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“Our worst misfortunes never happen, and most miseries lie in anticipation.”

― Honoré de Balzac

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This quote from Balzac has been paraphrased and changed over the years by others to the more tidy phrase: Our worst fears lie in anticipation.

I usually don’t agree when writer’s words are changed or used to express something decidedly different from their original intention. But maybe speakers over the years have decided that our worst misfortunes sometimes do happen.

Balzac died in 1850, years before the horrors of the American Civil War, World War I and WW II, which carries its own separate list of atrocities that easily live up to the expectations of being our worst misfortunes. We have witnessed concentration camps, the slaughter of innocents in attempted genocides on several continents, extreme racial and ethnic hatred and so many other black blotches on our collective history.

And I am most likely skimming over a multitude of other examples, such as the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

Yeah, in the 170 years since Balzac’s death, we have seen ample evidence that our worst misfortunes do indeed happen.

But even so, there is truth in saying that most miseries lie in anticipation. Because for all the evidence we have of our ability to inflict the worst on each other, most times we come out on the other side without seeing the worst come to fruition.

That brings me to the new painting at the top of the page, an 18″ by 24″ canvas that is part of my upcoming solo show, From a Distance, that opens next week at the West End Gallery. The title of this piece is The Anticipation.

A lot of the work from this show is a result of my reaction to these times but this painting might best sum that feeling of queasiness and dull fear that comes in waiting for the next shoe to drop. It seems to be its own separate symptom of the pandemic, one that even those who are not yet infected experience.

It’s that feeling that you know there is a beginning and an end and, that even while we are in the midst of this thing, it will someday be over and in the past. That is the light at the end of tunnel. But you know you have to go through the rest of that tunnel, have to absorb all the worst it has to offer, in order to get to that endpoint.

So, you trudge and trudge, each step filled with a dark foreboding anticipation. In every dark shadow along your way you see a new imagined demon, one that threatens you with some awful painful fate. The light barely seems to get closer with each day’s journey and your fears grow with your uncertainty as to when– or if– you will finally emerge from the darkness.

The fear of what might happen eclipses your imaginings of hope.

That sounds dire. But remember, even with our rampant thoughts of the worst that could happen, we are still moving forward toward the light in the future and our actions as we move along can diminish or even eradicate those imagined worst outcomes.

In the waiting, our imagination may only see the worst but perhaps it is so we can act to avoid it ever coming to be.

That’s what I am seeing in this painting. There is foreboding but there is the possibility of hope in our own reaction.

So, while our worst misfortunes do sometimes happen, we do not have to willingly accept them as our fate. We have the opportunity to stand against them, to infuse light into the darkness that comes in our anticipation.

Here’s to that light…

 

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“Nirvana is right here, in the midst of the turmoil of life. It is the state you find when you are no longer driven to live by compelling desires, fears, and social commitments, when you have found your center of freedom and can act by choice out of that. Voluntary action out of this center is the action of the bodhisattvas — joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. You are not grabbed, because you have released yourself from the grabbers of fear, lust, and duties.” 

 Joseph CampbellThe Power of Myth

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I think about these words from the late mythologist Joseph Campbell quite a lot. It’s one of those bits that I keep close at hand, ready to pull out whenever I find myself feeling the onset of fears or anxieties about things that  I cannot control. Or when I begin to desire things that I don’t need at all. Or whenever I feel pressured to do things purely out of some social obligation.

His words remind me that true freedom lies in finding your own path. Fear, desire and obligation are their own paths and once you begin down those paths, you are further away from your own path of freedom, further from being, as Campbell put it, a joyful participant in the sorrows of the world.

Campbell’s words make it seem so simple yet, as we all know, those other paths are difficult to avoid. We are reactive creatures and often move to follow our first impulse in most situations. Learning to calm our impulses, to still our fears and desires, is the first step down a path of own making.

The painting above, Night Nirvana, a 30″ by 40″ canvas, is from my upcoming West End Gallery show and I attached these words to this piece immediately after it was finished. There’s a great stillness in it and a quiet reassuring voice in it, one that tells me that I control my reactions, that I should follow the path I make for myself. It is a path built on voluntary action, not reaction or fear. A path made with conscious choices, not obligations nor the decisions of others.

The message I take from this painting is simple: Your path is your path alone and there is great peace in knowing that. It is enough for each of us.

I am going to think on that for a while…

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But I know that nothing which truly concerns man is calculable, weighable, measurable. True distance is not the concern of the eye; it is granted only to the spirit.

–Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Airman’s Odyssey

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I stumbled across the line’s above in a beautiful passage from a book, Airman’s Odyssey, from Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  He was an author/poet best known for his classic The Little Prince as well as a pioneering aviator. He died in 1944, while flying for the Free French Air Force in World War II.

