Process

Tall Torn Paper, and Wisdom

This watercolor on this tall torn paper is my favorite painting of the year so far.

It is small and was done recently and with abandon, involving lots of water and aquarelle crayons and intuitive movements that were not centered in the self.

The eye, when focused on one tiny area, informs the heart which informs the hand, but somehow always considers the whole and balances it effortlessly.

It’s not at all like tossing paint around mindlessly.  It’s more like joining a natural flow of existence and expressing.  There is a deep wisdom available at times there that has nothing to do with logic, that is the juice behind creation.    Young children’s paintings can reveal this joining, as they don’t know how to separate yet, in many cases.

 

 

Rib Cages, Rivers and Silver Linings

I’ve recently grown conscious of the beauty and tenderness of the rib cage, its true ribs and false ribs, the delicate breastbones, compressed bars of bone strung together to protect our hearts and lungs.  I’ve broken two ribs recently, just over the heart – simple fractures with complex results.  The injury involved a metal ladder and a 3 story painting.

The ribs and terrors in the whale,
Arched over me a dismal gloom,
While all God’s sun-lit waves rolled by,
And left me deepening down to doom.

–Herman Melville

My long history of injuries usually occurs when creativity is roaring like a mighty river, and rules over absolutely everything else:   reason, food, plans, love.  And safety.   This recent creative river was in full force – 9 canvases in process  at once, totaling 144 feet, when the injury occurred.  It was very difficult to have to come to a sudden STOP.

Normally I spend several days of contemplation and adjustments as a painting draws close to completion.  This time, benched, I sat in the studio gazing, for 8 full weeks.  This harnessed, slow, long looking, without being able to leap up and change something, revealed itself as a brilliant silver lining.  I was mostly looking at canvases but also at cardinals and goldfinch turning their spring yellow, at winds and rains and daffodils, at the cat sleeping, the clouds racing by, then back to the canvases with this gorgeous generous amount of uncompressed time.  Quietly, some shifts began to happen, without the ability to respond to urgency.   An extreme sensitivity opened up to every tiny signal of something being out of balance, and I could see how the image could be even slightly improved by a delicate mark or wash.  Friends and family dropped by and rotated the paintings for me on the studio wall, so I could look at each one deeply, see where the work came from, and where was it going.  After a few weeks I could lift a can of spray paint and some crayons for a short spurts, and the paintings came into balance gently, tenderly, quietly.

In the studio, I crossed out the last word of Melville’s poem’s stanza, “doom”, and changed it to “bloom”.

Each of these works, completed in this contemplative time, contain a loving visual reference to a broken rib:

Far Away and Near 6.5’x15’

 

Icarus 6.5×15’

 

Baudelaire’s Memory  6.5’x15’

 

Instinct – Transcendent                                                                                                          Instinct

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Island Journals 1, 2, 3

 

Sappho’s Mountain Hycianths

 

Sand, Sun, Sea

 

 

Things have gotten so quiet and simple.  Canvas dipped in the Gulf and laid out on the sand to work.

Work, read, film, walk.

Boat ride to the mainland.  Boat ride back.

An outdoor shower, dogs, sunset.

Sand, Sun, Sea.

All of a piece, no separation.

 

The Intimacy of the Present Moment, and Painting

Meditation is at the very core of my work. I don’t use mantras or much breath work or lotus positions, but rather sit comfortably and quietly, resting in the rich experience of what is happening at that very moment.  It’s truly resting; there is nothing to do, to work on, to adjust, except noticing and being totally and completely present and aware. Thoughts don’t stop, but they are noticed as thoughts and the attention remains on the razor’s edge of the moment. In a sense, Jane disappears, the experience of the world comes to the forefront. While it may sound detached, it’s a very intimate experience.

Years ago I created a conceptual video to describe the process, here’s the short version, and while all is pretty quiet,  the music reflects the drama of one’s thoughts:

My view is, most of humanity has evolved increasingly towards using our thoughts to interpret the world, which is quite useful at times but has robbed us of our actual, lived experience. Mostly we experience the world by how we think about it. For the kind of painting I do, engaging in a fixed mental state is not conducive to the flow of creativity. Surely thinking and analysis is useful along the way, but not useful as the energy that springs into motion and begins creativity. I’m interested in reflecting that felt sense of the world, and to do so, all of me must be connected to everything around and inside of me.


