The Artwork of Michael Divine

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The Apotheosis of Hope

November 3rd, 2017

“The Apotheosis of Hope” (Detail)

Hope.

It is a silly thing – a frivolous thing. Hope is the breath of a bubble waiting to burst.

In the midst of our more confidently brazen facades, we scoff it off as naive – a thing for children’s stories and religious tales when the fairy godmother might come and sweep us away and the brethren hope for the return of their savior.

When all is well, what need have we for hope? When tomorrow and the next look as bright and full of possibility as today what need have we to break our stride? I’m ok. You’re ok. Everything is grand. Everything is ok. Our needs are met and our systems intact and life provides because life will always and forever provide in as abundant a manner as now – or so we believe – what need have we then for hope? It is, in those times, when earlier moments of want are forgotten, that hope turns into it’s own ego reflection and becomes ‘expectation’.

Hope is that fleeting moment – that briefest of uplifts – before the story kicks in. The story of “what I want or need”. Or what I believe it should be. What I think should happen next. And how we will feel or want to feel when it all works out like we expect it to.

Every archetype has its counterbalance. Discernment becomes judgement. Joy can turn to hubris. And so on.

But hope.
We are talking about Hope.

When we awaken in the morning and it’s another day and the news bombards us with more vicious attacks and security outrages, political upheavals, and vomitous personality flaws, and the bills in a stack that need to be paid sit in unopened envelopes while I scoff down another breakfast and that one blood relative that just needs a break or a chance or something anything is still calling and I haven’t been paid and more stuff and dramas and dead weights and the kids or the cats or the car, maybe it’s the dog, there’s the old scars prickled with new scabs. It’s then when dreams seem so far away buried on some distant horizon blanketed in grey and the expectation of the day to day becomes a breadcrumb trail leading away from better times because now these days are the only days. It is then.

It is then, too, that hope seems a trivial thing. For what is there to hope for when yesterday’s trials just get worse today and the next looks to be about the same and rather than healing all wounds, time just continues to grind away? Every dream becomes dust. Your sweet reflection rusts.

Why hope? Why hope at all?

It’s not about a better job or the kids will be ok. It’s not about a sweeter place for our bones to stay. It’s not about things. It’s not about structures. Hope isn’t about belief systems and carefully weighed outcomes. It’s not about you. It’s not about me. Hope doesn’t care about any of this.

My structures will be torn down by his structure will be torn down by her structure til you build your structure all over again to be torn down all over again and the cycle continues. It’s not about winning or losing. Hope isn’t an outcome.

Hope is the breath of being and not being at the same time. An inhalation turns into the exhalation and into an inhalation. Over and over and over again.

Hope is the barest flicker of a candle flame in the middle between believing and not believing in the next gracious moment.

Remember when it was the pyre of all our desires burning in an ever lasting blaze? Everything – with or without name – all thrown in at once – won’t need that again! – burning burning – everything just burning away. We were dawn’s new day ever-lasting to become the sun as if we were only and ever the first greatest golden one and this is the end forever and ever and in the midst of playing that last note, that last chord, that last song we would ever hear and could possibly hear for once there will be peace on this earth world without end name without name flame within flame – has anything ever looked sounded seemed so clear…

And then.
And then.

Comes the darker hour of night.
Comes that moment after losing sight.

Mind chewing away on all the could have beens should have beens maybe why why did I even think – even consider – even entertain for a moment’s breath – I could touch that sky? Let alone – fly?

When everything – and I mean everything – the leaking pipe, the traffic light, the unopened envelopes, the endless parade of tirades, the places I’m powerless – the bottom’s dropped out – the cries of a billion starving mouths with nowhere to sleep, the still-boxed dreams that could have been – all whispering and whimpering amongst themselves, screaming and shouting and crying out loud:

Where have you been all this time. You’ll never make it. You don’t even know where to begin. Won’t you help me?

Even then.

That candle flickers inside, casting a light, a glimpse – I’m still here. We’re still here. It’s ok. We’re ok. It’s going to be ok. One foot in front of the other. I hope there’s still a floor!

If I could be one voice in the dark. If I could be one spark in a world waiting to ignite. Needing to ignite. Praying to ignite. Hoping.

If I could be one dream. One whisper. One song. One being. Still banging that drum, ringing that bell, dreaming that dream. Singing that song and pulling myself apart at the seams… for you. For them. For us. For everything. Just to inspire the belief that there can be more than that and more than this because there is only this and forever this. And whatever we choose make of it.

