Sharing some favorite pairings with you on this lovely Friday morning:
Artwork – “Evocation of Butterflies” by Odilon Redon
Music – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Recomposed by Max Richter
More Redon to revel in as you listen
One of my favorite pastimes when we were sailing was watching the wake the boat made slipping through still waters. The glassy surface of the ocean rose up creating a razor-sharp edge as it continuously slipped along beside us, like a wave that never breaks.
Not every wake was like this and so fascinated me. It came only under perfect conditions. When the sea was clear and still, smooth as a mirror. When the wind was non-existent or so light it was like a baby’s breath. When we were sailing lightly on a zephyr’s breeze, or motoring through calm, still waters. When the wind rose and rolled, the wake would change, shot over with foam, its curl not so distinct, its edge not so transparent.
I’ve searched everywhere for a photo of a wave or boat wake that captures what so fascinated me, but the closest I can find are images of sand dunes with that razor-sharp edge following the undulating line of its crest. Sand dunes have their own haunting beauty and they too shift over time, but even so they don’t do my memory justice, for the wake I watched was alive, vibrant, constantly moving, a steady companion.
It was sculpture in motion, the way it curled up continuously creating that sharp, transparent edge. A slight undulation along the lip as it held its form was mesmerizing. Watching it, I thought, I never want to be anywhere but here. And, I never want to lose this. I sought to etch it in my mind so it would always be part of me.
Of course, it wasn’t just the sight of that never-ending curl, that razor-sharp edge trembling in the sunshine that moved me. It was the whole experience. The still sea stretching out forever, the soft swish of the hull parting the seas, the whisper of the wind against the sails. It was the tang of the salt in the air and the balmy breeze stroking my skin with silk gloves. It was me, bare-legs stretched out against the warm teak decking, sitting absolutely still in a sea of motion.
It was my family tucked away with me within our living, moving, breathing home, miles and miles from anywhere, safely embraced by the sea and sun and breeze.
If anything clearly captures the essence of what it was like to live aboard La Gitana all those years, it was the poetry of moments like this, repeated over and over again, like glittering pearls strung along a string.
I think now what fascinated me then was how this was such a clear example of the ever-changing changeless: The constant subtle variations in the wake’s shape that made it so mesmerizing to watch and yet changeless in its constancy, it never-ending formation. And while it lasted for hours, it was ever a new thing, newly created moment by moment.
I wanted to reach out and touch that razor’s edge, but I knew if I did it would dissolve beneath my fingers. How could water, so malleable that it melts through your fingers, create such a sharp, clear edge and hold it so long?
These things fascinated me then as they do now and fed my interest in the sublime ambiguities and paradoxes that underlie this beautiful world we live in.
I fell in love with the title of Milan Kundera’s novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” long before I ever read it. To me it evokes something unbearably joyful and rich, playful and profound.
So I was disappointed to find the novel itself, while a wonderful read, rich and playful and its own way, suggested a different interpretation of its title, a profound sadness at how fragile and transitory life is, how quickly its bright light fades.
I don’t see life that way at all. I mean, I see it, I understand why it may seem that way. But I don’t believe it.
To me, the beauty of this “lightness of being” is not that it is “unbearable” as in too horrible to bear, but “unbearable” as in too delicious to bear, to contain. It spills over.
I think that’s what I was trying to convey in my painting of the dancing poppies in a blue bowl. The beauty of the seemingly solid things that surround us, that make up our lives, is that they are not “heavy” or “static,” but constantly in motion, “dancing” as it were through time and space. Constantly dissolving itself and resolving into something else, similar, but not quite the same. The way the present moment dissolves and resolves instantaneously as we move through time.
There’s a wonderful analogy of the universe/reality by the physicist David Bohm. He sees reality and consciousness, what he calls the “implicate order,” as a “coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment.” He likens this whole (all that ever was and ever will be) as a tightly woven ball of yarn, one infinite thread. Yet the way we perceive it through time and space is as if the ball of yarn is rolling away and unraveling before our eyes. We glimpse “what is” second by second, inch by inch, as it reveals itself to us in micro-bites and nano-seconds. It’s not that reality is actually unraveling, but that the illusion of its unraveling is how we come to comprehend it, see it, know it, love it. We are one with it all the while, even while it appears as something distinct and separate from our selves.
