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Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

 

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“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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Above is a new painting, a larger one at 30″ by 48″ on canvas, that is part of Red Tree 20: New Growth, my annual solo show that opens this coming Friday at the Principle Gallery. With its size and deep coloring, it presents a strong and striking image in person. Along with that strength, looking at it, the feeling that came to me was one of hope. There’s a sense of journey in this, a movement through dark and possible peril towards light and the possibility of tranquility. That brought about the title To the Gardens of Hope.

In short, hope is the thing that drives us through the dark.

In dark times we must hold on to hope, to have a goal of light that drives us to action. Too often we think of hope and dreams in passive terms. But hope without action is futile, a lazy daydream that will never grow in the gardens of light.

Hope combined with action is a potent force.

Maybe that is why the words above from the first book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy seem to mesh so well with how I see this painting. That story certainly had existential peril and darkness. But throughout the tale there was always an end goal that gave hope. And plenty of action was required to get to that goal, to overcome the darkness with light. This concept was not in mind during the painting but now that I think of it, this could be from one of the kingdoms or shires of those books.

That concept can also be summed up in four short lines below from the poet Langston Hughes. Without hope and dreams, we have no will to act and are, as he describes, broken-winged birds.

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     “Hold fast to dreams,     

For if dreams die    

                    Life is a broken-winged bird,     

That cannot fly.”     

       ― Langston Hughes

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So, in perilous times, when darkness seem pervasive, hope has a place for those willing to step forward and move toward the light.

That’s only my take on this painting. You might well see it in different terms and that is, as always, as it should be.

This painting along with the rest of the show will be hung today in the Alexandria gallery. Hope you get a chance to stop in and see it. If you’re around Old Town Alexandria on Friday evening, I will be at the gallery for the opening reception which runs from 6:30-9:00 PM. Come in and say hello. I look forward to it.  

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This morning, I was looking for a piece of writing that I could pair with this new Multitudes painting, a 12″ square canvas that I call Facing the Crowd, that is part of my upcoming show at the Principle Gallery. I came across the poem below from the late poet Charles Bukowski and before I even read it I had a feeling that it might work. These paintings have a kind of Bukowski feel to them, as though each of these faces might inhabit a dark corner of his seedy world. If I look close enough I am sure I can find Bukowski’s timeworn face somewhere in there.

I was originally going to call this Welcome to my TED Talk or just Public Speaking. But I felt that Facing the Crowd described it better because I didn’t really see it as being about standing in front of crowd once in a while, even though I have given a talk or two where I definitely felt like this. Actually, I saw this as being willing to face the scrutiny and judgement of the crowd in order to be the person you desire to be.

Too often we choose to stifle our own voice and desires and instead blend in with the crowd, getting swept along in a force that overcomes all our individual efforts. The choice of the crowd becomes our choice, without nuance or depth of understanding. We lose our voice in the din of the many.

We become the din.

To choose to turn and stand before the crowd, to speak our own words in our own voice is a scary thing for any of us. But more than that, it is an act of bravery, an act of liberation from a crowd that is most often driven by the lowest common denominators of our character.

Well, that’s what I get from this. You might see it in altogether different terms and maybe even dislike this piece immensely. And I celebrate that because that is how it should be. Art allows us great liberty if we listen to our own reactions rather than becoming part of the crowd.

Anyway, here is Bukowski’s poem:

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“The Genius of The Crowd

 

there is enough treachery, hatred violence absurdity in the average

human being to supply any given army on any given day

 

and the best at murder are those who preach against it

and the best at hate are those who preach love

and the best at war finally are those who preach peace

 

those who preach god, need god

those who preach peace do not have peace

those who preach peace do not have love

 

beware the preachers

beware the knowers

beware those who are always reading books

beware those who either detest poverty

or are proud of it

beware those quick to praise

for they need praise in return

beware those who are quick to censor

they are afraid of what they do not know

beware those who seek constant crowds for

they are nothing alone

beware the average man the average woman

beware their love, their love is average

seeks average

 

but there is genius in their hatred

there is enough genius in their hatred to kill you

to kill anybody

not wanting solitude

not understanding solitude

they will attempt to destroy anything

that differs from their own

not being able to create art

they will not understand art

they will consider their failure as creators

only as a failure of the world

not being able to love fully

they will believe your love incomplete

and then they will hate you

and their hatred will be perfect

 

like a shining diamond

like a knife

like a mountain

like a tiger

like hemlock

 

their finest art”

 

― Charles Bukowski

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For everyone we see and who interests us, we should create a biography of his past and future. One of the sage’s mental characteristics is his ability to dress up other people inside himself, giving them the clothes he deems most suitable for however he chooses to dream them.

