Musings on What is Hard to Comprehend

how much longer

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to comprehend that a virus could be so powerful on so many levels.  It makes people sick, it takes lives, it travels across continents, it halts the workforce, it stops education as we’ve known it, it damages economies–giant corporations and small businesses alike are affected, it creates arguments of politics around to wear or not to wear a mask (in America anyway).  It separates families and friends.  It brings inequities, injustices to light.  It commands that we save the world with better choices as to how we use the world.  On and on.  I bet you can add to this list and that if we analyze the list we make, it seems that we could find good and not so good within it.

I appreciate the perspective that the virus is giving us feedback.  That any response from the earth is feedback to us as a human species.  Often we act dumb in the face of such feedback.  Often we ignore it for as long as we are able to.  Often we try to outsmart it or upgrade our technology or continue more forcefully in the direction that we’ve been going.  Even while we see that’s not helping.  In fact, proceeding as we have been is making things worse.  However, we don’t seem to know how to stop and turn ourselves around.

Why is that?

Why do some people accept that wearing masks could halt the spread of the virus and adamantly wear their masks in public?  Why do other people vehemently object to wearing a mask at all?  What is the motivating force beneath each of these stances?

These days, I am fortunate to live in an area that isn’t highly populated.  Although we are now getting tourists in the summer.  And our numbers have increased accordingly.
I get out very early and shop for groceries–when I shop early, the store aisles feel a bit more spacious and I feel calm as I shop.  This is one thing that I can do to lessen the intensity of these times.  When I shop early, I’m in better shape over the course of the day.  Returning home with my weekly groceries, as I handle each item, wipe it down or rinse it in a pan of water, I am tuning in more to the particular item.  I give it attention that I might not otherwise–a type of gratitude.  Hmmm.  Interesting.  I note this.  I could consider it a big hassle and I have…but today, no, I’m grateful.

I also notice the accumulation of plastic bags…the ones that don’t break down in a landfill, the ones that end up choking the sea creatures that we conveniently forget have a life down there in the astonishing depths.  What am I to do with these plastic bags?  Isn’t there, I wonder, an alternative to plastic!!!  How brilliant are we that we can’t come up with a solution here?  Wouldn’t our minds be put to better use in learning and practicing how to harmonize with our planet in reciprocal and beneficial ways?   Instead of strategizing war tactics or how to make it big in the stock market.  Think of the jobs that would materialize if we put our heads together to make the world a better place for all creatures great and small and including the earth.

“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one…” from a song that we all remember.  The truth is, we need to proceed wisely in a better direction or we won’t be earning our keep here.

Good Fortune

cat.

Good Fortune.  This piece began as a painting of a nautilus.  I lived with it for awhile and then, I changed it into something else.  A cat of good fortune.  I remember the figurines of Chinese porcelain cats from my own childhood.  Perhaps I’d seen them in magazines or in my Irish/German grandmother’s house in Bernal Heights in San Francisco.  Maybe I had seen them in the little trinket shops in Chinatown.  Regardless, I could use a stroke of good luck.  So I painted this cat to symbolize good fortune.

We do that, don’t we, imbue an object d’ art with symbolism.  I recently realized my tendency towards mixed media.  While I paint mostly with acrylics, I like dimension, texture and sometimes a 3D effect.  As if the subject is coming off the canvas a bit and announcing its presence.  I have some of my mother’s costume jewelry…two pieces were perfect for the eyes.

Lucky times.  Luck of the draw.
Reminding me of this Taoist story of the father and son…

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.

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Do we make our own Good Fortune, I wonder?  Is it unrealistic to consider that we are going to always experience only good fortune?  Is every event and circumstance intended for our growth?  Is any experience, whether perceived as good or bad, only for our evolution?  “Maybe?”

The Dive

A couple of years ago, I was invited by a local art gallery to preview an art exhibit, choose a painting and write a poem referencing that painting.  The painting that spoke to me was of an adolescent girl wearing a swimsuit, standing at the end of a diving board, preparing to dive.  Her body looked rigid, almost like the diving board itself.  Shoulders were raised nearly to her ears; her mouth was tense and straight.  Below is the poem I wrote.

I am not there to read this poem to you.  I’d like you to read it quietly once.  And then, read it aloud to yourself or to someone else.  Feel the poem.  Pretend that you are the diver.

