#O187-189: For Hunters and Anxieties

Oil on Panel (13.5 x 9″). Below is a preliminary stage – perhaps I should have stopped at Stage 1 – I don’t know.#O187b-stagesRecently, while painting, I do not work off any sketch or plan. I simply put down some bold color and perhaps a horizon line. I return a day later and put an uneven glaze over the landscape portion and some color into the sky. From there, I just respond to what the image suggests. It is a dance of sorts.

In many of my last paintings, a road going down the middle of the image has emerged. I sense it has some meaning, but have no idea where it will lead to…

#O188: Oil on Panel (10 x 8″)

At times, when I paint in such a responsive way with wild abandon, I think of what “people might say”. I hesitate, but then I think of the painters I admire so much – few more than Joan Kathleen Harding Eardley – and they give me permission to go right to that wilder mind and respond to it.

#O189 Oil on Panel (16 x 12″)

To quote from an earlier post of mine:

It is OK to proceed regardless of what others think – if you are walking a path that is lighted by your spirit. Tomas Transtromer ends his poem “After a Long Dry Spell”, as follows:

It’s all right to telephone the island that is a mirage.
It’s all right to hear the gray voice.
To thunder iron ore is honey.
It’s all right to live by your own code.
Translation by Robert Bly in The Half Finished Heaven

How often have I realized the futility and energy-sapping neediness of feeling that you should explain yourself to others and get approval before you have a right to live by your own code. Rilke says:

What goes on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love; you must somehow keep working at it and not lose too much time and too much courage in clarifying your attitude toward people.

In my dialogue with my paintings I keep dreaming of landscapes that arise from deep inside. I feel a kinship with Pessoa when he writes of:

…a landscape for hunters and anxieties, with rushes growing along rivers whose jagged banks jut like miniature muddy capes into the lead-yellow waters, then re-enter to form slimy bays for toy-like boats, swampy recesses where water glistens over the sludge that’s hidden between the black-green stalks of rushes too thick to walk through…

No one has been there or will ever go there. Even if I could go backwards in time and space, fleeing the world for that landscape, no one would ever join me there. I would wait in vain for what I didn’t know I was waiting for, and in the end there would be nothing but a slow falling of night, with the whole of space gradually turning the colour of the darkest clouds, which little by little would vanish into the abolished mass of the sky.

Fernando Pessoa – The Book of Disquiet

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#O183-186: Shadows and Ruins

An invented landscape: as I made this I kept alternating between memories of scenes from a car window in my earlier life (South Africa) and my current home (New Zealand). In the end I guess all I can say is that it is an international landscape – an endangered species.

#O183: Invented Lanscape
#O183: Invented Landscape

Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything!

[Rainer Maria Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet]

#O184: Invented Landscape
#O184: Invented Landscape – preparation for #O185

One of Pessoa’s fictional characters muses as follows:

The more I contemplate the spectacle of the world and the ever-changing state of things, the more profoundly I’m convinced of the inherent fiction of everything, of the false importance exhibited by all realities. And in this contemplation (which has occurred to all thinking souls at one time or another), the colourful parade of customs and fashions, the complex path of civilizations and progress, the grandiose commotion of empires and cultures – all of this strikes me as a myth and a fiction, dreamed among shadows and ruins. But I’m not sure whether the supreme resolution of all these dead intentions – dead even when achieved – lies in the ecstatic resignation of the Buddha, who, once he understood the emptiness of things, stood up from his ecstasy saying, ‘Now I know everything’, or in the jaded indifference of the emperor Severus: ‘Omnia fui, nihil expedit – I have been everything, nothing is worth anything.’

