Inspiration’s Residue

In October I went to southern California for a week to explore the Los Angeles area, and also, to see some art. I chose three places to look at art: The Broad (a contemporary art museum), the Watts Towers, and the Noah Purifoy Foundation’s Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum. The Broad appealed because it’s a new museum, full of contemporary art. Watts Towers had been on my mind because I’ve known about this artistic landmark for decades, and I wanted to see it in person. I’d been to the Joshua Tree Outdoor Art Museum four years ago and was very impressed; this time I would have the pleasure of sharing it with my partner.

All three experiences were inspiring. This word “inspire” in English, derives from the Latin “in” – into – and “spirare” – breathe. When we’re inspired, we receive a breath from the world. For me, seeing art is one of the best ways to be inspired.

To illustrate that idea, here is a group of photos from The Broad, the Watts Towers, and the Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum, along with a handful of photos I made on the trip that reflect the inspiration I reaped from the paintings, sculpture and architecture I saw.

 

1. The escalator at The Broad allows visitors to make a slow but powerful transition from the first floor entry to the upper level galleries.

 

Before I go any further, there is something that happened recently that for me, is related to the act of being with art. Last week Bernie Glassman died. He was my zen teacher. My experience at the Zen Community of New York, where I lived for five years in the early 1980’s, was transformative. What I learned during those years cannot be summed up easily, if at all, but it influenced the rest of my life.

In a 2001 interview during which he discussed his social action and interfaith work, Glassman said, “The goal is an infinite circle in which everything is included.” Impossible goals are conundrums to wrestle with, and to live by. He lived his, however imperfectly, and I’m sad to see him transition to another plane. But like any important inspiration or influence, once the spark is lit, the flames burn on.

The aesthetic impulse, spiritual grounding, and a deep love of nature are braided through my life: they’re intertwined tightly sometimes, loosely or not at all at other times, but they always continue. For you the threads are probably different, but in any case, I believe that impulses and inspirations from different parts of life strengthen one another when brought together. I think there is value in being aware of the braids of inspirations in our lives, and value in expressing them through art.

 

 

2. A sculpture made from baking pans, by Noah Purifoy. Purifoy moved from Los Angeles to a desert property in Joshua Tree in 1989, and created art there until his death in 2004, at age 82. He was an exuberantly inventive artist who primarily used discarded materials in his work.

 

3. The door on a large corrugated steel building created by Purifoy in the desert. His work is at the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, the Whitney and other museums. A solo show at the Tilton Gallery in New York just closed last week.

 

4. A detail from the interior of a room-sized work by Purifoy, called Carousel. Purifoy’s story is a moving one: born poor and black in the deep south, in 1917, he eventually earned three college degrees, and was a respected political activist, deeply influenced by the infamous 1965 Watts riots. He worked with the physical and emotional residue from the riots, and ultimately filled ten acres of desert with a series of brilliant assemblages and installations.

 

 

 

 

 

Turning the Wheel

6. A discarded CD glinted in the dry grass on a roadside in the Malibu Hills. We had pulled over to take in the view, but the discs caught my eye. Investigating, I found more CD’s scattered on the ground. I turned away from the view of distant hills, and photographed CD’s in the grass instead.

 

7. Another CD on the roadside. Morning dew glistens on the underside of the disc. As I write this, fire rages here. Two people have died, hundreds have lost their houses, the ground is blackened, and I’m sure these plastic discs have been obliterated.

 

8. I didn’t disturb the CD’s, I just tried to photograph them where they fell. Why were they thrown on the side of the road? Some of them bore handwritten titles. Maybe they were someone failed Hollywood wannabe’s videos. The photos or the CD’s themselves could be the beginning of a story, or maybe the end of one….

 

9. Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles was completed in 2003. Its gleaming stainless steel skin, stretching over the curved, sail-like forms, is a delight to photograph.

 

10. In the Broad museum’s galleries a model poses in front of a painting by Mark Tansey. She may be beautiful, but the audacity to stand in the way of visitors who were there to look at the art, not her, amazed me. It was not a professional photo shoot, it was just another couple of L.A. folks working hard to put an image across. The painting is called Achilles and the Tortoise.

 

 

 

 

 

12. A guard turned a chair to face the wall in a gallery at the Broad, and the shadows instantly morphed it into another (very temporary) artwork.

 

13. Safety fencing has fascinated me for years – I like the way the fence plays against its shadow: material and immaterial, both/and. Neither the fence nor the shadow is more important; they have equal weight.

 

14. More safety fencing, photographed while waiting for a take-out meal in Los Angeles.

 

15. The fence and shadow are given a solarized effect in Color Efex pro.

 

16. The Watts Towers were going through an extensive renovation when we visited, so we weren’t able to get as close as I would have liked. This street view gives an idea of the ordinary surroundings; the sculptural towers and mosaics, built by Simon Rodia from 1921 – 1954, are located in the working class Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.

