Hot summer days have at last come to New Zealand. In the area around our house, the farmlands and hills have turned from green to a beautiful warm russet green-orange. The grasses sway in the wind – I cannot keep my eyes off it.
In this painting I wanted to introduce some variation into my skies – the last few paintings have all utilized an orangey cloud and Cerulean blue sky with green and yellow in the landscape. So here I wanted to use a more tempered sky and capture some of that grassland color I mentioned above.
In the end I feel the painting recalled a day in Africa years ago. It was late and I almost followed the thin waterline to explore the darkness behind the trees. But the dogs were restless and I hesitated…
It has been long since I visited my copy of The Soul of Rumi by Coleman Barks. I did so again this afternoon. I found a poem I had underlined in Africa years ago. Here are the first few verses:
Like Light Over This Plain
A moth flying into the flame says
with its wingfire, Try this. The
wick with its knotted neck broken
tells you the same. The candle as
it diminishes explains, Gathering
more and more is not the way. Burn,
become light and heat and help.
Melt. The ocean sits in the sand
letting its lap fills with pearls
and shells, then empty. A bittersalt
taste hums, This. The phoenix gives
up on good-and-bad, flies to rest on
Mt. Qaf, no more burning and rising
from ash. It sends out one message.
The rose purifies its face, drops
the soft petals, shows its thorn, and
points. Wine abandons thousands of
famous names, the vintage years and
delightful bouquets, to run wild
and anonymous through your brain.
Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks.
Thanks for visiting my blog – I hope the last day of the year is good for you.
This was a great year. Rilke might have said: Goodbye 2016, it has been a great summer.Lay your shadows now on the sundials, and on the open fields let 2017 go!
I am trying to vary my compositions and color schemes as much as I can, though I am sticking with a fairly basic palette. In this painting I started with a very dominant, stormy, red sky in the under-painting. As the painting evolved, everything took on a different form, and this is – I think – the final image.
I am taking a few days off from work and have managed to make some frames for my recent paintings:
This morning I took off the shelf my old copy of the poet Ryokan’s One Robe, One Bowl. I have not visited this old favorite of mine for some time, and was delighted to rediscover the simple scenery he paints for us.
What I like about much of oriental poetry – and Zen poetry in particular – is how the poet paints a situation for us, then leaves us there to dwell in our own inner riches, or lack of it. If we have the openness of mind and richness of imagination to walk the image out with the poet, we find ourselves transported back to ancient Japan in the blink of an eye. The poet points us to a moment, a situation, in which stillness and purity is momentarily achievable. How we find it, and how long we dwell there, is up to us:
One narrow path surrounded by a dense forest;
On all sides, mountains lie in darkness.
The autumn leaves have already fallen.
No rain, but still the rocks are dark with moss.
Returning to my hermitage along a way known to few,
Carrying a basket of fresh mushrooms
And a jar of pure water from the temple well.
Ryokan, translated by John Stevens, in
One Robe, One Bowl
I have been doing sketches and under-paintings that mimic a more formless sky in which there are not such clear cloud and sky patterns. Breaking away from observation into a more purely abstract world of color and shape is difficult, but Turner is an excellent guide. I am quite happy with this painting.
I have been revisiting John Gray’s book The Silence of Animals. Beautifully written, full of soul but also utterly breaking down the popular Utopian myth of progress and hope.
From my own sporadic journey into meditation, I know that something exists beyond thought-made meaning, beyond words. Gray discusses this from another angle in his chapter “Beyond the Last Thought”:
Accepting that the world is without meaning, we are liberated from confinement in the meanings we have made. Knowing there is nothing of substance in our world may seem to rob that world of value. But this nothingness may be our most precious possession, since it opens to us the world that exists beyond ourselves.
Gray quotes parts of the poem “Of Mere Being” by Wallace Stevens, which elegantly supports his thesis. Here is the entire poem:
Of Mere Being
The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.
