More Feeling Than Memory: Flowing Leaves, A Swirl of Fish

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Lately I’ve been leaning toward the abstract in my painting, but it’s hard to resist that representational pull. Especially when trying to capture a feeling grounded in memory, like a swirl of fish, or flowing leaves.

I came closer to the abstract with the flowing leaves. Here I was trying to capture what I felt when watching the wind streaming through the birch trees during my morning meditation. It was mesmerizing, the way the wind played with those strands of leaves. Like fingers gently parting,  lifting, letting go. All that light filtering through. I couldn’t get enough of it. I’ve caught something of that here, I think, but not enough.

This was done with oil pastel and watercolor, with a touch of gold acrylic to add sparkle.

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For the swirling fish, I was looking for a mosaic effect.  Like what I saw on the walls and floors of ancient ruins when sailing through the Med in Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, and Malta. Like what I saw beneath the surface of the sea when I was snorkeling, swirls of color fractured by light.

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The oil pastel-watercolor combo lends itself to that effect, although I didn’t quite accomplish what I had set out to do. Still I like it well enough.

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I’m at the place now where I think I need to work in series, painting one after another of the same theme or subject, playing, practicing, seeing how close I can get to what I hold, not so much in my mind’s eye, but in some deeper more inarticulate place. That scattering of light through leaves. That swirl of sea and fish, broken into tiny bits of brilliant color.

More feeling than memory drives the urge to capture what I experienced then. What I experience still when I close my eyes and allow that felt-sense to rise up deep within.

 

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New Paintings – Tangled Limbs, Roots & Rocks

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I haven’t been painting this year as much as last. But I wanted to share a few that will probably find a place on my wall. All of them are a mix of watercolor and oil pastel, which I’ve been playing with a lot lately.

I’ve included two paintings in this post, both proof of my love affair with trees. The one above, Roots and Rocks, is from a nearby creek bed. I love the way the roots of the old oak hug the rocks around it. The reference photo is below.

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Paintings always look better when matted.

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The second painting, Tangled Limbs, and its reference photo are below.

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This is one of the rare paintings which I think looks better the closer you get to it, where you can see the texture and marks better.

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You can’t see it in the reference photo, but the light streaming through those limbs was dazzling. I tried to capture a bit of that by dripping on yellow paint from the top.

I’ll have a couple more paintings to share soon.

 

Mothering the World, A Tall Order

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Margarita Sikorskaia 1968 | St. Petersburg, Russia | TuttArt@ | Pittura * Scultura * Poesia * Musica |

Margarita Sikorskaia

My novel From the Far Ends of the Earth is about relationships between mothers and children and all the ways that is expressed, from the most fearful and destructive to the most trusting and freeing.

A huge influence on my understanding of what “mothering” is, or could be, is found in the Tao Te Ching (CHXXV):

There was something complete and nebulous

Which existed before the Heaven and Earth,

Silent, invisible

Unchanging, standing as One,

Unceasing, ever-revolving,

Able to be the Mother of the World.

This Mother of the World, of course, is Tao, the all-pervading, all embracing, unchanging, and unceasing. It’s the thing that evolves, supports, nurtures, protects, and provides space for its “children,” all individual being.

A tall order for a mere human.

Yet something about that passage spoke to me as a woman and mother. It drew within me the desire to embrace my children in that spirit. And I found the mothering of my own two children improved immensely when I was able to step back and project in some way this more expansive sense of mothering that allows them to feel loved and supported without all the worries and anxieties and criticism and fear that accompany a mere human sense of mothering.

This mothering is not as personal, intense, or myopic, as the latter. It doesn’t hover, it doesn’t obsess, it doesn’t fret. It frees them “to be,” and is based on an immense sense of trust—in myself, in them, and in the universe at large. In God, or Tao, or some divine presence or higher power that embraces all of us, and gives each of us the capacity to mother each other.

This is not to say that I often meet this ideal. Far from it.

But I know I mother my own children best and make fewer mistakes when I’m able to embrace them in that larger, more expansive way. And it feels more natural, less constricted, to mother that way.

