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We would rather be ruined than changed

We would rather die in our dread

Than climb the cross of the moment

And let our illusions die.

 

–W.H. Auden

Epilogue, The Age of Anxiety

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These words were written by poet W.H. Auden in the aftermath of World War II in his Pulitzer Prize winning poem The Age of Anxiety, a work that later was translated into music in the form of a symphony by Leonard Bernstein  and ballet by Jerome Robbins. I didn’t know much about this work when I stumbled across this short passage and I don’t suppose that its acclaim or history have much to do with the the thought it provokes.

Reading these four lines immediately brought to mind the transitional phase we’re moving through. It is a time fraught with fast moving change and many of the ideals and beliefs that we held onto as absolutes seem fragile and illusory now, if not completely destroyed. It probably felt much like this to many of those who lived through the war years of the 30’s and 40’s. It must feel as though you were attached, with no control at all, to the back of an angry beast who is rampaging. Beliefs are shattered and all you have to hold onto is your fear.

It seems like many of the groups vying to gain power over the direction of the rampaging beast that is this nation lend credence to the words above. They fear and despise the idea of change, even inevitable change, and would rather see the whole shooting match go up in smoke rather than alter their illusions of what we once were or what we could be in the future.

I know this sound somewhat cryptic and I don’t want to blurt out the obvious here right now. Just a thought that rose from the four simple lines above.

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I too am not a bit tamed,

I too am untranslatable,

I sound my barbaric yawp

over the roofs of the world.

 

-Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

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This new painting,a 24″ by 30″ canvas that is part of my upcoming show at the West End Gallery, is titled My Brisant Bellow. The term brisant bellow is one I have used in the past, my equivalent to Whitman’s barbaric yawp which comes from his Song of Myself in Leaves of Grass.

It is included in the four lines above that have been a guiding beacon for me throughout the past 25 years as I have tried to be an artist. These words instructed me to be only myself, to openly and boldly express my feelings without fear or shame. To not hide my scars, my fears or my weaknesses because they are part of my wholeness and keep me in balance. To not be underestimated or devalued by myself or anyone else. To claim a foothold in this world and bellow out the proof of my existence in my own voice:

Here I am.

There are paintings that I do that are meant to represent this thought, paintings that are meant to be plainly expressions of that Here I am. I consider them icons in my body of work, pieces that fully represent my work and what I want from it. This painting definitely falls in that category. It’s simply put but not a simple expression.

When I look at this painting I personally see myself and all my hopes and aspirations, all that I am or desire to be.

What I hope for this painting is that someone else sees that same here I am in it for themselves, that they see in it those things that make them a whole and perfectly imperfect person with a place in this world and a voice that demands to be heard.

Is that asking too much?

 

 

 

 

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i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

 
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?


(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened) 

 e e cummings 

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I struggled coming up with a title for this painting. It is a piece that really resonates with me and I wanted to have a title for it that captured what I was seeing in it. At first, I wanted the title to point out what I perceived to be the richness of the land and its colors. At first, I called it The New Cornucopia but it just didn’t sit right. There was more to what I was seeing in the painting than that particular title captured.

I went seeking for something that better expressed what I saw in it and came across a poem that I had read long ago from the late poet e e cummings. Shown above, i thank you God for most this amazing is more prayer of thanks than poem with an emphasis on seeing the yes in all things surrounding us. It has a lovely transcendental feel to it that, for me, jibed with what I was seeing in this painting.

This poem was originally included in cummings’ 1950 collection of poems, Xaipe.  That title intrigued me. It wasn’t anything I had seen before and I wanted to know how it might connect to the poem above. I found that it is a Greek word, pronounced zape, and translates as rejoice or be happy.

That was perfect for what I was sensing in this painting- the joy in just being alive and recognizing, with the opened eyes of my eyes, the wonder of the natural world around us. The yes of everything.

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“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

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This morning, I am finally coming to the end of preparations for my show at the Principle Gallery that opens a week from today, next Friday, June 1. Finishing touches this morning and loading for delivery later in the day. This point in the process generally brings a sense of relief even though there still is much ahead before I can fully relax.

I have had a few chances to finally look at this group of work as a whole and can say that I am truly excited to see it hanging in the gallery. I may have buried myself more in this body of work than any group in quite some time, maybe as a way of seeking sanctuary from the problems of the outer world. Perhaps the title of this show, Haven, was self-fulfilling.

I didn’t concern myself with trying to meet the expectations of others, didn’t worry about including work that might be directed towards anyone besides myself. I concentrated only on color and form and textures and mood. The colors are deep and dark. The forms have an organic simplicity. The textures create their own narratives beneath the picture plane. All of this comes together to create a sense of mood within these paintings that I think may be more consistent and palpable than any show of mine in some time.

In short, I think it’s a very strong show.

