Friday, July 31, 2009

Are We Really Running Out Of Oil?

I remember back in the Seventies when The Population Bomb was popular and the prophets of doom seemed to have taken over all the media soapboxes so that we were running out of food and running out of oil and running out of everything because there were too many people. Paul McCartney himself wrote about it on his Ram album: "Too Many People." At that time things were compounded by economic collapse and Cold War mania.

In the Eighties, even though things seemed to boom there was this constant reminder that we were going to run out of oil. I always remember statements like, "We will run out of oil in the next ten years." In the Nineties, ten years later, I would occasionally hear this same lament on talk radio, and in 2003 our local talk show Leftie Duke Skorich was rambling on with the same tired warning: "And we will be out of oil in ten years. As you know we are completely dependent on oil today."

The whole oil lament reminds me of the Flatworlders who had a difficult time getting their heads around the Copernican notion that the earth was round. Copernicus, who so feared telling the truth about his observations that he waited till he was on his deathbed lest the Church burn him as a heretic, understood how the Cosmos worked when it came to the movement of heavenly bodies.

And in our own time, it was an astrophysicist who accidentally discovered the possibility that oil had nothing to do with dead vegetation and dinosaurs, but was part part of the core content of our earth.

His name was Thomas Gold, of Cornell University. He studied asteroids. And one day he began asking the right question about what he was observing. Why are there hydrocarbon chains on asteroids coming in from outer space if hydrocarbon molecules are from dead plants and animals? Good question, Mr. Gold.

In 1999 I wrote an article about Professor Gold's work, which I myself had encountered in 1986 in a cover story that appeared in The Atlantic magazine. My piece, which appeared in the National Oil & Lube News, was called "Are Fossil Fuels An Old Fashioned Idea Whose Time Has Gone?"

It begins by my recounting a trip to the 1964 New York World's Fair and the large dinosaur that was an emblem for Sinclair, for fossil fuels and the oil industry. I wrote:

There's no question Sinclair's dinosaur was a powerful symbol. Dinosaurs had great power in the imaginations of young people. Whatever became of the dinosaurs? That big green brontosaurus graphically planted the answer in our minds. Yesterday's dinosaurs are today's fuel. It is all part of the circle of life, you might say. Yesterday's dead critters and ancient vegetation are producing today's energy, hence our familiarity with the term "Fossil Fuels" when speaking of gas and petroleum.

The only problem with the dino image is this: What if it's not true?

Well, here we are ten years later and people still don't realize how abundant our world's oil supply is. For better or for worse, here is a very recent account from Discovery News. Check it out: Earth's Mantle: Untapped Oil Source?

The July 27, 2009 piece by Michael Reilly begins, "Oil, one of the most important, valuable substances on the planet may form in an unexpected place, according to a new study -- the crushing hot furnace of Earth's mantle."

Sound familiar? Here's a little more.

The petroleum we rely on to fuel our cars and heat our homes were formed over millions of years as ancient, dead algae and plankton were compressed in layers of sediment and heated. Because of this, oil companies know to look for new reserves in places that are, or once were shallow marine environments.

For decades, though, scientists have toyed with a tantalizing alternative theory of petroleum formation: What if chemical reactions between water and minerals deep in Earth's mantle could send black gold bubbling up into the crust?

Alexander Goncharov of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Washington, D.C and a team of researchers have shown that just such a thing is possible. They heated methane (CH4) up to 1,500 degrees Kelvin (2,240 degrees Fahrenheit) and mimicked the squeezing effect of being buried under over 100 kilometers (62 miles) of solid rock.

The results were astonishing -- methane readily transformed into butane (C4H10) and propane (C3H8), two common components of crude oil.

Now, what it some of our other common unquestioned convictions are inaccurate. Global warming seems plausible but is it man-produced?

What are the implications of this discovery, that oil is abundant and will never be exhausted?

Just sowing a few seeds here. In the meantime, breathe deep and make the most of your day.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Let’s Live For Today

The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time. ~Abraham Lincoln

Yesterday I started listening to Dale Carnegie's How To Stop Worrying & Start Living. Carnegie, if you recall, was the author of that phenomenal bestseller How To Win Friends & Influence People. If you have not read this latter, which was actually former to How To Stop Worrying, then you owe it to yourself to get a copy and make it a long term course for meditation. It is rich with anecdotes and literally life-changing advice.

Carnegie himself was born in poverty but went to college to become a teacher. After this, that and a handful of other misdirections, he found a measure of footing as a lecturer, and wrote a few unsuccessful books before churning out How To Win Friends, which proved a bestseller right out of the gate. By the time he died, the book had sold millions of copies and had been translated into 31 languages.

The funny part of How To Stop Worrying for me is that I can't help but associate the title with Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, a film that carries the comically menacing subtitle How to Stop Worrying & Love the Bomb. Nevertheless, Carnegie's book is no sideshow.

Carnegie’s book is similar in style to How to Win Friends in the sense that it is a compilation of anecdotal stories, quotes from famous people and insights from research. An early chapter addresses the importance of living one day at a time, not allowing the past to wreck the present or anxieties about the the future to ruin today. He writes, “One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon - instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.”
I’m sure that most of us have at one time or another allowed worries about the future to stain our enjoyment of the present. And who has not wrestled with regrets about the past at one time or another. Regret was what trapped the father in the hall of mirrors in Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Whether it’s the past or future that sideswipes your enjoyment of the present, let it go. Here are some good quotes to mull over.

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Don't let the past steal your present.” ~Cherralea Morgen

“There is no distance on this earth as far away as yesterday.” ~Robert Nathan

“No man is rich enough to buy back his past.” ~Oscar Wilde

“The past is a good place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.” ~Author Unknown

“Waste not fresh tears over old griefs.” ~Euripides

"Make it happen. Let's live for today." ~ennyman

Abstruse Goose

"All television is educational television. The question is: what is it teaching?" ~Nicholas Johnson

A movie that I enjoyed immensely was the Trekky spoof film Galaxy Quest with Tim Allen, among others. What's hilarious is that these people from an alien galaxy were watching reruns of Star Trek and thinking it was something akin to the History Channel. They thought Captain Kirk & crew were heroes who had truly been rescuing the universe from evil.

I do not know what real aliens would think of our television programming, but I stumbled on a website that does show how far into outer space our television programs are being projected. Essentially, by following this link you will come to a chart that carries the following caption: If extraterrestial civilizations are monitoring our TV broadcasts, then this is what they are currently watching.

Check it out. For you older blog readers it will bring back memories.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lying in Advertising: Is This PR Campaign All Wet?

About three years ago I wrote an article about synthetic motor oil designed to answer the question, "Are synthetic motor oils too expensive?" In the article I started by comparing the price of bottled water, which does not require a great deal of complex chemistry, to the process of making synthetic motor oils, which involves a variety of raw materials -- from base stocks to additive packages -- and a host of complex formulation issues.

So when the press release regarding an upcoming PR campaign against bottled water slid into my inbox yesterday, it caught my eye. At first blush, I wondered if I were seeing the front end of another Alar scare. But upon checking into it, there were some interesting and thought provoking facts brought up. I decided to pass this along and see what others think.

