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The I Am

GC Myers- The I Am sm

The I Am“- At the West End Gallery



 

 

I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

–I Am, John Clare, ca 1845



John Clare was an interesting case. He led a troubled existence for much of his 70 years on this planet. Born from a family of rural farm laborers,  Clare bounced from job to job and place to place, living a life of poverty. In an attempt to raise money to prevent his parent’s eviction from their home, Clare, through a local bookseller, submitted his poetry to the publisher who had published the works of John Keats. His book of verse, as well as a second soon after, was published and praised. 

But even then, recognized as he was as a poetic genius in farmer’s garb, he struggled with his  own mental demons. Much of the rest of his life was spent in English asylums. His most famous poem, I Am, whose final verse is shown above, was written in one such asylum, Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, around 1844 or 1845. 

His work was somewhat overlooked after his death in 1864 at the Northampton Asylum, where he had spent his final 23 years. But in the 20th century his worked received new attention and Clare’s work was elevated and he has been deemed a major poet of the 19th century.

It’s a sad life, indeed. It reminds me of those times when I have been going through genealogy records, following an ancestor’s life as it progresses, and come upon a record from some sort of institution. It might be an almshouse– a poorhouse– or a county home, a place where they gathered the paupers, the handicapped and those with mental problems so that they would be out of sight.

Coming across these records always makes me very sad. I can imagine myself in these ancestors’ places, the feelings that I would no doubt be experiencing– the loss, the alienation, the confusion that must have plagued their minds.

But even more than that, my sadness comes from knowing that their voices were no doubt unheard by the time these records were registered. They had, by that time, become problems to be swept aside.

And they, no doubt, wanted little more than the peace of mind that Clare describes in that final verse– the untroubled sleep of a child beneath a high, clear sky.

I find my own desires for this life dwindling down to those same simple wants. And in this, I find a bond with these poor, troubled relations. And with Clare in that English asylum.

And that in turn makes me grateful for the small graces that allow me to live the life I live and to find expression for my own small I Am.

Sigh.

Here’s a lovely reading of I Am from Tom O’Bedlam:





The purpose of my work was never to destroy but always to create, to construct bridges, because we must live in the hope that humankind will draw together and that the better we understand each other the easier this will become.

Alphonse Mucha



MuchaI decided to run this post from a few years again after running across it this morning and the huge works in this epic just stunned me once more. As an artist, seeing such a grand, spectacular statement from another artist  is both deeply humbling and inspiring. It makes you question all that you have done with your own work in the past and want to do more with it going forward. This series of paintings certainly did that to me early this morning and deserves another look.

You most likely know the work of Czech painter Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) for his extremely popular posters that set the style for and were the epitome of the Art Nouveau movement. It was beautiful and graceful work, much like the piece shown here on the right.

That was definitely the extent of my knowledge about Mucha’s work. And that alone would be a worthy enough achievement for most artists. But his greatest work may well be his monumental Slav Epic series.

The Slav Epic is comprised of 20 large– no, 20 enormous—  paintings that depict the history and the mythology of the Slavic people. It was painted over the course of 16 years with the aid of financial support of American industrialist/philanthropist Charles Richard Crane, heir to the Crane plumbing parts empire. The works are all painted on a grand scale with some of them measuring 20 feet in height and 25 feet in width.

They somehow survived occupations of Czechoslovakia by both Nazis and Soviets who both saw the work as being counter to their ideologies. Mucha died soon after being interviewed by the Gestapo in 1939. The paintings are now in possession of the Czech government who are in the process of creating a museum to permanently display this magnificent work. I am sharing a number of images below that show them with viewers so as to give  an idea of the sheer scale of the works.

Pretty amazing. Good reason to get to Prague.

Alphonse Mucha- Slavs in Original Homeland

agnosthesia

parkeharrison3



agnosthesia

 n. the state of not knowing how you really feel about something, which forces you to sift through clues hidden in your behavior, as if you were some other person—noticing a twist of acid in your voice, an obscene amount of effort put into something trifling, or an inexplicable weight on your shoulders that makes it difficult to get out of bed.

–The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows



Oh, so there is a name for this. I entered those exact symptoms on WebMD and got nothing.

Diddly-squat.

