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.
I started cataloging our art books today. Very exciting, I know. We have quite a library of books all together – between the art book collection, the dozens of philosophy books and the many volumes in between it spans more than a few centuries of knowledge and inspiration. What boggles my mind, when I look at the couple hundred books of paintings and drawings, is the lifetimes they represent. Hours, days, weeks, years of the lives of men and women who dedicated themselves to the creative urge. And each book – each artist – is a facet of a jewel that allows the light of inspiration to pass through it in a particular manner creating shapes, motifs, themes and designs, entire stories, entire lifetimes.
The books on the shelves are organized into several sections. One shelf holds the rather modern day visionary artist types – Robert Venosa, Mati Klarwein, Alex Grey, Gil Bruvel, etc – then a shelf of illustrators – Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen, Harry Clarke, Dr. Seuss, and more – then art history – historical movements like Art Nouveau, Surrealism, etc – and then, of course, many shelves of just artists – Vincent Van Gogh, Max Ernst, Michelangelo, Salvador Dali, Frantisek Kupka, Hieronymus Bosch, Gustav Klimt, and more more more.
While I love the books and the sort of intimacy they afford, it can’t be denied that I also live in a world where the work of these artists is available at the pressing of a few keys on a keyboard. There is one Van Gogh book in which there is a painting of his in which he reproduced a classic work by Delacroix. According to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (which I had the pleasure of visiting once thanks to a many hour layover)
This Pietà – the Virgin Mary mourning over the dead Christ – is based on a lithograph by Nanteuil after a painting by Eugène Delacroix. Van Gogh painted it in 1889, during his confinement at the hospital in Saint-Rémy. It is more a variation on the original than a true copy: the painter adopted both the subject and composition, but executed it in his own color and style.
You see, the “copy” he copied was black and white. It was perhaps torn from a book. In those days, it wasn’t very easy to study another artist’s work.
Granted, at one time, even for me it wasn’t as easy as it is now. Back in those pre-internet days (ok, there was internet but it was an ox cart compared to today’s superhighway) – back then, living with friends or traveling, I painted here and there and had very little access to other artists. I barely knew anyone else was doing anything like what I did. I know that a number of my friends and contemporaries felt the same way. We just did what we did because of that inner urge to create – the same inner urge that drove the artists to create the works that grace these hundreds of pages that are lined up in the bookshelves beside me. The beauty of that solitary confinement of sorts – away from other artists in any case – is that it allowed many of us to find our own voices and get clear with what we had to say.
The clarity of the inner voice, it’s integrity and authenticity, is so important in creating a work of art. You can have all the creativity in the world but if there is no authenticity to the experience then the final piece will feel flat, uninspired. So back to the books here beside me… These artists – all of them – were on paths of discovery. Authenticity and discovery go hand in hand, I feel. When we are inauthentic, we are being something we are not. If we are being something we are not, then we are a projection of something we either wish to be or wish for others to perceive us as. Inauthentic living is like walking through life wearing a mask. That mask, we hope, sticks and stays and is unchanging. I am THIS THING OVER HERE, we might say. And there in lies the death of discovery.
Life, the universe, this thing that we are in – it’s an ever changing sea of wonder. And in that is the discovery. If we move through that sea with a gentle sense of curiosity and leave ourselves open to whatever we might find then it is likely we will discover great things. Great in the way that we appreciate how the sun arrives through the window at 4:30 in the afternoon and bathes the room in gold. Great in the way that we notice the divine radiance that is reflected in the drop of sap upon the concrete sidewalk from the pine tree overhead. It shimmers. Great in the little things, great in the big things.
This is how one lives one’s life as an artist: by living life from a place of authenticity and living it with a genuine sense of curiosity and discovery and applying that sense of curiosity and discovery to the work that we do. Take time to pause. Stop and smell the roses. Notice the curve of a brow, the crook of a tree, the blur of the mountain behind the close up of the cherry blossom. An artist leaves no stone unturned. There is beauty even in the worms.
In conclusion, I want to clarify something: I have a bunch of books by people that society has proclaimed to be artists. I’m not going to argue with them. Surely the work they’ve created is great. This is not however to say that “only painters (or sculptors, etc) are the artists”. I feel that any one who seeks beauty, who allows the natural rhythms to flow through them, who lives a life of self-discovery, who does their work with love and joy, is an artist. There is an art to living life and being happy and while it seems like it should be an easy thing to do, our human minds, while brilliant at times, have done everything they can to invent every possible little hook that might tug us away from that artful happiness.
