June 26, 2007
One day, when I was four years old, I was riding in the back
seat of my grandfather's 1936 Hupmobile. Passing through Beacon
Hill Park in Victoria BC, I spied a lone woman on a stool with
a big easel. "Look, Papa, an artist," I said. My grandfather--I
can still see the expression on his face--looked over his
shoulder and confided, "Her name is Emily Carr. Some people
think she's crazy."
Within a few years of that occasion, the crazy woman had passed
away and then there were only her paintings and writings.
Widely recognized toward the end of her life, Emily was a
unique product of a Victorian upbringing, a West Coast vision
and the influence of modern mentors. Emily is one of my
favorites--if not always for her paintings, for her words and
her spirit. Her remarkable books started appearing in 1941. In
them we get a glimpse of the anxieties and joys of a creative
pioneer--an original thinker with an attitude.
"When you really think about your hand you begin to realize its
connection, to sense the hum of your own being passing through
it. When we look at a piece of the universe we should feel the
same," she says. Emily felt the hum and found a way to respond.
Painting in the "marvelous modern manner," she wondered if she
might "ever feel the burst of birth-joy, that knowing that the
indescribable, joyous thing that has wooed and won me has
passed through my life." Emily was a spiritual being who
responded to the great forests and the native cultures of our
coast. She was a quirky loner, who hoisted the chairs of her
studio so guests would not have a place to linger. For those
she "found interesting," she might just lower one down.
Too young to test her hospitality, I nevertheless ingested her
writing. Her words got me going. "There is something bigger
than fact: the underlying spirit, all it stands for, the mood,
the vastness, the wildness." This wildness took both of us away
in boat and camper, on voyages of discovery and countless
sorties of unfinished business. "Sincerity itself is religion,"
she told me, and I believed.
It was with Emily that I first glimpsed the brotherhood and
sisterhood of artists. I was pleasantly surprised that her
concerns were mine: "You always feel when you look it straight
in the eye that you could have put more into it, could have let
yourself go and dug harder."
PS: "Over and over one must ask oneself the question, 'What do
I want to express? What is my ideal, what is my objective?
What? Why? Why? What?'" (Emily Carr, 1871--1945)
Esoterica: Over the years I've placed my bottom on the same
spot where Emily tarried and painted--as if I might catch some
of her spirit. In dark times and in bright, it's been difficult
not to have her around. "Let the movement be slow and savour of
solidity at the base and rise quivering to the tree tops and to
the sky, always rising to meet it joyously and tremulously. The
spirit must be perpetually moving through, carrying on and
inducing a thirst for more and a desire to rise." I attended
her grave at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria. Her inauspicious
stone reads, "Artist and Author, Lover of Nature." What more
could anyone want?
Current clickback: If you would like to see selected,
illustrated responses to the last letter, "Breaking the curse,"
as well as a gallery of Emily Carr paintings, please click here.
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(c) Copyright 2007 Robert Genn. If you wish to copy this
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Thanks for your friendship.
I subscribe to Twice-Weekly Letters written by Robert Genn at The Painter's Keys.
He has kindly allowed me to post his most recent letter here at Poeartica.
Travelling, zigzagging, escaping
the tourist trail.
Obliterated with postcards,
road maps and photographs.
Jumbled and jet lagged,
leaving London laundromats,
Jesus in Jerusalem,
painted pictures of Paris,
Disneyland roller coasters
and Rodeo Drive in LA.
Our search into the meaning and importance of imagery begins with drawings in a cave from some 31,000 years ago at Chauvet. Clearly these are not graffiti or random daubings to pass time, they are indeed skilled representations of dangerous animals with the odd human figure. Various dots and animal figures at Lascaux have been said by some, including an astronomer, to represent constellations and stars. Perhaps partly in order to investigate the authenticity of this find people from various disciplines were invited to view the cave paintings including anthropologists, artists and scientists. One sculptor notes how carefully the surface was prepared and how a particular cave was used, whilst another in the same complex might have been equally suitable contained no such paintings at all. It all points to a great deal of organisation. Whatever we might think the artists who produced this work were not primitive, they were intelligent people with vision who could see ahead in their efforts to overcome problems. They would certainly have had a far different mind set to our own and for that reason alone the problems of discovering the purpose of these paintings are considerable. For example the extender for the pigments in these works was not water but baryte and potassium feldspar. How else would they still be fresh to the eye even today. The great problem of conserving the cave paintings at Lascaux has been the ingress of people wanting to look.
