Posted in Uncategorized

A Tale of Two Houses–a secret history of Port Madison

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Farnham

The rains have let up. I scan Port Madison’s northeast shore through binoculars to see the Farnham house, built above the old mill-site, where much of Bainbridge Island’s forests were milled in the mid-19th century. The house looks the same as when Judge John Farnham leaned on his hoe under his prize apple trees.

farnham up close

He  first signed on the General Park Hill at the age of 12 and spent 3 years shipping cotton between South Carolina and Liverpool before trading in contraband silk between Shanghai and Hong Kong. He rounded the Horn in the rush of ’49 and headed north to Port Madison when  loggers, ship builders and land speculators were rapidly displacing the indigenous Suquamish people.  He commanded side-wheel steamers, worked as shipwright and, in an odd –if not downright ironic–turn of fortune, served as keeper of the Seattle Pest House.

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Old Man House

This was when the Old Man House still stood; where creation was annually sung into being in the Winter Dances. It was the lofty, cedar temenos of the Suquamish tribe that was demolished by Albion’s brass-plated cannon of imperious might in 1870.

This is was the home of Princess Angeline.

After reading Jerusalem, I’ve come to see Blake’s Gothic, sweeping poetry entwined with the shadowy firs of Port Madison.  A rummy wastrel turned Urizenic guardian of self-righteous law, Farnham  became the very image of man’s fallen spiritual state, laboring eternally in the Satanic mills, separated from his Sophianic emanation and closed to the Divine Vision.

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Princess Angeline

And I hear fair Angeline as the banished Jerusalem, still weeping over the bay for her lost and tender children.

Farnham’s end was tragic. He had begun exhibiting signs of odd behavior and was forcibly dismissed from office. He held out against the deputy sheriffs in the Port Madison courthouse (then the County seat) with a shot-gun for 3 days before being led away quietly–a man forsaken by his adamant God of Reason.

Ballasted with river rock, he boarded the Seattle ferry, planning to jump into the deep soundings off Elliot Bay. But the emergency crew fished him out and he died shortly after.

Urizen

I honor John Farnham, respect his adventuresome spirit and outrageous character; whose salty yarn and prize apples are the true golden relics of another age.

Posted in Uncategorized

Los’s Bright Halls-The Exhibit-an artwork in progress

exhibit 2 I finally got the art show up.  I came down with a nasty cold as the time for hanging approached, and all the work of logistics, promotion, and “finishing” the paintings became a real grind.

But we had a nice opening last night.  Many friends came showing their appreciation and support.  Thanks to all.

In my next post I hope to give a more complete account about the experience of creating these works over the past 3 months.

Lets just say for now that I came to realize I bit off far more than I could chew, though I did this deliberately–as a sort of audacious challenge to myself.

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Jerusalem-painting by Craig Spencer

There always looms the possibility that the painting was better left at an earlier stage, or that the work may not bear the test of time.  At times I wondered if a painting might be veering perilously close to maudlin tripe, or the whole concept totally misguided.

But I  really don’t worry about it.  It’s best to have the courage to make a clear statement.  I think age and experience has taught me to trust the process and to carry through despite such doubts about relevance, skill level or (in this case) my understanding of Blake’s gorgeously bombastic, prophetic poem.

These blog posts have been an integral part of this exhibit’s creation.  Thanks to all who have been following and commenting.

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Vala, Temple 3, Building Golgonooza-paintings by Craig Spencer
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Albion Asleep-painting by Craig Spencer
Posted in Paintings in Progress

Albion Asleep-an artwork in progress

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Albion asleep, painting by Craig Spencer

My art show goes up in a week and now the most difficult part has arrived–the Artist’s Statement.  But in this odious task, which I’ve always dreaded, I may have a small advantage.   I’ve actually been working on it since I began this series, some three months ago.  I only need glean the relevant bits from my blog posts and tidy them up.  Right.

 

Blake saw Albion (universal Man) held in deadly sleep, in thrall to satanic, scientific-materialism that separated him from Jerusalem, his emanation, and the Heaven within himself.

The Gnostics taught that soul is imprisoned in matter; that Gnostic experience is a return to Divinity through overcoming the demonic forces (Archons) who hold humanity in bondage to dense spheres of matter.  These teachings informed much of Blake’s work.

