Monday, July 26, 2010

The Idea Has Disappeared

When I opened the door to my studio today and looked at my painting on the easel, I knew I was not done. It is hard to say when a piece of artwork is done, and there is a danger in overworking something. Winston Churchill said, "When you get a thing the way you want it, leave it alone."

The famous French painter, Georges Braque said, "The painting is finished when the idea has disappeared."

I think I am done with this still-life. The cherries are shriveled and I have eaten an apple.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Art Mirrors Life

Art mirrors life, and, in the words of the great British sculptor Henry Moore, “enlarges existence into something more significant than everyday life, giving some importance to it, a monumentality and grandeur.”

I love being in the company of artists, and these days I have been blessed spending time with an artist friend from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who is visiting Santa Fe. Sarah and I have spent hours together going to galleries, discussing philosophy, writing poetry, painting and drawing, and last night attending a world premiere of an opera, called Life Is A Dream, by Lewis Spratlan at The Santa Fe Opera.
Sarah is a painter, so I invited her to work with me in my studio. We decided to make a still life painting. First we needed objects to paint. I suggested a pretty green vase and an arrangement of fruit. The vase was already in my studio and I cut some flowers from my yard to go in it. Next we went together to a grocery store to select vegetables or fruit. I am always interested in green or red peppers because they can grow in fantastic shapes and have bright, pure color. Eggplant is dazzling to look at for its burnished purple hues. At last we settled on apples and cherries.

In the studio, we arranged the objects. I enjoyed how easily Sarah and I came to a quick and deft solution to a pleasing arrangement—it only took minutes and without fuss. I lent her supplies and an easel, turned on music, and then we began. Our efforts took two days and we had great fun together amidst laughter and tears.

The painting process has correlation to life and meaning, so here is the story: The beginning is concept, to get a mental picture of something, even vague, that is the intention to pursue. Once I had created my intention, I made the still life arrangement that would be my inspiration to work from. I knew that I wanted to honor the objects with a realistic portrayal, and not something abstract. Standing a few feet away from the tableau, I thought of the proportions and carefully made a drawing. The foundation of art is important, because everything that happens afterward is affected. After I was satisfied with the foundation, I began laying in the oil color, using my palette knife to apply the paint directly. Most artists paint with brushes and only use the palette knife to mix paints, but I have developed a technique using the palette knife. It is very pleasurable to gaze at pure oil colors on a palette, and then mix them to get more colors. It is an art in itself and some artists, such as Pierre Bonnard, Claude Monet, and Mark Rothko, are known for their great sense of color, while other artists, like Michelangelo, Paul Cezanne, and Andrew Wyeth, are famous for being superb draftsmen.
The trick in painting is to create a visual symphony that uses just the right structure, tonality and timbre to produce the greatest effect. Of course colors affect our emotions, so the artist uses color to great affect. The important thing is clarity, so that the original inspiration speaks eloquently. So much can go wrong. Colors can become muddied, the drawing might be bad, proportions look awkward . . .  in short it takes great practice and a good helping of talent to accomplish art. Only a few make it to the professional level.

As I worked on my still life, I became frustrated with the background, so at one point, scraped it out and tried something new. This is an important lesson: if something is not going well, even if you have invested in it, be prepared to change course to get to something better. When I destroyed the dark background I had painted and began laying in lighter tones, the whole painting seemed to breathe a sigh of relief and speak to me, saying, this is better and now I am happy. And this is what art is about—adaptability, creative pursuit and change.

Any great work of art... revives and re-adapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world - the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air.  ~Leonard Bernstein, What Makes Opera Grand?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Crested Butte Sojourn

The season of wildflowers is magical and short in the high mountain regions of Colorado. I wavered before driving 5 ½ hours to Crested Butte. I was there only three weeks ago to paint, hike, photograph, and see the beginning of summer. The wildflowers were coming out, but had not reached their peak of performance and array. I am glad the universe called me to make the effort and return for the full symphony.

This time, I did not bring my painting gear but only a bike and my camera. The rugged scenery and spectacular vistas kept me outside all day, and in the evening I could find a spot to pull my vehicle aside, take the bike out, spread a bedroll and go to sleep.

I like the little town of Crested Butte. It has an old west feel and is very laid back. It caters to lovers of the great outdoors and has an ambiance that appeals to mountain enthusiasts. I arrived during the Wildflower Festival, and also The Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters National Show.

This is what happened in 56 hours: I packed and drove from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Crested Butte, Colorado in about 5 ½ hours. Drove through town and into the mountains to Lake Irwin. The official campsite spaces were all taken, so I drove off to an undesignated area nearby and pulled my van into a spot under trees. Got on my bike and rode trails, huffing and puffing with exertion, getting out of breath with my heart thumping in my throat, sweated, and stopped frequently to be amazed at the natural splendor and photograph it. Incredibly, on a remote mountain trail, I ran into a friend from Santa Fe whom I had not seen in a couple years, (of all places!). As the sun sinks behind the mountain peaks, I cycle back downhill without crashing, make a small campfire, cook a can of soup, get smoke in my eyes, crawl in the back of my van and look at photographs on my laptop, settle down in the darkness, give thanks to God and go to sleep. Wake up, drive into town and have coffee, go to some shops and sell some leather bags I receive regularly from Kashmir, India, drive to Slate Creek and slowly follow a dirt road along the river, stopping occasionally. Find a pullout by the river and go for a short hike, getting my feet wet and making a recording with my iphone’s recorder of the stream’s song. Go back to town for supplies. Take a short nap in my hot van. Find a mountain bike trail on the outskirt of town and ride. Drink the fresh air, smell the fragrance, get sweaty, dirty, scratched, and bitten by horseflies, wave and say hello to other enthusiasts, stop frequently to lay my bike down and trudge through the fields to photograph. Get sunburned, and finally exhausted, and very thirsty. Ride the bike back to my van, drive back into town, find a cafe, eat a salad and drink a lot of water. Drive back to 
Slate Creek and pull off the road to camp in a place where others are doing the same. Work on my laptop and lay down to sleep . . . but cannot because of the young party-people nearby who are having fun around their campfire. Put on my earphones and listen to white-noise recording on my iphone. Sleep. Wake up cold, eat some milk and cereal, then drive back into town in my dusty van, realizing I am dirty, unshaven, and have not brushed my teeth (forgot my toothbrush). Have coffee, sell some leather purses, and drive 5 ½ hours home to Santa Fe. Hallelujah!
See some pictures of my Crested Butte Sojourn!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Great Scheme Of Things