If you are that one only soul remaining – that one candle flame flickering – that one tiny breath. That whisper. That whimper. That one soul still left dancing… If you can be that and inspire that feeling in another – that sensation – or reflection – that is hope. It is the hope that we are growing towards better days and the best is not behind us.

It is the driving force that says: Grow. Survive. Thrive. There might be another day. There might be a better day. But if we don’t LIVE in this one we’ll never make it to the next. If we don’t build towards that possible future now, then what do we have? Life begets life. Breath becomes breath.

And hope begets hope.

If you see me crawling alone on the side of the street, destitute and wondering if this asphalt is the only thing that has ever been – I am only human – toss a crumb – a smile, a coin, it’s truly all the same – in my direction because you never know if what to you is the mere faintest of distractions might actually save a life, a soul, a spirit in need of resurrection, maybe just a human reflecting humanity in need of connection.

See, if I can be just one whisper, one underlying tone – one breeze upon the nape of your neck making you feel a little less alone, that taste that still lingers on the tip of your tongue reminding you of songs yet to be sung or that memory of a dance so good now long gone, that recollection of a time so serene, so magic, so visceral, so real or that possibility of what could be – it hasn’t even happened yet – if I could be that future – if I could be that

Hope
for you
That it could be
Again
I will.

Hope.
The intimation of the greatest of pasts and futures in the now.

Hope.
It is the song that sings: we have yet to hear the final note. Hope keeps it’s money in the game. Hope strategizes moves and sees me completing actions beyond which my tiny mind can even comprehend. And I – my mind – this heart – we are only messengers of hope – of life – of love and laughter and soft sweet surrenders for all whose candles flicker, whose wells run dry because they do sometimes.

Hope, said Alexander Pope, springs eternal in the human breast.

In the darkest of your night, in the softest of your light, in the deepest of your fright, in the barest of your sight… Hope eternally springs forth like a the barest of a new shoot, a new bud, a new blossom after winter’s cold remorse.

Hope is the effulgent light of our mystical hearts and the great human potential of all we could be. It is that well spring of eternal devotion that we direct ourselves towards – a notion that is as close to beyond our imaginations as we can comprehend. It is all of the everything at once. It is the sky folding into the earth and back again and our place in that as one more beautiful and intricate cog of a machine whose only true goal is beauty, life, death, entropy, all of it at once. It is mind no mind. It is a verse of the song of this infinite dance.

And it is hope that, even in the most trying of times – in the darkest of your moments – which may not be as dark as those of some but, still, may be darker than others – everything has its day and everything has its night – the darkest night hopes for the brightest light and the brightest light hopes for the darkness of night – it is hope that keeps us alive.

Hope says, “We will meet again.”
May you remember hope.

When the Smoke Cleared

October 24th, 2017
Cloudscape Sketch • Acrylic/Canvas • 12" x 36"

Cloudscape Sketch • Acrylic/Canvas • 12″ x 36″

So the past couple of weeks at our little Divine Comedy have been challenging. We moved north of Napa back in December and, after the wettest winter on record, we had the hottest summer on record which led to the worst fires, you guessed it, on record.

Our air was thick with smoke and we woke every morning examining the current fire maps. We were rather surrounded – to the north, south, and west at times less than ten miles from the brunt of them. When everything is like a tinderbox and winds may shift at any moment, that ten miles doesn’t seem so far. Some friends transported all of our artwork to Oakland for safekeeping – ‘just in case’ – and our bags were packed the whole time.

Thankfully just in case didn’t come to pass for us. Many others though lost homes, businesses, and even lives. I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures – of Santa Rosa, Napa, etc. It’s heart breaking the swath of destruction left by the fire. These extremes are the tangible examples of what climate change looks like and the reality we live in. We’re incredibly grateful that our gardens, home, and lives are still intact.

In the coming month I’ll have some new works to share with you and will also be doing some fundraising for those who lost everything these past few weeks.

The painting above (and the detail below) were made while our air was thick and the light was this weird golden rose color from the smoke filtered sunlight. It was hard to relax into the general painting flow so I worked on some free-flowing pieces, painting over canvases that remained at home.

Here’s to the rain of the coming autumn :)

Cloudscape Sketch (detail)

Cloudscape Sketch (detail)

It Is a Good Time To Make Art

September 28th, 2017
"Flowers for Atlas" by Michael Divine

“Flowers for Atlas” by Michael Divine

“I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed…

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.”

