Things Beloved

ThingsBelovedI went out to Ventura yesterday afternoon for my Bikram Yoga class, and discovered that the Saturday afternoon class had been cancelled for the holiday. A picture in the window of a new second-hand store had caught my eye on the way up Oak Street, so I decided to check out the shops.

At “B on Main” I found two things. The first was a little silly – a ceramic glaze rendering of two mermaids. It’s hanging on the wall right now beside my other feminine objects. The others are objects of power, and they needed some lightening up.

And I found this. The store has a number of these messages, many of them about parenting. It reads like a child’s braggadocio. But my response wasn’t that of a parent. It wasn’t remembrance of my sons’ innocent declarations of affection that caused the lump in my throat or the flash of warmth on my skin.

I don’t buy things until I figure out where I’m going to hang them. Walking up and down Main Street, it occurred to me that this should go on the wall by my pillow. That’s kind of prominent, so it’s been working on me overnight. At first I thought that it was a declaration of my love for the world, and then I realized that it was a list of things that I loved. From there, it was only a short step to realizing that the qualities were not a description of my love, but descriptions of the things.

So now I read it:

I love the sky because it is blue enough to protect us from space, but not so blue that the light doesn’t get through..
I love the moon because it is just far enough away to move the ocean tides.
I love the sun for it is just warm enough for life to survive.
I love kites because they are the size for a child to fly.
I love the ocean because sometimes it is shallow enough to swim in, but other times deep enough to keep secrets.
I love trees because they are tall enough to give us shade.

And that is how I love all of you, dear readers. I love you for what you are.

Final Advice

Kevin – eldest son – is graduating in three weeks from UCLA. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do for his graduation present. I’m conflicted, naturally, as he is heading off to Google and will probably be making more money than I do next year.

Overcoming that is the richness of the experience that I had parenting him. That role has attenuated over the last four years. But there are wonderful memories. They start with keeping the Legos sorted in the drawer organizers so that he could exercise his imagination knowing exactly where the perfect piece was waiting. They include the two boys whacking each other on the butt with tennis rackets after stuffing their Pokémon comforters into their one-piece jamies. They peak with him lecturing me on morality at dinner at UCLA during his sophomore year – myself taking great satisfaction that he had internalized the lessons that I offered him a decade earlier as we struggled through a destructive divorce. And they conclude with me becoming aware of his painful struggle as IEEE president trying to manage a 300% increase in membership, and wondering why he hadn’t called for advice.

My first intention was to put together a scrap book, but the memorabilia ends with elementary school. I considered buying him a piece of art, but that’s such a personal choice.

As I considered this problem over the last two weeks, I’ve had occasion to ride down into the crafts section on the Santa Barbara Art Walk, looking for Olga Hortujac and Rio, two new presenters. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw what appeared to be Native American banners. That came with a strong pull to stop and take a look, but I pushed it off.

Yesterday, though, when I stopped to explain my quest to Steve Richardson, he recommended that I visit Neal Crosbie’s booth. His directions were explicit, and I found myself at just the booth I had been passing.

The first thing Neil asked me is what I did, and I told him “Love people.” Pause. “But if you mean ‘How do I make money?’ – writing software.”

Neal does primitive drawings with crayon – not pastels, but actual wax crayon. They are demanding pieces: crude stick-like outlines filled with delicate detail that is overlaid with chaotic sprays. The visual focus of each piece is a blocky figure with expressive eyes and knobbly knees.

Neal writes an aphorism onto each piece. Fittingly – as he labels the figure “Coyoteman” – most are tongue-in-check. That Amerindian god seems to channel through Neal. We spent a half an hour together while I picked two pieces for my son, laughing merrily. How good a time we were having was related to me later by Steve, who told me “the laughter in that booth went all up and down the Art Walk today.”

Primitive art has the quality of not imposing specifics on the viewer. It is thus a potent means of expressing relationships.

So I have these two pieces for my son.

The first “Fuck It Cross the Great River” evokes our scouting experiences, my pride in the courage he demonstrates, and an exhortation to project his virtues into the world.