Some people believe in God and others do not, and those in between are called agnostics. It is understandable that there is great difficulty attaining 100% consensus of belief in God, for the finite mind cannot grasp the infinite nor can a cup contain an ocean; and many of us have to grasp something in order to believe in it. Furthermore, this world is beautiful but also violent, with merciless atrocities that occur naturally and by the hand of man. This further confuses people who cannot stomach the thought of a beneficent Creator making such a mess and watching his creatures struggle in it for the sake of progress to a better life later.

When I was growing up, our household was without religion. My parents never spoke of God, and religion was something my friends knew about but not me. In some cases they endured the religion that was foisted upon them. Our household was liberal and a place for free thought. As the years went by, many of my friends came to enjoy our house as a haven of sociability. As I entered my teen years and my mind expanded, I asked my parents about their belief in God. My father said he did not believe, and since he was a passionate social activist, went so far as to quote Karl Marx, who said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” My mother said, “I am an agnostic.” Since I did not know what that meant, she went on to inform me that God may exist, but we cannot know for sure, so we allow that He might be present.

My youthful spirit searched for the truth independently during the beginning of my college years. Of course, I wondered more deeply what life was about and how I came to exist, and what my purpose might be. The first holy book I read, the Bhagavad-Gita, I found by chance while browsing in the university library. Glancing through the pages, something drew me, and I read it in entirety. Soon thereafter, I began a three-day fast, and pondered deeply whether God existed. The main question that excited my imagination and soul: “How did intelligent life and ordered existence throughout the universe come to be?” I could only conclude that a higher intelligence, God, made creation, of which I am part. Funny, but the next question that plagued my youthful mind for the next couple days was, “Can there be more than one God?” Perhaps I wrestled with the thought of one Being, dominant over all. But finally, I arrived at closure when I realized that God must be All-Powerful, and if there were two Gods then neither would be All-Powerful. There can only be one God. Shortly thereafter, I found the Baha’i Faith, and joined.

Over the years, my parents have changed. My father does not mention God or religion, but I suspect he has gone from being atheist to agnostic. My mother has developed a deeply personal relationship with God. She does not belong to a church, but in almost all her conversations she praises God, the Creator. Every day she speaks of “the wonderful world we live in.” I went to live with them in the spring, to help them with aging issues, and slept in a small anteroom near their own bedrooms. They would retire about the same time each night, my father closing his bedroom door and turning on his white-noise sound machine, and my mother would arrive in her bed, then promptly begin speaking out loud, (I could hear her), having a personal conversation with God. Typically, she praises His creation: the beautiful green grass, flowers, magnificent trees, the order in nature, sunlight, air and temperature, earth, soil, micro-organisms . . . and she thanks Him for her body and holding her place in the great scheme of things.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Live Life Fully

For a lover, the greatest torment is separation from his love. It can be an agonizing pain if the goal of one’s longing is removed and becomes inaccessible. Perhaps this is why religions preach detachment as a means to happiness. If we cease to want, then neither do we lack. If we are near God, the All-Knowing, the Protecting, All-Bountiful, then we should be happy all the time, regardless of our outer circumstances. The difficulty is that we are part of the wondrous and terrible wheel of life and death, the Matrix of being. In Hindu scripture it is named the cause of suffering. We are told everything physical is fleeting and must end in death—leading to transformation and rebirth. Only the spiritual is changeless and imperishable. Yet, in this world, the physical is the vehicle for all our learning, our joy, satisfaction, jubilation, achievement and growth.

I learned how crushing this lesson could be when my beloved daughter Naomi became ill with cancer and two years later died. The anniversary of her death is tomorrow, July 5. She died in 1999 at the age of nineteen. How could I be detached from her? If I were a saint maybe I could stand back and say calmly, the Hand of God is at work and she is being transformed and taken by Him to a better place. The fact is, my heart was broken a thousand times by the demolition of her body which she loved so much and tried desperately to save, and after we buried her I cried every day for six years. Granted, I know she became a radiant light during her calamity and is now among the chosen in paradise, yet I will never “get over” the loss of her here, in this physical world. Is it because I am not detached?

In the Baha’i historical record is a transcendent figure named Nabil. He was the close, devoted follower of the prophet Baha’u’llah and wrote the definitive history of the Baha’i revelation, called The Dawn-Breakers. At the time of Baha’u’llah’s death, Nabil became so distraught that he walked into the ocean and drowned himself. He could not be detached from his beloved or live in this world without Him. The pain was unbearable. I understand, although I also know this life is but the time of a blink of an eye in eternity and soon enough this dream will vanish and everlasting union will prevail.

From the other side, I often hear Naomi’s voice telling me to live life fully and appreciate its great beauty.  Soon enough it will be over, but now, love life and be glad for it.

To learn more about Naomi Boone and her life go to the website: A Heart Traced In Sand, Reflections On A Daughter's Struggle For Life