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Patina/ Wabi Sabi


“The tides of time should be able to imprint the passing of the years on an object. The physical decay or natural wear and tear of the materials used does not in the least detract from the visual appeal, rather it adds to it. It is the changes of texture and colour that provide the space for the imagination to enter and become more involved with the devolution of the piece. Whereas modern design often uses inorganic materials to defy the natural ageing effects of time, wabi sabi embraces them and seeks to use this transformation as an integral part of the whole. This is not limited to the process of decay, but can also be found at the moment of inception, when life is taking its first fragile steps toward becoming.”

Andrew Juniper, Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence


The photo at the top is the floor of our garden shed. It’s a simple structure that we bought new probably 35 years ago. Over the years, the once pristine plywood floor has darkened, taking on a smooth rich patina on the parts that have not pitted or worn away from decades of comings and goings.

It’s a beautiful thing and I often find myself stopping while I’m in there, which is every day, just to take some small pleasure in looking at its worn surface. The fact that it took time and innumerable footsteps to smooth and wear down the surface adds to my appreciation. It’s not something that could be replicated easily. Oh, you could try but it would lose that organic depth that comes with time.

Just a bit of the wabi-sabi of things around us. That’s the Japanese concept of finding beauty in the imperfection and natural wear shown by things.

And I guess that applies to people, as well. I know I am fascinated in seeing how folks age, how their faces and bodies reflect the life they have lived. There is beauty in the lines on the face or the graying of one’s hair.

Of course, I am talking about other people. I don’t find any beauty at all in my wrinkles or my whitened and thinning hair. In fact, I close my eyes now when I walk past my bathroom mirror out of the fear that some old man will jump out of it at me. 

Nah, that’s not true. As much as I would sometimes like to have the smooth skin and the darker, fuller head of hair of my youth, I am satisfied, even pleased, in seeing the wear and tear written on my features. I see a small scar high on my forehead and remember the wound that left it so well. 

It was many years ago and I was playing with my Magpie, our highly charged husky-shepherd, chasing her around our yard. As I pursued her, I went through some low hanging branches on a birch tree next to the deck I was building off the back of our home. Midway through, as I ducked my head lower to avoid the sweep of the branches, I slammed it suddenly into a deck board that I had not yet cut off. I was knocked on my back and could feel the instant throb of pain on my forehead from the blow.

Maggie was on me in an instant, licking and urging me to get up and play some more. I laid there on the ground on my back and just laughed as hard as I could while the blood trickled down my forehead. I tend to laugh at my own misfortune, especially when it is of my own doing, which is almost always the case.

Maybe there is a bit of wabi-sabi in our laughter? Maybe it comes from the recognition of our imperfections, our humanness, in those moments?

And even while I was there on the ground, that same garden shed was not far away, its floor not yet so deeply darkened or worn. It didn’t yet have the accumulated memory of its being written on its surfaces. It was newer but it certainly wasn’t as beautiful.

And maybe that’s the attraction of this concept of wabi-sabi for me, that the wear and tear that appears is evidence of our being here, that we existed in this place and in this time. It’s much the same way in which I view my work, my paintings. Evidence that I was here, that my hand made these things and in some way my voice was heard.

That I, like that garden shed and its floor, had a purpose in this world.

Appreciate and enjoy the wabi-sabi in your own life.

Leaving


“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”

Beryl Markham, West with the Night


Spent some time listening to music from the late Chet Baker this morning. There’s always an abundance of raw emotion in his playing and one selection felt right this morning as I watch the leaves falling outside my studio window. Something quite sad and wistful in seeing the leaves drop on this gray morning, much like the feel of much of Baker’s music.

The song is Leaving from a relatively little known album with the same title from 1980. The photo of Baker that accompanies the track below shows him at a late stage of his life when he was showing the ravages of his drug addiction and a few violent episodes. It’s quite a face.

So, settle back in, sip your coffee, let your mind go and give a listen. Then have a good Sunday.


This Painting Up For Auction Today to Help Our Furry Friends


I thought that for this morning I would just let you know that the painting above, Ask the Night, is up for auction this evening with all funds going directly to the support of our local Chemung County Humane Society and SPCA. It’s all part of an online event on Facebook today, the SPCA Virtual FB Fundraiser, that takes place from 4-7 PM.

