Thursday, August 31, 2017

Recalling the Power of Clint Eastwood's Invictus


Last night watched the film Invictus, the remarkable true story of South Africa’s 1995 capture of the Rugby World Cup, directed by Clint Eastwood. This really is a wonderful story with impressive performances, starring Matt Damon as team captain Francois Pienaar and Morgan Freeman as the irrepressible Nelson Mandela.

Kudos to Clint Eastwood for the stories he has been bringing to the screen in recent years. This one is again an inspired piece of work and shows that he has learned well the craft of storytelling in film. I don’t believe we as Americans fully appreciate the impact and power of Nelson Mandela’s life achievements, not only in bringing down apartheid but in becoming the elected president who united this wounded and torn country.

This would be a great film if for no other reason than to introduce more Americans to the power of poetry to inspire the soul. For it was the nineteenth century Henley poem Invictus from which Nelson Mandela derived the inner strength to overcome those who imprisoned him for 25 years and hard labor.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gait,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

If my comments above fail to persuade you to see the film, perhaps this excerpt from an movie review will help.

As a South African who saw this film on Friday morning, I can tell you you the entertaining, inspiring and enjoyable "Invictus" exceeded all my expectations.

It really is a true story of epic proportions yet it's told with an intimate feel, and it is at least 98% accurate to the events of the time. Clint gets all the big details and so many of the little details right, but he never goes over the top. He directs with minimum fuss and achieves maximum effect, just letting the powerful story unfold without getting in its way.

I watched the 1995 Rugby World Cup and saw Madiba come out in the Springbok jersey. It was a wondrous sight. And when Joel Stransky slotted that drop kick over in the dying minutes and the Boks won, I wept and cheered along with everyone else. After the match millions of South African - of all races - celebrated. It was an amazing time. It was the birth of the "Rainbow Nation". Nelson Mandela is the greatest and most beloved of all South Africans. The man is a living legend, but so human and real. When he was President he brought hope to all South Africans, white and black. We, in my country, will never stop loving this incredible man. Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman did South Africa and our beloved Madiba proud. Francois Pienaar is also an amazing South African, an intelligent, big-hearted rugby played who always lead by example, and Matt Damon's performance as him was superb. I was glued to the screen for every second of the film's running time (I didn't even move from my seat until the final credit rolled and the house lights came on), and I was moved to tears on several occasions. The final scene was especially touching.

My only question at this point is, what will it take to unite our own country’s mix of races and ideologies? Politicians run for office with this pledge but we're more divided than ever. Perhaps this is what the Olympics is intended to be about to some extent?

In the meantime, rent the film. It's a good one. Thank you Clint, Morgan, Matt and crew. And thank you Mr. Mandela for your vision and fortitude. You've held up a light against the darkness.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Fotos from Foodie Heaven and a few comments on Creativity

Last night we were served a little bit of heaven.
The main course.
The appetizers.
Last night we entertained Glenn and Emily Swanson, owners of the Oldenburg House in Carlton. The 3-course meal was designed and executed by our son, Chef Micah, a cook at the New Scenic Cafe up the North Shore. The photos here are totally inadequate to convey the sumptuousness of the meal, which began with goose confit appetizer, a to-die-for gazpacho and a main course of goose breast. Most of the embellishments, as well as the goose, were grown here on our property. The shiitake mushrooms and a few of the other ingredients were foraged by our chef.

Our goose was cooked.
A better journalist would have more details here but I wasn't taking the notes I should have been. Instead, Glenn and I were talking about music and creativity. Glenn's a premiere jazz drummer whose career includes playing with many of the greats. When I put an Ahmad Jamal CD on for background music and asked if he'd ever gotten a chance to hear Ahmad Jamal, he said, "I played with Ahmad Jamal."

At one point we talked about the way a group of musicians gets into a groove and they're playing off one another until "it reaches a level of pure joy, you're inside a fire of joy."

We compared various creative forms and how the great ideas come from a single kernel. You download it and unpack it, he said, "exploring all these varying ideas from one seed that is infinitely blossoming." Many people who live in that moment fail to take the next step. "The takeaway is the seed, so I can revisit it, reproduce it and have it be available to other musicians. If you just hang on to the flower you can lose where it came from."

