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Category: Nature

Pausing @ Crystal Cove, Laguna Beach

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.
 

After Rain

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.

On the Graphical Nature of My Work

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.

The Interrupted Line

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.

Pyranee Mountains and Valleys

Driving takes us northwards, into the mountains where we find ourselves passing into what seems like a gateway into the mountains in the form of mammoth curving red rock formations that end with a punctuation of a little white walled red terracotta roofed town, along a river rushing below. We stop to take pictures, of ourselves, of the rocks and river and trees. Driving further takes us up past cows grazing, sheep grazing, more mountains, into the trees and, as the sun sets, the shadows of the mountains grow until they tower over us, looming in the dark. We make our way towards Jaca a little mountain town in the direction of our destination but at an intersection we change course and head deeper into the mountain valleys passing through littler and littler towns until we arrive in Hecho where we stop to eat in the little village of grey stone, flowers, ancient streets twisting and turning, balconies. In the brightly lit restaurant/bar, half a dozen older men come in all at once from the drizzly mountain night. They stand around the bar, in front of our table and each quickly has a glass of wine, talks loudly and with much gusto and then leaves with the same sort of bluster. Our wine and potatoes and cheese are much quieter. When we are finish we get in the car in the cold wet dark nifhr and head north towards the dot-on-a-map village of Sirensa and finally, onwards further to the little Hotel Uson, but they are full for the night (Sunday) and we must turn around and make our way back to Hecho where we get a bare little room in a stone and wood hotel. Hotel is a loose term: it’s a pleasant enough little place on a corner with rooms, a restaurant… but whenever I think of “hotel” I am doomed to mental images of Motel 6’s and Best Westerns… they are never ever like that. They are almost always cute, pleasant and homey.

In the morning, I go for a walk. The sun is rising, bathing the stone walled village in golden light. In a hillside field, one square of grass amongst others, with little stone barns, low stone walls and verdantly green grass, sheep graze in this place that place hasn’t changed for thousand years ago, save for the cars and the electrical lines. A dog sidles up beside me and follows me around town, keeping me company, showing me his hood, nice dog. When Violet awakens we have breakfast of, once again, croissants, ham, orange juice and café con leche, take a walk through town then head back to Hotel Uson with it’s quaint wood and stone farm house look, powered by solar and water and beautifully situated on a hill side looking towards the stone cathedrals of mountains that rise up out of the forests. We are given a room this time and leave our things and exploring.

Rounding the curves and bends of the twisting road into the mountains grants an eternally replenished view, a new vista and another eye-poppingly beautiful scene. We drive until our little car can’t handle the road any longer and then we get out and walk down into a valley surrounded by towering peaks of the Pyrenees while around us the gentle clanging of the dozen distant cowbells around the heifer’s necks sounds like soft wind chimes. We explore the valley, the flowers and waterfall, approach rather skeptical cows and then have some lunch on the hillside of ham and apples and bread and cheese. We take to leave and head back to a trail that goes up into the forest where we had stopped a bit earlier to check out the thistles and the view. The trail takes us up into the wet woods past numerous mushrooms in all shapes and colors, tall firs with patterned bark, the wind through the branches softly weaving together their shadows, the sound of the river rushing, Violet with her tall wizard- like walking stick, us climbing higher til it seems we can’t go much further. At last, with the air cooling, a possible rain storm on the horizon and Violet tired of climbing, we turn around and head back down where we hop in the car and stay on the edge of the gathering clouds. Back in the Hotel we shower and enjoy the mountain air feeling of the little place. We drink hot chocolate and write and draw in our journals in the sun room and then, later, eat a delicious dinner, have some wine and retire to our bedroom where we sleep deeply.

