“What are you thinking about at this moment right now?” I asked as we sat on the cool stone in the shadow of the massive red rock stone arch spanning out over our heads. This arch was a giant circle hewn from the stone by decades of wind and rain. The blue sky beyond it spread out rather infinitely with just a few little cumulus cloud puffs floating through it casting delicate shadows over the red rock towers and cliffs in front of us. We’d hiked up from a grassy valley to the stone towers and the aptly named ‘Marching Men’ rock formations and then onwards, trudging through beach like sand, passing wind blown sand dunes, delicate curves etched in their crests, and winding twisted junipers, aged and grey.
“War.” replied Violet. “Endless war. The concept of ‘inheriting war’ is so… strange… and sad. That a kid feels he has to go off to war to be a man and have stories to tell about the war because he heard stories from his father…” She trailed off.
“It’s been going on long before this – the Iraq and Afghan and Gulf and Vietnam and Korean wars… and all the little wars in between.” I replied. “Go way back – to the Crusades and such – and you have knights always going off to war and you are either going to be a knight, a farmer or a craftsman. Most people wanted to be knights – to have stories to tell of battle, to have scars… It hasn’t changed much.”
We sat in silence. I thought about a painting I’d painted five or six years before called “Breathing with It” about breathing with the tension, the inner wars and fires and waves that crash upon our mental shores. They all pass. A lot of people could use to learn to breath with the myriad phenomena that come up in their minds.
A stark black raven circled over head and called to another perched on a tall rock tower. The sun slowly circled to the west, We left our perch and climbed higher up on the rounded mounds of red sand stone, shimmering in the sun, the white sandstone glittering and the expanse of Arches National Park spreading out – interconneting cliffs, valleys, red rocks and segment of fingers of rock pointing straight up into the air.
We drove down an eight mile dirt road out to this red rock garden across a wide open grassy plain. We’d left the crowded expanse of the park behind us for this silhouette of fingers rising out of the horizon. Earlier we’d hiked through another massive arch peppered with sweaty tourists, out of breath from the quarter mile hike to the upper lip of the bottom of the arch. We had a plan to go sit on the opposite side of the curving rock wall that connected between the double arch and our choice of sitting spit. The climb down from the lip that most tourists stop at, peer over and gasp at was steep but not unpassable. With our sketchpads and camel packs, we scaled the wall, walked along the lower edge of the towering red rock walls and made our way to the opposite side where we climbed up and sat in the crook of a gorgeous arch that looked some some kind of hugely exaggerated Gaudi arch from Park Guell. It’s column – at least eight feet thick, maybe 24′ circumference – came down and twisted in giant stone chunks to the hot sloping rocks below. We sat there, in the bottom of it’s curving window, in the shade, drawing, laughing, talking and expanding.
I made a trip back along the hot expanse between the two arches and climbed up the other side where I entered back into tourist land. Tourist land in Arches Nat’l Park, Moab, Utah:
I went to our vehicle and drank some ice cold strawberry lemonade (Santa Cruz Organics…. mmmm….), read a passage out of “Training the Mind” by Chogyam Trungpa about the value of effort to overcome laziness and that even with discipline, one still needs to exert a certain amount of effort to put your foot forward, one after the other on the path. Overcoming laziness is the act of engaging our practice and focusing the mind to hold it steady and not veer off course with all the different trains of thought that come up. I though back to the landscape sketch I’d been doing and just how hard that is for me sometimes – to stay focused on drawing the landscape without following my lines into imagination. Just another part of the practice.
A bit more to drink, a bit of reflection and I got some other things needed for a picnic lunch: manchego cheese, herbed salami, an apple, flatbread crackers, cherry tomatoes, a cucumber, a knife and a cutting board, and some Green and Black’s Hazelnut Currant Dark Chocolate and then I made my way back to Violet and our sitting spot. As I passed through the flocks of tourists, I worked hard at not judging what I seemed to immediately perceive as laziness. The overweight seated guy drinking his can of Coke, the parents who keep irresponsibly cranking out the kids, one after the other… all of them on their path, wherever they need to be in that moment. Learning to breathe with it.
I made my way to the first double arch and then, after a climb down, over, across and up (at which point, not paying as close attention as I should be, letting my mind wander a moment, I slipped and took a chunk out of my elbow) Violet and I ate.