The campaign is called "Lying in Advertising." Being an ad man myself, campaigns need a theme, and this one does catch your attention. The headlines in the ads are all lies. For example, the first ad exclaims, "Bottled Water Makes Acid Rain Fall on Playgrounds." I'm like, "Huh?" How does bottled water cause acid rain. The next says, "Bottled Water is the Primary Cause of Restless Leg Syndrome." I guess I never knew that, but I never heard of RLS either.

The third, again over-the-top, announces that "Bottled Water Causes Blindness in Puppies." What! Kids, do NOT put our bottled water in the puppy dish, please. Finally, in a page from the global warming playbook, "Bottled Water: 98% Melted Ice Caps. 2% Polar Bear Tears."

Well, I bit, just like most readers who see these ads will probably bite. Because each headline has an asterisk. The askerisk leads to some fine print which says, *if bottled water companies can lie, we can too. Followed by links to two websites: tappening.com and startalie.com

The first is a blog about the project. The latter is a game, obviously intended to be fun, but not a lot of fun if you are marketing manager for a bottled water company.

Very clever. So who are these people and what's their motivation?

Evidently Tappening was founded by two guys whose aim is to encourage the public to drink tap water whenever possible, thereby sending a message to the bottled water industry about its unnecessary and extreme waste of fossil fuels and resultant pollution of the Earth.

Mark DiMassimo and Eric Yaverbaum are New York PR guys. DiMassimo says, "We’ve spent these two years using our marketing and public relations abilities to un-sell bottled water hype. But I still see cascading waterfalls on labels that do not list the source of that water.”

Yaverbaum adds, “This creates an illusion that it is superior to tap water, because that’s what billions of dollars of bottled water advertising has claimed or implied. The thing is, that's simply not true."

For the record, I am not a bottled water guy myself, though not for environmental reasons. I am essentially a cheapskate. (Frugal is the nicer way to say it.) Thus I have had a lot of non-bottled water over the course of a half century, and frankly, some tap water tastes pretty bad. My experience is, however, that if you have ice on hand even the worst water is palatable. I'm fortunate in that the well at our rural home produces wonderful water. (Except every fourth year for about two weeks during the spring rains at which time the flavor takes on a hint of hydrogen sulphide, famously associated with the smell of rotten eggs.)

DiMassimo and Yaverbaum are sinking $535,000 into this campaign which will include what they call "wild postings" in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Las Vegas. By means of Twitter, Tappening Facebook and MySpace groups, and Friendfeed they expect more than 100,000 of their viral ads to fly around the Internet within 24 hours of release.

While we're on the subject of bottled water, did you know that there is magnetically energized water from a spring in Japan’s Magnetic Mountain that purportedly makes you resistant to disease and gives you longer life. At $99.95 per milliliter, or $10,000 a liter, you won’t want to spill a drop. That's no lie. (Not the part about healing, but the latter part, about not wanting to spill a drop at 10K per liter.)

Well, I hope I've given you something to drink about... I mean, think about. What do you drink? I mean, think. Am I all wet?

Monday, July 27, 2009

For One Night Of Love (Part V)

SHORT STORY MONDAY

For One Night Of Love
Part V

The soft clunk startled him. Alyssa had rapped on the passenger door window with her knuckles, then lifted the handle. The door, having been locked, did not yield. Jeremy reached across the seat, opened it and Alyssa, wearing a red silk, quilted robe with a black lining, slid into the car.

Their eyes fought to discover one another's secrets.

"You don't have to say anything," Alyssa said. "I understand."

Jeremy remained silent, wrapped in resistance, staring off into the twilight.

"I knew you'd be confused," Alyssa said, her voice cracking.

He knew she was fighting tears now. They were both fighting tears.

"I'll be all right," he said. The sinking feeling had passed.

"Don't take it personally," she said. "You don't know how things are with my family."

Jeremy reached his hand out and she clasped it between her hands, resting them on her lap. Her head was bent so that her hair fell forward, hiding her face. Several minutes were passed in solemn silence. Jeremy felt as if they were the most beautiful moments of his whole life, and it struck him almost strange that such a passive act could so profoundly move him.

"Why are we so scared to show our real selves?" Jeremy said. "It's like I have all these feelings, and it's like I don't even know what to do with it all."

"You really are sweet," Alyssa said softly, still harboring his hand.

Jeremy closed his eyes and listened to her breathing.

"I have to go," she said quickly, returning his hand and opening the door.

Jeremy got out of the car as well, watching the shadow figure of Alyssa race across the lawn, silhouetted against the half moon risen above the trees. In a short time he saw the flash of lights from her room, on and off, three times. He went inside and returned his own double sign. His last thoughts were of her as he passed into sleep.

There were many nights of signals after that. Jeremy lived for those moments where he was in contact with her, even if only by the brief flashing of lights which had come to symbolize the embodiment of all things bright and wonderful and hopeful and pure. Sometimes he would exclaim, "Let there be light!" as he flashed, with rejoicing, the signal to her. At other times, it was with anguish, for it seemed the day would take a thousand years to pass before he should again see her sign. These were the most difficult nights, and in the pain of longing he wondered if it was worth it, for surely no good thing could come of it in the end and he believed he understood that it really is possible to die from a broken heart.

The night it happened he'd already made ready for bed when the phone rang. "Jeremy?" She spoke so softly he had difficulty hearing her, but he knew it was her. "Can you come here tonight?"

Jeremy answered voicelessly and she, not hearing, said, "Jeremy?"

"Yes," he replied, and he hung up the phone.

He dressed in haste, hitching his belt and buttoning his shirt as he strode down across the yard. The back door had been swung open with Alyssa standing just inside, wearing again the red silk robe, her face colorless. As Jeremy stepped inside the door, the girl flung herself against him, burying her face in the nape of his neck. While her urgency frightened him, the scent of her equally intoxicated him so that he was bewildered and uncertain, even afraid. His shirt became damp with her tears, first on the left and then the right side.

"It's all right," he said to her, trying to sound comforting. "I'm sure things will be all right."

She said nothing and continued to cry, pulling away from him and seating herself on a low couch that stretched along the wall, crying into her hands with her elbows propped on her knees. There was a lamp on somewhere in the house which presented just enough light to suggest outlines for the furnishings in that room. Jeremy placed himself at her side. With his right hand he stroked the back of her head, running his hand over her hair.

When at last she was able to speak, she said to him, "You mustn't make any noise," and he knew someone else was in the house.

Finally, she stood up and, grasping his hand, pulled him to his feet. She led him toward the hallway, down the hall across plush carpets, past woven wallpaper and tapestries, toward the back of the house, toward the room he had dreamed of where paradise must lay. Without a word she led him, and he followed, believing anything was possible. When they reached her room, he followed her inside, and she closed the door behind so that they were standing in absolute darkness, her hand tightly clasping his, restlessly squeezing and releasing. He did not know that in the corner of the room lay the dead body of her father.

CONTINUED


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hope Springs Eternal for Romania

This week Susie and I were invited to a fund-raising/consciousness-raising dinner for Romanian Hope Springs International and I want to convey some what we experienced there. But where does one begin?

I am reminded of the story of the little boy on the beach trying to save the lives of sand dollars (or is is starfish?) that have been washed ashore and which will most definitely die if left there out of the water. The boy is picking them up one at a time, throwing them back into the sea. A man who sees what he’s trying to do comes walking by and questions why the boy is wasting his time when the whole beach is awash with critters doomed to die. The boy will make hardly a dent and what difference can it possibly make when there are so many?