Creativity is an expression of joy that is best when shared. We're grateful for our son Micah, who has shared so many wondrous culinary experiences with us.

Gazpacho, with embellishments.
Glenn Swanson, Susie, Emily Swanson and Micah. It was good.
If you are a writer or artist in need of a getaway, check in to Oldenburg House. Their motto is "Find Your Nature." One of the guests who stayed with them recently wrote this in their guest book: "We came as guests and left as family." It doesn't get much better than that.

Hint: if you are coming to the Northland this fall for the changing of the seasons (note the autumn colors in our dining room) you will not find a better place to stay than Oldenburg House, adjacent Jay Cooke State Park on the edge of Paradise. Few places offer more direct access to our spectacular Northland.

Meantime, creativity goes on all around you. Engage it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Can You Identify the Original Photo Contents of These Seven Digital Extrusions

When I was growing up in Cleveland and later New Jersey, my mom had a deep fryer and a device that she used to turn potatoes into square shaped extrusions that would be dropped into the hot grease to become French fries. Last night I was able to find a picture of this vintage kitchen device here, a Redware Fry Cutter. This picture here shows a similar device in action.

Essentially it's an extruder. We've all seen extruded metal or extruded plastic before, though we not have thought much about or understood the process that created it.

The word "extrude" means to shape by forcing something through a die. The literal meaning, as a verb, is "to thrust, push or force out." The words appears as one possibility in a whole slew of creative menu options in one of the tabs on Adobe Photoshop®, an illustrator's tool for enhancing or altering photos. Other choices include spatter, emboss, bubble wrap, mosaic, etc.

Now here's where it gets interesting to me. When I was an art student in college 45 years ago I attempted to paint this vision of an extruded reality that I had imagined. That is, in my mind's eye I had performed a sequence of steps that went like this. First, what if you take a snapshot of 3-D reality -- it could be a room, a landscape, a sunrise -- and convert it to two dimensions? It's what cameras do every day, of course. Next, what if you place this image on the flat end of a block of soap or rectangular potato or whatever. Then, for step three you thrust this through an extruder that, voila!, makes unusual splays of color.

My effort to reproduce this effect in a painting was hindered by my lack of talent. Had I the skills of a Vermeer, Dali or Frank Holmes, the painting I created -- which still exists and hangs on a wall next to the billiard table in my mother's home -- would have been much more interesting.

* * * *
OK, so here is the game. See how many of these extruded, exploded images you can identify. That is, what did the original photo look like? No one will get all seven, but there are a few here you should be able to sort out. Good luck!

Top to Bottom
1. The Petersen Auto Museum in Los Angeles
2. The cover of Jeff Beck's first album, Beck-Ola--based on a painting by Magritte
3. Our gaggle geese
4. Portion of a large abstract painting from my senior year at Ohio U.
5. Abstract painting with snakeskin in the center
6. Cloud design created by means of inks and denatured alcohol on canvas
7. Guitar player and drummer from the Fractals

Some of these would make interesting illustrations for an article, book cover or blog post, don't ya think?
* * * * 
We live in an amazing world. Make time to explore it. And have a great day.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Visions of Johanna: One of Dylan's Greatest

Saturday's edition of KUMD's Highway 61 Revisited hosted by John Bushey triggered a desire to write about two songs I've not yet attempted to cover, I'm Not There from the Basement Tapes, and Visions of Johanna, released on Blonde On Blonde.

After the show I felt compelled to comment to a friend in an email,  "Just finished listening to John's show tonight. Inspired me to write this week about two of the songs he played ... Visions of Johanna, and I'm Not There. Both songs remind me of how exceptional he is. He really is in a class by himself. People use that expression all the time, but in most cases it's pure hyperbole. Dylan is unquestionably one of a kind."

There are certain Dylan songs that are so incredible that I become near stupefied every time I hear them. Visions of Johanna is one of these.

One of the reasons I've not written about the song previously is that the parts that speak most deeply are so personal I don't feel compelled to lay it all out there the way many social media netizens do these days.

A second reason I've held back is that I'm not sure how much I have to add to what others have already written. Instead, I defer to what Tony Attwood has given us at his Untold Dylan blogspot in a piece titled Visions of Johanna: the meaning of the music and the lyrics. Near the end of this piece he coughs up this pearl:

Andy Gill is quoted in the Wiki article on the song as suggesting it is the enigmatic quality of the song that is responsible for its popularity—’forever teetering on the brink of lucidity, yet remaining impervious to strict decipherment.” And that sounds right to me. In 1999, Sir Andrew Motion, the poet laureate, nominated Visions as the greatest song lyric ever written. And I’ll go with that too.

