Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Ready to See ....@ Jason Vass Gallery

Ready to See, Mar. 4th-Apr. 15th @ Jason Vass Gallery, 1452 E. 6th, Los Angeles

When Tina and I went to begin the install of the show Tina read us a poem.
Always something flows fatally from each surface
streaming outwards with smoothness from a rapid origin
with thinness in many ways all at once
with velocity in a very brief and moist time
with rarification so easily penetrating by gliding and diffusing
with a swift lightness
truly and pre-eminently and marvellously without slackening
particularly what feels like to sway in the dark
now again streaming they brush our pupils and pass into us like air
like colour like fingers little by little they give us the image of our 
as ideas bobbing and melting and incessantly changing shape.
We're about to convert ourselfes into all manner of lilies.
They caress our pupils.

Is all epistemology metaphorical?
Ideas come as images, which are not time.
They palely bounce from the deep-down coffinwood
within our own unspoken desire and compulsion.
Quite free of assignment 
and despite the inclement representations
the theatre of an idea
is having its breast stroked
- just enough to subvert the conditions of transmission -
not wanting to reproduce a friendship but to repeat it.
Hormones, humour-like, are produced by light
in order to unaccountably transform us. 
Lisa Robertson 

 jason vass, tina linville

 eye on the sparrow, oil on canvas, 48"x60"
 I'll meet you in the morning, oil on canvas, 48"x60"
 valiant, oil on canvas, 48"x48"
 tikkun olam (to repair the world), oil on canvas, 48"x84"

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Following the work

" We want to be surprised again and again by where our work takes us and what kind of person we are becoming as we follow it. … Beginning a courtship with a work, like beginning a courtship with a love, demands a fierce attention to understand what it is we belong to in the world…."

David Whyte, The Three Marriages 

 Phase 1
 Phase 2
 Phase 3
 Phase 4
 Final Phase
 Difficult Landings
oil on canvas

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Wedge in the Door

door stop, 72"x72", oil on canvas

"Paintings are handmade, one-of-a-kind, extremely fragile objects. They're absurd. Extravagant. Intrinsically worthless. And seeing paintings is an experience you absolutely must have in person - in real life. Direct human contact is the point."

"Is it still possible for someone to sit down in front of a easel and paint something? Is this basically late medieval method still capable of producing interesting results in a world in constant acceleration and in which images are endlessly being captured and stored away? Possibly more than ever: in a world in which most image capturing and storing is indiscriminate, inattentive and even automated, the painter's intent and minute attention to life and the rhythms of life has become a radical position. 

Painting offers an option. Its slower rhythms allow for a more intimate connection to human perception (which is true both from the point of view of the artist and the viewer). But is also allows the depiction of an imaginary realm, an investigation into what connects human beings to places and space."

Dan Witz

Friday, October 28, 2016

speaking of practice

 my studio

When it comes to talking about my practice, the older I get the harder it is. At least to talk about it directly.  

I make things, messy things, full of color made from materials that feel and smell wonderful. These materials are full of potential and full of limits.

And I use these messy, wonderful materials to make something that may help me understand something that I didn’t understand before.
I recently told my students that in my practice I was trying to make a painting that I had never seen before, but all I have in my mind’s eye are all the other paintings I have ever seen before. Now that’s an interesting problem to work with. 

When I think about my work, mine is a practice of curiosity. A reach of intention, of hope.  I hope to make something, like the stone in the river or the shell on the shoreline that will cause you to pause, and wonder and begin to ask questions.
The way into the work is from one body to another.

My artist statement says:
“What has become increasingly important for me is the relationship between the painting as a physical entity and a transcending metaphoric object. I want to make a painting that stresses itself as a material object, yet also engages the metaphor of picture making.  What does that mean??
There is the subject of the hand, of color, of the paint itself. There is also the subject of poetic image.”

I think it is in this relationship that I find strong connections to the experience of being in body. I think of my paintings as obstructions (they are attempts to interfere, to stop you, to arrest your attention) and yet they are also points of interface (of connection)."

  Polso, oil on linen, d. callis

In a world of simulacra, where we are awash with images who’s thin meanings are predetermined for desire, persuasion, and consumption. I want to make something that doesn’t look like what one might expect.

I want to make an image that has not had it’s meaning predetermined. In fact, it may be an object that bears witness to the clumsy and at times desperate search for its meaning. I attempt to arrest moments where circumstance, response and consequence begin to create structure.
I’m interested in places where meaning used to reside in one form and has yet to take on new.