His work also reflects the Neoplatonic doctrine that acknowledges the primacy of the spiritual world and sees nature as the “vegetable glass” reflecting spiritual truths.  Post-Cartesian science that recognizes only natural phenomenon perceived by the senses as sole measure of truth is the fundamental error which precipitated Jerusalem’s’s fall.

diagram by Foster Damon

Jerusalem tells of Los’s  struggles with Urizen (reasoning power) to re-establish harmony among the four Zoas (universal, four-fold man,) and the building of Golganooza, Los’s great city of art and science.

  …and fourfold the great City of Golganooza:  fourfold to the north ,

And toward the south fourfold & fourfold toward the east & west,

Each within the other toward the four points:  that toward

Eden, and that toward the World of Generation.

The Zoa’s correspond with the four Buddha families who inhabit the vast edifice of spiritual architecture in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

  …at the northern gate of one’s skull is Vajra, Dark green, snake headed, and holding a bell.

O you, the four female gatekeepers…

Perform the rites which obstruct the doors leading to rebirth from the intermediate state!

Like the Buddhist masters, Blake saw that salvation lay in the recognition that God, Angels and Demons reside in the mind.  Christ’s resurrection was not a single event of time, unique to a single individual, but as expression of the universal Christ-spirit within.  This interiorization of the mysteries is part of the evolution of consciousness and the realization of the Divine Human.  For Blake, Jesus is imagination, and lamented “Abstract thought warring against imagination.”  The tragic effects of Urizen’s reign were evident in the squalor and slavery of the London cityscape where was enacted the cosmic drama of spiritual redemption.

Los is the fiery, artistic genius whose task is to restore Jerusalem and re-establish harmony among conflicting aspects of Albion; an inner kingdom that has been usurped by the soul-denying power of Urizen.  The soul divided into warring entities is a sign that Albion has fallen into a sleep that closes the doors of spiritual perception.  Caretaker of archetypal images,  and fluent in the language of correspondences, Los forges celestial links in his fiery furnace, and illuminates the inner, demonic specters that would banish Jerusalem forever.

Posted in Paintings in Progress

Building Golganooza-an artwork in progress

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Golganooza

Strange.  For all my efforts to loosen up, I seem to be heading in a more classical direction.  When solid form threatens to vanish in an atmospheric haze, I recall Blake’s admonition to delineate everything a solid line.   William Turner advised enclosing all shapes with a glowing red line that can move easily from cool shadow into warm, brilliant light.  Gauguin used this technique to unify his compositions and bind his luxuriant forms to the picture plane.

Here, I use it to construct Blake’s towering edifice of Golganooza, whose:

  …stones are pity, and the bricks, well wrought affections Enamell’d with love and kindness & the tiles engraven gold, Labour of merciful hands..

This Golganooza is built with primary colors on a scaffold of charcoal lines set along the Golden Mean proportion.  The challenge is to integrate illusory depth with the shapes on the flat surface into a dynamic, interwoven whole.  This is what makes it so complicated.

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Jerusalem (detail)

Painting doesn’t proceed only with big, creative leaps by the likes of a Picasso or Pollack.  There is also a slow evolutionary process at work, and painting, like any other discipline, moves toward ever higher levels of complexity.

The dichotomy between abstraction and realism is a false one.  It’s all abstract in a sense.  What is bad is intellectual, materialist abstraction devoid of feeling and humanity–removed from art’s most exalted purpose:

  To open Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought:  into Eternity  ever expanding in the Bosom of God:  the Human Imagination!

-William Blake

Posted in Paintings in Progress

Ziggurat-an artwork in progress

My commitment to chronicle the art making process requires I relate all, from the most difficult stretches, to my modest successes.  The muse is fickle and I am negotiating a dry spell.  Here is a belated post to let you know I’m still hanging in there

ziggurat So far, only one image came through on the lucid dream channel.  Here it is.

