Making art is exploration. It is the act of becoming. We take what we have inside and bear witness to its messy beginnings, the warp and woof of it’s threads and momentums, and weave it together to make the most beautiful vision we can – the most precious thing – of the art which is ours. And even that which is “ugly” can still be the most beautiful if done with love. It all leads back to that.
All of life is art. The act of life is art. Whatever is the thing which makes your soul sing, that is your art and when you do it well – when you preform your art – you feel alive. This is what art-making is. It is to be alive. It is practicing our own ever-becoming selves of this ever-becoming now.
Here are some words from Kurt Vonnegut to an elementary school that invited him to speak, as he was their favorite author. (Note: he is one of my own favorite authors as well.)
“Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:
I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.
What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience BECOMING, to find out what’s inside you, TO MAKE YOUR SOUL GROW.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.
Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but RHYMED. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?
Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.
God bless you all!
– Kurt Vonnegut”
PS: Kurt Vonnegut was awesome. :)
We were in a gallery in Lahaina on Maui. The gallery had an interesting cross section of work – lithographs and etchings from Chagall, Rembrandt, Dali, Picasso, even Albrecht Drurer (etchings not lithos!). Amongst these pieces was a smattering of work by other artists who I have never heard of. Paintings of elephants, polar bears, Hawaiian sunsets, modern impasto kind of figurative works. Gallery stuff.
In one room – where the walls were painted charcoal instead of cream and above these large paintings of faces – messy sloppy things looking like they were done with tempera and fingers – Anthony Hopkins’ name was emblazoned in silver.
A salesperson was exclaiming to the couple that seemed interested in the art, “Anthony Hopkins has moved out of the realm of ‘celebrity artist’ and into a whole new category of artist. Purchasing one of his pieces is like purchasing a piece from Dali in his own lifetime – while he was alive and making art!” The salesperson was so EXCITED about this – comparing Anthony Hopkins the actor-turned-artist to Dali. Or was he just in on the joke…
This is what the masses – this hapless couple who don’t know a Drurer etching from one by Rembrandt – are sold as ART. They look around for something they can afford – something to take home with them. They want to buy some ART. So they ask the salesperson. The salesperson convinces them of the INVESTMENT potential. This is something truly of value. The couple doesn’t know why they feel uncomfortable. They don’t get why they feel empty inside. Perhaps that’s what art is supposed to make you feel…
This is what people are fed to buy mediocre art. It’s a money game – this con game – and it made me once again think, “God, I hate art.”
Don’t get me wrong, in the same gallery there were some lovely pieces from modern creators – sculptors, painters, etc – but Anthony Hopkins and the pedestal upon which he’d been placed… Now you might like this piece. That’s totally ok! However, when the selling point is the name of the creator and not the creation itself, then the work loses any semblance of real meaning and turns into commodity, just more stuff to pass between each other.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps his work really does stand there next to Dali. Perhaps someday I will have to eat my words. With some fava beans. And a nice chianti.
With these big paintings I paint – with all of their delicate line work, their careful plotting, and intuitive yet thought-out color choices – I try to strike the fine balance between careful planning and spontaneity. Yet, when I look at the works of Monet or Boccioni, I see in the seeming spontaneous brushstrokes – the dabs and daubs of paint – an emotional/creative process that I also love and strive for. These other paintings work with that as much as anything else.
I look forward to sharing some of these pieces – works that I’ve never shown in public places before – and allowing for others to get a deeper glimpse into my creative process. It’s not all careful lines. Sometimes it’s jut dabbing and daubing and random patterns. Out of that murky and frantic fire of creativity, one never knows what might arise.
