Everything Curls Inward

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I made it an unknown distance into the second half of my life before I read Shakespeare’s King Lear from end to end, pencil in hand. Lear is one of the plays featured in Lionel Trilling’s monumental book The Experience of Literature.

Trilling’s commentary at the end of the play is wonderful. King Lear is not a happy story. Trilling starts his commentary as follows:

Of the supreme achievements of the creative mind with which King Lear is usually compared, it is perhaps the only one that seems to issue in hopelessness…The concluding scene speaks less of peace, let alone of hope, than of an ultimate weariness.

Lionel Trilling – The Experience of Literature

Quoting Iris Murdoch who said: “Only the very greatest art invigorates without consoling”, Trilling concludes his commentary on King Lear:

If we ask how, in the face of its dire report of life, this play can be said to invigorate, the answer is that it does us the honor of supposing that we will make every possible effort of mind to withstand the force of its despair and to understand the complexity of what it tells us about the nature of human existence: it draws us into more activity than we had thought ourselves capable of.

Lionel Trilling – The Experience of Literature.
Oil approx 12 x 12 in

I have also been making my way, assisted by my coffee in the morning, through William Barrett’s brilliant book The Illusion of Technique. Anyone living under the illusion that technology alone will save the human world would be well advised to study this fundamental investigation of the limits of technique and logic in a world in which God is believed to be dead.

In a chapter on Heidegger’s commentary on the poems of Hölderlin, Barrett writes about the tragic life of Hölderlin – a man who went insane at age 32, spending the last 36 years of his life as an “amiable and harmless lunatic being cared for in the household of a local carpenter and doing odd jobs as a gardener”.

Barrett’s writing on Hölderlin is beautiful:

As the shadow darkens over the poet, the poems themselves become more daring, disconnected, schizoid – more “modernist” in manner… The great hymns are like magnificent and shining blocks of ice that detach themselves from a continent and float off into an empty sea.

William Barrett – The Illusion of Technique

Here is one of Hölderlin’s poems – one which seems to me particularly fitting for the year in which we find ourselves:

All the fruit is ripe, plunged in fire, cooked,

And they have passed their test on earth, and one law is this:

That everything curls inward, like snakes,

Prophetic, dreaming on

The hills of heaven. And many things

Have to stay on the shoulders like a load

of failure. However the roads

Are bad. For the chained elements,

Like horses, are going off to the side,

And the old

Laws of the earth. And a longing

For disintegration constantly comes. Many things however

Have to stay on the shoulders. Steadiness is essential.

Forwards, however, or backwards we will

Not look. Let us learn to live swaying

As in a rocking boat on the sea.”

Friedrich Hölderlin

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

A New Strategy

In his book Loss of the self in modern literature and art, Wylie Sypher writes about the character Ulrich in Robert Musil’s book The man without qualities:

His existence is negative because he has been completely available to others, to causes, to events and forces, as if he were a kind of liquid capital…Ulrich is depressed by a sense that his existence has been manipulated: but by what?

Sypher, Wylie. Loss of the self in modern literature and art
12 x 16″ , Oil on Canvas

We know instinctively, I think, what the philosopher of Ecclesiastes reminds us of. What remains then? Of course, we can still behold beauty – it is everywhere and free. But as far as projects go – once true understanding seeps in – disenchantment is the only mature response. I am talking here about the philosophical cul de sac that Ernst Becker summarized so well:

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 relaxedness, an openness to experience that makes him less of a driven burden on others.

Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death . Souvenir Press. Kindle Edition

I guess in the end any person who “feels things deeply” drifts down the river toward the realization that letting go of a strategy is the only viable strategy.

Thanks for visiting my blog. May you be content and safe.

Image

Better, Melancholy Things

A while ago, on a trip to Sydney, I bought “Reading Chekhov: A critical journey” by Janet Malcolm. I was humbled by the ease with which Malcolm guided me into the depths of Chekhov’s writing. As the blurb says, “after reading this book, it is impossible not to want to go and re-read [Chekhov]

However, in the end it was Malcolm’s observations about her Russian journey in Chekhov’s footsteps, and the references she encountered, that stayed with me. She describes the suffering of poet Anna Akhmatova:

Her fortitude in the face of suffering and loss – her first husband was shot by the Bolsheviks, her only son was imprisoned three times, for a total of thirteen years, her friend and fellow poet Osip Mandelstam died in a labor camp, as did her third husband…

Charcoal and Pastel

Malcolm quotes Nadyezda Mandelstam, the widow of the poet:

Of everything that happened to us, what was most significant and powerful was the fear and what it produced – a loathsome feeling of disgrace and impotence.

Malcolm describes the context in which these people lived:

the stoicism and courage and consistent good conduct during a period when just being decent was to take your life in your hands.