Photo credit, Julie Denesha

So I sit, sometimes before beginning to work, more usually in the midst of a painting flurry, when thoughts take over, to stop and settle and reconnect with what is being experienced. Tuning in to what is felt, heard, being fully aware, using this beautiful instrument of the human body to open up to the surrounding environment, and to the universe.

To me, this is not woo-woo, it’s “not out there” in any way, it’s what is real.  It’s extremely intimate. Therefore while the paintings become public, they come from my deepest experiences, appearing on canvas in the most honest way I can muster. They are a window into this being’s experience of the world.

 

The Island, and the Natural State

I’m living and working on an island off the gulf coast of Florida, unconnected to land by even a bridge.

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We come here in January when it can be stormy and cold, very raw, and hardly anyone else is here.

      

There’s electricity and water on this laid back beach house with few amenities, and minimal cell coverage.  There’s nothing for sale on the island, not even a cup of coffee.

It takes a lot to get settled into this small home on stilts, bringing by boat 3 dogs and enough groceries and batteries and jackets and books and painting supplies to last a few weeks.

Our beloved goddaughter is always our only visitor, and stays for a week.  We celebrate our twin birthdays, fish, read tarot cards, explore matters of the heart, and all things creative.

    

When she leaves, I get very quiet.  It’s an island retreat.

I’ve set up a studio in the sand under this house-on-stilts, a table made from stray wood planks, a water hose and a clothesline set up to hang wet canvases.

I’m rereading Anne Morrow Lindberg’s book “A Gift from the Sea”, published in 1955, written when she lived alone on a very primitive island off the Florida coast for two weeks, leaving her husband and five children at home. She writes:  “How wonderful are islands!…. an island from the world and the world’s life….The past and the future are cut off; only the present remains. Existence in the present gives island living an extreme vividness and purity. One lives like a child or a saint in the immediacy of here and now. Every day, every act, is an island, washed by time and space, and has an island’s completion.”

Photo credit:  EJ Rost

I’m keenly interested right now in what I’d call the natural state, sometimes called a state of grace, which is nurtured by being on this island.  I’m giving my all to peel away the layers that allow this to be seen, felt, lived.  Not some ethereal idea of grace, but actually moving through one’s world with ease, something from deep inside.  I realized early on that it’s vital for my work as a painter, but what’s experienced from living in this state goes far beyond that.  This is a decades long focus, but recently I’ve been laser focused on it.  It feels urgent.

This idea of a state of grace showed up in Lindberg’s book last night, as she writes of her wish to fulfill her obligations:  “But I want first of all—in fact, as an end to these other desires—to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact—to borrow from the language of the saints—to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and inward man be at one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”.

There’s nothing new in her words, many have written about this, but right now I feel this deeply.  Isn’t this what we all long for?

For me, it takes a long time on this island to settle into what Lindberg is describing. I tend to work very hard through the year, obsessively, both mentally and physically. I can run myself to complete exhaustion, with nothing left to offer.  This happened in 2018, and by the end of the year, my well was dry.   When I got here this year, the marionette strings that animate me through the year, are still pulling arms legs and mind.  It’s stunning to see how contracted and incessant my inner world shows itself to be, and what a stark contrast to living on this quiet island that has little else on it but sea, sand and birds.

    

But now, and at last, the surf is taking me, through sound and osmosis.  It’s allowing me to join a different pace, tune in to the wind, the pelicans, the never-ending crashing of waves, the sand that settles into everything, the brilliant evening sky that glows for an entire hour after sunset.  From this calm and conscious place in one’s being, is the very richest place to create, to work, coming from pure source.

From this place, expression simply happens, as Lindberg describes “….and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”. The hand picks up a pencil, or a camera, or a bunch of lumber from a dumpster, to assemble, draw, photograph, write.  It’s so interesting to work from this balanced place, there’s no concern or idea of error.  What is beautiful remains, what is awkward is simply smoothed into another shape, or obscured by a wash, easy as a river flows, with no burden of right or wrong.

I’ve slowed this movie down to see the sea’s movement.

 

Certainly all of us know what it’s like to solve creative problems from this open, expansive state of grace.  Not just those of us involved with the arts, but most everyone who is putting together a project, developing plans or solving problems with a customer, a child, a loved one, have experienced this ease of creative movement when in a state of grace.

This long time spent here allows the well to fill up, entirely, and nourishes my work/me through the year.  At last, my mind and body settle, not moving from one activity to the next, not anxiously needing to paint, to express, not trying to be productive, but to live and breathe and if it’s offered, to paint. 

