Sunday, June 12, 2022

Magical Doors

The highlight of all our recent traveling was the incredible art we were exposed to. 
Experiencing the high art of the Renaissance inspired us. We are both artists. As we moved among masterpieces in many museums and churches throughout Venice, Assisi, & Rome, Italy, we were in awe. 

Much of todays art is degraded in comparison. 

I will give an example: 
Alessandro Algardi (July 31, 1598 – June 10, 1654) Flight of Attila. It was created for St Peter's Basilica from 1646 to 1653.

And detail:

Compare this to a sculpture that looks like garbage bags full of rotting meat, spray painted by Sir Anish Kapoor (born 12 March 1954, British-Indian.)  We saw it prominently displayed alongside some of his paintings at the Venice Biennale, a major international exhibition:

As for paintings, compare the Frans Hals (Dutch, 1582 – 26 August 1666) we saw in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC:

And the painting we saw at the Venice Biennale . . . I don´t recall the artists name:

Here is another comparison:

During our sojourn, it seemed one magical door after another opened, revealing glorious glimpses of high culture from previous lifetimes. Amy remarked more than once that art of the Renaissance was more advanced than the present day.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Buen Viaje


Travel has become so complicated. Today’s world is one of peril.

My earliest memory of flying was when I was about four years old. I was with my father in a commercial prop plane flying at night. People were happily smoking in the cabin so it was hazy. My father pointed out the window to city lights gleaming below us.  A young stewardess came, spoke with my dad, then took me by hand to the front of the plane into the cockpit. The pilot smiled, said hello and pointed out all the glowing controls. I could see the vast darkness the plane was hurdling through. Given my flying wings, I went back to my seat. Maybe I remember all that because of the openness and love of that magical journey.

It could not happen in today’s world. The tragedy of airplane hijackings and mass destruction on 911 changed travel. Hidden bombs have blasted airplanes full of passengers out of the skies. Everyone is suspect of evil. People and items are scanned for contraband. Everyone must partially undress before proceeding to the gates, and go through scanners. Multi document checks are required. 

Now, in the time of mass pandemics, even more obstacles must be negotiated before reaching a seat aboard a plane.

In two days I leave Oaxaca, Mexico.  Amy already is in Minneapolis with her family. We meet on May 17th in Washington DC. I will attend a high school reunion and see my brother and his family. Then on May 22 we go to Venice, Italy. We will also visit Assisi, and Rome before returning to Oaxaca June 9.

When Amy left, I started coughing, sneezing and had congestion. After a couple days, it dawned on me that if I have covid our trip would be ruined. Everything is booked in advance. In a bit of panic I went to a local lab and paid 25 dollars for a test. A half hour later I got the result: negative. Good Lord! 

To get into the United States, test results taken 24 hours before boarding is required. I still have slight cold symptoms. 

I have been praying a powerful prayer called the Long Healing Prayer. 

Meditation tells me I do not have covid. I hope it is right.

My neighbor Mayolo, his wife Marta, and granddaughter Frida came to the house on my birthday a couple days ago. They brought dinner and a birthday cake. Then we watched the Disney movie, “Coco”. I don’t speak Spanish and they don’t speak English. No matter.

Mayolo will come get me on Tuesday and take me to the airport for my 10 AM flight to Washington DC.  His daughter Kaoni, son in law Carlos  and Frida are house sitting for us. I saw them today. We went over details about the house. 

The last thing Kaoni said was “buen viaje” or good travels.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Procession of Silence

I knew I had to be on the street, up close at eye level for "La Procesión del Silencio", or the Procession of Silence. It is a yearly grand march winding through the center of Oaxaca. Various churches are represented with somber marchers and holy icons. 

So I left Amy and our friends on the rooftop patio of the restaurant where we had a late lunch and walked a few blocks to the front of Temple Santo Domingo, in centro Oaxaca de Juarez, close to where the solemn parade was about to begin. Amy and the others stayed behind and waited for the marchers to wind their way in front of the restaurant, where they would have a bird´s eye view.