I find this kind of mothering works best when all-inclusive. When I embrace all around me with the same mothering spirit. Not just my children, but all children, all people, all things—my home, my community, my work—even the individual objects that fill the space around me and the space outside my window.  When I’m able to actually feel and identify with that potential, to “be” the “Mother of the World.”

Mothering, I learned, is a capacity that anyone can embrace: man, woman, child. You don’t have to be a mother, or have children of your own, to mother the world. When you adopt that stance, all things become your children to nurture, cherish, support, love—to help bring to their full potential.

Here’s wishing you all a lovely day of “mothering.”

First printed on these pages in 2015.

 

Right, at Last, and Wide Open

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Women Combing Their Hair, 1875-76, Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917).

Women Combing Their Hair, 1875-76, Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917).

I’m letting my hair grow out. Like a girl again. It’s past my shoulders already, still mostly brown with a few shimmers of light woven through.

I don’t feel old. Few of us do, even while seeing the signs.

When I was young, I always felt young. Too young. Young in a lost, vulnerable, deer-in-the-headlights sort of way.

I could never understand how other children, teens, young women, seemed so confident, sounded so sure of themselves. When everything about me felt tentative, like I was only half-made, not fully formed, still waiting for some sense of wholeness to emerge.

I felt too-young even when I wasn’t.  When I should have known better. When others were counting on me being full-grown. Like my children.

Other young mothers seemed so secure and self-assured in their mothering, in their interactions with the adult world they inhabited. It was always a mystery to me, how they did that, how they could slip so comfortably into something that was clearly beyond me.

With my own children, at one level, we were one. When they were in my arms, on my lap, when we rocked and thrummed together, they were more me, more mine, more us than anything I had ever known. The circle was complete. I was all womb then. Part of some great mothering movement that wound round us. We were one, not two.

But when they stepped away, when we stood face to face, two again, these little people, staring back, startled me. They were like exotic flowers from some distant land who had been plucked and placed, amazingly, in my hands. Under my care. A person who had no idea what she was doing, who was improvising all the way, first this, then that, no gut-level knowing to clue me in.

Not a mother at all. Just this over-grown girl play-acting at best. Even my children, I’m sure, knew. But they played along.

I’ll be the mother and you be the children, we agreed. Sort of. Sometimes. The line blurred. Lots of give in our roles. But we grew into them eventually.

Somewhere along the way I became mom. The sense of wholeness I had been waiting for settled around me and I can’t really point to the moment I knew I was fully grown, at last.

I do not feel young now. But neither do I feel old. I feel somewhere in-between, swaying cozily in some hammock strung between the two. It feels wide open. I don’t feel the years bearing down. I don’t feel something precious slipping away.

I feel right, at last. And wide open.

Music Like Waves, Rising, Dispersing

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Zdislaw Beksinski - Dagni Tobin - Веб-альбомы Picasa

Zdislaw Beksinski

I came across this poem on one of my favorite blogs O at the Edges.

I love the image of the wave losing itself in dispersal only to rise again, just as music does in the playing, even in the inner repetitions, remaking itself.

Just as memory does, rising from mysterious depths only to disappear again.

Like murmuring starlings, spilling patterns across the sky.

So much “self-similarity” weaving this world together.

I leave you with three gifts: the poem that inspired me, the music that inspired him, and the wonder of murmuring birds.

Requiem

By Robert Ojaki

That it begins.
And like a wave which appears
only to lose itself

in dispersal, rising whole again
yet incomplete in all but
form, it returns.

Music. The true magic.

Each day the sun passes over the river,
bringing warmth to it. Such

devotion inspires movement: a cello in the
darkness, the passage of sparrows. Sighs.

The currents are of our own
making. If we listen do we also

hear? These bodies. These silent voices.

* * *

“Requiem” was written in the 80s, in response to John Rutter’s Requiem. 