 

 

 

 

 

18. Sunlight illuminates the tropical colors of a lounge chair on a Los Angeles deck, echoed by shadow patterns.

 

Last but not least, a bit of commentary from Noah Purifoy.

 

Additional Notes:

I’ve mixed the art and installations I saw with my own photographs in this post. I don’t mean to imply that what I made comes anywhere near what artists who worked years to achieve their visions – people like Ellsworth Kelly, Simon Rodia or Noah Purifoy –ย  have produced. Rather the idea here is about how seeing art inspires one to turn around and make art. Being present with good works of art awakens something inside us that can broaden our perspective, enable us to see the world differently, and open us to different points of view. We are inspired, and Bernie Glassman’s infinite circle expands. Taking the next step and translating that wider perspective into your own artwork is, well, a good thing.


61 comments

  1. I felt inspired by following you on your visit! Kept finding myself breathing, deeply – and I have to say, most profoundly at your pictures of safety fencing. They are beautiful, and moving, and, well – inspiring! Thank you!

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    • That is great to hear. Who would expect photos of safety fencing to be interesting? I feel I was doing something little different with this post, so I’m happy to hear you got something out of it. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • ๐Ÿ™‚ She changed her pose slightly over and over, but stayed in front of the painting for at least the whole time we were in that area. Unbelievable. It’s also interesting that the guards are apparently not instructed to say anything to people who take the space over like that. Or maybe someone was sleeping on the job. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  2. Noah Purifoy’s installations are instantly appealing to me, and I love seeing the impedimenta of our industrial/consumer age reused for fascinating assemblages and joyful shrines. They seem like a wonderful way to get kids interested in art, too.
    The story of those CD’s? Well, I always keep a sackful of such discards handy, to use like throwing stars in a ninja movie – – I wing them at the self-absorbed and vacuous, like a model exploiting an art gallery to push her brand.

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      • I’m a big Gehry fan as well – they’re so much fun to photograph. This one seemed to work well with a high key look – I’m glad you approve. It’s a whole ‘nother thing, walking around that desert “museum” and it’s hard to show that in photographs. If you are ever in LA, do get out there. His life story is fascinating, too. I like your take on the CD’s – the surprising thing is that few people (that I saw) seemed to be bothered at all by the model and her friend’s total disregard for anyone else’s experience.

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  3. Throughout, your narrative is beautiful, so sensitive and insightful. Here are some notes on some of the photographs:
    #1 This is an abstract that doesnโ€™t need explanation to enjoy. I especially appreciate the high contrast.
    #9. I like the high key of your photo of the Gehry building, and the reflections, and of course the composition.
    #6, #7, and #8 I like your noticing of the CDsโ€”and presentation to us.
    #10 Audacity: good word here.
    #12 A piece of art by Lynn Wohlers in collaboration with the guard. Lovely!
    #13 and #14 Thing itself paired with shadow of thing: One of my favorite combinations, and these are particularly nice things and shadows. Glad you had to wait for your meal.
    #15 Wow. More processed than most of your work (that Iโ€™ve seen). Excellent all the way aroundโ€”composition, colors, and technique.
    #16 How clever of you to partially frame the towers of lines with the utility lines! Too bad you couldnโ€™t get as close as you wanted.
    #18 Thing plus shadow plus interesting color! (And masterful composition.)

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    • You know I don’t usually get that personal in this blog so I’m glad to hear you thought the narrative works. And I appreciate the detailed thoughts about the images….glad you like the high key Gehry becasue I don’t do high key often…so glad you like the fencing, and the solarized version. You’re right, that’s another effect I don’t often play with. #18 was a quick shot, later cropped, thank you again. And again. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Thank you, Shimon. Unlike many other people in this country who are Jewish and get involved with Buddhism, he stayed true to his roots in many ways. We had a rabbi visit the zen community regularly (of course he was reform), and Glassman is well known for the meditation retreats he has held at Auschwitz, for many years now.

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    • ๐Ÿ™‚ Well, it WAS in the Broad, and it may be there right now. Not the image though. It might be nice to hang a print near where the guards leave that chair when they’re not using it. Thanks Alan.

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  4. Purifoy’s work is fascinating, Lynn, and I agree with the statements you made about Glassman. Trying to weave my life into something smoother but I’m beset with packing cardboard boxes right now. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ Love the little boy ‘balancing’ on the wiggly line.

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    • Maybe you love the toddler balancing becasue you relate to it, being caught up in a balancing act yourself these days. I can’t believe you’re keeping up with blogs, but then I suppose that keeps you sane. Moving is such a big event in one’s life. May it go as smoothly as it can.

