Albert Ryder, A Wild Note of Longing

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With Sloping Mast and Sinking Prow, by Albert Pinkham Ryder

He’s considered by many the father of American modern art, and yet I’d never heard of him until visiting the New Bedford Whaling Museum this October. I was stunned and mesmerized by what I saw, and astonished I’d never seen his work before. The exhibit “A Wild Note of Longing” was aptly named. The wildness of his images, the sense of mystery and romance, evokes a kind of longing of the spirit, of the heart, for something that lies just beyond our reach.

”Have you ever seen an inch worm crawl up a leaf or twig,” Ryder once wrote, ”and then, clinging to the very end, revolve in the air, feeling for something to reach something? That’s like me. I am trying to find something out there beyond the place on which I have a footing.”

The Flying Dutchman, by Albert Pinkham Ryder

Apparently I’m not alone in that feeling of being struck by lightning when I first discovered Ryder’s paintings so unexpectedly (in a whaling museum!). The Flying Dutchman was the first painting I saw walking into the gallery. Since coming home I’ve being doing research and came across a lecture given by artist Bill Jensen on his first encounter with Ryder’s work: “[I] rounded a corner and discovered five small Ryder paintings salon hung. I felt as if I had been hit by lightning. I had never seen paintings that had such PRESENCE.”

‘I was struck by a LIGHT that seemed to burn from deep within them. I was struck by the painting’s intense DRAMA: their EMOTIONAL AND INTELLECTUAL GESTURING of every shape, every mark, every color to every shape, mark, and color; their weight of immense DENSITY and in the next instant their WEIGHTLESSNESS. They had a feeling that time had been COMPRESSED. They had that “SLAP IN THE FACE REALITY” that reveals powerful INVISIBLE FORCES in and around us. These paintings seem to be constructed of LIVING TISSUE.’ [Emphasis his. You can read the rest of his lecture notes here.]

Sea Tragedy, by Albert Pinkham Ryder

Of course I’ve always been drawn to images of ships at sea, and that’s part of the appeal. There’s so much drama here, so much movement, you can almost hear the waves beating against the hull, the shrieking of the wind in the sails, feel your body hefted by the waves as you grasp at the rails, mesmerized by the beauty and the wildness of it all.

I wrote a poem once called Night Howl about being on a hurricane watch aboard La Gitana one night in Pago Pago, Samoa. These images remind me of that poem and that night, and so many other moonlit nights at sea.

I wrote in that blog post: “Human consciousness is the mirror through which the universe sees and knows itself, and through which we see and know ourselves—the fullness of being, our primal past and present standing face to face.” That’s what I see in Ryder’s paintings, but it’s not just the sea images that move me. It’s also his use of color and composition, the elemental shapes and striking contrasts, the way light seems to emerge out of the paintings, and the themes he choses, so many drawn from myth and legends.

Below are a few more favorites, including what is considered his masterpiece–Jonah.

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The Tempest, by Albert Pinkham Ryder
Begger Maid and the King, by Albert Pinkham Ryder
Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens, by Albert Pinkham Ryder
Jonah, by Albert Pinkham Ryder

Some say Ryder is a painter of dreams. But as Jensen says in his notes on Ryder: “This can be misleading unless one understands that dreams are reality condensed.” This is true of the myths and legends and Biblical stories that he uses as points of departure to reveal what lies below the surface of our common day experience—that “something more” we yearn for that lies so tantalizingly just beyond the reach of our fingertips.

Field Notes From Within, Take Two

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by Odilon Redon, 1904

I’ve revised the poem I posted yesterday. I think this version better captures the heart of it. Let me know what you think.

Field Notes From Within

Our heart is a staunch defender of all

we are, beating with relentless passion

the wherewithal of our being.

Our bowels are alchemists skilled in

diplomacy, sifting silver from dross

passing peacefully away.

Our cells are seeds of pomegranates,

deftly designed for simple pleasures,

lushly dense and sweetly sated.

Our atoms are ballerinas, twirling

on ecstatic toes, arms flung wide,

faces like suns, dervishes of devotion.

Our body is like a tree full of leaves,

bark, sap, lichen—tiny worlds, seemingly

separate. Yet called to serve one

great and common purpose—I Am

–by Deborah J. Brasket (2021 – revised)

Dervishes of Devotion, A Poem

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Detail from Edgar Degas painting

Field Notes from Within

My heart is a staunch defender of all
I am, beating with relentless passion
the wherewithal of my being.

My bowels are alchemists skilled in
diplomacy, sifting silver from dross
passing peacefully away.