I have finally returned home after being away for a month in and about Northern California. Towards the end of the trip I went up to Trinity County, invited by my friend Johnathan Singer, a video projections artist whose been playing with my work lately. I attended the Trinity Tribal Stomp, a small festival in the woods surrounded by the Trinity Alps. Here is a picture of the painting I made over the course of those two evenings:
Yes, so, on a theme… I’ve been doing more live painting lately. I’ve called myself “The Reluctant Live Painter” although perhaps a more apropos title would be “The Distracted Live Painter”. What can I say: I like parties and sometimes I’d rather be dancing and playing than painting. I spend a lot of time listening to music and painting – completely absorbed by the nuances and colors. Admittedly, parties and events can be a tad noisy for the live painting thing. In any case – I decided on a new flow a while back for painting at events. I wanted to create larger pieces that focused more on rhythm, gesture, and style rather than detail. So much of my work is very detail oriented. It’s very precise and structured, even in it’s looseness. I enjoy flowing and spontaneous brushstrokes and the quick no-thought painting process. I have found that, if i set the space right on the canvas and have a general plan, then it goes really well. In a sense, it’s like jazz music: there is a general form in the beginning but then it’s riffing and exploring and tangentializing on different ideas and melodies. I just want it to end up in the seat of the Divine in the end.
So here is a painting I’ve worked on at a few different events in the past few months. I started it at a Greensector/Moontribe party in February at Area 33 in LA, worked on it at a couple of Artwalks in Downtown LA at Temple of Visions Gallery, and then last worked on it at a party up in Malibu. The painting is based on a drawing I made in 2003 @ my first Burning Man. The theme that year was Beyond Belief and, after I’d spent the night roaming and exploring, I sat down in Center Camp at sunrise to the beautiful sitar music of my friend Rik Shiraj, a master sitar player. I spent the morning drawing to his beautiful music. He passed onwards this past winter and I decided that it was time to finally paint this sketch…
I have two upcoming events I’d like to share with you.
St. Petersburg, FL
November 11, 2010
I am speaking and presenting artwork at an art event in St. Petersburg, FL this weekend. I will be talking about the lineage of Visionary Art – the roots of this unique an truly spiritual artwork that we create. There will also be an art show, a party, and other presenters as well, including my friend and artist Adam Scott Miller.
You can find out more about the event and purchase tickets here: 1111event.org.
Catalysts: MAPS Conference and Party
Los Angeles, CA
December 10 – 12, 2010
Held concurrently at Temple of Visions Gallery and the Downtown Independent Theater, this conference feautures talks given by leading researchers in the field of theraputic and research oriented use of psychedelics. The talks includes such luminaries as Stanislav Grof, Rick Doblin, and many more. I am curating a show at the Temple of Visions gallery featuring collections of work from Amanda Sage, Martina Hoffman, and myself. The intention of the show is to give a deeper look into the spiritual journey of the artist.
Tickets and information can be found here: http://maps.org/catalysts
Prints of the painting to the left, “Unmasking: The Deeper We Dig, the Higher We Rise”, are being offered through MAPS with proceeds to benefit research projects that MAPS sponsors.
Prints are $350, including shipping.
If you are interested in supporting MAPS and purchasing a print for yourself or as a gift, please send an email to:
Director of Field Development
for more information.
Not too long ago I boarded a very crowded train on its way to San Diego and sat down next to a young woman of 20 or 21 or so. We started talking. She was on her way to meet with her church group and that they would be going to Haiti to help build houses. I had this mental picture of a continually revolving door through which an army of volunteer workers had passed over the past year. Better to build homes than hand out solar-powered bibles (yes… a group did that).
In any case, she asked what I did and I showed her some of my work. Inspired, she steered the conversation towards the obvious spiritual components of the paintings, asking me many pointed questions about my background, my intentions, etc. None of it came off as judgmental – just curious. She was very interested in what seemed to her to be an obvious connection with spirit while not proclaiming any religion system.
Eventually it came around to: “Well, do you believe in heaven? Where do you think we go when we die?”
I thought about it for a moment. I grew up in a very traditional Roman Catholic family. We had a clear direction; the same direction she believed herself to be taking – Heaven, home of God the Father.
I replied, in so many words:
The truth is, no one really knows what comes after we die. We have many people who have told us many stories and those stories are all based on that particular cultures value systems and the perspective of the storyteller. We don’t have any actual tangible proof one way or another. It’s all part of our glorious imagination. People have these near death experiences – who is to say if it is fact or fiction? Imagination or concrete truth? I have had dreams that were so incredibly real and yet have also believed myself to be remembering something that didn’t happen as I remembered it. So It’s hard to say what is actually real.