This "teetering on the brink of lucidity" is precisely what makes so many of the songs from this period so mesmerizing, compelling, entrancing, spellbinding, alluring, seductive, enchanting, suggestive, effective, impressive, sumptuous and thrilling. Ballad of a Thin Man and All Along The Watchtower are similarly examples of this imperviousness to strict decipherment.

I encourage you to read slowly read the lyrics, then check out Tony Attwood's insights.

Visions of Johanna

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin' to be so quiet?
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off
Just Louise and her lover so entwined
And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind

In the empty lot where the ladies play blindman’s bluff with the key chain
And the all-night girls they whisper of escapades out on the “D” train
We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight
Ask himself if it’s him or them that’s really insane
Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near
She’s delicate and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna’s not here
The ghost of ’lectricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place

Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously
He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously
And when bringing her name up
He speaks of a farewell kiss to me
He’s sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all
Muttering small talk at the wall while I’m in the hall
How can I explain?
Oh, it’s so hard to get on
And these visions of Johanna, they kept me up past the dawn

Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles
See the primitive wallflower freeze
When the jelly-faced women all sneeze
Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze
I can’t find my knees”
Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel

The peddler now speaks to the countess who’s pretending to care for him
Sayin’, “Name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him”
But like Louise always says
“Ya can’t look at much, can ya man?”
As she, herself, prepares for him
And Madonna, she still has not showed
We see this empty cage now corrode
Where her cape of the stage once had flowed
The fiddler, he now steps to the road
He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed
On the back of the fish truck that loads
While my conscience explodes
The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain
And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain
Copyright © 1966 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1994 by Dwarf Music

1965 Dylan Acetate Recording with "Freeze Out" on track 3.
Matthew Horton places it #2 on his Top Ten list of Dylan lyrics. I doubt I could ever number them like Mr. Horton does, but for sure it's on my "short list" of great Dylan songs. Rolling Stone likewise has Visions in its top ten Dylan songs list.

Visions Trivia 
--The working title of this song was Freeze Out.

--It's the only Dylan song that begins with the letter V.

--Dylan has performed the song 215 times in concert, the most recent being 2015 at the Stimmen Festival in Germany.

Here are a couple versions of the song for your listening pleasure. This first is from a live concert in Melbourne, Australis during his 1966 world tour withe The Band, plus an achingly beautiful Jerry Garcia interpretation. What is it about this song that cuts so deep?

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Get into it.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Chance Preview: Kathy McTavish @ the Tweed

This past week I finally got a sneak preview of the latest project Kathy McTavish has been working on, an installation titled Chance. Here are the opening paragraphs of her promotional statement, along with a handful of images I captured of the work in progress.

Chance is a synergetic installation that combines code, image, and sound to create a cross-sensory, polyphonic experience. A landscape of painted walls and multi-channel sound encloses the viewer. Choreographed by code, a circle of machine quartets investigate chance, emergence, friction, resonance and change ::: a cloud orchestration. 

Chance opens October 19, 2017. The year-long exhibit will be a living, evolving space ::: a residency / habitation / research lab / performance space. Printed artifacts will be left in the space to give the feel of blueprints / notes ::: a score. The Sax gallery at the Tweed is a luminous space. Its many skylights filter shifting seasons and variable weather patterns ::: a photosynthetic recitation. It provides a sanctuary ::: a place for rest and reflection

The room that houses the exhibit is itself is an architectural wonder. 
Installation art to some extent is a relatively new phenomenon, though one could easily point to the Sistine Chapel, Taj Mahal and other architectural wonders to support the counter-argument that installations are nothing new. What's happened in the past half century is simply a new iteration.

Kathy McTavish has a strong following here in the Northland art scene. Her works are continuously evocative and original, thought-provoking and surprising. And when October 19 rolls around, I hope to see you there so we can talk about it.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. What have you seen recently that moved you?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Five Reasons Hillbilly Elegy Became A Runaway Bestseller

One measure of how widespread a book is being read is to note how many folks have rated it on or have left reviews. By this measure, it's quite apparent that J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy has been widely consumed, since more than 100,000 people have given it a rating, and more than 13,000 have left a written record of what the book was about or meant to them.

