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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

“The Timeout” At West End Gallery

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Why do you so earnestly seek
the truth in distant places?
Look for delusion and truth in the
bottom of your own heart.

― Ryōkan Taigu (1758-1831)

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Do the deluded know the truth of who and what they are?

Or has their delusion replaced the truth at the bottom of their heart?

Can truth and delusion coexist within the heart of a person?

Or is truth a form of delusion in itself?

I think if we could figure this out, a lot of the problems of the world might fade away. Well, at least, not not seem quite so dire.

But that’s just the deluded opinion of one person…

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“I tried to establish order over the chaos of my imagination, but this essence, the same that presented itself to me still hazily when I was a child, has always struck me as the very heart of truth. It is our duty to set ourselves an end beyond our individual concerns, beyond our convenient, agreeable habits, higher than our own selves, and disdaining laughter, hunger, even death, to toil night and day to attain that end. No, not to attain it. The self-respecting soul, as soon as he reaches his goal, places it still further away. Not to attain it, but never to halt in the ascent. Only thus does life acquire nobility and oneness.”

Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco

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I originally saw this painting with the three Red Trees hovering over the houses like three spiritual guides. Three angels, perhaps. But the more I looked at it ( and I looked at it a lot) the more I saw the trees, especially with the exaggerated elongation of their trunks, as continually rising higher.

They weren’t hovering angels. No, they were spiritual searchers straining to reach even further out into the unknown, represented here by the chaotic slashes of color that make up the sky.

Trying to make the unknown known.

Trying to find order in chaos.

This perception was made even more tangible when I came across the excerpt at the top from the fictionalized autobiography of the late great Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis. The idea it presents of a life dedicated to seeking a nobler way of being, to attaining unity, oneness, seemed appropriate as a interpretation of this painting.

It also seemed appropriate as a basis for a way of living amidst the ever swirling chaos of this world. To seek to be somehow better, to attempt to rise above the petty and reactive behaviors to which we so easily assume, is indeed a worthy goal for any individual.

This added a layer of depth to my own appreciation for this piece. I see this painting, which I am calling Climb Ever Higher, as a lovely reminder to set my aims higher, to eschew my baser instincts. It’s a reminder that I certainly need in these chaotic times.

This 24″ by 24″ canvas is part of my Social Distancing show that opens a week from today, June 5, at the Principle Gallery.

 

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Rene Magritte- The Empire of Light – Guggenheim Museum

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Life obliges me to do something, so I paint. 

–Rene Magritte

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I wasn’t sure what this post was going to be about when I started. Still don’t know, to be honest. I was simply going to put up a short quote with a painting or two by an artist, as I sometimes do. In this case the artist was the famed Surrealist Rene Magritte.

I liked the quote above. Simple. Concise. Right to the point.

Plus, I think it lines up with an answer that I sometimes give when someone asks how I became a painter. I will answer, “Hey, everybody has to do something.

That opens up what could be a whole philosophical discussion about what our obligations really are in our lives as humans.

Are we really obliged to do something?

I don’t know.

Maybe. I guess not doing something is, in it’s own way, doing something. I know that when I am not a painter I am, among many things, sometimes a lazy slob.

Life obliges me to do something, so I do nothing.

That doesn’t have quite the same cache as Magritte’s statement but it is sometimes true.

But for the most part, when life obliges me to do something, I paint.

Not like Magritte. In my own way, at my own pace and of my own choosing.

Hey, life can push me around but only so far.

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PS: I was going to write about the painting at the top which is one version of a painting, The Empire of Light, that Magritte painted fourteen times. The subject was not going to be about the night scene of this painting with a blue sky above. Rather, it was to be about the repetition of forms by artists, a subject to which I am well acquainted. Maybe next time.

Now, let’s look at some other Magritte paintings.

Rene Magritte- Decalcomania – 1966

Rene Magritte- The Mysteries of the Horizon 1928

Rene Magritte- The Son of Man 1964

Rene Magritte- The Beautiful Relations 1966

 

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“Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gifts: An Essay

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I came across this essay, Gifts, from Ralph Waldo Emerson which is actually a practical guide to gift giving and receiving, well suited to the time in which it was written in 1844. I particularly like the line that states that rings and jewels are but apologies for gifts.

I have never looked upon a gift as an apology for not giving more of myself but when I really closely I find there is truth there. It is so much easier, so much less revealing to not truly give from ourselves and to simply go to the shops (or online these days) to acquire what often amounts to a poor symbol of what we might really feel for the person receiving that gift.

We’ve become accustomed to accepting these apologies because it excuses our own apologies to others. It’s to the point that we don’t know how give of ourselves nor do we know how to accept or acknowledge a gift that is really a true portion of the giver.

How do you do that? How do you bleed for someone else? Is it in the words of Emerson, as he continued after the quote above: Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a gem; the sailor, coral and shells; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing. This is right and pleasing, for it restores society in so far to its primary basis, when a man’s biography is conveyed in his gift…?

I don’t know.

I used to think that giving my paintings were like giving a piece of myself. It certainly fits in with Emerson’s words as he used just that as an example. It certainly seems like it is a piece of the person creating it.