And they call themselves the leading source for trustworthy and timely health and medical news and information!

The real question is: How do I treat this?

I am gong to have to think on that. In the meantime, let’s listen to this week’s Sunday morning music. I can do that much for you. This week is an acoustic version of Running on Empty from Jackson Browne accompanied by guitarist and general oddball David Lindley. It’s good stuff plus it might well sum up that feeling of agnosthesia you’ve been experiencing.

FYI, the image at the top is from a marvelous book, The Architect’s Brother, from photographers Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, whose work I have featured here in the past. Their images are real, not digitally generated or enhanced, which means that what you are seeing is an elaborate set with real props. I have seen a lot of wonderful digital work but I feel that there is something extra in these surreal images that are not created on a computer screen. Maybe it’s because of the level of commitment it takes to create a huge sphere of mud that is propped up on rough bits of wood, like the one shown below.

I would think and maybe write more about that but my agnosthesia is flaring up this morning. Like the song, I am running on empty.



Parkeharrison_ Kingdom

Shana and Robert ParkeHarrison- Kingdom

GC Myers- Between Here and There

Between Here and There“- At the Principle Gallery, Alexandria, VA



Take a map of the world
And measure with your hands
All of the miles
Across all of the land
Write it down, add it up
And you might understand
About the distance between you and me

— Dwight Yoakam, The Distance Between You and Me



One of the casualties of these past  several years, especially the last two, has been the erosion of my trust of people I don’t know.

And some that I have known for some time.

I come to every interaction with these folks with at least a small degree of wariness. I find myself looking for any indications that they might at any moment go off into a spiel about how the election was stolen and that the former guy in charge, a proven selfish liar and cheat with fascist leanings, was somehow looking out for them and would somehow be soon reinstated to office.

Or how the vaccine contains tracking chips or makes you magnetic or sterile or changes your DNA.

Or that my mask offends them in some way, that it is somehow harmful to them that I am wearing one.

Or that how sucking down horse-paste or swilling betadine or doing shots of kerosene is the most effective defense against covid-19 which, by the way, is a hoax. Or, even if they do somehow grudgingly admit its existence, that they will do their own research to find a solution that works for them because the real truth and secret information can certainly be found online in YouTube or TikTok videos.

 Or that they might just come out and say that their beliefs– no matter how far out in the ozone they might be–are as valid as the entire body of scientific evidence and historic precedence amassed in the past millennium. 

I could go on and on because the list of conspiracies, inaccuracies, prejudices, and glaring contradictions they embrace is seemingly endless. So many that I am fatigued just trying to keep up with whatever new nonsense some rightwing nutjob on radio or TV might unleash on these gullible folks who want to hear anything but the reality of the situation.

That’s just a small bit of the baggage I find myself carrying into every interaction now.

And I don’t like that it is that way. I knew before these past years that these people were out there. They would show themselves every so often then recede back into the woodwork. Now, they wear their absurd and convoluted belief system like a badge of honor and wield it like it was the hammer of Thor.

I think that is because they believe now that everyone shares their beliefs and worldview. Their small circle of like-minded friends in life and online reinforce this, as does everything they read or view, with little resistance or pushback. It then becomes more and more concrete to these people. Why wouldn’t they feel free to spout about what they see as the obvious truth?

Like I say, I don’t like distrusting people and can generally find common ground with most folks. But it’s getting harder especially as these folks exhibit more and more violent and cruel behavior. I don’t have an answer and asking these folks what they want is fruitless.

So, I am left with looking into the eyes of everyone I come across with a deep sense of wariness, wondering what bubble of reality they are living in. And sometimes, thinking I live in that same bubble, they let me know quickly, much to my dismay. 

If only this song from Dwight Yoakam, The Difference Between You and Me, could be playing at those moments. Maybe I should put it on my phone so that once they start spouting that this or that is a hoax, I could whip it out and drown out the nonsense.

I don’t know. No answers here, of course so I am sorry for subjecting you to my moaning this morning. Try to at least enjoy the song. It’s a good one.

Well, it is, in my bubble.



 

Friday

JJ Cale



Nothing to say this morning. Oh, I could and maybe want to but what would it change? I think I will stick to yesterday’s theme of emptiness as form and just play a song from the late JJ Cale, a guitarist of high esteem among his peers but not well known to most folks.

