Category Archives: time

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.

 

 

 

“but purple is important to me!”

Her face was darkened and remained that way for the hour or so that she hovered around me. Her shoulders were hunched, her mood dour, and she was only 11. It was pitiful, and yes, I felt sad for her. But it wasn’t too long before my empathy turned to impatience and then to decisiveness.

We were involving the kids, all 65 of them, at Rise Up!’s after school program. Having saved out an area where they could put their mark on the mural, we were cycling the kids through one by one. This 11 year old angrily eyed everyone else getting their hands in the paint, while she argued with her teacher and then with me. Did she want to be involved? It was hard to know. Six pans of color from the mural palette were set out, but by the time this little friend agreed to get her hand dirty the purple and the red were decommissioned (artist’s prerogative for many kids kept choosing the darker colors).

This really set her off and she was now determined to tell me and everyone else what she had to have. We worked with her, we explained the color balance, we coached her not to miss her opportunity, and finally we were done. 64 hands are on the mural now, but one is missing.

Later that evening I reviewed the afternoon’s project “did I handle that well enough?” “Could we have better helped her be involved?” “What was more important: color balance or wise coaching of an angry child, or a life lesson that may or may not have been going on there?” What struck me as I weighed this was that one resistant child took more emotional energy than all the other 64 kids combined! She was determined not to budge, and she wanted us to know it. We did.

Adamantly, she took her stand “but purple is important to me!” even though she was repeatedly coached that the purple was no longer an option. When I think of stubbornness and insistence, I will think of this little girl’s will. She just could not soften. The time was up, the plates of remaining color were scooped into the trash, and she was surprised to see that her opportunity was really over.

That’s the part that makes me most sad. Things end.

“eat like you mean it”

I didn’t stop on the highway to photograph the strange burger-joint billboard, just thought about it for the next, oh- maybe, 30 miles. There was the standard burger, and then the exhortation to “eat like you mean it.”

“What does it mean to eat like I don’t mean it?”

I rolled this around in my head at 65 mph. Can someone actually sit before a meal and not “mean it”? Maybe that’s true. Maybe you can just absently take something into your body and not be attentive or even care. That’s called “going through the motions” and yes, I’ve probably done that tons of times.

We had miles to go, the tank was pretty full, and my trusty co-pilot was asleep. But I was hungry. Then, all the more so as the miles moved on and I kept thinking about burgers. I guess that’s the point of ad campaigns. Or maybe it says something about the importance of hunger itself. Hunger motivates for “meaning it”. At that point, remembering the image, and feeling hungrier, I think I would have meant it if I bit into a real burger with melting cheese and crisp lettuce.

How about painting like I mean it? I think there’s a hunger that motivates doing that, otherwise I am just covering up something with a brush.

Or driving like I mean it? I need to be attentive, and aware at least. . .

How about living like I mean it? I learned this night of a man my son’s age who wasted his life and now is gone. His chances to be aware and alert  are over, done, finis.

“Two things are infinite” Einstein reportedly said, “the universe and human stupidity. And I’m not sure about the universe.” And what a dulled state of affairs we’re in when money is spent on an ad campaign because people live a “don’t mean it” kind of way. It seems to be in the air in this Laodicean age. It seems people have lost hunger to “mean it” , “just sayin”. I’m breathing in that same air some days.

And so I am calling a strike. I’m calling a strike on mindless eating, and careless laughing and loving, and pointless life. There’s too much at stake to miss the preciousness of oxygen in the lungs and birdsong in the ears.

Ghandi said: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” That’s aspirational. But “as if” is not good enough for me. The burger on the billboard was an “as if”.

But living forever? I happen to be convinced I will, based on Jesus’ words, backed by his impeccable resurrected life. My confidence is not in how much I mean it, but rather how much He meant it. He lived mindfully; even when he was mad, even when he was excruciatingly disappointed, even when he was dying. How can I then just “go through motions”. I aim to not be doing that. How about you . . . hungry yet?

 

images are appetizer

You’ve been to the events—hungry and wondering how long until the meal would be served. Then someone shows up with a tray of small things, artfully arranged, inviting you to take. It’s a welcome thing. It leads you in and tides you over. Small tastes, like tapas, awaken the buds. A meal of this would not be enough, but the little bit is like a promise: that more is coming and that it is going to be good.

