Patience to Endure

I have been thinking lately about what Rilke meant when he said: “Life is right, in any case”. He was advising the young poet “Mr Kappus” in one of his letters. We do not see the preceding letter from Kappus to Rilke, but we surmise that Kappus must have related some life difficulties to Rilke.

IMG_4491
Acrylic on Canvas

Rilke prepares Kappus for his response by first pointing out that details are not relevant, details come and go:

There is perhaps no use my going into your particular points now; for what I could say about your tendency to doubt or about your inability to bring outer and inner life into unison, or about all the other things that worry you—: it is always what I have already said: …

Then he delivers his advice. And it is fascinating to me that Rilke – a seemingly fragile person with an exquisitely sensitive disposition – points to what seems to me a very stoic attitude:

…it is always what I have already said: always the wish that you may find patience enough in yourself to endure, and simplicity enough to believe; that you may acquire more and more confidence in that which is difficult, and in your solitude among others. And for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is right, in any case.

Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet (pp. 41-42). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

 

IMG_4475
Acrylic on Canvas

That phrase “the patience to endure”, and the urging toward “more and more confidence in that which is difficult” has helped me so much in life. It tends to immediately flip around whatever problem or difficulty I am facing. Then the other side can be seen. And it inevitably contains gold. Hence: fruitful darkness.

Rilke clearly had a stoic disposition despite his sensitivity to things. I think it was Robert Bly who wrote in one of his books: “without cunning and discipline, Rilke would have been wiped out”.

IMG_4479
Acrylic on Canvas

I believe a melancholy, sensitive disposition either wipes you out or it commands you to build a disposition able to work with demons, inner and outer. I recall now reading in Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” (required reading for any adult) how sensitive inmates seemed to better survive concentration camps than more robust types.

Frankl wrote about his Auschwitz experience:

Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom. Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of a less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a robust nature”

Viktor E. Frankl; Man’s Search for Meaning (4th Ed). Beacon Press. Boston.

Wang Wei was another sensitive person who could not be brought down easily – even by the idea that life has no meaning:

The Stone Ledge 
On the stone ledge above the water, 
Where willow leaf-tips drink the wine. 
If you say the spring breeze has no meaning, 
Why does it bring me all these falling flowers?

Wang Wei, translated by Kline, A. S., in
Like Water or Clouds: The T'ang Dynasty and the Tao

 

So…these things have been on my mind, in my morning walks and as I paint away in my studio. I am still working on that phrase: “Life is right, in any case“…

 

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

Where Movement Ends

Winter has come to New Zealand, and with it grey skies, moody days and biting cold on my morning walks. I have fallen into a steady meditation schedule,  early morning in my studio, my light the glow of the gas heater. Sacred minutes. My cup runneth over.

The urge to paint is back – after almost half a year. My paintings make me happy. In the half light of the days I peer into the emptiness at which they point.

A17
Mixed Media on Paper

I have been vacillating about my blog forever. Not routine procrastination, just doubt about the need for this world to have one more blog post released onto it. Most of all I am stalled by the lack of a strong opinion about one side or another, having seen all sides have a backside, and the artificiality of the personality and its opinions.

Gearing up to write a blog post became for me almost an act of in-authenticity. In the words of  T.S. Eliot, the action of one who prepares “a face to meet the faces that you meet”.

Not to imply anything, but my doubt about speaking or staying silent reminds me of the near silence of T.S. Eliot at the outset of his career as a poet and critic. Perhaps he too was stalled by the notion that any venturing out in the gesture of opinion was a move away from authenticity.

In the brilliant book, The Invisible Poet, T.S Eliot, author Hugh Kenner wrote that the study of the philosophy of F.H Bradley helped Eliot by freeing him:

“…from the posture of the ironist with his back to a wall, by affirming the artificiality of all personality including the one we intimately suppose to be our true one; not only the faces we prepare but the “we” that prepares; …A view of the past, a view of himself and other persons, a view of the nature of what we call statement and communication; these delivered Eliot from what might have been, after a brilliant beginning, a cul-de-sac and silence.”