Commonly held wisdom has long suggested that these paintings were nothing other than shamanistic efforts for attracting good hunting. That does seem have its problems though. For one the animals depicted for the most part were not part of the local diet and deer which was, is not shown at all. If such paintings were the work of a shaman then wouldn't you expect to see them in various locations demanded by the hunt? There is of course another considerable problem arising from the Chauvet discovery. Modern man is thought to have found his way into what we now call Europe around 30,000 or so years ago and these paintings are of the same period. There is no discovery to suggest a necessary building up of skills, just the evidence to suggest that an organised society quite suddenly appeared on the scene.
We could spend a great deal of time discussing what these paintings might not be and never arrive at the important conclusion as to what they really were. It is apparent that they were not the effort of some local artist, either passing time, finding self expression or making a living from them. They were part of a much greater scheme of things.
All good academics like to have solid evidence on which to build a hypothesis but there is very little of use in this part of France. The one significant thing we do know is that this time was the end of an ice age. Temperatures were rising and this location was becoming inhabitable by people from farther south. Another bit of commonly held wisdom says these people would have been hunter gatherers with no agricultural knowledge.
So here we are trying to decide why image making should be so important to these people with scarcely a shred of evidence. Neither do we have a hope of entering their mind set to truly understand their thinking. Conjecture may be the best thing on offer. True we can examine what seem to be similar societies of the present time, but I wouldn't want to bet on that for any sound conclusion. The caves at Chauvet and Lascaux were surely on such a scale to suggest a cathedral like importance. Whether for mobile hunter gatherers or an agricultural people they had to be centres of considerable importance.
A rather negative piece of evidence is that they didn't have writing so would want to record events. But these paintings are not apparently of specific events. They might have wanted to record hunting kills for the time of year but it would be rather a grand gesture for such a simple purpose. Most historical records would be held by tribes in memory and passed on verbally.
If we can now think in terms of logic and what we do know the image is powerful because it does not require the same thinking as spoken or written language. There need not be the same filters which prevent direct communication with the emotions. The response is often instant and instinctive. As Marshall McLuhan said the medium is the message.
Now I'm going off to have another think about this and you might want to join me.
with tired shelves
two fish in a bowl
without a staircase
in a room
On Picasso standing on the shoulders of giants.
I have been wanting to paint this last week or so, so maybe it is time to re-evaluate things and possibly myself. Take the painting of Rugby I've just begun as an example. Will it just be another very ordinary town scape or something more. I've been wanting more for some time, but haven't been able to see a way forward. I can almost feel what I want but not describe it in visual terms. Now that does give me a clue. We can paint what we feel. Anyhow in order to get a better idea I am looking at one of the greatest creative innovators of if all time to see if I can pick up any hints.
My reference is Picasso, O'Mahony, Star Fire, 2006
"By all rights, Picasso should have become a minor artist, a fashionable illustrator or decorative painter. But something happened to change his fate."
That's Karmel writing the book's foreword. I find it hard to believe that even he believed that statement, but accept the exaggeration he has used to make a point. In 1905 Picasso met the Stein family, and so the work of Cezanne and Matisse.
The book is a sketch in which O'Mahony takes us through Picasso's life examining his circumstances and society at large at the time of particular works being produced. It offers an insight into Picasso's character and how he reacted to situations. We see the man as a complex character; arrogant, unable to sustain a relationship, continually wanting change, as turbulent as the sea, yet able to take high moral ground. He seemed to hate the very things he loved doing. He remained in Nazi occupied France and joined the Communist Party in 1944. He was always wanting the new but also had considerable courage which enabled him to plunge ahead at considerable risk.