We spent some more time drawing and this time I let my hand flow with inspirations from the patterns of the landscape: the streaked rocks, multi-colored by the minerals that have dripped down over them in various patterns and colors of burnt reds, siennas and oranges, yellow ochres, subtle metallic blues and occasional greens, in various sizes and proportions, nooks, crannies and the like and little swallows darting in and out of their homes made in the cliff walls. Their lines of flight made delicate cuts and curves through the air, juxtaposed against the massive tonnage of the rocks that surrounded us, as they darted playfully in and out of the arch we sat in.
Eventually it was time to change our spot and that’s when we opted for the less traveled dirt road across the valley to the distant rock outcroppings, much larger in person than from a distance. Just the day before we’d had an adventure off on some random roads when we’d gone to the Canyolands National Park.
The drive from Arches to Canyonlands was about forty five minutes and that day we went to the Island in the Sky area, the northern half of the park. A mile walk along the canyon rim, further than most visitors traverse, granted us an immaculate view of the layers upon layers of canyon walls, towering rocks and narrow passages that led down down deeper and deeper, deeper and deeper, to the canyon floor and the river far below.
From where we sat, there was no sound – literally: silence. Not a breeze, a bug or an airplane. Just this vastness spreading out before us and the warming silence we breathed in from where we sat under a rock, slanted and providing shade from the hot sun.
We walked back towards our vehicle and then started to make our way along the roads to other view points. Storm clouds were approaching and we stopped at an overlook, hiked out on some smooth boulders and watched the massive rain clouds sweep up through the canyons. Streaks of lightening cracked the sky and we could see the canyon floors getting soaked. The storm passed by us, leaving us dry but windblown. The intensity of the weather – the distant rain, the clouds, the lightening – coupled with the magnificence and colors of the canyon was exhilarating and we left when the sprinkles got a bit more intense and the wind was too strong.
A few more overlook stop and we spotted a dirt road off to our left into a wide open meadow. Why not? We’ve been driving a Toyota Sequoia, a big powerful SUV loaded with all of our stuff – from camping supplies, luggage, to our Bonnaroo art/vending stuff – so we had no concerns about the road. We sped down the orange/red dirt road, listening to some kind Brazilian samba music, across the open meadow, hoping to end up at the bottom of some canyon. The sun came out and the greens popped against the reddish stone backdrops.
Eventually the road twisted, turned, and popped us out at the top of a canyon that was painted with the most intense of colors – a bright turquoise green, deep lines of black, red and purples… the bottom, where a stream trickled, was the same bright turquoise green. We threw a stone in and counted how long til it landed and counted 150 feet to the first ledge before the bottom. We chilled there for a bit – dazzled by the colors of the canyons, made brighter even and more intense by the recent rain storm that had just passed through. As we drove out, we were sent off by a magic sunset over the bright green meadows, wet and sparkling in the sun, and the red rock canyons and spires that spread out to our right.
There is something magical about exploration and finding some unexpected treasure – inspiring beauty, a teaching, love, openness – at the end of that journey.
The next day, when we left the bluffs we’d driven out to in Arches our trail of dust along the dirt road shone gold in in the evening light and the rounded rocky bluffs we left stood tall, silent, and dark, as silent sentinels in the setting sun.
Later, after dinner, the star circled overhead and the fire case and orange glow over us and the rocks surrounding our campsite.
Now we’ve left the tall red sandy spires of Bryce Canyon – looking like drip sand castles on the beach – and are on our way to the Grand Canyon, somewhere I’ve never been and while these kind of places become icons in our minds, sometimes mocked, sometimes poked at, usually known at least in name by all, to stand in their presence, to soak in their memories and color palates, to be inspired by their beauty and grandeur, is as unique an experience as any.
Driving through the mid west there isn’t much to look at. curving sloping fields segmented by barbed wire fences and oaks give way to neighborhoods, shops warehouses and billboards advertising Nostalgia-ville with it’s 50’s and 60’s icons – Elvis, I love lucy, Betty Boop and Scooby Doo – a time they hope to remember as simpler and more innocent. It’s never simpler and innocent. Only different. There were wars and torture and drugs and sex and crime and corporations bent on poisoning the populace in exchange for a hard-earned dollar from father knows best. After Nostalgia-ville, Winery billboards pop up, maybe every tenth billboard, advertising wines – non-organic and not too special. Then we end up back with green wooded areas and cornfields. Endless cornfields. Soon, in the distance, we’ll be in Kansas with it’s own endless horizon of green. For now, wherever we are – Illinois? Indiana? – has become nothing but woods surrounding us.