Masquerades disclose the reality of souls. As long as no one sees who we are, we can tell the most intimate details of our life. I sometimes muse over this sketch of a story—about a man afflicted by one of those personal tragedies born of extreme shyness . . . who one day, while wearing a mask I don’t know where, told another mask all the most personal, most secret, most unthinkable things that could be told about his tragic and serene life. And since no outward detail would give him away, he having disguised even his voice, and since he didn’t take careful note of whoever had listened to him, he could enjoy the ample sensation of knowing that somewhere in the world there was someone who knew him as not even his closest and finest friend did. When he walked down the street, he would ask himself if this person, or that one, or that person over there might not be the one to whom he’d once, wearing a mask, told his most private life. Thus would be born in him a new interest in each person, since each person might be his only, unknown confidant. And his crowning glory would be if the whole of that sorrowful life he’d told were, from start to finish, absolutely false.

Fernando Pessoa, Masquerades

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I was looking for a piece of writing to accompany this painting, Face Off, which is from my new Multitudes series when I came across this item that was published in a 2009 issue of Harper’s Magazine from the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. I didn’t recognize the name but soon discovered that Pessoa, who lived from 1888 until 1935 when he died from cirrhosis, is considered one of the giants of Portuguese literature and poetry.

And an interesting character whose views might match up well with this painting. You see, he assumed and wrote under many different names. But these were not simply pseudonyms, were not just different names. No, they were mostly different personas as well. He termed them as heteronyms. In fact there is a list of over 80 of these heteronyms that he employed over his relatively short life.

The Masquerades of which he wrote above seems to be a description of his own world and life. He appears, from what little bit I have been able to find out about him in a short time this morning, to have been a man of masks.

And that’s an interesting premise, this idea of wearing a different mask for each new encounter with those we meet in our lives, giving each a bit of ourselves that might be unique to that person alone. It has the effect that while many may know us, might recognize the mask we are wearing at any given moment, none might truly know our totality.

There might be no one who would know and recognize our true unmasked face.

In a way I think that is an apt description of how I see the Multitudes series. Each face in these crowds might well be a mask of my own, one that I might have worn around others at points in my life. Angry times. Desperate times. Goofy times and times of absolute stupidity and ignorance. Lonely times. Ugly and shameful times.

As I have aged, the masks I wear seem more and more representative of my real face though I believe they are often still distorted.

Maybe that is what this series represents for me– a shedding of old masks. Maybe even old lives.

I don’t really know. Maybe you get to the point that you become the mask and the mask becomes you.

Hmm…

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The moon, like a flower

In heaven’s high bower,

With silent delight

Sits and smiles on the night.

—William Blake

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Finished this new painting just the other day. It’s a very quiet, almost meditative piece that I am calling Moon Flowers.

It’s a piece that I find myself looking at a lot these past couple of days. While it is simply constructed, there are some there things taking place in it that keep my eye occupied. The relationships between the beds of flowers, for example, with their individual color vibrations and shapes. Or the relationship between the moon and the path below. There seems to be a connection between the two.

These relationships and the organic quality of the lines within it give it an abstract quality that I like very much. If I just let my mind go where it desires, it allows me to move beyond what seems to be represented and see something quite different.

Or rather, feel something quite different.

And ultimately, that is what I hope for in my work– to move the viewer beyond the representation of the image presented. How that’s done, I do not know. Maybe the answer is somewhere on that path under that moon. Maybe that is what I am seeing in this picture that is pulling me in.

Only time will tell.

So, for this Sunday morning music let’s go with a piece with an apt title, Moonflower, the title track of a 1977 album from the great Carlos Santana. Hard to believe this piece is over forty years old now. Time!

Have a great day.