According to the inside cover flap, "Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of poor, white Americans. The disintegration of this group, a process that has been slowly occurring now for over forty years, has been reported with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hanging around your neck."

The drumbeat of praise for the book includes this endorsement from The Economist: "You will not read a more important book this year." To which I would say, "Poppycock."

J.D. Vance is a 31-year old who grew up in a supremely dysfunctional home in Southern Ohio. I picked it up to read because the narrator's life path in some ways is an echo of my father's story, whose roots are Eastern Kentucky, who grew up in Hamilton, Ohio (a few miles from Vance's beleaguered Middletown) and escaped by way of the military and college on the G.I. bill. (My father was army, and went to college at Hiram in Ohio, Vance joined the marines and found himself at Yale.) My father's trek along that path diverged at a few key points, however, foremost of these being that his story took place a half century earlier and that though his parents, my Grandpa and Grandma Newman, were dirt poor, they remained married to one another for fifty years.

As I near the end of Vance's memoir I can't say I agree that it's a "must read." It's been an interesting read for me personally because I do know the social terrain from which this story emerges. Here are five reasons I believe the book caught on and has been widely circulated.

Anton Chekhov wrote a short story once about a couple people who stopped to watch something -- it may have been the behavior of a couple birds on a rooftop -- and a crowd begins to form in the street to see what they are staring at. When the birds fly away and the two people leave there is a crowd still standing there looking up and wondering what everyone else is looking at. Can this be one reason people read books that are on bestseller lists? I don't doubt it.

I think, too, that there is a curiosity about the lives of people who are very different from our own. This is why shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous gain a following. Or stories about Mafia families.

He writes with authority because it's his story. He essentially lays down in lines the experiences of his life.

There have always been kiss-and-tell books on bestseller lists, but social media has elevated voyeuristic reading to a new level. This book operates on the assumption that by zeroing in on one messed up story we can draw conclusions about all kinds of people in this particular social set, the transplanted "hillbillies" of Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee who migrated a generation or two earlier to the Rust Belt, a region economically challenged now with few ways out for many.

Apparent Authenticity  
The story rings true because he just tells it like it was. He is exceedingly candid, possibly urged on my the publisher who sensed that there are profits to be mined from stories like this. I think here of Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again, which was sequel to Look Homeward, Angel. Though Wolfe recast his rural life experiences as a fictional narrative, there were too many places where real life people had been reflected unfavorably, and recognizably, in the story. I can't help but wonder how Vance's friends, family and neighbors reacted to this mucky tale.

American Tragedy
The gap between haves and have nots has grown significantly over the past fifty years. Vance presents his story as a microcosm of the broader issues facing this population demographic.

* * * *
To his credit, the author writes in the intro that this is not really a cultural study. That is, he is not using any data or doing any real research on the causes or even the pervasiveness of his experience. Though the subtitle implies that this is the case, he flat-out says one should read Charles Murray and others for that kind of information.

Though 62% of readers gave this book a 5-star rating, there are plenty of other reviewers with harsher assessments of the book. Here are just a few of the many criticisms you can find with little effort:

-- Salon's review is titled Hillbilly sellout: The politics of J. D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” are already being used to gut the working poor.

--New Republic's take is titled J.D. Vance, the False Prophet of Blue America. Sarah Jones' pieces carries this explanatory subtitle: The bestselling author of "Hillbilly Elegy" has emerged as the liberal media's favorite white trash–splainer. But he is offering all the wrong lessons.

--The title of this review at BookRiot says a lot: LIES, DAMN LIES, AND HILLBILLY ELEGY.

This 1-star review on Amazon has an interesting title: Do not believe 5-star reviews!!! The writer, identified as booklover, summed up his or her commentary with this fairly accurate statement: "I was really hoping for an expansive discussion of a subgroup of America's poor & instead got a simple, largely mundane autobiography of a boy whose mother was an oft-married druggie & whose colorful (coarse, cursing, but nurturing) grandmother stepped up to rear him."