"The Move Over Law" – a rule we don’t have out in California but I can see the use for. However, I didn’t know about it until a police officer kindly chose to inform us of it on our way from Nashville, TN to Bonnaroo. I’d made it a long ways at that point – all the way from San Diego – without any hassles. Safe driving, usually over the speed limit (except in Arizona where the red light camera are waiting at, seemingly, every curve to pop you and send a ticket your way). In Little Rock, AR I picked up Violet perfectly on time, right as she landed at the airport. She’d had final exams to finish, was without much sleep and I drove us to Nashville where we found a hotel. The next day, after going grocery shopping at the Whole Foods and breakfast at the Waffle House (not an ideal choice) we were on our way to Bonnaroo, early Wednesday afternoon, perfectly according to plan.
I started noticing unmarked SUVs sitting every mile or so as we got closer to Manchester and we knew they were keeping an eye on all traffic. One pulled out as I passed him and I could feel him waiting for me to do something, anything. With out packed vehicle and California plates, we were a prime target. So we pass a pulled over police car searching someone and the lights go on. WTF? I say. I’d had the cruise control set to the speed limit so I wasn’t even a mile over.
The cop sidles up to the passenger door, tells us about the move over law and asks for some papers… So next thing I’m in back talking to the cop about how we don’t have that in CA and he’s asking about our business here – vending, art, etc – and what that’s all about.
No drugs? Guns? You’re not on probation?
No sir. (Of course not)
And if I brought the dogs around they wouldn’t get anything?
No sir. (yeesh!)
Well, see we don’t mind if people smoke for personal use but we are looking for quantity – weight. People coming out as "vendors" and then selling drugs.
I don’t even smoke pot (which is true!)
Can you open the back of your vehicle?
So i pop open the back and he can see that it is packed full tight. Who the hell would want to search that? I happen to have some small prints accessible and show him. I’m sure his mind goes to some interesting places but we check out so he sends us off with a warming ticket. Cool. Nice. Very little hassle.
So that was a new law and we were sure to tell some of our friends who were on their way. And now, with this long drive homewards, we see the "move-over" sign often when entering a new state and we’re sure to get over.
When we left Bonnaroo there were no SUVs looking for anyone (tho we did see a few people getting heavily patted down) and we collapsed at a Comfort Inn just north of Nashville. The next morning (because bedtime was 6pm or something) we went downtown to get some work done. Downtown Nashville isn’t, in my humble opinion, much to speak about. It was also mad packed with the Country Music Awards which we didn’t [plan to stick around for. Good stuff for those who like it. Anyways, we both had some things to finish – me entering data and emails from Bonnaroo and Violet still had a lingering paper to finish. We sat at a Panera Cafe, had some lunch (salad) some green tea and worked.
Outside the sunny day quickly turned dark. We heard talk of tornado warnings. The dark sky turned a deep charcoal grey and rain came down in sheets. We decided that leaving soon wasn’t an option and waited it out. Waited a little longer and the whole thing passed by – no tornado in downtown Nashville that day but it was quite a storm. We got back on the road as soon as possible, heading north east to Campbellsville, KY, a little town in the middle of not a whole lot and home of Violet’s Dad and (somewhat) younger brother.
We spent the next few days canoeing, kayaking and watching movies. The first night we went out for some decent Mexican food and then spent the night (and the next few) at a (very) nearby motel. "Lucky Vista" motel. The vista however was warehouses that cut the view between the hills and the observer and the subtitle sign to the main sign said "American Owned" " Country Charm". As if being American Owned makes a difference. I don’t care much one way or another who owns a place – if the person is compassionate, kind, caring, generous and patient (and at least semi-intelligent), then they get my business. The Comfort Inn we’d just stayed at was run by a couple who was of Middle Eastern descent. The woman told us she was from Riverside, CA and had lived in Nashville for 6 years and her daughter loved it. They were as American as anyone else I’ve met. Just because homeboy has a southern drawl, a pick up truck, and a shock of blond hair that doesn’t make him any more or less American than so many others.