It’s best, I think, to start from the here and now. Essentially, everyone just wants to be happy, healthy, maintain a sense of freedom. So hopefully we do things with our lives that nourish that in ourselves as well as others. You know: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That sort of thing. In doing so, we create a certain momentum with our lives and our mental states.
Now, all of reality is perceived by our five senses in a certain way. We perceive a slice of it that our eyes and ears and tongues and so on all lock into place because that is the aspect that we experience and our brain, our conscious and subconscious mind, makes up stories around it. It’s the very visceral human experience. Of this vast sea of energy that exists around us, we perceive a very specific layer of it that we interact with. Our bodies too are a part of that perception. When we follow down the smaller and smaller workings of everything it is all very intricate and amazing. But we will always ever find the part that our senses and the extensions of those senses, can perceive. Everything else is supposition, story, extrapolation.
So there is this sea of energy and we are passing through it, from moment to moment, with a certain driving momentum. For some it is greed. For some it is lust. For some it is love. For some it is to see how much they can give. For some it is simply an ever changing state of happiness. And then, at some point, our physical body is snuffed out.
I really do believe there is a “spirit” of some sort or another – something that continues on after the physical body dies. It is whatever exists outside of – like an extension of – the physical body that we perceive. It is the momentum of our mortal life that propels this “spirit” onwards. The mental state of hell (and it exists most certainly) will propel one onwards into deeper layers of “hell” – whether it be flaming demons or reincarnations or levels of the underworld or whatever. It just continues. The same goes for the mental state of heaven. Then there is another mental state: just being, dissolving, continuously.
However, everyone, after death, I think, dissolved back into this ocean, moving along on their currents according to their momentum and, maybe, at some point, these currents surface again as bodies somewhere in some state of being, in this ocean of energy, should that momentum continue to propel it, like some current in the ocean.
So, she said to me when I was finished, do you believe in God?
I replied: If I were to call something “god”, I would call that vast ocean of energy “God”.
She thought about that for a moment and suggested that God was a specific being, somewhere, somehow, looking out for us.
But, I posited, that is to create separation. I am here, he is there. That sort of thing. There is just one vast ocean of energy that has neither beginning nor end. In the Gospel of Thomas (and I shared a bit about the Council of Nicea and how a specific story was desired to be told and other gospels were abandoned) Jesus is quoted as saying “Raise the stone and there you will find me; cleave the wood and there I am.” Link which is to say: God is in all things. God is in me. God is in you. God is in your finger. God is your fingernail. God is the dirt under it. God is everything. So, yes, you could say that I believe in “God”, that I believe in “Heaven” and that I believe in “Hell”. But I also believe that they are all constructs of our very vivid human imaginations and our somewhat more nebulous subconsciousness as it strives to create a sense of safety and identity.
The best thing to do, time and again, is to go back to that golden truth: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. All beings simply desire to be happy. So the very best we can do is to help ourselves (since we would like that as well) and others to experience that. And the best way to do that is to continually examine our motives, our methods, our means, and push ourselves and our egos and our hearts and our minds in whatever method or way presents itself towards further growth and ego-disolusionment.
Sardines in an artichoke and baby portabella-laden red sauce, simmering upon the stove turned into a dinner of rich worth with greetings from the depths and counterpoints. The gradations of reds that twisted in and out of the dappled oil bits of artichoke mushroom roasted red pepper layered over slices of golden polenta all sank into my mouth and over my tongue in a daring dance of making-my-eyes-roll-into-the-back-of-my-head yumminess. That was a beginning.
Sometime around 11pm the next day, after love, laughter, light, and dark, I went to bed.
Upon the altar, a wood shelf of relatively classic lines sticking out from the wall about five or six inches and not more than two feet wide, above my desk, this wide oak drafting table from which I look upon my world and see, mostly, when I look up, a wall not three feet from my face with this altar, is a large amethyst chunk, given to me by a dear friend. It sparkles in purple mathematical crystalline reflection. The friend who gave it to me, as a birthday gift I think, tends to traverse the same purple wavelengths that one might imagine the amethyst travels and when I think of her, it’s not hard to imagine amethyst. Around the half inch thick piece of calcite the amethyst sits upon, are a handful of double terminated quartz crystals, given to me at the wedding of two other friends. To either side of these are two small figures.
