Category Archives: time

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.

 

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.