 

 

Fascinating Faces, Tao & the Arts

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Some works of art speak to you on a level that is hard to define. You gaze and are drawn inward. Something in you identifies with what you see there. It’s not outside, it’s in here. It was there before you saw it, and the seeing is just a reminder of its presence.

I felt that way when viewing some of the artwork at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Especially in the faces that follow. The one above is my favorite. I cannot help smiling when I see it. I’ve paired the faces with a few favorite Tao verses and Zen anecdotes that capture a glimpse of what I see in each face.

THE MONK – OH SO DELICIOUS

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Once there was a monk fleeing for his life, a tiger at his heels, chasing him over the edge of a cliff where he grabs hold of a branch.  He dangles there just out of reach of the tiger’s snapping jaws, while below another tiger is snapping at his feet.  No escape.  Just then he notices a fat juicy strawberry dangling from a nearby vine. He plucks it loose and pops it into his mouth.  “Oh, so delicious!” he sighs.

THE SAGE – WHERE WONDER RISES

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“From mystery to further mystery is the entrance to all wonders.”  -Tao Te Ching, (Ch. I)

THE SAVANT – RIDING THE WIND

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“My eye becomes my ear, my ear becomes my nose, my nose my mouth. My bone and my flesh melt away. I cannot tell by what my body is supported or what my feet walk upon. I am blowing away, east and west, as a dry leaf torn from a tree. I cannot even tell whether the wind is riding on me or I am riding on the wind.”  -Lieh Tzu

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“Once I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering here and there. Suddenly I awoke and was surprised to be myself again. Now, how can I tell whether I am a man who dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who dreams she is a man?” Chuang Tzu

THE MOTHER – OBTAINING THE ONE

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Knowing the Male,
But staying with the Female,
One becomes the humble Valley of the World. – Tao Te Ching (Ch.XXVIII)

There was something complete and nebulous
Which existed before Heaven and Earth,
Silent, invisible,
Unchanging, standing as One
Unceasing, ever-evolving,
Able to be the Mother-of-the-World.  – (Ch. XXV)

Immersed in One’s Art

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Helen Frankenthaler in Life Magazine, 1956

There’s something immensely satisfying to see Helen Frankenthaler immersed in her art this way. I found this image on Facebook, along with the following quotation:

“I’ve seen women insist on cleaning everything in the house before they could sit down to write . . . and you know it’s a funny thing about housecleaning . . . it never comes to an end. Perfect way to stop a woman. A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectabilty) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she ‘should’ be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Why is it we women (is it only women?) too often put our personal passions last in line behind all else?

I’m trying more and more to put those passions (my writing, painting, music-making) first on my list of to-do’s. But it’s hard. Somehow even blogging comes first, although it too is writing, a kind of art-making. Or at least I try to make it so.

Perhaps because I’ve set firmer deadlines for my blog, or I see it as a commitment I’ve made, to keep this up and running, to not let readers go too long without hearing from me. And blogging is just another way for me to “riff and rapture” about the things I love, to share what inspires me with the world.

Still, to imagine myself immersed in my art as she is in this photo, surrounded by bright splashes of color, my bare legs curled beneath me on the cold floor, and that Mona Lisa smile, that dark gaze . . . it does my heart good.

More of her artwork

Helen Frankenthaler Kendall Conrad | Blog   Helen Frankenthaler Paintings

helen frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler, Tales of Genji III, 1998 - ElemenoP

“Divine Bodies” at the Asian Art Museum

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During my trip to San Francisco last weekend we visited the Asian Art Museum, which was featuring an exhibition of “Divine Bodies,” sacred artwork from Asia. The theme was transformation and transcendence, and the various aspects of divinity as embodied by the Beautiful, the Sensuous, the Fierce, and the Gentle.

I’ll share a few of my favorites below.

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A wooden statue of Avlokiteshvara, the compassionate bodhisattva who “gazes down” at the people with eyes full of sympathetic understanding, embodies The Gentle aspect of the Divine.

Below, another “Gentle,” this time of the Buddha, with outstretched hand and lowered gaze. The faces, the gazes, of these two are so similar they could be the same embodiment, although from different times and cultures.