Streets were roped off. Onlookers, mostly locals of all ages with some tourists thrown in, lined each side. The parade began solemnly moving forward; every 100 feet stopping to pause. Facilitators were with each group of marchers, acting as guides. Press photographers were allowed in the street. The atmospheric reverence was more pronounced by pervasive silence in wrapt devotion. “The mystery is further heightened by the metered beat of a drummer, candlelight, shawl draped women, hooded men, the eerie sound of crosses dragging on the cobbled streets, and  illumination of a full moon.” ­ 

I had a good vantage point for taking pictures, and when the procession was near its end, I raced forward to the front, taking pictures again. By the time it reached the restaurant, I was up on the roof with Amy.

I did not grow up with religion, and only became “religious” by choice at the age of 19 when I joined the Bahaí Faith. Amy attended Catholic grade school, and can tell who is who when it comes to martyrs and saints in the Catholic faith.

"Bahá’u’lláh says that religion must be conducive to love and unity. If it proves to be the source of hatred and enmity, its absence is preferable; for the will and law of God is love, and love is the bond between human hearts. Religion is the light of the world. If it is made the cause of darkness through human misunderstanding and ignorance, it would be better to do without it."  
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 287

Sunday, April 10, 2022

To Paint A Dream


Since moving to our little village outside Oaxaca, Mexico, Amy and I have have been strongly influenced by our new culture. From our second floor studio in our home, we have been slowly but steadily producing “las pinturas con una diferencia.”  At some point we hope to mount a public show together.  Our styles and subjects are different enough to make it quite interesting.

Amy has completed a new work from our studio, called, Into the Mystic, acrylic on board, 24"x39".  She says:

"Xoloitzcuintle or xolo dogs are revered in Mexico since ancient times for their profound, otherworldly abilities. They are uniquely hairless and are considered to possess healing abilities, as well as guides for their Master on his/her journey to the spirit world. I decided to paint a dream I had of the end of the fifth sun, when the old paradigm departs and the sixth sun commences. In my painting, the xolos challenge Quetzalcoatl. The humans are in partnership with the xolos⏤conjuring the New Day. The female xolo with her newborn pups represent the coming of the sixth sun. We see the phases of the moon…the passage of time.
My true hope is to have a xolo. But for now, I can only visualize them as part of my world."

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Light of Unity

We are blessed with children coming to us in our village of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, in rural southern Mexico. On Sunday mornings, the “vecino”, neighbor kids, come for art lessons and snacks from 10:30-12:00. Our "pueblo" is impoverished⏤so we provide everything. They take home sketch pads, colored pencils, erasers⏤whatever is part of the lesson. Food and drink, with music, is offered at the end. We meet on our front patio under the roofed entry outside our home entrance. One mother comes with her daughter and son. 

Today was our second session. As Amy and I were preparing, I glanced outdoors and saw the group gathered at our locked front gate. It was 10:00 and I thought they were very eager to arrive so early. Amy went to them and discovered that they had been waiting for us because overnight, the time had changed in Mexico to daylight saving. In fact, we were late for class and they were on time!

Amy leads the group and gets her points across in broken Spanish. I cannot offer much in spoken word, but assist in other ways. 

Time flies and everyone is happy. When they leave the kids have homework assignments. I can say for certainty there is total engagement and enthusiasm. 

So powerful is the light of unity that it can illumine the whole earth. - Bahá’u’lláh

Sunday, March 13, 2022

A Way of Life

A painting that began 23 years ago has been completed. July 5, 1999 my oldest daughter died of cancer at the age of nineteen. Numerous times through the years I thought to do a symbolic painting expressing the grief inside and transition which occurred. And yet, something held me back. My life as an artist has been for the most part painting landscapes.  

Amy and I moved to Oaxaca, Mexico one year ago. For months I did not paint, mostly because we were settling into our home. When I began making art again, everything depicted figures from life down here. And then the “muerto” or death symbols, which are widely accepted in Mexico as themes for remembrance of the departed became a staple of my paintings. 

