Author Archives: marynees

to strike, then to speak

The journey of Moses leading the Hebrews out of slavery and into the land has informed some recent visual work. There’s a curious episode with water coming out of a rock that strangely happens twice: once at the beginning of their sojourn and then again right before they enter the land promised them. Both times the people are thirsty and near riotous. Both times God gives Moses instruction. Both times Moses needs to take action. But the action the first time is to strike the rock and the second time Moses is only to speak to it. It’s a fascinating repeat with an important distinction.

Patterns and parallels catch attention. When something repeats, be it sound or sight, there’s a resonance of some sort. There’s potential being built. We’re hardwired, I think, to be alerted when there’s a repeat. Curiosity gets engaged—something intentional seems to be happening. When a strange chirp repeats I know it’s more than random, so I go looking for it. When the 2nd plane hit the towers, there was universal recognition that we were no longer dealing with accident. I watched that 2nd plane hit, and was startled at how instantly that repeat was a game changer of terrifying consequence. Everyone who saw that knew instinctively.

I was in a workshop this past week with an artist who’s done a lot of reading about how our brains perceive and then recognize. He posited that we’re all visual learners; we all take in data and start making connections. But it’s in the investigating where real learning gets sealed in our memory. And that takes some time and consideration.

So back to Moses, why was he tasked to strike the first time but only speak the second? For me this parallel of two rock stories is really pregnant, there’s more here. Moses had learned about striking. And by the end of the long wilderness journey he was oh-so ready to strike again. Why twice this rock thing then at these completely different times/locations? There’s nothing particularly distinguishable about the rocks in either episode. What is God teaching here in the narrative? It’s not random. There’s much that is not explained in the text, but some particulars are very clear. Needed water came out of rock both times and the people were sated. God gave words, both times. But Moses failed miserably at the 2nd rock because he applied an old instruction to the parallel. At the repeat episode, he was only to speak to the rock. Most find this biblical episode harsh, as if we gift-receivers have any high ground for critiquing the gift-giver. But God poured out that gift of water—both times, in spite of Moses’ fail. I am wondering if the parallel isn’t more deeply meaningful than our memories can yet gather in.

Moses personally addresses God later as “The Rock!” and he does so with overflowing praise at God’s perfection in all His ways. Moses had learned these ways of God, even through severe disappointment. I am not a good listener, so this story stills me. I am an activist who gets angry easily, therefore my empathy for Moses is pretty deep. But deeper still is the provision from the water giver, unseen but present within each of these common rocks. The first time the rock was to be struck. The second time: only spoken to.

 

what mercy requires

A recent show opening this past week (well attended by students, artists and appreciators) was a kaleidoscope of ideas and emotion. The Fl3tch3r Exhibit’s aim is to further social and politically engaged art. The juror, Canadian Anita Kunz, is an internationally published illustrator who selected from over 350 entries coming in from around the world. Because of space restrictions, she eventually had to limit down to a 20% submission ratio. The show is strong. The ideas varied and electrically charged. And, I admit that with some tenderness, even as my own piece was among those passed over. Rejection stings. But good work, well curated, lifts even those who are observing from the reject pool.

Openings are not a good time to really let the whole sink in deeply, so I went back today to consider more. There were the usual political diatribes against prominent public personalities. There were powerful aesthetic statements against guns and drugs and racial violence. Some of that work was remarkably masterful. But then, I noticed a diminutive collage, chosen as a favorite by the museum staff, “Art to Stop Traffic: What Mercy Requires of Us”. The piece is only 5”x 3.5”. This submission is a poignant contrast, rendered from found images, paper, pen and pencil. The value and color contrast is immediately obvious, but peering closer one sees the uncomfortable juxtaposition of plastic expressions, skin color, garish lighting, things hidden and things exposed.

This very idea of things hidden and finally exposed is something I’ve been placing my heart on recently, and so I was gripped again.

