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.

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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:

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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…

 

 

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.

Forget your Life

Last week, one day after work I trudged into my studio – tired and anxious about something at work – I had little hope of painting anything I liked. But I know by now that getting that first dash of paint down is the key – after that, curiosity and magic takes over.

In this case, my lack of expectation helped me to bring a spontaneous energy to this rather complex scene. The result is one of my favorite paintings of this year. There is a certain tone of color, combined with near abstract mark-making, that makes this one special to me:

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I have been fairly consistently turning out one painting a day. More and more, I paint simply but for the love of making marks – alone in my studio, a light awareness permeating the room.

Painting on a regular basis, even when my energy is low, has helped me to paint with more abandon, less expectation and less anxiety. I am sure some of you can relate to the value of just focusing on quantity – at least for some stages of your artistic journey. If you are interested in this theme, I recommend you read through points #4 and #8 on my Creativity Quotes page.

Oil 2019 33 (1)

Apart from this little blog, I was never really a social media fan. I did a bit of Instagram, but watching how it influences my mind, self-image and anxiety, I have decided to step away from it. I am sure there is no need to motivate the move – you know already…

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I fear the days are passing too fast. So often I forget myself for hours on end. Where was I yesterday, walking amidst the crowd?

When I come back to myself I am welcomed by a familiar sense of courage – in bright awareness, second by second, anything can be faced.

I hesitate so often, carving just one more figurine before returning home. Rumi wants me to stop this:

Say Yes Quickly (excerpt)
Forget your life. Say God is great. Get up.
You think you know what time it is. It's time to pray.
You've carved so many little figurines, too many...

Tomorrow you'll see what you've broken and torn tonight,
thrashing in the dark.
Inside you there is an artist you don't know about.
He's not interested in how things look different
in moonlight.

Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

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

A Foreign Song II

I had a moody marshland on my mind.  Early morning in bed I was looking at some of my old sketches and paintings and I got this idea for a square format painting – somewhat unusual for me. Here is a quick sequence of photos showing how this painting unfolded:

I work directly on a white canvas in gray-blue that is heavily diluted with Gamsol. The paint is thin and I can control the darkness quite easily. I try to set up and keep a rhythm in the brushstrokes and abstract design. Music helps a lot!

IMG_1573(Edited)
The design is set up…

When I am satisfied with the abstract design and balance (above), I need to start thinking about key color notes or highlights. Since this is an invented landscape, I am free to do what I want in terms of color and value. I try to find a few strategic spots where I can plonk some color:

IMG_1575(Edited)
The key color notes go in…

With that warm orange red and the complement in the blue sky, I feel happy with where the painting is going. The challenge now is not to get to precious and lose the spontaneity in the brush-strokes and design.

IMG_1577(Edited)
The plot thickens…

I have introduced some greens and grays. Here and there I knock down the reds and oranges that are too strong. I start bringing the sky to completion, I carefully watch the values and shape of clouds to contribute to my abstract design.

I also work on the edges of some brush-strokes to direct the eye and preserve harmony. This is the hardest part and takes the longest…I can easily overwork the painting or lose the plot somehow.

A hour or two later, and I am calling this one done. The image makes me feel melancholy-sad-happy, so for my purposes it has succeeded.

IMG_1578(Edited)

Today I spent some time looking back at earlier blog posts. Somewhere in December of 2016 I wrote the following in a blog post entry:


I have been revisiting John Gray’s book The Silence of Animals. Beautifully written, full of soul but also utterly breaking down the popular Utopian myth of progress and hope.

From my own sporadic journey into meditation, I know that something exists beyond thought-made meaning, beyond words. Gray discusses this from another angle in his chapter “Beyond the Last Thought”:

Accepting that the world is without meaning, we are liberated from confinement in the meanings we have made. Knowing there is nothing of substance in our world may seem to rob that world of value. But this nothingness may be our most precious possession, since it opens to us the world that exists beyond ourselves.

Gray quotes parts of the poem “Of Mere Being” by Wallace Stevens, which elegantly supports his thesis. Here is the entire poem:

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)

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

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.

 

Taken on Trust II

The painting above is yet another view of the road down to my neighbor’s driveway. The photo below shows the source image that lead to this painting.

