Category Archives: beauty

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

 

MaKailaI’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.

 

MoniqueSketchI 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.

 

OrlandoFacesWhile 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.

slice

When it is time for pie, what do you ask for? A slice is all you can manage, really. We instinctively get this. Being engorged on the whole of what is a really good thing–is not a good thing. Small doses are better handled. Our limits require bits, not wholes. The whole can overwhelm.

It is the same with the biggest ideas, the most important things. We need time with them, and time is a distinct mercy because of our very dastardly limits. Time gives us the opportunity to take it in.

Maybe this alone explains why I keep making art. It is a big thing that is too big for me. I am manipulating paint and wax, working brush and color, moving seriously through my own inner angst. I am looking for a way to feed, even as I am hungry.

And trouble is: every day there seems to be more and more to be upset about. A man I am close to, and respect a lot said to me in distress “I am angry all the time!” We both know we have to be constantly on the lookout for better slices.

As for that inner angst, I have recently been working on a long study of the Old Testament prophets, specifically gathering clues as to how they managed their emotions as things were going down. We are in that time. My anger is not a holy thing, even justified anger. I want to slice and dice the rapist. I want to slice and dice the smug and comfortable liar. I want to slice and dice those who pervert justice in their blindness to suffering. But I am not God (aren’t you glad). I sense indigestion deep in my core when I attempt His prerogative. Instead I am talking to Him, distilling with Him–and that work is a really good thing, something I want more slices of.

 

So, instead of slicing and dicing people (you, or me or the rapist) I will leave that to God who promises to do a good job of it. I will pass on His job.

croppedGingerFarmAnd I will use my energy instead to slice a section of a piece I painted Monday. I was at a beautiful farm owned by a woman named Ginger in a place called Goshen Valley. I was standing painting quietly next to a friend who also is suffering on the inside and doing it bravely. We took courage together and both managed to look out and to gather in some of the beauty and the glory with our brushes. That was a good day. The whole is good. But for now: just a slice, thank-you. I can be sustained with a good slice. For here’s a simple truth, easy to absorb: that which is good comes from Him (every last bit of it) and that which is not good does not.

seeing for meaning

Before an exhibition, a young family member asked me, “could you give me some help as to how I ought to understand what I will be seeing?” The humility of his question endeared me to him–that he even cared to know beyond just fulfilling a social obligation. But I wondered whether art, any art, has lost its potential to communicate if folks in front of it remain only bewildered.

 

The Art Historian H.R. Rookmaaker gave thoughtful overview in his writings as to how Art, as we practice and observe it in the modern and post-modern eras has lost its voice. In the very centuries where artmaking became high Art, celebrated by elites (who alone could interpret it) and enshrined in museums, these artifacts no longer held much common value. Artists were billed from the Renaissance on as geniuses, and high priests of culture. But culture has turned away, and pop-art or entertainment art has taken up the void. Now it is not just the artists who are starving.

Artifact or artificial, is this the only choice? No wonder young viewers feel duped before any display of work.

 

I think of the beauty of certain sunsets (and some are discernably “better” than others). These are available to anyone, no museum ticket required, no proper lighting necessary, no label or title needed, no “jurying in”. Does an explanation as to purpose need to follow such fleetingly beautiful expression? The patterns of waves on sand, or birds who fly in some mysterious formation only require some attention. This is popular art that is free, potentially meaningful, hardly artificial, with no hint of cynicism.

 

SavoryI struggle with my own voice in my work, living as I do in such a time of disintegration. I cannot make the work of my hands “say” what I hold in my heart so often. It is not my goal to be literal, but it is a desire to lift the viewer’s eyes. A friend of mine who is a photographer, grieving deeply over the death of her husband is now doing the best work of her career. We talked of this: why are we doing this work, this searching with images? Is it meaningful, is it what we “should be doing”? We got this far in our discussion: this work is an exploration into JOY. This expression is as fleeting as a sunset and as mysterious as a bird’s flight, but it is necessary, if even just for us. I have some ability to look, and to craft. Maybe through the work of my own hands others will see meaningfully also. For this, I keep on.

that time

If you look around in galleries or online at 21st century visual work, you will find a lot of chaos and disassembling, a lot of broken line and seeming randomness. Some of it is strikingly beautiful. And this work is concurrent with some very interesting science called chaos theory which is seeking to understand any patterns in very complex, sensitive and interdependent systems. My small piece here is one example, done with watercolor, ink and gravity. I have paired it with a Dickinson poem, #217:ED#217a

“Savior! I’ve no one else to tell—
And so I trouble thee.
I am the one forgot thee so—
Dost thou remember me?
Nor, for myself, I came so far—
That were the little load—
I brought thee the imperial Heart
I had not strength to hold—
The Heart I carried in my own—
Til mine too heavy grew—
Yet—strangest—heavier since it went—
Is it too large for you?

Last night on Skype, one of my daughters and I continued our own simple investigation into the ancient words in the Psalms. We are doing this because we both need it. We are like sheep who need to be laid down and fed. It is so noisy “out there”, so many lies, so many distractions in the seeming randomness, and each of us is vulnerable. If you think you are not vulnerable, you are already dumbed into captivity. We are like the girl in the prayer meeting who ran to answer the interruption at the door. When the answer to their prayers was standing right at the gate, she could not open though she recognized his voice. She ran and told the others, and they, having just mumbled more prayers for Peter’s release, could not imagine that God was really listening, let alone had already answered. This was a group of early Jesus-followers, not much different than us. They all ended up being amazed in spite of their paltry belief.