– Toni Morrison

Why You Should Make Art (according to science)

July 31st, 2017

#5 – “Turning our problems into narratives can help us work through them” – is really a key part of my work. When I am thinking of what next to paint, I try to find works that help to guide me through my life, the preciously beautiful as well as the preciously tragic. The transference of thought into matter for no other reason than as an expression of ourselves and finding the patience to see it through, whether a napkin doodle or an epic painting, is an important part of our humanness to nurture.

And if it is only to make us happy and healthier humans – well, that’s not so bad. After all, happier healthier humans make better choices for themselves and others. In my opinion, it makes for a better planet to live on.

From Business Insider:

Painting, sculpting, dancing, making music, and all the other artistic pursuits have benefits that go far beyond pure enjoyment or cultural creation — these activities can also strengthen your brain and improve your mood. Here are seven reasons to give yourself time to make art, even if you think you’re bad at it.

1. Making art may reduce stress and anxiety.
In one recent study in the journal Art Therapy, researchers found that after just 45 minutes of art-making, levels of the hormone cortisol — which is associated with stress — were reduced in participants’ saliva, regardless of their prior art skills.

Read the rest here: http://www.businessinsider.com/why-you-should-make-art-even-if-youre-bad-2016-6/#1-making-art-may-reduce-stress-and-anxiety-1

What Painting Is

May 27th, 2017
Working on The Apotheosis of Hope

Working on The Apotheosis of Hope

I wake up because the cat is mrowing because he’s hungry and I slept fifteen minutes later than I usually sleep and he’s come over to my side of the bed imploring me to please get up now because he is HUNGRY but I’d like to sleep even though I know I am going to get up because morning and painting. I pull myself up while Violet stays sleeping. The sun is up though not broken over the hill yet so it’s still early which is good. When I do the math, it means X number of hours til noon which is the general cut off time to go do other things even though I always think that I could get up earlier. If I wanted to. If I was enough. So I get up. Dressed. Tell the Fi – I’m coming. I’m coming. I open the blinds in the living room. I pull out his bowl. My mind, sometimes feeling defeated early in the morning, too many loose ends and threads that I don’t understand, people to call or emails to send but ultimately, for now, just looking for the thread to the brush…. I make tea. I feed the cat. I carry my tea downstairs to my studio. Then I go back and get the Fi because he’s old and has a hard time navigating the stairs. I sit in my chair, drinking tea, staring at my painting finding the thread – where I left off – the place I pick up again – and the part of me that wants to stand there for another 4 or 5 hours knowing there’s tired feet and a tired tailbone waiting for me. I drink tea. Eventually, the moment is right and I stand. I put some paint on my palette. I pick up the brush. I poke. I prod. I shade. Eventually, along the way, I wake up. Mind and heart scream and yell or whimper or plead or whisper entreaties of all the things I can do or be. Mind and heart – they just do what they do on and on and on. But, eventually, somewhere along the way, I hit that note. I strike that chord. And it’s all going and flowing and golden again, like it has always been. It’s that dance again that I know so well and love so much and am honored and humbled to explore every day and will do it over and over and over again oh my god I love painting so much. And when I walk away from that easel, I am again.

The Bicycle Day Parade

April 19th, 2017

Bicycle Day Parade San Francisco

I made another poster for the Bicycle Day Parade in San Francisco, April 19th.

 

Each Painting is a Song

November 2nd, 2016
Photo of the Moment

Detail: “Somewhere Along the Way”

A friend asked me this:

How do you stay focused on one painting for so long? Obviously they take a while but if the initial inspiration was just a sketch made in a matter of moments – how do you keep at it 4 months later? Where do you find the will to keep going?

I said:

To me, each painting is a song. It encompasses a mood, a momentum, a tone, a melody. It relishes in a particular note or chord progression. It screams or hums or parades through with a specific cadence or rhythm. During the time I work on it, I’m singing that song to myself over and over and over again. So I try to find songs that inspire me – songs I want to sing for that long or that need to be sung. It has to be something I want to sing for 4 months or 6 or longer. I am going to wake up and sing it every day and I’m going to go to bed singing it as well. To me, ultimately, there’s only one thing that is worth that. I don’t have a word for it. it is neither a shape nor a sound. But it leads me onwards. And I know it when I see it. And each painting sings another little part of it.