The boy has paused to consider the man’s words, then throws the next one into the sea saying, “It made a difference for that one.”

I’m sure that was a scene from a movie, and the simplicity of last night’s dinner could have been a movie scene, too. Silviu and Tirzah Pop were the organizers of the event, a Romanian meal extraordinaire. We were not only introduced to Romanian cuisine, we also heard Silviu sing to us some songs of Romanian origin…. In Romanian, of course.

There was also a silent auction in which people were able to purchase art and pottery, donated through Silviu’s local arts connections.

That Tirzah, our veterinarian extraordinaire, would have married a man from Romania and gone on to start a ministry in a foreign land comes as no surprise when you know her family as we did when we first came to Duluth in 1986. Tirzah’s dad is a doctor who is active annually in a Christian medical outreach in Madagascar. The family has missions connections of many stripes. I remember being with Dr. Roach the day the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down years ago. He commented with heaviness of heart that this was a signal that very dark days were coming in that troubled country. The film Hotel Rwanda describes that horrorific massacre of Hutus by Tutsis that resulted in a million deaths and rivers of blood.

Romania, like many nations outside the periphery of our daily news, has more than its share of sorrows. Silviu, who has maintained strong attachments with his homeland and family siince coming to this country, felt a special burden for the people of the mountain villages in Northwestern Romania. Several years ago, when he sought to bring blankets to help people through the winters, his pastor encouraged him to “think bigger.” This ministry is a direct outgrowth of those prayers and bigger thinking.

What moved me last night was how simple and pure Silviu’s and Tirzah’s ambitions are with this ministry. It is about the needy, not about the Pops. It is about ordinary people making sacrifices to do whatever they can to help other people in extraordinarily difficult straights.

A primary focus is to reach the children. There are countless orphans due to bad medical and political decisions during the past quarter century. Young people with disabilities are neglected in Romania, hence the mission includes serving disabled children.

Jacques Ellul, in his book Hope in Time of Abandonment, noted that Martin Luther's emphasis on faith was the key word for his historical moment. But the key word in our time is hope. The modern world has seen devastation on a mass scale like never before. This ministry, Romanian Hope Springs International, is focused on bringing hope to a specific people in a time of great need.

For more information contact romanianhopesprings@yahoo.com

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Minimum Wage Digression

It’s easy to lie with statistics, and even easier to lie without them. ~ Unknown

A regular feature of our local paper is an Opinion page standard in which an issue has pro and con points of view on a specific issue, whether dredging the bay or changing the drinking age. The segment usually has a grey pro/con moniker drawing attention to whatever debate is currently on the table. This morning the common pro/con badge was replaced by one that said con/con. Today’s topic dealt with the new minimum wage legislation that went into effect July 24, raising the minimum wage from $6.55 to $7.25. Will the minimum-wage increase benefit anyone?

James Sherk, the first columnist, presented the view that the higher wage will be bad for small businesses. Minimum wage means maximum trouble. He took the position that raising the minimum wage will damage the small business’ incentive to hire new employees, and it is the lesser skilled employees who are most vulnerable to layoffs should they be required during tough times.

According to Sherk the current hard times are an especially bad time for this law to kick in. The value of low paying jobs is not the money they provide, but rather the job experience they offer.

The opposing view was actually, as indicated by the caption con/con, an argument in agreement with the first columnist, except from the point of view of the damage it does to workers. Holly Sklar begins with an interesting stat, that minimum-wage workers are making over five thousand dollars less today than in 1968, despite the fact that the minimum wage has risen significantly.

Whereas Sherk argued that a minimum wage increase is a bad thing during hard times (10% unemployment) Ms. Sklar points out that the original legislation was conceived and put into play during even harder times, the 1938 Great Depression, when unemployment sat at twenty percent.

In point of fact, Sklar is not opposed to minimum wage legislation at all, simply this one which she feels is inadequate to the task it aspires to. Her desire, and the aim of her organization Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, is to see a ten dollar an hour minimum wage in place by 2010.

But what’s the reality behind all these various stats and facts? Do higher wages help the poor or do they help the government by giving them more money to tax? Who benefits when higher wages result in a higher cost for goods? It may be simplistic but my guess is that we will only see more shuttered factories because in a global economy we are not going to see the same higher prices on imports from China.

I do not know all the facts on these matters but common sense says to me that if the government wants to control how much money people bring home, one way they can do this is by lowering taxes. Forcing businesses to pay more only makes businesses raise the prices for their goods and services. Common sense says as much. The loser, then, is the consumer who sees a reduction in his or her purchasing power.

In other words, it’s smoke and mirrors. What do you think?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Religion in the Public Square

Yesterday I mentioned a few themes from the book Founding Brothers, but I avoided the issue of religion in the public square because there was insufficient space to make a point I wanted to explore.

The manner in which the slavery issue was debated throughout early American history exemplifies, probably more than any other, the challenge of bringing religion into public debate. The Quakers were quite vocal against it from the beginning, but their voices were dismissed because they were also pacifists who had been against the revolution itself. To some extent there was a condescending attitude toward the Quakers because although they were "nice" and "good" their views were not practical.

The tragedy (one of many, actually) with regard to Christians bringing the Bible to bear upon political issues like slavery is that the slaveholders were themselves church-going Bible-believing Christians who quoted the Scriptures to defend their way of life. Even after the end of slavery, these same believers went on to defend racist policies and fight against the very principles of freedom for all which the revolt against England was all about.

This unfortunate misuse of the Bible within the context of politics is not a uniquely American phenomenon. In Britain, during the Irish potato famine of the mid-nineteenth century Christians in Parliament argued that the people of Ireland should not be fed or helped in any way because it was a judgment of God.

Does this mean Scripture does not apply to political battles? Am I suggesting that Christians should have no voice in the political process? Absolutely not.

My personal belief is that the Ten Commandments, for example, are not true and good because God said them. Rather, they are true and good because God is a loving God and He understands how the soul works and the human social order works, that murder and adultery and lying are behaviors that damage communities and ourselves as well. It is in our best interest to live in harmony with the underlying rules of the universe we find ourselves in.

This may be an oversimplification for the sake of brevity, but I take it to the public square in the following manner. When arguing our case, whether it be for life affirmation or against the wrongfulness of treating humans as property, we must speak into the culture without the religious jargon and hardline arrogance that says, "My view is God's view." As mortals, can any of us have an absolutely perfect understanding of the ramifications of every situation, every piece of congressional legislation?

In point of fact, everything is easy in the ethereal realm of ideas and ideals, but it gets messy when you pull it down into the broken mess that is our world today. First, being a hardliner makes it very hard to find common ground to negotiate solutions with your enemies. Second, a thing may be "wrong" to one person but all the solutions are equally bad. Numerous examples can be cited.

Bottom line: our philosophical approach as Christians in the public square must be one of being Biblically informed, but we can't march into the arena spouting Bible verses and expect to have influence. Bible-wavers have been on both sides of nearly every ethical issue, from slavery to Viet Nam.

Our attitude must be one of humility and teachableness. The real need in the public square is for truth, compassion and justice to prevail. These are values for which banners must wave and for which all Christians must speak up. Our world is broken. How can we not make some attempt to be agents for healing and restoration?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Setting The Trajectory

I've been reading Joseph Ellis' Founding Brothers, a book about the first decade of our Republic. Ellis, who wrote a National Book Award-winning bio on Jefferson did this piece as a follow up, no doubt because of his love for that period, but probably also to utilize all the research he'd dug up to produce the first book.