"Watermelon Man," oil on canvas, 24 x 28 inches

When I finished my painting of a skeleton man eating watermelon, I began gathering ideas for the next work. A mural downtown caught my eye. It included a crowd of people, with a man carrying somebody on his back. That gave me an idea to have death carrying someone.

I researched for pictures of a grown person carrying a child. 

When I began my painting, I quickly realized it was autobiographical. 

To begin, it brought up strong emotions of darkness and grief. My artist wife Amy had trouble painting in our studio with my dark artwork next to her. The war in Ukraine had begun and so had the period of Bahaí fasting we observe. Nineteen days of no food or water from sunrise to sunset. This is my last year⏤after having practiced the annual event fifty years⏤those over 70 are not bound by it. I have dedicated my efforts to the people of Ukraine.

I am pleased to have made another “memento mori” work. It reminds us of the ever presence of death and its inevitability. Down here in Mexico it is a way of life. 

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Winds of Despair are Blowing from Every Direction

War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.  -THOMAS MANN

The spectre of war continually afflicts the world. Center stage now is the conflict between Russia and Ukraine; with wider implications for the planet. 

Here are some cogent and insightful remarks regarding war. 

Mostly from Bahaí writings:

Today there is no greater glory for man than that of service in the cause of the Most Great Peace. Peace is light, whereas war is darkness. Peace is life; war is death. Peace is guidance; war is error. Peace is the foundation of God; war is a satanic institution. Peace is the illumination of the world of humanity; war is the destroyer of human foundations. When we consider outcomes in the world of existence, we find that peace and fellowship are factors of upbuilding and betterment, whereas war and strife are the causes of destruction and disintegration. All created things are expressions of the affinity and cohesion of elementary substances, and nonexistence is the absence of their attraction and agreement. Various elements unite harmoniously in composition, but when these elements become discordant, repelling each other, decomposition and nonexistence result. Everything partakes of this nature and is subject to this principle, for the creative foundation in all its degrees and kingdoms is an expression or outcome of love. Consider the restlessness and agitation of the human world today because of war. Peace is health and construction; war is disease and dissolution. When the banner of truth is raised, peace becomes the cause of the welfare and advancement of the human world. In all cycles and ages war has been a factor of derangement and discomfort, whereas peace and brotherhood have brought security and consideration of human interests. This distinction is especially pronounced in the present world conditions, for warfare in former centuries had not attained the degree of savagery and destructiveness which now characterizes it. If two nations were at war in olden times, ten or twenty thousand would be sacrificed, but in this century the destruction of one hundred thousand lives in a day is quite possible. So perfected has the science of killing become and so efficient the means and instruments of its accomplishment that a whole nation can be obliterated in a short time. 

The Promulgation of Universal Peace, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pg. 123 

Gracious God! Even with such a lesson before him, how heedless is man! Still do we see his world at war from pole to pole. There is war among the religions; war among the nations; war among the peoples; war among the rulers. What a welcome change would it be, if only these black clouds would lift from off the skies of the world, so that the light of reality could be shed abroad! If only the darksome dust of this continual fighting and killing could settle forever, and the sweet winds of God's loving-kindness could blow from out the well-spring of peace. Then would this world become another world, and the earth would shine with the light of her Lord. 

Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pg 320

"The winds of despair", Baha'u'llah wrote, "are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divides and afflicts the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appears to be lamentably defective." This prophetic judgement has been amply confirmed by the common experience of humanity. Flaws in the prevailing order are conspicuous in the inability of sovereign states organized as United Nations to exorcize the spectre of war, the threatened collapse of the international economic order, the spread of anarchy and terrorism, and the intense suffering which these and other afflictions are causing to increasing millions. Indeed, so much have aggression and conflict come to characterize our social, economic and religious systems, that many have succumbed to the view that such behavior is intrinsic to human nature and therefore ineradicable.  

