Retreat

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This piece was created over a couple of days, while I retreated to my summer getaway on Vashon Island. Its where I was born. This is the first year, since I had my son, that he did not come with me. I missed him so much–and all the rituals we usually share. Someday, when he’s not committing adolescence, and grown out of teenage hood, we’ll share our beach walks, our trips to the tea shop for reading & Majong, and our beach fires again.

This year, I truly did enjoy painting and breaking for beach walks. Eating minimally, journaling, reading Billy Collins’ poetry and laughing out loud with no one. Reading a whole biography of Annie Liebowitz.  Painting some more. Podcasts. Listening to the soft waves while going to sleep at night. Feeling the passage of time. So bittersweet.

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Who Said This?

“Something whispered,

something that wasn’t even a word.

It was more like a silence

that was understandable.

I was standing

at the edge of the pond.

Nothing living, what we call living,

was in sight.

And yet, the voice entered me,

my body-life,

with so much happiness.

And there was nothing there

but the water, the sky, the grass.”

by Mary Oliver

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How to be a Poet, or paint like a poet

This is a poem by Wendell Berry, an all-time favorite, folksy, americana, heart-poet. This poem reminds me of how I want to paint.

How to Be a Poet

i

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

ii

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

iii

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

~WB

*      *           *

Its been a weird, hard Winter. There’s been so many challenging experiences, relationships, daily disappointments, disillusionments. Everything is in flux.

Suddenly, a sunny day arrives, some sweet moments with a friend, a piece of art that lifts me up, a good poem, a good belly laugh. Then. Another wave of challenges, hopelessness, frustration. Up & down. Up & down.

I’ve enjoyed the distraction and energy of Instagram….but spend far too much time perusing and learning…and should turn to my own artwork. But. I have been painting all through this Wintery time. What comes through are these flesh & bony portraits. I love Egon Schiele’s work as it helps me find my own expression of struggle and passion.

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Her eyes were originally open, stark and piercing. But its better to take all that energy inside for transformation:

 

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Them bones. Them bones. Them bag a bones.

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I’ve returned to some roots recently, and found some grounding and renewed energy and zest! The sun has been shining every day.

Stephen’s gone

 

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“The fear of death, follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die anytime.” ~M Twain.

And so it is.

Stephen Connella died of cancer on Monday. My heart broke open. I felt death and it consumed me, my energy, and my imagination, and I cried and cried. Our sweet Scottish friend, our surfer and snowboarder and mountain biker adventurer, precious father, lifelong meditator and vegetarian, singer and songwriter of best love songs ever…Stephen’s gone.

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“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”   ~Steve Jobs

In some ways I appreciate that quote, that everything changes, and nothing stays the same, and that we each just get one LIFE and then we must go. But in other ways, none of us ever accept that bright stars like Stephen die early.  On his last day, he ate his favorite french toast, said his peace, and let go.

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The rest of us get to keep living.  So I have been trying to paint, and to provide attention and love for my clients, and walk the dog in the rain, and listen to poetry. Like a rung out rag, I’ve cried an agonized, and little by little feel lighter. I even had a really good belly laugh with–who else?–my son.

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Kahlil Gibran

“You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one….”

Surgery, Miracles, Paintings, Poems

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may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

ee cummings

My mother had 2 surgeries on her spine this week. One on Tuesday for 8 hours. Rest day. One on Thursday for 8 hours. A complex spine surgery to reconstruct her curve from scoliosis so bad she couldn’t walk anymore. They put in rods. She gained back 3 inches in height. She’s 73. She was under anesthesia for almost 16 hours total. I haven’t felt just how much, how badly I loved someone for a long time. I was teary and torn open for about 3 days. Very unusual anymore. Its good to know I’m in here.

On the same day my mom went in for surgery, my dear colleague and friend told me he had a brain tumor and was going in for surgery on Friday. Nothing can prepare us for these sorts of moments in life. I noticed I was taking really big breaths and sort of floating and staring….I walked around the house that day not really able to engage. Kept checking my phone for updates. Time passed. Modern medicine miracles: 2 days after spine surgery (complete with a frankenstein staple zipper scar ) my mom is up with a giant brace, walking down the hospital corridor with a body guard on either side. My friend got his skull cap opened up, a tumor removed, 2 days of sleep, and went home today.

Enjoy your healthy body everyone!  Here’s a blue piece, and the process in photos~

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Your Calling, your Reason to Live, your Mt Everest

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“9. Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.
You may never reach the summit; for that you will be forgiven. But if you don’t make at least one serious attempt to get above the snow-line, years later you will find yourself lying on your deathbed, and all you will feel is emptiness.
This metaphorical Mount Everest doesn’t have to manifest itself as “Art”. For some people, yes, it might be a novel or a painting. But Art is just one path up the mountain, one of many. With others the path may be something more prosaic. Making a million dollars, raising a family, owning the most Burger King franchises in the Tri-State area, building some crazy oversized model airplane, the list has no end.
Whatever. Let’s talk about you now. Your mountain. Your private Mount Everest. Yes, that one. Exactly.