On the left is the Buddha. This Buddha, carved from some dark wood, is the Thai Theravada-style buddha with long narrow arms and a thin face in calm repose, watching the breath, symbolizes the calm and graceful unfolding slowly from within doing the same dance he has always done. This buddha was given to me by another dear friend. This person lives in the land from whence this buddha came, exploring just what it means to be truly happy. True happiness is not an easy thing to come by and, at the same time, is the easiest thing in the world. This friend, he seems to be doing a fine job of it.
To the other side of the amethyst, almost equidistance as the Buddha, is Sparkles Brown, a small figure made from sparkly fimo. He is about three and a half inches high, has creamy white sparkly pants, gold sparkly shoes that match his gold sparkly hat in the shape of a small morning glory perched delicately upon his head and, upon his brown shirt, a gold star. His two gold dots of eyes and one thin golden smile look at me with the kind of simple happiness and love that is devoid all the stories as to why we love. He too was given to me by a dear friend. This dear friend made him for me just before she left to visit a friend of her own with whom she shares a deep connection. This friend who gave me Sparkles Brown also happens to be my wife.
Moving out to either side of the altar: crystals, gifts of stones from the universe and friends, a scorpion suspended in acrylic, a half geode found on the shore of a lake in Kentucky while canoeing, three thin golden snail shells in descending size from pet aquarium snails, shells with noteworthy lines found on a sea shore, other bits of sacred detritus, and, finally, two small framed photos, flanking the altar.
On the one side, the right side where Sparkles Brown keeps watch, is a small easel, a very small easel, upon which is a little glass frame and in the little glass frame is a picture of me at, maybe, age 2. I am a chubby little boy sitting on a swing set and the picture has that yellowed slightly faded look of the mid 1970’s. I am sitting there in my diaper, laughing and squinting, eyes half-closed in the daytime sun: half closed because my smile is so large. The smile would come and go and come again, as smiles do, but I’ve never quite stopped squinting.
On the left side of the altar is another picture – this one framed vertically and there I am again, squinting, holding my wife from behind her with my hands wrapped onto her belly, smiling and bright eyed and the two of us tan and in sleeveless white satins and silks, bejeweled, on our wedding day, happy, blissed, exhausted.
All of these things represent bits and pieces of who I am, and of some of the gems of friends who come and go through my life.
In the center of the altar, resting on the double terminated quartzes, is a small skull of perhaps a mouse. It was found in some encrusted owl poop on the land of another beautiful friend. It was carefully cleaned and painted and placed here. We could all be snatched up, devoured, and pooped out at any given moment. The entire universe is consuming itself all the time, continuously dying and being reborn and growing and changing and dying again. How many of those lifetimes of moments do we relive the same pattern? How many do we shift direction all of a sudden, consciously choosing a new path?
Directly below the altar there are two more small pictures. On the left, underneath the wedding picture is a small, neatly cropped photo of my grandparents on my mothers side. I was always very close to them. They are very happy in the picture, retired and on a vacation in Spain, the same place Violet and I took our honeymoon. My grandfather, a jovially loving Italian who would have loved my wife, has passed away since then. My grandmother, 84, is as chipper and fastidious as she has ever been. This is a bit of where I have come from. They too are smiling wide. Their eyes squint in the Mediterranean sun.
On the right side is another picture, this one of my Dad and I. It is our birthday – his birthday is a day before my own, on Aug. 25. My birthday is the 26th. We are smiling as well. I think I was turning seventeen in that picture. In the picture I have a goatee, a baseball cap. I am wearing a white t-shirt with a small design I made of a person standing on the edge of a building, about to step off, his back to the viewer, maybe he’ll fall, maybe he’ll fly, who knows, and below it a caption reads “This time I was standing on the edge of the world”. It was always regarded as a bit of artsy daydreaming, never a consideration that I might consider jumping. My dad – his smile makes his eyes squint shut. Look, I come from a long line of squinters. Me, I am looking off to the left and, from where I sit right now, my eyes look a tad bloodshot but I wouldn’t be surprised – I had a lifestyle then of perpetual blanketing my mental landscape – always throwing another mattress upon the pea that was making me feel uncomfortable. And, at the same time, I was just doing my best to make sense of the unfolding life around me, chilling, living, teetering on the edge, waiting for my chance to take a leap and stretch my wings and soar with the occasional heart-wrenching plummet.