My cells are seeds of a pomegranate,
deftly designed for simple pleasures,
lushly dense and sweetly sated.

My atoms are ballerinas, twirling
on ecstatic toes, arms flung wide,
faces like suns, dervishes of devotion.

by Deborah J. Brasket, 2021

I’ve revised this poem to better capture the heart of it, if you’d like to take a look and let me know what you think:

Field Notes From Within, Take Two

Satie’s Gnossienne, Forking Paths, and Time’s Ever Presence

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Japanese Style Landscape Paul Ranson

Time-travelling—that’s what it feels like when listening to Erik Satie’s Gnossienne. When I close my eyes and let the music move me, I’m transported to faraway places and distant times. I can see the mist rising from the river, the arched bridges, the damp gray stones of gothic towers tilting toward sullen skies. I can feel the cool breath of the river, smell the sweet-dank dampness of rain-drenched streets, hear the clatter of distant hoofs on cobblestones. It’s almost as if I’ve entered some strangely familiar dreamscape, or the distant landscape of an idealized past.

These dark, insistent, melancholy notes play us and ply us across space and time in rapturous eloquence. It reminds us that we share so much of our common past, our common humanity, to the art and music and literature that inspires us.

I’m reminded of the short story “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Luis Borges, and this particular quote:

“This web of time – the strands of which approach one another, bifurcate, intersect or ignore each other through the centuries –embraces every possibility. We do not exist in most of them. In some you exist and not I, while in others I do, and you do not, and yet in others both of us exist. In this one, in which chance has favored me, you have come to my gate. In another, you, crossing the garden, have found me dead. In yet another, I say these very same words but am in error, a phantom Time is forever dividing itself toward innumerable futures. — Jorge Luis Borges, from “The Garden of Forking Paths,” Collected Fictions. (Penguin Books September 1, 1999) Originally published 1941.

And also, this from Rilke:

Even the past is still a being in the fullness of its occurrence, if only it is understood not according to its content but by means of its intensity, and we–members of a world that generates movement upon movement, force upon force, and seems to cascade inexorably into less and less visible things–we are forced to rely upon the past’s superior visibility if we want to gain an image of the now muted magnificence that still surrounds us today. — Rainer Maria Rilke, from “On Life and Living,” The Poet’s Guide to Life: The Wisdom of Rilke, ed. and trans. Ulrich Baer (Modern Library, 2005)

And finally, from a Nobel Prize winning physicist, this:

“This life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but is in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear: Tat tvam asi, this is you. Or, again, in such words as ‘I am in the east and in the west, I am below and above, I am this whole world’.

Thus you can throw yourself flat on the ground, stretched out upon Mother Earth, with the certain conviction that you are one with her and she with you. You are as firmly established, as invulnerable as she, indeed a thousand times firmer and more invulnerable. As surely she will engulf you tomorrow, so surely will she bring you forth anew to new striving and suffering.
And not merely ‘some day’: now, today, every day she is bringing you forth, not once but thousands upon thousands of times, just as every day she engulfs you a thousand times over. For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.”
― Erwin Schrödinger,

Titian in a Venetian Palace in Downtown Boston, Or Lost in Time and Space

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That’s how I felt visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum when visiting Boston a few weeks ago.

I went to see a rare collection of eight Titian paintings gathered from around the world. But the Venetian palace that Ms. Gardner built to display her artwork was as fascinating to explore as the Titian masterpieces. It was opened to the public in 1903, a labyrinth of magnificently appointed rooms rising four stories tall and built around a lush, enclosed, garden courtyard.

I was a little piqued at first because none of the painting on display included the names of the artists or paintings, or any information about them, as you usually find in museums. So you were flying blind, guessing whose painting is this, and where did that one come from. Is that amazing Spanish dancer a John Singer Sergeant? It is. And that lovely terrace by Matisse? Right again. But I missed the Rembrandt self-portrait and the Botticelli I got wrong. Some of my favorites turned out to be from artists I was unfamiliar with. Fortunately you can explore her art collection and her rooms on the website.

Still, it was a feast for the eye, not only the paintings but the elaborate furnishings and wall tapestries and carpets. Even murals on ceilings.

It created aa lush and exotic atmosphere in which to experience the artwork. And the way one room wound around another and led to little alcoves and long hallways, pretty soon you felt as disoriented in space as you were in time, and everywhere your gaze fell was some extraordinary painting or sculpture to arrest your attention.