The young artist certainly showed exceptional talent a very early age and became well trained in classical art techniques. But what happened to cause an awakening. His going to Paris no doubt shows an indication he felt himself to be missing something. Did visits to the arty Four Cats in Barcelona fuel his fire? In Paris he is very much influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec but is not producing anything particularly new. Perhaps it was just one of those times in life when good things seem to come to an end and it is time to move on or stagnate. It may be down to opinion, but I find his works of the Blue Period to be meaningful and the Rose Period beautiful. They were not shocking but I'd be prepared to challenge Karmel's statement that Picasso was still a minor artist.
No doubt the young Picasso recognised in Cezanne a man who had in many respects recreated art. He would climb on that artist's shoulders, leap off and run. There is also the fact that Cezanne showed the possibilities to explore a vision which could also incorporate the changing facets of society and scientific discovery. The timing simply could not have been better. In 1906 Picasso's palette is sometimes simplified but the landscapes are otherwise pretty well ordinary. The big breakthrough was however happening in 1907. It clearly took Picasso very little time to make this ground breaking transition. If we think Les Demoiselles d' Avignon ugly then so should we. Picasso is telling us that prostitution was not a nice business. It is in every sense a shocking painting about people for whom he felt considerable concern. He had been showing his sympathy for women of this type for years and his relationship with Fernande Oliver was still ongoing, so what emotive circumstance could have produced this explosion of power? Was it perhaps that Picasso had managed to find it within himself a new clarity of vision suddenly manifest after the years of searching.
and the shadows steal
across the musty floor boards
closed too long
finely powdered with resin
in a silent haze
the dancers stare
too worn to be
sentinels of beauty
a magpie outside
sits and stirs
on splintered wooden
warming their bodies
"Cixi" (portrait - Mike Fone)
It must have been in the later Seventies that underground sociologist Alvin Toffler wrote his best seller Future Shock. He had garnered a whole lot of facts to support his idea that change was going to happen so fast and furious it would be all but impossible for folks to keep up. This change was going to impose previously unknown stress, and he predicted major problems to the individual psyche and society as a whole.
Tofler’s first prediction has been absolutely correct. Rapid advances in technology mean it is hard for people in many good jobs to ever stop learning. Those people who do have the good jobs also have the problem of insecurity as much as anybody else. Even public bodies such as Social Welfare often only offer short-term contracts to new employees. And need we point out that getting to work at all in a big city is a major stress problem.
However, the second part of his prediction seems to have overlooked the adaptation abilities of mankind. People seem to have ways of dealing with these problems. Change has become a way of life and some people seem to welcome it as refreshing in some ways. Why not go for another job in three years then uproot and move to another location.
Change for the corporate companies means growth and new markets, plus a lot of stress for those who have to create them. For the rest of us it means being at the end of massive marketing drives, being told what we have to buy, need and should want to make us feel better. And since nothing much we buy is going to last long, shopping has become a major item. So part of the marketing hype is about getting us to change our likes and dislikes. It’s about selling dreams, and the technology is making so much possible. Do I really need to replace my 4 year old computer? Of course I don’t, it’s quite fast enough, but sooner than later the new demands of the software force me into it. I end up buying what four years ago would have been a massive workstation to do my typing. So, I can use it as my family entertainment centre, use the Internet for the shopping and never leave the house again. I can even do my work at home it’s less stress. It’s called cocooning. Some people are telling us that’s the way our society is heading. Marketing people are not ignoring this trend.
Have we bought the dreams? I think of those people who get truly distressed when their favourite soap character has to die, because they’ve been written out of the programme, those who use credit to buy the car of their dreams. It’s live now and pay later all the way.
But I’m asking myself, have we really adapted to all of this change, or just found ways to avoid the consequences in the short term. Are their ways we have decided to live in a world of dreams made possible by the advanced technology of our age and has the price yet to be paid?
I’m sure these things have been talked about many times, but my question is how should artists face this issue. Nice paintings for the home have long been the backbone of the art world and no doubt will continue to be so. Artists have to make a living. However, we could say this work is only a kind of first aid for the ills of society. Something more is needed. We can all enjoy a trip to dream-world at times, and in some societies it’s thought to be a necessity. If it help us to live with day to day realities, then why not. Well, maybe sometimes it doesn’t.