The benefit features a variety of different auction items as well as video performances from some very talented folks. You see, this benefit has successfully taken place over the past several years as a Drag Show in a local nightclub. This year, because of the covid-19 restrictions, it simply wasn’t possible to hold an in-person event. But the pandemic doesn’t mean that the dogs and cats and kittens and puppies of this area still don’t need a little help. So, they decided to move the whole show to a Virtual event.

I understand that the performers have really taken to the challenge of producing their video performances so you can expect some pretty great stuff. Plus, you can tip the performers with all tips going directly to the SPCA.

So, if you have some time this afternoon from 4-7 tune in to the SPCA Virtual FB Fundraiser. Or you can put in a bid on any of the featured items right now or any time right up to 7 PM when the auction ends.

The painting I have donated, Ask the Night, is a 10″ by 20″ painting on canvas valued at $1600. The current bid is $1200. 

Anything you can do to lend a hand to our furry friends is deeply appreciated. Here’s a little reminder of who you’ll be helping from the late great Harry Nilsson. Have a great day and, if you can, visit the benefit later today.

Fatherly Advice

My Dad, right, with Jesse Gardner


Since my dad died last week I have been thinking a lot about his life and his influence– and sometimes, lack of influence– on my life. Just trying to see if I can recognize those sometime intangible things he might have passed on. It’s not an easy task because he was not a sentimental person in any way and the idea of him trying to consciously pass on words of advice to any of his kids is unthinkable.

I wish he had because he had a lot of traits that, when I really think about it, are worth passing on.

For example, I don’t ever remember seeing him exhibit fear. I am not saying he was fearless. Who truly is? I think he just faced it and reacted to threats in a in a different way than myself. He was more than likely to react to danger with confidence and an anger directed at the imminent threat. Direct with no overthinking involved. More fight than flight.

Man, I wish I had that trait.

And I don’t remember him worrying or, at least, expressing his worries outwardly. He must have had worries, right? But he never sat wringing his hands while wailing about what might come. It was more of a just-take-it-as-it-comes attitude. 

Man, I wish I had that.

There are a lot of other little things, good and bad, that I could go over but I just wanted to contemplate what he might have really said if asked to give advice to his kids. I doubt that it would have looked anything like the list below that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his daughter in 1933, which was coincidentally the year my dad was born.

That’s probably unfair. My dad was obviously no F. Scott Fitzgerald. But then again, I doubt that Fitzgerald could throw a decent knuckleball.

What advice would you pass on to a young person?

Here’s Fitzgerald’s list:


Things to worry about:

Worry about courage
Worry about Cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship
Worry about…

Things not to worry about:

Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions

Things to think about:

What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:

(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?

–F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1933, Letter to his Daughter


 

Creeped Out


Now this is just my opinion, okay?

I don’t know about any of you out there but I was more than a little creeped out watching the vice-president*** during last night’s debate. 

I don’t think it was dull, studied and almost psychotic drone of his voice. Or the ease with which he gave voice to lies and misinterpretations of popular opinion. Or the doughy pallor of his face that gave him the appearance of a undertaker who seldom leaves his basement workshop. 

I bet he smells like formaldehyde. 

I don’t think is was even that weird pinkness around his eyes, particularly that thing on his left eye.

Or even the fly. Oh, that pesky black fly that found its way to his head and perched prominently there on camera. Like it had finally found the motherlode of all cowpies.

But even that fly couldn’t take more than a couple of minutes of that crap.

No, it was even the fly. I don’t think it’s not any one thing about him that gives me the shivers. Maybe it’s his totality that you see in the coldness of his eyes. It’s there even when they take on a pink tone. 

And maybe coldness is the wrong word. Maybe hollowness would fit better. There is a quality of emptiness about him. And that can be a scary thing because it means that this space is not filled with goodness or grace or mercy. It lacks such things.

It is just a cold and dark hollow space beneath that corpse-like face.

Bone cold and dark.

And I–and again, I point out that this is my opinion– find that creepy as hell.