Make greatness. Make it with love.
Coming back to center after what seems like a month (and is!) away from writing much. To get the words flowing again maybe we retrace our steps. It seems like there was this beginning of winter thing. Violet and I shared bouts of fluishness that left us feeling far less inspired than we would have liked. Along the way though we:
The storybook! The story is about a fearless fairy (hence the title) who gets lost in the woods and meets up with some possibly scary creatures and situations but her fearlessness sees her through. The point of the story is that fear is all in your head! Maybe we could have included the “Litany Against Fear” from Dune: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
And, just like that, she finds her way home! We might in time have copies of this available for others. Here are a few images and a bit of the story (as written by Violet):
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Live painting! Here’s a couple of photos taken by Ben Lin (www.lifeafterdusk.com):
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And on to the Temple of Visions Gallery! Where do I even begin on that one? We’re stoked that Jimmy Bleyer has taken on this task and stoked to be able to have lent our support. From www.TempleofVisions.com:
“Temple of Visions Gallery seeks to bridge International visionary culture with the Los Angeles art world with a series of high impact shows, events, concerts, workshops, lectures and more.”
Course, that’s a bit formal. The truth is, if you’ve been left feeling empty by contemporary art galleries and feel that the general “gallery” scene just isn’t for you then it’s likely you’ll love this. The artists represented are diverse and inspiring: Amanda Sage, Adam Scott Miller, Mars-1, Check out the website… www.TempleofVisions.com
And come on Jan. 29th to DownTemple for a night of art, soft lights, and downtempo music with a live set from Eastern Sun as well as Dela, POD and the Galactic Groove Choir.
And the 26 other things! Ah well, all in good time…
And carrying right along… I’ve been dating the back of these paintings when I start – they seem to take a couple of months a piece! So any sort of hope that I’d be done by summer is out the door. I might be done in a year. Besides, summer is upon us and we’ve got a bunch of stuff planned and no time for painting right now. So it’ll be put on the back burner again for a while and when things are settled again, it will be picked back up. At least now I’ve got some momentum and movement to the process. And I’ve got a ban on painting anything else (besides commissiioned work) til it’s complete. Anyhow – PAGE SPREAD 7
In other news, I’v been working on a childrens book for a little while now, since October. The story will tell itself and I’ll let you take a look at it. There are few words to go along with it. I am trying to be as minimal as possible in that department. It is, essentially, about a girl looking for her soccer ball. If it is so simple why did the last two pages take a month (at least) to finish? Well, crazy beautiful landscape where said ball as vanished to, along with little girl, is like Echer meets Dali meets Seuss with plenty of Me thrown in there too. The pictures I’ve posted don’t quite do it justice. The pages with the itty-bitty details are so much more complex and beautiful in the flesh, er, canvas. But this will give you a good preview of what to come. The total book will be around 36 or 40 pages in length and maybe have 50 words all together. I hope to be finished by the summer time but, a project like this, it could be a while. Of course, if you would like to pay my rent so I can spend more time on this story, you are welcome to and can do so here: Donate. And if you happen to decide to offer more than a hundred dollars, I promise to paint you into the story. Hey, that’s not so bad is it? Well, in any case, I would love for you to take a look at it here: The Gift. Admittedly, all of the pages that are presented are not entirely finished yet. There will always be a bit of “going back” to touch up and change bits and pieces but I’m extremely happy with where it is going. I hope you are too. Donate
I read another really interesting book recently too called The Arrival by Shaun Tan. Read is a relative term since there are actually no words in the story. It is gorgeously and quite meticulously illustrated in mono/sepia/golden tones, telling an intriguing sort of tale about immigration and just what the new world looks like to the new arrivals. It took me a few reads to fully get it (grok it) – to really understand what the author was getting at in the story. In all honesty, as it’s such a short tale, telling much of it will give it away. However, the lands, the architecture, the parable, the whole thing- beautiful and well worth the purchase. More about the book here: The Arrival.
So I guess I’m sort of beginning a Book Review section…. because today I’d like to talk about Persepolis. This is a little genius of a book – two books actually, since, tho books 1 and 2 are sold separately they essentially complete each other. Lately, I’ve been interested in non-superhero well-rendered graphic novels. I’m not so into the airbrushed look or the still-a-comic-book feel but the gem of a story that tells it’s tale through words and pictures in a completely unique way is a vision I can appreciate. There are people making stories that require the visual component as much as, or in some cases more than, the verbal component. And it is not for the sake of "ease" either. It is not necessarily easier to use a few lines to set the scene than it is a hundred or five hundred words. The picture, after all, is sometimes worth a thousand of those bulky words.