“We are in a time.” I keep saying that to myself: we are in a time that is momentous and consequential. There is now a collision of world-views going on about which the nations’ leaders are ignorant. The lessons of history are being ignored, the warnings of Jesus have long been disregarded. The arrogance of the narrative spinners has deceived them. And the church? They are mumbling prayers, staying cloistered, and discounting any young one who comes with joy. “You are out of your mind!” the prayer group told the girl who had heard the desire of their prayers with her own ears.

After the resurrection Jesus was gentle but very direct with one of His followers who was struggling. In the face of incontrovertible evidence, Jesus still needed to say to that man “ be not unbelieving, but believing.” There is something about the will then, something about a willingness to step forward into safety with Him. “He’s still in it with us”, says Adrian Plass. And be sure you understand that there is an eternal difference between believing any other creed than the one that is only Jesus.

“A man can’t always be defending the truth; there must be a time to feed on it.” C.S. Lewis said that from hard won experience. Now is that time.

hours and hours

In early morning dark, I was driving my friend to a hospital in another city. We’d been given some pretty clear directions and told it was simple, so off we went. Toward the end of our journey, our eyes focused for the landmarks (in the disruption, neither of us had our “devices”). Ok, we passed the Walgreens where we turn. Ok, we’re supposed to go over this bridge. Ok. . . so where is the next turn, did we miss it? We both leaned forward in our seats, the car ambling forward into the dim. Another couple blocks and we saw a blue hospital sign, then down a hill, around a corner and it felt like maybe we were approaching the right vicinity. Soon: lights, cameras, action.

On the way out, hours later, we retraced our route to get back to the interstate. This part is why I am telling the story: the time to travel out was eons shorter than that long and ponderous earlier drive! How could this be? It was the same exact path of streets we took coming in. But our experience of time was completely different in the reverse direction. We both were startled by this and it got me thinking.

Time seems to be an elastic thing, even as it ticks with a measurable rhythm. Sometimes as I lie in bed at night, I can feel and hear in my ears the beat of my own heart in a predictable rhythm that is beyond my control: pump. pump. pump. I can manipulate some variance in the count of those beats: get excited and they move faster, focus on relaxing and they settle down, but I cannot stop the beats, nor do I want to. Time moves like this in a set program; I cannot ultimately change it’s progress or it’s pace. As I move through time however some things feel quick and some things feel terribly, terribly slow. Certainly the moments looking for the hospital as we examined every sign and longed for every turn were experienced by us as LONG. But on the way out, hearts lifted, day shining and mission accomplished—the entrance to the interstate was so quick it was entirely startling.

Here’s why this informs me: I am awaiting the arrival of Jesus, as He promised. I am moving along looking for His signs. He said the way was simple and just ahead. But it is dim out there where I am traveling now. I will keep going forward. His way is sure. It’s the time thing that has me at the edge of my seat.

So, is it my experience in time, awaiting His arrival that makes it seem LONG? Is it the heartstopping events that make the pace seem to stagger, and the exciting parts make it seem to speed up? This much is clear: time may be subjectively experienced, yet it remains a measured finite resource that moves in one direction only. This video I shot was on a blustery afternoon, also just recently. The movement here reminds me of a phrase in a poem by Susan Morrison, (age 11) “Hours are leaves of life, and I am their gardener, each hour falls down slow.”

encounter at the gym

IMG_7287Amid the noisy machines, flashing tv screens and the running track, there is a window at my fitness center. It is a glass block section that scatters light into the space where we work. Everyone inside has an individual training plan going on. There’s sweat, determined looks, clocks, and all around the sounds of metal clanking. I was tromping along with my earbuds locked into a current-events podcast when I got stopped by this view. This was greater news.

In the Genesis account of how the world came to be, the calling forth of light was the very first creative act. Everything else followed this. As artists, (creators who move at the initiation of Creator) we know the value of light in any composition. We manage light, move it, mix it, manipulate it, arrange it, mimic it. But we cannot create it out of nothing.
The reflected light dancing on the sill here is so lyrical, cast forward by the waves in the glass, received on another plane and resting there all day for anyone to notice. But the source of this light is what captured me and still continues to quietly move me. The light is not a blinding flood, or an enchanting deception but rather a beckoning presence. And it is highlighted all the more because of the shadows mingling near it. This was a singular moment.

I spent a little time here, turning my phone from talking machine to image recorder. After a bit of sheer enjoyment, I went back to the busy track. The news on the podcast I could not repeat to you now, though it was important. The calories lost and the cardio exercised was necessary. But the experience with this light is sustaining for me, even today. For this was not just about the passing of something pretty. It was an engagement with the maker of pretty.

Imagine if you were walking through a space and came across the illumination in a painting by Carravagio. This might stop you too. But what if Carravagio himself was standing right there, hoping you might notice. What if the artist himself was somehow translated to your time and place so that you could actually talk with him a bit if you wanted to. What would you say to him? “How did you do that?” “Why did you arrange it this way?” or maybe just “. . .thank-you”. I am thinking that Someone greater than Caravaggio is here.