Oil on Canvas

Winter again in New Zealand. The gray weather drives me to the studio and back to Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet. Reading Pessoa as the rain falls on a wintry Saturday, grey all around, coffee brewing, inner darkness becomes fruitful.

Oil on Canvas

I understand why so many people loathe Pessoa’s explicit hopelessness. Yet I am drawn to his prose in the same way as to the beautiful Nothingness of deep meditation. One sinks in and becomes aware of being contained – in all aspects of life and death – by something infinitely open:

Divided between tired and restless, I succeed in touching – with the awareness of my body – a metaphysical knowledge of the mystery of things…To cease, to sleep, to replace this intermittent consciousness with better, melancholy things, whispered in secret to someone who doesn’t know me!

Fernando Pessoa “Book of Disquiet”

Thanks for reading my blog. It is my wish that you be safe, happy and content.

You Cannot Miss that Inn

I continue to be visited in my meditation and dreams by images of paths leading upward, into cloud-scattered hills where some sort of answer awaits.

In my painting this often comes out as a path toward a building (monastery) at the top of a hill:

Oil 2019 55
Oil 2019 #55 (12″ x 12″)

This image of a path winding upward always reminds me of the poem by Christina Rossetti:

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
   Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
   From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
   A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
   You cannot miss that inn.
excerpt from “Up-Hill” by Christina Rossetti

In painting, as the years go by and excitement, hopes and expectations get tempered by the reality of life, I relax and paint for myself. Colors and shapes become the main building blocks of joy in painting, rather than what they represent:

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Oil 2019 #56 (16″ x 12″)

An old joy returns…

 

 

Nothing to Report

A garden path, late afternoon sunlight, late autumn. Pink highlights and cool shadows, memories of summer. I painted this over a rather somber grey abstract. I like the luscious streaks of oil paint, the abstractness of shapes and tones.

Perhaps there is a question in there somewhere, in those interactions between light and shadow. Everything points. In the face of this ephemeral life without guarantees, how to escape the shadow of anxiety? Rollo May wrote:

Anxiety is not an affect among other affects, such as pleasure or sadness. It is rather an ontological characteristic of man, rooted in his very existence as such.

May, Rollo. The Discovery of Being

Oil 2019 54

While painting this I thought of Ryokan and his hut in the forest, being overgrown by ivy year by year:

My hut lies in the middle of a dense forest;
Every year the green ivy grows longer.
No news of the affairs of men,
Only the occasional song of a woodcutter.
The sun shines and I mend my robe;
When the moon comes out I read Buddhist poems.
I have nothing to report, my friends.
If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so many things.

Ryokan, trans. John Stevens, in One Robe, One Bowl

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

If you are interested to see more of my work, or to view or buy my work, please visit my gallery on Daily Paintworks.

 

 

 

Through a Topaz Town

In the essay “The Madness of Art”, Joyce Carol Oates comments on Henry James’s novel “The Middle Years”. I stumble across this during my morning coffee and the winter seems somehow warmer. Oates quotes from one of James’s letters:

“This aloneness – what is it still but the deepest thing about one? Deeper, about me, at any rate, than anything else;  deeper than my ‘genius,’ deeper than my ‘discipline,’ deeper than my pride, deeper, above all, than the deep counterminings of art”

I have tried so often to give up on painting. This time it lasted a good few months. But my discipline waxes and wanes as the New Zealand winter descends and like those geese of Bly that have an urge to travel long distances, I return again to that great glazed tank of art, a world of shapes and colors.

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2019 #47 (Oil on Canvas 12″ x 16″)

I dive once more into my story…

“He dived once more into his story and was drawn down, as by a siren’s hand, to where, in the dim underworld of fiction, the great glazed tank of art, strange silent subjects float”

Henry James – The Middle Years

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2019 #48 (Oil on Canvas 12″ x 16″)

I leave you with a poem. A letter actually, but in the hands of Emily Dickinson it outpaces most poetry:

Dear friend.

Are you willing? I am so far from Land – to offer you the cup – it might some Sabbath come my turn – Of wine how solemn – full!

…While you are sick – we – are homesick – Do you look out tonight? The Moon rides like a Girl – through a Topaz Town – I don’t think we shall ever be merry again – you are ill so long-

When did the Dark happen?

Letters of Emily Dickinson

When did the Dark happen?

I hope you are happy and content.

If you are interested to see more of my work, or to view or buy my work, please visit my gallery on Daily Paintworks.

Lost in Landscapes

I have been busy in the studio of late. With the assistance of my beautiful wife I recently migrated from my old drafty and leaky studio to one in my old office. Complete with air conditioning and without leaks! With better lighting and more warmth I now manage to paint into the night…

Oil 2018 58

Another big step I took was to start putting my paintings up for sale online through the Daily Paintworks site. The paintings shown in this blog post all sold recently and it was with happy sadness that I sent them off. They are selling dirt cheap but I am so glad that others can share the joy I get from creating these paintings.