Jesus is the one who called this out as a promise to His followers: “for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed”. Such a paradox this: that the ultimate mercy giver is also going to be the final adjudicator. The harshest words He had to say when walking our ground were to the religiously complacent (visualized in this collage). And the most lavish praise he gave was to a woman, not unlike the one pictured in this fragile piece, who wept at His feet. I am moved by this. And I am heartened that the museum staff would even notice a less prominent submission for this very grandest of ideas.

collage by Lucy Julia Hale, Cave Spring, GA

 

 

 

Hot. . .or cold

Maybe it’s my age. But maybe it’s the age we’re all in. For, I am sensing the rumblings of a cosmic shift. I’ll let the culture watchers detail it for you, but if your ear is to the ground, then you’ve already felt it. Here’s my summary: The real are getting real-er, and the fake are showing themselves. And here’s the best news: if you know the Creator, then you don’t need to fear (He said so). I feel like Caleb, who after 40 years of wandering finally was being allowed to see it. I listened to a young Swiss millennial at a gathering; rather than saying “amen!” shouted exuberantly “C’Mon!” Many were right there with him. This past summer in So.East Asia, we witnessed the next generation plan and lead the genesis of a movement that will influence nations. Here’s just a glimpse.

This past week, while the news was telling you of a truck bomb in Somalia and another Priest murdered in Egypt, I saw brothers arm in arm who are turning Africa inside out. You wont hear about this on the news. Politicians and religion-extremists cannot ignite something so holy, and they cannot stop it either. C’mon!

I was going to write about beauty this week, for it often captivates me, illustrating, hinting how more is coming. These bits are better. Eugene Peterson said it this way: “Wonder can’t be packaged, and it can’t be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagement.” You wont want to be sitting on the fence any longer. You’re either all in, or. . .

deception (Lord, I feel it)

It was time to paint the walls of my husband’s office. And knowing that the color I had hand-adjusted for our other rooms was a winner, and that we still had a good amount left in the 5 gal. container, we set out to use it. Whew, it did not work in there! He has one window in that small room, and the lighting is completely different. My wonderful color looked dark and morose in a different placement. So, back to Lowes we went. Color is a fickle thing. It is entirely dependent on context.

The mid 20th century Bauhaus instructor Joseph Albers was a master at helping his art students understand this. Using color chips and simple exercises, like “make five colors into six”, they learned the relativity of color. “In order to use color effectively, it is necessary to recognize that color deceives continually”, Albers said. Here is one exercise exampled. The brown squares are the same exact hue, but the reading of each is influenced by its surrounding colors. A dark context makes the center color lighter, a cool context makes the center color warmer and vice versa.

This relativity, this prone-ness to deception, is of interest in the time we’re in as a culture. Have you been in conversations with those who see things entirely differently than you do? It’s remarkable to me how a news story is interpreted so conversely by two folks with some of the same information. Context will determine whether the ‘facts’ being presented are orange or dark brown. I say, examine closely. Look at the context. Do some experimenting. Ask questions. You can stand and insist that orange is orange, but you could be easily wrong. Be sure about what is sure, and aware of what simply morphs. Be a humble sounding board, willing to test and to explore the assumptions being bantered and felt as ‘true’.

Deception is in the air. It’s good to do some work on this. Go back to the elementals. Albers’ students learned well because they were forced to wrestle with it. What is ‘color’ (changeable) and what is ‘fact’ (stable). What is surface charm and what is structure? What is emotion, and what is reliable here? What stands the tests of time, and what is a passing dew on the grass?

 

signs and blindness

Yesterday an artist friend and I viewed an exhibit at Penland having to do with human perception. The artist/printmaker’s aim was to “dislodge humankind’s assumption of its centrality.” Her work was inventive, but left me empty. For, if we artfully (and alertly) remove humankind from the throne of mastery, what is being offered as a guiding replacement? Is that not a concern? I see, and I sense the implications; and I need more.