 

IMG_E4444
Pastel on Paper

On my walks I think about authenticity and its ghostly fragility. I am not surprised that the concept provided enough material for Lionel Trilling to write a fascinating book about Sincerity and Authenticity. In my reading, Trilling regards authenticity as a more mature cousin to Sincerity, which is dismissed as a social construct:

In short, we play the role of being ourselves, we sincerely act the part of the sincere person, with the result that a judgement may be passed upon our sincerity that it is not authentic. (Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity)

Authenticity takes us in a different direction:

A very considerable originative power had once been claimed for sincerity, but nothing to match the marvellous generative force that our modern judgement assigns to authenticity, which implies the downward movement through all the cultural superstructures to some place where all movement ends, and begins.

(Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity)

 

This is part of the same discussion in which Trilling quotes (again) Eliot:

‘The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality’.

 

IMG_E4445
Pastel on dark blue Canson Paper

Should we speak or remain in the authenticity of silence? As always, Rilke has the last word on this. In his poem, “We must die because we have known them”, he ends with:

...
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)

 

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

 

 

Road to Character

Phew – life moved really fast these first two months of the year! In my last post, I showed a few works done using Acrylic on paper. To be honest, I have always been a bit of a snob in my attitude towards the use of Acrylic paint as compared to Oil paint.

It guess it is a combination of the “plastic” nature of acrylic, combined with the quick-drying nature of it. And then there is that luminous, mystical transparency of oil paints. However, I have had some success with Acrylic done on paper (normally heavy Fabriano Hot Press Watercolor paper), and here I would like to share some of these with you.

These next two paintings were inspired by a view of farmland just west of Hamilton, New Zealand. I was driving on the freeway and as I glanced to the side I saw this open farmland, divided into blocks, with the sun and shadow playing on it.

A15
Acrylic on Paper, 66 x 44 cm
A16
Acrylic on Paper, 50 x 32 cm

The painting below is an invented landscape. It started off as an abstract but – as so often happens – it slowly evolved into yet another landscape!

A13
Acrylic on Paper, 66 x 44 cm

The weeks since the start of the year have been quite a ride. Last December, a close family member passed away after a long, brave battle with cancer.  The few and short interactions I had with her and her two young, brave children in the last few days of her life had a profound impact on me.

I decided to deeply review and look into my own life, including my health, fitness and my personal direction in life. As I hinted in my last post, this drive has had an interesting cooling effect on my enthusiasm for painting, which has since evened out again.

I am now about two months into a surprising change in my life path. What started initially as an attempt to get rid of near-chronic fatigue has morphed into a passionate drive to improve my health, fitness and baseline level of happiness – in short, my total way of being.

I started with a zeal for weight-loss and fitness, but one of the first five lessons I learned centred around the brevity of inspiration. It runs out way before you reach the goal. So I soon realized any long term transformation – if it is to be lasting and significant – will be have to be based on humility and patience. In fact – character transformation, rather than body transformation.

In the book The Road to Character, David Brooks writes:

The humble person understands that experience is a better teacher than pure reason. He understands that wisdom is not knowledge. Wisdom emerges out of a collection of intellectual virtues. It is knowing how to behave when perfect knowledge is lacking.

I have managed to sustain this transformation drive now for almost two months, and I have learned many lessons on this first part of my journey – some expected and some surprising.

Although my blog started as a painting-related thing, I would love to share some of the insights and lessons learned on this journey with the followers of my blog in the hope that it may inspire you and allow you to learn from my experience. So watch this space!

In one sentence I will give you the key to absolute spiritual freedom: to be a self-actualized being, all you have to do is know, feel, think, and act like one.

Roy Eugene Davis – The Book of Life

If you are primarily coming to my blog for the sake of the paintings – I will continue to post some of my recent works, but be prepared for some motivational reading also!

Before I go – an excerpt from a poem by Wang Wei:

...
Oftentimes - with joy in my heart -
Alone, I roam here and there.
It is a wonderful thing
That I am aware of myself.
When the streamlet ends my trip
I settle down and catch
The moment of rising mists.
Now and then I meet
A furrowed dweller of the woods.
We chat and laugh;
Never do we want to go home.

Wang Wei, quoted in
Creativity and Taoism, by Chung-yuan Chang

It is a wonderful thing that I am aware of myself!

