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Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

“The Observer” At the West End Gallery



The heights charm us, but the steps do not; with the mountain in our view we love to walk the plains.

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



Isn’t this the truth?

We often aspire to greater heights, setting a course for bigger and better things, only at some point along the way finding ourselves unwilling to actually do the hard climbing required to reach our desired destination. 

I know that I have walked the plains for some time, all the time charmed by the heights ahead. They are often far in the distance but sometimes they loom so close that they seem easily attainable. But like most of us, I usually turn away from the harder paths that go directly to the higher ground and take those easier but less rewarding lower ones, all the while searching for some shortcut that will send me around the the difficult part of the climb.

Of course, time shows that there are no true shortcuts.

You have to put in the heavy climbing yourself.

This is a metaphor that could represent so many aspects of our lives beyond its obvious reference to personal aspiration but for this morning, I am leaving it as it is. Feel free to insert your own perspective and interpretation into it.

The thing I hope you take away from this is that we, individually and as a whole, must aspire to greater heights for our betterment. Then we must be willing to do the heavy climbing, pulled up by others from above while ourselves pulling up those still below us. Otherwise, we’re destined to roam the plains aimlessly.

Start your climb today. Have a good one.

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“The Walking Man I” — Alberto Giacometti



Artistically I am still a child with a whole life ahead of me to discover and create. I want something, but I won’t know what it is until I succeed in doing it.

–Alberto Giacometti



The short statement above from the late artist Alberto Giacometti perfectly captures a feeling that has been with me for a long time now.

Now well into middle age, I have been a professional painter now for over twenty five years and have did okay with my career in art. I do what I want basically, earn a decent living, get some recognition here and there and have established my own little niche with my work.

It’s a decent place to be at this point in my career and a lot of young artists would love to be in my position.

But most days, even when I feel the tiredness from the wear and tear of the years weighing on me physically, I still feel new to this whole art thing, like I have just scratched the surface with my work. As Giacometti points out, I feel like there is a whole life, an endless horizon, ahead of me that is filled with all sorts of new possibilities.

New forms, new expressions, new inspirations, new voices and more– all yet unseen and unknown. Just something.

And again like Giacometti, I feel a huge gnawing desire to find that something but don’t have a clue as to what it might yet be.

That was the same feeling that I had when I was first experimenting with painting years ago. I had a hazy vision in the recesses of my mind that I wanted to pull out but didn’t truly know what it was or what it might look like until it had emerged. When it did finally come out, I instantly recognized it for what it was and what it could mean for me. I ran with the inspiration from it for many years.

But at some point during these years, I began to sense that another vision of the same sort resides somewhere down there in my mind, one that had yet to be found. One that I won’t know until it comes out.

So, though I am a sometimes tired middle-aged guy, I know that I am still a child artistically, one who still sees the whole wide world and all its potential before him.

I work and wait in anticipation that this child’s voice will someday be heard.

 

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Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

― Clare Boothe Luce



This post ran a few years back on this same date, December 7. Every time I come across this entry while scrolling through older posts it stops me cold. The purity of the color, the clarity, the compositions and the absolute simplicity, along with the sophistication mentioned by Claire Boothe Luce above, of it all just capture me wholly. It just makes me feel content and satisfied as a human.

But at the same time, as an artist, it also makes me feel discontented and a bit unsatisfied because it stirs my creative juices, reminds me that I haven’t yet reached that same feeling of contentment and happiness that I know is potentially there within my own work. 

That’s the yardstick I use when looking at the work of other artists– how much it makes me want to work even harder. And the work of Lillian May Miller does just that. Take a look.



 

I came across the work of Lilian May Miller only recently and was instantly infatuated with her beautiful woodblock prints. The colors and compositions just ring true for me and they seem to create a bridge between the traditional and the modern forms of the woodblock art form. I am showing quite a few of her pieces here but I could easily show many dozens more.