Oil 2018 67

Juggling life between work and painting, stress and friction builds up quite quickly without a discipline of a tempered pace and self-awareness. There is also the potential to lose the golden thread of creativity and spirituality completely. The Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki warned against this:

When we are too involved in the idea of time, or taking care of the material world, we will lose our way. A disciple will not be a disciple when he is completely involved in dualistic practice, involved in a busy life in the busy, mundane world.

Shunryu Suzuki, in Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

I find when things hum along, waking up to the fact of my existence as often as I can provides a source of energy, joy even. These are the moments of awareness that constitute a full, appreciated life not spent in forgetfulness.

From an old post of mine: “Lying awake at 2 am, I think again of Pessoa and his wonderful prose. He wrote:”

To shrug off all duties, even those not assigned to us, to repudiate all homes, even those that weren’t ours, to live off vestiges and the ill-defined, in grand purple robes of madness and in imitation laces of dreamed majesties … To be something, anything, that doesn’t feel the weight of the rain outside, nor the anguish of inner emptiness … To wander without thought or soul – sensation without sensation – along mountain roads and through valleys hidden between steep slopes, into the far distance, irrevocably immersed … To be lost in landscapes that are like paintings … A colourful non-being in the distance …

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

Summer has come to New Zealand!  I hope you enjoy this excerpt from a poem by Shinkichi Takahashi:

The Position of the Sparrow (last verse)
...
Because the whole is part, there's not a whole,
Anywhere, that is not part.
And all those happenings a billion years ago,
Are happening now, all around us: time.
Indeed this morning the sparrow hopped about
In that nebulous whirlpool
A million light years hence.
And since the morning is void,
Anything can be. Since mornings
A billion years from now are nothingness,
We can behold them.
The sparrow stirs,
The universe moves slightly.

Shinkichi Takahashi, translated by Lucien Stryk in 
Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breezes Enter

Thanks to all who have encouraged me with likes and comments. A special thanks to those who follow my blog . I wish you happiness and contentment.

If you are interested to see more of my work, follow me on instagram (@fritzjoosteartist), or to view or buy my work, please visit my gallery on Daily Paintworks.

The Truth Dawns

It feels as if for the longest time I have been wrestling with the challenge of painting honest landscapes. Time and time again I fall into the clutches of the picturesque, the “pretty landscape”. The past week I have been back at work on this analysis.

The challenge I set myself was to dissolve the landscape I had in mind – a view of the mountains near my home with a semi-invented foreground composition – into something more abstract. My first effort came out like this:

IMG_0723
Mountain View I (Oil on Canvas, 11″ x 14″)

I was pleased with the outcome, especially the warm, rich and juicy foreground. But that horizon line immediately cast the image as a traditional landscape. I set to the problem with pastels, this time using only blocks of color with little or no lines:

IMG_0724(Edited)
Mountain View II (Pastel on Canson paper, 8″ x 10″)

I liked this one a little more. But I am quite comfortable with pastel, so this felt like cheating.

I went back to oils, this time taking away the option of lines by using only the palette knife:

IMG_0722
Mountain View III (Oil on Canvas, 8″ x 10″)

I felt I was getting somewhere, but was weary of the palette knife – it very easily becomes a gimmick or mannerism that an artist cannot escape from, like an actor associated with a certain role.

Finally, as the weekend approached, I resolved the idea with an image that I really love:

IMG_0726
Mountain View IV (Oil on Canvas, 8″ x 10″)

There is little left of the original concept, except color, rhythm, harmonies. Who knows how I will feel about this image in a week’s time? I know I felt good, relaxed and happy while doing it and after doing it. It is a good sign, but I know that art is an ever moving target, a mystery that deepens infinitely.

I have been reading The Philosophy of Samuel Beckett, by John Calder. Initially a somewhat dry read for my engineering brain, I started paying better attention in the chapter “The failure of art”. Calder quotes Beckett:

…to be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail, that failure is his world and the shrink from it desertion, art and craft, good housekeeping, living.

By Beckett’s measure I guess I can say the past week I failed several times, and currently with attempt IV I am under the illusion of having succeeded. Slowly the truth about this journey dawns:

Slowly the Truth Dawns

To wake, and know
your heart sinks
dark and heavy,
hardening into stone...

Slowly the sea lifts its waves,
slowly the trees turn red in the gorge,
slowly the fires begin to lap in hell,
slowly the truth dawns...