Ellis argues that of all the decades in our history, the first one was preeminent in importance because it set the trajectory our country would take. From the manner in which conflicts were resolved to the manner in which power was wielded, there is probably some truth to Ellis' assessment.

Take, for example, the matter of Washington stepping down as president after two terms. This was unheard of in the era of monarchies. King George III said Washington was the greatest man ever if he could do that. Well, he did it. The torch was passed to another, John Adams. It was unprecedented, but served as just one example of how things were different over here. Instead of being about power, Washington's presidency was about service.

The book begins with the story of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. It is inconceivable today that a sitting Vice President would kill a man in a duel -- though our previous VP did shoot a lawyer. The significance of the Burr-Hamilton event is this: even though Burr won he lost. When he shot Hamilton, his reputation was shot. The real significance is that the old order, the code of the duel, and all those "gentlemanly" things that were vestiges of the old British ways, fell to the wayside and from this instance on were no longer to be a part of the New America.

Another major chapter in the book is about the manner in which the founding fathers avoided resolving the slave issue. In thinking about to tell it I was reminded of a dream I once had.

In the dream there was a giant tortoise in my small house. It was making a mess as turtles do, but it was also so enormous that I could not get it out of the house because it was wider now than the doors. I was in despair, and I prayed to God for help. A ray of light came down from above and shone on the tortoise, and almost immediately the critter began to become translucent, then transparent and a misty nothing... but just before disappearing altogether, she gave birth to four more baby turtles which were just so cute. Then I woke up.

The meaning of the dream for me was this: deal with a bad habit or situation when it is small and you can maybe get rid of it, but allow it to stick around and you have a major problem on your hands. The only way to get rid of that tortoise would have been to tear a wall out.

Well, the slave issue was not cute like those little baby turtles, but it was a much smaller problem in 1790 than in 1850. The founding fathers would have been better off facing it, and dealing with it while there were fewer slaves and a lesser economic impact. Instead, though they knew sooner or later it was going to tear the fabric of the Republic, they shuttled it off for another time the way many groups and individuals deal with their problems. Try to put a good face on it, try not to make waves.

Aside: How about in your life? Is that an elephant in your living room?

For sure reading Founding Brothers has me eager to find the Jefferson book by Ellis. I very much enjoyed David McCullough's John Adams a couple years ago and recommend it to you are well for an intro to this period of our history. They were remarkable times and remarkable men. They were not passive about the world they lived in. The issues they wrestled with and how they resolved them set the tone for what made America the influential nation it later became.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

After the Ball

"A picture is worth a thousand words." ~Napolean Bonaparte

Last night we held the reception for my art show at The Venue. For those of you who could make it, thanks for making it a very special time. I did my best to give everyone a memorable First Hand Experience.

I'd intended to take photos, but got so caught up in answering questions about the various pieces or just catching up with old friends I'd not seen a while, that I utterly neglected my camera. I saw some video being shot, so I'll get a chance to share a bit of YouTube footage here once it's been edited.

There was a nice spread of food, shared graciously by our Philosophy Club friends. (Thank you!!!) And thank you, too, to Karl for serving the wine and punch. A few guests thought Karl had been hired for the occasion. He did look sharp, dressed to the nines as he was.... but no, he was just there to support our show. And a very special thanks to the Sawinskis, Martin and Michael, for the invitation to make their venue a home for my work this month of July.

For me it was really fun to see how various people connect to different kinds of pieces, and gratifying to see people respond to some of my favorites. Certainly my recent Sitting Bull portrait got much attention. There were numerous people asking about the Lincoln portraits and the story behind them, which I briefly wrote about on this blog the other day.

A number of people left feedback on our Exit Registry which was a fun read last night before turning out the lights. And now, it's another day.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Themes

"A sincere artist is not one who makes a faithful attempt to put on canvas what is in front of him, but one who tries to create something which is, in itself, a living thing." ~William Dobell

A lot of people have asked me if my show has a theme, or what kind of art I do. It was always hard to answer that since my work goes in a lot of directions. Eventually, I came to answer that my paintings and drawings were "in the modernist style." It is not classical, baroque or art nouveau, nor is it realism, landscape or still life. I can't call it abstract because much of it is representational to some extent. Certainly the portraits of Lincoln and Sitting Bull are straight up portraits.

As for themes, we have a friend who does gnomes. And some people do flowers. In American art, the major themes might include scenes from everyday life, historical subjects, abstract art, landscapes. Jackson Pollock did the large splatter paintings which brought him fame and fortune in the modern art world. Warhol did the screen printing work with its focus on pop culture, creating iconic images of Marilyn Monroe and soup cans.

Although there is a variety of styles in this show, one can't help but notice upon deeper reflection that certain themes emerge. One of these is the theme of suffering. We live in a broken world. Pieces like Scars Remain and Chase Ends In Suicide show the chaos of our culture, and a paintings like Grief and Sad Clown likewise show the personal impact this brokenness has.

Another theme, which may or may not be immediately recognized, is the underlying sense of the comic. I like making funny pictures, and also enjoy toying with people a little. My found art piece Tribute to DuChamp was intended to bring a wry smile to art connoisseurs, though I have now learned that most people do not know who DuChamp was any more. Nearly everyone gets a kick out of The Great Escape, a small brush and ink drawing of a man crawling on his knees with a guilty expression.

The most important thing to me is that people who walk the show take time to engage each piece, which might be an impossibility in light of the quantity. Someone once said that "the holy grail is to spend less time making the picture than it takes people to look at it." I can relate to that. I'm honored when people get drawn in, engage, interact. Too much of life is lived on the surface, and so it is that once in a while we need to get jarred, to be made to pause, to reflect... not only on the piece, but on that which is occurring within themselves as they engage the piece.

Or maybe I'm just trying to share a little about what I like to do when I get away from it all while others go fishing. Some people might just call it glorified doodling. It satisfies a need. Sharing my work, and seeing people enjoy it, satisfies a second.

Have a great day! Hopefully the rain will have stopped when you walk from your cars to the show tonight.

Monday, July 20, 2009

For One Night Of Love (Part IV)

SHORT STORY MONDAY


For One Night Of Love

Part IV


Leafing through past two or three more illustrations, she stopped to study a page filled with sketches of butterflies. The detail was such that she imagined him sharpening his pencil after every stroke.


Jeremy startled her when he returned to the kitchen. She was absorbed in the drawings and hadn't heard him enter even though the floor had creaked loudly. As soon as she saw him she closed the sketchbook and placed it back where she found it.

"That's all right. I don't mind," he said. "They're nothing."

"No, they're very nice," Alyssa said.

Jeremy didn't know what to say and his cheek was twitching so that it made him uncomfortable. When he remembered they had never been introduced, he said, "Uh, my name's Jeremy. And you are...?" Even though he already knew her name from the country club, he didn't want her to know.

She smiled and said "Alyssa Martin," and he said he already knew her last name was Martin because her folks had lived next door for almost two years, to which she said, "Of course," with a laugh. Her face lit up when she laughed and Jeremy tried hard not to stare at her because she seemed so alive and warm and pretty when she smiled, but he kept looking at her face and then at her bare arms and the way she held her slender hands, slightly curled and at rest.

