- Fine Art
I was going through all sorts of files, updating web stuff, doing businessy things, cataloging and organizing, as one has to do. Sometimes I’m struck by the fact that there is just so much art I’ve created over many years. And much of it, I think, returns to this painting, Surrender (28″ x 48″), painted in 1996 when I was 19.Painting it was a turning point in my life. I’d had this experience earlier that summer which had left me filled with questions and doubts. Basically, I was struggling with letting go of the yoke of social and parental expectations.
In my sketchbook, during one of my classes, I made a drawing the vision I’d had – after getting twisted around through some dark and frustrated rivers of mental constructs – of this land I arrived into of just… endless exuberant love with the sky folding into the earth and vice versa and these beings just dancing over the hills grabbing pieces of clouds and LOVE was written all over everything. I decided to paint it – maybe just the third or fourth painting I’d ever made.
While painting it, enthralled by the color and the worlds flowing out of me, I had this moment – this flash – it felt like this book cracked open in my head and the pages were all flipping too fast to see and this voice – my voice? – was telling me that I could do this for the rest of my life . I could just paint. This book, flipping it’s pages too quick for me to get a glimpse… And, it said, all you need to do is give up everything and go, go follow that muse.
It took some time. But not long. Eventually, I got rid of everything I had and, eventually, that summer, I formally withdrew from school and, as luck would have it, a good buddy of mine had as well (he later returned for his PhD in mathematics). Did I want to join him and some others in Vermont and work at a ski mountain that coming winter?
The rest… the rest is stories for other days.
But I look at all these paintings: so many moods and feelings and emotions, ego dances with the divine, blissful prostrations, the whole spectrum… The journey of this painter scribe… There’s a lot of time, a lot of movement, a lot of paintings, between that painting and now.
And I wonder: what comes next?
Back in 2003, inspired by a chapter of The Fan Man by William Kotzwinkle, I painted “The Dorky Painting.” The book is one of my absolute favorite books ever. It’s a hard to describe little book. But it’s a perfect book if you’re into that sort of thing. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in the introduction “It’s like an egg: everything that is supposed to be in there is in there.” There’s really nothing else like it. So this painting is based on one of the chapters in the book – “Dorky Day”. I can’t explain it – you just need to read it. Broadly, however, it is a chapter about clearing the cobwebs from the mind. This painting was made to help clear the cobwebs of my mind.
In any case, on a whim the other night, I looked up the Mr. Kotzwinkle website and sent him a link to the painting above along with a short note of thanks. Below, is his response.
It’s sweet to be able to share inspiration. :)
Dear Michael Divine,
Thanks so much for your email. I apologize for taking so long to answer. I was having an extended Dorky Day. Which brings me to your painting, your very beautiful painting. I’m happy the voice of the Fan Man can be found in its remarkable depths. It’s a very suitable place for a voice such as his, which echoes from the interplanetary phone booth as it soars into orbit.
I looked at all the paintings on your website. It’s clear you are no stranger to the labyrinth of strange happenings. All your paintings are beautiful and masterfully polished to perfection, so that the purposefully unhinged mind can move smoothly through the luminous doorways leading to the land of bounding mushrooms. Only in the best kind of dreams, which balance on the edge of terror and wonder can one find your visions in their original form. For I’m sure the worlds you created don’t remain only on the canvas, but have for some time been seen floating behind the closed eyes of travelers from other dimensions.
In a time of immense triviality and unbelievably boring conversation, you provide the required shock. In the shadows of Manhattan, where the impossibly weird loves to hang out, I’ve seen figures that suggest we’ve barely begun to get real. Work such as yours, pointing to things no conversation can capture, are a great help toward a more useful orientation as regards dreaming.
Back when I took electric shop in manual trade school, we were taught by a small electrician we called Short-Circuit Jones. We were constructing two giant electric candles to be placed on the face of the school at Christmastime, signifying Peace to All. The minute Short-Circuit Jones left the room we armed ourselves with wire missiles and shot them at each other at high velocity, propelled from heavy rubber slings we’d hidden for such an opportunity. The wounds received were indelible, proud marks of the electrically constructed warrior.
You have such electricity shining through your work. Were you bitten by an electric eel?
Whatever the origin of your genius, you’ve provided me with inspiration for which I’m grateful. Good luck to you in your struggle to create the improbable and the impossible.
Detail of the painting Recognition/Compassion (St. Francis)
St. Francis – he always seemed to be around when I was growing up. I had a St. Francis nightlight of glowing yellow translucent porcelain. He was over our TV, as a cross stitch on burlap or something – some coarse material – it came out of the 70s. In that, St. Francis was walking outside and had a bird in his hand. I remember, too, a rabbit, another bird flying, and a butterfly. The stitching was sparse but there he was. A two foot tall concrete statue of him lived in the garden.