Most artists would recoil at my desire for a follow up plan. They would say they want to ask the questions, not provide any next steps. I counter, such posing is soberly irresponsible in an era of increasing trauma. The signs are all around us with record breaking hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, famines, and mounting armies. Artists are pretty good at noting some signs of the times, but have a poor track record at managing the seismic shifts. We need more than what artists (or politicians, or academicians) are laying out. So much is dying.

Christian philosopher Norman Wirzba observes that in Modernity, we rendered ourselves the Masters. The resultant cultural mind-set assumes that whatever sense there is in the world needs to come from us, and us alone (for God was dethroned long ago). That explains the dogged insistence that ‘we can still figure this out’, that ‘we can fix it all’; even while post-moderns are at least admitting that we have lost control. Few are looking at much beyond the walls of their own perception.

Blindness has been a human problem since long before Modernity. And Jesus had much to say about it. He knew the people around him (with working eyes, ears and brains) had a perception problem. He loved them anyway. He artfully spoke and performed signs right in front of all in a way that revealed who was actually perceiving. In fact, He said that the signs given by Him then, and in the future that He predicted, would not be grasped by the willfully blind. And even better than a prophet with perfect accuracy, better than any artist with probing questions, Jesus offered the next steps for the only sure way through the chaos. He’s Creator after all; and chaos was, in the beginning, just a working canvas.

artwork: Susan Goethel Campbell, detail of Ground No.5, 2017, Inverted, dried earth, dead grass

Go Forth (again)

I was awakened one evening long ago. My young friend wanted to talk about Abraham, her Patriarch. I listened out of respect, surprised by her wonder, startled actually by her belief. This was a fairy tale to me. But she held onto it as if it were true. We took many simple steps that night, one foot in front of another, hiking around a lake, high in the Colorado mountains. I was quiet mostly while she spoke. But that night, something ignited in me because of the words she exclaimed about one man, long ago, who simply decided to trust what God had told him. “How could that be?!” I wondered.

“Go forth, Abraham” is a piece I finished in 2012. It is an emotive response from 40 plus years of steps since that conversation, in which I have been reminded so very often of Abraham’s complex example.

I don’t think it is a very pretty piece, and therefore, to me, all the more true.

Abram, (renamed Abraham by God), was a real man, a very unique man. He listened. His radar was tuned for wherever there was God-frequency. And when he heard what God said, Abraham took it seriously and he stepped it out. If you read of his life in Genesis chapters 12-25 you can actually follow the learning curve of this man’s developing confidence in the God he was aiming to follow and learning to love. Though a Mesopotamian ancient, culturally distant from us, the human-ness of Abraham’s growing trust comes through. It was a real-time process that took decades. And God did real time revealings and interventions into Abraham’s process. The key throughout is this commendation in the narrative: “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him therefore as righteousness.” Abraham himself was not righteous, as his history only displays. But God made a call, based on Abraham’s distinguishing characteristic: Abraham simply believed what God said. This is big. It was Abraham’s believing that accomplished an imputation of righteousness. This believing Him is a big deal with God; it can be defining for us.

Abraham lived according to the promises given him. These promises came in clear when they came, but they did not come often. And so there had to have been so many steps where Abraham was just putting one foot in front of the other, trusting, trying to remember what he had heard, relying on the character of the promise giver. That is what I was thinking about when I made this piece. This is a linear picture of all the heavy steps being made in desert sand, as Abraham moved out trusting. This piece looks at his whole journey. High in the stratosphere are markings: recordings of the words that rumble in his memory and bring light to his heavy soul. There are shining bits that come on the ground: the epiphanies he would tell us of if we could hear his whole story at the end. But a lot of the steps for Abraham as he lived them out, I expect felt dry and hard and shifting under his feet. Each step was consequential though. And there is this dark hovering cloud overhead. It is not one that brings rain, but one that brings only darkness and static. Discouragement is hovering not far away.

You will be hard pressed to find a better example of a mortal who risked it all to believe the One he heard speaking. It was not a pretty thing, but it was true. And it ended up being amazing.