 

 

 

A visual journal of 2018

 

I’m having a look back at this past year, by way of the paintings that were completed in 2018.  They always tell the unedited story.

The overarching flavor of the year has been dense with activity, complex interactions, unrest, tumultuous changes.  It began with this triptych, which was inspired by a conversation with a friend and gallery owner who was experiencing enormous personal challenges and changes.  I related to her feelings.   This painting is titled “Out of Chaos Comes Movement and Clarity”.   Looking back now, this continued to be the theme for the year.

Winter, spring and summer I was immersed in the studio, painting for a major solo exhibition in southern California.  Along the way, another solo show was planned in late summer, and three group shows were added.  Very little happened outside of the studio until late July.  My last two blog entries reference the works in the massive solo exhibitions that were installed in beautiful, expansive galleries.  These images I’m including below are of additional works.

The time in the studio was intense. After awhile, all my senses were translating into color and mark; softness/sharpness had color, anxiety/peace had color, taste and smell were wild with imagery, unceasing, through the days and nights. Communicating outside of a visual language was challenging.  I was reading Greek Mythology. This painting is titled “Leda and the Swan” and is 7 feet tall.

While most waking hours continued to be in the studio, I consciously slowed my movements down with great effort, even a deliberate effort to walk slowly.  I read ancient poetry, watched the sky, taking in some emotional and visual nourishment.  During this time, there were some smaller quieter works that came into being organically, gently.  This first piece, massive at 20′ wide, is called “Music of the Inner Universe”, titled for one of Kabir’s Ecstatic Poems.  It was part of a group show at the Kansas City Artists Coalition.

Below a smaller piece titled Rhapsody, which feels to me like gentle life forms wafting through evening’s atmosphere.

When the final show of the year was complete, I took a short but pure break, and then began to paint with abandon.  Amelia Earhart was in my dreams and on my mind, so these two paintings are titled in honor of this great adventurer.

Ameila’s Eastern Seaboard, 11′ wide

Amelia’s Western Seaboard, 12′ wide

I’ll resume studio time on the gulf side of Florida in two weeks.  See you then.

 

 

Solo Show at Blue Gallery in Kansas City

I’ve been working towards a solo show opening soon in Kansas City, at the beautiful Blue Gallery.  Kelly Kuhn, owner and director of the gallery, came out for a studio visit and selected from a massive amount of work I’d prepared for the show.  Her selections were brilliant, pulling from multiple palettes, sizes and expressions, to create an exciting body of work for the show.  A team of us prepared the work for display, building heavy duty frames, stretching, wrapping and delivering.

       

 

One of the larger pieces, shown below, is 12′ wide.  It’s hard to comprehend on a computer screen because of it’s scale and density.  Titled “By the Light of the Silvery Moon”.

 

This tall vertical is titled “Seventh Voyage”, and to me calls up wild seas and high adventure:

 

This painting “Inner Outer” has a sort of blackboard look, the paint having been mixed with powdered graphite, for a marvelous light drinking background, making the marks that live there seem animated.

 

I like to work freely, with boundless imagery and tone, so that the paintings develop in surprising ways.  This bright red piece is titled “Sing Sing’s Café”.  For me, this piece is crisp and fresh.  Those silvery white marks are slightly metallic, and have a sheen.

 

Here’s one more – a series of much smaller paintings to form a set, titled “Swan Series – Kabir”.  It was inspired by a poem from a 15th century poet named Kabir.  I was steeped in his writings this summer.  The poem is shown below the image, handwritten on paper.

  

If you’re in the area, please come by and see the show!  I’ll be there September 6th, from 6-9 p.m. for the opening, and will be talking about the work at 7 p.m.

 

Solo Show at Madison Gallery

In the studio I’ve been focused on a solo show at the Madison Gallery in southern California. They’ve recently moved to a beautiful new space in Solana Beach, just north of La Jolla, with soaring ceilings and a 77 foot  wall.  I’ve dreamt of this wall, like Alec Guinness in The Horse’s Mouth (1958) https://youtu.be/90A1nCgstxg.

The show is titled “Narratives”, as these works narrate, in a sense, the physicality, and experience of being human. The imagery is raw and initially unedited, accessing interior and exterior landscapes to begin, recorded with stick, brush, palms of hands, screwdrivers, pencil, crayon, spray paint, filled with an array of sensory and intellectual experiences. The first mark that emerges calls for the next mark, and on and on, and in that way, it’s a dialogue, no different from lived experience, which begins and ends in a mystery for us all.