Montserrat, A Castle and on to the Pyranees

Upon awakening, I rise and dress quietly and go for a hike, telling Violet I’ll meet her for breakfast downstairs. The main plaza is empty and vastly quiet in the morning light coming through the archways and pillars, casting long arcing shadows and igniting the towering bulbous shaped rocks that loomed overhead. I find a trail that winds up into the mountains and half-run/half-walk up the long winding trail of rocks and stairs, the rocks worn smooth underfoot, stopping now and again to take a picture, catch a breath or feel the great open winds that rush through me in the morning air- the chill of the earths breath mixed with the warmth of the morning sun. I crest ridge and find myself on a wide sloping rock face overlooking the valleys below and looking up towards the towering chimney like peaks of Montserrat. I breath. I sit. I relax into the earth, warmed by the sun and cooled by the breeze over my perspiration. But I am to meet Violet for breakfast and don’t want to keep her waiting so, with a good-bye to the peaks up there, I run down the stairs, glancing down at the picturesque scene of the monastery below me, with it’s bell tower and church of reddish stone illuminated in gold by the sun.

After a breakfast of coffee, croissants, Serrano ham, cheeses and fruits we go for a walk around the wide open empty square and then wander into the main cathedral itself, adorned in grey stone gothic curves and archways of white marble, through the main cathedral plaza and then into the vast open expanse of golden arches and pillars that is the cathedral. We file in line up past golden mosaics and into the little room housing the famed Black Madonna with Child (supposedly carved by St. Luke in 50 AD, rumor has it…), get a view from the nave of the church, up behind the altar and then chill in the little insanely ornate chapel behind the statue. Leaving there we stop into the art museum and are presented with a wide selection of Catalonian artists including Dali, Picasso, Rusiñol, Degas, El Greco, amongst others. We hang out for a while longer til throngs of tourists made the entire situation a little unbearable, so we pack our things into our little Citroen that we have named Narajazul (Blue Orange) and get on our way northeastwards towards the Pyrenees, stopping briefly at the market that has set up for some goat cheese, honey and fig pate.

Half way along on the highway we decide to stop through Zaragoza to check out the Basilica and the Arab/Moorish castle, the latter of which we never found. Word from the wise: Zaragoza, in fact, most cities, are a pain the ass to get into and out of. The Basilica itself is, basically, huge – columns 20’ square, massive vaulted ceilings with distant frescoes, insanely huge. And the chapel within the chapel.. and the other frescoes and the- anyways, says Violet, if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, they are all so alike and, besides, it’s hard to not think about the death and insanity that came with all of this – the Spanish inquisition, the gold melted from the Aztecs and Mayans to built these altars… Sigh. Well, anyhow, we walk outside in the sunshine of the giant public plaza, kids running after pigeons, a large squadron of folks all dressed in suits, little cafes lining it serving café con leche, tapas, pizza, gelato and we make our way out of town passing through a plaza framed by various iterations of the metahedron star thing.

We leave there, on our way into the Pyrenees but part way there, I see a few dots on the map signifying the Loarre Castle, built in the 11th and 12th centuries – Long time ago! Old ruins! Cool! We arrive as the afternoon sun cast it in gold and it is windy, a little cold, and we try to make it quick cause we still have a long drive ahead of us. The castle walls tower over head and we play – running up stairs and under crumbling archways trying to get a better view and wondering what could have been what and imagining this place when it was in use. As we are about to leave we hear instruments tuning and find, in the barren grey stone chapel, soft illumination and a 6 or 7 piece string ensemble practicing and taking advantage of the stone acoustics. Their sounds are warming and haunting at the same time and breath life into a structure that seems to otherwise be a shell of a former world.

The Train, The Mummy, and The Mountains

Riding along the Amtrak on my way back to San Diego passing mountains and fields in afternoon golden sunlight. Rocky red mountains tinged with green, laden with it, draped over them. At the same time, Hard to tell if i am going south or north- the sun is to my back but the land passes me from left to right. This makes no sense to me.

Egyptian pyramids and kitchy lines of “The Mummy” play out on the screen of my laptop while my mind drifts to thoughts of the Casa Barranca Tasting Room in Ojai and the work I’ll be painting a bit of detail work along the archways, stained glass looking motifs like tiffany windows or frank lloyd wright squares and rectangles or C. R. Mackintosh floralisms.

