O145-148: The Great Yes

This is an abstract in which I have deviated a bit from the color recipe I used in the past few paintings. I quite like this color scheme – reminds me of the Karoo desert somehow.

o148

Below are a two more small landscapes I did along the way. With the thick impasto reflected light is quite a problem and unfortunately the photos do not really show the paintings off very well. But there you have it!


 

Looking back over a few of my earlier posts (does anyone else ever do that?), I looked at one of my earliest attempts at abstract painting, and I found the following paragraph still applies:

When I watch those spontaneous, vivacious people on YouTube splashing away to create massive Acrylic abstract paintings within an hour or two, I go green with envy. And yet, part of me embraces the anxiety, the constraints, the hesitancy that makes me what I am. This is my road to walk – may I say “Yes” to it!

Che Fece…Il Gran Refiuto
For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,
he goes from honor to honor, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he’d still say no. Yet that no—the right no—
drags him down all his life.
C.P. Cafavy, translated by Edmund Keeley
This version copied from PoetryFoundation.org

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#145: The Heart Knows

This is an abstract that got away from me. I took a photo of the painting at this stage of finish, but then went and fiddled with it the next day and messed it up. At least I have a photo!

#O145.JPG

I am slowly, painstakingly joyfully inching my way through my doubts and lack of experience toward an art that expresses the emotion that lies behind each and every silly landscape I have ever tried to paint. The heart knows where it wants to go, but there is so much that needs to be unlearned, so much that has to be taken on trust in order to get there.


Tomas Transtromer also knew something about trust:

 

Schubertiana
...How much we have to take on trust every minute we live in
  order not to drop through the earth!
Take on trust the snow masses clinging to rocksides over the
  town.
Take on trust the unspoken promises, and the smile of
   agreement, trust that the telegram does not concern us, and
that the sudden ax blow from inside is not coming.
Trust the axles we ride on down the thruway among the swarm
  of steel bees magnified three hundred times.
But none of that stuff is really worth the trust we have.
The five string instruments say that we can take something else
   on trust, and they walk with us a bit on the road.
As when the lightbulb goes out on the stair, and the hand
  follows - trusting it - the blind banister rail that finds its
  way in the dark.

Tomas Transtromer (translation Robert Bly), from
The Half Finished Heaven. Line breaks here are my own.

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O144: End of Our Exploring

I am still continuing my affair with Prussian Blue and Indian Yellow. This is an invented landscape. It took considerable layering, searching and scratching before I could tease the image out of the panel.

o144


I find abstract painting, and to a degree also meditation, is very much like reading the poetry of TS Eliot. Once has to “put of sense and notion”, and let the words (colors) and sound (patterns) simple do their thing on the consciousness and the subconscious. Of course, this assumes there is something receptive in there to start with…

Here is one of my favorite verses from “Little Gidding” by TS Eliot

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot- 1955Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree

this snippet copied from www.columbia.edu. The picture to the right is TS Eliot, also copied from this site.

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O143: The Strangest Sea

An abstract made on a beautiful blue afternoon. Not 100% happy with the patterns and balance of the scratch-marks, but there is promise in the rest. I will keep on chugging away at this one for as long as the canvas can take it.


The slow and hesitant switch from planned and controlled to a more intuitive form of painting has been a wild and mind opening ride for me. Working on a painting in an intuitive manner takes a deep form of trust. Trust that the image is already there, waiting to be teased out; trust that my own view of what looks and feels “right” is enough and valid. It takes trust and one operates on hope, from one painting to the next.

Emily Dickinson also knew a thing or two about hope:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
this copy from Poetry Foundation
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#O142: Empire of Dreams

This is an abstracted landscape I painted a week or two ago. I am pleased with this painting – specifically how it abstracts the landscape almost completely, but not quite.

o142

 

I love how Charles Simic’s poems transcend and transport across time and space in the blink of an eye. Here is his poem “Empire of Dreams”

Empire of Dreams
On the first page of my dreambook
It’s always evening
In an occupied country.
Hour before the curfew.
A small provincial city.
The houses all dark.
The storefronts gutted.
I am on a street corner
Where I shouldn’t be.
Alone and coatless
I have gone out to look
For a black dog who answers to my whistle.
I have a kind of Halloween mask
Which I am afraid to put on.