I pass this scene several times every day – every time I exit our own driveway; but also, my studio door is only about 20 yards away from where this shot was taken. The mountains in the back are known as the Hakarimatas. The play of light and shadow at different times of day under changing light and passing shadow is an endless source of ideas.

For this particular painting, the evening light was so warm and beautiful, particularly the shadows it made on the giant poplars toward the end of the road. I felt this had all the stuff for a striking painting.

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I know from experience that if I take a photo or computer into my studio and use that as a reference while painting, I tend to clamp down and become too realistic and controlled. I cannot stand the paintings I produce in that mode!

So my rule – which I keep to about 76.3% of the time – is never to take a source image into my studio. Instead, I study it very carefully beforehand, (outside my studio, normally using my iPad), and note mainly the structure and lie of the landscape.

I also feel into the “emotional concept” I want to convey – in this case (in order of importance): (a) warm sleepy light on waving grass;  (b) mysterious mountains where childhood dreams are awakened again; and (c) deep shadow.

In my studio, I cut a sheet of drawing paper from the 50 m roll I have standing by. I tape this to my easel back-board. This board has dried Gesso and paint on it – so that drawing with this backing is like drawing on rough tree bark. In this way it is absolutely impossible for me to get stuck with detail – I am forced to focus on composition using light and shade.

Here is the drawing – I use only thick charcoal and some grey and white chalk to bring out highlights. The black spots is there the rough backing presses against the paper:

IMG_1567

I am quite happy with this image which recalls the essence of my source photo. Sometimes I make four or five of these before I give up or get one I like. In this case, the first drawing attempt is merciful – it suggests to me the focus for the painting, which is the spot of light at middle right where the sun hits the grass as it slopes upward.

Unfortunately I do not have any process shots of this painting, but the very first paint that went down was warm yellow and orange right where my focus point should be. With this down, I put down the dark areas in very rough lines. I get the painting done in about 2 hours, though I am not sure. I tend to completely lose track of time while I work, which is why I forget to take process shots!

IMG_1570(Edited)
Oil on Canvas (11″ x 14″)

On a less practical note – summer days are here. The evenings are longer and I have more time to paint. I continue to ride the alternating waves of confidence and doubt that is life.

Forever wondering about my art, why I do it, what the future holds. I am learning and appreciating the play of doubt and confidence on the heart, just like the light and shadow on the Hakarimatas….

Every day – some days more than others – I have to trust that my paintings, my little efforts, have some meaning.  Trust is a big word in my world. That life could have evolved in a way that it could trust is stupendous.

From a 2016 blog post, two excerpts on trust, from poems I know:

For the mind in harmony with the Tao,
    all selfishness disappears.
With not even a trace of self-doubt,
    you can trust the universe completely.
All at once you are free,
    with nothing left to hold on to.
All is brilliant,
    perfect in its own being.

(from The Mind of Absolute Trust, by Sent-Ts'an;
from The Enlightened Heart)
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).

 

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

 

Glory to Dappled Things

In the most recent leg of my painting journey I started to follow a method in which I first do a pastel study of the subject I have in mind. Once I have the concept nailed down in the most abstract manner possible, I decide if it warrants a larger version in oil.

Oftentimes the pastel version is so abstract that it is not fit for public consumption. But sometimes it is a real honey (and even more so in a frame, even an inexpensive photo frame):

 

In the case above, this was based on some memory notes and photos of the Waikato River’s edge – one of my favorite spots just a few minutes walk from my home.

Now, when doing the oil painting I put away the photo entirely and just use the pastel as a reference. I try to keep the paint as thin and dry as possible at the start, with the brush moving all the time. At the end I put in a few juicy highlights:

Oil 2018 82

I have been pondering this strange universe even more than usual. I often watch debates about the existence of a higher being. In meditation all those questions disappear into the most beautiful silence, something indescribable in its sacredness and generosity. Right here now.

Belief in a higher being or not, I will always – in my moments of solitude – sing praise to dappled things:

Oil 2018 85

The image above is another oil version of the dappled shade in the shallows on the banks of the Waikato River. I sing praise in my own way, in agreement with Gerhard Manley Hopkins:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
       For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
       And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                     Praise Him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 
this version copied from Poets.org

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

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…

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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!