Category Archives: beauty

journey; beginning to end

The theme keeps repeating and it’s a universal one. From mythology to classic literature this idea of trekking toward some kind of attainment is in our DNA. Moses, Odysseus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Dante — the list is long of courageous ones who were answering the ancient quest “where have you come from, and where are you going?”* Something keeps us moving, sometimes for what we’re not even sure; and if our bodies get tired, our spirits keep longing.

There is a section of Psalms called the Psalms of Ascent which were sung by Hebrew pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem for feasts. There’s a cadence to these, like the way marines sing out calls when they are marching, like the way slaves on the underground railroad sang low about “following the drinking gourd”. The rhythm reminds and keeps the trekkers heartened. For the journey is often long and certainly filled with treachery. These Psalms show that too.

I’ve dissected these songs, tried to simplify and sketch them out. They are amazing. And I think they tell the whole important story in an abstract and concise way. It’s long been my aim to paint the series (such a dreamer). What keeps me going is the wonder in the pattern of this set of 15. They can be grouped into 5 sets of three; and like a growing Nautilus shell, they repeat the basic triplet pattern even as the whole enlarges.

Oh to have the ability to show this better! I have some oil sketches, and some larger built panels. I have tons of notes and the recordings of others. I have desire, some skill and a goal for the year to finish all 15. I had two done before 2018 started, and one hanging pitifully unfinished. I think this week I finished that one, Psalm 122 pictured here. It is the third in the first set of the whole. There’s a lot more yet to say (and a trap where I overthink it too). But I’ll just suggest this which I’ve learned in studying these ancient songs: the beginning is always tough, the middle is always a place of trust, and the final resolve is an unbelievable glory that encapsulates the whole. What can even begin to capture such simple encouragement!

I found just this morning a wonderful word from the poet T.S. Elliot that touches on some of what I sense: “What we call the beginning is often the end and to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” I can see the end, feel I am glimpsing it. My task is to articulate the building cadence in paint.

  • this question was first asked of a woman heading in one direction, returning in another, see the account here.

 

time’s slow move

We had a wonderful snowfall this past weekend. Everyone took a break to look-out and to rest within. That was glorious at such a busy season. I have lots of pictures, but the impression that got translated into oil was some aftermath from the bigger event. There’s story here. For, as the snow blanket thinned, the ground revealed some surprising December alive-ness. You could not see it happen, this snow thinning, unless you sped up a time-lapse cam. It’s lived so slow from our angle. We move here on the ground at a snail’s response to what is happening second by second in the heavenlies. My sky here is active, for that’s where the real drama is being directed. The land only reflects the weather patterns and the light working above it. I live on the ground, held by gravity, where time creeps sometimes agonizingly slow. I don’t like that slowness, for there’s so much that needs to change down here, so much I long for from the only One who can bring us justice and peace. Humans and their leaders so disappoint me! He said He’d return, why is He taking so long!?

In the first century, after the resurrection, one of Jesus’ followers must have been wondering the same for he writes: “with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness (me), but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.”

So what happens on the ground is timed-out by a God who is waiting patiently, redemptively for those who will take the time to consider.

I don’t mean to just drop off a sweet Sunday school lesson here; in fact I am eeking it out with tears some days lately. He knows. I tell Him. For I am startled at the deep vexation in my spirit. It’s like my soul is buried under frigid crystals, but there are angry embers way down deep. In my piece, it’s the higher grounded areas where the snow is still sitting (in real fields it’s typically the other way around, for the heights catch the sun first and longest.) But the valleys, where tiny me cannot see far enough, are where my hot anger resides.

The thinning snow, pulled back it’s cover, so the heat could eek out slow. Timed slowly, the active sky is in a duet with the receiving ground, and something much grander is happening.

 

not to talk?

A quality gallery marketer published a podcast I listened to just this past week. The teaser? ‘Three things not to talk about (if you want to sell your art)’. Here’s the short version: never talk about politics, religion or sports. This guy is good, and I respect his advice; but the funny part is, I had just that morning posted an opinion piece on my personal facebook page. I decided to leave it there, as there is so much mud in the waters now politically, and the op-ed writer was shining some light on a certain subject. It didn’t take long before another artist friend of mine (who sells very well) posted an alternate view to the article I liked under mine. I appreciated her viewpoint; it gave some important info. But haunting me was the echo of several who’ve instructed me “don’t get political” so, I did the cowardly thing and deleted the entire post.