And I could never judge someone on their race – whether running a hotel or not. Like I said, their compassion outweighs their skin color by infinite amounts considering that skin color amounts to zero in my book and compassion and wisdom are just about everything. Las night we spent the night at a Best Western. It was the last choice since everywhere else was full. We’d ended up in southern Illinois looking for a place to spend the night. Everywhere we went – right off the highway anyhow – was full. Turns out there was a giant amusement park right there. Holiday World. For people who it doesn’t take much to entertain. Anyhow, we get there at like 12:30am and finally get a room (last one and this is the third hotel tried) and we get to our room (pretty comfy) and the neighboring room to our right is a family that is arguing itself to hell. CRAZY! So a phone call to the front desk and it doesn’t end. That’s what you get amping kids up on caffeine and sugar water – i mean – soda. It’s nuts but we wear earplugs. We wake to the same thing. NUTS! So As I’m checking out I’m sort of filing a complaint with the front desk. It’s two older ladies and they say they’ll need to talk to the manager.
The point of this story is that his skin is just as dark as the extremely nice couple who ran the Comfort Inn but he is telling me "What can you do?". But we all know that if it were a bunch of partying kids, they would have been booted. But an arguing family? They should be booted too. Society shouldn’t be so accepting of such crude behavior. After some discussing and seeing that we won’t leave him alone, he tells the computer-inept front desk woman to give us a 10% discount. The point of this story is that, had he some compassion, he would have acted differently. Compassion is as non-skin color specific as being American or Indian or French.
That sense of compassion extends to Jarrod, Violet’s brother, recusing the dragon fly that had found itself drowning in the wide flowing river as we canoed downstream it. It’s wings fluttering, slowly drowning. We were in a canoe and a fair bit less maneuverable – at least for ourselves who aren’t super adept at watercraft. Jarrod, in his Kayak, paddled over and rescued the guy from the water. It was about 6 inches long and a beautiful yellow and black. Dragonflies had been landing on us and around us all day – buzzing through the air and tracing arcs and curves along the snaking Green River.
The river was pretty high for the time of the year but rain had been coming down off an on for days and now it’d cleared and the bright sunny day, big lazy clouds drifting overhead, and the multi-colored temperate rainforest of the Kentucky woodlands on either side of us. Occasionally we’d pass farmland or cows grazing or pass under some old rickety bridge but for the most part it was just us, gently avoiding the trees hanging over the water or the logs sticking up from below, startling great blue herons who would come swooping out of the trees and soar further upstream and hawks who would pass overhead. Dozens of little birds of various shades of brown and black, variously striped and the occasional cardinal would dart out over the churning water.
We came upon a thirty foot waterfall stretching along about twenty feet – in alternating sections of water, moss, and dangling vines dotted with pink and white flowers. We passed it by, a memory of the river. There wasn’t really stopping and once you’d passed it, on the river, there was no going back. The river flowed at a fair clip and it took a bit of effort to travel upstream.
Eventually, sun-kissed and satisfied, we reached our stopping point, where we’d left one car to shuttle us back to the beginning. The big oaks and sycamore dappled in sunlight – golden green and glowing – fluttered in the evening breeze and we drove back to the beginning, passing rolling Kentucky farmland, little houses and weathered red barns.
I left Violet at the lodge where her other philsophy friends from UCSD and UCI were having a sort of informal conference and drove up the road a piece to the Fuller Ridge Trail – drove up a twisting dirt road and parked at a gate. I started hiking… p and up. Into the still silence of nature abounding where there is no stillness but no incogruous sound, nthing is out of place. Bird song, bird anser. A woodpecker in the distance and another bird that zooms past me at breakneck speed. I sat for a while. Feeling my heart beating. My breath breathing. My joints and fingers and feet.
I hiked further and higher… into groves of towering Douglas Firs with long striations of bark in several dozen shades of brown and red and tan. I stood up close to it, my face inches from the bark and breathed in the musky woody scent, mingled with the cold mountain air. I felt it’s tall peace and, as I stood there, felt myself – the roots and branches and leaves and fruits of my being stretching to the sun and the center of the earth. Maybe I looked like the "tree-hugger" type but that issuch a misunderstood idea. A "tree-hugger" gets hugged back as well – bt beyond that I felt like i was meditating there with this tree that was more than several hundred years old. It’s bark attested to fires and storms that it has weathered – knobs and gnarls of knotted wood giving away where a brach was blown free in the wintertime and charred edges and the cetner charring – a tunnel within the tree that has been charred and blackened. I felt it and tasted it an thanked it. And moved on. I stuck my hand in the snow and stopped now and again to let my footsteps catch up with myself. And in that moment – the moment of being caught up – i found a center – and ever evolving moving changing and constant center.