I used Norman Bates from Psycho to illustrate this post. Maybe I used it because we are in the month of Halloween.

Nah.  It’s there mainly because I see the VP*** as the Norman Bates of VPs. If I were checking into a motel and the VP*** was behind the counter, I would get back in the car and head down the road. But beyond that, there is also a fly connection that seems to fit. Take a look.


GC Myers- Night Comes On


It seemed the better way
When first I heard him speak
Now it’s much too late
To turn the other cheek

Sounded like the truth
Seemed the better way
Sounded like the truth
But it’s not the truth today

Leonard Cohen, It Seemed the Better Way


Come on in. It’s safe here today. No commentary, even though the lyrics of the song I am featuring have something to say on their own. But even that is subject to your own interpretation.

I will spare you mine.

The song I am featuring today really struck a chord with me this morning. It is from the 2016 Leonard Cohen album, You Want It Darker, which was the last before his death in November of that same year.

A lot of things died that November.

I am sorry. That was commentary.

This song is called It Seemed the Better Way and it features the cantor and male chorus from the Montreal synagogue that Cohen attended as a child. At the time of the song’s release, he described the lyrics of this song as “The feeling of a prayer that’s been there forever, but the spiritual comforts of the past no longer available.

It raises a lot of philosophic questions. But I’ll let you work on those without my input today.

I thought I would accompany this song with a painting at the top that borrows the title and tone of another Leonard Cohen song. It’s Night Comes On and is currently at the West End Gallery. This is one of those personal pieces, those paintings that keep me coming back to look again and again. There seems to be something in these sort of paintings for me that is beyond its shape and form and color and line. It holds something just beyond my comprehension but I somehow understand that it is there even though I don’t yet understand it. 

And I may never understand it. Maybe that’s the point.

If you know what it is, let me know. And if not, I certainly understand that, as well.

Have a good day.

 


Inertia


“Nothing is more obscene than inertia. More blasphemous than the bloodiest oath is paralysis.”

Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer


The painting at the top hangs in my studio and has been a favorite of mine since it was painted five years back. Every day, I find myself often looking over at it. There’s something in it that satisfies or completes something in me. It’s 24″ by 24″, so it’s not a small piece, but I think it’s not large enough to fully transmit what is has to offer. I often wonder how it would feel as a much larger painting, say 6′ by 6′ or even larger.

These thoughts went through my head this morning before 6 AM as I found myself, coffee in hand, turning to gaze at this piece. I realized then that I couldn’t remember the title of this painting that I look at with intention each and every day. I don’t think of it in terms of its title given to it years ago.

Now, it just is. It exists free of words for me. It is defined by the moment and the circumstance in which I am seeing it.

But I had to get up this morning and go over to it and peek at the back of the painting to see its given name: October Sky.

How fitting, I thought. It’s what I might have called it this morning. That mood that produced it back in 2015 was here in 2020, as odd as it is to think that anything could be similar in any way in this most unusual year. 

I went back to my desk and continued to stare at October Sky, thinking that I should be working on a larger version, if only for myself. I could start it today.

But I probably won’t.

I’ve been ensnared in a state of inertia for a while. Been hard to get started and even harder to finish things. I have personal projects around the studio and home to still finish, commissions to work on, new work to begin and a plethora of other things in the hopper. But getting up a head of steam to simply take that first step seems so difficult right now. It feels like paralysis of some sort, one that paralyzes the mind and not the muscles.

I can’t fully pinpoint the cause behind this though there are certainly a lot of possible contributing factors. Just opening your eyes these days is an existential threat to one’s peace of mind. I don’t even think I need to find the cause.

I just need to take that first step forward and I know from past experience that the dullness of mind and body will quickly fade. It’s just getting to the point of taking that step. It’s like I am waiting for something to happen right now and am afraid to be distracted even if that distraction is my own wellbeing.

Now, that sounds more ominous than it is, I am sure. I know I will soon be past this and the work will be flowing, that the synapses will be snapping and shooting off like fireworks. In fact, I think just writing this indicates that I am nearing the end of this malaise, this paralysis of the soul.

