#O202-3: A Deep Quiet

This is yet another version of a scene I photographed many years ago. I have painted this several times in watercolor and oil. One of my oil painting versions was shown in this early post. The image above and below is a much looser interpretation of the scene.

In this painting, I put down that gloomy green cloud and I was just blown away by that orange sky behind it. Especially the subtle soft at the top of the sky.

#O202

The source photo is shown below. I still remember the day well, driving home from work, now more than 10 years ago:

#O202-source

Below is my painting number 203. This is an invented landscape – as I have done many times before, I relied on a tried and trusted composition. I put this painting aside several days and then reworked the almost dry paint with a brush, smoothing out some of the more violent palette knife strokes. I am quite pleased with the final outcome:

#O203

I will end off this post with a story about the place where the source photo shown above was taken. I already related this story in this much earlier post:

About one kilometre North-East from where the photo above was taken I once walked with the dogs late in the afternoon. The sun had already set and it was getting cold and dark quickly. Winter grasses all around thick and wet with early dew.

I saw an owl gliding along the thin streamline. It was very close and glided very slow, almost hovering. And dark as it was, I could still see clearly as he came past me that huge beautiful head distinctly turn and the cavernous eyes look at me intently. I realized, quite without drama, that something small in me had changed, if only because of the deposit of that moment into the marshland of my memory.

It was only later that I came across the poem “The Owl” by Thorkild Bjornvig (translated by Robert Bly in his book News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness). The poem ends like this:

…then I felt his huge and yellow stare
plant something foreign in me, a deep quiet,
a mad freedom; my heart laughed
when the bird raised his soft wings.

Rilke knew something about sadness:

I believe that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension that we find paralyzing because we no longer hear our surprised feelings living. Because we are alone with the alien thing that has entered into our self; because everything intimate and accustomed is for an instant taken away; because we stand in the middle of a transition where we cannot remain standing. For this reason the sadness too passes: the new thing in us, the added thing, has entered into our heart, has gone into its inmost chamber and is not even there any more,—is already in our blood.

Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet (p. 35). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

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#O201: Quiet Pine Winds

Have reworked this painting to improve the unity of color somewhat. I like the second version better. The post shows an image of both versions.

Fruitful Dark

This is another painting based on an old photograph (shown below). This is about a 10 x 8″ painting (oil on board). I am pushing my skills a bit to use a source image without being controlled by it.

For a recovering perfectionist, this is an exercise in letting go. Music helps, and not being to precious about saving the outcome for posterity. A more than anything, being guided by thoughts of pleasing an imaginary audience watching from the wings.

Below is the first version of the painting, which I originally posted:

#O201

After seeing this image on the web, I felt it lacked a bit of unity, so I worked it over with a brush:

#O201b

The source photo (below) is of a typical afternoon on the South African highveld. As you can see I did a pretty loose interpretation of it. I decided early on that the heart of the…

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#O201: Quiet Pine Winds

This is another painting based on an old photograph (shown below). This is about a 10 x 8″ painting (oil on board). I am pushing my skills a bit to use a source image without being controlled by it.

For a recovering perfectionist, this is an exercise in letting go. Music helps, and not being to precious about saving the outcome for posterity. A more than anything, being guided by thoughts of pleasing an imaginary audience watching from the wings.

Below is the first version of the painting, which I originally posted:

#O201

After seeing this image on the web, I felt it lacked a bit of unity, so I worked it over with a brush:

#O201b

The source photo (below) is of a typical afternoon on the South African highveld. As you can see I did a pretty loose interpretation of it. I decided early on that the heart of the image lay in the tinges of orange on the edges of the clouds, and on the russetty nuances of the veld in the foreground.

#O201-source

A poem of Wang Wei, from The Poetry of Zen:

He waits as at dusk, bamboo walking stick in hand,
at the headwaters of Tiger Creek,
leading us on as we listen to mountain echoes,
following the water's way.

Patches of wildflowers bloom.
A solitary bird calls from the valley floor.
We sit evening zazen in the empty forest:
quiet pine winds bring the scent of autumn.

A time of rest and reflection before me, one or two days in – I sense an old forgotten open truth beckoning behind the dance of thought. The body leans towards it and the cells open and call…

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O199-200: Widening Rings of Being

Well, that is 200 oil paintings since I started this blog. These two paintings were also based on photos taken back in South Africa (shown below).

#O200
#O200: That Day

I have been thinking about blogging, having/expressing opinions and what – if anything – can be known for sure. Pessoa’s fictional spokesperson had something to say about this:

No problem has a solution. None of us can untie the Gordian knot; either we give up or we cut it. We brusquely resolve intellectual problems with our feelings, either because we’re tired of thinking, or because we’re afraid to draw conclusions, or because of an inexplicable need to latch on to something, or because of a gregarious impulse to return to other people and to life. Since we can never know all the factors that a problem entails, we can never solve it. To arrive at the truth we would need more data, along with the intellectual resources for exhaustively interpreting the data.

