Mastery of Illusion

Art is that, the mastery of illusion.  You’ve created a world on a canvas.  Can you get your audience to believe it?

When I look at my paintings, I realize that this is exactly what I’m doing.  I inhabit the canvas for awhile creating a story.  Whether it’s from an actual photo or my imagination is irrelevant.  In any painting that is being viewed, there is a sense of being transported.  If you love where you go, if you have the purchasing power, if you deeply desire recreating this experience and the concurrent feeling again and again, you buy the painting and place it in your home or office where you can see it regularly and renew the feeling that you enjoy and the illusion that it implies.

In any painting, there are things that are left to the imagination.  For example, I could paint a landscape and the viewer automatically extends the landscape beyond the canvas and sees more.  If I decide to only draw or paint a portion of the human face, the viewer completes the face in their mind’s eye.  When there is an imperfection, the human eye makes the correction in some way.  It’s interesting to witness myself doing this and to consider that you, the viewer, also do this.

lost in the woods.final

The title of this painting is Lost in the Woods.  The story is based in fact of a time when I was literally lost in the woods on the mountain.  It’s also about the ways we get lost in our own inner worlds at times, in our thoughts, in our fears, in our own self-doubt.  I created this illusion on a small substrate, a wood panel.  Your imagination takes over when you see this piece and you add to the illusion or story that I’ve initiated.  Can you find the three figures as she makes her way through the woods?

Fascinating that we embellish what we see, don’t you think?  In your own life, in what other illusions are you participating?

Adventure of Another Sort

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Making art is available to anyone!  The only vehicle you need is your imagination and a bit of daring.  I’ve said it before and it bears repeating, we are all artists.  We are all writers with a story (or more) to tell.  We are all poets because we each have a voice.  We each have an imagination.  We can engage fantasy worlds if we allow it.  And, there is value in this.

I had a special friend, now gone, with whom I could engage a sort of time travel–imagining places we’d never been, people we hadn’t met, odd creatures, other times, alternate realities, outer space, the vast universes.  We had enlivened conversations.  We wrote poetry together.  He always rhymed–it got annoying at times.  I asked him if he could try not rhyming.  I don’t think that he could.

It is true that writing, poetry and making art, whether it be painting or crafting or knitting or sculpting…these provide the means and opportunity to access deeper ways of being and seeing.  When we take the time.  When we make the time.  We give ourselves excuses that we aren’t an artist or poet or writer.  I beg to differ.  It is perhaps that we don’t dare ourselves to explore these aspects of ourselves.  Some of us have more time on our hands these days, forced as it is.  One young man has decided to systematically learn to read and write Japanese during this pandemic!  What challenge could you give yourself?  Something that you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t had the time to explore.

And it is an exploration.  And it is an adventure.  It involves discovery of the inner landscape.  The one where we don’t dare go…might we not return?  There truly are universes within.  We are a reflection of the macrocosm, our little inner microcosmic world that we often overlook because we’re outward oriented.  Which is good–actually a balance between both is better.  These days, with the virus dictating our movement in the world, what an opportune time to take this journey.

Who is in there after all is said and done?  Who wants to be seen and heard, primarily by yourself?  Do you give yourself this time and space?  Are you going to make it happen?  Get a journal, write, draw, splash color, cut and paste.  Express what’s been untapped on the blank page or canvas.  It’s a good thing.  You might discover–yourself.  Begin.

His Book of Questions

“And what is the name of the month
that falls between December and January?

By what authority did they number
the twelve grapes of the cluster?

Why didn’t they give us longer
months that last all year?

Did spring never deceive you”
with kisses that didn’t blossom?”

Pablo Neruda

Neruda has his book of questions.  Each question could be a meditation.  And each one of us, taking the time, could write our own book of questions.  Once written, perhaps we  then could open to the answers that swirl around us in the ethers.  Ready to be snatched from space and turned over and around–examined in a state of awe at some wisdom that usually lies outside of our usual perceptions.  Until we take the time to tune in.

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While a child, asking questions wasn’t allowed.  The land of childhood was ruled by a tyrant, a dictator, my father.  In his land of authority, questions weren’t supposed to be thought let alone voiced!  That said, every child has questions.  They are born into a world that they are yet to discover.  Under such circumstances, questions, when we learn to talk, are a natural response to being alive.  They are the avenue of discovery of what the heck we’re doing here.  To have that normal curiosity curtailed, inhibited or prohibited is a sin.

Today, in the midst of a pandemic, we have questions…and yes, we question our elected authority figures, the scientists and researchers and our religious or spiritual teachers.  We turn to one another inquiring into “what’s going on here?”  And we are hard pressed to get direct and truthful answers.  The frustration that we feel in the face of a pandemic is exacerbated by a media that contradicts itself.  Sometimes the lack of wise leadership compounds the challenges that we are facing personally as a result of the pandemic.

All of this uncertainty doesn’t prevent us from asking the questions that surface for each one of us.  Get your journal and write the questions that weigh on your mind at this time.  They are important.  They are relevant.  While they are your individual questions, chances are that they are the questions from your subconscious and/or the greater unconscious.  I trust the questioning process.  Choose one question and don’t force an answer.  Linger with the question for a day or the week.  When answers come to you, write them in your journal beneath the question.  And answers are going to come.  This process has been very helpful when I crafted creative writing workshops.