Images are like this. They awaken, and they prompt forward. They are unobtrusive, quick, and just enough to get one’s hunger pangs a little more hopeful.

Yesterday I had a team helping me flesh out some of the images sketched on some mural walls. The kids who use this space after school each day are watching the progress magically appear. Even the littlest ones have opinions about which figure is the prettiest princess, about where the path is going to go, about whether their own face gets to be included in the final result.

The artists meanwhile worked intently to get the strokes and the colors just right, while I was slapping the landscape connectors in like a banshee. I am the one who knows how much more needs to be done. There is metaphor in all this for me. I’m affected to tears even as I type just thinking about the “meaning connectors” and how this all speaks to my life.

There are little ones who want their faces included. There are bigger ones who want their work to shine, and there is one (in charge) and in a hurry who is somehow going to get it all done in time. I identify with every one of these motivations. Seems to me it’s all part of a much bigger picture. I’m the little kid, I’m one of the struggling artists, and I am working with the One who is moving toward a much more important and satisfying finish. All this is just appetizer.

continuum

A personal note this time: My very closest friend took her last breath 11 days ago. The suffering for her at the end was rough and so her mortal conclusion was a relief. To paraphrase Leonard Cohen: ‘it’s a sad and it’s a lonely hallelujah’. Now she is safely home, for she knew the One who holds the keys to eternity. And now I know what it looks like to finish well here on this hard ground. For that, I am most particularly grateful.

She was my faithful friend while here, but now she’s much more than that. Looking back gives a weight of perspective once an ending has come. Kierkegaard mused that life (for those of us still here) must be lived forward but it can only be understood backward. There’s truth in that. The backward part is appreciated when we have clarity enough to measure what has significantly passed. The forward part is where there still needs be, for me, a marshaling of strength and commitment to reach what is valued. And so, I am going forward but rather slowly. Grief does that.

Another friend and I worked this week on the huge mural project we started last year. It too is a continuum. It starts at the beginning of historical time and ends where the kids in the program we are serving, can look into a mirror. All along the way are emblems of the grand story, punctuated by avatars of the very kids who walk this hallway after school. We’re hoping to lift their vision even as we are lifting our own.

 

a kindness multiplied

avery-head-printI’m not dressed for printmaking. Instead this one night, I attended an art opening of politically motivated art accompanied by an interesting lecture. The show’s juror, Eric Avery is a retired MD and an accomplished printmaker, who has been involved in humanitarian work throughout his dual career. A compassionate man, grappling with human despair, Avery is still mining an early experience he had viewing a man’s bisected skull during an autopsy.

The artist had shipped up to TN before his arrival a large carved block to be printed in our studio here at the University. My friend John Hilton, who teaches the printmaking courses this term was the printer for Avery, spooning the block print onto fragile mulberry paper. After the lecture, knowing John would be working late, I went up to say hi and got to put my hands on the emerging print.

It is only because John is such a generous friend that he let me work Eric’s piece for a few moments. It was only because Avery mentioned John with thanks that I knew this was going on. And only because Avery shared his own heart in the lecture that I understood the reasoning and the depth of pathos behind the head image. I am just a bystander to this particular story, but a graced one. Avery himself was a bystander during the autopsy that occurred early in his career. Sometimes though, grace gives you a stark and disruptive glimpse into the horror of death, the particular vacancy visible when all that’s left is gaping tissue and fluid. Where has what was precious gone then? None of us can be bystanders to this concern. We can barely handle this, indeed I think we cannot. We go numb. Avery keeps retuning directly to it in his graphic images. God says repeatedly through the prophets to “Consider” (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea and Haggai). The fact that there are artisans and prophets who ponder in time and try to awaken us is just another kindness. For me it comes down to this: horror is mediated in ways that allow us to participate in a very necessary exchange.

Thank-you Eric, thank-you John, thank-you thank-you Jesus, the champion over death, the flesh reconstituter, the kindest of grace giving prophets.

