Category Archives: hope

simple but not easy

A seasoned pro said this last fall in my hearing and it struck me: SO TRUE: “it’s simple, but it’s not easy”! This could be a mantra for continued practice in any discipline worth pursuing. The key things to know are basic, evident, clear from the ground up. They are simple. Jesus boiled all the law and the prophets down to just two ideas. Nodding our heads, we’re all pleased with ourselves until we actually try to do those two things. Artists, who usually don’t care much about rules, still know that to work well, one still has to respect a couple fences, like the basics of line and value. Stick with the simple things and then start moving out creatively! Easy Peasy. It’s getting to the finish that’s the tough part. We know what to do, we imagine so easily! But the sublime result takes a whole lot more effort than we romantics ever imagined!

 

Yesterday I worked for hours with an idea, trying to transfer it onto paper with my inks. I came home from the studio defeated. I may have not only wasted the paper, the inks and my energy, but then I was fighting the beast who tries to whisper to me that even my “foolish” ambition is a waste. It’s not easy going upstream. And so, I consider the basics again, chalk it up to “at least I tried” and “I learned something today that will feed the next one”… So, there’s nothing to show here today but some starts, and some working resolve.

How about for you? In whatever you do, does this ring true “simple but not easy”? And do you have some thoughts as to why?

 

still life or “reality show”

I’ve been thinking again about the tension of living between the quiet voice and the urgent alarm. If you lived in Hawaii this past weekend you’d still have alarm withdrawal going on in your psyche. Nobody would say we shouldn’t have blaring alert systems, even after one misfired and people panicked. But we cant live with the heightened noise level that seems to be so much of the modern “reality show” of life in this nation now. I don’t know how I would have handled the alarm, but I know I would have prayed.

With some friends a while back, we were looking at images at an exhibit, when each phone in each pocket started echoing an Amber Alert. Beyond the walls, someone was in real trouble. Devices were pulled out, screens looked at, a couple prayers whispered. . . and then silence. The phones were put away, some turned off. The alarm was frightening; the quiet voices in response much more sustaining.

There are two very different realities going on in our time. One is slow, steady and uncelebrated. The other is an irritating, very troubling scramble for attention. One is loud and obnoxious. We all hear it. We’re all sick of it. There’s another sounding, but you have to tune your ears to hear it

I slammed my computer closed this morning. The click-bait headlines have me so wearied, sickened. You can point fingers, but we’re all in this thing together. So, I did the next thing in my little life. I went to the grocery store. I had to do this anyway today, but I got there early and started to relish the simple tasks of handling and selecting real live things that will make a difference in our well being this week. I got to choose. I chose to enjoy the steps, the colors, the kindness of the produce man. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a grocery trip more! I came home with several bags of supplies, and arranged some on my counter like a Dutch still life. Art is not imitating life here. Real life was already happening. You could rather say Life is imitating art of a sort. This is some of the gleanings I’ll use up this week.

I think of the Northern European “vanitas” paintings, where commodities (due to increased trading and middle class means) would be arranged in a collection, then painted in oil. The intention of vanitas, was to show symbolically that the everyday things (like an orange half peeled) were all stand-ins for moments in time. And bigger than that was the idea that the temporal things would decay but the moment would be marked as a time of reflection and joy. That’s small voice stuff. That’s the kind of thing that reality shows can’t show you.

Come tomorrow. Come what may. I’ll be listening for the quieter voice.

 

 

 

light bursting

The last image of the year is one my husband shot out our tiny cabin window. The garage light was on, and all was still on the darkest night of the year in the Northland where my grandparents settled long ago. The frigid air, the wild vunerability of this backwater place and the mystery of light penetrating, so surgically into enveloping darkness was what moved us both with this digital glimpse. This is only a token, an illustration, of a sublime reality. I’m thinking of a baby born on another dark night, in another backwater place, where light burst forth into their precarious situation. John’s gospel says at the beginning “light shines (present tense) into the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” John 1:5

How utterly strange, and beyond the ways we would stage it. God comes to rescue: through a humble couple willing to listen to Him, midst political chaos swirling beyond their control, with a baby of suspicious origin who is entirely vulnerable! And that is just the beginning of the story.

I’m reminded of the words of the 1st century thinker, Paul of Tarsus. His reflections were preached into my own ears by a master theologian in the early 1970’s. The passage being explored was the very 1st chapter of Corinthians, where Paul is contrasting what many seek vs. what God has simply given as greatest wisdom. I was deeply moved by the surprising ‘rightness’ of God’s way vs. all our own proud attempts. Paul ends his discussion with this summary: “…because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger then men.” (1 Cor. 1:25).

I used to wonder: if God wants our attention, why does He not make it more obvious? I was new to understanding Him then, and troubled that His existence was not as clear to my friends as it was bursting into my own heart so astoundingly. Here is how another writer expresses this mystery “Everyone supposed that You were limited, You Who cannot be contained by anything, all speech is not able to tell of You, and a mind that is compelled tries to grasp with yearning…”

This last quote excerpted from an Eastern Orthodox liturgy posted on Dec. 26th, 2017

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”.

 

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

 

 

 

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.

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

 

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.