* * * *

For my Dad the G.I. Bill...
My take on Hillbilly Elegy is that it's not an essential read, but you may find it interesting, with notes that resonate in aspects of your own experience. I myself recognize features of the story because my roots are Eastern Kentucky and the characters in the book in various ways reflect some characters in my extended family. My grandfather was a moonshiner who fled to West Virginia when the Feds came to bust the stills in the hollers. My grandmother was seven months pregnant with my father when Grandpa began a six month stint as a coal miner. He was illiterate when they married, but Grandma had been a teacher in the one-room schoolhouse downriver from the mountain Grandpa lived on as oldest of eleven kids. When my father was four months old the family up and left that West Virginia mining town and headed to the big city. Grandma had taught her man how to read and write at this point so he was able to fill out a job application and get a job.

...was a stepping stone to this.
They had six kids in a three room house with no indoor plumbing. Though valedictorian when my father graduated high school, he joined the army the next day, which enabled him to attend college on the G.I. bill after WWII, which enabled him to get a job as a chemist and buy a house in the 'burbs.

Because my father's family was somewhat healthier (Grandparents remained married 50 years, Grandpa went to work every day, I do not recall a cuss word uttered once in their teetotaling home) if he wrote a memoir of his escape from the challenges presented by Appalachian culture-crush it would not become a best-seller. Yes, there was a measure of drama, and there are tragic notes that can be struck, but he was a more private man, and more considerate.

As Grandma would say, "Now I hain't braggin, ya hear." But I am grateful for the ethics that were passed on to us, despite the tough circumstances from which they emerged.

* * * *

Much more can be said, but you can find the pro and con reviews at Amazon. The gap between haves and have nots is growing and is going to remain a major concern in cultural dynamics for years to come, but here and abroad. This book doesn't provide any answers, but it does offer a snapshot of at least some of the causes.

Meantime... life goes on.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Flashback Friday: 20 Years Ago Today Dylan Released Not Dark Yet


When I saw this story in the Dylan Daily, it brought to mind how special the album Time Out Of Mind was when it appeared two decades ago in 1997. From the opening lines of "Love Sick," the tone is dark.

"I'm walkin'... down streets that are dead."

This was one of many songs on this album that resonated with me, and on at least two occasions I have blogged about it, the first in 2009.

4 April 2015
‘This thing I feel, I can’t name it straight out but it seems important, do you feel it too?’ — this sort of direct question is not for the squeamish. – David Foster Wallace, “Octet”

Something I’ve often wondered is why we’re so fascinated by things that frighten us. When I say “we” I do not mean to suggest that this is universal, but it does seem fairly pervasive. When sitting around a campfire we enjoy ghost stories that succeed in actually scaring us. We get a rush out of the horrors that give us nightmares. It’s a strange thing when we’re forced to choose between competing desires, whether to cover our eyes or to stare.

Sometimes I wonder if Death, or what is euphemistically called the Void or the Grim Reaper, is the real horror behind many of these stories and thereby the thing that fascinates and frightens us most deeply. Just as Victor Frankl identified the search for meaning as man’s ultimate quest, so it is that death renders all our quests meaningless. Meaninglessness is the close companion of Despair.

Despair is a scary matter that has been part of the human condition from the beginning. The Bible addresses this strangely suffocating mindset in the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes. From the outset the tone is set: "Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” Many of the passages in this book were so devoid of hope that Martin Luther wanted to extract it from the Sacred Scriptures.

And yet, the despair found in Ecclesiastes may well be one of the foundation stones of wisdom.

There's something compelling about despair in a certain sense. It's akin to resignation, a resignation to fate, to a recognition of one's powerlessness and life's futility, a futility that may be the first step toward the humility that gives birth to wisdom. It's the ultimate undercutting of one's sense of self-importance, as Borges lays out in A Yellow Rose.

"Not Dark Yet" speaks directly to this matter.

Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day 
It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away 
Feel like my soul has turned into steel 
I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal 
There’s not even room enough to be anywhere 
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Christopher Ricks in his Dylan’s Visions of Sin begins his fifteen-page discussion of this song with a one-word summation: Apocalypse. I can see this and he easily demonstrates that an apocalyptic theme is a recurring thread throughout Dylan's five decade career, explicit examples a-plenty beginning with "A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall" and "All Along the Watchtower" to "Whatcha Gonna Do When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky", and now here in "Not Dark Yet".