I kept going. I was getting a bt light-headed- hungry maybe, low blood sugar, tired, maybe it was the altitutde but I hadn’t see my "spot" yet. I always find a "spot", a place to stop and brath and feel everything a place that is high up and I can feel all of the elements at once. I’d stopped at a few rock outcroppings and a few tall trees but they hadn’t been :"it" but then as I rounded a corner I saw an angled granite face lit by the sun and looking out on who knew what. I understood that to be y stopping point. There is never a destination – the journey and discoveries along way are all the purpose – but sometimes we find a spot – a place where we find ourselves a little more, a little deeper.
I climbed up atop that collection of giant boulders and had the valley and mountains spread out before me, dropping off steeply, surrounded by Douglas firs and other pines and brush, the clouds rolling away over head, a cold wind sweeping up from below and a warm sun that would peek out every now and again. All of life circling grandly and lovingly – look at us! feel us! feel yourself – my breath, my body, my spirit, my mind, my soul, my everything – all of this one vision, one illusion, one thought, one breath. I sighed a long long sigh, allowing for the fact that I would soon find myself back in my studio, back before my desk r my canvas. But I take a piece of back with me and I leave a piece of myself here.
After a while, I knew it was time to turn back. The wind and cold were beginning to bite and their bites were no longer playful. My light headedness had returned and it was still a five mile hike back. So I turned and ran, hopped, walked, hiked and occasionally cut between the switchbacks and took a tumbling gait down the arid sandy soil of sand and pine needles and dried oak leaves. I breahted, smiled, sighed and returrned to the car. Listening to Sun Electric’s 30.7.94 album I drove to a little general store, picked up a Cabernet and drove back in the setting sun, as it cast it’s glow over the pine, turning them a golden green, to the lodge where dinner would soon be served.
I was recently talking with a friend about a few different businesses he is involved with. I’m not going to say what businesses or which friend as I don’t want to personalize it or create a sense of scapegoating. One business he spoke of as having a model based on a local/eco-friendly approach. Conversely, other business interests of his had no such vision. In this case the local/eco-friendly approach is done based simply on economic sense. People like to pay a higher price for the local/eco-friendly business instead of from a different business that doesn’t take the same sustainable approach. Being eco-friendly, in this case, is a matter of capitalist convenience. If more product could be sold by not being eco-friendly, such as other business interests of this same person, then there wouldn’t be a point in being eco-friendly in the first place.
It’s difficult for me to want to support such businesses. I have various reasons for wanting to support local, eco-friendly businesses when I can and if it’s not a local business then I hope for it to be conscious about it’s environmental impact and ecological footprint. The world is getting more crowded every day with fewer natural resources to sustain our consumption heavy lifestyles and the effects of our rampant consumerism are being felt in every corner of the globe. To take responsibility for this and change our business practices because it makes ethical sense rather than business sense is an important distinction.
I realize there are a lot of businesses who see the eco-friendly market as a giant cash cow eagerly being let to slaughter and I am glad for those businesses who at least make an effort to engage in sounder environmental practices, for whatever reason. However, it feels sometimes like people are simply waiting for when they are allowed go back to consuming willy-nilly at a discounted price with disregard for the consequences. Ignorance is easy while being responsible for our actions take more effort.
I’ve read about people claiming that this “recession”, this “economic slump” has gotten them to consume less. They are cutting back here or there; less buying, more repairing what they’ve got. Great! We’re being a little more frugal with our natural resources. But is this a period of agreed upon abstaining from gluttonous consumption or simply a forced diet that, the minute the economic tourniquet is lifted, the masses flood back to the stores in energy hungry vehicles and wallets burning holes in their pockets?
I go back to my friend – engaging in an eco-friendly business on the one hand because it is the business model of that enterprise and working on more environmentally mindless projects on the other hand because they make money and being eco-friendly is not a part of that business model. In my own opinion, any possible positive results of the first are outweighed by the disregard for responsibility of the other. At heart, he is a capitalist first and a responsible citizen of the earth second.
