To own an original painting is to have the original playing – the live perfect performance – of a song. I’ve met many a musician who has, in a painting I’ve made, seen a visual representation of a song, much as I’ve heard many a song and, in that song, heard an auditory journey of a particular image.
Imagine if you could own Jimi Hendrix’s “Axis”. Or Beethoven’s 5th. Or Miles Davis’ “Agartha”. And so on. Each canvas print of a painting is like the perfect and pristine vinyl recording. The paper prints and posters are good quality CDs and, finally, you have your variable-kbps mp3s floating around on the web.
So just imagine: each guitar lick and hi-hat and cymbal crash, each thrum of bass or plunk of a piano by a human hand is each of those brushstrokes.
A great painting is like a symphony. There’s entire cavalcades of sound – entire violin sections roaring across the yellow sky over a horizon of great bassoon and oboes resounding through the purples. A penny whistle sparkles across the crystalline golden whites and, for a moment, that lead violin is the sinewy line drawing it all together. And the artist crafts each of those violins. Each oboe and oboe player. Each note has to be played in a final perfect harmony.
This is why original art – that final finished piece – that one and perfect singular canvas – ends up with so much value. Like the recorded song, we can replay it a thousand or million times through countless means of recreation but there’s only one original moment where careful little nuances were breathed into each brushstroke to make the painting.
People say ‘why get the painting when the print is so much cheaper.’ This is a true fact. Just as the mp3 version is much cheaper than having the band play at your house where you can experience the raw entirety of the sensation of that SONG, so is the painting. So is the painting. If you decide to take part in that relationship, consider this: you’re helping to bring these songs, these performances of art, into the world. By supporting the arts you are enriching the cultural experiences of others as well as yourself.
This immediacy and connection to the moment is what gives art – and especially great art – its value. It is the intangible NOWNESS of it. The greatest art echoes our human archetypal experiences and mixes them with the constant exploration of our perception of the experience coupled with all the set and setting of the moment – the politics and world views and financial considerations and environmental conditions and so on. It’s all wrapped into that vision. And out of it… out if it arises “what it looks like.” Or feels like or sounds like in that now.
It is my task to offer you, as least from my own perspective, what it looks like. This is why, to me, an artist is really just a scribe. I’m here to take notes. To be open. To be a channel. To see what comes through me. It’s terrifying and tragic. It’s blissfully beautiful. It’s heart breaking and mystifying. It’s mystically enthralling. And, like the musician, I have to choose a note, a color, a line. I do my best to find the right note, the perfect color, that precise line, and that feeling. The feeling and the reason and the intention and the moment that I, Michael Divine, want to sign my name to.
“I was very impressed with T.S. Eliot around the time I was writing [the lyrics for] Dark Star. Beyond that, that’s just my kind of imagery…. I don’t have any idea what the ‘transitive nightfall of diamonds’ means. It sounded good at the time. It brings up something that you can see.” – Robert Hunter on the lyrics for “Dark Star” from which the title of the painting is taken as quoted in “The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics”
“So I have a long continuum of ‘Dark Stars’ which range in character from each other to real different extremes. ‘Dark Star’ has meant, while I’m playing it, almost as many things as I can sit here and imagine…”
– Jerry Garcia, Rolling Stone 1971
I’d like to share a few words regarding the title of this painting, “A Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds”. I had thought, at one point, of calling this “Electric Guitar is My Guru” but for various reasons, not the least of which included Violet saying that she didn’t like that title, I changed it. I’d thought that a good title because really it’s a sound that has followed me and that I have followed – like a dancing partner – for all of my adult life. It has expressed those deep parts of my soul, long tangents of my imagination, and the heights of my spirit. But the word ‘guru’ has a lot of baggage attached to it. So, as a title, I had to leave it behind.
Then I remembered something that Jerry Garcia, one of the greatest guitarists of our age (forget about whether you like the Grateful Dead or not, the man was a magician of the guitar.) said about the song “Dark Star” Dark Star is one of the Dead’s epic songs of open ended flow. I can’t really describe it. It is an experience as much as it’s a song. Years ago I read something that Jerry had said about that song – and I can’t remember where I read it and can’t seem to find the quote anywhere. He said that the thing he loved about Dark Star is that between every note was an infinity of possibilities – more than any other song in their catalogue. There were songs that could open up, could go in multiple tangents and directions, but only Dark Star could open up everywhere in every direction.
“A Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds” is a lyric from that song. Written by Robert Hunter, the lyrics are as visually elusive as the song – moments and fragments cascading through time offering images and suggestions of moods and melody. This is, to me, the essence of painting. Each moment and each brushtroke is a thousand possibilities. This painting attempted to be even more of that – every moment cascades into the next only loose rhymes or relationships to the previous. It is the heights and the troughs, the peaks and valleys, of a thousand nights under bright lights and raging guitars. It is the echo of a rhythm of a melody never forgotten found deep in my soul I can never forget the love I felt then and all of the infinite possibilities.