Nothing like the romance of the train to set the mind to drifing. This car with the windows that spread out overhead and allow me to get long panoramic views of these gold tinged hills.

I am hungry, and there isn’t a thing to eat except for pre-made, pre-prepared pre-packaged junk.

“Why did you kiss me” says the dame on the screen.
“Well I was about to be hanged, seemed like a good idea at the time.” Says the Brendan Fraser with long hair.

Passing oil fields and electrical lines. Power to power our world. Where is the truly sustainable resource we desire? Is desire a sustainable resource? It’s always there, ready to be tapped into. Which is a funny thing- it drives us onwards and we keep looking, uncovering and researching- to search and re-search.

Two little old ladies to my left, with their white white hair. Talking and talking non-stop. White shirts match their hair, accompanied by jackets a shade of blue it seem I only seeelderly folks wear. My Grandfather was a case in point. He had a jacket the same color – this light sky blue. The little old ladies point and gesticulate, occasionally holding hand to face in a look of being aghast at the cost or the nerve or who would have believed that one.

I love these hills with their sloping rolls that let the sun drape over them in long sinuous lines, tufted by an oak or madrone here and there. Occasionally parallel lines of orange trees create a patterned blanket in the distance.

We stop for a moment to allow a north bound train to pass and then on our way to Simi Valley, a place I will most likely never live, something that is fine by me.

I love this sunlight, this early evening golden wash over our faces, through the windows. In fact, this may be my most favorite time of the day. This, this right now, was worth the two-hour delay.

I had the option of staying in Oxnard for another hour til the later train came, at which time, I’d be boarding the same train that I’m going to get on in LA. But if I’d taken that one, I wouldn’t get a chance to spend at least a little bit of time in that fine train station that is Los Angeles’ Union Station – that gorgeous blend of post and beam Arts and Crafts style with Spanish Colonial stucco, red brick and painted tiles. Compared to the utilitarian feel of the Oxnard station, where it seems time stands still while we sit in uncomfortable park bench style seating, Union Station feels like a cathedral.

Movies like “The Mummy” – I have such a soft spot in my heart for them… some romance, some action, some magic, some cheese, some corn, some retro vision… some fun… Horses and swords and guns and archaeology. There is nothing like archaeology to spark the minds of children (me, too, my inner child speaks up). I always loved the archaeologists. Discovering lost treasure… lost civilizations and then, greater than the lost treasures are the secrets and lost magic of those places – the ark, the underground cities, the holy grail, mummies and archways and cities buried in the sand…

It’s a great movie in the way that Indiana Jones is a great movie. Which is to say that it’s a terribly cheesy movie that strikes the right chord at the right moment.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead! This is treasure. “It’s just a book…” And as she opens it, the tell-tale whisperingly squealing wind blows by… And that mummy that was dead down below is now alive… NO! They scream… YES! Perfect. I would have read this in a comic book when I was young. It s like a Tin-tin comic mixed with Indiana Jones and a dash of spook. And revolvers. Revolvers are so much more fun than automatics or semi-automatics. Although these six-shooters seem more like… eight-shooters? Twelve? Of course, it never hurts that the heroes always, and quite by accident, make off with some loot.

Back to the landscape… mounds of rocks with trees growing in their crevices and cracks.

Back to the movie…

“We are part of an ancient and secret society…”
Yes!