The initial melody – it comes to me in that first sketch. I might be sitting somewhere and there is that creative breeze (or tsunami) and I jot down a few lines, some curves, shapes, a sensation. It’s a good start. It’s like writing down the first 5 notes of a song that’s floating through your head. But there’s so much space left for exploration.

Later on, as my eyes travel over the painting, they pick up different moments and find new themes and melodies to explore. Musical sentences weave in and out of each other forming unexpected harmonies and rhythms. There are relationships to explore and discover and these open the painting up in ways I hadn’t planned on. I try to find ideas that speak to this process. I love the unexpected.

After a while, much of the basic image is created. It is then that the real song begins to find its real voice. It’s there that the song expands. It is like going from a sextet to a full orchestra. With larger paintings, I aim to make each violin become twenty with each casting its own shade and voice to the choir. Each oboe, clarinet, kettle drum – all resounding as if they are an entire section unto themselves. I become a composer at that point with this living breathing thing I’ve created, expanding each moment to its fullest potential.

Each time I sit down to paint again, my eyes travel over the painting, looking for the moment – the hook – that draws me back in… and then I’m back inside it. The painting is finished when there are no hooks drawing me back in and each little moment blossoms on its own and as a whole

I think often of what Jerry Garcia said of the Grateful Dead song “Dark Star”. If you know that song, you know it’s a particularly lengthy composition that was filled with new explorations every time it was played. You never know what you are getting into with it. What he said of it is this (though I can’t seem to track the exact quote down anywhere): that what he loves about playing that song is that it can be opened up anywhere. Between every note is an entire world of musical possibilities and that there’s no other song in their catalog that has that kind of space within it.

I think about paintings like that and my favorites to work on are the ones where that divide between each moment, each shape, can be opened up into infinity. As an artist, part of my job is to pick and choose the moments that are worthwhile to follow, the ones that really speak to and with the piece as a whole and help it become what it wants to be.

There’s a lot of songs to sing and, likewise, to play. If I am to consider myself a composer of painted songs, I look for and wait for that which inspires me. It has to push the envelope, hit a point, be able to be brought, led, followed to a peak that….

Well, consider this: we never tire of the sunrise or the sunset or golden light that ripples a tree’s leaves or the slope of a mountain against the blue sky or the crash of the ocean wave or the clouds that tumble by overhead. It never becomes trite. There seems to ever be magic, exuberance, nuance, relief even, in all of those forms and sounds and spaces. Whatever that experience is – that is where I follow each piece.

And so, I am an orchestrator of colors. A composer who is lifting his brush like a baton to conduct now the purples, the oranges, perhaps the blues or whites…. slicing through yellows and then the roiling clouds in pale golds, cascades of shapes, sounds, these pieces that create some emotive context and lead me, you, us…. into the place it wants to go.

I’ve learned over the years to trust that place and trust myself in that journey. We’ll get there, no doubt. I’ve learned to be ever more patient with each canyon and trough, each peak and each facet of that jewel. So that when we come to the glorious conclusion, we’re left saying: THAT. That is exactly what it is supposed to be.

On the Clouds (In My Artwork)

May 7th, 2016

Image: Big Sky Mind • 40″ x 60″ • Acyrlic/Canvas

If people talk about my art in the future, they will probably, at some point, mention the clouds. So before possible future critics extrapolate on my intentions, I’d like to share some thoughts on the subject myself – that is: the abundance of clouds in my paintings.

Because there is definitely an abundance of clouds.

If you are a modern-world living human it’s relatively easy to get ‘far’ from nature: to get somewhat removed from the sensation of the cacophonic stillness of the woods, the burbling silence of the brook, the majestic silence of… everything. With little effort, we instead get pulled along by the white noise tunnel vision world we live in – just trucking along to our human minds and their human contraptions, living in our paved over, concretized cities where ‘nature’ takes the general form of trees trimmed, coiffed, and hacked into submission, the squared off lines of neatly manicured lawns, bushes and hedges in perfect ordered rows, and so on.

But soaring overhead – clouds. Clouds are wild. Clouds exist even where other wildernesses have been subsumed. Clouds are the wind and the water and the earth and the sun all getting together and making love. Those massive formless vaporous shapes. Cumulus clouds alone can extend 40,000 feet into the air (that’s over 8 miles!) (true fact!). Reflecting the landscape, clouds echo the roll of the hills and the proximity of a body of water. Their swirls and eddies are the wind whipping through. They are ever changing from long lazy sweeping spirals to towering ominously beautiful thunderheads.

