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!

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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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.”

 

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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’.

 

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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.

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Acrylic on Paper, 66 x 44 cm
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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

O245-7: The Skylark Departs

This is a landscape that came a long way to be here. I must have reworked both sky and background about four times each. This is oil on panel, size approximately 60 cm x 45 cm.

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Rollo May wrote:

A psychological problem, I have pointed out elsewhere, is like fever; it indicates that something is wrong within the structure of the person and that a struggle is going on for survival. This, in turn, is a proof to us that some other way of behaving is possible. Our old way of thinking—that problems are to be gotten rid of as soon as possible—overlooks the most important thing of all: that problems are a normal aspect of living and are basic to human creativity. This is true whether one is constructing things or reconstructing oneself. Problems are the outward signs of unused inner possibilities.

May, Rollo. Freedom and Destiny (Norton Paperback)

On days when my time and/or energy is low, I turn to charcoal and pastel for relief:

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P25 (Pastel and Charcoal on paper, size approximately A4)

This often leads to an effort in oil:

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O246: (oil on panel, approx 8 x 10 inches)
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O247:: (oil on panel, approx 8 x 10 inches)

There are days when the demands of life, promises made, leaves me depleted and anxious. My approach is to see this anxiety as part of organic life, not as an enemy, but as a source of potential, as Rollo May points out:

The definition of mental health needs to be changed to living without paralyzing anxiety, but living with normal anxiety as a stimulant to a vital existence, as a source of energy, and as life-enhancing.

Here in New Zealand the spring winds and rain are relentless. I lie awake at night, listening to the wind shake anything that can move. I think of small winged creatures huddling outside. And I think of this poem:

Approaching midnight
on a hillside, in springtime,
in a temple hall,
even in my deepest dreams,
the blossoms continue to fall.

Ki No Tsurayuki, translated by Sam Hamill, in
The Poetry of Zen, by Hamill and Seaton

 

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