The gold is always discovered but, usually, it ends up buried in a mound of sand or something and the adventurer is left with the adventure. That’s all drifters such as that really want anyhow. What use does an adventurer have with treasures or gold? A kiss from a beautiful woman, a chance to shoot the gun a bit, a few unruly zombies to talk to, shoot at… Not to mention the usual bondage suggestions- the beautiful girl tied to the table, a bit of cleavage showing, her breathless mouth wide open… Nothing like being an adventurer…

Hot Springs

Warm Waters

Sitting in the hot springs this afternoon, sunning in the sun, warm waters washing over my being. Cool breeze over perspiration laden skin. Red dragon flies buzzing through the air describe curved spiraling lines that linger in my vision. Reflected ripples of water, on the underside of a boulder overhanging the pool of sulphuric hot spring water, intertwine in accordance to the motions and intimations of the breeze, my movements, and their own echoes. A bead of sweat drips off my chin and taps the surface of the pool, forming concentric circles that merge with the larger ripples. Silence resounds arond me in the form of bird songs, rustling leaves, water rippling and rolling, sounds of life drifting through everything: the trees, the rocks, the water, me. I breathe everything in deeply  and exhale everything just the same. I twist and stretch and sit still. I smile and relax. I sigh. I surrender.

The Soul in Nature

The Ojai Valley

Walking in the woods, sitting alongside a river, surrounded by tall mountains and blanketed by a silver layer of clouds I find myself once again. I find myself sitting, in a pause, loosing myself in the sound of a river rushing past- in the birds, in the reflections upon the ripples of the sky and the leaves of the trees. Walking, the sounds come into my head and leave again as if a thousand conversations. Approaching the river, I hear only the distant murmur. As I get closer that murmr is a sound that is definitely in front of me, significantly more distinct- like a thought coming clear. As I get nearer and nearer the sound becomes like a rushing torrent of words, until I are in the middle of it, standing on a rock, alone, in a valley, surrounded by green on all sides, with the rushing torrent of sound crashing about me and on all sides, tumbling rocks and passing right by with a thousand other places to go and, if I sit for a moment, even if just in my mind- if I listen for just a moment- immerse myself in that rushing crashing tumbling sound of thoughts cascading into one another and let myself go into it, forgetting that there is a destination, forgetting that there is any possible conclusion and simply surrender…. When we walk onwards, with the sound now behind me, there is an unintended cleansed feeling – a clarity and a sense of peace. With the sound of the river fading away behind me like a room of conversations with no conclusions, I feel refreshed.

I need this sense of escape into the mountains- into a world untended and unhindered. With bushes that have not been trimmed, flowers whose seeds were not placed by human hands. Surrounded by rocks that were not carefully positioned along rivers whose course was not chosen by discerning and engineering minds. To be surrounded by the holistic ecology of nature – that dynamically breathing, living being, is to step inside the outside, to embrace that which tries, yearns, to embrace us.

I think about what it is to be surrounded by manicured lawns, trimmed hedges and constrained, meticulously planted flower gardens, watered regularly, lest they wilt in a land they were never meant to grow. To drive down well paved streets along securely banked curves… to see clear water come from my tap and yet, any culvert or stream flows with heaps of algae, a plastic grocery bag or two, maybe a shopping cart … Yet, how I love the wild recklessness of an untended grove of trees or the focused meandering of a trodden path. To walk up a river without following the trail, hopping along boulders and walking through cold clear water is to forget, even if just for a moment, all these trappings we believe to be so intrinsically human.

I spent so long moving between extremes of place. After I left my home of youth- the efficiently clean suburbs of Connecticut, I found myself moving further and further into rural areas – from ski mountains in Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom with it’s back to nature routines to other rural and remote areas, sometimes only accessible by foot. It is that memory that lingers as I park my car in front of my garage in suburban San Diego, walk past the neatly trimmed hedge and into my clean organized home.

I am fortunate for those brief respites in my view between one tended world and another when I drive through one of the many canyons that rim the neighborhoods of San Diego. Although even then, I am reminded of how many others see them- land that seems neglected, “undeveloped”. People equate wildness with neglect when in fact it is no such thing- wildness is exuberance while neglect is carelessness and manicured lawns are safety zones. So I need (as in- a desire, a craving) to step out of the safety zone that I find myself circumstantially surrounded by to go run through the woods, lose myself in the conversations of the river, and see my reflection in the red smooth bark of the madrone tree or the precisely curved petals of some perfectly purple wildflower. It is this kind of movement that touches on something deeper inside of me than all the malls of the world combined.

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