Pessoa, Fernando. The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Modern Classics)

#O199
#O199: Farm near Cullinan

The source photos (old printed copies photographed) are shown below:

In Philip Kapleau’s book “Zen: Merging of East and West” a Zen student had an experience which made him reconsider what can be known with the thinking mind:

I knew tearfully the next day I did not and could not know anything about Mu – that “I did not know” was the answer to every conceivable question. And I went out in the fields at noon among the warm and peaceful birds and insects and grass and I cried bitterly as I saw that there was nothing to hold on to – nothing. And that I had no choice but to submit.

Rumi has the final word today. Here is an excerpt from his poem “A Community of the Spirit” (this copy from Poet Seers):

Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.

Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being.

From Rumi – Selected Poems (Penguin Classics)
Translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne

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#O198: Stop the Sun!

For the past 20 or so paintings, I worked abstractly – letting the process dictate the final image. In this painting I tried to return to using a source photo but being quite free in my interpretation of it. The source image is shown below.

This photo was taken more than 10 years ago on a farm near Cullinan (South Africa) on which I lived for some years. I now only have an old, stained printed version of this photo.

#O198-source

I often paint twilight scenes, but I am terrified of literal sunsets featuring a visible sun. I believe this is one of my first attempts at rendering a sun in a literal way.

#O198b

From dawn to dusk: how to be myself? When Nisargadatta was asked to explain the path to Self-Realization, he replied that there was no path, because “what you are seeking is too close to you to allow for a path”.

An old man now, I realize that the act of breaking through the chains of social demands and conventions to free a truer version of oneself is the supreme battle of life and death. Truly, there is no journey more complex, risky and rewarding than gaining, day-by-day, greater congruence between the being you most naturally are and the one you present to your family and society at large. (Jasper Mouton)

Zen master Shunryu Suzuki had something more pragmatic to say about becoming ourselves:

When we ‘just sit’ in meditation, we include everything. There is nothing else, nothing but you. This is shikantaza. We become completely ourselves. We have everything, and we are fully satisfied. There is nothing to attain, so we have a sense of gratitude or joyful mind…we practice like someone who is close to dying. There is nothing to rely on, nothing to depend on. Because you are dying, you don’t want anything, so you cannot be fooled by anything. Most people are not only fooled by something, but also by themselves. We should know whether or not we are fooling ourselves. (Shunryu Suzuki, in “Not Always So“)

But for me the poet always has the last word. Here are some parts of May Sarton’s poem, Now I Become Myself:

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
"Hurry, you will be dead before--"
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
 ...
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

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#O196-7: Release that Dream

I went away, and all my paintings were lined up for slaughter. Then something happened to me. Late at night I fell to my knees in a foreign room – and when I returned they had all become beautiful, beyond my adjusted beliefs.

Fernando Pessoa wrote prose that make me long for a homeland I never knew:

I’ve lived certain moments of respite in the presence of Nature, moments sculpted out of tender isolation, that will always be like medals for me. In these moments I forgot all of my life’s goals, all of the paths I wanted to follow. An immense spiritual tranquility fell into the blue lap of my aspirations and allowed me to enjoy being nothing. But I’ve probably never enjoyed an incorruptible moment, free of any underlying spirit of failure and gloom.

Pessoa, Fernando. The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Modern Classics)

#O196

Pessoa continues:

In all my moments of spiritual liberation there was a dormant sorrow, vaguely blooming in gardens beyond the walls of my consciousness, and the scent and the very colour of those sad flowers intuitively passed through the stone walls, whose far side (where the roses bloomed) never ceased being a hazy near side in the obscure mystery of who I am, in the drowsiness of my daily existence.

#O197

In the beautiful book “The Poetry of Zen“, the thirteenth century sage Ch’ih-chueh is quoted as saying:

The failure of the Zen path comes from teachers without deep attainment, just setting forth sayings and showing off knowledge to capture students, and from students with no great aspiration just following popular fads and current customs, content to sink themselves in the domain of intellectual knowledge and verbiage…The ‘teachers’ and ‘students’ bewitch each other.