I had been working the raw umber, paynes gray and burnt sienna into a web of interwoven strokes.  That night, in a dream, I saw an  ancient ziggurat carved in natural sandstone and honey-combed with caves.  As I looked at its golden, weathered form rising into the vivid, blue sky, I realized it was a dream.  It was a fleeting glimpse of profound emptiness–the ultimate ground of reality.  In that insubstantial image I apprehended the Heart Sutra’s most essential teaching: Form is Emptiness/Emptiness is no other than Form.

I don’t claim this as a great accomplishment, but I do like that the process of painting inspired dream imagery and the dream, in turn, redirected the  painting.

The image was also inspired by a program about early Christianity I’d seen that night.  The film showed the mountain, hermit caves where the Nag Hamadi collection of early Gnostic writings were found.

The Gnostics taught that soul is imprisoned in matter; that Gnostic experience is a return to the pure light of Divinity through overcoming demonic forces (Archons) whose job it is to hold humanity in bondage to the dense spheres of matter.jerusalem 5gothic 3

While I may not share this belief in the malign aspect of the natural world, I do believe these teachings form a part of our spiritual heritage.  They have left psychic imprints upon the collective unconscious.  It is not so much a matter of belief as that of experience–Gnossis.

These imprints permeate William Blake’s work.   Benjamin Walker talks about the fall of Sophia (Wisdom) in his book, Gnosticism:

  Various reasons are put forward for the fall of Sophia from the upper spheres and her plunge into the world of matter…(in one version) the tragedy occurred when she mistook the false light she saw below for the ‘light of lights’ for which she aspired…

In some texts she represents…the stricken city of Jerusalem.

Posted in Paintings in Progress

Vala-an Artwork in Progress

earth 2Sometimes painting is a real struggle.  But I press on, slap the obdurate material into shape, as if my worn brush might push the paint into actual space–into the 3rd dimension.

Art often requires tactics that subvert one’s own assumptions in order to create the one image that is to the point, heartfelt, and true.

This one is a mess.  The possibility of failure is always present.  It is a perpetual letting go– of  tricks, habits and even those pretty passages that no longer serve the whole.

This exhibit started with an idea about altars or memory stations.  It is an attempt to combine my art with an interest in Blake in a way that helps me understand this eccentric genius and gives my own work greater depth.

The painting shows a stone wall with a niche in which is placed an image inspired by one of Blake’s Persian looking Angels.   Carved into the stone wall is a willow tree that arches over the niche and breaks into space.  The sun, etched into the wall, spreads beams of light over the canvas.   vala 4

The next painting is of Vala,   Jerusalem’s shadow, whose veil obscures the celestial light, and seduces Albion  away from Jerusalem’s pure spiritual beauty.

She is a complex figure.  Kathleen Raine has likened her to Psyche.

  Know me now, Albion:  Look upon me. I alone am beauty.  The imaginative human form is but the breathing of Vala.  I breathe him forth into the Heaven from my secret Cave, born of the Woman to obey the Woman, O Albion the mighty.  For the Divine appearance is Brotherhood, but I am love.

Posted in Paintings in Progress, Uncategorized

Mars-An Artwork in Progress

mars 3The paintings have each taken on planetary aspects and this one seems to be heading toward Mars.  I’ve been trying to preserve a  loose, fluid handling, but it always becomes a struggle.

It’s like meditation.  When sitting, my mind wanders into monkey territory and I need to refocus-come back to the breath, mantra or visualization.  And this is Okay.  I’ve heard it said that meditation was about shedding light into the darker corners of confusion and afflictive emotions; confronting obstacles, not avoiding them.  Something similar is being played out on canvas.

Ghostly figures emerge from pools of raw umber, terra rosa and paynes gray as if they wanted to give me tips on technique.  Maybe they want to tell me it’s all good-just chill and take up a new canvas when things get too thick.

And since these posts are a big part of this process, I’ve decided they should also be  more spontaneous-straight from the heart.  Just whip it out without worrying it too much.

At the same time, I’ve continued to grapple with Jerusalem.  I read of Los’s (poetic genius) struggles with Urizen (reasoning power) to re-establish harmony among the 4 Zoas (similar to Jung’s 4 functions) in the imaginative project of building Jerusalem.  There are are verses that, while memorizing them, beguile me with their stunning imagery and painterly use of upper case letters.  Some have all the pithy weight of a zen koan.

