#O105: Countless Distances

Oil on Canvas (16 x 20″). This is yet another painting based on the scene shown in the source photo below.

In this painting I did not look at the source photo at all, but used my earlier painting (posted here) as the departure point. That painting, in turn, was based on this painting, which was based on the source photo. The sequence is shown below.

So I guess you can say that this painting is the great grandchild of the source photo. It left me wondering, if you continue copying your own paintings of the same scene – would you eventually arrive at the truth, some sort of pure abstraction?


I have been asking myself serious questions about painting. The question: “Why do this?” is often on my mind. Which leads me to “Why do – or create – anything at all?” I guess you can come up with many answers to that question: for posterity, to make money (good luck with that!), to find yourself, to keep from eating, etc.

For anything I spend time on outside of my day job, the best answer to the question “Why do it?” – the one that will keep me doing something – seems to be “because it makes me feel good. It makes me a better person, quiets the mind and takes away my restlessness”.

I find that in recent days my paintings are not too bad, but often I am restless and subtly discontent after a painting session – even if I like the outcome. It is a subtle coloring of the spirit, and I need to meditate on that – I believe it points to something in me that needs to be uncovered.

Over years, I have come to trust the wordless silence of the mind that can be touched in meditation. This open silence which holds us all the time is ultimately receptive and calms the restless seeking personality. I guess you could say that in meditation, that which is infinitely calm and can be trusted holds and calms that which is restless and cannot be trusted.


Over my morning coffee, I have been reading and enjoying two of David Hinton’s books. One of these is Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology. There is a lot there to reflect on. Being an unknown distance into the second half of my life, I am very conscious that there is an end to life – it is the cyclical way of nature.I am drawn to poetry that is short and punchy and points me to stillness.

CHA FESTIVAL DAY
Seeing off the year’s final day, windblown
snow can’t slow this warm weather. Already,

at our gate planted with plum and willow,
there’s a branch flaunting lovely blossoms.

If I chant, words come clear. And in wine
I touch countless distances. So much still

eludes me here. Who knows how much with
all this unearthly Manifest Mountain song?

T'ao Ch'ien, translated by David Hinton.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

[Hey Boksie! Ek relax so lekker – baie dankie, en onthou ek is baie lief vir jou!]

15 thoughts on “#O105: Countless Distances

  1. Hey T. Bly jy geniet jouself. Ek koffie alleen met bob en Gigi inni bed. Hoop jy big pot op jou eie met jou klein koffie potjie en jou sea view. Hopelik kry ons na die naweek paar sea-scapes?? Sien jou Vrydag 🤗

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  2. For me art seems second nature. Not to draw or paint — to give up those things would be for me like asking if I should give up thinking. No need for thinking anymore so I’ll just stop.

    I have trained my brain to do art. I think of visual stuff in an off hand way all day whether I’m painting or not. I have a hard time understanding how people cannot draw.

    And why doesn’t everyone have a still life table? What’s up with that? Even when you’re not drawing the stuff it’s so nice to see it just sitting there. And the spaces between the things is so intriguing — they sit there in space in relationship to each other and gravity has them screwed to the table as the Earth blasts through space.

    Isn’t it wonderful seeing an object through the hard clear surface of a glass jar? To see a thing behind the jar being distorted by the glass? Or seeing the patterns on a cloth from an oblique angle as the cloth recedes in space. And so on. How DO other people manage their day without these charms?

    I want to draw as a bird sings, or as a spider spins a web.

    You may be closer to a similar relationship regarding the elements of landscape in your work than you’re aware!

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    1. Your comment reminds me of what someone said about meditation, what he says when people asks why he meditates. He said something like: “I don’t know, it’s just something I do”. I can just imagine that little still life table in the last rays of the sun. Gives me goosebumps.
      I think my own angst about the question “Why do I paint” goes back to your comment elsewhere that “painting can be psychologically risky”. I am searching for something. Sometimes a painting I do says “you are on the right track”, but no-one else seems in the least impressed. I go back to Rilke for answers.
      Other times I do four or five paintings in a row – all pretty but I sense the trial has gone cold. I am moving away from the answer and the question. A lot of trust is needed to keep on going…for me at least.

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      1. I’m glad that my comment that painting can be psychologically risky resonates with you. I’m naturally curious what the risks seem to be (though I realize that it’s something you might not be able to answer). Good that you have Rilke’s poetry as an emotional resource. Painting used to be risky for me emotionally. That’s no longer true and that sensation of worry (or whatever it was) is so far removed from me now that I have difficulty recalling what it was. Reading someone else’s thoughts on the question might revive memories. Painting and drawing seem more scientific or experimental to me now. I’m eager to try out new things.

        Why? I won’t beat around the bush. It’s because I feel confident of my skills. People should hammer away at skill early in the game and continually afterwards because it’s very freeing. No doubt many artists can draw better than I can. But my drawing and uses of color are certainly good enough for me to pursue all the things that matter to me — so I’m more concerned about what I paint and also “how” I paint it, but I have more than enough skill. There’s more to be had, yes sirree, but what I have provides more chances for ideas then I’ll ever have time to pursue. I have all I need to stay busy. So the sense of confidence (whether it’s cheered on by others or not) gives me a wonderful sense of freedom. The challenge is all about how to use the freedom. I’m not convinced that I use it well enough. I am working on my focus. I’m not nearly focused enough.