CrossTheGreatRiver

The second “Art is a Form of Hypnotism. You’re Welcome” encapsulates my hope that he will learn to swim in the deep pool of mysticism that I navigate.

ArtIsAFormOfHypnotism

Congratulations on your accomplishments! I am a very proud father.

Designed, Seen, Felt, Expressed

When the technology of painterly representation had approached photo-realism in the 1700’s, academic art filled the museums and sitting rooms, but eventually its practitioners came under attack for their trite formulations. A series of movements attempted to recapture the experience of a scene: Impressionism its atmospheric qualities; Expressionism the observer’s sensitivities; Cubism the fragmentary memory; and Fauvism the raw sensation. Progressively, the artist sought not to render a scene, but to evoke a response in the viewer.

When I met Steve Richardson out at the Santa Barbara Art Walk, he lamented his popular pieces. Steve had been taught in a style similar to that of George Inness, an 1800s American that celebrated the tamed landscape. Eventually, Inness represented the world as a garden, and so did Steve. The paintings were harmonious, soothing, beautiful.

The patch that Steve extolled to me was in the background of a field. In front of the tree line, a crudely painted bush demanded attention. The colors were not blended in the strokes, but asserted their own identify before submitting to life-like hues.

Steve has come back to that canvas again and again. The soothing grass now argues among the blades, as living grass does. The backlit trees grumble at the passage of the light. But that patch of brush still shouts over it all. It is out of character.

Crude brushwork is not the only technique that Steve has exercised in his expressive aggression. The palette knife is a favorite on boats – one thrusting boldly from a chaotic pier – and on monuments. Clouded shores and skies are summarized with thin washes that pool in gesso ridges. On trees silhouetted against sunlight, leaves dance as spatter drops.

I’ve argued with Steve without effect. He pleases his eye – and his eye is discerning. But art is a way of expressing the inner nature of things.  Rather than incomprehension, I sense a real resistance to this idea. He seems to not want to reveal himself that deeply to the world.

So I was astonished when, having pulled two art boards painted on the shore with the same palette, he pulled up two more. I think he was interested in which I liked the most, and I sorted them and said: “Steve, this is absolutely amazing.”

The first, largest piece is in his original style: designed to please, but generic – almost trite. It doesn’t convey the reality of the subject but an idea of a relationship we have with nature. Nature is to soothe. Nature is to conform to our sensibilities.

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The next piece is obviously representative of a specific setting, but the textures of the paint still show the artist’s caution. Things shouldn’t bump too harshly against one another. The large fields caress one another even when they don’t yield.

CliffscapeSeen

And then the third: the action of the finger is obvious, the fog imposing itself on the rock. In the foreground the energy of the wash is suggested by in the blurred vigor of the finger’s path. The paint reveals the physical feeling of its application. The eye submits to touch.

CliffscapeFelt

And finally, the artistic sensibility completely surrenders. The elements of the scene are offered in blotches. The rough edges of the rock argue with the sky and water – the stark blue of the latter only visible as a breaker that crashes against the cliff. The brownish sunlight blares from the wash and the billowed fog. The elements express their nature in contrast each to the other.

CLiffscapeExpressed

Seeming to me, as it were, as they were before they were ever seen at all – knowing each other only as fields of force, some less obdurate, but all seeking to assert their nature.

This is not the artist’s sensibility; it is not the human response: it is the expression of things in of themselves working through the artist.

Speaks to Me

The painters at the Sunday Art Walk in Santa Barbara have adjusted themselves to my visits. I don’t know whether my criticism is of value to them, or whether they benefit commercially  from the spectacle of a spirited discussion.

Of recent, I’ve been following three of the artists. I admire John Grandfield’s sagebrush landscapes, but I can’t afford the larger pieces that capture the spirit of the land. His combed acrylic landscapes are more affordable, and the first that I saw was perfect for the site header out at Love Returns. As well as suggesting the elements of the creation story from Genesis, the piece conveys my sense that the angels perceive through a veil – albeit an exquisite veil – the sensory experience of living creatures.