I’m reminded of advice given my husband and I years ago. We were in our young 20’s, and taking our summer job boss out to dinner to thank him. He was a pleasant man, maybe several decades older than us. We were from the era of campus political demonstrations and new in our spiritual convictions. To us: ‘if you care about someone, you talk about what is most important to you.’ He tried to give us advice (which we did not take): “There are two things you never talk about: religion or politics”. People said something like that a lot in the 1950’s. I remember quietly imagining how boring if conversations could never wrestle with such things.

Now I’m older than that boss was then. Now I am learning new tricks and living in a very different, even more divisive time. And one of those taboo subjects (according the gallery marketer) is what moves me to work!

But not to worry. The advantage I have doing art is that I can “tell it slant” as Emily Dickinson used to say. There is no muzzle on when the work sings with beauty on its own. Makoto Fujimura explains it: “Art is an inherently hopeful act, an act that echoes the creativity of the Creator. Every time an architect imagines a new building, an artist envisions that first stroke of a brush on a white canvas, a poet seeks a resonant sound in words, or a choreographer weaves a pause in layers of movements, that act is done in hope; the creator reaches out in hope to call the world into that creation.” –Refractions (NavPress, 2009), 68.

No deletions have to be considered when the work gently vibrates into even the harshest of times. Art speaks. It beckons and invites. And you can walk away without feeling like you’ve been sold something you didn’t want to buy. The artists are the ones who may be the best at talking now, for as C.S. Lewis said, they are the ones who can “steal past those watchful dragons”.

 

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. . .

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.

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.

green like I mean it

So I did a little exercise to test my “strike” resolve (see last post on the burger billboard). Abstractions made concrete, thoughts made real. The green has been shouting at me for attention, so I dug in to bring it home.

Now as primarily a landscape abstracter, I’ve come to learn that it’s the long view that entrances me, not the pretty things right in my reachable surroundings. It’s the far things that send me; not nice pictures, for their own sake. What gets my brushes moving is something far more mysterious.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while sitting in a Nazi prison, said something like this in a letter to his soulmate. Comparing the landscapes that come out of northern climes versus southern, he said “ The southerner has the beauties of nature, while we long for them wistfully, as for a rarity.” It’s the longing that produces the better work. It’s the hunger that opens the door to what is more valuable than the easily attainable.

Does it always have to be such a stretch, I wonder? I wish not as I am in my 6th decade. But for me, “it” keeps on needing the stretch because of its value, and because of my desire to get closer to it, anyway I can.

Here was all this GREEN right in front of me though. I had to do something with it. I had to mean it too. I thought of an early comment made once to me, “We all know you love the color green” Startled, I wondered what in the world this older lady was talking about when she said that! I was a young Pastor’s wife, and we were renting a house, which had a putrid green on all the walls that I could not change. Her/their “knowing” of me was incorrect. But I was learning quickly that “we all” were viewing my life. That may be when the longing started, the look to far things.

I give thanks now to the God of the horizon, the God who made and loves greens, the God who uses every dumb thing said, keeping me in spite of greenishness. And so to celebrate, I made this little close up. This was green I could change, green I could explore and modulate and play with. Isn’t “it” grand.

 

“What do you see?”

Zechariah’s prophetic work is a set of visual appetizers, given by God that the writer (and then the reader) is to examine and to absorb, bite by bite. Spiritual Tapas? I’ve taken to drawing out the little visions recounted in the margins of my text. For those who like square meals and tight ships, this is not a simple, nor a satisfying book. You’ll be left hanging. It’s only part of a whole. But as with poetry, or with a gestural stroke, his visions leave you with an eager sense: that there’s more, there is really more.

God through this prophet gives a whole lot of hints, with flying scrolls and lidded baskets, through scattering horns and sprouting lamps that there are “craftsmen” who are presently at work. To me, this idea is pregnant with hope. Especially at this season of advent. Especially after such a contentious national election. “Then, they will look on Me” God says, and what is described there in the 12th chapter has not yet happened in history. It is yet to happen, though spoken out some 2500 years ago. And the mourning that follows will be a cleansing, and a fountain will be opened.

So God says “what do you see?” as He schools the prophet with these visions. I love that invitation to engage. It is no lecture from a high and holy stage. It is no thundering judgment. It is an opportunity to look and to consider, now in time. The news cycles flash past so fast these days. We travel to and fro, trying somehow to maintain equilibrium while on an accelerating treadmill. God says it quietly, and again, “what do you see?”

test-2fixedtest-1fixedI am inserting here two little experiments with some inks for a workshop I’ll be conducting next week. Beginners will be introduced to some of the rationale behind abstraction’s promise. If some good work shows up from some of these craftsmen, I’ll be sure to post.