 

sky studies

Have you been looking up? We’ve been marveling at some of the moody blues and grays we’ve seen these past months. Online too, people are posting some amazing shots of cloud formations: some brooding, some exhilarating and some downright scary. What’s up with all this? I googled it and see that many people are dismissing incredible images as fake/photo-shopped alarmism. Am I and a couple friends just getting older and paying attention to basics that were always around? Or are these formations in the sky increasingly getting the attention of others as well? I’d love feedback on that question. What are you seeing?

moodyskyThis image from my backyard in June, is taken from my iphone and completely unretouched.

 

Meanwhile, I’ve been taking more shots of amazing skies from a certain hilltop near our home, at all different times of day and night, in all kinds of different weather. I have set these in a file called “sky studies”. skyStudiesWhat you see here is an under painting value plotting (using simply burnt umber and ultramarine) for a series of 5. It’s about time, and wonder and expectancy. These, once finished with top layers of color, are going to go in a prayer room. I hope to get the finished series done this coming month. I worked on a couple of them yesterday and already they are looking pretty cool.

I’m working forward, even as I am looking up expectantly. And I have sound reason. Jesus made a promise of retuning. We don’t know when, time may continue for many more sky views. But my joy is increasing because Something’s coming.

big picture

Today’s the day that the kids come back into the hallways where this mural is evolving. Excited that we got all 10 faces done this summer, my friend Renee and I both turned to worrying out loud that somehow the individual kids who own these faces might be disappointed. A face is a very personal thing. And especially for a child, how they think others perceive them can be a real trip-up. Renee kept fussing over this little girl’s face. It was hard to stop. Not one of the paintings is perfect. Not one of the kids is perfect. Not one of the artists is perfect, Lord knows. We are all a jumble of things. But today they will see what we’ve attempted to do so far with their little twinkly smiles. It’s fixed. And then we will move on with the bigger broader picture.

Maybe (I am thinking to myself now) the big picture is already happening. That’s a hugely freeing thought. We have an active part in all this, but something else originated and will conclude everything that matters here that’s real. On these particular walls that’s my sense of it, and also in my own life. I had little clue when beginning this project. I had little clue when beginning my life. I have only a little more now. If I did not have an out-sized faith: a confidence in something bigger than me, which is worth knowing, I think I would just eat bon-bons, or download Pokemon Go.

This past week I was able to join a workshop conducted by the former director for the Chicago Public Art Group. The man was a lot of fun with a wealth of info. on materials and budgets and effective collaboration. But the best thing he said out loud was that “we have to get uncomfortable, and then examine why we are”. That’s what adults do. That’s what the best working projects expose. I hope the kids looking at their painted faces can have some courage to do the same overlooking. These are only likenesses. There’s more coming.

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.

And 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.

Handwriting on the wall

You’ve heard the phrase. Do you know the story’s source?

Long ago, during a time of national upheaval, a time of disintegration into mockery, there appeared words written ominously on the public wall. The drunken king, now alarmed, had to bring in a forgotten Hebrew prophet to decode the warning. The decoder, Daniel, spoke boldly, clearly and then was draped with a purple robe (he did not want). The frightened monarch, focus of the warning, within hours lost his kingdom and his life. Daniel’s proclamation remains, echoing through the histories of nations. “God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. You have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. Your kingdom has been given over.”

 

The only handwriting that can cut through chaos comes from the words of God.

 


Embossing with gold leaf, permission granted by the artist

When God’s words are highlighted, there is still opportunity to attend to them before the demise.

We have a good friend we’ve known for years. Late in his thoughtful life now, he is sensing there is handwriting on our public wall. This man has gone back to the words of God, and become an Orthodox Jew. We dialogue all the time, for we have much that matters in common. Recently I sent him this image, which in its simplicity pictorializes the difference between the words given to Moses at Sinai, and the last word given by Jesus, the Jew. One can’t fully understand the first writing without the decoding grace of the second. This collograph, replete with Hebrew markings, was crafted by another thoughtful wayfarer: Sandra Bowden. The work is titled “Law and Grace.” And as with the frightened king, there is opportunity now. We stand between the giving of the words, and their conclusion. Fear is in the air. Fear, even desperate fear is the soil in which the seeds of wisdom can take root. Grace is the produce, hard-won. Grace speaks out from that very same source.