Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ten Years After, a Decade Between Canvases

This week I have finished doing a touch up job on a painting of two bouquets of wildflowers. This 36 x 36 inch painting was actually done in 2008, but I had hung it on my wall, feeling that - even after it was signed and initially considered done, that it needed something else. Trouble was, I didn't know what it was then - so I put it on my living room wall for around a year and now that I've just done the rework, I'm glad I did. A very mediocre work is now a tolerably good work, and so naturally I found myself reassured that it would not have been the right thing to put the work out in a gallery in 2008.

We have just celebrated the holidays, and a hair's breath after came the new year that is also leading us into a new decade. Of course every self-indulgent blogger with a keyboard and an itch in their brains is gonna take a moment and be philosophical about where they've been, and what has happened in the course of the previous ten years. As I explained to my infant son, that a year is actually quite meaningless in the cosmological sense, or in the greater sense of the world. In the span of the universe, a year isn't even one zillionth of a grain of sand on the beach of existence - however it is the human mind that assigns meaning to time as it relates to time on earth. I always liked the line from the Kansas song "Dust in the Wind" where they sing "nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky." And when I think of this I think of the beautiful rock peaks of the Catalina Mountains that gaze down on our home - and I remember that they looked exactly the same, virtually unchanged, as they did in old historical photos taken over a hundred years ago. The mountains care very little for human time.

So when I rewind ten years and remember where I was as we entered the year 2000, I was actually standing in the middle of Quay Street in downtown Auckland, New Zealand, with my wife and two friends, screaming and yelling with the thousands of revelers - and toting around a bottle of 101 Southern Comfort. That night I saw a long parade of craziness - a drunk girl walking on broken glass on Queen street. Another guy hurling a whiskey bottle from to top of the Hobson street bridge - and it actually HIT a guy down below on the shoulder. I got kissed by some random girl yelling "Happy New Year!" (Jelena didn't hold that against me...I didn't have a chance to fight the girl off! ...Or did I even try :) And I remember calling my mom later that night to let her know that the Y2K business didn't mean anything - everything was still functioning, in New Zealand anyway - and so it seemed the world would continue after all.

Around that time I was doing a handful of paintings of the North Shore bays in Auckland, trying to fancy myself a new Monet who was going to capture the various times of day on canvas, as the light glanced off the sea. But I quickly bogged down in not being entirely satisfied with the effects I was getting. I then began to do more writing than painting, and this trend continued, for the most part, until sometime in 2002. Jelena had been giving me subtile hints, like buying me canvases and leaving them on the seat of our car - and I began to rethink painting and have some original ideas. And when I showed some paintings to friends where I worked at the Sebel Suites - they started immediately wanting to buy them. And I sold them for some almost criminal bargains - being only too flattered at the time that people were crazy enough to pay what they did for those works. One painting, a painting of Otago on the South Island of New Zealand - even caused a prolonged argument between Jelena and I because she insisted that we keep it, even after several friends wanted to buy it. And we still have it today; it hangs in our living room.

So I guess we can say the seed had been planted - or more correctly, RE-planted at the end of our stay in New Zealand, in 2002 and early 2003. When I came to New Mexico in 2003, there was something firmer and more determined, and more vibrant in my works. Even I noticed it, and found myself curious to move along with it and see how it went. Now after countless shows and sales and successes, it all seems like a million years ago. And it's only with effort that I realize that it was only 7 or 8 years ago.

I don't really know if I can look over the past decade and say that great leaps have been made in the world at large. In some respects that is always true, as science and technology advance, to whatever extent we secure our own lives, without really contributing to a fullness of life - or giving it deeper meaning. But I, like many Americans who took it personally - was a different person after the 9/11 attacks. After the shock of the experience wore off a bit, what remained was the lesson that human depravity was alive and well. And that for every brave soul who would save a friend, or even risk themselves for a stranger - the black heart of human cruelty abounds to this day. The more I thought about it, it became clear to me that if humanity persists in being unable or unwilling to surmount the differences of nation, tribe, religion, and cultural and lifestyle differences, then there is no reason to believe that the world will change in the slightest. At least not in the ways that really can affect human happiness. So in one sense we have indeed advanced ourselves with lots of groovy gadgetry and apps that turn our phones into portable back-scratchers, etc - but we have not managed to secure peace and understanding for future generations. As my writings and concerns are largely about Art, I think that only when societies stabilize and learn to coexist with some quality of understanding, then art will thrive. I should be pleased entirely if no artist ever had to paint about war again - no more "Third of May"s by Goya, no more glistening bayonets to the horizon. But I know better, and do not expect such a fortune anytime soon.

Art will go on. Jim Morrison said in an interview that the music of The Doors could not help but reflect that chaos surrounding it; a very true and profound statement when one considers he was talking about the late sixties and all the cultural and societal changes, and the Vietnam War. And the Art of 2010 will no doubt do the same. I, on the other hand, actually hope that somewhere in my own work there will be some grasp of the larger span of time, and if one looks at my work and feels the heat of nature and color, then I would be fine if no concept of time was applied to it. A mountain painting in 1910 of 2010 ought to glow in paint, so as to tell us something grander about life in general.

I've always appreciated this quote from John Adams:

"I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."

So let's hope that a world of "painting, poetry, music, etc" can replace the fragmented world we know today. Not for the reiteration of pipe dreams of fantasies, but for a better life for our children, and the countless generations to come. Let us work towards a foundation upon which art can rest firmly, and do its part to contribute to human fulfillment and human happiness.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and peaceful 2010!