 

after it

off-honeymoon-trailThis week I went out on a trail where the leaves are turning, colors singing. The soil in this part of the state has a lot of iron in it. As a result, the dirt under my boots and all ahead of me is an unremarkable dull red-brown. The perfect foil for the brilliance decking the foliage layers on the sides of the road, I made this trail the centerpiece then. It seemed good to do. On this ground is where I stand with my easel. It’s my reference point. In the painting, I started here too, mixing the dull hues as the base line. The dirty earth is the substance out of which all this other beauty gains its nourishment, and then its contrasting show. But soon the colors above will dull too and fall back on down to the mud, enriching it with deadness and only slim memory of a day like this was. I captured a bit of it. But I often think on this idea that beauty is ultimately un-capturable in any really satisfying way. This transience, or fleeting quality seems to me to be the nature of things we call beautiful. With beauty you are ushered to a lovely impression which beckons deeply and then the knowing of it disappears as quickly as Tinkerbelle. I grasp at hues out of tubes, and mix with intention. I make stabs with the brush trying to produce a likeness. But the image is never as rich as what my retina reveled in. Beauty is a whiff of something I can’t fully own, it seems. It’s a signifier, a stand in for something grander that is calling my soul. And I keep traveling after it. I think of beauty as a moment’s glimpse of forever while my feet are still gravity bound in this mud.

reflection

I’m getting some expert help on the mural project we are spearheading for a local non-profit. But this face I reserved to do myself. This little girl is precious, with big ideas, so she is being placed on one of the most important parts of the wall. I love her funky glasses. I love most the reflection out from her eyes and even off the plastic lenses. That was really, really fun to paint!

Recently I heard a guy in a sermon bring this application: “Ask 3 people you trust to tell you “what’s it like to be on the other side of me?” I asked two brave souls and got some interesting, necessary stuff. Whew. I’ve got some things to work on. I don’t really know, and neither do you, how the reflection off your face really translates into another’s life. I just know what I want it to be out of my own eyes. This little girl led the way for me. She’s got light in her soul. She loves Jesus. She responds to Him like a child in simple trust. She is going somewhere.

semblance

This blog is a stream of thoughts on current evidences. Each gives hint toward what I think is much bigger reality. My tag line above says I am “illustrating”, which may be strange because as an artist, I am not a skilled illustrator. I know at this late age what I can and what I cannot do. My own artwork is usually abstract, and certainly much less focused on human form. All this is intro. to some pondering today.

I am working on a mural for a non-profit in my community. I got to design the entire project and knew that the best idea for this refuge place for kids would be to highlight the very ones the organization serves. We took photos of 10 selected kids, then posterized them, and sketched the value divisions from each face onto the wall. Painting will start this coming week. What I hope to express here is how poignant it was to just draw their young faces, the unique smile curves, the spark in some eyes, the little crooked tooth, the sweetness on each entirely different form. These are just semblaces on a wall. But I know the real kids a little bit. I interviewed each to gain some buy-in for the ideas behind this whole project.

Each child represents one key value that guides this organization. To hear from the children was entirely motivating. So unique is each little person, with a complex mix of bents and desires and issues. So now, when I semblance their lines with pencil on the wall, I am thinking of each child with a love that I sense originates from their Maker. No wonder Jesus rebuked the disciples for attempting to dismiss the children. Little wonder had those guys! Like all of us, they had their own working agendas in front of their own faces and could not see what He was looking into. I am getting a glimpse.

While sketching onto this wall, I was living through the news reports; faces all lined up (each completely unique) who were mowed down by a murderer’s gun in Orlando. You probably saw those images too. I did not know those folks, and so I cannot share the same sense of relationship. But the loss is incalculable for those who loved them. Such searing pain is grief! We are all robbed when even one precious soul is ripped away. Robbed and ripped and many, many left sorrowing.

In a time when human life is so diminished, as anger and division takes center stage, as political agendas get staged while the blood is still warm on the floor, is anyone listening for how Jesus feels? Sketching faces of kids who hold dreams in their hearts, I was being pierced through. Anger, sadness, sighs and reverence are all mingled through these pencil lines.

I can hardly illustrate. I am tracing after a projection, my pencil follows the light. In the same way, I can hardly be coherent about what I sense are the working unseen values. But I feel Jesus’ heart, as if tracing after Him. And what I am talking about is both an engaging and a fearful thing. As an artist I am weighted with this significance.

And then I remember: this is what all art is, whether realistic illustration or abstraction, no matter the form. Whether seen and understood or not. It is all just a catch, a representation of something else. It is at best a quick and searing glimpse, a sign-post, a semblance of much truer things. What we do see right in front of us can point toward what we desperately need to see.