A portion of his segment on this song deals with how much Dylan’s "Not Dark Yet" corresponds with Keats’ "Ode to a Nightingale", a poem that attempts to put into words what one senses when standing on the precipice, at the edge of the abyss.

As Ricks puts it, “'Not Dark Yet' seeks – in the great phrase from Freud – to make friends with the necessity of dying.”

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain 
Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain 
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind 
She put down in writing what was in her mind 
I just don’t see why I should even care 
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

There’s that written letter again. You may recall it from the last stanza of "Desolation Row". Something about seeing it in writing cuts us more deeply than just hearing it. We hear it, and then somehow alter it so we don’t quite hear it the way it was meant, or in some way we conveniently forget, or soften it, or dismiss it because… well, she was just frustrated and didn’t mean it. Now it’s right there, in ink, and it can’t be denied or ignored.

It’s the reality of the thing that especially hurts, causing us to distrust the beautiful, to recognize the ways in which we deceive ourselves when things seem good, forgetting that nothing ever really lasts. We’re outside the Gates of Eden now.

Well, I’ve been to London and I’ve been to gay Paree 
I’ve followed the river and I got to the sea 
I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies 
I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes 
Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear 
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Yes, this is what Camus wrestled with in his essay on Sisyphus. “Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear.” And what’s the use in looking for hope in someone else’s eyes at this point of the game. Death will render all my achievements meaningless in the end anyways.

‘This thing I feel, I can’t name it straight out but it seems important, do you feel it too?’ 

For two years or more one of the websites to which I returned for thought stimulation was The Floating Library, which appeared to be hosted by a man named Dr. Sineokov. I had always assumed this was some elderly Russian philosopher who migrated to the West, something akin to a reclusive Solzhenitsyn in New England. What a surprise, and shock, to one day visit The Floating Library only to find that the caretaker/webmaster of this literary site was a young man of 27 who now committed suicide, at age 27.

The shock hit me more deeply than I expected. In part, because I identified with so many of the quotes he seemed to unearth on such a regular basis. Nevertheless, there were clues here, too, as toward he end they seemed to be especially bleak. Quotes from Orwell, Pessoa, Virginia Woolf, Yeats, Louise Glück, Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, and E.M. Cioran's The Trouble with Being Born.

In what we have agreed to call “civilization,” there resides, undeniably, a diabolic principle man has become conscious of too late, when it was no longer possible to remedy it. — E. M. Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born

Dylan reflects similar sentiments in the final stanza.

I was born here and I’ll die here against my will 
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still 
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb 
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from 
Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer 
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

“Suddenly I was alone with . . . I felt, that afternoon of my childhood, that a very serious event had just occurred. It was my first awakening, the first indication, the premonitory sign of consciousness. Before that I had been only a being. From that moment, I was more and less than that. Each self begins with a rift and a revelation.” — E. M. Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born

For Dylan this rift and revelation occurred early in life. You don’t write songs like "Hard Rain" as a jester.

But Ricks takes a different tack here. He examines this song in a chapter titled Fortitude. In spite of the apparent futility of our life situation, our human condition and circumstances, we press on. Camus concluded that Sisyphus can choose to live for those special moments of relief from eternally rolling that boulder up the hill and utilize his time sauntering down the hill to take in the fragrance of the flowers, to absorb the splendor of the vista before shouldering his burden again.

Despair is a fiercer companion for some than for others. This is why a wise man exhorted us to "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Four centuries ago one of the foundation stones of the Reformation was the profound insight that “the just shall live by faith.” That message delivered countless millions from the burden of a crushing works-based medieval Catholicism. But in our modern/postmodern world it would seem to have become an overused coin, and two other “heavenly graces” have become even more necessary and needful: hope and charity.

In a world full of lies, in a world as dark as ours, hope is a miracle whose source is unseen, for what we see is a sinking twilight.

Artwork on this site is produced by ennyman

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Talking Art with Watercolorist John Salminen, Master of the Urban Landscape

John Salminen is one of several world-class artists who bring their work to Jeff Frey and CPL Imaging. This is because when it comes to image reproduction, CPL has the experience, the equipment and the trained critical eyes necessary to produce exceptional results world-class artists require.