We are all in this together, as we like to remind ourselves over and over. Capitalism is about stepping on heads, deregulating trade, and every man for himself using whatever is a viable business model to get ahead. It’s ugly, destructive, and unsustainable. I welcome compassionate alternatives. An environmentally conscious business model is one that takes stock of it’s ecological footprint and does it’s best to trim the excess and find sustainable solutions not because it makes economic sense but because it makes ethical sense. When we look inside and examine those choices in the light of Awareness, hopefully they make it burn a little brighter, stretching our compassionate heart just a little wider. There is no room for compassion in a capitalism. Capitalism hardens our hearts. It’s hard to be compassionate when we know that our paycheck was earned by poisoning the planet just a little bit more. It’s always our choice and I’m hopeful that the compassionate spirit wins out, learns from it’s mistakes, and creates a healthier environment.
Pausing, resting, stopping for a moment is when I have a chance to notice the silhouette of the sandpiper standing on a rock, dark against the blue of the sky reflected in the tide pool. It is when I see the glowingly green stone almost hidden by the ripples of the water and catch a glimpse of a magenta bodied starfish – its white dots like rows of little stars – clustered with three other starfish under an overhanging ledge of rock, peppered with barnacles. Some barnacles are the size of my big toe, others more the size of the nail of my little toe and the cliff hanging living – compact and confined, clustered tightly – blue lips of thousands of mussels. In the watery pools the anemone softly wave their blue green tendrils – a sort of fluorescent flower under the sea. Above the water, they have turned to gloppy blob like things speckled with the bits and pieces of broken shells and sand all clinging to them. When you see rocks stretching out in front of you with this blanket of shell particles it is not to be stepped upon. This is merely the pieced together shell of dozens of anemone, all clustered together, one after the other, in sprawling communities. Who am I to not want to also live in the sprawl? Perhaps sprawl is a natural occurrence. The only difference between the vast sprawling wasteland – I mean Irvine and Orange County – just northeast of me – and this is that this plays an integral part in the workings of a healthy ecosystem. Conversely, that spreading cancerous growth that is modern day living consumes and consumes and consumes in a seemingly never-ending power struggle and the waste? Plastic, toxins, runoff, etc… Garbage and poison. So. It’s the toxic nature of that sprawl that doesn’t excite me, the part that isn’t much like these rocks and pools and communities of sea life spreading out in front of me.
So I wander further down the beach, [picking up a shell and marveling at the intricate complexity of the lines of the rocks like giant shards poking up through the sand, rubbed and caressed into sinewy lines by years of ocean currents. Blues that merge into green that follow a line into a pool. In the pool is a rock with an orange glow and speckled with a pink coral sort of growth. The pink only glows when it is wet. If I take the rock home to admire it on my mantel, the pink will fade and I’ll be left with an orange rock and memory. So after admiring it for a while, turning it over in my hand and loving the way the sun through the water through the rock creates this glow in my hand, I place it back into the pool, where it settles in amongst the snails and seaweed.
The seaweed lines every pool and there are several main types – some grassy hair like stuff, a sort of red lacey type that lines the edges of many of the pools and some others of various sizes. The way the water magnifies the lacey one – calling to attention each little fold and fleck – is lovely. Lovely.
Waves crash on the rocks in front of me and I step back so the water that comes in with that wave doesn’t wash over my feet. The sun sparkles over the surface of the water in front of me and I stretch my arms wide to feel the wind that comes in from that vast unknown world – the above and below – the wind and sea- the salt on the air and the sun in my eyes, warming my bare arms.
Sitting, painting while window is open letting in cool breeze and the sounds of a dozen bird songs all singing about the rain last night; the sound of drip drip dripping off the roof onto leaves of plants and the tarp covering the pots. The sunlight, busting through an opening in the clouds shines at a direct angle, through the hanging and dangling purple leaves of the wandering jew and the faded creeping charlie, into my studio window. The waxy leaves have been dappled in drops of water, each one refracting the sunlight like a gemstone. The leaves of the sapote, now five feet tall in it’s pot, sway a little and, next to the purple of the wandering jew, and with the sunlight radiating through it’s leaves, it is a rich golden green. The nasturtiums along the edge of the yard all glow with the life of fresh rain coursing through their leaves. Everything sighs and expands. The birds twitter and swoop to a nearby telephone line gaining a better view of the fresh post-rain day. I return to my canvas letting these rhythms be my soundtrack.