But is it any more than a different sort of apology? Maybe an apology for not giving of my time and self to people directly? An apology for keeping my distance?

Sometimes I think that’s true. But there have been times when I have been given something made by another and I certainly don’t look at it as an apology in any way. I am just touched that they took the time and made the effort to even think of me in any way.

For example, I received a Christmas card from a friend whose two daughter drew red trees inside the card. That is as precious as any gift I could have received.

So where does that leave us?

I don’t know.

I am just thinking out loud this morning. Tomorrow I might look at this and ask myself what the hell I was thinking. You can never tell.

Bottom line: You can’t go wrong by truly giving of yourself. Bleed for someone, okay?

 

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“Watch any plant or animal and let it teach you acceptance of what is, surrender to the Now.
Let it teach you Being.
Let it teach you integrity — which means to be one, to be yourself, to be real.
Let it teach you how to live and how to die, and how not to make living and dying into a problem.”

Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

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I have need of a little serenity this morning. It’s a crazy world out there and sometimes, when I let down my guard and let my reactions to it rule my demeanor, it gets the best of me. I find myself looking too far into the both the past and the future, seeking the causes and effects of things. While that might seem like a wise thing to do, to seek why things go a certain way and where they may lead, it often neglects the present time, the now.

That’s where I find myself this morning. Not in the past or the future but not quite fully in the now.

I try to sap some of the meaning of the words above from Eckhart Tolle. I have long found serenity in watching the forest and its inhabitants that surround the studio. There is a beauty in the witnessing the lives of the creatures of the wood.

For instance, take the common white tail deer that lives in abundance in our woods.

Their lives seem so difficult. Their existence is a constant struggle to find food, water and a tiny bit of shelter from the elements and the predators that hunt them. I used to have a doe that would snuggle up at night between the shrubs in front of my studio, laying up against the wall of the building. It was as safe and dry a place as she could possibly find.

There are few breaks for them. They are always on high alert, always skittishly scanning for danger and bolting in bursts of leaps through the forest at the slightest wrong movement.

Yes, it is a hard life.

Yet to see them have absolute moments of joy where they play and run with wild abandon around the studio makes me envious. It’s such a pure thing, their glorious reveling in the moment. In the now.

Watching them at these moments is one of the few times when I myself feel in the now. Their joy becomes my joy in that moment and the bitter world that surrounds us is gone away, if only for that brief instant. Gone are the worries of living and dying, of hardships past and to come.

Just a small yet absolute moment of joy.

That might be as close to real serenity that I ever experience. It might seem like a small thing but it feels like an immense treasure in a world that seems ready to plunge into madness.

And that’s just what I need. It’s good enough on this morning.

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Innate Violence/Merton

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The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of contemporary violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activity neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

-Thomas Merton

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This warning from the late theologian/monk/author Thomas Merton (1915-1968) seem well suited for these times. Many of us, myself included, are consumed with busyness and the effect of that combined with the frenzy and anxiety of the current state of affairs in this world have eroded our capacity to seek and find silence.

Moments of pure peace and solitude are fewer and further between because of the fervor, the innate violence, of these things. As Merton points out, this condition kills the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful.

For artists and anyone who employs creativity in their day to day life– hopefully, most of us– this creates a time of crisis. Our work suffers. Our concentration suffers. Our ability to find joy suffers. Our level of inner and outer comfort suffers.

So, just a small reminder to turn away from the world today, if only for a moment. Try to find some silence, some placid point inside yourself. Set aside your busyness and try to block out the chaotic innate violence of modern life, even for just the tiniest bit of time.

Find that stillness because, though it seems empty, it is filled with the joy and wisdom and peace and inspiration we all seek.

Okay, gotta run. Awful busy this morning.

Just kidding…

 

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To all my friends without distinction I am ready to display my opulence: come one, come all; and whosoever likes to take a share is welcome to the wealth that lies within my soul.

–Antisthenes
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This new painting is headed to the Principle Gallery in Alexandria with me this coming Saturday, September 21, for my annual Gallery Talk there, which begins at 1 PM.  This is my 17th Gallery Talk at the Principle and it has turned into a neat little event, one that has me engaging in a usually lively talk, giving away some gifts ( including at least one painting–see yesterday’s blog!) and unveiling a smaller group of new paintings.

This is one of those new paintings, a 20″ by 40″ canvas called True Opulence.

I hesitated in using the word opulence for this piece because I don’t see it as celebrating those things we most often associate with wealth and luxury. Not money or gold or diamonds or fancy car and clothes. No, it is more in the vein of the words at the top from the Greek philosopher Antisthenes.

It is a celebration of our ability to feel opulence in the world around us and within ourselves.

In the lushness of a field. In the richness in the colors of the flowers. In the clarity of a clean bright sky. In the graceful roll of a distant hill. In the beauty of a tree reaching outward. In our ability to experience these things and feel ourselves connected to the whole of it all.

That is the real opulence in this world.

True Opulence.