The invitation to lean into your questions is placed on the table.  It is an activating process.

Question

 

 

Musings on What is Hard to Comprehend

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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?”

Walk

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A friend loaned me a book, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk:  The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery.

In 1955, sixty-seven year old Emma Gatewood told her family that she was going for a walk.  Little did they know.  Having read an article about the Appalachian Trail in National Geographic a few years before, Emma determined that this was something she wanted to do, had to do.  One spring day, she donned her tennis shoes, hefted a bag that could carry up to 25 pounds of supplies and set off with a big dose of determination.  She tried to accomplish this under the radar of the media.  Within a month, she was discovered and the media met her at different little towns along the trail to check her progress.  After completing the walk, she appeared on the Groucho Marx show.  So noted in the clip below.

Do you wonder what makes someone want to walk the Appalachian Trail, climb a mountain peak, swim the English Channel or go to the moon?  I’m guessing that anyone who attempts these sorts of challenges, might not even know exactly what the deep prompt was/is.  Emma Gatewood was compelled to walk the Appalachian Trail.  She wasn’t outfitted with the latest hiking gear and modern technology (i.e. no cell phone).  She wouldn’t be deterred even when she sprained her knee, when the trail became steep and rocky, when the weather was harsh or when people along the way weren’t hospitable.  She persisted.

In the context of Emma’s journey, the author noted Thoreau’s premonition that a time would come when people would walk less.  And so it is.  With the invention and widespread ownership of automobiles, people walk less, to our detriment.

 

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The pandemic has brought many things to a halt.  In most places, we can get out and walk…yes, socially distant, wearing a mask when approaching others and respectful.
I hope that you have a love of walking as I do.  It is one thing that I can do to maintain balance over these uncertain times.  Rumi has a good suggestion:

“Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings…”

Stay safe and healthy.

Forget Perfection

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”
― Salvador Dali

 

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This face is hiding amidst my journal pages–a practice piece.  She looks worried…or sad…her eyes a bit glossy.  Has she been crying?  This is not a perfectly drawn or crafted portrait.  With that, she conveys something, doesn’t she?

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Several years ago, one of my younger sisters held her wedding in Lake Tahoe.  As many of the eight siblings as could get there, gathered with the newlyweds to celebrate.  When she and her new husband were leaving the celebratory party we had staged, as they were getting into the elevator, her new husband made a comment about my sister not being perfect.  His comment came across as derogatory.  I looked at him and I said, “She’s the perfect Robin (her name).”  Isn’t that what any one of us can aspire to be…the perfect you or me?  Or him or her?

How does one even establish a standard for PERFECTION?  It seems that we need to measure it against something that’s been confirmed–(the highest score) or someone else (a society’s idea of beauty)?  So to describe perfection, we make a comparison.  In science, that might work.  But in a world of variety, diversity, melange–in the sheer array of humans on the planet, how can one even begin to establish a standard of perfection?  If we consider that perfection is overrated or invalid, what can we strive for?

Ah, to be you and me, each in his/her own wholeness, what greater thing to design for yourself!

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When making art, there is the artist, the substrate, the paint, the brush and what begs to be expressed through the artist.  Art is one avenue to express the emotions that want to run away with you.  And there are so many deeply felt emotions during these days of pandemic.  An artist is able to transmute a deeply felt emotion into a creative action through making art.  The chemical response in your body as you make art is felt.  Try it, don’t take my word for it!  And please do forget perfection.

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
― Leonard Cohen

Collage 2

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What I like about collage is that while there is an element of play, there is also a sense of a hidden meaning.  The subconscious is directing the show from its off-stage balcony.  You could look at this piece and see it as pure abstract.  Or a compilation of scraps of paper with a bit of integration through the central figure.  But it doesn’t really matter how anyone else sees this.  The artist is taking disparate parts and making them work together.  In that way, she’s also reassembling things in her psyche that she didn’t seem to know how to sort.  Collage is similar to dream work.  The work of dreams, in my humble opinion, is to help integrate complex elements that you can’t work out with the conscious mind.

You don’t even have to consider yourself an artist to do collage!  Anyone of any age at any time can create a collage.

Here’s how you go about it.

  • Gather papers.  Magazines.  Some of your writing.  Anything that speaks to you that can be glued on a substrate.  Tear or cut images or words that appeal to you in the moment.  I like to tear a paper as I prefer  the uneven edge.
  • Choose your substrate.  Heavy cardboard, cereal box panel, canvas, mixed media paper, watercolor paper (140# weight), whatever you have.
  • Matte medium is a good paste.  Or YES brand of paste.  Or Mod Podge if there is nothing else.
  • Brushes that you don’t care about.
  • Water to clean the brushes.
  • A paper towel.
  • Paints, I prefer acrylics…but gouache works or oil pastels.  I like Caran D’Ache Neocolor II water soluble wax pastels.