 

this copy from Poetry Foundation

 

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#O140-1: The Will Surrenders

A week or two ago I spent a weekend exploring some color combinations that I have not tried before. I came across this light yellow green and it really grabbed me as a soft background color with a restful, meditative feel to it.

I subsequently played my way through two paintings. The one below is an imagined still life – think of it as an abstract that looks like a still life! The other is a reworked landscape.

o141

The landscape below was painted over one of my earlier favorites. You can still see the road in the foreground (mainly untouched), and traces of the hill on the left also come through.

o140


I have just started reading Fernando Pesoa’s Book of Disquiet. In the foreword I find this quote from the book. I wonder if this applies to my painting sometimes…”my paintings are my cowardice”. Stupendous life rolls forth.

I’m astounded whenever I finish something. Astounded and distressed. My perfectionist instinct should inhibit me from finishing; it should inhibit me from even beginning. But I get distracted and start doing something. What I achieve is not the product of an act of my will but of my will’s surrender. I begin because I don’t have the strength to think; I finish because I don’t have the courage to quit. This book is my cowardice.

One of my much loves poems by Ezra Pound, which I quoted already in an earlier post:

And the Days are Not Full Enough
And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass. 

Ezra Pound

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#O135-9: A Standing Ground

In the past few weeks I have had some ups and downs but always I seem to gravitate toward more abstract images. This painting was a tough riddle to solve but I am quite happy with it.

o139

Below are some other paintings I completed along the way. Most of these were done whilst I was in a somewhat dark and confused mind space about where to go with my paintings. In these situations I remain hopeful and always heed the advice of Masefield:

Therefore, go forth, companion: when you find
No highway more, no track, all being blind,
The way to go shall glimmer in the mind.


The past week I have been on leave at the beautiful Coromandel coast in New Zealand – taking a break from work and painting. For someone with my history of being obsessively driven, this stepping away from pressure always leads to  – paradoxically – anxiety and, for the past two nights, insomnia.

Funny life – I just finished reading Bruce Springsteen’s honest autobiography Born to Run, and was struck by how he was afflicted with anxiety attacks seemingly after he had caught the wave of incredible fame and success.

I have learned a lot about facing anxiety directly, head-on, through meditation and being with what is. David Loy writes beautifully about anxiety in the larger context of life:

Anxiety is a school which roots out everything finite and petty in us…the path of integration is an awareness that does not flee anxiety but endures it, in order to recuperate those parts of the psyche which split off and return to haunt us in projected, symbolic form…The way to integrate anxiety is to become completely anxious: to let formless, unprojected anxiety gnaw on all those finite ends I have attempted to secure myself with.

David Loy – Lack and Transcendence: the Problem of Life and Death in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism

Paging through my little blue book of quotes and poems, I came across this poem by Wendell Berry which features anxiety and – in my mind – also points to a simple returning to “what is”:

A Standing Ground
However just and anxious I have been,
I will stop and step back
from the crowd of those who may agree
with what I say and be apart.
There is no earthly promise of life or peace
but where the roots branch and weave
their patient silent passages in the dark;
uprooted, I have been furious without an aim.
I am not bound for any public place,
but for ground of my own
where I have planted vines and orchard trees,
and in the heat of the day climbed up
into the healing shadow of the woods.
Better than any argument is to rise at dawn
and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.

 

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#O134: Final Truth?

This small painting has been standing in my studio for about two months now. I keep tinkering with it. Would you believe it – it started out as a painting of an old shed with a red roof! I like the warm reflections on the bottom left, the reeds reminds me of a place where an old sage would sit and meditate as twilight came down.

o134


I recently put the following quote from Robert Henri onto my Art Inspirations/Quotes page:

For an artist to be interesting to us he must have been interesting to himself. He must have been capable of intense feeling, and capable of profound contemplation. He who has contemplated has met with himself, is in a state to see into the realities beyond the surfaces of his subject. Nature reveals to him, and, seeing and feeling intensely, he paints, and whether he wills it or not each brush stroke is an exact record of such as he was at the exact moment the stroke was made.

Henri, Robert. The Art Spirit.

My painting above takes me yet again to one of my favorite poems. I have already quoted this in two earlier posts, but I cannot help but do so again:

To Magistrate Zhang

Late, I love but quietness:
Things of this world are no more my concern
Looking back, I’ve known no better plan
Than this: returning to the grove
Pine breezes: loosen my robe
Mountain moon beams: play my lute.
What, you ask, is Final Truth?
The fisherman’s song, strikes deep into the bank.