The show features this 15′ long piece, titled Anthology:“Train Through Town”,  7 feet wide, will be included, and Highlands, 6′ wide:

 

During this time, I’ve been immersed in the ecstatic poetry of Kabir, a 15th century poet, and while my work is never a conceptual translation, it can become imbued with the impact from a literary journey.  These seven pieces are titled from snippets of Kabir’s poems, “The Rain Bird is Thirsty”, “The River Gives Itself to the Ocean”…

Here’s a series of smaller works, each 27″ wide, whose titles were inspired by a Kabir poem “Inside This Clay Jug”,

A POEM BY KABIR, TRANSLATION BY ROBERT BLY

Inside this clay jug
there are canyons and
pine mountains,
and the maker of canyons
and pine mountains!

All seven oceans are inside,
and hundreds of millions of stars.

The acid that tests gold is here,
and the one who judges jewels.

And the music
that comes from the strings
that no one touches,
and the source of all water.

If you want the truth, I will tell you the truth:
Friend, listen: the God whom I love is inside.

 

 

 

Kabir’s Lyrics

I recently picked up a book of Kabir’s Ecstatic Poems and became very involved with them and what they incited when I allowed them to percolate through my being.  This series was deeply influenced by these poems and are titled by snippets of his poems.  Kabir was a 15th century poet who transcended the constraints of religious dogma or another, awakening to wholeness and unity.  He often sang his poems.

This body of work will be included in a solo show at the Madison Gallery in Solana Beach, CA opening August 4, 2018.  Each painting is 54×40

The River Gives Itself to the Ocean

Fire, Earth, Air, Water, Space

The Woman Has Heard the Flute

The Rain Bird is Thirsty

Poet’s Song

 

The World is Breathing

Come Forward With the Light

 

 

 

Everything Feels New

Everything feels new this year.

Coming home from 3 weeks in Florida’s lush environment in January, and landing in the midwest, there was an extreme shift of color.   Moving from rich greens and blues and sunshine, to the subtle colors of the midwest – gray skies, bare trees, fields covered in snow, vast flocks of migrating snow geese – translated into felt space.   I could feel a deep shift nosing around internally.  Withdrawing from the rest of the world entirely, I planted myself in the studio, forms and marks emerged moving through the quiet aliveness of white or even unpainted, raw canvas.

These first two could work as a diptych.  They are each around 100″ wide.

   

The March winds came through with a vengeance.  It was tumultuous within and without.  This triptych is titled “Out of Chaos Comes Movement and Clarity”.

It seems apparent that spring is finally breaking through.

      

The winds have settled.  Below, titled Music of the Inner Universe.  It is 20′ wide.

 

 

Ode to a Studio Assistant

This short film is an ode to my departing studio assistant, Cassie Rhodes, who is moving away to start a new adventure.  She has been a powerhouse with an artist’s eye, her small and mighty frame preparing monumentally scaled canvases, wrangling them into a truck/trailer in high winds for deliveries, once to Taos, NM. She’s managed supplies, a complex inventory, assisting with photo shoots, studio prep and a thousand other unwieldy tasks, and also has cared for our land, managing native prairie, fields and meadows, all which has made it possible for me to devote myself to painting.  While the video clips look like she has staff, mostly she worked on her own power.
We’ve had a million triumphs and laughs together.  
 

 

Journalistic Abstraction

There’s a journalistic component to my abstract work, coming from the neighborhood of the subconscious.  If I try to cook up a visual idea of some event or place, the painting turns out to be a remote translation – stilted and awkward, lifeless.  If I am able to paint with a more open focus, working from a felt sense of color and mark in a conversant way, there’s a better chance of mining something more authentic, and the painting can carry something closer to the direct experience of my surroundings and recent history.  It’s an odd thing to try to describe from a process experience, but evident in the work itself.

Having recently returned from living on a quiet island off the Florida coast, some of the work that has emerged continues to reflect the memory of the seashore, the high winds and storms of January, the ocean and sky teeming with life.  There’s a sense of the experience of living and walking and swimming there, taking in the sea oats grasses, dunes, occasional turquoise waters and washed up lobster baskets.  Also the sea life shows up: tunneling hermit crabs, fish wriggling down a pelican’s long throat and being swallowed whole, starfish, clams, octopuses, blow fish, scallops, mullet, fish bones washing up on the shore.  A few painting details shown here:

    

Below, I’ve included a painting image from an earlier post along with a photo of the woods near the studio, to look at the the different imagery arising from experiencing the midwest in February:  north winds, silvery tree skeletons, golden sedge grasses and the hardy wildlife that survives the harsh winters.