The Dive
©by Christine O’Brien

Feet plugged into the
sticky resin springboard,
I note the space between me and
the crushing water below.
The form I hold.
Buddha stillness.
The grace I invoke
as I design form
gliding through space.
The breath I hold.
The breath I take
like thunder in a canyon
fills my ears.
The shadow of fear
remains at the other end
of the platform
while I stand on the edge
in focused repose.

This is not my first dive
though my raised shoulders,
clamped mouth and clenched jaw
could be interpreted as fear.
There is always that
but with prayer and practice
it quickly transforms
as there is no turning back now.
The dive grooms the diver
in this conspiracy of grace, form and space.
Originally, it was a dare from friends
that sent me up the hot aluminum ladder
on that sweaty summer day.
Now, it’s a drive from within,
not towards perfection
or for judges’ scores.
There is no competition.

It is the ecstasy of flight
that sends me to this precipice.
Neither bird nor stone falling through space,
I am a wingless angel
who rejoices in
those few seconds of airtime.
Body imprinting space
air molecules conforming, buoyant.
I visualize the flex, fold, arc,
the straightening as
I neatly incise the water with my hands,
barely a splash.
I surface a few feet away,
victorious,
a different sort of Phoenix rising.

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And then I made my own painting of another sort of dive by another sort of creature.

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She Stewards the Earth

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Do you upcycle your art?  Valuing her face, her direct look, her expression, I wanted to utilize her in a new painting.  This then became a mixed media piece.  I collaged her face, painted her dress with an earthy color and added symbols.  I did some texturing on the canvas prior to drawing and painting the buffalo.  I also used some “resist” to have the underpainting show through.

All of this to symbolize White Buffalo Calf Woman.

There are many tellings of this story.  Here is one.  (It’s one-and-a-half minutes long.)

I titled this piece “She Stewards the Earth,”
because I believe that women have a deep
connection to the earth.  That in some ways,
we are more deeply aligned with the earth
than men.  That perhaps we are an avenue of
communication between humankind and the earth.
I feel that our bodies are sensors to the disharmony
that the earth is experiencing due to our misuse.

What do you think?

Mystery

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It was strange to see this cat girl emerge.  She was painted just before the time that women were donning knitted pink cat hats.  They were called “pussyhats” and worn in the 2017 Women’s March on Washington DC.

A little recent history lesson from Google:

A pussyhat is a pink, crafted hat, created in large numbers by thousands of participants involved with the United States 2017 Women’s March. They are the result of the Pussyhat Project, a nationwide effort initiated by Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, a screenwriter and architect located in Los Angeles, to create pink hats to be worn at the march for visual impact.[1]

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As an artist, have you noticed this…not only does your art respond to the political and socio-economic climate, but sometimes it is almost predictive.  Artists, poets, writers, creative beings have a heightened sensitivity.  It’s no surprise that they can tune into something before it hits the press.  And express it through their art.

Obviously, my girl’s hat isn’t pink–but the concept of woman merging with cat, with her wild nature–and yes, she has magic–are reminders to myself.  A woman is an enigma to the male of our species.  Rather than men fearing and trying to dominate what they don’t understand, why not honor her?  Why not seek her out for wise counsel?  Why not be curious to know her more deeply?  Why not recognize that she has gifts to share (that he does not possess) and lend value to them?

That men are making most of the rules, guiding the politics of our lives, belies the fact that women comprise over 50% of the population in America!  2019 census shows 168.08 million women versus 161.48 million men!  When are women going to realize that they have more power for change than they are exercising?

There are so many things in place in our society (and world) that we know are morally wrong and socially unjust.  Women know this deeply…if they could gather their courage and unify their voices, change for the good would occur.

What is something you, as a woman alive today, are called to take a stand on?  How are you going to align yourself with what you know to be true and correct?  Is there an action you know that you need to take?  One step at a time…dare to take the first one.

 

 

 

Dream It Better

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How do you care for our earth?  As an individual, I steward a small piece of earth.  I’m grateful for this little plot of land with its variety of fruit trees planted by someone else, perhaps over fifty years ago.  They probably had no thought of me.  But they gave me a gift all these years later.

We are facing a time of global crisis.  The way that we’ve been “using” the earth isn’t sustainable.  The Native Americans believe that we have a responsibility to consider seven generations to come.  They and some others realize that the earth is on loan to us now and to be conserved for future generations.  But most of the world hasn’t held this as a value.  We’ve taken from the earth’s resources and not given in return.  We’ve used and abused our earth, our oceans, our air quality.  Now we see disruption across the planet and we wonder how can that be?  As if it came out of nowhere.  As if scientists hadn’t been warning us.