Clouds: they are no shape but every shape. These massive bodies of crystalline water vapor are every color all at once, reflecting, refracting, dancing about. From a distance they can seem to have a fine edge but get up close and the edge vanishes. Yet, for all that mysterious formlessness, the average cumulus cloud is equal in weight to 183 full sized Asian elephants. (That’s about 1.1 million pounds for those who don’t know the average weight of an Asian elephant which is about 6,000 lbs.)

Imagine that column I might paint – disappearing behind an eight mile tall – million pound cloud… That’s a reasonable scale from which to begin. It’s not so big that you can’t comprehend its scope but not so small that it disappears behind the cloud.

And yet, we too are clouds. Clouds of thoughts and ideas coming together and trailing away again. Clouds of molecules dancing about. We are clouds of forces woven together to form this identity we call ME. And then – that ray of light passing through the hole in the clouds – we stop – or at least glance up – in wonder: is this is the heavens shining down? Is that what enlightenment might feel like? Look like? That is the image we’ve painted since, well, who knows… since forever.

But clouds: I am a daydreamer to the core and when I look to the sky, there are the clouds arcing overhead. Or rumbling. Or weaving. And so on. I’ve been daydreaming for as long as I can remember and, in all that time, while all sorts of things around me have changed – even the trees around me these days are different than those I grew up with – the clouds… the clouds have remained.

Clouds, lacking edges or clear definition, even when they seem so solid, are like dreams happening with in the no-thought void of interdependencies. They twist and twirl, forming all of the shapes all at once. When I look at the clouds in the sky, I’ve never given much thought to what they might be. Instead, I see them as they are: bursting, broiling, sweeping and swirling – just passing through the sky – tumbling onwards, forming and reforming, a perfect example of what it is to be.

I will leave you with this – some of the final lines of the Diamond Stura have echoed in my head since I first read them many many years ago:

Thus shall you think of this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

What Is There Left To Paint?

March 7th, 2016
Beautiful Sunsets Never Hurt Anyone

Beautiful Sunsets Never Hurt Anyone

A frequent question that is asked of me: where does it come from? What inspires me?

Violet reminded me that the etymology of the word ‘inspire’ is rooted in the word ‘breath’ and that ‘inspire’ is a way of saying ‘breathing life into’. So the question really is ‘what breathes life into my work?’ Where do I find the momentum – the life – to keep putting brush to canvas? Everyday I wake I think about those paints, those colors, that question.

What keeps me going?

To answer that question, I have to begin with another question… one of many.

As, perhaps, every painter has asked: what is there left to paint? And why? Why do I want to paint that or this or this other thing? What makes it interesting? What makes it necessary? Why is it worth pining for, wracking my body over, eating, sleeping, and dreaming about?

It begins with questions and drills down from there.

What does it feel like? What does it taste like… smell like… sound like? What is the sensation of the thing – here – in this tactile world we exist in? How does it cut or how does it nurture? Does it need to cut? If so, where? And why? Does it dance? Can we dance with it? If so, where and why?

Will I love it? I mean, truly and deeply the way I love myself or my wife? Will I love having created it? Will I love that it is created? Will I be proud of it? Will it dig deeply into the soul of the world and be one more facet of that source of reflection?

And, if it is to be as it is sometimes where it is to be something that is there simply to be beautiful – like a flower or a dewdrop or a cloudburst – then what? And why? How does it fit in my work and what else am I feeling? Is it a salve for hurt – because in this world sometimes, salves are  necessary for wounds – or is it merely a distraction from something that, while taking more work will, ultimately, be more rewarding? That is an important question, too. There’s a lot of ideas that come and go. There’s a lot of easy ways out. I think we, as humans, need to be vigilant of ourselves in that way. When do we take the easy way out? When do we start repeating our own patterns because that is what gets the reward, gets the adulations, gets the proper response.

I could just paint lots of lovely sunsets and that’d be that. And maybe I do. But there’s people already who do that and they do it well so I don’t feel this world is missing any sunset paintings I might make.

If it’s going to be a big piece, it needs to have a reason. It MUST have a reason. And the reason doesn’t start with a statement. It starts with a question, an inquiry, a digging deeper into the soul of the matter – into the heart of the thing. That’s where we find something of value – a note that sings rather than simply murmuring along with the rest of the maddening crowd.

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