Olav H. Hague, translated by Robert Hedin, in
The Dream We Carry

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

Among Shadows and Ruins

In my last post I showed some of my recent paintings done on paper. These were in watercolor and pastel. At the moment, I really enjoy working on paper – just something about that natural texture and light weight of paper. However, I have become a bit impatient to let the watercolor dry before I go over it in pastel.

So…I dusted off my old bottles of Acrylic paints and started playing around with it. Not expecting anything to come out of these play sessions, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed the combination of Acrylic and paper.

The images in this post are some abstract works (size about 50 x 33 cm) that have come out of these play sessions – some of these have been getting quite a lot of pins when I posted them on Pinterest, so I guess I am not the only one liking them!

A8

I have also posted some of these on my formal website, and in doing this I found that putting a border around the image gives a much better indication of what the work would look like when it is framed with a mat behind glass. In the case of abstract work, I have always found that the border makes up an intrinsic part of the composition, so it is quite important to see it with a proper border.

A7


 

A good break over the new year, together with increasing exposure to sunlight, nourishing but sparse food and lots of exercise has enabled me to put some distance between my demons and my angels. At the moment I am living with my angels mostly, but in the end I realize – they are all mine. All part of this particular life as a sentient being on a ball twirling in a corner of the vast eternal universe.

When consciousness can relax into the simplicity of bare presence, something opens up. We are in harmony with a greater intelligence, or more accurately, the illusion that we are separate from this falls away.

Tollifson, Joan. Nothing to Grasp (pp. 103-104). New Harbinger Publications. 

With a more energized viewpoint, I noted that my need to go into the studio has ever so slightly diminished – like everything else this will change – but for now I am keeping a curious eye on it. I have learned not to overthink these changes in my internal seasons too much. Besides, thinking is quite overrated. To quote Tollifson again:

Some of our thinking is useful and functional, but we can notice that much of our thinking, maybe most of it, does nothing but generate suffering and confusion. With awareness, we can begin to feel when thought ceases to be useful, when it slides over into obsessive rumination. The more we pay attention with awareness to any thought process, the more we can become sensitive to where it ceases to be functional. Ultimately, the clearest and most truly creative decisions, discoveries and breakthroughs come from a place totally beyond the thinking mind.

What I have learned to my surprise (again!) over the past few weeks is that a healthy, nourished body exposed to a lot of sunlight really does tend to host a more positive, healthy mind. The old “healthy body, healthy mind” cliche, a bit more personally experienced.

But there is something of benefit in all internal seasons. What beauty is there not also in the spirit in repose, slightly reflective and objective. I can only imagine the mood of Pessoa when he wrote:

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.’

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

 

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

O255-O258

After a trip away from home in August and September, I really struggled to get back to painting. Pressure at work and a mind that was too busy meant I was only in the studio for short periods of time and those were mostly short and distracted. In this mind-state I just played around with paint and slowly emerged three abstract paintings which I decided to keep. Some others did not make it…

O255

The one above was the first time I painted on canvas in quite a while. I rather enjoyed the feeling of canvas and will probably revert back to canvas more often in future.

This second one was painted the next day, and I started leaning into a more green and blue atmosphere. This is oil and cold wax on panel:

O256

The third one was made in the same week. It seems to be the most popular, based on Instagram likes – if that is anything to go by:

O258
O258: Pathless at Night (oil and cold wax on panel)


Robert Henri wrote:

THE WORK OF THE ART STUDENT is no light matter. Few have the courage and stamina to see it through. You have to make up your mind to be alone in many ways. We like sympathy and we like to be in company. It is easier than going it alone. But alone one gets acquainted with himself, grows up and on, not stopping with the crowd. It costs to do this. If you succeed somewhat you may have to pay for it as well as enjoy it all your life.

Henri, Robert. The Art Spirit (p. 12). Basic Books.

When I made the last painting (O258) I was feeling my way through the days. My father had recently passed away (I wrote about this in another post), and since my return to New Zealand I have been ambivalent about my art and what I want to – or will be able to – achieve with it. I mean – why do this?

The emotion I felt reminded me of the phrase from Rilke’s poem “We must die because we have known them”. It is the sort of uncertainty one can perhaps only keep silent about – like wandering “Pathless at Night”:

...
But the grown man
shudders and is silent. The man who
has wandered pathless at night
in the mountain-range of his feelings:
is silent.

As the old sailor is silent,
and the terrors that he has endured
play inside him as though in quivering cages.

(Rainer Maria Rilke)

Oh yes! I have a silly little website up now for my art! For my upcoming exhibition at the David Lloyd Gallery in November,  I needed to have something more than an online blog presence, so I created my site Fritz Jooste Fine Art just to showcase some paintings.  It still needs some work to make it more professional, but it is there at least.

Thanks for visiting my blog! Special thanks to all followers and long-time supporters who have encouraged me with kind and thoughtful comments.