Another option is carry on dishing out the shock, as if we haven’t had enough already. Some of the big movers in today’s art world can’t get it to us fast enough. If it’s destructive that’s just too bad, it is often exciting.
Should art have an answer at all? Should artists be expected to provide an answer for the ills of society? It’s a big call, if that is so. Is it something, which local, relatively unknown painters can begin to address? If it were a truly important issue, then would it not require a great artist to produce important art? I think there are a lot of artists who just never got to be in the right place at the right time, and a lot of others who never got hold of a vision. There is plenty of potential; artists of sufficient merit, just missing greatness by a margin.
the Mona Lisa?
Are they enigmatic
Isolated and insulated
our civilized flippancy,
do they really
One day Monet was taking a walk with a child through a field, as no doubt he had done many times before. Suddenly he had one of those rare defining moments, which even for the atheistic artist must have seemed like an epiphany. On this afternoon the landscape was different, for there was a certain something, which demanded to be caught on canvas. The child was made to go back and get the paints, however as any artist will know, the light can change quickly and the essence of what is seen with it. Yet from that afternoon Monet would produce paintings of haystacks, which critics agree have an intangible sense of otherness.
Perhaps most of us have had such experiences for that brief moment in time when nature has seemed more intense and beautiful. We may wonder if it was the warm breeze on a twilight evening, the redolence of a meadow, and the sound of bees gathering pollen, or a heat haze over a field. An emotion is provoked within us, which seems to have a new depth, yet so very often the moment passes and we pass on our way untouched. Or was it something of nature opening itself to us, something in another dimension we cannot see.
It was in 1922 that a young physicist Kaluza teamed up with a mathematician Klein offering a theory, which should have changed the face of science. Kaluza himself had one of those rare moments when he realised that there is in fact another dimension behind the three known to our cognitive awareness. This theory was mostly ignored at the time, yet now physicists are indicating as many as 26 dimensions, which they think can be proven mathematically. The String Theories are far from complete and the math amazingly complex, yet they have now entered into the mainstream of science. Other physicists and mathematicians such as Roger Penrose and John Wheeler are trying to push science far beyond the limitations of human understanding where things are not computable. They say that nature and indeed the universe has more to do with human consciousness than was realised. Wheeler seems to be saying that matter only exists at all when observed. Clearly Wheeler has to be too down to earth than to mean the moon only exists because we can see it. Possibly he is struggling with an idea just outside the field of his own intellectual awareness, and it is presently defying expression.
No doubt the light, which is so very important to painters exists in another dimension. What we see is simply an interaction of light with matter. Sound is nothing but variations in air pressure striking our eardrums. Our sensory organs send messages to the brain, which then processes the information to make of it what it will, and we know much of that depends on our own cultural inheritance. Artists such as Monet and Manet were setting out to record nature and the world before them as they saw it. Often this would mean breaking free from the way almost everybody else saw things, as they strove to understand what really was before their eyes.
During the centuries before artists had tried to paint reality. Jan van Eyk in the early Quattro Centro had produced a hyper real style of painting, although his aim was clearly not to show the viewer any ordinary reality at all. He had statues of virgins, which would climb down from their niches and walk through an imaginary cathedral, and the faithful of those days had actually claimed to see such things. Importantly many other artists took up the technique in order to paint some resemblance of reality. Further on in the Renaissance artists had dropped the superstition and belief in hallucinations. The virgin who might be the artists own wife had much less of a stylised face. Perspective had been understood scientifically, and the way light works in shadows perceived.
