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Big Bang

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“Astronomers… say there was a primordial explosion, an enormous bang billions of years ago which flung all the galaxies into space. Well let’s take that just for the sake of argument and say that was the way it happened.

It’s like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see?

So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting.

But so we define ourselves as being only that. If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curlique, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time.

Billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you’re a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off, and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are. Depends how you define yourself. You are actually—if this is the way things started, if there was a big bang in the beginning—you’re not something that’s a result of the big bang. You’re not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are.

When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as—Mr. So-and-so, Ms. So-and-so, Mrs. So-and-so—I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too. But we’ve learned to define ourselves as separate from it.”

― Alan W. Watts

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Stay Human

 

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“If you can feel that staying human is worth while, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.”

George Orwell, 1984

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I hate to say this and it seems hard to believe but I think we, as a nation, have a ways to go before we hit the bottom of wherever the current leader is taking us. But we will hit bottom hard at some point in the near future.

The question is: Will we care?

Or will we even notice? That’s hard to say with so many of us already dull-witted and hypnotized from the administration’s propaganda machine that seems right out of Orwell’s 1984 with their own Newspeak in the form of Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting and Doublethink in the form of their alternate facts.

The Thought Police are will soon emerge in some form, no doubt.

Something as seemingly innocuous as the leader’s wife wearing a slogan of apathy and dispassion– I Really Don’t Care. Do U?— on her jacket while on the way to visit immigrant children in traumatic situations takes on greater symbolic meaning in this environment. Some try to say it was just an overlooked fashion choice but that is disingenuous at best. These people know that their every word and action makes a statement. If not, then we are dealing with a stupidity and fecklessness that is beyond the pale.

Myself, I think it may have been the most honest expression yet of this administration.

They really don’t care.

They don’t care about immigrants, especially those who happen to be non-white.

They don’t give a damn about coal-miners or autoworkers or farmers or any of the many other group whose asses they pretend to kiss while begging for votes. They don’t about you or me or humanity in general.

They care only about power and all that comes with that power.

Orwell put it chillingly well in 1984:

“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”

The answer?

Care. Now more than ever, stand up and be a goddamn human and care.

 

Rest Stop

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Perhaps I am doomed to retrace my steps under the illusion that I am exploring, doomed to try and learn what I should simply recognize, learning a mere fraction of what I have forgotten.

Andre Breton

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I was looking at this painting, Rest Stop, here in the studio this morning just before I came across the quote above from the French writer and founder of Surrealism Andre Breton. The two things, the image and his words, merged for a moment in my mind.

I saw the Red Chair, as I often do, as a form of memory, a place to stop in order look back in time and retrace my steps just as Breton wrote. The idea that I might be searching for lessons and meaning from the past that somehow escaped my recognition in those past moments sounds right as well.

Maybe more than the future or the present, the past and our perceptions of it are great fodder for an artist who is searching for meaning in this life and in their work. They see the present and the future as ultimately products of the past. Some lessons have been learned and some mistakes repeated, but the past seems to always echo forward in time for that artist.

And that’s what I see in this painting. The Red Chair is at a small clearing where it can stop to consider the path it has already traveled as well as the path that is ahead. The trunks of the trees surrounding it obstruct its view so that it has no idea of where it may be headed. The Red Chair uses the present as a rest stop to try to envision a future scouring its memory of the past for clues that might help it imagine and structure that future.

This painting, for me, is very much about that part of the artistic process which means, at its core, it is part of the human process. We all formulate our futures with our memories of the past. Most of us do it without much conscious thought, assuming that the lessons of the past have already been incorporated into our present. Hopefully, some of us will take the approach of the Red Chair and sit for a short rest in the present to consider the past and the future as one.

Perhaps there are lessons still to be learned and messages still unrecognized. That is certainly what I am seeking as an artist.

 

I have been thinking a lot about why I am an artist. On some days the idea of being an artist seems so abstract and ridiculous while on others it feels concrete and purposeful. Both have me asking why. I wish I had a simple answer as to the why of what I do but it never seems to show itself fully. Here’s a post from several years back that offers one possibility. It was written before the current state of affairs here in this country and the uncertainty I refer to is not the same as the chaos our current government is offering. Their chaos is based on their certainty and, as Voltaire says, that is an absurd condition.

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GC Myers- Twilight Wanderer

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Doubt is not a pleasant condition but certainty is an absurd one.

–Voltaire

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Much of my work has a journey or a quest as its central theme and the odd thing is that I don’t have a solid idea of what the object is that I am seeking in this work. I have thought it was many things over the years, things like wisdom and knowledge and inner peace and so on. But it comes down to a more fundamental level or at least I think so this morning. It may change by this afternoon. I think the search is for an end to doubt or at least coming to an acceptance of my own lack of answers for the questions that have often hung over us all.