The Promise of World Peace, Pages 1-3: Universal House of Justice

Banning nuclear weapons, prohibiting the use of poison gases, or outlawing germ warfare will not remove the root causes of war. However important such practical measures obviously are as elements of the peace process, they are in themselves too superficial to exert enduring influence. Peoples are ingenious enough to invent yet other forms of warfare, and to use food, raw materials, finance, industrial power, ideology, and terrorism to subvert one another in an endless quest for supremacy and dominion. Nor can the present massive dislocation in the affairs of humanity be resolved through the settlement of specific conflicts or disagreements among nations. A genuine universal framework must be adopted. 

Certainly, there is no lack of recognition by national leaders of the world-wide character of the problem, which is self-evident in the mounting issues that confront them daily. And there are the accumulating studies and solutions proposed by many concerned and enlightened groups as well as by agencies of the United Nations, to remove any possibility of ignorance as to the challenging requirements to be met. There is, however, a paralysis of will; and it is this that must be carefully examined and resolutely dealt with. This paralysis is rooted, as we have stated, in a deep-seated conviction of the inevitable quarrelsomeness of mankind, which has led to the reluctance to entertain the possibility of subordinating national self-interest to the requirements of world order, and in an unwillingness to face courageously the far-reaching implications of establishing a united world authority. It is also traceable to the incapacity of largely ignorant and subjugated masses to articulate their desire for a new order in which they can live in peace, harmony and prosperity with all humanity.   -The Promise of World Peace, Pages 6-9: Universal House of Justice

There never was a good war, or a bad peace.


Sunday, February 27, 2022

Mexico City

A trip to Mexico City is a phantasmagoria of sights and sounds⏤always with surprises. Amy and I love visiting and hope someday to live there for at least a few weeks. The worlds fifth largest city, Ciudad de Mexico is bigger by population than any city in the USA. It is six hours away by car from our home in Oaxaca, or about 1 hour by airplane.

Along with two friends from Chicago, we went by air from Oaxaca City to Mexico City on February 22 and stayed until the 25th when our friends returned to Chicago and we flew home. As usual, our visit was fun, educational and dreamlike.

We like to stay at Le Meridien, a 17 floor, excellent hotel in the Reforma area, centrally located downtown. From there we take taxis to destinations, or simply walk.

This visit we went to The National Anthropological Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Antique Toy Museum and Diego Rivera Mural Museum. Amy and I had been to all the places but the Toy Museum, which Amy found online and because of her passion for such things was determined to visit. What a treasure it is! As we were leaving we met the founder and collector of toys, Roberto Shimizu, Sr and sat with him talking. Then we met his son, Roberto Shimizu Jr who is curator.

Here is a slideshow video of highlights:

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Monte Albán

Visible to the east from our rooftop patio, standing on a mountaintop is Monte Albán, one of the most important archeological sites in all of Mesoamerica. Several times since we moved to Oaxaca ten months ago we have attempted to go and visit, but found a line of vehicles waiting for entry. We turned around and left, choosing to try again later.

Recently Amy and I received our first guests to our home. Harold and Becky live in Chicago and I have known Harold for over forty years. With Monte Albán close by, we took a chance to go again, hoping for easy entry. Success at 11 AM on Friday! 

I felt a happy sense the moment I arrived in the parking lot and climbed a few steps of the ancient place.

Under blue skies we strolled in the midday heat, experiencing what was a metropolis and capital of the Zapotec people for 13 centuries, between 500 BC and 800 AD. Monte Albán is a world heritage monument and located on a low mountain range overlooking the city of Oaxaca⏤with its surrounding plains and villages. 

Exploring the site, I felt exhilarated with inspiration, sensing history and countless footsteps of those who had trod the ground under my feet. 

