Posted in Paintings in Progress

Our Lady of the Kedge

vickers painting may 23 2013

There are infinite possibilities in art. When faced with an empty canvas an artist can be stymied by so many alternatives. It requires a narrowing of focus to hone in on intention, that particular thing you are called upon to express.

One needs set the right environment, speak prayers of supplication to the muse, and open to what nature has to reveal in the exuberant flow of her endless manifestations.

The challenge is to maintain balance, and walk the fine line between conscious intent and receptivity to what arises spontaneously when paint hits canvas and colors bleed in confounding ways.

I take a break from the mental gyrations of painting to work in the garden.DSC02047

Thatcher Farm is big, with more rows of fertile earth than I can plant. I take an 8 by 16′ bed and divide it according to the square foot gardening technique. I lay it out with sticks and line, and plant seeds so many per square depending on the plant’s requirement for space. I impose an ordered framework, prepare the ground and trust that Mother Gaia can take it from there.

It’s like the layout for my next painting. But here the grid is based on the mystic proportion, the Golden Mean.

It is a major precept of spiritual and artistic disciplines to work like nature. The ancients discovered that the Golden mean is the proportion that comes closest to the original unity from which the diversity of life forms arose. It is this unity to which, in spiritual practice, we aspire to return. The proportion is expressed in plants, shells and seasonal cycles.

I lay out a grid of charcoal lines and, with color studies, narrow the colors to a triad of blue/green, red/violet and yellow/orange.

vickers painting 3

The sculpture on the Vickers memorial abides by the golden proportion, and its mystic rule sets the measure for creative expansion into the space around her. She is a portion of that spaciousness which is the ultimate nature of reality and she bestows it generously upon the graves of Port Madison’s founders lying at her stone feet.  Like a beacon, she radiates light far over the bay.

I recall what my Eastern European sculpture teacher told me: sculpture is, ultimately, about light and space. He talked about how Michelangelo distorted David’s head so it would catch light and project it upward. Maybe it had to do with chakra’s. But I did learn from him that the ultimate end of the sculptor’s work is emptiness.

It is the quality of spaciousness and light she projects that is the theme of my painting, and her expansive energy inspires a harmonious distribution of color and form on the canvas. For, in the end, it comes down to this: to call upon the muse of art (and gardening) to favor us with her bounty and use the brute material of the tangible world to evoke the intangible spirit.

Posted in Saturnius McWhirr stories

The McWhirr stories-An Afterword?

Cormorants are huddled like a conclave of robed mystics brooding over lost fish. The wind blows from all directions in Port Madison.

I write windy dialogue that transpires between two contrary characters.  I suppose the I of the story refers to myself, but even this first-person identity gets pretty tenuous at times.  I am obtuse foil to McWhirr’s exacting command, and he is confounded by my poetic flights.  This tension, this ever tipping dynamic, propels the leaky vessel of my prose.

In the voyage of this yarn to it’s “conclusion”, fact and fiction are interwoven to create a tapestry of associative episodes in order to express some ineffable truth about man’s impulse toward adventure.

But to what degree can I actually claim these adventures mine? Where was the line crossed between inspiration and plagiarism? All my powers of expression are called upon to render a fictional account of  vaguely recalled events in the transient world of sensations and ideas.

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Me sneezing

I’ve come close to foundering in a fog of  fantasy, relevant only to myself or to those souls fortunate enough (or unlucky enough) to be conversant with sailing lore, and experienced in the sea’s fickle ways.

Where has McWhirr gone? While his vanishing act seems a natural outcome of the narrative flow, it has left me without bearings-without a meaningful waypoint.  He’s left me becalmed at slack water, transfixed by sunlight on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with only an obscure missive from Virgil’s heroic verse:  From me learn courage and patience, from others the meaning of fortune.  Then again, maybe this is all the bearing I need.

Though the dream of finding a copy of the Aeneid happened some 20 years ago, it’s true import remains enigmatic.  But I feel it has to do with carrying on a lineage, the bearing of the household gods to establish a new homeland or  mode of awareness.  It’s also about a mutual need, a pact made with the dead to honor them.  My dad’s ghost comes and goes in the story, and recalls me to some forgotten bond.  He says I should heed McWhirr.

The View from the Wheelhouse is a fluid one, and successful navigation depends on an ability to tolerate a constantly shifting perspective. The conclusion of this tale is as elusive as a Micronesian landfall.

So I trust this isn’t the last we’ve heard from McWhirr. The wily old coot’s vanishing act may be prologue to his reinstatement on a more believable level of fictional existence.