You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.
The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird's fire-fangled feathers dangle down.
(this copy from Poetry Foundation)
Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you have had a great festive season and enjoying some rest before the new year starts!
Aan my familie wat tyd met ons spandeer het gedurende Kersfees: baie dankie, dit was ‘n epic kuier en ek sal dit nooit vergeet solank ek leef nie. Julle is a wonderlike spul mense!
I continue in my journey to explore more freedom and color in my paintings. In this painting I was trying to do a modern take on one of my favorite Turner paintings: “Staffa: Fingals Cave“, which I have always admired for its dark moodiness and depth of color. I am still getting to grips with artistic expression but enjoying the ride.
I find if I spend too much time looking at paintings and painting, my well runs dry. I am beginning to suspect that – for what I want to say in my paintings – I need to spend at least as much time meditating and reading poetry as I do painting.
…my point is that for man not everything is possible. What is there to choose between religious creatureliness and scientific creatureliness? The most one can achieve is a certain sense of relaxedness, an openness to experience that makes him less of a burden to others. And a lot of this depends on how much talent he has, how much of a daimon is driving him.
Centuries ago, the Chinese Zen nun Xinggang, wrote this poem:
Behind Closed Doors
After teaching and preaching
running about for so many years,
Now I've shut my door and retired to the
hidden forest spring.
Having kicked open heaven and earth
I can now rest my feet.
Alone I sit before the winter window,
the shimmering moon full.
translated by Beata Grant, in
Daughters of Emptiness
Observing myself from a safe distance whilst painting – I noticed in my last few paintings I seem to be seeking a mythical sweet spot between the representational landscape and a pure abstract painting. At times – as in this painting – the search can get quite rough!
The painting moves forward and back through many possible configurations. I noticed as soon as it became too obviously a landscape – I started scraping out and obliterating edges. When it gets too wild – as in this painting – I try to pull it back from the purely abstract and messy. Sometimes the painting wants to stay in the wild…
For the longest time I have been wanting to quote the poem “Open and Closed Space” by Tomas Transtromer. Every time in my search to find it – one of my other poetry books ambushed me and stole the show. Here is the poem now below.
Notice how the poet and narrator confidently states his observations throughout the poem – almost factual – confident and prophetic. But at the very last – he revises himself, uncertainty steps in, and the poem becomes so much more real for it. To me, the success of the poem hinges around that uncertainty. Uncertainty is essential to original art.
Open and Closed Space
With his work, as with a glove, a man feels the universe.
At noon he rests a while, and lays the gloves aside
on a shelf.
There they suddenly start growing, grow huge
and make the whole house dark from inside.
The darkened house is out in the April winds.
"Amnesty" the gras whispers, "amnesty."
A boy runs along with an invisible string that goes
right up into the sky.
There his wild dream of the future flies like a kite,
bigger than his town.
Farther to the north, you see from a hill the blue
matting of fir trees
on which the shadows of the clouds
do not move.
No, they are moving.
Tomas Transtromer, trans. Robert Bly in
The Half-Finished Heaven
Thanks for visiting my blog. If I do not see you before the end of Christmas, have a great festive season and I hope you are happy and content!
For the past few paintings I have become aware that purple and light blue is a color that I struggle to utilize in my landscapes – not counting the sky. Looking at the work of Arthur Maderson, for example, I am always impressed at how he uses the full spectrum of color in his paintings.
In this painting, I am taking baby steps toward using a bit more light blue or purple. I am also still working at loosening my style and finding my place between representational and abstract image making.
One of the most well known Afrikaans South African poets of the previous century is N.P. van Wyk Louw. It is a pity I am an amateur translator. Some of his images keep me spellbound. Here are some of the last verses of his poem “Thoughts, Songs and Prayers of a Soldier”:
Perhaps we too shall die
and tumble backward to the void
for this bright earth
to be darkened into us.