In this passage de Saint-Exupery writes about how flying at high altitudes, landmarks on the ground become mere dots and all sense of distance fades away, is lost. He describes how in his blindness to those places, those dots lost in the distance, his thirst for feelings and sensations attached to those dots grows.

Those barely visible dots become much like smells and sounds and other sensations that reawaken memories and new tracks of thought in the imagination. It is in this vast expanse of nothingness that he realizes that everything that we seek is not to be found by moving across wide physical distances but by simply  spanning the distances within ourselves.

As I said, it’s a beautiful passage and it goes well beyond what I describe here. But for my purposes I am focusing on this part of the passage, that we often seek things in the distance that we desire when what we really need has already crossed all distances and, in fact, dwells within us.

We always see the dots in the distance and can easily attach great and better things to those dots. But while doing so, we often overlook the fact that we have those same things at hand right now.

We so often desire what we already have.

The recent isolation brought on by the pandemic here has created a sense of distance in many of us. That’s understandable. It has kept us away from many people, places and events, those things that have normally made up our day to day lives. But they now are dots to us and we long to cross that distance to return to that time and place.

For many, this desire to cross that distance has been consuming. But for some, looking inward has diminished that desire and they have found that they can find what they need where they are in the moment. The dot is just a dot now.

I think this idea that we have what we need, that we are equipped to survive and even thrive despite the distances imposed upon us, might be the theme for my upcoming solo show that opens on July 17 at the West End Gallery. The show is titled From a Distance as is the painting here at the top, a 30″ by 48″ canvas.

I can easily see this theme play out in this painting. Wherever we are, in any time and situation, we have the ability to find forms of beauty within and around ourselves. That is an important thing to remember, especially when we find ourselves staring at those dots in the distance.

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Jackson Pollock -Convergence 1952

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Painting is a state of being…Painting is self discovery.  Every good painter paints what he is.

–Jackson Pollock

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In an article in The Guardian yesterday, there was a review of a current exhibit [July, 2015] at the Tate Liverpool of Jackson Pollock paintings.  Writer Jonathan Jones describes Pollock’s work around 1950, in the period when he was briefly liberated from his chronic alcoholism,  as being the pinnacle of his career. As he put it : Pollock was painting at this moment like his contemporary Charlie Parker played sax, in curling arabesques of liberating improvisation that magically end up making beautiful sense.

GC Myers-Under TextureThat sentence really lit me up, as did the words of Pollock at the top of the page.

In Pollock’s work I see that beautiful sense of which Jones writes. I see order and rhythm, a logic forming from the seemingly chaotic and incomprehensible.

The textures that make up the surfaces of my own paintings are often formed with Pollock’s paintings in mind, curling arabesques in many layers. In fact, one of the themes of my work is that same sense of finding order from chaos.

Or that the grace and beauty of the mark belies the chaos that you perceive. That what you think is chaos is really part of a rhythm that you haven’t quite caught up with yet.

To some observers, however, Pollock’s work represented the very chaos that plagued the world then and now. But true to his words, Pollock’s work was indeed a reflection of what he was– a man seeking grace and sense in a chaotic world.

Painting is, as Pollock says, self discovery and indeed every painter ultimately paints what they are. I know that in the work of painters I personally know I clearly see characteristics of their personality, sometimes of their totality. At least, to the extent that I know them.

I believe that my work also reveals me in this way. It shows everything– strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears. You might think that a painter would be clever enough to show only those positive attributes of his character, like the answers people give when asked to describe their own personality. Nobody ever openly claims to being not too intelligent or paranoid or easily fooled. There are artists that try present themselves other than as they really are but more often than not it comes off as contrivance.

Real painting, real art, is in total revelation, in showing all the complexities and hidden rhythms of our true self and hoping that others see the order and beauty within it.

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This post first ran in 2015 and has been slightly updated.

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Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.

–Bertrand Russell, How to Grow Old

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Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) is one of those names I come across whose words seem to always make incredible amounts of sense. That is, the words and thoughts that my pea-sized brain can comprehend. Russell was one of those multiple threats, with great proficiency and expertise in a number of fields– history, mathematics, philosophy, logic and political activism, to name just a few. I guess you might just call him a deep thinker or a great mind.

The words above are from a short selection, How to Grow Old, from a collection of his essays, Portraits From Memory and Other Essays. It’s a surprisingly down to earth collection of observations about facing the aging process.

It was the section featured at the top that caught my eye. I was entranced by this idea of going through life beginning as a narrow, rushing stream that gradually widens and slows into a river that heads to the gathering of waters that is the sea.