I am highlighting this piece again for it was selected to be part of a traveling show called “Scribes of Hope II” which has made the rounds in the past several years. An artist whose work I have admired, Timothy Botts, was the juror for this collection, which can be viewed this Fall at Prince of Peace Lutheran in Portage, MI. My piece is cold wax with metal filings embedded, using also sumi ink and gold leaf; it is on a panel 19×15”

Syrian Refugee

I plotted this sketch onto a full sheet of Arches oil paper, conscious that getting the value structure right was going to be pretty critical before color choices. Also, since my skills are not in the arena of literal portrayals, I needed a visual roadmap of sorts. I usually don’t do figures, but this one was persistent for attention.

I found this idea watching a video made by a humanitarian organization I trust. The story line clipped past this dark scene for just a matter of seconds. I stopped the video and went back a number of times looking at the dramatic contrast of a baby being celebrated in a dark place, even lifted up unknowingly in front of the English word “hate” scrawled against the wall. There is much here that speaks, and much that remains achingly silent.

I live removed from scenes like this. I expect my readers and viewers do too. But the crisis of peoples moving, of governments gassing, of politicians vacillating or only capitalizing, of bombs dropping, of hands wringing, of minds numbing makes me near numb. But I can’t go numb, for these are desperate, present tense realities.

My hope is that in the venues where this might be seen that people may be moved to awaken, to care just a little, to not be able to forget.

It seems to me that this lifting of a child is an act of faith. The man, though low is stepping up. The bystander notices. The glaring artificial light is not what is illuminating the heart. The folks in the back mumble and miss it. There are questions that are unanswered here too. How will they be sheltered? Where is home? Where is the Mother? What makes someone bother to care in a place like this? The brokenness is not all there is here.The brokenness is not where the real story lies. And hate is not going to win.

Selah (again)

A good portion of my work is an intuitive response, rapidly laid down. This does not mean that the result seen on paper was altogether quick, though if you had watched this piece and others being birthed you might think so. What is visible is an end product of a long term simmering from my mind, spirit and body. The thoughts that collide toward and then into a particular working session, the prayers that have been raised and linger as I craft, and the arms and legs that labor this forward are mine.

But I live influenced and challenged in time by much around me; and that can be seen here too. Of particular note is an apprehension regarding the mystery of beauty. Apprehension is a carefully selected word, I’ve found. For beauty is hard to grasp, and it is so much bigger than my very best catches. Sometimes it even involves some awe, like being at the edge of a chasm. Add to this: mourning over so much that is broken, while still aiming to step forward. And finally, every piece I make comes out from a long term feeding in the words of Scripture that continually ground, re-set and then lift me.
The word “Selah” for example is used often in the emotive expressions found in the book of the Hebrew Psalms. The word seems by its usage to be a deliberate stop for pondering. “Pause and think of that!” is how the Amplified version translates “Selah.” It is a call therefore from the penitent to other listeners. We stand together on ground that is broken, but some of us are looking up and leaning forward, yearning for His appearing.

I’ve been in Colorado this past week: looking up, peering over chasms, stepping forward and strategizing with others who care about getting most important things broadcast in most effective ways. In spare moments, I’ve also been updating some data on this site towards my book launch. In that process, I’ve seen some older posts, sort of buried here where the images need updating. Work in Progress. This post above was written in 2013, and I decided to re-post it now as the ideas are still so current.

This piece, “Selah” was made in 2008, was juried into a show for the monotype guild of New England’s 3rd National Exhibition in 2013, where it hung for a time at the Barrington Center for the Arts at Gordon College in Wenham, MA.

to craft

A recent article explored the question “Why does craft matter in a digital age” The insights there are worth a look. Here are some snipets from artists trying to explain: Craft is “a way of thinking”, “beyond the cerebral… and through our hands”, “it slows everything down”,  “it’s close to the body”.  Japanese glass artist, Yoshiaki Kojiro: “Craft is an event that starts with a physical sense of relationship between materials and people.”