Wars are started by mistaking the thing in itself for the metaphor, and the inability to see through the symbol, as through a veil, to the symbolized. Scientists have recently discovered that the north wind doesn’t really have a beard and puffy cheeks. We’ve evolved beyond such nonsense.  But this knowledge is of little use to the sailor driven on a rocky lee shore by a fierce northerly gale.  For myself and everyone, I pray to the household gods.

Posted in Saturnius McWhirr stories

Ahab meets Aeneas

File:Moby dick434.jpg

The sound of waves whooshed over the sandlot playground where, high overhead on the screen,  elongated tars sang from the Pequod’s rigging. Dad had piled the crew into the wagon to see the awesome spectacle of Moby Dick unfold on a 50’s drive-in movie screen.  Gaunt against the dusky tropical light, Ahab glowered over the taffrail, the very image of the leaden god that circumscribes our meager efforts on earth.  Is that when I first heard the  lydian call of the Siren’s sea?

“Ready about! We’ll never make our offing if you don’t wake up!”

McWhirr stands on the foredeck, grasping a weather shroud against the roll.

“ Ready about!”

The wind freshens, and Old Hand pounds into seas steepened by the brute contention of wind and tide, hell-bent on clearing the boulders awash off Skiff Point.

Why must we hurl headlong into the tide-race at Neptune’s mercy, when we might be lounging, beer poised, before the latest remake of the same old sea story, remote from the possability of drowning? At the question, the mind can only wander, and flow with the kelp’s sinuous curves into deeper soundings past the headland to the west…oriens

Dad, from his wheelchair on the  Laguna Beach hills, held lookout for whale-spouts on the gold-burnished horizon.  A watch he may yet hold, in his heart. His stout heart, relic of the an ancient clan, has either been occulted into the rarefied vaults of the holy ones or lost in a cluttered closet on Dawson Street.

Then, in a dream, I found a a copy of the Aeneid among carved wooden heads on a laural-shaded altar. A sign? A waypoint that marks the passage of another life?

“We are becalmed, mate.”studio etc 010

McWhirr’s foghorn bass, seems far away.

The boom swings overhead. A clatter of gear from below rouses me in time to see an abomination of a container ship off Jefferson Head turn southeast around the Sierra Foxtrot buoy.  I turn the helm alee, past sodden fishermen bent over gunwales, looking bereft of hope for even an enemic cod.

“3 fathoms. Let go here, mister Spencer!”

“Aye sir!”

I drop anchor and Old Hand slowly turns toward the flood. The east turns blue/violet, then slate-gray above the  Cascade range.

“Have I ever told you that dream about Aeneas?”

“Who’s he when he’s at home?”

Let it go. That was another life. Another has signed on as swab this voyage. I was but a nipper who saw the hollow face of Saturn in the light projected on an L.A. drive-in movie screen. Just as now, he’s rough-hewn on the rocky peak yonder.  He limps his sluggish round while the laurel tree’s shadow circles over the household gods, ever counter to the golden sun.

Posted in Musings

Chop wood,carry on

Classic tug, Noreen, built in 1906
Oh my back! Monk’s shop to left

Its been very lovely in Port Madison this Spring.  I’ve been regrouping after putting up the art show, taking stock and redirecting energy toward simpler things like chopping wood.  We are talking serious wood chopping.

The building is a workshop built by  Ed Monk.  I’ve been privileged to Moor Old Hand at this historic site, built by one of the Northwest’s finest boat designers.  I feel his presence in the stoutly built out- buildings and docks,  and gladdened by the thought that, he too, hauled gear and materials up and down the steep path to the water.  His can-do spirit inspires my humble efforts, and I take extra care in the stacking of split maple and cedar.  This stacking is itself, an art.

old hand interior January '12 007
Interior of Old Hand

At first, I was unimpressed by Monk’s designs.  But as I worked on his boat-houses I came to see his ubiquitous, wooden power cruisers in a new light.

I find rusty, bent shipwright tools near Monk’s shop, and use an old, weathered workbench he made.  After the long preparation for the exhibit, this physical connection with  common objects that surrounded his life has inspired in me an appreciation for the simple aesthetic of usefulness.

My boat, Old Hand is not a Monk, but was built of such stuff.  Her portly hull design is a scaled-down version of the hefty Norwegian lifeboats designed by Colin Archer.  After 10 years of owning her I’ve   greater appreciation for her ponderous lines and stout workmanshipShaw Island 2009 961.                                         So I am readying for another season of sailing.  I look at tide tables and plot course South toward Old Hand’s first port of call:  Gig Harbor.

So stay tuned for posts chronicling these adventures on the Salish Sea told in art, music and videos.