The Impressionists were certainly aware of these things as they studied the old masters. However, their idea of reality was not necessarily in showing detail. It was their first sight of a scene, which mattered, the essence of what was before their eyes. They used the Renaissance discoveries, for example, of how it is simply not possible to cast a shadow by laying down a glaze of blue paint. In the shadows things are seen with softness, obscuration is at play, tonal variations are subtle, and colour works differently. I spite of the rapidly changing light they were able to use the advantage of tube paints to observe and paint directly from nature out of the studio. We may0the time of Impressionism is past and all done, but should we not learn the same lessons. Our eyes first look at a scene, on which every small detail capable of being resolved is transmitted to the visual cortex this incredible amount of information is processed by the brain in a fraction of a second, after which the first impression is given. We do not actually perceive all the detail, as our brain will have edited out the unnecessary. After this we usually select detail as a conscious function. We all walk along a certain street and see things according to our own mindset. A lawyer asking for the various witnesses to street crime for hard evidence would no doubt bear this out. However, we do now that our brains can be trained to see far more that is normally the case.
It would seem that our first lesson would be to be like Monet and take those rare moments of heightened awareness seriously, accepting them as nature’s invitation to learn how we should see. It is an exciting possibility, which can open up a whole new world. Yet how can we capture that otherness? If it is truly intangible, a reality working in other dimensions possibly affecting our own, is this possible? Water colourists especially will tell us that much of what they do is happy accident as the paint spreads over the paper of its own accord. Certainly the brushstrokes are not entirely controlled by the intellect and we usually find our greatest success by relaxing our minds and hands in a sense of play. The constant training of exercises will then pay off. The answer must be in loving and absorbing the essence of what we want to paint, then be passionate about the paint itself as it goes onto the canvas. This is not to say that we should like Pollock go into some kind of Dervish trance, or like Clifford Still take up New Age activities in order to paint. Still and Rothko were concerned with expressing their own inner states, not what they saw before their eyes. Figurative artists may well want to use the unconscious, but will need the mind to be boss.
Anybody who wants a case for the necessity of inner vision should think of Monet again. Practically blind, he produced what is arguably his most profound work. Telling a child to select his tube of colour he would then put paint on the canvas and so the masterpiece. And is it not the great artist the one who pursues his or her own vision regardless of the cost or difficulty.
The Wild Goose
The Wild Goose is coming
I listen for her low cries and wingbeat
She sees me, sees my longing heart
Swoops low then flies away again.
I know somehow she wants me to join her
To abandon all and jump into that sky
To trust her, holding me up
in the stream of air left by her wings
Painting: Avon Spring (Mike Fone)
Most of the writing I do is about art or philosophical in nature. It may be written in a poetic manner but is not actually poetry.
Mike Fone aims to paint portraits with a 3 dimensional classical technique. Not only does he produce realistic paintings, but portraits which have life so the viewer has an emotional connection with the subject of the painting .
The landscapes are of those places Mike loves, where he wants to share the beauty of the English countryside for others to enjoy.
The portraits are mostly painted with oils and landscapes with acrylic paints.
pOEm # 2
The isolation pervades the air
like a mist
cold and fresh.
The sunlight breaks
through the tall trees
within a valley.
as silent as
the white cat
in the white
outside the dormitory door.
A bell rings
a patchwork of people
Shades of umber,
burnt orange, brown
hand dyed and faded.
please write your title(s) in the comments box....
I am 9 years past, this summer; not quite a child but not yet anything more. I still look upon this world in it's most simple form, comprehending only that which is discernible by the five senses.
He was always here; this man who is my father. A being of minor importance. Nothing more, nothing less. Existing in my universe but holding no real significance in my mind. He simply, is.
Through the window of my room the darkness envelops me; taunts me with it's silence and I am afraid. Evil lies silently in wait and I can only imagine what horror lurks amongst the shadows of the trees; I call to him, my father, in barely a whisper and he is quickly here by my side. He tucks me in with tales of beautiful faeries dancing in the twilight mist and tells me not to worry. Sleep finally takes hold.
A new day dawns, and as I awaken, I look up into his face. My protector. He has been here all night, standing watch over me, his only child. And I realize that the man who stands before me has suddenly become the center of my universe, as I am his.
And with this realization, I finally glimpse the essence of his soul; and he is beautiful.
"One of my writings from my Hidden Shadows blog. (These are unpublished works From The Hidden Shadows Of My Mind
This one is about my father or more precisely a representation of the first time I saw the 'man' behind his presence. He died of cancer in 1995.