The final room I viewed was where the Titians were collected and I spent quite a bit of time just allowing myself to absorb them. The title of the Collection is: Women, Myth, and Power. I may have more to say about these works later, but for now, here is what the Museum has to say:

“Between 1551 and 1562, Titian created a series of monumental paintings for King Philip II of Spain. Celebrated as landmarks of western painting, the six poesie — or painted poetries — envision epic stories from classical Antiquity. Titian reimagined these familiar tales and used his modern style of painting to shape the future of western art. For the first time in over four centuries, Isabella Stewart Gardner’s fully restored Rape of Europa is reunited with its five illustrious companions in the exhibition’s finale and its only American venue on an international tour including to the National Gallery, London and the Museo del Prado, Madrid. This exhibition explores each painting’s story, its drama, raw emotion, and complex consequences illustrated in each painting, reconsidering what the poesie meant in their own time and how they resonate now. Newly commissioned responses by contemporary artists and scholars engage with questions of gender, power, and sexual violence as relevant today as they were in the Renaissance.”

Adding to the mystery and allure of Ms. Gardner’s museum is the famous art heist that took place in 1990. Thirteen pieces worth $500 million were cut out of their frames by two men posing as police officers. None of the work has been recovered, including Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633), his only only known seascape. The empty frames are still on display.

If you love art and are in Boston, don’t miss this treasure. It’s a feast for the senses.

Wet, Raw, Unfinished

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Instructions for the Journey

The self you leave behind
is only a skin you have outgrown.
Don’t grieve for it.
Look to the wet, raw, unfinished
self, the one you are becoming.
The world, too, sheds its skin:
politicians, cataclysms, ordinary days.
It’s easy to lose this tenderly
unfolding moment. Look for it
as if it were the first green blade
after a long winter. Listen for it
as if it were the first clear tone
in a place where dawn is heralded by bells.

And if all that fails,
wash your own dishes.
Rinse them.
Stand in your kitchen at your sink.
Let cold water run between your fingers.
Feel it.

By Pat Schneider

This poem speaks to me. The older I become in years, the rawer and newer I feel, the more unfinished. The more expansive. As if there never will be an end to me, and I will ever be unfolding in some time out of mind, or mind out of time.

Yes, cold water running between my fingers.
I’m like that.
The cold, the water, the fingers.
The wet, raw, feel of it all.
Just like that.



Multiple Layers of Reality in Film, and in Us

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In several of his films, Ingmar Bergman plays with the notion of multiple layers of reality. This can be seen as early as The Seventh Seal, and continues with Autumn Sonata, and Wild Strawberries, culminating in what was intended to be his final film, Franny and Alexander.

In some ways, Franny and Alexander is a tour de force. It speaks to us on so many levels. It can be seen, in part, as a family saga, a farce, a fairy tale, a theatrical play, a Gothic Romance, and a supernatural horror story. It is, in fact, all these things at once.

Yet each differing perspective can be seen as a different layer of reality, a different way of looking at the same material. Each appears as a separate backdrop against which the film can be seen, which, when lifted, offers a new view, a new level of perception, a new “reality.”

We can see this in the opening sequence. The first shot reveals a close-up of what appears to be an ornate building. As the camera moves down the building, we see a row of footlights and what now appears to be a stage. A series of painted backdrops are lifted to reveal new scenes. But it is only when the last backdrop is raised that we see a child’s face, huge, behind the scenes. This is when we realize that the stage is but a child’s theater and the row of footlights are candles. The camera seems to be inviting the viewer to see through these multiple layers of “reality,” perceptions of the real, to the final revelation, the child, or rather, the child’s imagination, as revealed through his dreamy gaze.

The film continues to pull back layer after layer of curtains to reveal the tenuous and shifting nature of reality.

In the final scene, the grandmother is reading from Strindburg’s “A Dream Play.” She reads: “Anything will occur. Anything is possible and likely. Time and space do not exist. On the tenuous ground of reality, imagination reaches out and weaves a new pattern.”

Reality is seen to be not singular, but as consisting of ever-deepening layers of reality, one on top of the other, in a richly dense and complex multiplicity.

I was reminded of this film when listening to one of Alan Watt’s talks that I wrote about in another post. And I wonder if the reason Bergman’s films resonate with so many people is that we sense a truth here. We see this perspective not only in film and art, about the mystery of things, these shifting perspectives and “layers of reality,” but we see it in science, how beneath these seemingly solid bodies lies unseen, shifting worlds that swirl and collide and contradict each other.

I question often what is real and not-real, and wonder if it’s more complex than that. Perhaps it’s not a case of what’s real or not, of one or the other, but shifting perceptions of what’s real, some dark, some light, that weave together a reality that is deeper and more complex than our superficial lives allow us to see.