Another analogy that I love is Indra’s Net. Here the universe/reality is like an infinite net with a pearl at each interstice. Each pearl reflects every other pearl as well as the whole net itself. Each pearl contains within itself, as part of its own lustrous being, part of its own distinct individuality, all the others around it. The part contains the whole and vice versa.
This view of reality makes sense to me, not only from a scientific and spiritual viewpoint, but experientialy as well. I experience this every time I walk through the house and pass through one doorway after another and watch this interior landscape flowing past me, one room dissolving as a new one approaches. Every time I look out the window and take in the trees and hills and houses and sky and hold them in my mind’s eye even as I turn away. Practical, ordinary, experiences we all share.
I hold all those I love with me wherever I go as I know they do me. My breath is constantly circulating through my body as I breathe in the world around me and breath it out again. Nothing is still for even a second. All of life is in constant motion, the atoms within us and the galaxies swirling about our heads.
This is the unbearable lightness of being. Dancing poppies, dissolving bowl. Brush dipped in water and paint spilling images across a page. All this spilling together going on right here and now as you read this, my heart and mind spilling out to you.
What could be lighter, brighter, more playful and profound than that? This unbearably rich and joyful lightness of being.
Capturing light in painting is one of the artist’s greatest challenges and deepest joys.
I fell in love with the dazzling white lights in the paintings of Sorolla. And later the warm, buttery light that infuses Franz Bischoff’s California seascapes. I couldn’t help but be tempted to try my own hand at capturing even a fraction of the light they capture in their paintings. I knew I wouldn’t be able to come close, but you can learn so much from your failures. You learn what is possible, what doesn’t work, what your limits are, what you still need to learn.
I decided to start by trying to capture some of that warm buttery feel in Bischoff’s paintings, before moving toward Sorolla’s dazzling white light.
These first two attempts are from photographs I took on a trip to Big Sur at the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park along Highway 1. Before donating the land to the state, the original owners had a house on a bluff overlooking the ocean. These are the views from her home. On one side the coastline and Highway 1 snaking northward. to the south a private cove with an 80 foot waterfall. In their backyard are the redwoods. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have lived in that magical place, to have woke each morning to these views from their windows.
I’m not unhappy with the results. When I compare my paintings to photographs of his (below), I think I captured some of that warm, buttery glow.
That encouraged me to try a study of one of my favorite Sorolla paintings, changing it slightly–a different boat and adding a swimmer snorkeling. I could not capture his dazzling white rocks, so I settled for a something more colorful, abstract.
I’m happy enough with the results, although it’s nothing like Sorolla’s. His secret is still safe from me. Still, I’m more in awe of him now than before.
His blues are so much deeper, his lights so much brighter. And his reflections! His colors! How does he do that? I get drunk on his colors. I want to dive in and live there.
Here are links to more of Sorolla’s and Bischoff’s paintings where you can see them in greater detail. They are artists you could fall in love with. I did.
Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so
quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the
ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?
[Many thanks to Writing Without Paper for providing a link to this poem.]
I’m still playing with my painting, copying artists I love or using their vision, their palettes, for inspiration. Still trying to learn the art of painting and its craft. Trying to discover what I want to do with my painting, what I want to capture, and how.
The two below were inspired by the paintings of Peter Doig. I think of them as “dreamscapes.” They are nothing like what you would really find in the tropics, and yet they capture what it feels like to be there at night in that dark/light denseness.
The first I painted is a near likeness of one of his paintings. And I have to say I’m pleased with it. I like it almost as much as his, meaning that I recognize the quality of mine doesn’t match his, but it does capture, at least for me, the “feeling.” You can almost smell the humidity, the damp earth and folliage, feel the balmy stillness of night in the tropics.
The second was inspired by his painting of the milky way reflected in water, but mine is not like his at all. I created a different version of the Milky way, and a different land and seascape below. It’s very much its own painting, and I’m pleased with it.
The next two were inspired by Ann Oram’s paintings of the Mediterranean. The first is a close copy, mine in watercolor and ink, hers in pastel and ink. You can see her original at the top of this page. I liked the way she used candle wax as a “resist” to add texture to the rocks and water. I liked the way the ink defined splashes of color into buildings. I hadn’t used ink or wax before, and now have started using them in other paintings as well.