Miller was an interesting person as well. She was born in Tokyo in 1895 to American parents, her father a diplomat. She was enrolled in the atelier of a famed Japanese printmaker at the age of 9 and had her first exhibit at the age of 14. She shuttled back and forth between Japan and  and the United States  (where she graduated from Vassar) throughout her life, including considerable time spent in Korea when her father was stationed there for the State Department.

She saw herself as an envoy or messenger between the cultures of the East and the West. When in Japan, she dressed in a uniquely Western fashion, wearing ties and sport jackets and sporting a cropped haircut. When she made presentation back in the States, she often did so wearing traditional Japanese kimonos.

Miller achieved a degree of recognition for her work in the years leading up to World War II. However, she was devastated by the Japanese attack –which, by the way, occurred on this date in 1941– feeling that it was a personal betrayal of her love for that country. She worked for a counter propaganda unit of the Navy in 1942 until a large malignant tumor resulting from abdominal cancer was found.

She died in January of 1943 at the age of 47.

Her work and her story has slid somewhat into the ashes of art history. But much of her work remains and it doesn’t take much to see the brilliance of it at its best. It will pull its way back to light sometime soon.

This is a very quick and incomplete synopsis of her life. There was recently a more complete article on Miller on the Atlas Obscura site recently that you can read by clicking here. There is also a book, Between Two Worlds, that details her life and work.

For now, enjoy these images.

 

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“Its was one of those events which at a crucial stage in one’s development arrive to challenge and stretch one to the limit of one’s ability and beyond, so that thereafter one has a new standard by which to judge oneself.”

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day



This large painting, something like a 18″ by 42″ oil on wood panel, has been hanging in my studio for quite some time now. It’s become like a permanent fixture on a wall in one of the rooms here in the studio, to the point that it sometimes surprises me when I take a moment to stop and take it in.

It’s called Challenger which came from my memories of the Challenger explosion in early 1986. I was ill with salmonella poisoning, laying on my couch in a feverish state with severe stomach cramping. I was in kind of a haze watching that day which added to the horror of the whole tragedy. I remember the brightness of that day with the light of the winter sun streaming through our windows. It just seemed too bright and positive a day for such a thing. That memory of the light still remains with me.

When first painted fifteen years later, I didn’t mean for this piece to represent that day, wasn’t looking to make a tribute of any kind. There was just something in the light and sky of this painting that brought me back to that day. I began to see the Red Tree and its posture as a sign of fortitude and determination, a symbol of the continuance of our journey even after taking such a hard blow.

Our own challenge.

We may very well be at our best when we face challenges. Any challenge, whether it is one which is taken on voluntarily or one which is forced upon us, requires us to call on all our strengths and creative powers in order to succeed because if we know beforehand that our success is guaranteed, it’s not really a challenge, is it?

I am pretty sure I have never shown this painting here before. It’s one of those paintings that I can’t judge objectively. It’s certainly not a great piece based on some standards but the inherent meaning in it makes it a memorable piece for me, at least. 

It’s one of those pieces that I am glad never found a home outside this studio. I see it as a reminder to continue to push myself to set new and higher standards, to accept the failures when they come and not be too satisfied with any successes.

To face every day as a challenge to be overcome.

And in the times, when it’s so easy to fall prey to the paralysis of angst and worry, I can use the push it provides. 

Good luck in facing your own challenge today.



PS:  My memory is fading, obviously. I actually did write about this painting before, back in 2016. However, that post focused on the piece’s strengths and weaknesses and didn’t go into the meaning behind it for me. 

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“A Time For Reckoning”– At the West End Gallery



“For now she need not think of anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of – to think; well not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others… and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.”

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse



I gave a Virtual Gallery Talk in late August from the West End Gallery where the primary theme was the aloneness required for the creation of art. Well, at least, in my experience.

I thought I did a credible job but coming across the paragraph above from Virginia Woolf in her classic To the Lighthouse made me think I could have been a lot more concise in my explanation of the concept. Just a beautiful piece of writing. And it encapsulates in a moment what I struggled to describe over the course of a half hour.