#O186: Invented Landscape
#O186: Invented Landscape

But in the end, poetry holds all in its claw. People have asked: “Why fruitful darkness?” – why not something light? But I am not alone. Charles Simic said: “Go inside a stone/ That would be my way/Let somebody else become a dove…”. and he concludes:

 I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed.
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill—
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star charts
On the inner walls.

from Charles Simic, "Stone"


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#O179-182: A Grace of Sense

Sometimes I think of T.S Eliot when he wrote:

The trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
The inner freedom from practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,

(excerpt from Burnt Norton)


Pessoa wrote:

…for some reason or other (which might be that I’m tired of keeping the books or bored because I have nothing to do), I’m overwhelmed by a vague sadness about life, an inner anxiety that makes me nervous and uneasy. If I try to translate this emotion with close fitting words, then the closer the fit, the more they’ll represent my own personal feeling, and so the less they’ll communicate it to others. And if there is no communicating it to others, it would be wiser and simpler to feel it without writing it. But art is the communication to others of the identity we feel with them, without which there would be no communication and no need for it. I search for the ordinary human emotion that will have the colouring, spirit and shape of the emotion I’m feeling right now for the inhuman, personal reason of being a weary bookkeeper or a bored resident of Lisbon. And I conclude that the ordinary emotion which in ordinary souls has the same characteristics as my emotion is nostalgia for one’s lost childhood.


End of the road reached yet again as far as a strategic approach to spirituality and meditation is concerned. I was warned about this on retreat: “…if you are being strategic about this, you are lost…”.

Soko Morinaga wrote:

By meeting what you are faced with right now…in this very instant, completely without judgement or evaluation, you can transcend by far all question of cause and effect. You may be working in the kitchen or sweeping in the garden or cleaning the toilet or laboring for somebody else, but you do it without consideration of its relative merit. That means simply doing with all your might, becoming one with whatever situation in which you find yourself in this instant. I would like for you to clearly know that there is this other way of living your life. (emphasis mine)

Sit strong. Stay aware. Do not seek refuge in this world of cause and effect.


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#O175-8: Joy and Gratitude

A small study based on a photoe taken on my morning walk. Below is the final picture, and to the right the source photo and the painting at its first stage. I left the first stage painting to dry a bit overnight, then finished it off the next evening.

Meditation: Begin by letting thoughts flow and watching them. This slows down the mind. Once quiet, keep it quiet – don’t get bored with peace – go deeper into it. [Nisargadatta]

#O178: Oil on Panel

A poem by Tomas Transtromer:

Summer Grass
So much has happened.
Reality has eaten away so much of us.
But summer, at last.

A great airport - the control tower leads down
load after load with chilled
people from space.

Gras and flowers - we are landing.
The grass has a green foreman.
I go and check in.

Tomas Transtromer, translated by Robert Bly, in
The Half-Finished Heaven


The days slip by. Am I aware? What a happening, this life! Tired beyond belief at the end of the work day – I walk the garden amidst the joy and gratitude flitting between heart and green surround.

Pessoa is strident at times:

… and a deep and weary disdain for all those who work for mankind, for all those who fight for their country and give their lives so that civilization may continue … … a disdain full of disgust for those who don’t realize that the only reality is each man’s soul, and that everything else – the exterior world and other people – is but an unaesthetic nightmare, like the result, in dreams, of a mental indigestion.

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#O173: Illusion of Worldly Life

 For the seeker of reality there is only one meditation – the rigorous refusal to harbor thought. [Nisargadatta]

A single meditation cushion, and one
is completely protected.
Earth may crumble, heaven collapse –
but here one is at peace.
Sacred titles and worldly fame: both fade
away in sitting.
And the universe assembles on the tip of a feather.

The Nun Xinnang,  in Daughters of Emptiness by Beata Grant

#O172: Oil on Panel (approx 8 x 10″)

The idea of owning and hanging on to things is the illusion of worldly life. The view of the self sends forth all these delusions in which we have to protect ourselves all the time. We’re always endangered, there’s always something to worry about, something to be frightened of. But when that illusion is punctured by wisdom, then there is a fearlessness, we see this as a journey, a transition from the sensory realm and we are willing to learn the lessons it teaches us, no matter what those lessons might be.