Again Jeremy's mind went blank so that he became self-conscious and didn't know what to say.
"I'm sorry," he said at last.

"What?"

"Oh, I don't know," he said, feeling stupid.

"Look, I have to go. But I'd like it if you wave or say 'hi' or something when you walk past our place and you see me." After standing up she said, "You're really good. Your drawings are really nice."

After dark that evening he went out behind the barn and played his harmonica, thinking about things he hadn't thought about in what seemed like ages. It was as if something had been awakened in him that he thought had died. He watched the sky deepen from royal blue to ultramarine as the stars awakened to perform their silent night dance. Crickets chirped in the barn and peepers trilled from the marsh. And from time to time a firefly in solitary flight zoomed past, seeking a mate by sending fluorescent signals to the grassy stems below.

As another came past, he noticed a response from the weeds hardly a yard from his shoe. The male firefly hovered, signalled excitedly and, upon seeing the double flash from below, dropped instantly to the ground. Jeremy smiled at the thought of being a lightning bug. It all seemed so simple.


When he returned to the house he left the lights off and took his seat next to the window that he might see the silouhette of the Martin house. Ten minutes passed. He was tired. He ran his fingers through his hair in the dark, listening to the peepers and crickets. He wanted to see her, to make contact with her, to keep contact with her. Her world seemed so far away. He hardly knew her, but she said his drawings were good, and that must have meant she liked them. He watched the window which he believed was her room. The house was all darkness, and he imagined her there in her bed, knew she must be in there, and he thought about what she had said. She had said, 'I'd like it if you wave or say hi to me' and she meant it. She must have meant it or she wouldn't have said it. And at this he leaned forward and flicked the light switch on and off twice, on and off, on and off; and he smiled. "Hi, Alyssa," he said quietly.

Jeremy thought of her every day after that. At times it seemed that she was in some way part of his every waking thought. He woke in the morning thinking of her. He couldn't help think of her on his walks. He daydreamed her while working so that his hours on the job were lived on another plane. The frustrations that touched others had no effect on him whatsoever. Most of the time.

There were times when he reflected critically on his situation. He was setting himself up for a fall he told himself. He should be careful. She had not really indicated any kind of recipricocity of feeling, and he knew virtually nothing about her. She had been nice to him, but she may be a nice person who would be kind toward anyone.

One night he came home late from the country club and instead of turning on the lights he took his seat in the dark by the window, watching the house. It must have been an hour or more, until he reached over and flicked the lights on and off, twice in a row in rapid succesion. "I'm thinking of you. Did you see my signal?" To his surprise, the lights flashed on and off in the corner room which he had taken to be hers, once, twice, three times. He didn't know what to do. He had signalled, she signalled back. She had been watching, just as he had been watching her. His heart beat against the inside of his chest. "I love you, Alyssa," he whispered, and his lips trembled.


The next day, Jeremy decided he would call her on the phone from work. He stood in a small alcove with a private phone which was available for use by the bus boys, waitresses and kitchen help. Jeremy spent half his break period staring at the buttons, stirring up his courage. When he heard the phone ring at the other end of the line, he almost hung up. After the fourth ring, a woman's voice answered. "Is Alyssa there?" he said. When Alyssa came to the phone her formal tone made him feel she was annoyed so that he suddenly froze. After he identified himself, she said, "I'm in the middle of something right now. Is it important?" He muttered something about how he was sorry to have bothered her, and that he hoped he would see her around, but he was devastated afterwards and for the rest of the day felt suffocated by the dark mood which fastened itself to him.

He returned home late that night, his stomach queasy and the muscles in his shoulders all bunched and tight. The Martin house was all darkness when he passed it before making the right turn into his own driveway. Long after shutting off the engine he remained in his car which was parked on a strip of gravel that runs alongside the garage and up to the barn. He was staring out into the field, half conscious, his mind hovering over various impressions, naming them and drifting on. Disappointment. Frustration. Shame.


CONTINUED

Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Creativity takes courage." ~Matisse

One of the hardest things in writing is a blank piece of paper. Much has been written about it, as the mind races around trying to decide what to put down as the all important first sentence.

In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent Van Gogh wrote that he dislikes seeing a blank canvas, and when he sees one he feels obligated to smear paint on it. And I know exactly what he means.

In painting, before you can really do the work you have to do the prep. Once you get the surface ready (if canvas, with gesso) you still want to paint a neutral undercoat of some kind. At least, this is one approach that is common. It certainly doesn't apply if you are pouring stain onto a canvas like Louis Morris, but in traditional painting, that background undercoat helps set the tone.

So, I am staring at a box here where I am to write today's blog entry and I don't know where to go with it. Should I jump outside the box and write a string of absurd sentences about colons and dashboards or steering columns and carcinoma? Or do we follow this train we're on to some kind of logical conclusions?

I just deleted one direction this could have gone. Let's head southeast for a moment. No, wait, maybe west. Oh, never mind.

So, I am having an art opening this week on Tuesday evening. One of the pieces is a Tribute to Duchamp who said, "I am interested in ideas, not merely visual products." Thus was born the concept of conceptual art. The Tribute piece is an item I found at a garage sale for a buck, which if I were famous might garner ten thousand. The current price is, "To Highest Bidder."

The irony is that young people, and maybe even older ones, have never heard of Duchamp, or the urinal on display in a Philadelphia gallery (found art). They do not know Magritte, Matisse or any of the most prominent artists who initially steered the direction of 20th century art away from representationalism.

Another irony: I began my college studies moving in the direction of philosophy (ideas) but found art more appealing because you ended up with a visual product. So Duchamp pushed art in a direction, but pure idea as an end has to return to earth in some form... whether it be paintings or perhaps in acts of service to one's neighbors, community, etc.

Think about it. Then express yourself.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Linguistic Transfigurations

"But for the sky there are no fences facing." ~ Bob Dylan

What set Bob Dylan apart when he first emerged on the scene was not simply the message he conveyed, but the manner in which he conveyed it. His words glittered over the surface of his songs and each movement of light caused spangles of delight in the brain that recognized what was happening here.

Mr. Tambourine Man is filled with language that explodes with imagery, carrying listeners through energizing whitewater rapids of emotion.

The message, to some extent, is an old one. The metaphor above is an original way of repeating a common maxim: The sky's the limit. Or to put it another way, there are no limits. But by putting the wine in different wineskins, Dylan rejuvenated the meanings for a new generation.

The culmination verse summarizes thus:

"Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea
circled by the circus signs with all memory and fate
driven deep beneath the waves, let me
forget about today until tomorrow..."

Having lived in Mexico a year, I have to believe these lines are, in essence, a linguistically luminous way of summarizing the philosophy of "Manana" which means "Tomorrow." For a moment in time, for today, for the now, let's just live for today, he sings.

Ultimately, becoming a mature adult means that we do have to carry burdens and assume responsibilities. For the young, the appeal of avoiding this yoke is rightly sensed, though adulthood also has its rewards. As we grow, however, let's not forget to make a place for dancing beneath diamond skies.

For some, music is the route to temporary forgetfulness. We lose ourselves in the sweet strains of the strings, chimes, rhythms. And for others, myself here, it is the act of creation which is my dance.