I am humbled by own inarticulateness but equally happy just to somewhat share the same idea of which she so eloquently wrote. It makes me want to just shut up and recede into being that wedge-shaped core of darkness, as she put it, and seeking those strange internal adventures on which art is built.

Sounds like a plan. Have a good day.

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And if your friends think that you should do it different
And if they think that you should do it the same
You’ve got it, just keep on pushing and, keep on pushing and
Push the sky away

—Nick Cave, Push the Sky Away

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I don’t have the energy or will to say much this morning. I just want to get back to work, prepping my show, From a Distance, for the West End Gallery that I will deliver later this week in advance of the show’s opening on Friday, July 17. The show is coming together well and I find myself more and more pleased as each piece is completed with its framing.

Much like my recent Principle Gallery show, this wasn’t an easy show for me. There was a lot of frustration and high levels of anxiety, both from my reaction to these times and to some other things taking place in my world. Lots of distractions and aggravations pulled at my attention and disrupted any semblance of rhythm I could find.

Just getting to work was work in itself.

But you just keep at it. Keep pushing. Turn it around and use the frustration as fuel.

Push the sky away, as the song says.

One of the new pieces from this show is at the top, one called Far Away Eyes. This was one of the pieces that helped me fight through the barriers that were there for this show. It was a struggle in itself to complete and there were times when I wanted to trash it. But I kept at it, kept believing that it held something for me.

And it did. As I worked, it began to fall into a rhythm that spoke to me and when it felt done, it felt right. The effort seemed insignificant at that point, a small price to get to where it was.

Just keep pushing the sky away, much as it appears the sun is doing to the sky in the painting.

Here’s a performance from this past December from Nick Cave at the Sydney Opera House. He’s singing his song, Push the Sky Away. It’s worth a listen.

Have a good Sunday.

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“Nirvana is right here, in the midst of the turmoil of life. It is the state you find when you are no longer driven to live by compelling desires, fears, and social commitments, when you have found your center of freedom and can act by choice out of that. Voluntary action out of this center is the action of the bodhisattvas — joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. You are not grabbed, because you have released yourself from the grabbers of fear, lust, and duties.” 

 Joseph CampbellThe Power of Myth

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I think about these words from the late mythologist Joseph Campbell quite a lot. It’s one of those bits that I keep close at hand, ready to pull out whenever I find myself feeling the onset of fears or anxieties about things that  I cannot control. Or when I begin to desire things that I don’t need at all. Or whenever I feel pressured to do things purely out of some social obligation.

His words remind me that true freedom lies in finding your own path. Fear, desire and obligation are their own paths and once you begin down those paths, you are further away from your own path of freedom, further from being, as Campbell put it, a joyful participant in the sorrows of the world.

Campbell’s words make it seem so simple yet, as we all know, those other paths are difficult to avoid. We are reactive creatures and often move to follow our first impulse in most situations. Learning to calm our impulses, to still our fears and desires, is the first step down a path of own making.

The painting above, Night Nirvana, a 30″ by 40″ canvas, is from my upcoming West End Gallery show and I attached these words to this piece immediately after it was finished. There’s a great stillness in it and a quiet reassuring voice in it, one that tells me that I control my reactions, that I should follow the path I make for myself. It is a path built on voluntary action, not reaction or fear. A path made with conscious choices, not obligations nor the decisions of others.

The message I take from this painting is simple: Your path is your path alone and there is great peace in knowing that. It is enough for each of us.

I am going to think on that for a while…

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“Climb Ever Higher”- Now at the Principle Gallery

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Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.

–Winston Churchill

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Just going to leave this thought out there this morning. Progress in any worthy endeavor is never gained easily nor is it ever fully achieved. It is the struggle that makes us fully appreciate the importance of the journey.

Have a good day.

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“Hunkered Down”- Now at the Principle Gallery

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I slept and dreamt
that life was joy.
I awoke and saw
that life was duty.
I worked — and behold,
duty was joy.