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This painting is inspired by the animals that live along the Rio Grande River, the fourth longest river in the USA.  Beside a large portion of this river, there is a “wall” being built to define a boundary between the US and Mexico.  This particular area, along the Rio Grande bordering the state of Texas, is considered to be one of those invaluable riparian habitats.  Jaguarundi, Pronghorn, Ocelot, Javelina, Mountain Lion, Fox, Birds, Beetles and Butterflies are some of the animals and insects that inhabit this area.  The “wall” would disrupt the natural navigation patterns of these animals and insects. Some of these species, like the Ocelot, are already endangered. The Rio Grande River itself is in grave danger.

I call this painting “DREAM IT BETTER.”

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We are touched by things that we hear or see.  We know that some things, as the disruption of a riparian habitat, are wrong.  We feel bad about it.  It may even arouse our passion!  Instead of stopping  at feeling bad or sad, consider, “What is an action step that I can take to make a difference?”  One step would be to do some research.  To find some legitimate organizations that are opposing such destruction.  Get informed.  Then see how what you learn can be shared with others.  Take the leap from helpless observer to active participant.  One small step towards change.

Red

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The story of Little Red Riding Hood wasn’t one of my favorites…however, it did impact me.  Early on, I rewrote the ending…the wolf was a good guy and everyone sat around together having tea in my final scene.

This painting was inspired by a class called Barn Painting, taught by Alissa Millsap in Paint Your Heart and Soul, 2017.  Entering the realm of this piece, it was painted on an 8″x8″ birch panel, I quickly decided that it wasn’t going to be a barn.  It was going to be  grandma’s cottage in the woods.  And then, in the forefront, I placed Little Red Riding Hood and her companion/friend the wolf.  I just realized that here I go again, making the wolf an ally.

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Taking a class from a fellow artist, I am presented with a formula of sorts.  This artist showed me the techniques and tools that she used to create a barn on a substrate.  I was guided through her process.  While I borrowed techniques and used the tools, I diverted and made different choices, incorporated my own style and personal perspective to create an original painting.  I was relatively new at painting faces, so this Red Riding Hood’s face is rather juvenile.  Yet, I like her and think that she works with the piece.  I love the wolf…a friendly fellow (so long as he’s well-fed).  The wolf is made whimsical and less frightening with the wisps of pastel colors in his coat.

In direct contrast, the color RED is dramatic and immediately eye-catching.  Some artists love the drama of red while others hide from it, modify it or use it sparingly if at all.  I’m learning to have a liking for a true red.  Used without apology.

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If you are familiar with the chakra energy system, you probably remember that red symbolizes the root chakra located at the base of the spine.  The root chakra can represent our origins, our quality of feeling grounded in present reality, living in connection to the earth and our core self.  We cultivate this connection by the choices we make in our lives.  Many people have a need for healing their family history–yes, root chakra taps into that.  To support this energetic healing, a person might eat red foods, wear red clothing, carry a red stone or crystal, write or make art around their family history, and if necessary, see a therapist and work on that early family bond.

When I wear red, it seems that I want to be noticed.  Red is not for wallflowers.

What’s your experience with the color red?

 

 

Everyone Needs an Ally

angel

This painting was prompted by a class in Paint Your Heart and Soul. Not initially knowing what a painting wants to express, I allow the images to show their presence.
I added the wolf and turned the figure into an angel.

What was new to me in this class was learning how to paint a lacy dress.  I couldn’t imagine how an artist could imply lace fabric.  I’m not 100% pleased and I appreciated acquiring a new art tool.  Another painting challenge for the artist is PAINTING HANDS!  I remember the painstaking effort to paint this one arm and hand.  I was pretty pleased at the time and by no means have I come close to mastering hands.  Sometimes an artist, not wanting to take the time and effort it requires to paint a hand let’s it disappear off the page, in a pocket, or hidden behind a skirt or another shielding object–a bouquet of flowers, a table or anything that fits with the painting.

This angel has an ally.  He is an ethereal wolf…part of the night, yet real to her as she is real to him.

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In 2018, I encountered a gray wolf as I was driving down the mountain from Bunny Flat.  I had visited a new friend who was camping there.  We spent a sweet time together getting to know each other.  The vista was smudged by smoke from surrounding fires.  At this higher elevation, the air was breathable.  At one point she offered to lead me through a qigong set.  I agreed.  For the next twenty minutes, we moved our bodies in harmony with the nature around us.  A magical time.