Another sage (Yueh-lin) is quoted as having observed with regards to talking about Zen:

Ninety percent accuracy is not as good as silence

Alphaville sang this poem:

Hello today 
Open your eyes 
The snow is falling just like leaves 
Aquarian warriors rebuild the ship 
Mr rainbow is gone

Hello my love 
Here's to your heart 
Unfold the lillies in the deep 
The season's over, the shores are sealed

Now ashen roses rain on the fields 
Innocent dreamers, look what you've done 
Now it's time for the phoenix to fly 
Hello today

Wake to the dawn 
To meet the guardians of the isles 
The valient captains will rule the seas till the comets return 
Hello my love 
Here's to your heart 
Release that dream into the world

Join in the air race, leaving tonight 
How does it feel to follow the light 
Beautiful dreamer, it's up to you 
If we glide through the glamour of love

We believe in our dreams 
Reaching out for above 
We believe in our dreams 
Reaching out for love

Songwriters: Bernard Lloyd / Marian Gold / Ricky Echolette
Fantastic Dream lyrics © Rolf Budde Musikverlag Gmbh

 

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#O194-5: This Other Way

Journal entry: The past two weeks my enthusiasm for painting has just evaporated. These are my last efforts and they were finished last weekend.

#O195

Pessoa wrote:

Clear things console me, and sunlit things console me. To see life passing by under a blue sky makes up for a lot. I forget myself indefinitely, forgetting more than I could ever remember. The sufficiency of things fills my weightless, translucent heart, and just to look is a sweet satisfaction. I’ve never been more than a bodiless gaze, whose only soul was a slight breeze that passed by and saw.

#O194

More and more these days the familiar face of my expectations and demands move me to take a refuge in meditation, calling out to the spacious infinite arms at the end of thought:

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.

Wallace Stevens
(this copy from Poetry Foundation)

At times my meditation feels like it is going nowhere. I am awake, open, aware. But no direction or progress seems apparent to the thinking mind. I take comfort in the path that others have walked.

In his book “Novice to Master“, Soko Morinaga writes about his extensive meditation experience in a Zen monastery:

Despite my unrelenting persistence at sitting, every night I would grow hazy and doze off so that my zazen was far from strong and clear.

He continues to describe how he made matters worse by not eating enough as a means to keep him awake while meditating at night. He reached the end of his resources:

Then, one night, all of my ammunition was exhausted. I lost all sense of wanting enlightenment; to continue seeking satori was inconceivable. Gone was the physical and mental energy necessary to maintain a level of consciousness in which one tries to verify with the eyes and hear with the ears…My whole body was a mass of sheer pain…As if consciousness were lost in a fog, all was hazy.

Suddenly, under some impetus unknown to me, the fog lifted and vanished. And it is not that the pain in my own body disappeared, but rather that the body that is supposed to feel the pain disappeared. Everything was utterly clear. Even in the dimly lit darkness, things could be seen in a fine clarity. The faintest sound could be heard distinctly, but the hearing self was not there. this was, I believe, to die while alive….I only know that when I came to myself, I felt tremendously happy!

Morinaga goes on to write:

By meeting what you are faced with right now, though, in this very instant, completely without judgement of 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.

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#O190-193: Resuming my Existence

In his poem “The Man Watching”,  Rilke says: “When we win it is with small things, and the triumph itself makes us small”.  Much food for thought there – what then, is worth really wanting? If I pursue the thought “what do I want?” all the way down the labyrinth to the place of not knowing, many certainties start unraveling.

#O190

Rilke’s letters make it clear that he needed to be alone in order to fall into such a condition, to exist solitary in an imagined cocoon so that he could come apart before coming together again. In this raw, naked, fragmentary state of mind he felt both too vulnerable and too repulsive to be near anyone, except a servant. [The beginning of Terror].

#O191

Pessoa wrote:

For a long time now I haven’t existed. I’m utterly calm. No one sees me differently from who I am. I just felt myself breathe as if I’d done something new, or done it late. I’m beginning to be conscious of being conscious. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll wake up to myself and resume my own existence. I don’t know if that will make me more happy or less. I don’t know anything.

#O193

Reaching a place of “not knowing” is good for me. It makes me “see deeper into paintings” (Rilke).

#O192

For me, my featured painting for this post (directly above) touches that sweet spot between image and emotion. The way the red peers through the more muted, dark colors suggest something poignant that I cannot quite put my finger on. It relates to what Robert Henri wrote:

That time we sat in the evening silence in the face 
of the mesa 
and heard the sudden howl of a pack of coyotes, 
and had a thrill 
and a dread which was not fear of the pack, 
for we knew they were harmless. 
Just what was that dread — what did it relate to? 
Something ’way back in the race perhaps? 
We have strange ways of seeing. 
If we only knew — then we could tell. 
If we knew what we saw, we could paint it.

Finally, I will end of with one of my favorite poems by Transtromer:

Storm
The man on a walk suddenly meets the old
giant oak like an elk turned to stone with
its enormous antlers against the dark green castle wall of the 
 fall ocean.

Storm from the north. It's nearly time for the
rowanberries to ripen. Awake in the night he
hears the constellations far above the oak stamping in their stalls.
 
Tomas Transtromer, translated by Robert Bly in
The Half Finished Heaven.

Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you are happy and content.