Posted in Paintings in Progress

An Artwork in Progress-The Post Deluvian Perspective


Here is another go at an old unresolved work.  As this blog is about the art process, I include it despite its cloying sappiness.  It was inspired by a story from the same manuscript in which Gawain’s story is told. It is called The Pearl.  By a stream, the poet falls asleep and dreams of a maid who leads him to wondrous visions of salvation.  Nearly 20 years ago I decided to memorize it and can recall some of it still.pearl image from jung

From the memory practice unfolded a long period of work with lucid dreams, of bringing conscious intent to bear on the spontaneous flow of dream imagery by doing walking meditation and mantra within the dream itself.  The dream mantra invokes the aid of compassionate deities as we wander alone through the hazardous pathways of the dream bardo.  According to Tibetan Buddhists, This prepares us for the bardo after death.

opposites 002
These illustrations are from Carl Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy

In the poet’s dream, the unconscious is pushed into conscious awareness  like oceanic tides flooding upriver.    This inundation has been long expressed in flood myths.  Its flow forms an imaginal landscape and the sudden release of its energy forces a breakthrough of vivid imagery.  This can form a tsunami if not channeled  through the creative process.  It demands integration with our logical mind.  It becomes necessary to  reconcile the irreconcilable, to balance  contrary states into a healthy, creative relationship.  This is the artistic process.

stream drawing 002
This drawing is for a new version.

This harmony is represented in Alchemical imagery as the mystic marriage.  Sufi’s have a phrase, ishq’ allah mabudlilah, which means something like: Love, lover and beloved are One.   This sacred phrase speaks of how we are continuous with all we behold, and that knowledge of this truth transforms us through  knowing it.  It is the Gnostic vision.  The subject/object dichotomy is illumined by a larger, more inclusive totality that embraces paradox.

The Golden Mean  expresses this truth and is the proportion closest to the original unity from which multiplicity arises.

Posted in Paintings in Progress

An Artwork in Progress-The Burning Shrine

paintings 027Some years ago I became aware of a recurring dream image. That is, of the cardinal points and my endless pilgrimage in a northerly direction. Something was endlessly drawing me toward a north not found in a geographic atlas but whose co-ordinates marked a visionary topography. It is part of my personal myth, which has followed a trajectory along this longitude throughout my life. It’s a physical migration as well as soul quest.

Cowlitz shaman Grandfather Roy Wilson took me to a mountain top with instructions to call forth the energies, qualities and color of each direction. He made a medicine wheel of stones and sat me down for 4 days with no food. Finally, after 3 days the high cirrus clouds disclosed wonderful visions. The same, old cirrus fly over me still.paintings 063

Sailing has taught me the lethal consequences of losing one’s bearings. From the ever shifting vantage point of Old Hand’s wheelhouse I’ve descried hidden shoals and sailed congested highways in dreams. And such lessons are so burned into us they become part of our psychic makeup.

They are the epic sagas of exodus, the collective dream of humanity.

Odysseus, on his epic homeward voyage, followed Athena’s way points to the Southern Gate and an Ithacan homeland that was fated to shelter his tomb. Through this portal pass those who’ve gone beyond the individual destinies the fates have woven them, and are no longer subject to the pains of mortal existence. Through it pass the Bodhisattva’s who, moved by compassion, re-enter samsara in order to relieve the suffering of others. It opens both ways.southern gate

In many traditional societies, it is through the south facing door the dead are carried to their final resting place.

I reworked the Southern Gate many times. If my endless northward travel is a flight from mortality, the continued attempts at the Southern Gate may be a compensatory preparation for the inevitable denouement to come.

In a Renaissance manuscript illustrated with woodcuts, I found The Dream of Polipholo, which provided the image of Adonais’ tomb. The garden bower scene was bathed in impressionist light.burning fountain 009

On a new canvas I again reversed the color of the original painting. This transformed the vibrant yellow of the original into a cool violet arboreal scene. I’ve yet to decide whether this reversal makes the theme of this new painting the Northern Gate.

And now the fountain blazes, a cauldron of fire.

Dust to dust! But the pure spirit shall flow

Back to the burning fountain whence it came,

A portion of the Eternal, which must glow

Through time and change, unquenchably the same..

Adonais, by Shellyburning shrine cropped

The fire has spread to the tomb itself. Is this a sign the painting is flaming out of control?

While working on this painting my mind returned repeatedly to the burnt Sufi shrines in Libya that were given brief mention in the news. This painting has now become a heartfelt elegy for the holy tombs where the faithful followed secret way points through time and space to drink from the living fountain of departed masters.