Give yourself time apart.  Put on some music if you like.  Arrange the torn or cut papers on your substrate in a way that is pleasing to you.  Take a picture with your camera.  Remove the papers and then glue them on the substrate according to your photo.  Splash or brush on color as you are inclined to (or not).  Let yourself get lost in the process.  Don’t hurry it.  Don’t let anyone or anything infringe upon this time and space.  Getting lost in this process is part of the benefits of this collage journey into yourself.  Don’t be afraid of it, surrender to it.  Let it take you deep and deeper into the unknown.  It is like walking into one of your dreams, only it’s a waking dream.  Trust yourself to go there.  Trust that you’re going to return.

What Lies Beyond the Garden Gate?

butterflyfairyqueen.2018

This dear red-haired fairy with a wise and perhaps mischievous look is ready to lead you beyond the garden gate.  She has something interesting to share with you.  Are you ready to follow her?  This painting is currently on exhibit in an art show.  I love this painting and don’t intend to sell it.  There are some things that I don’t want to part with yet.

Being that my art is mostly intuitive, I consider the possibility that there is a message for me within a painting.  And perhaps it wants to be shared with others.  “What Lies Beyond the Garden Gate?” could be a metaphor for us today.  What lies beyond what is familiar?  It takes courage to lean into that question.  And it takes courage to be with the not knowing.

I had a friend who went on a vision quest to East India.  He encountered block after block in his travels.  Exhausted and disheartened, he landed in a small household with an elder man and his wife.  He told the elder man of the travails on his journey.  Feeling frustration and disappointment,  he finally surrendered and said “I just don’t know how to proceed.”  The elder man smiled and said, “Ah, master Edward, you’ve reached the end of knowing.  Now you can discover something else.”  I’ve always appreciated this story.

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As a writer, poet, artist, it’s fun to engage the imagination and let a story unfold from my art.  Today, looking at this painting, I ask myself “What is the story that goes with this painting?”

Following is an excerpt from some writing I did to begin to create her story.

I followed her.  It seemed as if her feet barely touched the ground.  I lumbered along behind her, feeling a bit clumsy.  My little garden gave way to a meadow of waving wildflowers, yellows and purples puddled like splashes of paint on an expansive canvas.  I’d always felt that earth was a constant paradise.  Now, I knew it.

I caught my breath, a sudden crack in my demeanor,
“I can’t be gone long,” I said aloud.  “I’ll be missed.”

I thought to myself “probably not for weeks though.”  Living alone, an artist living alone, leads a somewhat solitary life.  I just wanted to reassure myself, to assert myself to her that I had connections.  So I definitely needed to be returned to where we started from before too long.

Then, curiosity overtook me and I followed quietly losing any sense of time.  My senses were heightened.  Sight was crystal clear.  In fact, my glasses seemed an unnecessary annoyance.  I took them off and slipped them in the pocket of my shirt.

She had wings. Did I mention that?  And red hair, not ordinary red hair, electric red hair!  And she wore a hat like nothing I’d ever seen walking down the streets of Brisbane, California.  It was sort of conical or maybe like an Egyptian headpiece.  It suited her.  I called out before I could stop myself.

“Who are you?”

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Story-writing is fun.  You don’t sit down with an outline (or at least I don’t).  You are guided by your imagination, whimsy, flow of creative thought, perhaps, in this case–the fairy realm.

If you want to take your art to another level, study your painting and let it inform you as you give it voice.

Why not?  Have fun.  Then share it with someone you trust or someone you think would appreciate it…or perhaps really needs this story at this time.

Infinity (and beyond)

stitchingtheworld

A few years ago, I took an online course on the Hindu Wisdom Goddesses.  One of these Goddesses, Bhuvaneshwari by name, creates worlds.  And worlds within worlds.  An infinity of worlds.  Perhaps she stitches or weaves them.  As in this painting.  And then, maybe she flings them off into the vast universe(s).  What are they going to become?

I like the image of this…that some great Goddess is out there constantly creating worlds.  It’s as if she’s stretching her wild imagination to engage yet another possibility.  Isn’t that what we’re being called to do now.  In this time of Covid Virus, social unrest, political upheaval, planetary degradation–how can we recreate the world?  How can we recreate ourselves in this current world?  We have an opportunity.  When there is chaos, there is expanded possibility.

I was listening to a speaker yesterday…his name is Bayo Akomolafe.  Bayo is a wise thinker and activist for our times.  I liked this line, this idea, his suggestion:

“Let’s stay with the trouble of our becoming.  Let’s see what that does to us.”

I appreciate this thought because I notice how I, we, anyone wants things to return to “normal.”  To settle down and actually go backwards into what was, but no longer is.
To find an escape of some sort so we don’t have to deal with what is happening right now.  However, if we can stay with the trouble of our becoming, perhaps there is hope for something beyond that, some growth spurt of oneself and then the exponential factor can come into play–the growth spurt of many.  I hope so.

Following is a five-minute video clip of Bayo Akomolafe speaking on the “cultural myth that sets up man as central to the universe…”  I appreciate his way of perceiving and thinking outside of the boxes that we’ve accepted as the way it is.  I like to stretch my mind to think more broadly and to be more inclusive.

I hope that you take time to listen to this and let me hear what you think.