I have heard people comment on the "graphical" nature of my work. This, I believe, refers to the use of flat spaces of color, a kind of layering effect that happens, and a sort of montage-like layout. I tend to look at nature, art, and architecture, with a sense of looking at it’s base structure and interaction of lines – it’s iconographic quality. An icon is a visual representation of an idea in a simplified form so that it’s most relevant points are amplified and it evokes a feeling or sensation that is more broadly felt than the feeling or sensation that is evoked by a detailed drawing of a thing. The danger of a detailed drawing is that we all begin to have different relations to the idea of that thing, the more detailed it gets. There is a great book about by artist Scott Mccloud in which he talks about this phenomenon of breaking down ideas into an abstract simplified format in order to speak of a deeper, broader sense of it. That book is Understanding Comics – The Invisible Art and I will leave it to him to dive into that realm.
In any case, when I am looking, say, the art of the Ancient Egyptians or Mayans or Romans, I am looking at the visual language used to explain their ideas and their relationship to the world around themselves, through their iconography. This language took shape in their structures, sculpture, and artwork and, when I am digesting it, I’m not necessarily looking at the thing itself- the stone look, the shading of the sun, the moss in the cracks (although these things are certainly taken into account). Instead, I’m breaking down at the visual language the artist was using – the squarish spiral of the Maya or angle of conjunction of a pyramid. This is, to me, the most interesting part of looking at artwork – ancient or modern. Not how the paint fell on the canvas but the shape and form the artist was using to convey their ideas.
Similarly, I look at the natural world in the same way. The clouds, trees, leaves, and birds all speak the same visual language in their inter-relatedness and share in a sort of dialogue of shapes. When I experience them, I experience a whole sort of iconic language – a living dialogue of ideas. In the same way, my memories and thoughts all communicate through the same use of interrelated ideas of things and not the things themselves. For example – the memory of this event or that event becomes an abstract idea in our minds represented by something – a color, a shape, a series of lines – and that idea becomes a signpost for our identity to trace itself around. Our entire sense of self is made up of these icons – like symbols in a book – but instead of letters and numbers it is sort of a pictoral multi-sensory language that is used to speak around and contribute to our sense of identity. Out of that we say – I am this person or that person.
Returning to my artwork, I tend towards exploring these ideas of things rather than the things themselves with a liberal sense of shading and realism/fabulism. Through the use of a sort of realist iconography I speak through a language, a visual representation, of abstract ideas, concepts and actions. I can create, in that blending of concepts, an alchemical transmutation of one set of abstract ideas – broken down to their barest symbols – a line, a spiral – a new idea or concept of something. And I hope, my intention in that creation, is that the new vision is healthier, more sustaining and more solid than anything that has come before it.
Something I’ve picked up from studying all kinds of art work – from Greene and Greene’s architecture to Dali’s paintings to roman architecture to well, most of the great artists is the "interrupted line". I don’t know if this is an actual term in the art world or in the academies of art but it is something quite real and valid.
It is a situation in which the eye follows the line to a point where, th line is interrupted and "raised" in some way by a degree, However, it can go much further than that even – by "line" I intend as much the basic line that never continues to be simply linear but ti break and drop or raise, to collections of lines, figures, etc – a whole vision that progresses by degrees to unfold before us. I don’t think I can find any literature on this or anything of the sort and perhaps I wil get to writing more on the subject at a later time. it is a curious thing tho- something that makes a visual reprentation more interesting. In nature, nothing is purely linear – the arcs and spirals of the world intermingle with no straight shots.
There is one image in paricular that comes to mind when I think about Dali in relation to this concept. It is a corner of the mural that is painted on the ceiling of the Dali Theater-Museum in Figueres. There is an angel or some figure with sort of flowing but tattering robes that is reaching up towards the heavens with a long trumpet and it’s back to the viewer. But as the eye follow up the figure, there seems to be this breaking apart and there is another angel reaching through this one with another trumpet whose trumpet is exactly where the first angel’s trumpet ought to be. Now, it dosn’t necessarily translate well here, but there is something beautifully unexpected about that composition. In this way, the expected linear quality of the angel with the trumpet is interrupted by another angel that passes through it and, yet, when one looks at it and considers the entire composition, not one element seems out of place or incongruous with the whole.