It made me think of my own father’s life and how he never actively tried to widen his course, never sought to expand his interests in his later years. If anything, his stream somehow became narrower, even as it slowed.

That might sound like harsh criticism to some but it’s a simple observation and I think if it were presented to him at a point when he could still understand what you were trying to say, he might even agree. He might not like it and might tell you to mind your own effin’ business but he probably wouldn’t argue the point. Not much interested him as he aged and the things that once brought him a degree of enjoyment, such as sports, no longer interested him.

Not much did. His stream narrowed and slowed.

It is one of the things about my dad’s life that sadden me. On Father’s Day, I see all of the glowing tributes to other people’s dads, about all the good traits handed down to them from their dads and I am a bit embarrassed. Because for all the worthy traits I have inherited– and there are a few– it is the object lessons learned from the deficits in his life, behaviors and traits I want to avoid, that I find most valuable.

And while there are more than a few of these from which to choose and which I will not go into here, this narrowing of one’s stream is the one I seek most to avoid. I think I have been able to do it thus far. But, even so, though there are days when some genetic predisposition start whispering to me to stop paying attention, to show no interest.

To just sit and stare into the void. To slow my stream and narrow the banks.

But I fight that feeling. Fight it hard.

Years ago, I echoed Russell’s words, writing here that I sometimes see myself and my interests and knowledge as a river– a mile wide and an inch deep. I am still as shallow but I am forever trying to carve my course wider and maybe just a bit deeper.

I am shooting for two miles wide.

And two inches deep.

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“Hunkered Down”- Now at the Principle Gallery

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I slept and dreamt
that life was joy.
I awoke and saw
that life was duty.
I worked — and behold,
duty was joy.

–Rabindranath Tagore

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When I first read the short poem above from the great poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore some time ago, it struck a chord with me. It so simply, in just a few lines, put across an observation that takes most of us a lifetime to realize. That is, if we ever do realize it.

Duty was joy.

But what is duty? Is it in being a good parent? A faithful spouse and a loyal friend? Is it in what we do to make a living? Or is it in being decent and caring human being?

Perhaps, it is how our lives touch the lives of others? Could that be a duty?

I don’t know for sure. Most likely joy is not a one size fits all proposition.

My own feeling is that duty is much like having a purpose, a reason for living. I remember reading Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl‘s transcendent book, Man’s Search For Meaning, which described his time in the Auschwitz death camp. He observed that those who were able to survive the horror were those who somehow had a purpose for their life, who saw a future that they needed to reach ahead for. This purpose, even a modest one, often gave them the drive needed for survival, creating a path forward for them.

In the year after being liberated from Auschwitz, Frankl gave a series of lectures that were the basis for his book. In one he spoke of Tagore’s poem and that final line: Duty was joy:

So, life is somehow duty, a single, huge obligation. And there is certainly joy in life too, but it cannot be pursued, cannot be “willed into being” as joy; rather, it must arise spontaneously, and in fact, it does arise spontaneously, just as an outcome may arise: Happiness should not, must not, and can never be a goal, but only an outcome; the outcome of the fulfillment of that which in Tagore’s poem is called duty… All human striving for happiness, in this sense, is doomed to failure as luck can only fall into one’s lap but can never be hunted down.

In short, lasting joy and happiness cannot be pursued as a goal on their own, without a responsibility to some higher purpose.

I am writing this because sometimes I need to be reminded of this. I have been struggling at times recently in the studio, seemingly fighting with myself to find something that just doesn’t seem to be there. The harder I tried to find it, the further away it seemed. It was like I was looking for something to quell my anxieties and bring me some form of easy happiness. To bring me effortless joy.

I should have known better. Yesterday, I just put down my head and worked without thinking about the end result. I focused solely on my purpose in each moment, the task at hand. Concentrating on doing small and simple things with thought and care was my duty, as it were. As the day went on, my burden felt lessened and I began to feel joy in the work, joy in small aspects that I had been overlooking in prior days.

It was a satisfying day, one that left me feeling that I had moved in some way toward fulfilling a purpose. It may not be a grand, earth-shaking one but it doesn’t need to be. It is mine. My purpose. My duty.

And that is enough to bring me a bit of joy.

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Black Fish- Georges Braque

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With age, art and life become one.

Georges Braque

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I have been very busy working on my upcoming annual West End Gallery show, From a Distance, that opens next month on July 15. Yesterday, in emails with the gallery, while we were going over some details for how the show would safely go on given the current situation with the covid-19 pandemic still in progress, I was reminded this was my 25th year showing with the gallery.

Of course, I knew this as a fact. But just reading it yesterday really brought  the point home for me.

Twenty five years. A quarter of a century.

While I was very pleased to have been with them for so long, it made me feel kind of old, to tell the truth.