Monte Albán reminded me of another place of exceptional importance I have been to: The Acropolis on Mount Olympus at Athens, Greece. Its most famous structures, such as the Parthenon and Old Temple of Athena were constructed around the same time as Monte Albán. I thought of how remarkable that these very grand construction sites were also lofty places overlooking their surroundings. That meant they were very difficult choices for building sites. And such marvelous monuments were made! 
When something grand is made with human determination under extreme difficulty, in order to honor earth and heaven, it is holy.

Now that Amy and I know we can drive up the mountain sides and get to Monte Albán without too much hindrance, we are eager to go back often for inspiration.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Angels and Ants

 I thought about ants. They work so hard and industriously, making kingdoms on earth. In New Mexico, USA they seemed innocent enough, even noble, crawling busily over the high desert floor. At the time, I had traveled much and made art for over thirty years. Deep down I felt like stopping everything to simply become an observer. Watch ants work every day. Meditate.

Almost two decades ago, after my oldest daughter died, a poem came to me and included ants as a metaphor for elemental spirits of the world:

Angels and Ants

My pen tries to speak,
but the language it has learned 
is too sublime
for mere scratchings.
You taught me a new tongue—
the expressions of angels.
Alas, an ocean is between us 
which cannot be passed.
Wandering alone in a daze
I am left with the ants 
traveling over the dust of this world.

Amy and I have been living in Oaxaca, Mexico now for almost a year. For the first time in my life my home is in a place without winter. We grow flowers year around. The nearby plant nursery always welcomes us with myriad colors, exotic trees and shrubs and prices a fraction of what we would pay in the USA. Blooming rose shrubs cost 1.50 USD. Our eyes are dazzled and we make sure to smell them, to be certain of fragrance. 

Destroyed jasmine plants
I planted seven roses, caring for them, watching them slowly take hold and grow new leaves. Suddenly they were almost wiped out. By ants. Not just the roses, but many other of our trees, vegetables, and shrubs were being decimated. The jasmine plants in pots by our back door were denuded. By day I could not see much activity, but at night, by flashlight I saw legions of ants in long lines carrying cut leaves to their holes in the ground. 

The old lady, matriarch of the family who owns the nursery, when asked what could be done about ants, looked us steady in the eye and said, “kill them”.

I dug up my roses and put them in pots, then took them to my roof patio where they have revived and are producing marvelous blooms. Meanwhile, sadly I have had to declare war on the ants.

I have had to ask, plants or ants? 

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Inside Your Darkest Everything

It started a couple of years ago when I made an oil painting of a young Frida Kahlo,_(Mexican,-6 July 1907 – 13 July 1954)with a skeleton whispering in her ear and wrapping his arm around her shoulder. I copied her own self-portraither first of many, then added a skeleton and a quote of hers: “I want to be inside your darkest everything.” I have tried my hand at painting skeletons and find that I like it. 

Amy and I have lived in our home in Oaxaca, Mexico going on one year. There are many festivities during the year, but undoubtedly the biggest, most famous, is Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, that occurs at the beginning of February. Significantly it is time for prayer and remembrance of friends and family members who have died. Its universally observed in Mexico, but also regions with large Mexican populations. In Oaxaca, skeletons and skulls are widely depicted as emblems of death and afterlife, and can be seen year around on walls.

This past year, as Dia de Muertos approached, I had an idea for a painting with skulls. With a bit of trepidation I began work on it. After overcoming some negative emotions, I continued until it was finished. Standing back, I liked it very much and determined not to sell it. It is called "Memento Mori", meaning an object serving as a warning or reminder of death, such as a skull.
My neighbor Mayolo stepped into the picture when he made a fantastic tin frame for me, complete with skulls, crossbones and roses. 
Recently Mayolo made another masterpiece frame for my next muerto painting. It has sculptures and engravings with incredible filigree work in tin. At the top are two miniature violins with exquisite detail.

It seems I am in a process of making a series of muerto paintings.
The one to the left is my latest and almost finished. Many ideas come to me. 

Twenty one years ago my daughter died of cancer. It has taken me this long to make a painting that includes death as protagonist.