In between these two photos, taped in the middle, laminated, is a Chinese fortune from a cookie eaten who knows when.
It reads: “Among the lucky, you are the chosen one.”
Coupled with the grace, a dash of skill maybe, and fair bit of false starts, there has always been that “luck”, if that is what one wants to call it. When I look at this chain of a life that is laid out here – from my grandparents to the chunk of amethyst – I love it.
“What really got me,” said Myra, “was how that one woman was passing along those black canvases and, whatever she was seeing in them, I don’t know. But she was really trying.”
Yes, whatever she was seeing in them. She was trying to see into them, really. But what could that have been? She was seeing if these three long rectangular canvases, painted a thick matte and slightly chunky black, standing on the wall at six by two feet, really were worth the quarter million dollars or whatever was being asked for them.
Walking through the Art Basel Convention Center in Miami I got the feeling that there is no soul left in art. I had a hard time finding the love, life, energy, exuberance, exploration, joy of discovery and creation. It seemed there was only the academic and monetary commoditization of art as it is defined by whomever deems themselves to be the spokes people of the Art World. And between the two, all that is left is a lot of mental masturbation.
Blank canvases, framed and anointed. Small pieces of felt tacked to the wall. Little fluorescent bits and pieces of wire and scrap glued together to form a hoop or something garish. A giant word in neon. A cube. A square. A conflagration of paint. NOTHING. NOTHING. And more NOTHING.
Amongst all of this artistic drivel I found maybe ten really interesting pieces. Out of thousands. I found them interesting because these few pieces I saw had some sense of discovery, fine use of color, a unique view point and some actual skill and stood out like sore thumbs, or a welcome respite.
Yet, amongst all these people and all this “art”, I got the feeling that someone is tricking someone else. Someone is being convinced of the substance or lack thereof in all of this. Is it the artists, somewhere along the way, who tricked the gullible world into believing there is something to what they are doing when in fact, it’s just a naked and shameless attempt to make money out of nothing?
Or maybe it’s the art dealers who, not wanting to have to look any deeper, have decided to settle on something that is meaningless and, in doing so, have created both a market as well as the producers.
Quite possibly it really might be the public themselves who are at fault. Is this artwork, that which is presented and lauded as the creme de la creme of the art world, really just a reflection of the empty lifeless and superficial world we are living in? A vapid reflection of where we are as a people?
I watched a young girl, dressed elegantly enough but reminding me of the naive light hearted girl in the movie “Brothers Bloom” that I just recently saw, go walking through the crowd, holding a handful of roses, saying “If I had a billion dollars, I would buy all of this!”
I thought to myself that If I had a billion dollars, I would buy it all and burn it, although that might be terrible for the environment. Instead, maybe I’d just put it in a large museum. The Not-Art Museum.
But then, maybe in this who-is-tricking-whom game, maybe all of the players – the artists who have run out of ideas and regurgitate the past in weak attempts at the avant garde, the art dealers who then hawk it as the next big thing, the art collectors who salivate over another expensive object to acquire, the media who hovers around gawking at and applauding the spectacle, and the general public who just wants to feel like they are a part of something. They are all just agreeing to the same uncomfortable truth: let’s not dig any deeper, it gets hard to understand. Let’s not push any further, lest we find something meaningful and, should we find something meaningful, at which point we’ll have to confront the meaninglessness of so much that we do. And that would be a disaster.
The truth is, what is going on in the art world is very much akin to what is on TV, or is playing at the movie theater, or lining the aisles of the grocery store, etc. That is to say: it’s an empty sort of substance, seemingly lacking anything truly nourishing.
In the end, we left there, back into the slighly muggy Miami evening rather hungry. I found the Cuban restaurant we ended up at, along with the company and the mojitos, to be infinitely more satisfying.
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