The second is my own creation, and not as successful, I think. I wanted the cliffs in the foreground to be the focus, but I think I strayed from that. I’m not unhappy with what I created, but something doesn’t quite sit well with me. I’m not sure what’s off. Someone suggested the buildings on the far cliff are too large for the perspective, and she’s probably right. But even if I shortened them, I don’t think it would “fix” it. Maybe you have some ideas for me.
Sometimes I have to sit with a painting for a long time before I see what I need to do to complete it. I put it up where I can see it whenever I enter the room, and stop to study from time to time. And slowly I come to realize, oh yes, that needs to be darker, that lightened, that edge hardened, that one softened. But sometimes, even after studying it for a long time, I realize this painting is as good as it gets, at least for now, and I put it away.
I still don’t know what “my style” is when it comes to painting, or even my medium. I’ve been mixing collage and watercolor recently and will share some of that with you soon. Right now I just like playing, tying new things, discovering new artwork that I love. When I love it enough, it’s too tempting not to at least try to see if I can recreate something remotely similar.
Most recently I’ve been trying to capture something of Sorolla’s light. I’ll share that attempt soon.
It’s a question a blogger friend asked one day in response to my comment that I would like to try to paint my poems.
Often my poems start with a strong visual image, and as I’m reading them I’m seeing these images flash through my mind.
When I wrote “Hot Hills in Summer Heat” I was travelling on Highway 101, looking up at the golden hills profiled against the blue sky as they cascaded down to the sea.
I watch them every summer, the hot hills
Crouched like a lion beside the road.
Something masculine and sensual about that image gripped me, and a poem was born.
I’m not sure if my poem “A Pleasing Design” was inspired by, or inspired, an abstract drawing of the male and female forms that I created long ago.
Both appeared around the same time. I don’t remember which came first.
I like the intricate pattern we create,
Stripped bare and essential,
The piling planes and lacing lines,
The way we meet and mingle.
My poem “Walking Among Flowers” was inspired by the image at the top of this post, drawn by a Zen monk from the 17th century. Something about its blunt beauty, or stark un-beauty, struck me fiercely, as if tearing open something deep within.
Walking among flowers
Drowning in scent
Petals assault me
Cool and bent
But the poem itself was written as we lay anchored in a bay in Moorea, looking up at a house on the bluff with a garden spilling over the edge. I wanted to roam that garden, to let the deep, dark beauty I imagined there tear me apart so I could be reborn. I wanted to swoop down from the high garden wall and swallow it whole.
Even now, I want to paint that garden with the rough, blunt strokes of Pa-ta Shan-jen.
A poem, after all, is just a vehicle to express something deeply felt, some emotion or insight or new way of seeing. And a painting is another way to express the very same things. Each would be distinct, it’s own unique creation. And neither would ever quite capture what you wanted to share. Both mediums are limited.
Poems inspired by paintings are common. But the other way around less so.
Recently, though, another blogger friend led me to the website of Lena Levin, an artist who does just that. She’s created a whole series of paintings inspired by Shakespeare’s sonnets. Her blog on the Art of Seeing is well worth reading as well.
I don’t know if I will ever paint my poems, or how successful they might be if I try. Words and images tangle in my mind, and it’s hard to sort them out. In the past the only way I could capture what I was seeing/feeling was through poetry. Now I want to see if I can use color and contours, images empty space like words, shaping them into phrases to be felt and understood.
Perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to the works of the French Symbolist, Odilon Redon, and his “Mysterious and Poetic Paintings.” Viewing them is like reading between the lines of a poem. It says more than words can tell.
I don’t know if I have the expertise at this stage of my learning curve to be able to do such a thing. But I do know I want to try.
You can read the full text of the poems mentioned in this post at the links below:
“A Pleasing Design” from The Geometry and Geography of Love
The first poem I shared on my new blog five years ago was scribbled in the starlight on a moonless night while crossing the Sea of Cortez.
A few months later I received an email from Troy Armstrong, a classical composer who said he had set my poem to music to be performed by a choir. As I listened to the music, tears were streaming down my cheeks, for I knew this is what I would have heard that night had I ears to hear, sailing among the stars.
Poetry, as well as music, has the power to capture that state of wonder we all feel at times when confronting the beauty and majesty of nature, and its power to move us beyond ourselves.
In celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m sharing the original post below with the poem and a link to the music.