Perhaps later no one
will know our beauty,
no meaning found
in all our strife and sorrow,
and when we lie helpless
close to death,
will have only this lonely
certainty at last:
that we could not be bent
in the shape of their violence,
and we could live exulted
true to our blood.
I hope you are happy and content. Thanks for visiting my blog.
My painting journey continues – I learn more about myself with each painting exploration, my voice grows into a new sound. Sometimes the result is worth keeping around for a while. A larger version of the image is shown below.
I have often mentioned in my blog that those poems or paintings which stop me in my tracks – those that quiet the mind and point to the essence of the mystery of being – these are the ones I keep returning to time after time. They are soothing, like an old retired therapist who has now become a friend.
A prime example for me is the poem “Guard Duty” by Tomas Transtromer. Here are the last four verses:
Task: to be where I am.
Even when I'm in this solemn and absurd
role: I am still the place
where creation works on itself.
Dawn comes, the sparse tree trunks
take on color now, the frostbitten
forest flowers form a silent search party
after something that has disappeared in the dark.
But to be where I am...and to wait.
I am full of anxiety, obstinate, confused.
Things not yet happened are already here!
I feel that. They're just out there:
a murmuring mass outside the barrier.
They can only slip in one by one.
They want to slip in. Why? They do
one by one. I am the turnstile.
Tomas Transtromer, translated by Robert Bly, inThe Half Finished Heaven
This painting did not translate so well on the photo but face to face it has a good depth of color in the darks which is always a key challenge for me. I had in mind a relatively colorless, gray moody sky from the start and once that was in place, I had to invent a landscape to compliment it well.
One of the major poets in my first language – Afrikaans – is the poet Elizabeth Eybers. One of her poems – the title of which directly translates as “Grey Afternoon” – played in my mind after this painting stepped into the light. I will try my hand at translating the last two verses, which have been with me since my early adolescence:
Laughing she stares through the window
hears far off the buildings groan
like steel gnashing and ropes under strain.
She wonders where it all heads without rudder
and feels how she wildly adores this life
held down by that dense heavy sky
on this sea of brooding joy
which is fast austere and void of meaning.
Thanks for visiting my blog! I hope you are happy and content as the year heads to its end.
I am quite happy with this painting and I thoroughly loved doing it. Feels like I have come up for air in my last few paintings! Some of my family and blogging friends have responded positively, but understandably some may feel a bit shell shocked looking at these last few compared to my first 100 paintings! Hang in there, it may change again…or not?
Tomas Transtromer is rapidly becoming my favorite poet for this month. His poem “A Few Moments” reflects, I think, our common search for the deeper parts of our being, perhaps the source of all creativity?
A Few Moments
The drawf pind on marsh grounds holds its head up: a dark rag.
But what you see is nothing compared to the roots,
the widening, secretly growing, deathless or half-
deathless root system.
I you she he also puts roots out.
Outside our common will.
Outside the City.
Rain drifts from the summer sky that's pale as mild.
It is as if my five senses were hooked up to some other
that moves with the same stubborn flow
as the runners in white circling the track as the night comes
Tomas Transtromer, trans. Robert Bly in:
The Half Finished Heaven
I often find in music some transition, an inflection, which points to something, something infinitely gentle or suffering, enough to stop me in my tracks. Like the first seconds where the piano enters in Brahms’s Piano Concerto #1, after that tumultuous opening.
Or in the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) song “Ticket to the Moon“, right in the middle of this line:
I’ve got a ticket to the moon, but I’d rather see the sun rise – in your eyes.
My painting odyssey continues as I search for similar inflections in my paintings – it feels like I am “following a narrow ledge around a mountain…sailing on a skeletal eerie craft over the buoyant ocean” (Robert Bly).
In East Coker, T.S Eliot writes:
...Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us,
Or deceived themselves, the quiet voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
Food for thought there…
Thanks for visiting. Many thanks to all who left supporting comments on my recent posts!