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.

Slow Sea of Indigo

A while ago I became frustrated with a landscape I was doing in pastel. It was looking a bit too pastoral and pretty for my taste. It left nothing for the viewer to complete with her imagination. It lay around on my studio floor for some days while I walked and shuffled over it as I came and went. The image improved considerably!

I then reworked it a bit, took a photo and then edited the photo (adding warmth and editing the contrasts), until I came up with the image below. I loved it. It has the warmth and emotional honesty of a true landscape – that is – a landscape seen through eyes of someone who actually feels, fears, lives and breathes.

IMG_4013

I posted the above image on my Instagram feed and (sigh) it has received the most likes of anything I posted! I set out trying to reproduce this style of image on paper. My strategy was to lay a foundation in watercolor to get the right warmth, then add the rest in pastel and stomp on it to add some random marks. This is what I came up with:

MM44
Mixed Media on Fabriano Paper (approx 50 x 33 cm)

The image was not quite the same – it lacks the glowing warmth of the edited photo. But it is real and has a charm of its own, so I decided to try some more paintings in this style. Below are some results:

MM45
Mixed Media on Fabriano Paper (approx 50 x 33 cm)

Every time I look at Marie Marshall’s blog, I am amazed at the richness of the imagery that I find like pearls in her poems. Here is an excerpt from a poem she posted recently:

MarieMarshall

MM46
Mixed Media on Fabriano Paper (approx 50 x 33 cm)

It has been a hard year for our family. The original family unit was down from five to four when I was eight years old. Now in the last half of this year year we lost two more. They live on in the minds of the remainder and the many others that loved them.

I keep seeing in my dreams landscapes where the light has another color. Perhaps something like the painting above? Rolf Jacobsen wrote about this:

In countries where the light has another color
the faces along the streets at dusk
can turn to pearls in a slow sea of indigo.

And you must ask yourself - what do these
fiery diadems reflect here, and whose hands
have scattered them across these dark waters?

Rolf Jacobsen - from:
The Roads Have Come To an End Now, translated
by Robert Bly, Roger Greenwald and Robert Hedin

 

Read that again – that last verse. Those are big questions, aren’t they?

 

Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you are happy and content as the year roars to its end.

 

#A5: September Skies

Late home tonight, and tired; so only time for a quick acrylic sketch. This one is a bit larger than normal, and I dashed it off in about 40 mins. Source/concept photo (below) is from back in Africa, many seasons ago.

a5-source

A poem by Wang Wei after a hard day:

Drifting

September skies are clear to the distance 
Clearer still so far from human kind. 
A heron by the pool, a mountain cloud, 
Either of them makes the mind content. 
The faintest ripples still and evening’s here. 
The moon turns silver and I dream, 
Tonight leaning on a single oar, 
Drifting without thought of going home.

translated by Kline, A. S.. 
Like Water or Clouds: The T'ang Dynasty and the Tao 
Poetry in Translation.

 

Thanks for visiting.

#A4: Silence and Sentiment

My painting for the day. It did not make it to the night, but it was good practice. I do not always like the way the featured image shows in WordPress, especially in the Reader – it seems like it is being pushed into your face.

Below is what I believe the painting would have looked like in a frame, when viewed across a room:

a4-framed

There are probably times for all of us when things becomes clear – the beauty and brutality of life is seen for what it is – and the need to change it is muted. We strive for the meta-physic, but our life is lived in the physic.

Here is the poetry-prose in the closing scene of the astonishingly beautiful movie, The Great Beauty (“Le Grande Bellezza”):

This is how it always ends, with death.
But first there was life, hidden beneath
the blah, blah, blah.
Its all settled beneath the chitter chatter 
and the noise.
Silence and sentiment.
Emotion and fear.
The haggard, inconstant flashes of beauty.
And then the wretched squalor and miserable humanity.
All buried under the cover of 
the embarrassment of being in the world:
Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Beyond, there is what lies beyond.
And I don't deal with what lies beyond.
Therefore...
Let this novel begin.
After all...it's just a trick.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

#A3: Streets of Philadelphia

This is an acrylic based – very roughly it turned out! – on the charcoal and chalk drawing shown below. With this composition, I wanted to see if I could invent a landscape that had more middle ground focus and also was a bit more challenging in terms of form.

