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.

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…

 

 

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.

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.

Your Own Code

I recently made a shift in my painting journey – I started making use of stock photos. That is, photos I buy online and then use as a source for my paintings.

For many artists, this practice is anathema.  I think there are two reasons for this: firstly, many artists frown on the use of photos – period. There is a certain allure, realness and romanticism attached to painting from life which is deeply set. Secondly, many artists believe if you are going to make use of photos – you should only use your own photos, backed up with your own actual experiencing of the spirit of the place you are painting.

I will deftly sidestep an ideological debate on these issues by stating the simple reason I am currently making use of stock photos: it allows me to paint more!

Red House Source
This photo has been the source of three paintings, two of which recently sold (one shown below). [Source: Benevolente82/OnePixel.com]
 

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“The Red House #1″ (oil on canvas, 11″x14”)

Let me explain: Since I have to hold down a day job, my time for painting is extremely limited.  In the week, if I am lucky, I have a small window between 4 pm and 7 pm each day in which I have the time and energy to paint.

In most instances I use the photo only as a suggestion of the “lay of the land” – an armature on which to build my painting.

On weekends, there is more time, but with garden and household chores, my time for painting is such that even on my best weekends I have maybe 4 to 5 hours for painting – which normally translates to between two and four small paintings. If I have to spend half of the time I have traipsing about in the countryside, looking for subjects to paint or even taking photos, my painting time would be cut in half, or worse.

Oil 2019 15

Onepixel_3664144
Source: Antonio Gravante/OnePixel.com

So my recent move to make use of stock photos has been extremely liberating, simply because my painting output increased significantly. Here is how I work, and some other observations:

  • In hours when I am too tired to paint or work, I stay off Instagram and instead look for stock photos that have a good potential for a painting done in my own style;
  • I currently use OnePixel to buy stock photos from: each photo costs me $1.00 and I have a full license to use the photos for my artwork.
  • In most instances I use the photo only as a suggestion of the “lay of the land” – an armature on which to build my painting.
  • I deliberately deviate from the photo in color and design in the early stages of painting – this immediately breaks the tendency to simply copy.
  • Photos are notoriously bad at capturing color correctly. This is one of the prime motivations for painting from life. For me, however, this is of no importance, since most of my color is invented or exaggerated to serve the abstract design I have in mind for the painting

Having said all of the above – this post is not to denigrate or dis-respect the time-honored practices of plein-air painting or making use of your own source photos. I have often painted from life – and have until recently always used only my own photos.

I understand why this is the desired way of creating paintings – so perhaps one day the time will come when I can travel to all the beautiful places I have painted or long to paint. But for now – I use what allows me to paint as often as possible in the time I have available!


It is liberating, if anxiety proviking for me to act in the face of some imagined “art authority”. But, to quote from an earlier post of mine:

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

IMG_1560

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.

 

Road to Ithaka

I had a long battle on my hands to get the above painting to reach the impact it was leading me to. It took several sessions over a week and in the end I was happy with the outcome, but I think the canvas felt like the old man in Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea after he at long last landed the big fish he had been fighting so long.

Here is how it started: during a recent morning walk around “Lake D” near Hamilton, New Zealand, I took some promising photos.

I chose this one to base a painting on:

IMG_1295

I was interested in the play between shadow and shade. I expected two challenges: first, how to make the large area of shade in the foreground interesting; and second: how to handle all that green without the painting being too cool and pretty.

Here is my first effort:

IMG_1399

Initially, I was quite happy with this outcome – happy enough to sign it. However, the next morning when I saw it in the sober light of the morning I scraped most of it right off. I felt the picture plane was too flat – the eye was not really going anywhere. And all that yellow green was a bit horrible.

So I took some of the trees out at the right, warmed up the tree shadows and introduced a far vista with some cold clouds:

IMG_1412(Edited)

I felt much more satisfied with this version – it had an old world, gritty and deconstructed look that I strive for in most of my work. I had also put much more colour into the shadows. I felt I was done!

Not yet. Once again, the next morning I noted the similarity in the shapes and spacing between the four trees  (above, top left) – it looked like something made in a factory. I know similar repeating shapes with equal distances between them are a big NO in painting composition.

So once the paint was tacky again, I repainted that portion and put in some finishing touches:

IMG_1423(Edited)

Now I felt there was an unspoken message, a mystery (will this path take me to those far hills and those clouds?) and much for the viewer’s eye to complete. I am quite happy with this effort.

Thinking about the long, tortuous path that a painting sometimes follow to its final resting place, I was reminded of the beautiful poem by Cavafy:

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
...
...
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
 
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean. 

(this copy from C.P. Cavafy poems, 
Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard)

 

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.