It’s all and everything. It is diamonds, reflecting and refracting, an infinitum. It is a nightfall of them. So I am grateful (no pun intended) for that line, those few words, penned by Robert Hunter, back in – what – 1968? Forever ago. But time is an illusion. And the space where the pen stops and where the pen begins – a lifetime, an eon – may, in all actuality, be merely a moment, a breath, a transitive nightfall of diamonds cascading through the atmospheres.
See the full painting here: A Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds
“Each note is like a whole universe. And each silence…. And the quality of sound and the degree of emotional… It’s like the most important thing in the world. It’s truly cosmic.” – Jerry Garcia, “The Rolling Stone Interviews” – Peter Herbst
Loud fuzzy distorted sustained amplified strummed plucked looped shredded wah wah wah wailing upon and fed back through layer upon layer of chord progression melody line guiding me and dividing me and finding that perfect note, that golden chord, that crying out tone of my soul.
This is my homage to that instrument that has been this shining beacon in my life, the guitar. There are so many rock stars whose narrative melodies, soulful intonations, thrown to the wind ministrations on this instrument have triggered the unfolding imagination of my mind. My art, all of it, finds its harmony with the guitar. My paintbrush is the guitar with color and shape rather than sound. Etching along the space time tunnel in perfectly poised movements, some weird zen dance – the guitar lines and my brush – are one moment in motion flowing in gold. Every painting is another rock star fantasy.
I remember being at a music festival and, amongst the thousands of people, the multitudes of noise, the dust and mayhem, there was this beautiful high melody being played over the heads of everyone and I was like ‘what. is. that?!’ and I followed it and found a stage with this rather shriveled old man in a wheel chair and a guitar on his lap, glinting shiny silver in the afternoon sun and a huge smile on his face as effortlessly sang his soul through his Fender guitar and it was Buddy Guy and he was a master.
There’s Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page and Jerry Garcia and Eddie Hazel and Thurston Moore and Frank Black and Slash and George Harrison and Trey Anastasio and David Gilmour and Kieth Richards and John McLaughlin and Kurt Cobain and The Edge and Van Halen and and and. I mean, there’s so many. All these bands and their guitars: The Black Crowes, AC/DC, Pearl Jam, and whoever plays guitar for LCD Soundsystem and the various guitarists for Talking Heads and on and on and on… There’s just. So. Many. It goes on and on. Some added one perfect note. Others, entire encyclopedias of sound.
It’s the musical instrument of the 20th Century. Now, in the 21st C. it seems like the ‘instrument’ of the century is the computer. But the 20th C. was led by the guitar. And I followed it religiously.
I learned so much from that golden raucous everything. It can be delicate restraint then complete self-indulgence. It’s all the rock and roll one can handle. It is, to me, the voice that ties the band together. It’s a note. A chord. A sound imprinted on my heart. It just takes me and takes me and takes me and I go – willingly – with all the ego aggrandizement and dissolution at the same time.
It is delicate curlicues of aural calligraphies written on the passing fabric of time. The best of them form elaborate sentences, paragraphs, whole novels of sound with beginnings, middles, and ends, where deep troughs in which we lose ourselves lead to high peaks from which the view is as close to infinite as is humanly possible, arriving at conclusions of sonic perfection creating, within that space of time, a sparkling, shimmering, twirl and dip, grip the underbelly, and shimmy through the spinal column, all of it never ending noise sound tone soul realization – is this the sound of infinity – is this the sound of the inner eye of the universe? It is the sound of sunlight glinting through the diamond jewel of my mind.
I’m so grateful for that sound – that roar – that has flowed through my life for several decades. It ripped into my soul. It took over my world. It never let go.
This painting is an homage to that sound, that instrument. It is a homage and thank you to all the great guiding lights who picked it up and wailed their souls on it. To all those epic rockers and their late late nights. All the sex and drugs and rock and roll. Whatever got you through the night. And that release you found – from our inner soul to the outermost edge of human expression that this instrument was capable of transcribing.
Somewhere, and I can’t find where, Jerry Garcia remarked that the thing he loved about playing their song “Dark Star” was that it could open up anywhere – there were an infinite number of possibilities between any note and the next. I think of paintings like this and my favorites are those that seem to be able to continue to expand and expand – between any line, any curve, every piece unfolding to the next.
So I borrowed a line from that song, titling the painting “A Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds” where each drop of that nightfall, each note shimmers and glistens, merging with the next, a cascade of sound, light, color, all at once.
This is a painting of self-indulgence. It is a painting of Rock n Roll.
Thank you, dear musicians, for all the good times you’ve brought into this world.
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.
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…
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?
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
That it could be
The intimation of the greatest of pasts and futures in the now.
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.
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 :)
“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
#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.
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.
I made another poster for the Bicycle Day Parade in San Francisco, April 19th.
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