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    • He was a powerful teacher, though he had his flaws. Who doesn’t? It’s nice to hear that the more personal viewpoint here made an impression – I don’t often make statements like the ones here. Thank you Louis. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Oh that’s great! It’s a great experience, walking around the desert space there. His story is fascinating – maybe you can read about him before – or after – you go. I was visiting Joshua Tree (for the park) 4 years ago when I happened to come across a brief mention of the place in a local paper. I went, and spent hours there, alone much of the time. Thank you for letting me know you plan to go. Enjoy!

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  5. “Rather the idea here is about how seeing art inspires one to turn around and make art. ” >>> absolutely!!! If I see a good arts programme on the TV I’m up, foaming at the mouth and raring to go!!! Love the CDs, and not disturbing them was exactly right. Love the mono in 1, again spot on. In 12, I would have upped the contrast a little, to make the shadows a little more prominent. Love 18 – ohhhhhhhhh!!!! I’ve done safety netting too, but not this well. Sorry about your loss: I can feel how much this means to you. A

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    • Foaming at the mouth, eh? Good to hear! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m pleased you like the CD’s, the safety fencing and the black and white’s. I should play around with the chair a bit more maybe. Thank you so much, Adrian, I appreciate your comment(s).

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  6. Wonderful post, Lynn. So sorry about your loss- Bernie Glassman has an inspiring legacy. And speaking of inspiring, I am always impressed by what you see. Your Purifoy images and then the found art of CDs in the grass. The shadows and shapes you find in everyday objects and your appreciation of art all come together in this series. We are on day 14 of hazardous smoke…awful.

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    • I’m sure you know about the San Francisco Zen Center – they were a sort of sister center for us. Some of us (not me) went out there to train in their bakery (Tassajara), back in the early 80’s, and then we began a similar business, which became all-consuming, but was very successful. I visited at Green Gulch once – what a great place. I’m glad you enjoyed the found CD’s – that was strange! It was on Kanan Rod., part of the Woolsey fire, so it must be all gone now. I’m really sorry to hear you’re dealing with the smoke, once again. The local news said we had some here – all the way up here! – but it hasn’t been noticeable where I am. Trump added insult to injury with those early remarks blaming the proliferation (he wouldn’t use such a big word, right?) on California – unbelievable. But then it’s hardly his favorite state. ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope the smoke clears for you soon….the scenes from Paradise are heart-breaking though, and that will take years to get past. Take care Jane!

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      • Thanks so much, Lynn. The latest comments he made upon his visit to Paradise are unbearably ill-informed as confirmed by the President of Finland. So now we are supposed to Make America Rake Again? Ugh.

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  7. I love the idea you express of being aware of the braids of inspirations in our lives, and weaving them into art. I’m fascinated by Noah Purifoy’s work, and his background. I also love your photos of the CDs in the grass and your thought that, tragically, they may no longer be in existence due to the horrific fires in California right now. I can’t believe how many people have lost their lives and their homes, and how many people are still missing. And meanwhile our President is blaming California for the tragedy. Your photos of the safety netting and its shadows are very artistic. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  8. Your photos are great, Lynn!! So many things going on here, I don’t know where to start looking ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for sharing your images and thoughts, it’s wonderful to be able to see these things from the other side of the world โค

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  9. Magical photography. My favourites (in a close ra): #3, that door; #12, the chair casting shadows; your safety net shots that follow #12. Now that you mention your background with zen, I wonder … Do you know these two other WordPress blogs, “sloppybuddhist” and “riotheclown” ? If not, they might be worth a look.

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  10. Very inspiring pictures! These structures, “images”, collages and great details of the photos you took. I love the pictures with the fences and the shadows! Especially Nr. 13 and 15. You are right with what you wrote in your last sentences. Viewing art inspires us. Like a ball in a game, jumping from one to another, transferring ideas… It has this effect to me and I would like to start right now with something creative ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for taking us on this enthralling journey with your special and inspiring view!

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    • Almuth, I’m happy you like the fence photos – do they use the same kind of fencing in Germany? I like your analogy of the ball game very much, because it suggests people playing together, sharing, making connections, etc. Enthralling! Wow, thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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      • Good question, I am not sure about the fencing. It seems to be familiar to me (maybe from sports?), but I can’t remember seeing it here. What kind of fencing is it? To separate areas or to protect something?

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  11. Very interesting and inspiring post Lynn! There’s a lot to look at and think about here … a sort of collaboration between the artists and you! I would love to shoot the Frank Gehry Concert Hall some day … I could spend some time there for sure.

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    • I like that idea about collaboration, Denise. And I bet you’d have a great time with the Frank Gehry building….I was quickly passing by this time, which was frustrating, but you can’t do everything.

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  12. A good, deep breath…..

    That safety fencing is similar (though lacking in thickness of structure or “weave”) to the fencing one might see in snow country to help prevent drifts across highways….

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