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What and How

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For the mystic what is how. For the craftsman how is what. For the artist what and how are one.

–William McElcheran, Canadian Sculptor 1927-1999

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This morning I came across the quote above from the great Canadian sculptor William McElcheran that I featured here a few years back. Its wordplay and meaning both still ring a bell for me, even though I am not sure of McElcheran’s definitions of what and how. I have searched several times trying to find the origin of this quote to see the context in which it was first said but it seems to simply stand alone.

And I guess that’s okay because it says a lot and is complete in its meaning, at least in the way I perceive it.

I guess I fall in the artist category here. I am definitely searching for the what in my work regardless of the how that is required to get there. I will gladly alter my how to get to the what. My how is not based on tradition, is not absolute in any way and changes as needed. Yet, it is still crucial that it remains my how because if I feel that if I defer to another how exclusively it ceases to be my how and fails to express my individual voice.

It is when the how and the what merge that I feel most satisfied in my work.

Now, if you can follow that– and I am not really sure that I can myself– you must obviously fall into the mystic category.

I used the painting at the top, Spirit of Silence, which is part of my current Principle Gallery show, because it feels to me like it falls in that area where the how and what come together. It is a simply built painting where the how of it seems to roll perfectly into the what that it conveys. I immediately thought of this piece when I read the words at the top earlier.

 

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While I recognize the necessity for a basis of observed reality… true art lies in a reality that is felt.

–Odilon Redon
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Love this quote from the French artist Odilon Redon (1840-1916). His work certainly reflected this thought, most generally having deep emotional tones.
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I first came across his work in the form of a book of his drawings. I thought that was his dominant form of expression until I began to look deeper into his paintings. The boldness, purity and harmonies of his colors struck me. The colors alone carried the emotional weight of many of his paintings, seemingly allowing the viewer to sense its tone and message in a single glimpse. Longer observation is rewarded as one better sees the subtlety in Redon’s expression.
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I am definitely a fan of Odilon Redon and,  even though our styles and methods greatly differ, try to carry that idea of felt reality into my own work. Here’s a video that gives a nice overview of his paintings.
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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.

Meditatio

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“Touch your inner space, which is nothingness, as silent and empty as the sky; it is your inner sky. Once you settle down in your inner sky, you have come home, and a great maturity arises in your actions, in your behavior. Then whatever you do has grace in it. Then whatever you do is a poetry in itself. You live poetry; your walking becomes dancing, your silence becomes music.”

~Osho

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The Protectors

“Peacock Room 1908”

We typically spend the day of the openings of my Principle Gallery shows going to some of the museums in Washington. There is a treasure trove of art and history available within a relatively small area. This year we finally made it to the Freer Gallery of Art in order to see the Peacock Room which was created by James MacNeill Whistler for a home in London around 1876.

As you can see from the photo above, it is an opulent space decorated in an Anglo-Japanese style. It is pretty striking with it’s darkly rich colors and its eclectic collection of pottery adorning its shelves. Originally, Whistler stepped in at the last minute to finish the room after its true creator fell ill. Whistler immediately took off on his own vision for the room, changing colors and embellishing to suit his taste. The resulting room infuriated the British shipping magnate who owned the home and this set off a long and bitter dispute between Whistler and him.

Nearly 30 years later, American industrialist Charles Lang Freer obtained the Whistler painting that had formerly hung over the fireplace of the Peacock Room then purchased the entire room from the estate of the now deceased shipping magnate. Freer had it installed in his Detroit mansion and when he died in 1919 it was moved to its present home which bears his name.

If you ever get a chance try to make it to the Freer to see the Peacock Room. It’s a wonderful piece of art history plus you get to explore one of the less crowded museum complexes in Washington. The Freer Gallery, The Sackler Museum and the Museum of African Art share a sprawling underground space which shows off their tremendous collections of Asian and African art.  There is so much to see there that in our time there we barely scratched the surface. Maybe next time.

One of my personal favorites were these two large wooden sculptures.  Created about 8-900 years ago, they once flanked the entrance of a Buddhist temple in Osaka, Japan. They were known as the Protectors of the Buddhist Universe. The one shown here at the top has an open mouth which represents the ah sound which is the first sound in the ancient Sanskrit language in which Buddhism was born. The other has a closed mouth which is the om which is the final sound. These guardians are meant to protect the Buddha and his followers from beginning to end.

They are the alpha and the omega.

As I said, there is a wealth of art and history there so if you get a chance, definitely take the time to visit this gem that seems overlooked in the Smithsonian universe.

 

The Navigator

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“How vast those Orbs must be, and how inconsiderable this Earth, the Theatre upon which all our mighty Designs, all our Navigations, and all our Wars are transacted, is when compared to them. A very fit consideration, and matter of Reflection, for those Kings and Princes who sacrifice the Lives of so many People, only to flatter their Ambition in being Masters of some pitiful corner of this small Spot.”

― Christiaan Huygens, Cosmotheoros: or, conjectures concerning the inhabitants of the planets (ca 1695)

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I am a bit slow getting around this morning so I thought I’d share one more painting from the Principle Gallery show. This is titled The Navigator and is 24″ by 24″ on canvas.

Accompanying it are the words from the 17th century Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens. Shortly before his death in 1695, he had written a book, Cosmotheoros, in which he postulated on the existence of extraterrestrial life in the far reaches of the universe. His lifelong study of the cosmos allowed him to see how tiny and possibly inconsequential our world was in relative terms.

And that is a fitting thought for this painting as the boat skims over a vast sea, guided by the light from huge suns that are so distant that they may not even exist at this moment even though their light still travels to us through the dark of space.

The universe is humbling in its scale and scope.

Aftershow

Back in the studio this morning after returning yesterday from Alexandria. The show opening went very well with a highly positive response that I will say was most gratifying and affirming. This was where I wanted the work to be from a creative standpoint and to have folks respond so well just feels good, to put it plainly.

I can’t say thank you enough to the many folks who showed up including some old friends who I only get to see once in a great while or only through this site or other social media. There were some there who I unfortunately couldn’t get to at the opening and I hope to be able to speak with these folks at some other point.

I’ve written here before about how fortunate I have been to continue to do this annual show after so many years. I have to say it is these people who continue to show up and respond so well to the work that make it possible. I am so appreciative of their continuing interest in the work and the vast amount of inspiration they provide. Thank you.

And to everyone at the Principle Gallery, I offer a simple thank you. You know how I feel about you all and the gratitude I feel for all you have given me over the years. It has been a great gift.

I am going to cut it short while I recuperate this morning. Want to keep things quiet so for this week’s Sunday morning music I offer a contemplative piece from concert guitarist Anders Miolin. It is a traditional Chinese composition called High Mountain & Flowing Water and is played on his unique 13-stringed guitar, an instrument he designed along with master luthier Ermano Chiavi. Give a listen and relax. It’s the kind of music and feeling I hope for in my own work.

Have a good day…

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