With Persepolis, the simple yet nuanced black and white illustrations, done with thick painted lines and sharply contrasting spaces of black and white is so lovingly rendered, so achingly familiar at times that it sucks one in immediately. Marjane Satrapi, the author, tells a tale of her sometimes strenuous childhood in Iran through the late seventies 70’s and into the early 80’s, a time when I was watching Sesame Street, eating my Honey Nut Cheerio’s and playing with Legos while she was enduring…. an uglier and uglier government based on suspicion, Islamic fundamentalism and hate. Sadly, our own government was as much responsible for that establishment as the Iranians. The contrast in worlds, told from a fairly objective viewpoint – although she, like me, has no taste for religious fundamentalism, regardless of the path – sets the tone for a seemingly easy telling of some heart-wrenching and bittersweet moments. This is a book that, if it were all text, would be hailed is good, maybe great, but would be just another book. Through the medium of a graphic novel, Marjane created something that stands above and on it’s own as a complete and realized vision.
While I could digress into the content of the story, I won’t. Like I said, neither of us, Marjane nor I, have a taste for religious fundamentalism and all of the nastiness it forces upon society. The story does make me grateful for the foresight of this country’s forefathers – the drafters of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence – in their separation of Church and State and their dogmatic approach to eliminating religious dogma from those documents. The dogma-lovers still creep in and try to spread their hatred for others (like the Yes on 8 campaign in California funded by the Utah Mormons) but at least they are still on somewhat of a leash and there is still plenty of ground for other viewpoints.
What Marjane has done in this however, is take all that war and hatred, the stories that we heard on the news and turned it into a very human tale. It is both familiar and foreign – easy to swallow yet complex in tone and flavor. What she goes through, as she gets older, a disillusionment, drugs, alcohol, partying, misplaced love, etc, is what so many of us have experienced in an effort to effort to squelch the inner demons. We just want to fit in. We don’t fit in. No one fits in. Everyone fits in but us. We want to die. Then there is hope – some glimmer – and we learn to make peace with it – the roots and the demons. Out of that, hopefully, we find our own voice, our own personal integrity and vision based on the ancient truths – loving one another, acting from a place of compassion and wisdom – and can share what we have learned from that experience with others. In Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi has done exactly that.
And today, a book recommendation: The Invention of Hugo, a Caldecott-winning book by Brian Selznick. It’s a kid’s book, so to speak. Though it’s 550 pages might make one think otherwise. Half of it is told in pictures – lovingly rendered black and white pencil drawings – and when I say "told in pictures" i mean it just like that. It’s not that the pictures illustrate the story but, rather, the story is both in pictures and words – a narrative told at times with words because they, in those moments, most ideal for telling a story with words – and other times told with pictures because they help to create a cinematic narrative quality. The words are simple and direct and occasionally tap into more existential sort of ideas and concepts. The drawings are beautiful and, when need be, complex. At the same time – it’s not an overwhelming complexity but, instead, nicely done and simple.
Next tho, is the story. The story is lovely and I don’t want to give too much away. Essentially, the main character, a young boy living a train station as a clockkeeper (through some unfortunate circumstances), has a mysterious invention that he is struggling to get working…. and what happens when it works? Fantastic, believable, very human, a well-rounded slew of characters – a young boy, a yong girl, an elderly man, an elderly woman… a constable…
More about the book: The Invention of Hugo Cabret
These days I get up early, around 6AM and start painting and work til 10 or 11. I am working on a children’s book I began when I was 20. It’s been through several iterations since then. At that time, I painted about 24 pages of large watercolor paintings. I did not paint much with acrylics then. I was still in college and hadn’t fully devoted myself to my work. Also, at that point it had minimal words. I was proud of what I’d made, submitted it to some publishers and had it returned. In retrospect, it is a rough rough draft. Four or five years later, in Hawaii, the words came to me. The story rewrote itself in one night – verse and song. Of course, although the basic structure of the story the same, some things became more complex and new elements were introduced. The original drawings, at that point, were useful only as original reference points. Then, again, it was put aside. Dozens of project and many miles have passed between then and now. Now I am an accomplished painter and can step back into the story with a focused vision as well as a more refined hand. Now the story is being painted out in acrylics on canvas mounted to boards with rich bright colors telling… a tale… It is entitled "The Gift"
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