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

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bright Abyss

This Far: edge of the roof, oil & wax, 11"x14"

My God my bright abyss
into which all my longing will not go
once more I come to the edge of all I know
and believing nothing believe in this:

Christianity itself is this - temporal, relative - to some extent. To every age Christ dies anew and is resurrected within the imagination of man. This is why he could be a paragon of rationality for eighteenth-century England, a heroic figure of the imagination for the Romantics, an exemplar of existential courage for writers like Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann. One truth, then, is that Christ is always being remade in the image of man, which means that his reality is always being deformed to fit human needs, or what humans perceive to be their needs. A deeper truth, though, one that scripture suggests when it speaks of the eternal Word being made specific flesh, is that there is no permutation of humanity in which Christ is not present. If every Bible is lost, if every church crumbles to dust, if the last believer in the last prayer opens her eyes and lets it all finally go, Christ will appear on this earth as calmly and casually as he appeared to the disciples walking to Emmanus after his death, who did not recognize this man to whom they had pledged their very lives; this man whom they had seen beaten, crucified, abandoned by God; this man who, after walking the dusty road with them, after sharing an ordinary meal and discussing the scriptures, had to vanish once more in order to make them see.  

Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss 

Is my soul asleep?

Is my soul asleep?
Have those beehives that work
in the night stopped? And the water-
wheel of thought, is it
going around now, cups
empty, carrying only shadows?

No, my soul is not asleep.
It is awake, wide awake.
It neither sleeps nor dreams, but watches,
its eyes wide open
far-off things, and listens
at the shores of the great silence.

Antonio Machado 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

murmur, oil and wax on paper, 24"x30"

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softned
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life -

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room , when you turn around?
                                                                             William Stafford

     One day, in my parents' attic, I found the first picture I ever painted: my first still life - painted from life, with my law books in it.
     I was surprised to find in that canvas everything I've done since, and I couldn't see why I'd put in another ten years' work. Then, when I thought about it, I realized that what I'd seen in it was my own personality. But then again, I felt that, if I'd only ever painted that one painting, I'd never have spotted that personality because it would never have developed.
     You're in everything you do, in your earliest pictures just as much as the last. But developing the personality that exists in the first canvas - that's what gives it a life in the outside world, just because it has developed.  It already existed, but only as a single cell.

     Henri Matisse, The Lost 1941 Interview

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

oil & wax on paper, 11"x14"

All we can give back and all God wants from an of us is to humbly and proudly return the product that we have been given - which is ourselves. We are already participating in something very good, in spite of our best efforts to deny it or avoid it.

There is nothing to join, only something to recognize, suffer, and enjoy as a participant. You are already in the eternal flow that Christians would call the divine life of the Trinity.
Richard Rohr

Thinking about music.

Phrase: the smallest structural unit. A kind of musical molecule consisting of a number of integrated musical events, possessing a certain completeness, and well adapted to combination w/other similar units.
The term means structurally, a unit approximating to what could be sung in a single breath. It's ending suggests a form of punctuation such as a comma.

Harmony: supports melody. The mutual accommodation of melody and harmony is difficult at first. But the composer should never invent a melody w/out being conscious of its harmony.

Effective Phrasing: 
1) think in terms of a complete musical statment.
2) an awareness of the harmonic background
3) playing w/rhythmic definition

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Work in Progress

 oil & wax on paper, 11"x14"

"You must change your life." To hear serious poems and resist all change is worse than a waste of time; it is dangerous.  
Jacob Boehme

God. Love, which awakens our souls and to which we cling 
like the splendid mortal creatures that we are, asks us to let it go, 
to let it be more than it is if it is only us. To  manage this highest 
form of loving does not mean that we will be showered with earthly
delights or be somehow spared awful human suffering. 
But for as long as we can live in this sacred space of receiving and 
releasing, and can learn to speak and be love's fluency, then
the greater love that is God brings a continuous and enlarging air 
into our existence. We feel love leave us in unthreatening ways. 
We feel it reenter us at once more truly and more strange, like a 
simple kiss that has a bite of starlight to it.    

Christian Wiman, By love we are lead to God