I left her well before the sun set.  As I was rounding a curve in the road, I spied a large animal not very far ahead.  He seemed to be in no great hurry.  I slowed the car.  As happens, my brain tried to comprehend what this creature was.  Bear, no.  Dog, no.  What’s that in his mouth?  Finally, as I drew closer, my mind settled on a gray wolf with another rather large animal in his mouth!  He slipped down the side of a slight slope.  I pulled my car into the space beside the road.  I got out of the car, no fear only wonder.  I watched as he slowly meandered off into the shrubbery and trees.

The sense of wonder I felt stayed with me for a long time.  A visitation from a rare animal has meaning for me.  In the Native American Tradition, wolf is a teacher.  From Jamie Sams book, Medicine Cards:  “Wolf is the pathfinder, the forerunner of new ideas who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine.”

When I returned home, I googled the Gray Wolf.  I remembered reading that the Gray Wolf had crossed the border into northern California a couple of years before.  They were being tracked and protected by a team of rangers.  Their exact whereabouts were kept a secret so as to avoid hunters.  Then the team lost track of the sly wolves.   How fortunate I was to see one of these amazing beings that memorable day.

The Koala

koala61

What inspires you to paint an animal?  Especially one who isn’t native to your place on the planet?  Where does that inspiration come from?

Regarding this painting, the image of the Koala arose from creating a background first.  This painting was definitely intuitive.  I believe that when we are tuned in, things show themselves to us or want to be seen by us.  That is what I would say about this Koala Bear.  He literally showed himself to me, arising from the background and wanting to be seen and painted.

As an artist, it is my responsibility to respond to what is asked of me.  Yes, in this case, to paint a Koala Bear.  In one sense then, this little koala bear image floating out in the larger world beyond my art studio becomes an ambassador for all Koala Bears.  Whoever happens upon this painting is reminded that we share the planet with many other amazing creatures.

If I were to paint this again, with what I’ve learned since, I’d define the image of the Koala Bear by employing light and dark values.  This would give emphasis where it is needed.  I’d also probably paint over some of the background.

Regardless, I like imagining him in his Australian forest, likely in a Gum Tree.  As seems to be the case with many of our planet’s precious animals, the Koala Bear is considered to be vulnerable to extinction.  This is supposed to be one step above endangered.  Yikes!  The threats to their survival comes from habitat destruction, bushfires, dog attacks and accidents on the road.

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I wonder how many animals have to go extinct in our lifetime before we change our ways of harvesting and using resources.  When do we begin to value, through our actions, all of our relations and the earth herself?

A Friend Was Dying

I continue to post paintings from the year 2016 on this blog and recall the inspiration behind them.  It was a prolific year for me.  I painted almost daily.  And when I couldn’t, I felt antsy and frustrated.  Picking up that brush and moving paint around often felt like the most grounded and satisfying part of my day.

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There was an early winter blizzard–a storm that blocked impasse.  The highway north was closed.  My friend was in hospice care thirty miles north of where I live.  There was no chance of me getting there to sit with her.  Thus, this cow…this pink cow!  I have no idea where this came from or what it actually symbolizes.  I only know that this is exactly what I was supposed to paint in the moment.

 

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Making art engages you.  It takes you on a parallel journey to whatever else is going on in your life.  Surrender is a large part of the creative process.  Through surrender, you discover something beyond what you already know about yourself and
the creative process.

Inherent in the surrender is a leap of faith.  Faith that what you are painting is serving some purpose beyond what you realize.  Yes, it is a distraction or a diversion from whatever else is going on in your life.  And, it also helps to integrate a difficult feeling.  It can offer a degree of acceptance in a circumstance where we feel helpless.  Calling on creativity in these moments heals something within.  There is a sense that this is exactly what you’re supposed to be doing in this particular moment in time.

My friend passed away later that day.  Whenever I see this painting, I am reminded of her Goddess presence.

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What purpose has art and creativity in all of its forms served for you?  The old biblical saying “Don’t hide your light under a bushel” comes to mind…we each have a gift to be shared.  In the times of sheltering at home, it seems to take an added effort to discover ways to share your light…but then, you are creative beyond measure and I’m guessing you’re going to come up with some way to let your light be seen.