This month, some of my art is on display at The Venue @ Mohaupt Block in a retrospective of interpretations and transformations, both black & white and color, on surfaces of every kind. The Dylan painting at the top of this page will be on display, along with more than 130 other works. And maybe a few surprises.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

On the Road to Find Out

My freshman year at college was a year of new experiences for sure. One of these experiences was an album by Cat Stevens called Tea for the Tillerman. Jon Brite, an artist in Scott Quad where I roomed at Ohio U freshman year, made the introduction. And while listening to a portion of it last night, as I do from time to time, the music and lyrics still hold up as the classic it was.

The thought I had, however, was how targeted this album was at the time it was written. It was an album from the point of view of youth, directed toward youthful seekers whose life quest was just unfolding. No wonder Stevens went on to sell 25 million albums. We hear the generational dissonance in a song like Father and Son. And in this song, On the Road to Find Out, we recognize the inner flame of the hero's quest.

Well, I left my happy home to see what I could find out. I left my folk and friends with the aim to clear my mind out. Well, I hit the rowdy road and many kinds I met there. Many stories told me of the way to get there.

And what young person has not experienced this chorus?

So on and on I go, the seconds tick the time out, there's so much left to know, and I'm on the road to find out.

To some extent, this attitude is what keeps us going, isn't it? At what point do we stop questing? At what point do we stop embracing life? Is that not the first signal that a coffin is in the next room waiting for us?

Then I found myself alone, hopin' someone would miss me. Thinking about my home and the last woman to kiss me, kiss me. But sometimes you have to moan when nothing seems to suit yer, but nevertheless you know you're locked towards the future.

Locked toward the future. At what point does this shift? For some, like Goldmund in Herman Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund, the rockets flare out. After a lifetime of embracing the fullness of experience, he returns to the beginning. Life has changed him, and a lifetime of experience has been absorbed into him, thus preparing him for the task he was not really capable of at the beginning. Goldmund, the artist, has toured the world and learned its deepest lessons. Ultimately he returns to the monastery and completes the work for which he was born.

Then I found my head one day when I wasn't even trying. And here I have to say, 'cause there is no use in lying, lying. Yes, the answer lies within, so why not take a look now? Kick out the devil's sin, pick up, pick up a good book now.

In the process of making art, the attitude of discovery is pre-eminent. At least it seems so for me. Every project is a voyage into the unknown. Sometimes you discover miracles. Other times you only catch glimpses of something escaping on the run. But it's always an adventure.

If you're interested in an evening of first hand encounters with 130+ pieces that I've created as an ever questing artist, I invite you to The Venue @ Mohaupt Block in Duluth's West End. My show, FIRST HAND EXPERIENCES, will be hanging there till July 31. The Open House is next Tuesday from 6 - 9 p.m. on the 21st.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Influences

Salvador Dali was strongly influenced by the painting of Jan Vermeer, a Dutch painter of the 1600's whose incredible detail and rich use of light and shadow produced remarkable effects.

As noted earlier I found vast worlds open up to me through the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, a contemporary of Pieter Bruegel whose complicated peasant scenes and landscapes created memorable visual experiences. It seems strange to me that in college I would develop a disdain for art history, taking an interest only in that which had evolved in the previous hundred years. This is, of course, one of the side effects of the modern mindset, that forgets its roots and thinks relevant only what is now.

The result, besides failing to learn from history, was that I ended up one grade point shy of a Bachelor of Fine Arts, and settled for a Bachelor of General Studies. Though I do appreciate the modern artists, it doesn't take long to be awed by the Renaissance masters when you stand in the presence of original works.

I consider myself fortunate to have grown up on the East Coast with its many superb museums. In 1964, when we moved to New Jersey, one of my most memorable impressions from the World's Fair was seeing Michaelangelo's Pieta. It was literally stunning to see what a man could evoke with a piece of marble.

In contrast to these my own work is somewhat primitive, but I have enjoyed the process and it is not totally devoid of evocative impressions. Hopefully you can visit The Venue @ Mohaupt Block sometime in July, or the open house the evening of July 21st, and take in the 130+ pieces in my retrospective.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Name Game

For some reason naming things is fun. Perhaps, too, it is a privilege, as illustrated in the Dylan tune, "Man gave names to all the animals, in the beginning."

Biologists enjoy naming new plants and astronomers new planets. We all enjoy the tussle of coming up with just the right names for our sons or daughters. And Hollywood stars often begin their careers coming up with a "stage name" for themselves. Cars, dormitories, businesses, streets and books all have names. And so do most of the 130+ pieces in my art show here in Duluth during the month of July.

Here are just a few of the titles I had fun coming up with:

Can't You Hear Me Knockin'
Minnesota Guy
Self Portrait As Hero (my self portrait in the Dark Knight costume)
The Piano Player
Full Moon I
Street Punk
Haiku 31
Happy
Haiku 32
Maroon
15.24 x 15.24 cm
Mars Venus
Horse
Pink Whirling Dervish
Street Legal
Indian Railways, 1939
Time Out Of Mind
Man w/out a Face
Seahorse Suite
Boston Fan
Scars Remain
Mad Cow
Golden Girl
Intaglio Tears
Les Miserable
Man w/out a Shirt
Bud Ginsberg
XYZ
Cat Man
Lilac Petals
Grief
Turbulence Over The Prairie
Man w/Dark Shades
Why (Green)
Why (Red)
The Sybil
Three Women
Tribute to Matisse
3 Paint Tubes, 2 Tickets
Statue of Liberty
Not Dead Yet
The Bird Watcher
Third Base Coach
Brass, Feathers
Old Paint, New Fortunes
Blue Mohawk
The Star Gazer
Where Teardrops Fall
En Sof
Trouble
Windows
Bueno Americano
Don Quixote de la Mancha
It Tolls For Thee
Sad Clown
Conflict in South America
Visual Linguistic
Magic Garden
Google Earth
Lincoln II
Lincoln III
XOXO (Love You Lots)

Well, you get the picture. Or maybe you don't since the pictures are there and not here. But naming is fun for sure.

The show is open to the public throughout the month of July. You can see these and other pieces at The Venue @ Mohaupt Block at 2024 West Superior Street in Duluth. The Open House will be held on Tuesday, July 21 from 6 - 9 p.m. and everyone reading this is invited.
In the meantime, have a great day.

Monday, July 13, 2009

For One Night Of Love, Part III

SHORT STORY MONDAY

Because I've been writing about my art show this past week, I almost forgot that today was Short Story Monday. Our hero here in the story just happens to be something of an artist himself. If you are following, enjoy. If you want more background, the story began two Mondays ago.


For One Night Of Love
Part 2

The next day he was astonished to learn that Frank Martin and his wife were members at the Northview Country Club where he worked, and that Mr. Martin had a daughter who just returned home from a private school in New England. Two bus boys were talking about it. Later, one of the parking lot attendants remarked on it while picking up a bite to eat in the kitchen saying that her name was Alyssa. Jeremy did not mention to them that he lived next door to the Martins. In fact, what these others found exciting -- for they insisted she was a very attractive girl-- he, found almost unsettling. Her presence endangered his routines.

For the next few weeks Jeremy began to pay more attention to the house again. He noticed how much the lawn had filled in since first being seeded. The shrubbery, too, had filled out noticeably. And while there were still no flowers, the atmosphere was considerably altered by this new presence, unseen as she was. And at night, before getting ready for bed, he would sit in his living room with the lights out, watching to see whatever sight the Martin house would yield.