I’ve had rather longer conversations with Steve Richardson, whose oeuvre defies characterization. His original sensibilities appear to be present in his harmonious landscapes, reminiscent of the middle work of George Inness. He fights against that tenderness in landscapes that suggest the battle between fog, light and vegetation in the tidal sloughs around Santa Barbara. Steve also paints the local monuments with a painterly verve, the travels of the brush and palette knife laid bare for our examination.

I first resolved that I would purchase a piece from him when struck by a speckled oak tree. The effect was as though falling through the silhouette into spatter paint drops that could be both atoms and galaxies. I enthused that I had been wrestling with the idea that our material forms were metaphors for spiritual evolution. I left him to consider whether he could create the same effect in larger format, only to be told a month later that he was giving up the style for safety reasons (the drops are created by striking the brush, which can send paint into the eyes).SoulSails.png

When I stopped by today, I knew immediately that I would buy the piece anchoring the corner of his exhibit. It has the sense of light from above trying to pierce an oppressive indigo, with the complex and truncated response from the humans in the boats below. This is very much my experience of reaching up to join my intentions with those of Jesus’s “Abba.”

I wish that the photo conveyed the subtlety of the patchy sails.

I’ve also been following the work of Avril (a pseudonym, although as you travel the Walk you’ll recognize her work), a very French woman whose introduction was an aggressive demand for philosophical clarification of the phrase on the back of my Love Returns t-shirt. Avril is one of the few artists on the Art Walk that focuses on the human form. Her most popular works may be her sisterhood cartoons (multigenerational women fishing naked on the pier). She displays a number of linotype nudes, and is particularly aggressive regarding her abstract and collage work.

What captivates me, however, are the acrylic nudes, sinuous spines and generous hips set against abstract pastel tapestries. The figures are not delineated, but ensconced in a penumbra that bespeaks yearning for a caress. Having sublimated the responsive male desire for most of my adult life, I recognize now that I will never know the flower of a woman’s sensuality, that first innocent expression of sexual joy moderated solely by the wisdom that shelters its root in procreation. But it is a power that I need to engage – it is the only power that can heal the world.

Nude

So I bought this piece, a piece that Avril warned me would “talk at night.” I countered that I already have women speaking to me in the middle of the night, and would rather wake to beauty than suffer their drama without reward.

Yin Ping Zheng Water Colors

Here are details from the pieces I bought this weekend.


Peonies

Remember that this is water color: every brush stroke is irrecoverably committed to paper. Anything white indicates actually a lack of color.

 

The calligraphy is beautiful as well.

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Lover’s Moon

The images don’t do justice to the background preparation.

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Here’s wishing for future recognition and success for Yin Ping Zheng!

Santa Barbara Treasure

I took the first of my five necessary day trips out to Santa Barbara today. “Necessary” in the fiduciary sense because I bought a ten-trip Amtrak Surfliner pass that expires on September 6. “Necessary” in the personal sense because the move out to Port Hueneme has separated me from the dance communities down in the Santa Monica area, and if I don’t dance, I think that I’ll curl up and die. The nearest substitute is the Santa Barbara Dance Tribe that meets at the Gustafson Dance Center on Sundays from 11-1.

I thought that the weather was auspicious for the 4-mile pedal up to the Oxnard train station, but the fog burned off early, and my clothes were pretty damp by the time I pulled in to the station. Fortunately I had a number of shirt changes in my backpack, so the ride out to Santa Barbara wasn’t unpleasant.

Once in Santa Barbara, the sun was a little less harsh, but it was humid. The three mile ride out to the dance studio was up a slight slope, as well as going under the freeway in a couple of places. The footpath routing algorithm in Microsoft Maps also left me in a cul-de-sac at the bottom of a hill that carried the road over the freeway. Again, I was soaked with perspiration when I arrived.