All this and more fascinates me for the Creation account in Genesis 2 has God Himself getting his hands into the dirt, in time, on the ground to make things. Then we are tasked, after His exampling, to make things. It’s in the making that seeing is enhanced. It’s in the time taken and slowed down where relationships are better understood. It’s work, but strangely hope-filled.

Yet conversely, in what we call ‘real life’ we talk of “sound bites” and “visual grabs”, about “fake news” and “photo-shopped reality”. All the while we’re racing past what is real, missing the bigger things worth considering that will last all this.

I have been crafting. I’m working on a large oil on paper piece for a show. If I can get it where I want it, I’ll show it here first, maybe in the next post. I also have been crafting a small book. I pressed “approve” this morning, and soon this webpage will offer it for your consideration. The reason for the writing (and it’s taken 6 long years) is because the One who got His own hands into the dirt moved me to take the materials within my grasp of understanding and see if I could make something of it.

 

 

 

value

One of the best reasons for standing back from work is being able to see the whole forest for the trees, that is: the strengths of the groupings of the lights and darks in the composition as a whole. Having been bent over the details, and being the one holding the tools, it’s too easy to get compulsive about the minutia. As mini-creators, we/I think I’m in charge too easily. I need to back up, take a breath, blink several times and then look again. And time makes a difference here too, kind of like cleansing the palate, or clearing the slate from a mind-frame that just isn’t seeing it well at all.

This little sumi ink drawing was done 15 years ago. I gave it to my Mom and just got it back. It was a view out her then window. She’s gone now. This is just a material thing, but it holds memory for me from some sweet times with and for her.

I remember that when I made this, I was a little disappointed for the real view was so much better than this! I have two of these. One looked out a west window and this one looked east. This one is much stronger than the other for it’s value arrangement. But I couldn’t see that then.

I am working now on a larger drawing that will become a painting. I am mapping out the value arrangements ahead of time, aiming to keep this in mind:

  1. That my impetus is unique.
  2. That my vision however can get so easily clouded, and
  3. It’s only time that will show the real value

 

distance for the seeing

Most all of us, living housed in our bodies, have functioning eyes. I love my eyes, and thank God for them; for with them I notice expression that tells me so much more than words. With them I can work with my hands at all kinds of things. With them I can apprehend beauty. And then with them I can lower my lids and signal the whole of my body to rest.

When my eyes are open again however, I can’t see everything. It’s just a fact, obvious and potentially valuable to consider for humility’s sake. And often my line of sight is fogged by pre-conceived ideas behind these pretty brown orbs. These eyes are just doors of perception, there’s a whole lot more involved in seeing well. My mind can get in the way, blocking lots of things I could otherwise see. Jesus said “he who has eyes, let him see.” Let him get engaged. Let him focus deliberately. Let him at least admit that he could be way off too.

There seems to be need for some involvement of my will for the better seeing. It’s so interesting. And that’s why artists have come up with all kinds of tricks to aid their seeing. It seems weird, but even just taking a photo of what you’re looking at gives you a crisper understanding (the flatness? the better angle? the cropping?) than the whole of what’s in front of you. Sometimes it is looking at what you’re working on in a mirror. The reversal jogs you away from the familiar and helps you see what’s sticking out that needs to be adjusted. And then there is always getting some distance. Glass artist Dale Chihuli said “once I stepped back I liked the view”. All artists know this, and it’s good practice for everyone wanting to see. It’s a skill to be deliberately attentive.

And so I was intrigued when I noticed the reason God gives the tribes of Israel regarding the ark of the covenant. When they saw it being carried across the Jordon, they were not to come near. Joshua records the instruction from the Lord, “that you may know the way by which you shall go.”

Being close hinders the attentive and informed view. Standing back gives one alot more information. And, we have to be told this, otherwise we crowd around like myopic groupies. God gives instruction here as to how to see: stand back, watch where it’s going, take it in, think for yourself. Observe as a learner, not as a master. This is important.