So he was around. Who was he, to me, growing up? Of all the characters of Christian pantheon – and I heard about plenty – he seemed to be the least mythic – and the most human. He was a simple and gentle man, a monk, who loved nature and walked amongst the animals and saw the God in all things.
My parents took us hiking a lot. My Dad would comment on how lovely it smelled, how beautiful the trees or the leaves were, the songs of the birds, and we’d drink hot chocolate. My parents delighted in seeing different birds, maybe another occasional animal or the tracks thereof. What I’m saying is: we were brought up with a love of nature and a respectfulness of the earth we walked upon.
It was later that I had my own more personal experiences of that ‘God in all things’. And it deepened a sense that was planted there at the start.
St. Francis is as close to we get to a ‘pagan’ in Christianity: a lover of the earth. A compassionate friend to ALL things. Someone who took to heart the message in Genesis – of being a steward of the Earth. Being a steward is a humble job. A master has dominion over all things and is at the top of a hierarchy. A steward… a caretaker… Neither high nor low. Just walking the path and taking care – recognizing the divine in all things.
A while back I picked up a book titled The Art of Japan. On the cover there is a painting of Amida Buddha (Amitabha) in gold leaf on a black background. I imagine it to be a flat matte black. I saw that painting and I thought about it’s technique – and that a painting of St. Francis like that would be lovely. Obviously that changed.
In any case, I made this painting of St. Francis as a gift to my parents in honor of their 40th anniversary in June, 2014.
Detail: First World Problem Child
“My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death.”
– Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (amongst my favorite books)
Some thoughts on a painting. Or – what’s this thing about? So…. here we go…
It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. As long as I’m not fighting back.
My freedom has bought me this corner I can curl up in. You and I: we’ll have our petty arguments about the current NFL quibbletastic paparazzi inflammation score. There’ll be news at 6, intensive investigation at 7, and a debate at 8. We’ll go through it ALL. OVER. AGAIN at 9. Also: don’t forget to be afraid of radiation. Chemtrails. Aliens and meta-beings. Instabeings. Whatever your disease. Isn’t there anyone out there listening? Doesn’t anyone really care? Isn’t someone going to save me from this mental quagmire I’m in? Is there a reason – a real fucking REASON – for whatever the current argument is?
These human constructions and systems and governments and economies and monetary systems and structures – boundaries and borders – beauracracy terrors – we’re making it all up as we go along.
But there I am: that curled up scared ball of flesh just wanting to get OUT of its current imagined boundaries.
No. There I am: the fast car driving cup of coffee in my hand running I’m late – I’m not even late – I am just not stopping to CARE about the person man woman child all their belongings in a grocery cart wanting a bite to eat never having enough to eat I am that too. I am the military machine marching over and carried along upon the backs of millions in pursuit of the Dream – the ever loving ever living I am LIVING IT! dream – EVERYONE WANTS A PIECE OF ME – I am the kitten loving tit sucking cock cunt ass kissing guns blaring new horizon GLARING desire hungry you know what I mean it’s an endless scene – all of it just blaring – come fuck me – I’m tired of waiting just give it to me – the next big thing – I’m enamored by the latest gadget – love these romanticizations of the gritty dirt of the city street – o god I wish I could find something nourishing to eat. I’m the helicopter chop chop chopping overhead keeping it all secure – stay indoors! – I’m on the very top floor the view looks so good from here – shiny crystal glass clinking – want another drink what are you drinking? There’s always another edge to reach! The party never ends! It’s a life long pursuit of the American DREAM and it could be YOURS – life, liberty, and the pursuit… the pursuit… we’ll keep them spinning at the pursuit…
O the pursuit. No new jobs on the horizon. Fear is the best and only thing to be afraid of. As far as the kids know – the kids who feel they have no hope after college yet continue to enroll because what else are they going to do other than amass one endless loan for the banks to collect upon? Seems like a good system to me! To them, this world has never been any different. The government has always been able to precisely pinpoint you and your intentions via every one of your ten thousand communications. Also. don’t forget: endless terrorist war. Also: GMO scares. Also: pesticide chemicals compounding atop disease and distress. What’s there even to celebrate anymore? Have it YOUR way. This way. MY WAY. It’s a me me me world and someone else is after yours – or so the corporate machine would like me to think.