It’s called Friday— just like today!– and is a pleasant way to kick off the day. Now get off my lawn!



Sunyata

The Sky Is Always the Sky Sept 1995



Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

–The Heart Sutra, Ancient Buddhist text



I’ve been looking at some early pieces lately, trying to differentiate in my mind how the work has changed over the years. I always come back to pieces like the one at the top, The Sky Is Always the Sky from back in September of 1995.

These early pieces focus on the emptiness of open spaces. I use the term emptiness because it seems to be devoid of all matter, save the space between the earth and sky. But I think a better term might be the Buddhist term sunyata which the Encyclopedia Brittanica defines as:

…the voidness that constitutes ultimate reality; sunyata is seen not as a negation of existence but rather as the undifferentiation out of which all apparent entities, distinctions, and dualities arise.

That infers that nothing — including human existence — has ultimate form or substance, which means that nothing is permanent and nothing is totally independent of everything else. Put in simple terms, everything in this world is interconnected and constantly changing, in a state of flux. To fully accept this concept of emptiness thereby saves us from the suffering caused by our egos, our earthly attachments, and our resistance and reaction to change and loss.

I think it was something close to this concept of sunyata that inspired early pieces like the one at the top even though I wasn’t aware to that term at the time. I do know that I felt there was more to the emptiness of vast space than met the eye, that there was meaning in the void.

As the Heart Sutra, the best known of the ancient Buddhist texts, states: Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

Without knowing it at the time, I think this concept provided the strength in these early pieces. Their emptiness gave them form.

The reason I write about this today– and I have most likely wrote about this before as my memory is not what it once was– is that I was comparing work from back then and now and it has changed. Looking at this early work makes me realize that I was often more confident then than now. I wasn’t afraid to show emptiness with the thought that others would be able to see it as I did.

I don’t feel that I have that same confidence now.

And I wonder why this it is like this. It’s 26 years later and I have made a career out of my work. Shouldn’t I be even more confident, more assured in my message and how it will be perceived?

I don’t know that there’s an answer. Not sure I want or deserve one.

Things change. That is the natural course for all things. To fight against this change is an attempt to fill the emptiness.

And that can’t be done.

I may be talking through my hat here. I am trying to think out loud about concepts that are far beyond my meager mental skillset. But maybe just wrestling with this idea for awhile will spark something that will show itself in some new form that I can explore.

Maybe a new form of emptiness…

Gorgeous Nothings

Emily Dickinson Envelope Poem



In this short Life that only lasts an hour
How much – how little – is within our power.
– Emily Dickinson, envelope poem


 
I have an early appointment so was going to post a short blog entry with a few words written to her aunt in 1874:
 
Saying nothing… sometimes says the most.
 
But before I could move the words to the blogsite, I came across the short poem at the top and an image of it that Dickinson wrote on the inner flap of an envelope. It’s included in a book called The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems that documents the many bits of poetry that Dickinson inscribed on whatever was at hand when the spirit struck.
 
I find these bit and pieces interesting. It’s like having a porthole into the moment when a particular thought or inspiration hit the author. It gives the words that might appear cool and lifeless on the printed page a sense of humanity, of life. I equate it to the surface of a painting that shows mistakes, fingerprints or stray hairs. 
 
You’re transformed to the moment of creation, the moment of inspiration.  And that, for me, is an important addenda to the finished piece.
 
Okay, said too much already. As Emily said: Saying nothing… sometimes says the most.

Lawren HarrisFrom the North Shore, Lake Superior ca 1927



Art is not an amusement, nor a distraction, nor is it, as many men maintain, an escape from life. On the contrary, it is a high training of the soul, essential to the soul’s growth, to its unfoldment.

–Lawren Harris



Whenever I need a lift or a reminder that what I am doing is a mere triviality, it’s always good to revisit the work and words of the late painter Lawren Harris.

Harris, who died in 1970 in his native Canada at the age of 85, had a way of capturing of grand spaces and forms and imbuing in them a sense of absolute stillness. It’s a created atmosphere that is conducive to the unfolding and growth of one’s soul.

Some might say that this in itself is an escape from life and, in the simplest terms, they would be correct. But art transcends the mere act of escape in that while doing so, it provides the space and nourishment for the growth of the soul.