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Some of my favorites were the female deities.

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Here Parvati, wife of Shiva, represents the female energy of the universe. She embodies The Beautiful, The Sensuous, and The Gentle, with the partial figure of her babe on her knee.

The two below embody The Sensuous, the first representing the link between the female form and fertility, with the woman holding a flowering tree branch. The second is the Buddhist deity Guhyasamaja, meaning “hidden union” of apparent opposites: male and female, mind and body, wisdom and compassion.

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The phallic emblem below is a powerful representation of Shiva as the cosmic creator.

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The following two represent The Fierce aspect of the Divine, powerful enough to transmute the negative force of attachment into wisdom, although these were found on other floors of the museum.

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The Divine Body exhibition also included some intriguing modern art installations. My favorite was Impermanence: The Time of Man by David Hodge, a multichannel video installation with various people off the street speaking about the transience of their own lives, in all its frightening and illuminating aspects.

Another by Dayanita Singh featured the transformations of Mona Ahmed, who says that God gave her a man’s body but a woman’s spirit, and that is why they call her Hijra. In India this is considered a third gender and is closely associated with the divine. Her faces follow.

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I can see why the artist found her face so fascinating and timeless.

Compare it to the ancient one below, seemingly the same embodiment, transcending time as well as gender.

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Scattered throughout the exhibition were quotations mounted on the walls. Two follow.

“Mind has no body distinct from his soul, for that called body is a portion of the soul discerned by the five senses.” – William Blake, poet and artist.

“And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell, and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.” – Black elk, Oglala Lakota (Sioux) spiritual leader

I found so much more at this museum that fascinated and inspired me, but I’ll save the rest for a later post.

 

A Slice of San Francisco

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Last weekend I accompanied my friend Paula on a trip to San Francisco. We stayed in a lovely old building owned by the Native Daughters of the Golden West and designed by Julia Morgan, a five-floor townhouse in the heart of the city.

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Third floor parlour . . .

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. . . and atrium.

While she attended meetings, I took my camera to explore the nearby neighborhood, full of lovely Victorian homes.

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This little fellow caught me by surprise!

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The Victorians weren’t the only interesting sights as I made my way to the famous Haight- Ashbury district.

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In the afternoon we took the bus across the city to the old Ferry Building and eventually to Fisherman’s Wharf, and two Peach Mules at a seaside pub as we watched the sailboats gliding into the sunset.

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I think in another life I could live quite happily in one of San Francisco’s Victorian walk-ups, wandering by foot and bus through it’s many colorful landscapes. It would take a lifetime to explore this vast and vibrant city.

Poetry that Takes Us Beyond Articulation

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Pierced By the Morning Light | oil on canvas mixed media rick steven

Pierced by the Morning Light, by Rick Stevens

Some of us are always seeking a path beyond ourselves, beyond articulation. It’s not escape. It’s the opposite of escape. Its entering the present moment so fully all boundaries fall away.

Beyond articulation, beyond words . . . and yet poetry is often the way we savor those moments. It becomes the latch that allows us to re-enter that rare space.

I’ve written about these moments in the past and shared some of the poetry that rose like mist in the aftermath, capturing the essence, if not the thing itself.

Here’s one I wrote and shared in Wheeling Away on the Isle of Pines, slightly altered. If you’ve had such moments too, or know poetry that takes you there, please share below.

A Path Beyond (Ilse du Pins)

There is a path
green and thin
that wends away
and wheels me in

Rising, falling,
tree by tree,
lanced by light
through streams of leaves

Breathing pines
that breathe in me
like heady wine
flowing, free

Green above
and green below
no in, no out,
no high no low

Winds are water
everywhere
I walk on water,
float on air

Drifting mindless
round the bend
bursting out
bursting in.

by Deborah J. Brasket

More of Rick Steven’s amazing paintings

Other posts that savor such moments:

Walking Among Flowers

Into the Flow

Taste and See, I Am Spare