Let’s say you never climb it. Do you have a problem witb that? Can you just say to yourself, “Never mind, I never really wanted it anyway” and take up stamp collecting instead?

Well, you could try. But I wouldn’t believe you. I think it’s not OK for you never to try to climb it. And I think you agree with me. Otherwise you wouldn’t have read this far.

So it looks like you’re going to have to climb the frickin’ mountain. Deal with it.

My advice? You don’t need my advice. You really don’t. The biggest piece of advice I could give anyone would be this:

“Admit that your own private Mount Everest exists. That is half the battle.”
And you’ve already done that. You really have. Otherwise, again, you wouldn’t have read this far.
Rock on.

Posted by hugh macleod at July 29, 2004″

When I read that from his blog called “Gaping Void,” images of art and writing and friends went flicking through my brain, I sort of felt like bawling, and I also got a a little hit of adrenaline. As usual, everything quickly simmered through my intellectual circuits and faded into a soft focus trance. When I looked up a couple minutes later, I just wanted to go make tea and start painting and not look at that Mountain idea for a while.

What is my Mt Everest? And why does it feel like a fantastic invitation and also full of pressure all at once?  Zounds. Anyway, I hope I’m already on that climb. I keep trying to orient in that direction. (I feel a pull to start using descriptive words like compass and navigation to describe things, so I’m going to stop here and go back to painting).

Here’s a piece that has some interesting earlier stages, but I kept going anyway:

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I turn 52 today. Its cloudy and gray and full of damp autumn in the air. I met my sweetest girlfriends for a gluten free pancake breakfast at an old Cafe that I worked at for 5 years while in graduate school~ a long time ago. Another year. Another leaf.

Forget trying to be Original

photo 3 copy Summer has been so altering, all day to day rhythms asunder, a disconnect from painting, and writing on this blog, and even seeing friends. I’ve been sick for several days with some sort of food poisoning, my dreams have been wild with crazy things I’m responsible for, and the then our neighbor died. Its all got me processing and mulling mentally and emotionally….we had a stay-cation and enjoyed walking in the warm woods, heading to the tea shop, swimming in the lake, eating at cool local restaurants, indulging in window shopping, staring into space, and reading.

Throughout the past few weeks, my mind has been going over Bird By Bird antics (Anne Lamott’s book on writing and life lessons) and also this quote: “Art has no boundaries except those imposed by the needs of the maker.” Its guideline #42 in small book called 101 Things to Learn in Art School, by Kit White. Its suggesting that art work, art expression, the artist, is free. You’re free to make art, however you want to express it. I’d like to figure out how to do that.

But, making something original is hard, maybe impossible, right? We’re all raised looking at everyone’s work. Isn’t everyone responding to fashion? We’re all influenced and our tastes and interests totally shaped by what’s popular, available. This is absolutely going on in the art world. “I’m really into those colors,” is because someone else made them poplar and now you’ve inherited liking them. Same with clothes. Same with cars. Bikes. The one-speed is back, don’t tell me that isn’t born totally of fashion. Otherwise, riding one is ludicrous, hard work that no one would choose over 24 speeds.

Anyway, its hard to take what I’m technically trying to get good at, and overlay it with something original from my own mind. It’s hard to keep painting without knowing its meaningful, expressive of me, rather than just copying what all the painters I like are painting. Still, I’d rather be figuring that bit out, than doing just about anything else these days.

What’s true and meaningful for me today: I am endlessly interested in finding the features and emotion in painting faces.  The technical ability to create dimension and life in a face is truly mesmerizing.

I’m also culminating these two drivers:

1. being a behavioral therapist;

2. my “own” style of painting;

Let’s hope an provocative intersection begins to form…

Heres some odd little paintings done on the fly: photo 1 copy photo 3 photo 2 copy 2 photo 2 copy photo 3 copy

Portraits and Pain

  

Can art and painting help us process our feelings? Feelings that rock us so hard we think we’ll never be the same person again.

   
    Or is artwork a distraction, a place to focus attention away from hurt and sadness? Does the creative process mull our awareness and feelings into the artwork without us knowing?

  
This is a piece that I suddenly realized I was painting for one of my dearest, oldest friends. She lived through cancer last year.🔺

 ❤️ 

#mixedmedia #redheads

Portraits consume my every painting hour~ alas, I cannot paint enough of them to satiate. Bringing their moods to life is divine. LOL.

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Anyway, I am really having fun with them. Here, I used an older, holly hobby-like piece I did, and then remixed. Lots of layers and texture in the background.

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Garland of Roses

  From my workshop #Entwined, #misty mawn. Portraits. Portraits. Portraits. How endlessly fun and challenging it is to draw and paint their moods. I love building up layers of skin tones, rubbing lines out with gauche, re-highlighting parts, etc. Its like a strange puzzle that I am drawn to doing over and over.