I make paintings where forms and gestures stand with intention. They reach toward meaning making but haven’t arrived at the place where that is fixed. I consider myself a ‘hunter of forms’. I want to materialize that ‘hunting’, that searching – to give form to that elusive ‘thing’ that is always passing.

Like the tape on the back of this delivery truck, I’m interested in the residue of meaning (a site of an old instruction label or...) Also the evidence of intentionally. The beautiful worn surfaces of the door caused by it being used again and again (for the thing it was designed for).

I want to create optimistic objects that are laden with the residues of intention.

I’m interested in the place (an embodied space – in this case the street sign) where meaning is being negotiated. At the space of transition, a kind of threshold space of meaning making.

Often at this threshold space the new meaning is not apparent.
“the poet (artist) jolts us, causing us to ‘stand and stare’ at the world, to pause and look again, and again, rather than moving quickly on, content that we have seen all and understood all.” Trevor

Italo Calvino, writes a wonderful short story called ‘A sign in Space’ in which his character is the first organism to consciously create a sign. In the story his character talks about the idea of making a ‘sign’; a thing that involves the use of hand and tool but when you remove the hand and tool the thing, the sign, remains.

 Big Bang, oil & mixed media on linen, d. callis

These are “signs of intention, signs of forming meaning.”

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Re Post - Conversations, Surf, and Creativity

Steve Roden
Yesterday morning I was sitting in the Pacific Ocean with one of my sons, Ryan, and our good friend Earl. We were enjoying an overhead, fairly aggressive south swell. Sunrise surfing does a soul good (please don't do it, there are all ready enough people in the water.) 
Ryan and I got talking about creativity; creativity as gift, as play. Creativity and faith, creativity and fear, creativity and systems. Creativity and Steve Roden's paintings.

Having a serious conversation while surfing is an interesting activity. In part because the conversation is paced (interrupted) by the rhythm of the waves. You might be at the most poignant moment or simply mid-sentence and a wave comes. It is well accepted in surf conversation etiquette to simply say, "hold that thought" and then drop, paddle and ride only to paddle back moments later (or quite some time later) and say, "ok, you were saying?" This can make for a rather fragmented narrative but it also makes for a highly punctuated narrative. Because each time we stop talking (or listening) we paddle into a swelling, moving mass of liquid that is being hurdled at the shore by systems that we have no control over. And that regardless of all our abilities to track, predict and explain what is occurring each morning, we realize that every wave is a unique, unaccounted for event that one simply receives and celebrates. It is a gift from the universe and the Creator that is there and we can ignore it or receive it and dance on it.

So the conversation on creativity went something like this (well, kind of ... well actually this is a highly edited edition.)

... the Catholic priest and philosopher/activist, Henri Nouwen says, "Does not all creativity ask for a certain encounter with our loneliness, and does not the fear of this encounter severely limit our possible self-expression?" As was shared with me the other day, "fear has nothing for us, it offers nothing and demands much." Nouwen encourages the movement from fearful clinging to the fearless play.

A wave and Ryan disappears, I watch from the back and see his head and shoulders slip across the horizon. He paddles back, we acknowledge the gift that was just sent and continue our conversation. 

... that reminds me of what Annie Dillard said, that we should all jump up, strip down to our waists, run outside and shake gourds at one another to WAKE UP! But instead, she says, we will sit on our couch's and watch the whole parade pass us by on the TV. Here's the fear issue again. Instead of playing out the absurdity of the nakedness and the shaking of gourds under the midday sun we would rather have some sense of control and watch someone else live life and we can simply consume it, no risk, no gifts.

Another wave, big and fast. We both go and both pay. We are reminded there is a cost to participate but even that can be a fearful delight, to let go and to be thrown deep and hard only to emerge and appreciate the simple rush of air in one's lungs. We laugh, regroup and continue. 

... I've been reading Rainer Maria Rilke. He talks about a life of creativity and the necessity to do it with intention, "then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it." "Do not now seek answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the question now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer ... take what ever comes with great trust."

This one comes to me. I go and for twelve seconds the whole world is about this moment. The light, the sound, the feeling under my feet. Move, shift, here it comes, up, now drop, and it's over. Smile and paddle back out. No one to witness it but myself, and the sky.