 

 

Winter White

Returning from Florida’s gulf coast to the snowy midwest in late January, was a stunning shift in color and feel – from sky and sea blues, warm sands, moist air and sunshine, to silvery grays and dazzling whites, crisply cold days.

I didn’t feel I was really here, and wasn’t immediately moved to paint, but wanted to use the nourishment of the trip for painting, so I stayed in the studio for a week, from early morning until nearly bedtime.   The wind and snowstorms came and went, still not much happening inside except some canvas prep, photography, fooling around with things.

 

I papered most of the studio with yards of reclaimed cheap paper, and started freely drawing with crayons and pencils, trying to adopt the freedom of a child, not thinking about good or bad, just laying marks on paper.

I began reading the fine print in art books.  It was a little grim, and I was wondering if anything would break loose.

Finally something stirred, and a giant canvas came into being, I think it’s 17′ wide.

It was immediately recognizable as the landscape around me, the silvery gray trees, the beautiful golden sedge grasses sticking up out of the snow and the winds and clouds.

This clear air, white landscapes and gray skies began to be invigorating, having a crystalline feeling, sharp and clear.

Three more canvases arrived, all of them with the clean lines, mostly black and whites.  Here are some painting details:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I feel I’ve rejoined the environment.

 

My Beloved Mentor

Along the way, I was lucky to find an extraordinary painting mentor, Philomene Bennett.  She encouraged me to do what felt most authentic, allowing me to push past my own confines and delve into what felt most true and aligned.

Early on when attending her studio class, I was working on a large painting that was getting worse and worse the more I worked on it.  Something welled up in me and I slightly mixed magenta and pyrrole red oils, stuck a big brush in it and drug it across the middle of the buttery wet canvas in a sort of thrilling rebuttal.

Philomene said JANE, that magenta LINE!  Do you see that line???  It is extraordinary, can you SEE what just happened?

I said What what? You mean I can do THAT (that intuitive movement that wasn’t analytical, that was so juicy and real and impassioned)??

Right then, somehow, she had knocked a hole in the dam of restraint that was keeping me from developing a more truthful and intuitive way of working.  With that line, with that comment and discovery, my work began to become an extension of me, flowing from and beyond me, through a larger dimension.  That one day changed my life, entirely.  I began to paint with fervor; painting became akin to air and food and love.

Many years later, our teacher/student relationship has become a treasured friendship.  Recently I dragged an old, shot-full-of-holes Oliver combine into the field by the studio to create a painted sculpture, and invited Philomene to come over and work on it with me.  I had a bag full of spray paint and Philomene brought a bag full of Burger King breakfast biscuits, and she sat on the golf cart sipping coffee, offering thoughts and pointers.  As she would speak, I could feel what she was going to say, sort of like lifelong canoeing partners who knew how each others paddles were going to strike the water and which way they were steering the canoe.  In perfect unison, with me running the spray paint and her long jeweled finger pointing this way and that, occasionally an uh huh or OH, we worked on the combine nearly wordlessly, some kind of energetic communication flowing between us.  It was a heavenly experience.

 

Recently, I kidnapped Philomene and brought her to the studio to share some wine and look at art.  When she looks at art, she settles in quietly, taking some time to really wholly look, reading it carefully from side to side, up and down until she really sees it.  From this place, speaking philosophically, musing about distances and pull and feeling and place and memory and what’s in front and what’s the atmosphere, and from her few studied comments, her words acting like the strike of a match to a fuse, allow me to hear deeply and translate for my own, and with a few washes and marks, the paintings came into wholeness.  I captured some of it on a time lapse camera:

Of all the teachers in all of the world, I happened to run into Philomene.  I am deeply, profoundly grateful.

 

 

Getting a Few Things Off My Chest

I’ve been rattled by events of the world, and wasn’t able to let the angst go in order to work in the studio, so I invited the misery in and pinned up a canvas to get a few things off my chest.  It was very helpful, and while I softened some of the initial output with more marks and washes, the cacophony of words and imagery were pleasing.  In this video, the painting is nearly complete.


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