–Rabindranath Tagore

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When I first read the short poem above from the great poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore some time ago, it struck a chord with me. It so simply, in just a few lines, put across an observation that takes most of us a lifetime to realize. That is, if we ever do realize it.

Duty was joy.

But what is duty? Is it in being a good parent? A faithful spouse and a loyal friend? Is it in what we do to make a living? Or is it in being decent and caring human being?

Perhaps, it is how our lives touch the lives of others? Could that be a duty?

I don’t know for sure. Most likely joy is not a one size fits all proposition.

My own feeling is that duty is much like having a purpose, a reason for living. I remember reading Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl‘s transcendent book, Man’s Search For Meaning, which described his time in the Auschwitz death camp. He observed that those who were able to survive the horror were those who somehow had a purpose for their life, who saw a future that they needed to reach ahead for. This purpose, even a modest one, often gave them the drive needed for survival, creating a path forward for them.

In the year after being liberated from Auschwitz, Frankl gave a series of lectures that were the basis for his book. In one he spoke of Tagore’s poem and that final line: Duty was joy:

So, life is somehow duty, a single, huge obligation. And there is certainly joy in life too, but it cannot be pursued, cannot be “willed into being” as joy; rather, it must arise spontaneously, and in fact, it does arise spontaneously, just as an outcome may arise: Happiness should not, must not, and can never be a goal, but only an outcome; the outcome of the fulfillment of that which in Tagore’s poem is called duty… All human striving for happiness, in this sense, is doomed to failure as luck can only fall into one’s lap but can never be hunted down.

In short, lasting joy and happiness cannot be pursued as a goal on their own, without a responsibility to some higher purpose.

I am writing this because sometimes I need to be reminded of this. I have been struggling at times recently in the studio, seemingly fighting with myself to find something that just doesn’t seem to be there. The harder I tried to find it, the further away it seemed. It was like I was looking for something to quell my anxieties and bring me some form of easy happiness. To bring me effortless joy.

I should have known better. Yesterday, I just put down my head and worked without thinking about the end result. I focused solely on my purpose in each moment, the task at hand. Concentrating on doing small and simple things with thought and care was my duty, as it were. As the day went on, my burden felt lessened and I began to feel joy in the work, joy in small aspects that I had been overlooking in prior days.

It was a satisfying day, one that left me feeling that I had moved in some way toward fulfilling a purpose. It may not be a grand, earth-shaking one but it doesn’t need to be. It is mine. My purpose. My duty.

And that is enough to bring me a bit of joy.

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Painting is the pattern of one’s own nervous system being projected on canvas.

–Francis Bacon

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Ain’t it the truth?

The words of the late painter Francis Bacon certainly holds true for me, at least in certain times. There were several such days during this past week, if you need an example.

On these days I spent hour after twaddling in paint that directly reflected my own flatness of spirit, my own frustration and confusion. My reaction to the work I was producing was a dull mix of despair and anger. I sensed that it, the work and my reaction, was just a mirroring of my own reaction to the world as I was currently seeing it.

My own nervous system.

I hoped that recognizing this despair and anger would somehow provide a spark of its own. A reaction to my reaction, if you will.

But it was like throwing new colors into the mix with the result being an even more gross and ugly shade of brown and gray. No clarity or sharpness, neither in color nor in thought. The frustration grew even more.

These days reflected the pattern of my own floundering nervous system. I just wished I didn’t bother to project them on canvas.

I sit here this morning and still have the same feelings sparking dully through my synapses, making me both dread and welcome the hours ahead of me here in the studio. The dread is that these feelings will remain and show fully in the paint. The welcoming aspect comes in the hope and possibility that something in the paint– a color, a tone, a contrast– will create new sparks that will push out the dullness and flatness.

Something that will express itself in a new pattern being formed in my nervous system.

It’s this hope and possibility that comes with the beginning of every new day of painting that makes life more than tolerable. It makes it worth living because even on the worst days there is the hope that comes in the next.

I am moving on to to my next day now, filled with hope and possibility.

Hope yours is the same.

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