Saturday, June 28, 2014

What Airplanes Taught me About Creativity

This week I am working on a new 36 x 48 inch painting of Organ Pipe Cacti...cacti that perhaps fall under that shadow of the more famous and iconic Saguaro, but one which is still very much a treasured part of the ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert.  Also, it should be noted that Organ Pipe National Monument, which is home to many such cacti, has been long regarded as one of the more dangerous National Monuments to visit.  It sits right on the border with Mexico, and I certainly hope that, in the future, it can become a more peaceful and visitor friendly place - where the whims of mankind would do better to give safer harbor to our natural treasures.

I should say also that I never write blogs to suit my own vanity.  I write them when I feel that I have something worthy to say, or share about my work or the arts in general.  And something that has occupied my mind more and more lately is a strange artistic comparison that I feel between airplanes, and creativity.  I thought this might be worth exploring...

On the surface it might not appear that aircraft are acts of creativity.  But I think that they very much are.  Most especially military aircraft.  When conditions present themselves where an airplane needs to have a certain kind of capability to do what is required of it, a great deal of creativity - and one might even say, counter-creativity is needed in order to make an airplane that can do things that have never been done before.  Or one that does known things better, faster, or in wartime - a more lethal way.  This is not to congratulate warmongers for the great rivers of misery and destruction that they have wrought on the world.  That is an abhorrent feature of human nature.  Rather, this is simply to contemplate how aircraft represent creative solutions to problems posed.

One of the most stirring examples is the World War II era German Messerschmidt 262, - the world's first fully operational jet fighter.  In the dying throes of the Nazi regime in 1944-1945, it is well known that Hitler and his regime turned to what he called "Wonder weapons" that could somehow salvage a German victory against overwhelming odds.  As German cities were pounded night and day by British and American bombers, German engineers pressed into service the Messerschmidt 262, in hopes that it could stem the tide that was then turning against Germany.  With untold thousands of piston engined fighters and bombers numbering the skies all around the world at that time - suddenly there appeared the Me 262 jet fighter, which could outrun the American P-51 Mustang by a full 100 miles per hour.

I have long been fascinated by this airplane and even built a model of it.  When I am in need of reflection I sometimes even hold it and look at it, and allow myself to think about it as a kind of catalyst for contemplating new solutions to problems - even in painting.  It is a question worth thinking about; how then do we create new solutions that change the paradigm entirely - without borrowing from the past?  What happens when we disregard the old rule book, throw that sucker out and just write a new one?  The Me 262 is an interesting thing to contemplate because it represented, in aviation, the act of throwing the rule book out.  That there have been essential and pivotal times when that act was necessary.  There are countless aircraft that prove this.

Fortunately, the disgusting, racist, and inhuman regime of the Nazis did indeed suffer the inevitable defeat that was necessary for human civilization to stand a chance at flourishing.  I can say with no hesitation that the marvels of German aircraft engineering in all their breadth and scope would never excuse or erase the terrible cruelty exhibited on Jews, and others, by the Nazi regime.  I take great satisfaction in knowing the great fleets of Mustangs and Spitfires proved too much for even the modest numbers of Me-262s that saw combat.  But the presence of that airplane did not go unnoticed, and some may not be aware that there were very well organized British, American, and Soviet efforts at procuring German technology, including the Me 262, after the war was over.  The moment they had defeated Germany - they wanted to get their hands on this aircraft, and others.

Part of being a good artist is to be able to comfortably allow the flow of creative insights, from whatever source.  Many artists I know are into music deeply, because they feel that cross pollination with musical inspiration.  But when I hold my model of the Me-262 somehow I gain the courage to sometimes throw the rule book out, and try to rewrite a new one.  The confidence to put that first line to that first new page, of a book that has not yet been written - that is what it really means to be an artist. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Short Essay on the Texas Musical Duo "Penny & Sparrow"

Music can find hope again in the spare and haunting harmonies of the Texas-based duo Penny & Sparrow.  Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke have created a sound that is both new and reminiscent of something old – as if there were two Ray LaMontagnes sitting around a campfire exploring the surprises and pauses of melody and lyric honesty.  The short history of their body of work, most poignantly put forth by the CD “Tenbloom”, shows Baxter and Jahnke to be kings of the act of musical minimalism – as they challenge the listener to a kind of intimate conversation with the music.  When so much of the radio is a blur of popstars, synthesizers, drums, and light shows – here, two honest men lay bare the simple poetry of sound.  Here they almost seem to say, come and sit with us – as if you were one of only a few invited.   Andy Baxter’s voice floats like smoke over old wood – and is further raised up by Jahnke’s own guitar and piercing vocal harmonics. 

Penny & Sparrow are much like the artist that paints the entire picture with a few strokes of color.  Much is left to the space of the imagination – what is illustrated on the vocal canvas shared by these two artists – is exactly what they feel you should know…to perhaps learn something about yourself and all the binds those with the sensitivity to listen.  And so it seems like a perfect fit that the music is infused with that most universal theme of human experience – shared emotion.  Lines left lingering in the mind on things that we have all felt, losses we have all endured, and wishes we’ve all had – fulfilled and un-fulfilled.  Heartache said simply – this is heartache.  And both the closeness and the interminable distances between two people.  Penny & Sparrow’s music gives us breathing room.   The benediction that to simply be alive and sensitive to the world can be held up in all its beauty and mystery.

Now with the debut of the song and video “Rattle”, off Penny and Sparrow’s forthcoming CD “Struggle Pretty”, we hear again the minimalist glow between Baxter’s voice and Jahnke’s guitar.  The sound and lyrics speak the spirit of what was created in their previous recordings, and the inner chambers of heart and mind for which Penny & Sparrow have created a soundtrack like no other.  Even the name “Struggle Pretty” seems to hold up to the light the very essence of life – that struggle itself can contain the beauty of life – and can even help create it.  What would life be without the beauty we create in all opposition to the struggles that descend upon us?  Penny & Sparrow have shown us poetry in song that allows us to sit right in the middle of all the storms of life and think them to be beautiful.  The great expanse of the lone star state has given us many musical artists we can be thankful for – but none so great as Penny & Sparrow.  Their storied harmonies give us permission to be human – and we will be thanking them for a very long time, for that gift.