I am signing off now. I want to look again at October Sky. Maybe today’s the day I start a larger version. Or just take a first step toward something, anything else. I think there’s something pretty damn good in there just waiting to come out so maybe it’s time to get moving.

Sounds like a plan. Let’s get to the day and make it count.

Masquerade


“And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

Edgar Allan Poe, The Masque of the Red Death


It seems that with this president*** there is always a quote, a tweet, a video clip or something else that displays the vast ocean of ignorance and hypocrisy that is contained in that otherwise empty melon of a head. The falsehood of his never-ending lies are always revealed and the actions he has criticized others for in the past are always shown to have been done many times by him and to a far greater degree.

It’s so blatant and out in the open that metaphor or symbolism is often moot.

But for all of that, there is a great example in literature that might symbolize the current situation. It’s The Masque of the Red Death, written in 1842 by Edgar Allen Poe. It’s either a horror story or a morality play, depending on what you see in it. But maybe most horror stories are, at their heart, morality plays.

The one we’re living through certainly falls into both categories.

Poe’s tale is the story of an evil medieval prince, Prospero, who reigns in an unnamed land that is the victim of a plague, the Red Death, that is decimating its peasant population. Instead of devoting himself to aiding his people, Prospero and a thousand other aristocrats isolate themselves in a beautiful castle. And to make sure they are indeed safe from the ravages of the plague, they weld the castle doors shut. 

Inside, it is a non-stop party. Wine, women and song as the peasants wail and die.

After several months, Prospero decides to give an elaborate masquerade ball that would take place in an elaborate suite of seven rooms in the castle. Each room was decorated in a different color– blue, purple, green, orange, white, violet, and black.

The black room was particularly eerie. Its walls were back and the only light came through red stained glass windows which cast the room in a scarlet pall. There was a large black clock in the black room. Most of the party-goers avoided the black room. It was just too foreboding and weird.

The masquerade went on full bore in the other more colorful rooms. You know the deal– loud music, limbo dancing and medieval jello-shots. That kind of stuff.

Then at midnight the black clock in the distant black room rang out loudly and the revelers stopped reveling for a moment. As the moment passed and they were set to get back to the good times, they noticed a new guest to the party, one nobody had seen before. His costume was that of a corpse, one that had died from the plague. He moves through the crowd and they part, trying to stay away from him.

Prospero sees him and is furious that someone would wear such a costume. He yells out an order that he be seized and unmasked but nobody dares to move toward the gruesome figure. The intruder moves through the rooms and at last comes to the black room. He enters and as the prince comes toward him, he whirls and Prospero falls to the ground dead. The crowd then descends on the figure only to find there is nothing there underneath the mask and costume.

The Red Death has come to the party, has made its way to the high and mighty. One by one, the party-goers fall to the ground dead by the plague until none are left and the candles go dark.

“And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all

Now, when I see the photos of the event held last Saturday for potential SCOTUS judge Amy Coney Barrett, images of the Red Death run through my mind. Especially the interior shots in a smaller space with groups of people all at close quarters and none taking any precautions at all. Hugging and kissing and getting up close to each other’s faces to speak intimately. You can see that they feel that they are above it all, that the virus can’t affect them.

That it’s only for the dirty and the irresponsible, the unwashed masses. In fact, several GOP members have expressed opinions in past months that those that contract the virus bring it on themselves with poor personal habits and decisions.

Well, maybe in this case, they were correct, as the milled about their Masque of the Red Hat.

Then we get to see our own Prince Prospero decide to put so many others in peril by deciding to satisfy the narcissism of his bloated ego by doing a joyride on Sunday afternoon. His Secret Service agents had no choice in the matter and were commanded to be in the vehicle with the president***. The vehicle is a very special one, if you didn’t know, with bulletproof glass and armor plating. It is also sealed to prevent chemical attacks which mean those Secret Service agents were placed in a very small space with limited airspace with the virus.

Just to satisfy his own neediness, which is always– and I mean always– the case.

Like I wrote here the other day, when a Secret Service agent stated: “He’s never cared about us.”

So, here we are. Our own evil Prince Prospero continues his masquerade. Some of us are still dancing to his tune and some of are just waiting for the black clock to toll.

It’s nearing midnight.