... Kathleen Norris talks about this in her book, The Cloister Walk, "The Benedictines, more that any other people I know, insist that there is time in each day for prayer, for work, for study, and for play." "Liturgical time is essentially poetic time, oriented toward process rather than productivity, willing to wait attentively in stillness rather that always pushing to "get the job done." "Imagination and faith are the same thing, giving substance to our hopes and reality to the unseen." "The substance, the means of art, is incarnation, not reference but phenomena." She then develops these thoughts specifically around the language of poetry, "But the sense of the sacred is very much alive in contemporary poetry; maybe because poetry, like prayer, is a dialogue with the sacred. And poets speak from the margins, those places in the ecosystem where, as any ecologist can tell you, the most life forms are to be found." 
"scholars speak with authority, and they must, as they are trying to convince the audience that they have a worthwhile point of view. On the other hand, poets (artists) speak with no authority but that which the reader (audience) is willing to grant them. Our task is not to convince but to suggest, evoke, explore. And to be a poet (artist), which at its root means "maker," to be a maker of phenomena, speaking without reference to authority but simply because the words (images) are given you."

Oh crap, a rouge set, large and coming quick. We all scramble to get outside. If we weren't talking we would have seen it coming and been ready. It is enough to simply get through it and get outside.

... Well if we are going to talk about Norris we have to talk about Madeline L' Engle. What does she say? "It is gift (creativity), sheer gift, waiting there to be recognized and received." "To paint a picture or to write a story or to compose a song is an incarnational activity, the artist is a servant who is willing to be a birth giver." "Faith is for that which lies on the other side of reason. Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys."
We cannot Name or be Named without language. If our vocabulary dwindles to a few shopworn words (or images) we are setting ourselves up for takeover by a dictator (or a highly militaristic administration.) When language becomes exhausted, our freedom dwindles - we cannot think; we do not recognize danger; injustice strikes us as no more than "the way things are." Language is formed by imagination. If our imagination is so highly mediated for us by pop media, the market place and politics, then our ability to discern, to participate, to discover is limited. Or as William Young reminds us, "Don't confuse adaptation for intention, or seduction for reality." 
"Creativity opens us to revelation, and when our high creativity is lowered to 2% so is our capacity to see ... in the act of creativity, the artist lets go the self control which he normally clings to, and is open to riding the wind. Something almost always happens to startle us during the act of creating (there's the Dillard thing.)
She goes on to say, "You should utter words as though heaven were opened within them and as though you did not put the word into your mouth, but as though you had entered the word."
"We write, we make music, we draw pictures, because we are listening for meaning, feeling for healing. An artist at work is in a condition complete and total faith ... hold that thought! And with that Ryan was gone, pulled toward the beach with a shout and a laugh that was almost as much fun to watch, as it was to do. It took him about 10 minutes to get back, he was caught inside of a large set and I got two while we were separated.

... This reminds me of a story I'm reading by William Young. During an exchange in which freedom and grace are being discussed, one person says to the other, "remember this, humans are not defined by their limitations, but by the intentions that God has for them; not by what they seem to be, but by everything it means to be created in God's image."
But what does this look like personified? What does it look like in practice? Maybe a good model of the artist, perhaps, is Howard Nelson's description of the American poet, Robert Bly. He says of Bly, "He seeks a balance, but one that will be open-ended and dynamic; while he is interested in the still point, what he is more interested in is the motions of the spirit - and the intellect's and the body's motion - around it."

Another model might be the work of Steve Roden.

Hey, we got to go. There is a day waiting for us. 
Do you want to go out again tomorrow?
Is there going to be a swell?
I heard it was growing, but more of a south/west.
That's funny, I read on Surfline that it was dropping.
Anyway, let's just go and see what shows up.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Gates of Hope

work in progress, 36"x48"
Gates of Hope

Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope—
Not the prudent gates of Optimism,
Which are somewhat narrower.
Not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
Nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
Which creak on shrill and angry hinges
(People cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through)
Nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of
“Everything is gonna’ be all right.”
But a different, sometimes lonely place,
The place of truth-telling,
About your own soul first of all and its condition.
The place of resistance and defiance,
The piece of ground from which you see the world
Both as it is and as it could be
As it will be;
The place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
But the joy of the struggle.
And we stand there, beckoning and calling,
Telling people what we are seeing
Asking people what they see.

Victoria Safford

Friday, October 21, 2016