While I understand that I am now one of the elder statesmen in the galleries that show my work, I still feel like a young painter most days, both for better and worse. I am often as excited by the work that emerges as I was 25 years back, still am in wonder at times that these paintings that sometimes seem far beyond my own meager understanding are products of my imagination.

And I am also as uncertain and doubtful of my abilities as I was all those years ago. Actually, maybe more doubtful than I was then. Hardly a day goes by now where I don’t say to myself in frustration, “You stink!

And some days I find myself going from one extreme to the other, from the abyss of pure self-doubt to wondering how something so alive and vibrant came from my hands and mind. Sometimes in just an hour or two. Yesterday was one of those days.

Makes me think that Braque is right, that with age, art and life become one.  If my age, my twenty five years of doing this, has taught me anything, it’s that this time spent creating art has been the best and the worst all wrapped in one big messy, sometimes beautiful, and almost always imperfect package.

Just like life.

 

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Painting is the pattern of one’s own nervous system being projected on canvas.

–Francis Bacon

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Ain’t it the truth?

The words of the late painter Francis Bacon certainly holds true for me, at least in certain times. There were several such days during this past week, if you need an example.

On these days I spent hour after twaddling in paint that directly reflected my own flatness of spirit, my own frustration and confusion. My reaction to the work I was producing was a dull mix of despair and anger. I sensed that it, the work and my reaction, was just a mirroring of my own reaction to the world as I was currently seeing it.

My own nervous system.

I hoped that recognizing this despair and anger would somehow provide a spark of its own. A reaction to my reaction, if you will.

But it was like throwing new colors into the mix with the result being an even more gross and ugly shade of brown and gray. No clarity or sharpness, neither in color nor in thought. The frustration grew even more.

These days reflected the pattern of my own floundering nervous system. I just wished I didn’t bother to project them on canvas.

I sit here this morning and still have the same feelings sparking dully through my synapses, making me both dread and welcome the hours ahead of me here in the studio. The dread is that these feelings will remain and show fully in the paint. The welcoming aspect comes in the hope and possibility that something in the paint– a color, a tone, a contrast– will create new sparks that will push out the dullness and flatness.

Something that will express itself in a new pattern being formed in my nervous system.

It’s this hope and possibility that comes with the beginning of every new day of painting that makes life more than tolerable. It makes it worth living because even on the worst days there is the hope that comes in the next.

I am moving on to to my next day now, filled with hope and possibility.

Hope yours is the same.

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“And Dusk Dissolves”- Now at the Principle Gallery

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Great artists make the roads; good teachers and good companions can point them out. But there ain’t no free rides, baby. No hitchhiking. And if you want to strike out in any new direction — you go alone. With a machete in your hand and the fear of God in your heart.

–Ursula K. Le Guin

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I felt compelled to put up a piece of new work from my current Principle Gallery show along with a piece of advice for aspiring artists from writer Ursula LeGuin. Make your own road, baby.  Do the heavy lifting and don’t depend on any one person to guide you through. There are no shortcuts– no hitchhiking as she puts it. You’re on your own so learn to hear what you have to say to yourself.

Show who and what you really are then stand tall. Own your road.

That’s it. I’m going to be concise because it’s a busy day for me. While my show at the Principle Galley is ongoing, I am working hard on new work for my next show which opens in July at the West End Gallery. Plus this morning I am leaving the safe bubble of my studio and home to accompany my dad on his first radiation treatment for a cancerous growth on his temple.

It’s the first time in 13 weeks that I am seeing him as the nursing facility where he resides is under lockdown from the covid-19 virus. I am both looking forward to and dreading seeing him. The dread comes from anticipating what changes may have taken place in this past quarter of a year from the dementia and skin cancer that plague him. Perhaps his awareness and power of recollection has eroded even more? Will he even recognize me now, especially with the mask I will be wearing?

I guess I’ll soon find out.

Odd days, indeed. Have a good one, folks.

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“She Glides Through the Fractured Night” Now at the Principle Gallery

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Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.

― Horace Mann

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I am just going to let the words of Horace Mann hang out there this morning.

Most of us are probably unaware of Horace Mann outside of it being in the names of many public schools all around the nation– there is most likely one somewhere in your region. But Mann, an educator and politician, was a leading advocate for universal public education and for standing up for the rights and betterment of others. In fact, the words on his statue at Antioch College, where he served as its first president until his death in 1859, read:

Be Ashamed to Die Until You Have Won Some Victory for Humanity

I think he probably died without shame.

Let’s hope we all can do the same.

Here’s a favorite song of mine from Mavis Staples. It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 10 years since I last played it here.

Time do fly, do it not?

Have a good day.

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