Original Poem by Wang Wei (translated by J.P. Seaton 
in The Poetry of Zen, by J.P Seaton and Sam Hamill)

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#O133: for the Early Owl

This painting is quite dear to me. Painted in a curious afternoon over an earlier painting of mine which I also liked. This image seems to me a bit bland in bright light, but seen in a dimmer evening light, tucked away in a black frame in some intimate corner of books, the colors and the stories it can tell come alive. I believe them all.

o133


In the past few days I have reflected a lot on my day job and my painting – the different sensitivities and viewpoints demanded by each. At times the two feel opposed to each other, one requiring the utmost subjective sensitivity while the other requires cold, objective decision making.

For me, this apparent dilemma – which can plunge me into despair at times – is “the darkness”. Making it a “fruitful darkness” is my life’s work, or a big part of it. As noted by Arthur Zajonc in his book Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry: 

An artist overwhelmed by emotion cannot continue to imagine, or to compose the lines that allow others to share in his or her feeling. The great artist is sensitive, yet imperturbable; battered, yet centered. If we are blinded by our rage, sorrow, lust, or jealousy, we will be handicapped in our actions. Like the poet, we cannot know ourselves or others, nor can we compose our lives, if our emotions overwhelm us. Life should, in this sense, become a work of art.

My painting above prompted me towards some emotional tone, but for a long time I could not place where I had first encountered it. I found it again this afternoon in TS Eliot’s poem “East Coker”. Here is a small part of that long poem:

In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls
Across the open field, leaving the deep lane
Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon,
Where you lean against a bank while a van passes,
And the deep lane insists on the direction
Into the village, in the electric heat
Hypnotised. In a warm haze the sultry light
Is absorbed, not refracted, by grey stone.
The dahlias sleep in the empty silence.
Wait for the early owl.

In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
...

TS Eliot, from East Coker. This version copied from
DavidGorman.com where you can see the entire poem.

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#O132: Sorrows of Distance

In my recent paintings I have been using mostly thick impasto paint. This image started as a playful exploration of sky and land without a clear horizon line. Because I was not sure which direction the image was going to go, I kept the paint quite thin.

I liked the shapes and values of my initial lay-in. Even though I had no specific image in my mind – only a certain mood of sky and wetland – this image emerged and I had the temerity to say “this is it” and stop right there after the initial lay in.

I did wipe away a little here and there to reveal that warm Raw Sienna under-painting. I like this image and the mood it conveys, even though it is probably only for my own personal collection (along with everything else I paint!)

o132


I recently enjoyed reading Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry by Arthur Zajonc. Here is a passage I highlighted among many others:

Contemplative practice means, among other things, becoming practiced in solitude. This does not mean brooding or self-indulgent musing, but instead practicing a special form of recollection of the past, mindfulness for the present, and envisioning of the future in a manner that is enlivening, clear, and insightful. We learn to be properly solitary, and to carry the depth of our solitude into the world with grace and selflessness.

I am also at present reading a biography of Wallace Stevens and Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography. I am just at the start, but already impressed with his knack for prose. Here is how he describes his teenage encounter with his father’s demons:

At forty-five he was friendless, and due to my pop’s insecurities, there was never another man in our home except me. He spilled his heart out to me. It shocked me, made me feel uncomfortable and strangely wonderful. He showed himself to me, mess that he was. It was one of the greatest days of my teenage life. He needed a “man” friend and I was the only game in town. I comforted him the best I could. I was only sixteen and we were both in way over our heads.

Finally, from time to time, at the end of my morning coffee in bed, I progress a bit further into my copy of David Hinton’s Classical Chinese Poetry. Here is the last poem I highlighted:

AUTUMN THOUGHTS, SENT FAR AWAY 
We share all these disappointments of failing 
autumn a thousand miles apart. This is where 

autumn wind easily plunders courtyard trees, 
but the sorrows of distance never scatter away. 

Swallow shadows shake out homeward wings. 
Orchid scents thin, drifting from old thickets. 

These lovely seasons and fragrant years falling 
lonely away—we share such emptiness here.

Po Chu-I (772-846) translated David Hinton in
Classical Chinese Poetry

 

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