  In my Exchanges every Land

Shall walk, & mine in every Land,

Mutual shall build Jerusalem,

Both heart in heart & hand in hand.

Posted in Paintings in Progress

Baked Soul-an Artwork in Progress

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Death’s Door-painting by Craig Spencer

I recently dreamed that I went back to my old studio in Seattle. Its proximity to the neighboring building cut off most of the natural light. The new tenant had hung a mirror on the neighboring wall that reflected sunlight into the studio, creating a greater sense of spaciousness.

This dream seems to reflect the dilemma I face with each new artwork.

Every painting presents an opportunity to break into new territory, beyond habitual modes, toward a more fully realized statement of my particular vision. Each stark white field stands before me like a challenge to move beyond easy solutions; invites the spontaneous gesture that preserves the initial inspiration.  It is the free spirit exemplified by Blake’s Songs of Innocence. But the luminous energy of spontaneous creativity is immediately followed by the discriminating mind as shadow accompanies light.  The state of Experience is Blake’s necessary counterpart to that of Innocence.

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Memory Station

Often, my own “strengths” are an obstacle.  I want my work to break boundaries, open spaces where imagination has room to expand.

I begin with laying out broad swathes of muted color to set the stage-to invite images into the memory stations, or conjure a player from behind the Gothic pillars of a Blakean stage-set.

A shift in perspective is also necessary to understand  Blake.

Blake recognized that God and Angels reside in the mind.  Unlike Christian dogmatists, he saw Christ’s resurrection not as a single event of historical time unique to a single individual, but as expression of the universal Christ-spirit within “…Heathen, Turk or Jew.” This interiorization of the mysteries is a step in the evolution of consciousness, a withdrawing of childish projections, and the realization of the Divine Human.gothic 1

Materialist science sees the phenomenal world perceived by the 5 senses as the only measure of reality.   Blake’s work reflects the Neoplatonic doctrine that acknowledges the primacy of the spiritual world and sees nature as the “vegetable glass” reflecting spiritual truths.  Post-Cartesian science that recognizes only natural phenomenon as sole measure of truth is the fundamental error which precipitated Jerusalem’s’s fall.  Los, embodiment of the poetic genius and agent in the soul’s recovery, takes a walk through London streets:

  (Los)…saw every Minute Particular of Albion degraded and murder’d

But saw not by whom; they were hidden in the minute particulars

Of which they possess’d themselves: and there they take up

The articulations of a man’s soul, and laughing throw it down

Into the frame, then knock it out upon the plank, & souls are bak’d

In bricks to build the pyramids of Heber & Terah.

-from Jerusalem

Posted in Books I love, Paintings in Progress

Camillo’s Memory Theatre-an artwork in progress

Francis Yates, in The Art of Memory, tells how Giulio Camillo reinvented memory art in accordance with the renewed interest in Neoplatonism.  Camillo’s conception was also inspired  by the recently rediscovered teachings of Hermetic philosophy which his friend, Marcilio Ficino had introduced into Renaissance Italy with his translation of the Corpus Hermeticism. 

Ficino inspired Camillo in the use of astral talismans to draw down celestial influences into memory images and infuse them with magic power.  This imaginative reinvention of memory art was meant to train the mind to receive celestial influences and  unify esoteric knowledge by holding an inner image that mirrored the celestial harmony.

The Corpus Hermeticum taught the essential divinity of man and that all phenomena have their origin in the realm of ideas (archetypes.)  Camillo’s theatre enabled the “viewer” to recall these first causes, and the essential relationship between man (microcosm,) and the world (macrocosm.)

The first level of manifestation was mediated by the 7 Governors.  These astral beings made up the 7 measures by which the interior man descends into creation, acquires a body whose parts fall subject to the dominion of the zodiac, before he reascends through the heavenly spheres.  It is through the Hermetic religious experience he regains his innate divinity.  The 7 governors have associations with the known planets, 7 days of creation, angelic hierarchy and the lower sephiroth.

Yates says that the greatness of Renaissance art  was largely due to perfect proportion that was in accord with celestial harmony.  Seen in this light, the grace and majesty of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus is a result of her status as talisman.