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.

 WP_20160726_16_11_20_Rich


Lover’s Moon

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

WP_20160726_16_00_15_Rich


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.

Life of Sorrow

Frieda Kahlo, in a letter to her husband Diego Rivera, testified that he was “by far the worse” of the two disasters that defined her life. The first, remarkably, was the perforation of her uterus in a bus accident at age 18.

Of all the insensitivity of men, Diego epitomized the worst of it. Not only was he extravagantly unfaithful to Frieda, but he failed to appreciate the huge investment of self she made in him. Frieda, in many of her self-portraits, put a bust of Diego on her forehead. The day after her death, a friend observed that he appeared to age ten years, and finally testified that “I never knew how much I loved her.” No, lummox! You never understood the power of her devotion to you!

Diego did care for Frieda, supporting the drain on his finances of more than thirty surgeries related to her accident and spinal bifida. But he eventually divorced her, and this pressed Frieda into depression. Self-portraits of the period show her attempting to reclaim the European mantle carried by her father, where for years she had dressed the part of the Mexican peasant. A few weeks before her death, she penned the line

I hope the end is easy, and I hope never to return.

This strikes deep into my heart. In Golem, I write of a cosmic convocation of masculine minds that lost their women to sorrow. Their ladies take haven in a place that masculine minds cannot penetrate, the super-massive black hole in the center of our galaxy, leaving men without their primary inspiration in the struggle for justice. We need women like Frieda, and any testimony of their abandonment of us is, frankly, terrifying.

I learned the details about Frieda at a seminar presented by Dr. Gloria Arjona. Dr. Arjona is also a singer, and these two passions combined in her investigation, as Spanish Lecturer at Cal Tech, of the fragments that Frieda inscribed on her self-portraits. Most penetrating of them are these words from a Mexican adaptation of Cielito Lindo:

Arbol de la esperanza mantente firme

Tree of hope, be strong

Dr. Arjona spoke of Frieda as representative of the universal human condition, which is the struggle against sorrow and pain. After her presentation, I stopped to take her hand and thank her for “representing Frieda so faithfully.” For Frieda does indeed represent that struggle so universal in Latin America, though foreign to the American middle class. The experience on Saturday was a link for me, as I learned this morning when humming the tune to the chorus of Cielito Lindo

Ay, ay, ay ay. Canta y no llores

“Sing, and do not cry.” It is an assertion of will emanating from those that have nothing but their voices, and even then only in moments of private celebration that are yet always touched by the pressure of sorrow. It is to claim the right to be loved, a claim that almost broke my heart as I began to weep.

I love you. We are strong enough. Come to me.

Three / ten thousand places

I was carried away by Jessica’s contribution today. I was unaware of Hopkin’s poetry. While sharing some of the whimsy of Lewis Carroll’s verse, it stays safely familiar. I followed the links on Wikipedia to Poet’s Graves and was smitten by The May Magnificat.

Ten Thousand Places

I

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

I saw a great horned owl at the Arboretum last weekend. I bundled up and set out for a walk on the last day before the temperatures were forecast to settle below freezing, where they are now. I walked briskly over Peter’s Hill and to my favorite section, Conifer Path, where the color palette changes to ocean blue and dark green with subtle reds here and there, and the noise of the nearby street and of your own footsteps is softened by the layers of pine needles. I wish I had a better camera but I will try to describe to you how lovely it is there, in all seasons, but especially whatever the current…

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Golem

This post celebrates submission for production of my next book, Golem. Here’s the preface:

When in 2000 I resumed my journey into faith, I found myself wondering whether people had any sympathy at all for Jesus. It wasn’t enough that he had to suffer the pain of all the wrong-doing on our planet – no, he had to be responsible for everything, everywhere.

It has been painful for me to witness the success of escalatory monotheism in public debate. Even the atheists buy into it, blaming religion for all the magical thinking and selfishness that infects the world. The contradictory evidence of the natural world seems to escape their attention – predation has an enormously long pedigree. The anti-religious seem to have no sense of just how difficult it is to heal creatures that nature has programmed to hurt each other. Religion has no magical talisman to protect us from the prejudicial instincts of our neighbors – that requires us to relate to them.

Because life is so complex, every generation seeks solutions for the problems that are immediately obvious, often failing to realize that those problems are the cracks in the solutions to uglier problems addressed by their ancestors. The misguided impulse to sweep away rules and restrictions brings a satisfying sense of activity, but it also polarizes public debate. Both sides of the struggle advertise the proclamations of hysterics, impeding rational discussion and informed problem solving.

In this famous dictum, the Catholic philosopher George Santayana characterized the problem:

Those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

In Three Philosophical Poets, Santayana marshaled his wisdom to illuminate the difficulties of living well. His source material, spanning two millennia, are the writings of Lucretius, Dante and Goethe. The first extolled the virtues of reason, but Santayana observes that complexity runs reason into the ground with “analysis paralysis.” Dante upheld faith in Divine Love in his allegory of universal redemption, but reliance upon forces beyond our control leads to passivity and dependence. Goethe celebrates the accomplishments of forceful will now trumpeted by the elitist libertarians of the Republican Party, but a failure to negotiate with our peers generates ever mounting resistance that eventually crushes the solitary man, and brings the pyramid of tyranny crashing down under its own weight.

My first work of fiction, Ma, celebrated the feminine virtues of intuition, anticipation and compassion as a means of escaping these traps. It chronicled the psychological struggles of men caught in the limitations of Santayana’s world-view, and their liberation through submission to the caring of their women. The parallel story of Leelay suggests the psychological experience of a woman learning to support such men.

The deus ex machina of Jesus’s appearance at the end of the book was jarring to me. I rationalized it at the time as an assertion that Christ is called into being by the harmonization of masculine and feminine virtues. But it suggested to me that there was still more to be said.

I was also aware that Ma left many unanswered questions. The strategy of its construction was actually to overwhelm reason, forcing the reader to focus on the psychological experiences of the characters. When readers complained that I left a lot of loose ends dangling, I found myself playing with ideas that would tie them together.

Thus was born Golem. As a firm believer that love is universally redemptive, the work expands upon the dysfunctionality of digital technology, still characterized here as a unique manifestation of Earth’s unstable ecology, and then imagines its applications in reconciling the divide between gods and mortals.

But at the heart of the writing is a plea for sympathy for our great religious figures. In the crushing grip of the enormously destructive forces that oppress humanity, to be a seed of light can be both humiliating and painful. Adherents to faith may seem foolish or misguided, but ultimately they serve to dissipate those contrary forces, allowing the pure light of love to be liberated for all to see.