POSTSCRIPT: In searching for photos for this post, I happened upon Roger Ebert’s review of the film, which also, surprisingly (or maybe not so), refers to the film as having “shifted into a different kind of reality.” I’ve added an excerpt of his review here:

“There are fairy-tale elements here, but “Fanny and Alexander” is above all the story of what Alexander understands is really happening. If magic is real, if ghosts can walk, so be it. Bergman has often allowed the supernatural into his films. In another sense, the events in “Fanny and Alexander” may be seen through the prism of the children’s memories, so that half-understood and half-forgotten events have been reconstructed into a new fable that explains their lives.

What’s certain is that Bergman somehow glides beyond the mere telling of his story into a kind of hypnotic series of events that have the clarity and fascination of dreams. Rarely have I felt so strongly during a movie that my mind had been shifted into a different kind of reality. The scenes at night in the Jacobi house are as intriguing and mysterious as any I have seen, quiet and dreamy, and then disturbing when the mad Ismael calmly and sweetly shows Alexander how everything will be resolved.”

What do you think? Have you seen any of Bergman’s films? Do you think there’s more to us, or reality, than what we experience in the everyday?

I first posted this, in slightly different form, in 2014.

Brimless Being, A Poem

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Photo by Katy Silberg – Creative Common

Brimless Being

Sharp edges, sharp endings, things
that shatter like teacups on tiled floors,
hurt feelings, resentments, things that
bind like too-tight shoes. Let them go.

All that doesn’t fit hand in glove,
The not-me’s, not-us, the no’s and
nevers, let it all go. It never was nor is.
These negations of the positive, like

The negatives of photographs, or
shadows of trees, are what trail
behind and never touches,
never stains. Pay it no mind.

It will be what it will be when
looking askance, outside ourselves.
We’ll never find what’s real there.
Instead, let all sharp edges and endings

Dissolve into such lush spaciousness
that every falling cup is caught
with soft hands. And filled to the brim
with brimless being.

By Deborah J. Brasket, October 2021

Chopin’s Nocturnes Tinkling the Keys of Consciousness

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Orient Point, Full Moon by Maurice Sapiro

I spent Sunday morning in bed with my coffee listening to Chopin’s complete nocturnes playing on my phone beside me. Think of that. Music created centuries ago played by a pianist years ago streaming in my room, my consciousness, here and now.

Each keystroke playing me as if I was the instrument it played. As if the music arising in the room with no piano in sight were fingers keying notes within the body of some vast collective consciousness.

Aside from the way the notes rippled through me, thrilling and caressing and demanding, was that crystalline silence between each song and each hovering note. The silence that held thought at bay as I listened. The silence that allowed feeling to be all, to allow me, whatever this me is, and this music, whatever this music is, to be one entirely inseparable thing.

There is no end to this.

It is a thing apart.

Touch and Texture, What Satisfies the Eye

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Moth with Slow Cast Detail, 2019, Hand woven textile, hand dyed canvas and wool, linen threads, hand twisted and braided ropes, wax, oil paint, 64” x 104”
Art by Julia Bland http://juliabland.net/works

I’ve always loved the intricacy of highly textured things, in art as well as in the natural world, like tree bark, fungi, and moss. And I’ve always been intrigued by what makes highly textured things so satisfying to the eye, even when we cannot touch them.

My home studio features the highly intricate and textured art from the San Blas islands of Panama, thick layers of colored fabric that’s been cut away to reveal parts of the fabric beneath, and then sewn with such tiny hand-stitches you can barely see them.

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Another textile artwork in my studio comes from Sierra, Peru, depicting a village scene with stuffed doll-like stuffed figures. These I can touch, but I don’t need to, to feel them, to appreciate the depth and texture.

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So it’s not surprising I was drawn to the work of Julie Bland and other textile artists. Julia’s work is highly abstract and and fuses together several mediums and techniques to create intricate collages: stitching, weaving, braiding, cutting, painting. Some of her artwork is deeply textured, others delicate and almost ethereal.

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Art by Julia Bland
Art by Julia Bland
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Art by Julia Bland

Textile is one of the most ancient arts, and most often it’s women who create it. For practical as well as aesthetic reasons. We love to feel what we wear, and we love to feel what we see, and texture is what makes that possible. Touching is so elemental, and so satisfying, even when the eye alone is doing the touching, as we are doing when viewing the artwork on this page.

I hope you find it as satisfying as I do.