“There was much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust.”

― Edgar Allan Poe, The Masque of the Red Death


 

Cry No More, 2020

“Song of Silence”- at Principle Gallery, Alexandria


All your silver, all your gold
Won’t shine brighter than your soul

Rhiannon Giddens, He Will See You Through


Just want to play some music this Sunday morning and not make commentary on anything. Just let it be for the moment.

These are two songs from one of my favorites, Rhiannon Giddens, who never fails to deliver incredible performances.

The first is a new version of her powerful song Cry No More, which was written in response to the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC in 2015. This new version and video reflects the distancing of current days and is as emotionally charged in its messaging as the first.

The second song is He Will See You Through from a collaboration last year with multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi. that resulted in a wonderful album, There Is No Other. I love the spare beauty of this song. If you get a chance, give a listen to the rest of the album. Great stuff.

Have a good day.


Hmmm…


It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. . . .

–The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald


I came across the bit above and immediately knew that I was going to use it to illustrate the effect of the current president***, someone who has crashed every aspect of his  life with reckless abandon and carelessness. He always leaves behind a trail of destruction — and now, death– in his wake and like Tom and Daisy Buchanan, lets other people clean up the mess he has made.

This sense of hubris and selfishness was in clear focus yesterday as the covid-19 virus swept through their ranks, finally taking hold in the Oval Office.

He** and those around him have known the risks longer than any of us, even as they tried to downplay the danger of it as over 210,000 Americans died from it in a little over 6 months. They have been told by the highest authorities how to best combat the spread of this virus. They have incredible access to information and resources– medical equipment, testing, doctors and treatments– that would be unavailable to almost all of us. They have the ability to control their environment and reduce risk factors in a way most of us cannot.

Yet, with all of this, they practically thumbed their nose at it all. They refused to wear masks. Refused to stop gathering in groups or maintain any social distancing. Many refuse to quarantine properly. And with the virus running through their ranks, they continued to go out among the voters.

The sheer selfish disregard for others and the willingness with which they put others in peril is astonishing.

As one Secret Service agent who has put their lives on the line in protecting this person** stated, “He’s never cared about us.”

That’s a quote that should remain in the minds of the voters when they go to their polling places or mark their mail-in vote.

He’s never cared about us.”

Like Tom and Daisy and others like them, he** only sees people as resources to be used for his own benefit and pleasure.

Folks are seen as either as steps to climb up or obstacles to be kicked out of the way.

Kindling to be burnt to keep him warm.

So, as he** remains in Walter Reed getting better care than any of us could ever expect, excuse me if I don’t show a great deal of compassion for his plight. If our situations were reversed, he wouldn’t go out one inch out of his way to express concern.

If I were on fire on the side of the road, he** wouldn’t stop to piss on me to put it out. That is, unless there was something in it for him.

And you know why? 

He’s never cared about us.”

So, don’t ask me to care about his health now.


Maybe that sounds a little bitter this morning. Well, it probably is. My dad’s death and how our response to it has been tempered by the virus, the sheer folly of the covid outbreak at the white house, the recent surge of covid cases in my local area– these things and so many more have me a little on edge. Plus, the first thing I saw this morning was an announcement of the death of my greatest childhood hero, Bob Gibson, at age 84.

A legendary pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, Gibby was it for me. He was always the toughest guy out there on any field, a smoldering force whose competitive fire bordered on sheer hostility toward any opponent. With Gibby, it wasn’t that you were trying to best him a game. It was more like you were trying to take something from him. Every inning was an existential exercise. And he most often prevailed. He was so dominating as a pitcher that baseball changed the mound height because they felt the hitters needed help since he was practically unhittable.  I read his early autobiography, From Ghetto to Glory, numerous times and that made him an even bigger hero to me. He was eloquent and college-educated, a rarity for ballplayers of that era, and his story was compelling. He spoke out about issues of the day with intelligence and passion, like two of my other great childhood heroes, Bill Russell and Muhammad Ali.

And as the case with these three, Bob Gibson remains a hero.

Rest in Peace, Gibby. And say Hey! to my dad if you see him around. He’s new there, as well.

Have a good day.

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