Yet in many respects nothing had changed; the house remained as shut up and solemn as before. Sometimes there would be movement behind the curtains in the upstairs corner room which had, until this time, been perpetually in darkness. He guessed it to be Alyssa's room, and he wondered how long she would remain with her family. A week? A month? For the summer? Not that anything would come of it. Jeremy knew where things stood on that score. He was committed to his aloneness.

If he were totally honest with himself, however, having a girl next door excited him. True, he preferred the safety of the familiar and was afraid of these unknown territories, but seeing her stirred his emotions, and while it frightened him, it also exhilarated him and though he would not admit it to himself, each time her saw her it was his deepest wish to see her again. The first few weeks he saw her only from a distance, either when leaving for work or when she was leaving to go somewhere in the Martin's white Buick. But he never spoke with her.

One day, while he was returning from the back of his property, a little girl from the development across the street careened off the road on her bicycle and took a spill in the ditch, throwing her face into the handlebars so that her lip was badly cut. She was no more than eight and it terrified her so that she was screaming, feeling she was in the middle of nowhere, the taste of blood in her mouth and blood on her hands when she put them to her face. Jeremy rushed out to the road and picked her up to carry her back to his house. Alyssa, having heard the girl's screams, also ran to the road, arriving after Jeremy had begun carrying the girl up the driveway. After walking the girl's bike across the asphalt, Alyssa went up to the house and knocked on the side door. Through the screen she could see Jeremy, seated in the kitchen, holding the girl on his lap and applying a wet rag which had been wrapped around an ice cube. "Come in," he said.

"I'll keep an eye out," she said. She turned to face the road.

The girl's mother arrived soon after and Jeremy helped load the bicycle into the back of the station wagon. "Thank you. Thank you very much," the woman said several times and then she was gone.

Jeremy and Alyssa were standing together about ten feet from the garage. Jeremy studied her cautiously. She was much taller than he originally thought. Her shoulder length hair had been pulled back and pinned in place with a yellow crescent-shaped comb revealing the smooth curves of her neckline. Her mouth was drawn tight but not in a tense way, and when she spoke her teeth were white and perfect so that he was embarrassed by his own teeth, which were a little crooked. She had light blue-grey eyes, like pools of mist and she averted them whenever he looked her full in the face."Can I fix you something to drink?" Jeremy said. As an afterthought he added, "The house is kind of a mess but you can come in if you like."

Alyssa looked back toward her own house, then followed Jeremy into the kitchen.

"I'll be right back," he said while walking backwards out of the room. "Help yourself to the fridge. There's glasses in the cupboard. I have to change my shirt." The shirt had been stained with blood.

She seated herself in one of the wooden chairs which was set around an old, scratched up wooden table. A pile of bills, catalogs and assorted envelopes with special offers for credit cards, magazines, and the like lay on the corner of the table next to an orange, spiral-bound sketchbook. On the cover of the sketchbook a date had been written with a black felt-tip pen in the upper right hand corner. Without thinking she picked up the sketchbook, opened it to the first page and looked at the picture there, a detailed drawing of a hand. It was a man's hand, but it struck her as being a gentle hand, and it surprised her that the emotion of gentleness should be associated with a picture of a man's hand, or that emotions should be evoked in a simple drawing of a hand at all.

CONTINUED

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Blue Van Gogh

"Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I see before me, I make more arbitrary use of color to express myself more forcefully." ~ Vincent van Gogh, in a letter to his brother Theo.

We remember him as somewhat of a madman. And to a certain extent his behavior warranted this. He cut off his ear, for love. A bit excessive, though it made for an interesting self-portrait afterwards. On another occasion he was determined to see the girl he loved but her parents would not let him in. To show them how intent he was on seeing her, he held the palm of his hand over the lamp flame and said he would not leave till he saw her. The smell of burnt flesh was not very convincing and ultimately he passed out from the pain.

This story reveals that he was indeed a man of intense passions, which poured out of him into his works, works now valued in the millions of dollars. During his lifetime he sold almost nothing, and died in a mental institution in his thirties by his own hand.

As for the source of his mental illness, psychiatrists by the score have studied his behavior and his work to identify its root causes, whether from schizophrenia or syphilis or some other variety of experience. What we know is the notion of "artist as eccentric" found a home in the pop psyche, a notion that treats artists as kooks and social misfits.

Dorothea Brande, in her outstanding volume Becoming A Writer (1934), assaults this notion head on. "The picture of the artist as a monster made up of one part vain child, one part suffering martyr and one part boulevardier is a legacy to us from the last century, and a remarkably embarrassing inheritance. There is an earlier and healthier idea of the artist than that, the idea of the genius as a man more versatile, more sympathetic, more studious than his fellows, more catholic in his tastes, less at the mercy of the ideas of the crowd."

OK, so Salvador Dali comes along and portrays this vain child-madman to the extreme and makes a fortune doing it. No comment. Brande went on to explain that there really is "an artist temperament" and it is not the same as the accounting mindset. The book goes into detail about left brain/right brain thinking, a concept which became excessively popular in the 1980's and has filtered its way into business books, consulting, education and psychology. The notions have been with us a much longer time than many folks realize.

What Brande argues is that you do not have to be mentally unstable to be creative. In this instance she is speaking to young writers, but the same applies to creative souls in the visual arts or music as well.

Vincent Van Gogh once said, "A good picture is equivalent to a good deed." I'm hoping that if you are in Duluth this month you will stop by The Venue @ Mohaupt, 2024 West Superior Street, to check out my show, First Hand Experiences. Of the more than 130 works, I am hoping you will find at least one "good deed" among them.

The picture at the top of this page is titled Blue Van Gogh.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Haiku You, Too

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry which consists of 17 syllables laid out in three lines of five, seven and five syllables each. The poem's structure is a form, but the attitude of haiku creation is the more important feature of haiku. It is the end result of a contemplation.

So it is that some of my art is created in a momentary burst of energy which I strive to collect within me and push out in a rush. A couple of years ago I was fascinated with Japanese characters (the written script) and attempted to reproduce the effects in a vertical stream of brush strokes that conveyed an implied communication, but was really nonsense. I titled this series of pieces Haiku, and a number of them, framed, will be on display at my July art show here in Duluth at The Venue @ Mohaupt.

I've been asked many times if they mean anything. When I am in the mood to be completely candid, I admit that they have no real meaning whatsoever.

I do enjoy the process of writing poetic verse, and the constraints of the Haiku format have a certain appeal to me. Here are some lines which I found in a poetry folder while looking for some other pieces I'd written while in the Black Hills a number of years ago.

18
From depths of darkness
Light filtering through the mist...
Orpheus emerged

19
Mountain lake mirror
Introspective living force
Home of Narcissus

26
It's said that angels
with flaming swords stand guarding
Eden's gate. Not here.

28
everything floating
spellbinding picturesque dream
we drift in stillness

29
The darkness threatens
but cannot overpower
the luminous dawn.

33
with weary hunger
the longing heart savors hope;
dreaming, believing.

41
Spread your wings, little bird,
Follow your heart's tug;
The sky's your limit.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Tools of the Trade

Every trade has its tools, and visual arts is no exception. For drawing I have used a variety of pens, though for more than a decade I favored the Rapid-o-graph with its even lines and uninterrupted ink flow. If I had more time I would do more with pencils, but they are currently not my strongest suit. Instead, I favor brushes. I simply love the process of applying paint, ink or pigment by means of brushes.