The painting at the top, Light and Wisdom, is one painting from the show. I think this piece, a 16″ by 20″ canvas, is emblematic of this show’s feel and look, possessing all of the qualities I listed above.

I love the lines below it from T.S. Eliot, feeling that they express so well what I see in this painting. Life often feels like a constant search for some vague object– knowledge, wisdom, love, experience, etc.– that will make us somehow whole. Yet, as is often the case, we only reach wholeness within ourselves, in that place where the journey began. Maybe that is why I chose this painting for this bit of verse from Eliot– it has a sense of wholeness that has been ultimately fulfilled by realizing that the answer was in itself.

The answer, it seems, is always at hand.

 

 

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Marsden Hartley- Himmel 1915

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I have come to the conclusion that it is better to have two colors in right relation to each other than to have a vast confusion of emotional exuberance. . . I had rather be intellectually right than emotionally exuberant.

–Marsden Hartley
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I have been a fan of the paintings of Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) for some time now. I was reading about him earlier and came across this quote  that caught my attention, making me think about what I hoped to accomplish in my own work.
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I often speak about creating work that has an immediate emotional impact achieved with colors and forms. But maybe, as Hartley’s words have prompted me to think, this first purely visceral and emotional impact is pure exuberance. Just a gut reaction that comes in that instant before the mind has time to engage.
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A shout that makes you turn and look.
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While that is good and desired, it’s doubtful that it can stand by itself and have a lasting effect unless it has an intellectual aspect to engage the viewer’s mind. There needs to be a balance between the mind and the gut.
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If you turn at hearing a shout and the person doing the shouting is shouting just to make you turn and has nothing more to say to you, you keep moving and soon forget that person. But if you turn and the shouter has something more to offer, you might linger a bit to consider what is being said and engage in a conversation.
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When you do move on, you take something from this engagement with you, something that will stay with you.
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I am not sure this an apt analogy but it immediately came to mind on reading Hartley’s words. I don’t exactly know how this mind/gut balance works or how it can be accomplished in reality. Maybe even consciously trying to do so throws the whole thing off kilter.
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It’s early in the morning and I am just thinking here. Time to go try to put it into action…

Marsden Hartley- Portrait of a German Officer 1914

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SOWING LIGHTNING

Seize
Bolts of lightning from the sky
And plant them in fields of life.

They will grow like tender sprouts of fire.
Charge somber thoughts
With unexpected flash,
You, my lightning in the soil! 

― Visar Zhiti, The Condemned Apple: Selected Poetry

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This is a newer painting that I’ve been looking at for a while now here in the studio. With its many lightning bolts, it’s obviously different from most of my work even though most of it falls in line with the body of my work.

Most of my considerations have to do with whether I feel there is more to be done on this piece. That’s not uncommon when a new element is added. It takes time for me to accept this new thing being interjected into my quiet little world.

I guess that can be said for most new things.

I can see where a lot of people who know my work might have mixed feelings about this piece that seems so much like an anomaly. It has a feeling of an electrical shock in it, shiny and sharp and harsh. If you’ve ever been zapped by a strong jolt of electricity, you know what I mean.

I know that feeling.

But for now, I continue to consider this painting. It may change in some way before it ever sees the outer world again.

Or may be not. For now, I am calling it Sowing Lightning after the poem at the top from the Albanian poet Visar Zhiti. The idea of lightning planting itself in the earth with each strike is an intriguing one.

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I Am Not Alone

The night, it is deserted
from the mountains to the sea.
But I, the one who rocks you,
I am not alone!

The sky, it is deserted
for the moon falls to the sea.
But I, the one who holds you,
I am not alone !

The world, it is deserted.
All flesh is sad you see.
But I, the one who hugs you,
I am not alone!

Gabriela Mistral

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Another new piece that just came off the easel, this one a 24″ by 24″ canvas. I think I am going to call this painting Never Alone.

I’ve written about the focused, almost mesmerized, feeling that comes over me when I have been at work on this recent work and this painting was no different. It just pulled me in from the beginning and held me captive. Even when I would stop working on it, I was constantly looking back at it, trying to absorb it as though it were some sort of balm.

And maybe that is just what it is for myself. A soothing balm.

I came across the poem above a number of years ago from the great Chilean poetess and Nobel Prize winner, Gabriela Mistral, and shared it on the blog back in 2010. I wrote then that I felt this poem perfectly paired with a painting I had done at that time. I think the same holds true here.

As I wrote in 2010:  The sense of being alone yet not lonely is an important element in the way I look at my work and one that I sometimes struggle with for fear that it may alienate some who see being alone as only loneliness and not solitude. An important distinction and one that is often misunderstood. 

But we who relish our solitary time understand.

Well, I have some solitary time right now to further absorb my balm.

 

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