Buy buy buy. Work work work. Content providers do their best to get me to buy. To get me to work. To get me to buy. On and on and on. Go to school. Get a job. Buy a car. Drive to work. Home. Play. Consume. Buy buy buy. Consuuuuuume. And when break time comes, there’s not much thought as to what or where or how just have a cigarette another cup of coffee take some drugs are you feeling ok? Maybe this new antidepressant. Maybe a vacation to Hawaii. The DOW Jones is always plummeting and there’s always someone waiting to bang down my door and take what’s mine – listen in on my calls, know where I’ve been, been talking to, follow all my dots – my pinpoint connections – and connect my unconscious desires to a shiny new product for which someone else more famous will sing about the madness I’m experiencing in a carefully calculated manner to trigger my desire to purchase the next hit single. All and everything is just an ad for an endlessly possible perfect future – and it’ll be obsolete as soon as the next commercial.
O, say can you see this country I love: its cities and mountains and valleys. And its people: its tired hungry lonely scared selfish selfless colorful creative exuberantly ever-lasting just-wanting-to-live people from all over the world. This vast pool – this human organism – this melting pot of flavors melting down into suburban homogeny – wouldn’t it be SO nice if everyone just did what they were told – perfectly coiffed, cataloged, and commoditized to be repackaged and sold to the next developing nation? Ever on the verge of reaching a boiling point – the final explosive fomentation of tension between the what we could be – an easily controlled populace – and what we ARE: human beings… THAT is this country.
See: this country – scared into subservience, wrapped up in credit card debt and trying to take care of the kids – while the military machine defends the corporate machine bleeding us to death for every last dime because it feeds the disease of sociopathic capitalistic greed and we – we are wound so tightly – so tightly around up into ourselves in mazes of bureaucracy and in the end mirrored sociopathy of i me mine – wouldn’t you like to see sex, kittens, shiny things? The next episode of Stupid Things? Don’t you have dreams you’d like to chase – I mean ‘manifest’? Hold this crystal, it’ll cure your cancer. Chant this prayer, it’ll bring you closer to that which is also outside of you. Just go to this church. Sit in this Mosque. At this stupa. This structure. We made up all of it. And, while you’re at it, won’t you give a dollar so we can build another altar to ask for more alms to build more altars to ask for more alms to build more stairs to whichever vision you like – whatever – they’re all endless projections of an endless I.
It’s a trap of our own devising – complicit cogs of the gears of this mental machine of our own separation imaginings – twisting and twining and holding it all in – because we don’t have any room – any fucking room – to breath. Just give me a little space to breathe, man. Just a moment to breathe. I can’t take it anymore.
I want to fucking scream.
This silent empty echoing aching in my bones SCREAM.
I want to let it all out.
I want to know what it is to have a good time for which no one suffered.
I want to know what you mean by this ‘Freedom’.
I have everything. And nothing. And everything. And nothing.
All at the same time.
I’m sorry it had to be like this.
Ugly and hurting. Painful and wanting. I can’t paint a pretty picture when this feeling is eating me – and you – from the inside out – alive.
This elephant in the room is stomping us to death.
And I love you too much to ignore it any longer.
On September 11, 2001, I was living in Burlington, VT – painting, enjoying the coming autumn, etc. I didn’t have a TV (still don’t), never listened to the radio (still don’t) and the internet was still just a plodding dirt road through the hills – not the information super highway it was to become.
I woke up that morning with a desire to paint big red fiery paintings. I had a couple of large pieces of masonite – a 4′ x 4′ square and a 4′ x 2.5′ rectangle – and a few cans of red, yellow, orange, and purple latex paints. So around 8 am, with a cup of coffee, I went at it. The diamond/square painting I called ‘Phoenix.’ The other was ‘Unsquaring the Circle’ and felt like a great release of energy.
A few hours later, I went for a walk downtown. In bars and restaurants and everywhere it seemed everyone was glued to the TV. There was a strange lull in the air – a strange quiet tension. I poked my head in a pizzeria on a corner and heard the news. In one fell swoop, one great unsquaring of the the circle, a whole new demon was released. And a whole whole lot changed.
There was a lightness that died that day. A bubble that burst. Things got more serious. From economic crashes to endlessly costly wars to intrusions of privacy and the slashing of civil liberties to an endless stoking of the fires of fear. It’s a different world than the one I knew from the 90s.
But life goes on. Fear begets fear and light begets light. Everyday it’s another deep breath as we keep moving forwards
The Butterfly Effect
20″ x 54″
This will eventually show up in the galleries somewhere eventually. Enjoy. Interested in purchasing this painting? Please send an email to [email protected].
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:
So it is finished at last. (Full image gallery with details here) The painting has been framed beautifully and is on display at Temple of Visions Gallery (Downtown LA @ 719 S. Spring St. 90014, if you haven’t been). This is a painting I’ve worked on and poured my heart and soul into for many months. I took pictures throughout it’s development and put them together in a video. You can check that out here:
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…
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