I know that I have often looked to art as a safe haven, an escape from the cruelty and often illogical nature of the outside world.

But it was never just that single thing. This separation between the outer and inner world created an environment, a time and place, where lessons could be learned and insights could be formed. These lessons and insights become part of who we are and then undoubtedly travel with us back into that outer world.

No, art is not an amusement or an escape. It changes us in fundamental ways and by that, we are always made better.

I needed to write that this morning, if only for myself. Thanks, Mr. Harris, I feel a little better now.



I was running a little short on time this morning so this post from a couple of years ago will have to suffice. It’s a fine reminder of the purpose of art. I’ve added some favorites from Mr. Harris to the original post which serves as a fine pick-me-up for me on this September morning.



Lawren Harris 1923_Lake_Superior_Thomson_Col

Lawren Harris Ice House Coldwell Lake Superior

Lawren Harris- Ice House, Coldwell, Lake Superior 1923

Lawren Harris- Isolation Peak_1931

Lawren Harris- Isolation Peak -1931

Lawren Harris- Mountains in Snow 1929

Lawren Harris- Mountains in Snow 1929

LawrenHarris-Mount-Thule-Bylot-Island-1930lawren-harris-mt-lefroyLawren Harris -Light-House-Father-Point

9918145 Meditatio sm a



You say I am repeating 
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own 
And where you are is where you are not.

― T.S. Eliot, East Coker



The painting at the top is titled Meditatio. It has a meditative presence that definitely stands out for me whenever I see it at the West End Gallery, where it has been for a while now. I thought it was worth revisiting it today.

I see these words above from T.S. Eliot’s East Coker as part of a conversation between the Red Tree and the rising sun/moon, who points out that it repeats its lesson with each new rise. And though it is repetitive, it is no less meaningful and instructive.

I will let you read into it what you will but I particularly love the last line here– And where you are is where you are not.

That could very well sum up my work as well as something I have written here before, that we are defined both by what we are and what we are not. Sometimes it takes going through a lot of disappointments and failures to arrive at that place where you are.

And where you are not.

Something to meditate on for this Monday morning…

Paradise

9921098 Look Back smYesterday I tried to avoid the ceremonies and recollections that were part of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack. I didn’t write anything yesterday for that same reason. Plus I didn’t want to offend anyone by saying something about wanting to finally move past these observations on a national scale. 

And I did a pretty good job, immersing myself in a maintenance project at the house that has been patiently waiting for me for some time now. I didn’t see any of yesterday’s speeches or videos from that day in 2001 and I felt grateful for it.

But as my workday ended, I checked social media as I was closing up my studio and came across a video of the Welsh Guards at Windsor Castle playing the Star-Spangled Banner in honor of the 9/11 anniversary. 

Made me cry.

It also made me realize that maybe we needed yesterday’s observation more than any other past observation that has taken place over the past 20 years, except perhaps the first one in 2002. We are, after all, in the midst of several crises on a massive scale, a deadly pandemic and the widespread climate-change caused destruction among them.

Maybe we needed the examples of selflessness, a willingness to sacrifice for others, and to unite for a common good that we saw take place on that day. All seem to be lacking desperately among broad swaths of our population today where coarse selfishness rules the day. 

Maybe we needed to be reminded that there can be a common good, that though we all have rights and freedoms, we are not entitled to any more than the least among us. 

I don’t know if it can happen now. Our 2021 world is vastly different than it was in 2001. We unfortunately live much of our lives in a cyber world now. It is filled with angry opinion and misinformation, much of it from sources, some domestic and many foreign, whose aim is to profit in some hideous way from the division that comes from their work.

As a result, too many of us do not want to find any common good.

And that is a tragedy of monumental proportions. For all of us.

I still hold out hope and will continue to look for the common good that binds us. I may be a fool for that but I am willing to risk that.

What’s the alternative?

For this week’s Sunday morning music, I am playing a song from The Rising, the first post-9/11 album, released in July 2002, from Bruce Springsteen. It’s a powerful, emotional album and this song, Paradise, is a favorite of  mine from it. It’s portrayal of the sense of loss experienced by those personally affected by that day– or any loss, for that matter– is palpable.



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