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The Sail

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“He in his madness prays for storms, and dreams that storms will bring him peace”

― Mikhail Lermontov  (1814-1841)

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Maybe you didn’t see it yesterday and if not, good for you. It was an awful and uncomfortable thing to behold.

Witnessing madness always is. And that is what we were watching and experiencing.

It brought to mind the line above from the 19th century Russian (fitting, I guess) poet, Mikhail Lemontov, speaking of the sailor who believes that since the calm always follows the storm that the calm only comes because of the storm.

That’s the sort of logic with which we are dealing. One that believes that chaos brings order.

Hopefully, we can ride this storm out safely until there is calm.

Or until someone capable can wrest the wheel from the hands of a mad captain who seems bent on continuing to ride into storms.

The line above is actually a translation from the Russian that is often attributed to Leo Tolstoy since he included it in his The Death of Ivan Ilych. I believe a character was quoting the Lermontov line and people over time have come to believe that Tolstoy originated the line.

The line comes from a Lermontov poem, The Sail. There are many translations and not all use the exact wording though the meaning is much the same in all. Here’s one tranlation:

 

The Sail

Gleams white a solitary sail

In the haze of the light blue sea.—

What seeks it in countries far away?

What in its native land did leave?

 

The mast creaks and presses,

The wind whistles, the waves are playing;

Alas! It does not seek happiness,

Nor from happiness is fleeing!

 

Beneath, the azure current flows,

Above, the golden sunlight streaks:—

But restless, into the storm it goes,

As if in storms there is peace!

 

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Just one of those days that calls for a Shel break. By that, I mean a few short poems from the late Shel Silverstein. They are often labeled as being for kids, most likely for their simplicity in their messaging and the cartoon-like quality of his line drawings. But there is wonderful wordplay and a layer of maturity in them that usually makes me smile as well as think just a bit. I think the best children’s works have that quality that gives them an appeal beyond the kids.

Take the two pieces at the bottom, Losing Pieces and Zebra Question. They both play with how we speak and how we see things. Simple, sure. But interesting and a just a bit thought provoking.

And I can sure use a little bit of Shel this morning. My head feels like it has hinges and someone has opened it, scooped out everything and left me little to work with.

Got to go find some good stuff to put in it.

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The American poet Mary Oliver died yesterday at the age of 83. I can’t claim to know much about poetry but I always found her work engaging and enlightening. There was a plain-spoken quality to her work that gave her musings the feel and clarity of newfound wisdom. She is gone but her voice will carry on. Here’s a post from a couple of years ago that was about the relationship of a painting of mine to one of her better known poems, Wild Geese.

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GC Myers- The Singular HeartYou do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

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A while back, a person interested in my work sent me the poem above, Wild Geese.  It was written by the esteemed Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver. This person wanted to know if I would be interested in translating this poem into into one of my paintings for them. I replied that when I had some time I would gladly do that as I think the poem strikes a chord that very much resonates in my work.

After a short while, this person contacted me again and said they had been looking at my work and had found a painting that they felt captured the spirit of the poem. The painting is the one shown at the top, The Singular Heart.

I was thrilled by the choice. It had the feeling and message of the poem without being absolutely literal.  It’s exactly how I wanted to portray it. And the message and title of the painting fell perfectly in line with Oliver’s poem.  The Red Tree stands, singular and alone, with the realization that it has a unique place, as does every being, in the family of things.

I told this person a bit about this painting and an experience I had with it that stuck with me.  Once it hung in my home area gallery, the West End Gallery, and I met with a local college art class there. One of the questions was which of the pieces there was my favorite. I normally don’t answer that question because I have always felt that any painting that I decide to show has something unique to it, some quality that makes it special to me. Kind of like a parent with their kids.

But on this occasion I didn’t hesitate and pointed at this painting.  I told them if I were to try to describe in one painting what I wanted to say with the body of my work and what I hoped for myself as a person, that this piece would summarize it perfectly.

I told this person that I felt it was perfect choice and was pleased when they chose this painting to represent the poem in their home. It means a lot when any painting finds a home but is even more special when I know that it resonates on many levels with its owner, that it goes deeper than the surface.

Here’s a clip of Mary Oliver reading her poem, Wild Geese:

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