Sailing Among the Stars
Last night I swam among the stars. The air and water temperatures were both 78 degrees, so it felt like I was moving from one warm atmosphere into another more dense when I stepped in my pool. There was no moon and the Milky Way was strewn across the sky like scattered bones of light. When I lay on my back to watch them, it felt like I was floating among the stars.
And then I realized–I was! We all are.
We sail across the universe on the back of a tiny planet at the edge of a galaxy that swirls around us. Too often we forget that–how embedded we really are in the universe.
I became acutely aware of this one night when we were crossing the Sea of Cortez from Baja to mainland Mexico. There was no wind, no moon. The sea was perfectly still like the surface of a dark mirror, marred only by our trailing wake.
Above us the bare mast stirred a billion stars, which were reflected in the sea’s surface below. I felt like we were on a starship sailing through the cosmos.
Later that night I wrote this:
Night Crossing, Sea of Cortez
The sea appears so simple
With a dark, indulgent face,
The stars there twice reflected
Like a world spun out of space.
Our sloop shoots through the cosmos,
Through a mute and moonless night,
Our wake a fiery comet
Streaming effervescent light.
With all the universe inert
We slip from star to star,
Then reach across the Milky Way
Toward galaxies afar.
Eons swirl, light-years unfurl
And none can still our flight,
Leaping toward the infinite
To apprehend the light.
I’m not alone in seeing the overlap between the ocean and the night sky. Various artists are fond of depicting whales and dolphins and other sea creatures swimming among the stars. The ocean and the universe stand at the edge of the wild, the last two true frontiers we have to explore, except for the human consciousness, of course. The ocean and the universe have become symbols for consciousness as well as adventure.
We seem to grasp that there is something that connects all three—some deep, dreamy, ever-flowing, ungraspable, powerful yet nurturing element in which we all are steeped. That calls us to move beyond ourselves, beyond the safe and familiar, the already known. That inspires us to reach for something that lies just beyond our grasp.
You can listen to the haunting music Troy Armstrong wrote at this link:
It was love at first sight when I discovered the paintings of Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923). Known as “the painter of light,” his seascapes and beach scenes are drenched in a warm, buttery light, and swim with dazzling swirls of color.
They evoke a dynamic sense of playfulness, as if capturing fleeting moments of the here and now, brief snapshots frozen in time.
They reveal a deep love of nature and the simple pleasures of life. Sorolla was a family man and many of his paintings feature children at play, mothers with flowing skirts, young women with veils and parasols.
As I enter each painting and let it wash over me, all that luscious light and sensuous movement thrills me, and I feel bathed in bliss
I couldn’t help sharing some of my favorites with you. Enjoy!
I’m still “studying the masters” and playing with style. Most recently with two contemporary artists.
The first is a floral inspired by a David Peikon painting of pink dahlias. I love the way his flowers and surrounding garden fill the whole space, a riot of colors, lines and shapes. I found I enjoyed painting that tangle of leaves of the left as much as, or more so, than the flowers in the center. I didn’t try to copy his leaves but created my own, each shape leading to the next and the next, making it up as I went along. The same with the garden on the right. I tried to keep this side lighter, hinting at what was there and using less detail. I’m happy enough with this to want to frame and display.
I’ve discovered that I like painting detail in a complex design, that I can get lost in it. I’ve also found that I like vibrant colors that fill the whole paper leaving little white space.
That’s probably why Shirley Trevena’s work and her book Taking Risks with Water Color caught my eye. In her book she details how she painted “Pink Pears Red Flowers.” I tried to follow along but kept getting ahead myself. I didn’t want to copy hers, but use some of her techniques and basic design, simplified somewhat, as seen below.
I liked how she started with the rich, red blossoms on the blank white paper and worked outward, filling up the space, placing objects and background patterns, often from her imagination rather than what’s actually before her.
I used some of her techniques to create my first still life drawn from objects collected around my home: an African violet and orchid in bloom, two oranges in an antique bowl, a clay figurine, and a crocheted doily. I wanted the cobalt blue to be the unifying color, and a mix of warmer hues of yellow, gold, orange, and sienna as the complement.
When I finished painting the main objects, I created the surrounding background from my imagination, inspired by the way Trevena breaks up her still life,s with bands of color and patterns.Thus the coral background and strip at the top left and the purple/yellow combo on the right.
While some parts of the painting I like more than others, altogether I’m pleased with my first still life drawn from real life, from things that I love.