Posted in Paintings in Progress

Studio Update 2

vickers cropped 10-13vickers 10-13 cropped DSC02808fall colors 10-13 croppedHere are a couple of paintings I’ve been working on for my November exhibit.  The top one is my first version of the Vicker’s memorial in Kane cemetary.

One of the most difficult things in painting is knowing when to stop, and maybe that time passed long ago. But I have another version which I began when I’d given this one up for lost.

The second one I just began.  The colors outside the studio window are more vibrant than I could ever hope to capture in paint.  It’s still a work in progress, though the show goes up in 3 days.

Posted in Paintings in Progress

A summons to set out

At ebb tide the water swirls  toward a North forever receding beyond the gray headland.   Shadows of cedars stretch along the foreshore where tanned humans tourists roast mammals on spits; their gaudy shirts billowing like the capes of  fishwives on a storm-wracked shore.  Otters writhe on the grassy bank.port madisson images 018

I hear the north wind as a  summons to set out.  From the wheelhouse, my eye is led toward the harbor entrance where it opens into Port Madison Bay.  Knowing such an expanse of open sea lies just around the bend gives me a  sense of spaciousness and freedom.  The immensity is continuous with the confined space of the harbor.

I suppose it also has to do with the long history of this historic mill town and shipyard where lumber schooners were built on the west shore in the late 1800’s.  The 1906 tug,  Noreen, lies at Halvorson’s dock just off the mouth of Salmon Creek, her high pilot house tilted back haughtily as if in defiance of the steep waves of the inland sea.

Vickers Memorial by Craig Spencer
Vickers Memorial by Craig Spencer

I’ve been working on two versions of the Vickers memorial, trying to get that feeling of expansiveness the sculpture seems to generate. I wonder how much this has to do with the harmonious distribution of masses and voids, and how much is due to her angelic status-what she represents.

There is too much emphasis on the precious object in art-on its monetary value, as if that were the sole end of art. The art scene is a big Antiques Roadshow. This fixation doesn’t see beyond the material product to the more ineffable virtues of what art does, how it feels and whether it confers upon the environment a greater sense of spaciousness. For greater spaciousness is always a virtue, and good art amplifies that poetic space which is continuous with the spaciousness inside ourselves we find in moments of revery.

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 Paintings in Progress

Monument for a Liverpool engineer

vickers mem,

I  return to Kane Cemetery often to draw the Vickers memorial. A stone figure stands on a high pedestal with a great stone fisherman’s anchor steadied in her left hand, under the patchwork of golden light at the tree-lined harbor entrance. It’s a monument the citizens of Port Madison raised to honor a poor engineer on the Russian built, steam side paddle-wheeler tug, the Politkofsky.

I like to think Vicker’s went easily. That he never felt the shaft handle that fell on his head, delivering the humble British immigrant into the hallowed halls of Puget Sound maritime history. The good citizens raised a charitable fund to have this sculpture shipped from Italy.   Here it stands, a century later,  a moving gesture of honor for the bygone age of steam paddle wheel tugs and the men in them.   I am heartened by knowing how loggers and mill hands paused from clear-cutting Bainbridge Island’s forests to pool their hard-won dollars to honor a humble seaman with a fond tribute.

It is such monuments that mark high civilizations. I hope that we are still capable of such moving, selfless gestures of magnanimity. For, often, it seems our culture has nothing to leave posterity but endless strip malls, business and theme parks and miles of consumer-friendly, soul-denying landscapes.vickers 4 cropped

I’ve tried many times to capture the essence of this angelic figure in paint or charcoal, and her spirit has ever eluded me. She seems to rise by the power of her fisherman’s anchor, as if that very symbol of hope and faith had lifted her into the empyrean vaults by its dumb weight; and the toil of a Liverpool engineer is rewarded, finally,with the grace of an angel’s smile.

An Artwork in Progress-A Cinderella Tale

watercolor 010My boots are heavy with the soil of Thatcher Farm. This is the foundation from which I begin this homage to a hallowed place, and invoke the Genius Loci of the old harbor community I’ve come to call home.  Among last year’s pumpkin vines I sift the refuse of common household twilight 024 objects. To ground this narrative I reach across time and make contact with the elders through the humble detritus of everyday life.  I touch cup fragments once held in living hands around the faded embers of the ancestral hearth.

twilight 025
There is also the secret record.  It’s a spiritual history that, some say, dates back to the Rosicrucians, who preserved the remnants of Solomon’s wisdom.   But we must forego linear chronology to enter the transhistorical and poetic record of events that transpire in the soul.
Just down the road is Kane Cemetery.
Many of the headstones of Port Madison’s founders are inscribed with Masonic symbols. This secret society played a major role in much of Port Madison’s early cultural and artistic history. The Kane No. 8 Masonic Lodge Hall was situated on a dock in the town center. It was said that Edwin Booth performed there.  I can’t verify this, but a world where the great actor brought his melodious interpretation of the Melancholy Dane to sleepy Port Madison is a world I prefer to live in. He did perform in Oregon territory.port madisson images 005

Port Madison photos 005
Some in this photo actually played roles in the production.

I read of a production of Cinderella  staged by the MacDonald sisters in the Hall. I find the choice of this particular tale for the entertainment and edification of the community significant. It was, for a time in the mid 19th Century, the myth which inspired the rough and tumble loggers and mill hands toward loftier goals than decimating forests, whoring and drinking. A wild west mill town staged a pageant honoring the Anima. “The Anima of man,” writes Jung, “has a strongly historical character. As a personification of the unconscious she goes back into prehistory…she provides the individual with those elements that he ought to know about his prehistory.”

The curtain rises on a poor maid covered in ashes.  She fans the faded embers of a secret tradition based on humility and good works, preserving in the vestal flame an esoteric knowledge of salvation.

Jacob Boheme says :  “The inner light is the natural ascent of the spirit within us which at last illuminates and transfigures those who tend it.”  She ascends by degrees (symbolized by her changes of clothes) to her royal estate and abides among the envoys of supernal light. Swedenborg, in his Concordance, says that shoes correspond with the lowest natural things and that beautiful shoes symbolize the delight of making oneself useful. This has long been the Freemason’s credo.  She teaches us that we are exalted through selfless servitude. Her lost shoe forms a link between her role as humble servant and her radiant heavenly counterpart. This ascension provides a model for the spiritual adept.  Perhaps these mysterious changes of raiment are reflected in the robes of office and pageantry of Masonic Rites.port madisson images 010

Lost in these speculations, I return to till the soil.  Maybe I’ll find more spiritual artifacts or the way to elevate this arcane history by tilling the rich soil of good works.