Funny how adding the word true changes the meaning of opulence. But it does. It makes the other opulence seem almost false, as though it is a mere replication of that which is available to all.

I hope you can come out this Saturday to the Principle Gallery to see True Opulence and the other new pieces. You might even win a painting or take home some swag. Your odds are pretty good! It starts at 1 PM so get there a bit early to grab a seat.

 

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Lawren Harris- From the North Shore, Lake Superior ca 1927

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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

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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.

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All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, 1908

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This little snip from The Wind in the Willows seems to capture that same feeling of a conscious sense of wonder that I see in the new painting above. Titled I Stand Before You, it is 12″ by 36″ on canvas that is part of my solo exhibit, Red Tree 20: New Growth, at the Principle Gallery that opens this Friday, June 7.

I have been showing at the Principle Gallery since the early days of 1997. In the first few years there, I had been included in a group of five painters– Tom Buechner, Marty Poole, Tom Gardner, Rudy Gyr, and myself– from my home region that the gallery termed The Finger Lakes School. That group had two successful annual shows before I was moved out on my own with a solo show in 2000 called Redtree. That was a very successful show and its momentum has, in many ways, carried me through the past two decades.

This year’s show marks my 20th solo show at the Principle Gallery and if I had to use a term to describe what I wanted the work from throughout that time to convey, I might very well use the term sense of wonder. Just being able to witness small bits of this world around me, to see the green of grass and leaf, the ruffle of feathers or the mottle of light on the forest floor, brings about a feeling that I am experiencing all the wonder of this world.

And more than that, this past twenty years has allowed me to maintain that sense of wonder. Part of me expects that sense to diminish as I age but, if anything, it has expanded with through the years. The simplest pleasures, ones that I might well have overlooked in a youthful exuberance to see bigger and grander wonders, now seem like rare and privileged glimpses into the inner workings of the universe.

This very moment, I tuned my head and in the distance I watch two wild turkeys walking up the drive with broken light flashing off their iridescent  feathers. I can’t tell you what a wonder that seems to me and how it makes me appreciate the life I am privileged to live.

As I have pointed out many times before, I am not an overtly religious person. But perhaps this sense of wonder, this sense of awe, fills that same void for me. I don’t know but I am pleased I still wonder about such questions, that I don’t take these simple things that fill me with awe for granted. Maybe that’s a form of prayer.

Who knows?

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Red Tree 20: New Growth opens Friday, June 7, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA, with an opening reception that runs from 6:30 until 9:00 PM. Hope to see you there.

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Truth has no continuity. It is the mind that wants to make the experience which it calls truth continuous, and such a mind shall not know truth. Truth is always new; it is to see the same smile, and see that smile newly, to see the same person, and see that person anew, to see the waving palms anew, to meet life anew. 

― Jiddu Krishnamurti, The Book of Life: Daily Meditations with Krishnamurti

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I was looking for some words to put with this new painting that is part of a group of work that is going with me to my Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery next Saturday, September 15. I came across the words above from the late Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti and at first kind of scoffed at the idea that truth has no continuity. I immediately thought that truth, above all things, has continuity. It’s this idea that truth is some sort of nebulous form, always changing and never set, that has us in the situation we now face as a nation.

I believed that truth- especially objective, fact-based truth- was a straight unwavering line running from its inception until the end of time.

But the truth he describes is a different sort of truth. It’s a subjective truth based on our perceptions. How we see the world around us. To see truth, especially these subjective truths, as something set in concrete closes off the mind. We begin to look at the world with blind eyes and a mind filled with the truths of yesterday. We fail to see the beauty and freshness of the renewed truth that is before us in every present moment.

We may have seen yesterday’s sunrise and that has its own truth, its own set of conditions. Today’s may seem to have the same truth but it is always different, slightly changed. The same goes for each of us. We were one person yesterday but in some small and almost imperceptible way  we have changed. We may feel a bit older. A bit wiser. A bit happier or sadder or any number of different things. But we are not the same today as we were yesterday.

Our truth has changed.

And there is something wonderful in that. Oh, I know we would often like things, our truths of the past, to remain the same as we remember them. There’s reassurance in those static touchstones that clutter our memories. But today is a new truth under a new sky and a newly changed sun. The world is freshened and made new. It has a new truth of its own and it is our task, our hope and our joy to discover it anew.

I find that thought to be a fine basis for this painting, an 18″ by 36″ canvas that I call The Freshening. Winter is a perfect example of this idea of constant renewal. The falling snow creates a new truth, alters our perceptions of the world we see. It creates a new truth. And its melting creates yet another revelation of truth. As does the rising of the new day’s sun.

Maybe that seems a naive way of looking at the world in these complex times where truth means something different to so many different people. But there are simple truths  that make up our existence and looking at them in a simplified manner might not be such a bad thing.

Like looking at the world in the first light of day after a snowfall– freshened and new.

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My Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria takes place on Saturday, September 15, beginning at 1 PM. There will be a painting giveaway, some other prizes, surprises, good conversation and puppets. Lots of puppets. Okay, that last part isn’t true. But you won’t know for sure unless you come.

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