle or a flamingly erotic nipple – there is a deeper wisdom. Each piece is a doorway into the infinite and, therefor, each element asks to be explored.
However, like I said, I choose to follow a very direct path in my paintings, in lieu of the sometimes meandering surrealist approach which, more often than not, gets caught up in the weird. At the same time, I think it’s incredibly valuable to give time to that weirdness because that weirdness also needs space to grow and have it’s time in the sun. Every single piece of mental space is there for a reason and begs to be explored. As Dali said, “All roads are the path to God.”
So I write a great deal and, in my writings, allow for the mental states to fully form and drift away. In this way, I can allow for all the minutiae – all the random associations, all the freely formed absurdly erotic and strangely surreal moments to simply be and to express themselves fully in the plane of my mind as it falls upon the page. By doing this, I create openings and allow for a clearing to happen.
I think this is an important thing for any artist to consider. how do we allow all of our other visions and voices to express themselves if we choose a singular path towards one aim? Look at it this way: the monk – he may choose to deny all forms of expression and in so doing allows for all things to exist on one plane of the mind. In that, no one aspect is given any more or less importance than any other. This leveling of the field is an important part of the process for nothing – neither the glorious effervescence of the dawn nor the uncomfortably unformed quality of the gutter mind is more or less valuable, more or less important, or more or less beautiful. The vastly observant mind simply observes and, in that, experiences a state of being that is sublimely balanced.
As someone who chose the path of the Artist, I give myself over to a certain proclivity and a very outward mode of expression (not to mention that I’ve chosen the life of the ‘layperson’ so to speak with all the attendant colorings). In that, as a creative force, I’ve done my best to carve out a pathway in my mind that allows for a freely flowing river of creative energy – of thoughts and emotions and feelings and inspirations and, above all, an openness to that which is not I. It is a thing of beauty, that union.
Here is a painting that I did not create:
This is “Echo of a Scream” by David Alfaro Siqueiros. It’s a harsh painting, for sure. I probably wouldn’t paint it, even if I thought it. Instead I choose to paint things that, while they have their grounded corners and their moment of darkness, tend very much towards a sense of what one might call a lightness. People look at what I may have painted and see this body of work that I’ve created with what feels, to me at least, like it has an over-arching narrative of some sort of divine momentum. Where is the absurd, the erotic, the surreal that may exist with my own mind? If this is what the artist is coming up with, he must meditate all the time and only do yoga and probably subsists on some kind of purified vegan diet! (all of which is hardly true)
As I said, if we give permission for one torrent from within us to flow unfettered, so too will all other rivers want to rage. While discipline may be worthwhile to exercise over some and, at that, perhaps it is simply best to nip things things in the bud or, better yet, yank them out by their roots, it is worthy of consideration that we should perhaps give some mediated outlets to others. It is as if we strain to allow one ocean to pass while holding back another which we judge to be of a purer intention. Painting is such a visceral thing and it asks much of the artist.
And so, for me, those various other corners are explored through writing. The written word can express an idea so clearly and completely in but a few lines that it is, I feel, a very efficient way to allow for the mental streams to find their way towards the river that leads to that most divine source that I can imagine. To fully form something on a canvas takes a considerable amount of time and I am inevitably going to consider the composition and if it even make sense with whatever I’m working on (the self-editor at work…). For my free associative mind, to throw ideas out on a page following some absurdist idea and allow it to be done and over with in the course of a few thousand words can be intensely efficient. I want only two things out of it – to lead even those thoughts to their most profound outcome and to create the space for that more sublime beauty that I want out of my painting.
All of these writings – pages and pages of them – that I’ve created over many years of late night meanderings, early morning typing, and random associative imagining, will perhaps one day be published one day and part of my grins at the thought but that’s not the intent of my writing them. Their intent is simply to give an outlet – to be an expression of one more aspect of this divine spirit which is life.
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