Ajahn Sumedho – The Way It Is


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#O169-174: Waikato Landscape

Most of my recent paintings were invented landscapes. This one is based on a source photo I took recently during my morning walk – shown below. I am quite pleased with this outcome.

Below are some other paintings I made along the way during the last week.

#O169: Oil on Panel (10×12″)
#O170: Oil on Panel (6×8″)
#O171: Oil on Panel (6×8″)

A sensitive and honest-minded man, if he’s concerned about evil and injustice in the world, will naturally begin his campaign against them by eliminating them at their nearest source: his own person. This task will take his entire life.

Fernando Pessoa

I recently discovered the poetry of Marie Marshall. I love her rather short, punchy poems loaded with off the sea-wall images that take me to silence. Here is an example from her blog here on WordPress:


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#O168: No Outside Council

High city hills! Great marvels of architecture that the steep slopes secure and make even greater, motley chaos of heaped up buildings that the daylight dapples with bright spots and shadows – you are today, you are me, because I see you, you are what you won’t be tomorrow, and I love you from the deck rail as when two ships pass, and there’s a mysterious longing and regret in their passing.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

In my life, weekly waves of doubt and anxiety follow others of confidence and certainty. Contentment and whispers of joy lie in the acceptance of this cycle, and at times I have one certainty only: no one knows anything for certain; no one, nothing on the outside can help – one must feel patiently, silently toward the inside.

This inward questioning applies to clearly delineated questions such as “is my art ‘good enough’?” but also to those other ones which lie dormant when we are confident and energetic. There is the one at the very bottom of existence: “Who am I?”.

Rilke wrote of this in the context of art:

You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (since you have allowed me to advise you) I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

When my eldest son was about four, as he went to bed one night he asked me “Who am I?”. I said you are [name]. He said: “I know my name, but who AM I?”. I was dumbstruck by his insight.

Nisargadatta wrote:

Knowledge is most useful in dealing with things. But it does not tell you how to deal with people and yourself, how to life a life. We are not talking of driving a car, earning money. For this you need experience. But for being a light onto yourself material knowledge will not help you. You need something more intimate and deeper than mediate knowledge, to be your self in the true sense of the word. Your outer life is unimportant – you can become a night-watchman and live happily. It is what you are inwardly that matters. [I am That (66)]

I already quoted the following poem in an earlier post, but cannot resist doing it again today:

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


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#O163-7: This Steeply Sloping Hour

For me, my landscape above is a time machine back to a Sunday afternoon road to a beach where sadness and joy took turns to sweep the shoreline with the tides.

I envy – or again, perhaps do not envy – those painters that work with assured clockwork precision to an outcome almost known. For me it is a doubtful, anxious search for a felt but not known emotion in paint. It sometimes takes several attempts before it shows itself:


Pessoa wrote:

Amiel said that a landscape is a state of feeling, but the phrase is a flawed gem of a feeble dreamer. As soon as the landscape is a landscape, it ceases to be a state of emotion. To objectify is to create, and no one would say that a finished poem is a state of thinking about writing one.

Time and time again, a hurried pace, ambition and lack of self awareness takes me to the place of humble-making. There I find myself. Gold is found where I stumble and fall without hope. I am not that steeply sloping hour that Rilke wrote of:

My life is not this steeply sloping hour
in which you see me hurrying.
I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death's note wants to climb over -
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
       And the song goes on, beautiful.

Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Robert Bly in
Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke

I sense that autumn approaches – a favorite season. Longer walks, steady meditations, eating little and falling into hesitant footsteps with awareness. Clearly seeing and rinsing off those expectations that approach from an angle like soft rain to fill my life with semi-contractual “shoulds” that tighten like barbed wire across the chest at 2 am.

Nisargadatta said:

Pain and pleasure are in the mind. Change your scale of values and all will change. Only contentment can make you happy – desires fulfilled breeds more desires. Contentment in what comes by itself is a very fruitful state – a precondition to the state of fullness. Believe me, it is the satisfaction of desires that breeds misery. Freedom from desires is bliss. [I am That (3)].

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