Some of my brushes have been with me since my Ohio University days in the early 7o's. A few have been used so passionately for so long that they are practically nubs.

To the uninitiated a brush is a brush is a brush. But the reality is that brushes vary in type and style because they have different functions. Each applies color or pigment in a different manner, and the brush makes a difference in the outcome. Not only are the styles, sizes and shapes different, but the bristles themselves are made of different materials, from synthetic to camel's hair.

Many brushes are designed for special effects, such as the fan brush or the liner brush. Certain brushes are useful for scrubbing the paint into the canvas and some for laying it on thick, such as the mop brush. (I suppose if you had a really large canvas you might enjoy trying to use a mop itself.)

Some artists are adept at painting with a palette knife, which lays down paints in a thick coat or scrapes off areas for alternative effects.

And occasionally, the fingertips make a good tool for applying color. I have used my fingertips in many paintings, sometimes to apply the pigment as a woman would apply mascara. And sometimes to spray the paint across the surface for special effects.

Speaking of spraying, I have even used a toothbrush for a few pieces. The stiff bristles make an excellent mechanism for spattering, and even for rubbing it in. I am referring to discarded toothbrushes, not the one I am about to brush my teeth with.

You probably didn't know, though you might have guessed, that the various parts of a brush each have names, from toe, bristles and belly to heel, ferrule (the metal part that holds everything together) and handle. The heel, the portion of the fibers underneath the ferrule) is not visible. Many of my brushes have had their toes worn off. And a couple have no belly left either. I still love what they can do.

For the record, I love my large paint brushes, too, from my days painting houses and apartments. Maybe some other time I can talk about those dear old friends as well. For the record there is one rule especially important whether working with art brushes or large paint brushes: clean them. You can't ignore this important need. Take the time it takes, don't shortcut this basic maintenance reality. It's like friendship. You just have to give it the time it needs or you will ruin a good thing. Then you'll have to start all over...

The two images here are ink on paper. I have fallen in love with the way ink works, whether for wet applications or dry brush techniques. And both of these are on the wall at my show this month at The Venue @ Mohaupt, at 2024 West Superior Street here in Duluth. Hope you can make it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Good Chocolate, Bad Dog

"Money talks, chocolate sings."

This week I surprised Susie with a package of exceedingly yummy chocolates from Chocolate. com. Chocolate.com is an Internet site devoted to bringing fine chocolates to to both refined and unrefined chocolate lovers.

If you go to the website you will see on the top left a link to their Email Support Team. Evidently chocoholics must need support groups, too, like AA support groups, hence it is placed in an easy to see location on the page. If you are addicted to good chocolate, or even bad chocolate, contact Chocolate.com to help get you through.

In all seriousness, the package arrived with a very high quality insulated wrap like something you might find in a NASA space station to help keep the chocolates from melting in the summer sun during delivery. Ours arrived intact and not goopy or gooey. And what a nice array of specialty chocolates. The four from Jade had an Oriental feel. Susie, who favors dark chocolates, took the Dragon's Breath, Orient Espresso and the Mahai. I spirited away the Genmai and the Santander from Colombia.

Unfortunately, after taking but one bite from each of her chocolates, she left them on her desk for the morrow, but the morning delight never came as.... well you can see from the title that something bad was about to happen. Much as we love our Hobo, a blue healer mix, there have been times she has almost been found hanging from a tree. (Please, I overstate this aggression. Do not call Animal Allies.)

Dogs do have an excellent sense of smell, and the chocolate from Chocolate.com smelled especially good. I think there were neighbor dogs in the yard all night as well, pacing about the house with baseball caps slouched low, seeking an opportunity.

The Dragon's Breath was 65% cacao with roasted sesame seeds, lipsang souchang tea and chili pepper. I'll bet it was like nothing you ever tasted before. My Genmai was 35% cacao with roasted brown rice, green tea and jasmine tea. Mmmmm. The women at the office with whom I shared it all enjoyed it very much, as did I.

The more I ramble here the less space I will get to segway into my art show invitation. The pictures are on the wall, and like these chocolates there is a wide variety. People have asked what kind of art it is. I hardly know what to say. "In the modernist style" does not quite capture it. The Open House will be on Tuesday July 21 from 6 - 9 p.m. and you are invited.

Disclaimer: The writer of this blog entry received the chocolate in exchange for a review about his experience. The chocolates were wonderful. Especially the truffles. Oooh. Ahhhh. Can we say fireworks?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Symbolism

In art history Symbolism was an actual movement in which pictorial means were used to convey allegorical meanings. Throughout art history symbolism has been used, however, especially in religious iconography.

To illustrate the difference between symbolism and representational art, picture a cave drawing with several buffalo images with a dotted line crossing a bunch of wavy lines. This representational piece is telling people where the buffalo are and how to get there. (They are across the river.) If one of the buffalo has wings and is flying above the herd, it might be some kind of early symbolic expression. ("The gods granted me an opportunity to take one.") If there is a large tripod-like creature lifting one of the buffalo and a screeching noise being emitted with a beam of light coming out disintegrating the other buffaloes, then you are looking at an early telling of War of the Worlds. Later historians would then endlessly debate whether this was Realism or Fantasy.

All this to say that symbolism is as much a part of art as metaphors are to poetry. For example, in David Bowie's Is There Life On Mars? the line, "look at those cave men go" is not referring to cave men but to lowbrow brutes having it out in a bar fight, or possibly the alienated teenager is watching a movie of such. But the words are not literal but rather metaphorical, as is Em Dickinson's line, "Hope is the thing with feathers" which Woody Allen turns around to indicate his own -- and modern man's -- existential alienation and despair with the title of his volume Without Feathers. Or he may mean he is exposing himself.

O.K., so this was a long intro to make a small point about my Lincoln paintings. The first painting, Blue Lincoln, was not really about Lincoln at all. I had read a quote somewhere that "you can't fight an international war and a civil war at the same time" and it resonated with me. I believe it was from the book Maximilian and Carlotta in which the U.S. could not defend Mexico against European incursion (a violation of the Monroe Doctrine) because it was in the throes of its own Civil War. For me this was a perfect symbol of many lives today who are battling their own inner conflicts and have unresolved issues in their hearts while also trying to carry on with their life purpose of service to the community or the world-at-large. Many people have been sidelined by internal conflicts who could be leaders of organizations in need of leadership.

The Lincoln image thus became such a symbol for me. The overarching internal conflict between good and evil, righteousness and temptation, left the president blue.

The painting Lincoln II has a brighter background, but his features are ashen. The subtitle, Portrait with One Dying Eye, is a reference to the line from Dylan's Hurricane. "The wounded guy looks up through his one dyin' eye, Says 'What'd you bring him in here for? He ain't the guy.'" The song is ultimately about injustice, as noted in the second to last verse. "To see him obviously framed couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land where justice is a game."

And so it is that presidents themselves become symbols. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech was not delivered in Arlington Cemetery, land that formerly belonged to Robert E. Lee, but rather at the Lincoln Memorial. Symbols have power. Symbols resonate.

Blue Lincoln, Lincoln III (right) and Lincoln II (Portrait with One Dying Eye) will be on display this month at The Venue, 2024 West Superior Street, Duluth. Hope you get a chance to see what's happening there.