The celebration was really nice. Two moments in particular stand out. The most energetic of the women danced joyfully with a number of men, and then settled to the floor to rest. I had been moving through the gathering, and found myself in her vicinity when the DJ put on Etta Jame’s At Last. The lady had settled on her shins, hands swaying gently in the air over her head. I swooped past her in a low lunge and then spun around behind her, and the air around us burst with energy.  She accepted my attention as I filled the air around her for the next two minutes, smiling at me once or twice, but she didn’t get up on her feet.

The second was towards the end, when many of the dancers had settled to the floor to ground the energy we had raised. I found myself scooping the air on one side, reaching up and out to gather in the messages that were waiting for me, curling my arm over my head before pulling them into my heart, and then doing the same on the other side. It wasn’t easy – just a lot of sorrow. When I had taken as much as I could bear, I lifted my hands to the heavens, and felt something enter from above, providing my heart with the responsive energies it needed.

I couldn’t schedule the bike passage for the mid-afternoon train back to Ventura, which left me six hours to fill until the 6:59. So after the dance I pedaled back down to the train station (fortunately mostly downhill this time). After checking my backpack, I backtracked to the Neighborhood Bar and Grill, where I had a great veggie burger and honey wheat ale.

The train station is only a few blocks from the beach, so I rode down to the shore and took the bike path up the strand. Santa Barbara has an art walk every Sunday. A lot of what I saw was touristy, until I came to Yin Ping Zheng’s booth. The work was classic Chinese brush calligraphy and painting on rice paper. On the edge of the booth, a typical vertical nature study caught my eye: a cluster of starkly colored peonies – deep red, yellow and pure white demanding the eye’s attention – anchored the bottom of the strip. They were subdued from above by a delicate pink cluster, annotated in the classic Asian style. The obvious contrast of masculine and feminine energy also seemed to suggest the contrast between Western and Asian art.

I ended up buying this piece and another that also displayed Zheng’s unique sensibilities. The second is a panel of ungrounded bamboo poles, rendered in rich green but punctuated by black-fingered leaves with white speckles (snow?). Two sprays of pink blossoms enter the frame in the upper left, cupping a featureless moon set against a pale ground of blue-white snow. I noticed the calligraphy on the right side, and Zheng shared that it was the last line of a poem that offered the moon’s witness and solace to two lovers sundered by distance.

Zheng is devoted to his art, and as we waited for BofA to pre-authorize the purchase, he talked about his training, confirming my sense that he was attempting to introduce strong Western color to add tension and dimension to the introspective style of Chinese rice paper painting. He also kept offering concerns that his devotion was not earning him material rewards – a point that resonates deeply with me.

It’s my birthday tomorrow, which is my way of justifying the extravagance of the purchase. But I did so with honest pleasure, and was gratified  that Zheng accepted my stumbled expression:

Thank-you so much for being here today. It added a special aspect to my day to have had the opportunity to buy two such beautiful works of art.

Zheng has a blog out here at WordPress, but it only has one photo. I’m too tired tonight to unroll the pieces to take pictures of them, but I’ll get some details posted on Tuesday night.

fascia

Mary Margaret’s installation down at Pomona College was amazing. I arrived a little late for the reception, and wandered around the rooms wondering which contained her work. When I entered the last room and encountered “fascia” as the exhibit title, I immediately thought of the beginner’s class offered at Full Contact Improv late last year. In it, we were taught how to project our intention without forcing its manifestation. The trick is to move the skin until the fascia – the connective fibers that tie our body parts together – reaches its elastic limit and begins to tug on the bone. If you get to that point, your partner isn’t willing to come with you, and alternatives need to be found.

My intuition was confirmed when I found a brief summary of the exhibits. What did surprise me was the complexity of the conception. Mary Margaret uses words like “ontological.” With a clearer understanding of the installation’s evocative goal, I returned to the room for deeper immersion.