I would say the search is for certainty but as Voltaire points out above, certainty is an absurd condition. That has been my view for some time as well. Whenever I feel certainty coming on in me in anything I am filled with an overriding  anxiety. I do not trust certainty. I look at it as fool’s gold and when I see someone speak of anything with absolute certainty–particularly politicians and televangelists– I react with a certain degree of mistrust, probably because I see this absolutism leading to an extremism that has been the basis for many of the worst misdeeds throughout history. Wars and holocausts, slavery and genocide, they all arose from some the beliefs held by one party in absolute certainty.

So maybe the real quest is for a time and place where uncertainty is the order of the day, where certainty is vanquished. A place where no person can say with any authority that they are above anyone else, that anyone else can be subjugated to their certainty.

To say that we might be better off in a time with no certainty sounds absurd but perhaps to live in a time of certainty is even more so.

Ansel Adams- The Tetons and the Snake River

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Millions of men have lived to fight, build palaces and boundaries, shape destinies and societies; but the compelling force of all times has been the force of originality and creation profoundly affecting the roots of human spirit.

-Ansel Adams

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Gray and Gold

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Good painting offers a mysterious pleasure that one cannot quite put his finger on because the painter, through honesty and hard work, has actually painted his own personality in a familiar subject; and any person’s personality or character or soul, or whatever your word is for it, is something of an enigma.

 

— John Rogers Cox, 1951
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I came across the quote above early this morning and was intrigued. I understood and felt a kinship with the meaning of his words but didn’t recognize the name of the painter so I looked him up. The image at the top was the first image I found. This painting and a number of others made me wonder why I didn’t know anything about this guy.
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John Rogers Cox was born in Indiana in 1915 and spent a bit of his life in Chicago teaching at the Art Institute there. He later lived in New Orleans and the states of Washington and Kentucky, where he died in 1990. He painted very slowly and, as a result, didn’t paint many pieces during his career. The number of pieces by Cox that are known to exist is somewhere in the range of 20 paintings, although I am not sure that is a truly accurate number. This limited production probably explains his lack of widespread recognition.
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The painting at the top is his most famous work. It is titled Gray and Gold and has been at the Cleveland Museum of Art since 1943. It was painted in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the US into World War II. I think the symbolism in it is pretty evident so I won’t go into it here. But even without the knowledge of that symbolism, it’s a pretty potent piece.
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That can be said of most of his other paintings, as well. At least those you can find with decent available images. I love the relationship he creates in his work between the vast sky and the landscape. There is an elegant simplicity that really captivates me.
Coming across this painter made my morning. John Rogers Cox is another one of those expressive voices from the past that are still there if you only take the time to look.
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All Around You

It’s Father’s Day and, quite honestly, it’s a bittersweet thing for me. My dad is still alive and spends his days and nights in a local nursing facility, as he has for the last couple of years. He has Alzheimer’s dementia but still recognizes me and remembers quite a lot most of the time so long as he isn’t under stress. He has little idea of time and place right now. When I visit him today he won’t remember if I was there yesterday and an hour after I am gone will forget I was there today.

Our conversations are short and feel almost scripted.

How long did it take you to get here?

How old are you?

How old am I?

You still driving the same car?

Where do you live?

What’s the weather like?

Is there snow out there?

That last one always makes me laugh as he has a large window in his room with a great view of the local hills and the city along with the river that winds through it and all of its bridges. He asked me that question yesterday after I told him it was going to be 80 degrees. He seldom gets up and looks out the window. He has little interest in anything outside his room.

I wish I could go off on a long description of all the things I got from my dad, pieces of advice and gems of wisdom, but there wasn’t much passed along directly. Sure, there is the swearing and a few other things that I would prefer to keep to myself. I am sure there are things I do that are direct reflections of him and his influence, some good and some bad. But it was never consciously passed along. Much of what I got from him came in the form of genetics and in object lessons where my observations often led me to avoid emulating much of his behavior.

But, even though he was flawed as a father and remains a faded shadow of the man he once was, he remains my dad.

For this Sunday, here’s song, All Around You, from Sturgill Simpson, accompanied by the Dap-Kings, the horn section that had previously backed soul singer Sharon Jones before her death in late 2016. I am not a fan of a lot of modern country music– so much of it sounds like formulaic 1980’s pop/rock to me– but I do like Sturgill Simpson. There’s a certain authenticity in his work that feels like it is in a natural progression from early traditional country music, even when he’s covering a Nirvana song such as In Bloom.

When things aren’t going well I sometimes find myself singing the chorus from his You Can Have the Crown. I won’t repeat the chorus here but it and the rest of the song always make me laugh. I think it’s a song my dad would like.

The song All Around You is about advice being passed on from a father to his young son, that there is a universal heart that contains a love with the ability to transcend the hatred, meanness and stupidity that currently surrounds us. The video is quite well done and makes quite a political statement for the times.

Take a look and have a good Father’s Day.


 

 

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