        For instance you know I love Bonnard. I have all the drawing one needs to “do” Bonnard and my uses of color are strong. But Bonnard is a total puzzle. I’m scared to death of Bonnard. Is that psychological risk and I just don’t recognize it? Dunno. A lot of artists I encounter on venues like facebook don’t care for Bonnard. He’s in a species with El Greco or the Rohan Master. (Who talks about the Rohan Master?) And the ones who admire him seem not to be so articulate about it. The articulate types don’t like him. The touchy feely types love him but just say “ooh” and “ah” and that’s it! Me, I want to pursue aspects of Bonnard almost scientifically — or clearly — or something. Maybe that’s a contradiction??

        Anyway, I’m also wondering about the picture that provides you with the feeling that you’re on the right track verses the ones that are pretty. The former seems not to impress and the latter gains admirers? So you have two aspects of painting’s communicative effect going on — that which speaks to others and that which speaks to you. (Again, curiosity makes me wonder from among the ones you’ve posted here, which are which ….) But can’t both elements be useful? It’s good that the paintings find admirers — even those pictures that have lost the trail for you. Obviously people respond to different things. The whole huge universe of art is filled with as much variety as human nature, and even great canonical artists sometimes fall flat for a particular audience or generation. I had an online conversation once (on facebook) where I found myself in the odd role of defending El Greco to someone who thought the artist couldn’t draw …. In the 19th c salon environment, Rembrandt was thought of as an artist to avoid. Rembrandt.

        So having other people not understand some element of the painting that you sought is, que sera sera, a part of life. But it’s hugely significant that you found something that you wanted and needed, that you feel you must research further, and so on. I know the problem well. I think my best ideas have also lacked an audience. I know of lots of schools of contemporary painting and some things I do would definitely not interest the painting perceptions people. (I do a lot of pictures using photography or composites of drawing.) My ideas go against the grain of the “classical realist” folks (even though I draw all the time). My stuff is “too traditional” for some audiences, too weird for others. But that element of painting and drawing (also the study of other artists) that really excites me — that’s too valuable emotionally for me to care too much whether others “get” my pictures or not. Of course, one hopes to find understanding. And I like it when people think the pictures are visually appealing (pretty or beautiful or decorative or whatever), but the thing that I chase — even if it’s a will o’ the wisp at last has got me totally captivated by its spell. I’m like a dog chasing a truck now. I don’t know what I’m doing. Sometimes I don’t even care.

        Another long comment. It furnishing something for me to say all this. Hope that you find something in it that will secure your sense of purpose in art too. Thank you for the provocative remarks and questions. Do trust that your paintings will not lead you astray. There’s something there. It takes patience and faith to find it. And the seeking is a great thing too all of its own.

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      2. Hi Aletha. Sorry for the delayed response, I have been taking a break away from home the past few days and largely stayed off the internet.
        You mention about psychologically risky painting not being such an issue for you anymore: “Why? I won’t beat around the bush. It’s because I feel confident of my skills.”
        I can completely identify with what you are saying. I found the same thing, but to a lesser degree, probably because I am still building up skills. But indeed as I paint more, and more regularly, it becomes easier to just play and know that the playing is the best way to achieve “serious painting”.
        I am also 100% with you on not being on the same page as the Painting Perceptions people. In my own case, I have just not had the path in life that gave me 4 years of drawing from a live model, and then all the support from talented teachers. I so admire the artists on PP who have walked that path, and when I see what they can do with drawing and paint I want to curl up and cry.
        But then I know for me it is 100% an emotional element that causes me to paint. There is a spiritual emotion – a feeling at home with life and death at the same time – an inner confidence and open, compassionate mind. It is a mood of “sadness and longing, that is NOT akin to pain…”.
        And just sometimes in some of my paintings, I barely touch that emotion – if I sit back and view it, I feel my eye and hand was basking in that emotion. There is perhaps two square centimetres of my paintings #O88, #O91, #O92 and #O93, amongst others, which convey what I want it to.
        Other paintings, like #O102, are pretty but I felt drained while doing it. The only question driving me was “Does it look good/real/like the photo,” etc.
        Anyway, that is sort of how I feel. I took a break from painting and thinking about paint for a few days, wondering if perhaps I would not want to go back, but I have to say I am dangerously hooked on painting at the moment.
        Thanks again for your interest and support.

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  3. I am glad I left a long comment for the response it gained me. (I can be long-winded though!) The emotional element that accounts for 100% of why you paint is marvelous. Keep nourishing that source. I’m going to go back and find the paintings you reference and look at them again. Very glad to hear that you dangerously hooked on painting.

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  4. PS — if I had to choose between emotion and skill, I’d choose emotion. Skill can be gained over time. Skill WILL be learned. How can someone possibly do something again and again without learning? But that emotion has to be there already — I’m not sure it can be learned.

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    1. Yes I absolutely agree! But I think there is a fine line there – one can slap on paint, especially bright yellow – stand back and call it art. You just call it art. With a bit of knowledge of the principles of composition – which need not be academically grasped, much more can be done with line, value and color.

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