As I didn’t take photos, I’ll start with an analogy. It was like walking into a 3-D Picasso executed with the energy of Jackson Pollack (if Pollack had been a woman). The materials appear to be sailcloth tinted and spattered with diluted acrylic. The panels – some forty or fifty of them, principally pale blue or hues of red and yellow – are cut into irregular shapes and sewn together with black thread. The central mass, roughly eight feet in diameter, depicts recognizable body parts in a jumble of cut-outs and overlays. From there the construction spreads pseudopods that fall flat on the floor and arc overhead to form ample tunnels. A large panel on the right, perhaps ten by ten, is evocative of pathology cultures, but cut through by a pale blue channel that descends on the right into a hand. Finally, two chest-sized pods hang in the air, with a third pod blocking the middle of the floor.

The black thread manifests a variety of methods for tying the panels together. Some pieces appear to have been sewn together with a machine, and indeed some panels are pleated subtly with this method. Others are held together with large, irregularly spaced hand stitching. Finally, in some places the panels do not join at all, but are pulled together across holes as large as eight inches across. Here the thread aligns to suggest a direction of tension – though spare strands, yet relaxed, may loop through the taut fibers.

The entire mass is suspended from anchors on the ceiling with transparent nylon thread. The nylon is extravagant in its allocation, the free ends hanging in long spirals that refract and reflect light. In the center of the display a nylon spool is captured in one of the larger weaves of black thread – a hint that we should consider this element as a part of the artist’s expression.

In her pamphlet, Mary Margaret offers this motivation:

Western culture often views connection as something that is made, but I think it is more appropriate to view connection as something that is manifest. I have often found that attempting to accomplish connection actually gets in the way of allowing the connection that already exists to flow through our bodies.

The artist has provided a rich set of interpretative elements to guide our consideration of this theme. The three-dimensional structure involves us physically in interaction with the work. While we were invited to step on it, most tip-toed cautiously through and over. When considered closely, the lyrical style of the rendering caresses the eyes, mostly with warm tones that are cut incongruously by the blue panels. The pods have deep folds, hinting at seeds within. And then we have the thread, its two types and different modes of employ.

I found myself fascinated by the interplay between exterior and interior imagery. If we pay attention to the sensation of our bodies – the sensation that Mary Margaret asks us to consider, when we move our muscles and bones we also move our organs. Sometimes that’s a shifting, but in other cases it can manifest as a delayed settling.

The most profound urge to connection is the procreative urge, represented in the pods but also matter-of-factly in the jumble of limbs, where a man’s pale-blue legs, spread and crossed at the ankles, are capped by a stylized and erect phallus. And the panel by the back wall descends into a rent that spills a brownish-red flow onto the floor.

The looping pseudopods reminded me that no matter how we connect, the connection lingers, stretching across space and time, influencing us in ways that are often difficult to analyze.

And then we have the glistening nylon thread descending from the ceiling. I interpreted this from a religious perspective, but that is merely a layering on the universal experience of spiritual connection.

As I finished my ruminations, Mary Margaret returned to the room, and interrupted her pamphlet folding to thank me for coming and offer a gentle embrace. I didn’t stay for the performance studies – I had already projected my admiration into the room, and didn’t want to interfere with her expression. As described, the performance includes recorded reflections on the struggles her peers have experienced in seeking fulfilling intimacy, as well as her own meditations. (When I asked about this, she said that it was a “little wonky”, but didn’t clarify.) It also includes movement, which she invites others to enter with her. I think that she would have enjoyed it if I had stayed, rolled up my sleeves, and helped her demonstrate how alive we become when we relate through dance. But it may also have blown everybody’s minds. Many of the students appeared overwhelmed to begin with.

I’ve always wondered why Mary Margaret uses so many syllables to announce herself to the world, and for some reason it makes me think of Mary and Martha, the two sisters in Luke. The first sits at Jesus’s feet as he preaches, while the second rushes about complaining that the house preparations have been left to her. Jesus admonishes Martha, pointing out that Mary has chosen the better part. But in considering this display I wonder whether the Lord wouldn’t have done better to suggest that if they integrated their two tendencies, they could do powerful good in helping people to organize and heal their souls.

Which is probably the best insight to offer in concluding my exploration of the work of a brilliant, generous, gentle and courageous spirit as she seeks to birth her purpose into the world.