A straight line, as the eye follows it, begins to leave less and less to be expected as it’s consistency is prolonged by it’s length. The interruption should both be at a place that is proportionately sound with the rest of the composition as well as being a place that is unexpected yet, strangely perfect. Consider sound – the general sounds of the day. even that becomes a sort of linear pattern until the bird song interupts it all of a sudden with a trill and a dip or something. Our own minds what to do this as well. Our minds don’t want linear worlds. They want orchestras that have both a definite direction as well as unexpected overtures.
or… "What works and what doesn’t"
In art as in life, there is no right and wrong, good and bad, etc. There is only what works and what doesn’t. Just as in life, there is that which is incongruous to our spirits and that which is beneficial to a compositionally balanced life. Daily yoga works quite well. Daily drunkenness doesn’t work very well at all. Spirit works within the rhythm of life to the degree that it creates something balanced and harmonically correct. When we choose to engage Spirit in that act of co-creation we are asking it to allow us to to participate in that compositional choice.
Nature is a perpetual ebb and flow of balance. Even the it’s most seemingly incongruous actions are still within it’s own compositional boundaries, standing out more as contrast or flourish than incongruity. Consider the platypus or the Galapagos Islands or the insanely structured flowers of the rainforest or the proportions of the horse or giraffe. All of these are balanced in relation to their landscape and, at that, to the general laws of our natural world. As such, they are put together and placed quite nicely. Some of natures creations may seem to be on the extreme end of things but nature is a dance of extremes; it pushes the envelope. A sunset can go from intensely sublime to intensely powerful, and the ocean can be a placid pool or a raging torrent. The only boundaries are the general laws of this physical world. However, we can only perceive that which is encountered by our five senses. Who knows what other levels of color, sensation and form there are beyond the boundaries of those sensations – even beyond the machinery and measuring devices we make which are simply extensions, to however fine a degree, of these senses. Who knows what dimensions, perceptions, spectrums we are missing out on. But who cares what we’re missing – let’s be where we ARE.
So, with nature, if we engage it as co-creator, we can create a more balanced flowing life and, in doing so, can create balanced, more beautiful artwork. Art is both a mirror and extension of that balance. The greatest works of art, no matter how compositionally insane – the madness of Jackson Pollock or the surrealist dreams of Salvador Dali, still possess a sense of balance and, whether beknownst to the artist or not, are an act of being in the process of co-creation with nature. The artist gives his or her mind over to that process and, in doing so, opens up to being a channel for spirit. By being a channel, I do not mean that something else is creating and simply passing through us. We are creating and, in so doing, are opening ourselves to the energy of creation. We are not separate from Spirit or anything else. When we become a channel, in it’ clearest sense, it is much like a prism taking the very white light of the sun and refracting multi-colored rainbows. When we approach our lives with this sense of clarity, the clear light of wisdom passes through us creating a visible harmony. The perspectives are correct. The colors work together. The shading and placement of objects are complimentary, even in their contrasts. We follow the creative process intuitively – the lines, the breaks, the color palate. We are the guides for the light that comes through us and we are asking it to trust us – we know what we are doing, even if, intellectually, we have no words for it.
When there is an ease and flow to our work, our arms and back are relaxed and our bodies move, ever so subtly with the brushstrokes. We shift our weight to allow for the relaxed movement of the brush the way that a plant ever so slowly turns towards the sun, not all at once or just with one leaf but with it’s entire body. Even our breathing must be even and steady for, whether we are painting the nipple of the divine mother or the muddied footprint in the corner of the canvas, it is all the same divine manifestation of Spirit and deserves the same focused attention, the same care of creation.
It is through a lack of awareness of this sort of co-creative process that we have gotten into the mess that we are in today. Art created in harmony with Spirit can, perhaps, have some deeper effect on those who see it as it brings up both a sense of harmony within the viewer and an understanding of where they don’t exist in harmony with the world around them. This isn’t to say that the clear cutting logger is going to suddenly drop his chain saw but that the rippling effect of living by example, of manifesting harmony into the world can, slowly but surely, help to bring it into balance.
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