I myself have been a client of CPL throughout my advertising career since the 80's and more recently as an artist as well, so I am regularly visiting their studio here in Duluth, where proofs are clipped up on walls or fabulous originals are waiting to be picked up after being scanned. Each time a John Salminen original arrives in the studio it is an event. The Duluth artist's pictures are that inspiring.

Salminen, who has won more than 230 awards for his work, paints all over the world. It's been a privilege to see many of his pictures before anyone else has ever seen them, because of my proximity to the CPL studio.

EN: When did you first take an interest in art as a career? What were the trigger events?

John Salminen: As a kid, I always liked to draw. I remember as a very young child, deciding I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I now realize that what I really meant was that I wanted to be an illustrator because most of the art I was exposed to was in the form of magazine art. In college, I majored in Art Education with many studio courses in addition to the education classes. During this time, I considered myself an abstract expressionist and learned to love paint for the sake of paint. The early lessons I learned in abstraction have continued to lay the foundation for all of my paintings, whether representational or abstract.

After college, I taught art at the high school level - primarily drawing, painting and photography. About ten years before I retired as a public schools teacher, I began laying the ground work for a full time career in art. I planned the format for a 5-day watercolor painting workshop to prepare myself to teach adult classes. I painted in my studio for several hours every day after my teaching day ended, entering national competitive exhibitions and consciously working toward signature memberships in the American and National Watercolor Societies. After I had met my own self-imposed goals, I felt prepared to become a professional full time artist and retired from high school teaching.

EN: When you were growing up in St. Paul, did you have the slightest inkling that your art skills would take you all over the world?

JS: Growing up I made art purely for my own enjoyment with no idea that it would ever lead anywhere, let alone to participation in the international scene.

EN: What prompted you to key in on urban landscapes?

JS: I began watercolor painting in the early 1980’s and my primary subject was the Duluth Harbor with its boats, grain elevators and all of the related details of an international working harbor. I was mesmerized by the wealth of visual information and the challenge of organizing it.

The first time I went to New York City, I was again excited about the density of detail I saw and the unlimited design possibilities it presented. The amazing array of architecture, signage, reflections and human activity was a perfect subject choice for me.

EN: You have seen so many places. Do you have a favorite city and why that one?

JS: My favorite city is New York. It never fails to present new and exciting painting possibilities, with a totally different look and feel from one neighborhood to the next. San Francisco is a close 2nd. The hills present an interesting perspective challenge and I like the stacked-up look of the buildings.

I have also painted many Chinese subjects - all rich in detail. Shanghai and Beijing remain favorite cities but I also enjoy painting in the smaller remote villages.

EN: What is it about watercolors that so appeals to you as a medium?

JS: The watercolor medium is both challenging and rewarding. I paint urban scenes and I try to create mood and atmosphere as well as to replicate specific subjects. The luminosity of transparent pigment on white paper has unlimited potential for capturing the effects of light and shadow which is the stuff of mood and atmosphere. Once you make a mark on the page with watercolor, you are more or less committed and I like that additional challenge. There is no covering up of mistakes.

I always look for ways to challenge myself, whether it is the technical challenge of applying paint or the emotional challenge of capturing a specific time and place. I feel that by continually looking for subjects and effects that are slightly beyond my comfort level, I will never exhaust my love of the medium and the satisfaction I derive from the intellectual and emotional challenges of watercolor painting.

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Visit this site to purchase John's book
See a gallery of John's art and more. 

If you're an artist seeking quality reproductions of your work, whether for archival purposes or for sale, learn more about CPL Imaging here. Special tip of the hat to Kelly McFaul-Solem for her gift of hospitality, attention to detail and for the nudge that helped make this blog post happen.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Almost Wordless Wednesday: More Art from Bayfront Park

Osogbo: Prince of Art
If you ever need Cash, contact Kristi Abbott
Yesterday I wrote about Bob Dylan's Dreams. Are you following yours?

Every home should have a Husby mug or bowl. We do.

There was something for everyone.
Hope you found what you were looking for.
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Meantime, here's a reminder that tomorrow, early evening, there is a Pop Up Shop & Open Studio event that is being called THINKING STONES // CONNECTING THREADS. Details HERE on Facebook. Kristina creates sensory sculptural work and paintings. Erika produces free-spirited eco-wearables.

Make the most of your day! It will be gone tomorrow.

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