Apart from some silly large acrylic canvasses I painted a few years ago, this is only my second attempt at acrylic this year. So I am willing to cut myself some slack and say – “I like it!”

c21

This afternoon I read New Zealand born author Katherine Mansfield’s short story “The Garden Party”. The story deals with the preparation and aftermath of a garden party at the home of a wealthy family. Just before the party, the daughter Laura – a sensitive person full of empathy for others – learns that earlier the day the breadwinner of a poor family (living on the fringes of their property) had fallen from a horse and died.

After the party, Laura walks to take a basket of party left-overs to the widow. Laura is deeply moved by the tragedy, but cannot help but recognize the joy inside her – another leftover from the party:

It was just growing dusky as Laura shut the garden gates. A big dog ran by like a shadow. The road gleamed white, and down below in the hollow the little cottages were in deep shade. How quiet it seemed after the afternoon. Here she was going down the hill to somewhere where a man lay dead, and she couldn’t realize it. Why couldn’t she? She stopped a minute. And it seemed to her that kisses, voices, tinkling spoons, laughter, the smell of crushed grass were somehow inside her. She had no room for anything else. How strange!

An excerpt from a poem by Wang Wei:

...
Oftentimes - with joy in my heart -
Alone, I roam here and there.
It is a wonderful thing
That I am aware of myself.
When the streamlet ends my trip
I settle down and catch
The moment of rising mists.
Now and then I meet
A furrowed dweller of the woods.
We chat and laugh;
Never do we want to go home.

Wang Wei, quoted in
Creativity and Taoism, by Chung-yuan Chang

It is a wonderful thing that I am aware of myself!

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

#A2: Storm Coming

Sunday. Some time to paint but caught without prepared canvas panels. I did find this one small gesso’d panel and decided to just do an acrylic version of the charcoal and chalk sketch shown below.

I am quite happy with the result and think I will try my hand at a few more acrylics again. The white gesso is quite rough and clearly shows in places, but it seems to give the painting a bit of pop and energy. I am also quite fond of this composition and this afternoon I made a charcoal and pastel version which I hope to post soon.

a2-sketch

This morning I read an interesting interview with the artist Ying Li on Painting Perceptions. I was quite inspired by her life story and also to see how she moved from realism to very abstract painting. The following quote in particular resonated with me:

Sometimes I stay in more representational manner because I feel I really got the character or something right there. Or the painting just works. However most times I don’t trust that feeling, I try to get past that point and dig harder into the painting, to find what it is really about. At a certain point the painting gets muddy and flat and I hit a wall. It bounces back instead of going deeper. Sometimes I find I am just repeating my own paintings. I have to paint through those moments, and look harder, I find the solution is always out there, the looking part leads to the clue.

Ying Li – from the her interview on Painting Perceptions.

I have always loved the following poem – the haunting sense of someone leaving at dawn without notice:

On this frosty day, 
clouds and mist congeal, 
On the mountain moon, 
the icy chill glows. 

At night I receive a letter 
from my home, 
At dawn I leave without 
anyone knowing.

The Nun "Fahai", quoted in
Grant, Beata. Daughters of Emptiness: 
Poems of Chinese Buddhist Nuns (p. 47). 
Wisdom Publications. Kindle Edition.

Thanks for stopping by my blog.

Field of Boundless Emptiness

I have been quite busy at work, and at night amidst pouring rain in my dark, leaky, beautiful studio I work to prepare panels for the weekend ahead. So no new paintings to post. I am scraping the bottom of the barrel and posting an acrylic painting I made during my brief foray into acrylics last year.

IMG_0745
Invented Landscape, 2015 (Acrylic on Canvas, approx. 61 x 61 cm)

As I noted in an an earlier post, I struggled with certain aspects of acrylics, and now I only have six surviving acrylics, and the above is one of them. I have always been attracted by the idea of a thin line of water reflecting an evening sky, leading the eye to a field beyond – a field of boundless emptiness. Continue reading “Field of Boundless Emptiness”