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 –  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.

ROOTED

I’ve been thinking about trees –

what is it about trees?

It occurs to me that they’re the homo sapiens of the plant world,

upright, branches outstretched, each one different from

the next one.  Certain trees are planted deep in my memory,

yes, two maples, two tulip trees, and one big blue spruce

shade the back yard in Syracuse. A white-blossomed dogwood that I

look down upon from a bedroom window, cabbage palmettos

at my grandparents’ house with Easter eggs hidden in the old leaf bases. Dark-leaved

Japanese maples, twisted and sinewy, gracefully sprawl on the hill at Greyston. The tall

oak where the racoon family lived, the huge copper beech at Wave Hill.

Sidewalk ginkgos in New York, the fragrant linden walk at Columbia University,

the half-prostrate old willow at Juanita Bay.

I’d like to write you a poem about the trees I’ve loved, but I can only

recite their agreed-upon names, their remembered locations. I can only tell you

they are rooted in my brain, and waiting for companions which

just now, thread their way through my synapses, these

trees of my new home:

madrone, cedar, poplar, fir,

perhaps, even

saskatoon.

 

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***

With apologies to visitors whose primary language isn’t English,  here are excepts from two online sources about the origin of the English word, “tree.”

tree (n.)
Old English treo, treow “tree” (also “timber, wood, beam, log, stake”), from Proto-Germanic *trewam (source also of Old Frisian tre, Old Saxon trio, Old Norse tre, Gothic triu “tree”), from PIE *drew-o-, suffixed variant form of root *deru- “be firm, solid, steadfast,” with specialized senses “wood, tree” and derivatives referring to objects made of wood….The widespread use of words originally meaning “oak” in the sense “tree” probably reflects the importance of the oak to ancient Indo-Europeans.

 

And:

Etymology of tree:

The word tree derives from the the Greek word drys-drees (oak; δρυς) by changing D into T. During ancient times oak was the wood that was usually used.

From the same root:
Druid, duration, endure, durable

 

The Photos:

  1. A Madrone tree (Arbutus menziesii), also called arbutus or madrona. These striking trees have twisting branches and brightly colored, peeling bark. They’re native to the west coast, roughly from San Fransisco to Vancouver.  This one was injured long ago; it looks like a sapsucker tried his luck here. Bowman Bay, Deception Pass State Park, Fidalgo Island, Washington.
  2. More madrones lean into the light on the Lighthouse Point trail at Deception Pass State Park.
  3. Dead madrone branches can be as beautiful as live ones. Washington Park, Fidalgo Island, Washington.
  4. Even this downed giant, probably a Douglas fir, continues to support life on the beach at Bowman Bay.
  5. Along a trail at Whistle Lake, on Fidalgo Island, cedars and firs mix with a few moss-covered Bigleaf maple trees.
  6. A gracefully rooted Redcedar (Thuja plicata), its striated bark hosting a wash of pale green lichens, stands tall at Deception Pass State Park.
  7. At Bowman Bay, afternoon sunlight shines on several Saskatoon trees, creating complicated patterns of light and shade reminiscent of stained glass.
  8. A huge old Douglas fir at Heart Lake, on Fidalgo Island. The upturned, feathery branches of a Western hemlock growing directly behind it give the fir tree a celebratory air.
  9. A view through tall trees at Cranberry Lake, which, along with Heart lake and Whistle Lake, is part of the almost 2800 acres of forest lands preserved for recreational use on Fidalgo Island. Many of the trees seen here are Douglas firs. Some rusty orange leaves from Redcedar trees that are stressed because of drought can be seen on the left, along with bright green Bigleaf maple leaves and duller, pendant Douglas fir branches in the background.
  10. On a rocky, exposed bluff at Larrabee State Park, a Shore pine (Pinus contorta) holds a few green branches aloft. They may look fragile, but they must be very sturdy!
  11. Skagit Valley farms are punctuated by tall poplar trees that farmers have planted between fields. Some are very sizable specimens, like this one outside La Conner. In the background, more poplars are almost obscured by the haze of smoke from wildfires burning hundreds of miles away.
  12. Washed up into a rocky cove at Larrabee State Park, this log has been smoothed to a fine, regular pattern of tiny cracks. When you think about the long life of a tree, you may realize it goes through many, many stages, changing its appearance over and over again.
  13. An immense Douglas fir that somehow escaped logging graces the old road to Whistle lake, dwarfing the young woman running with her dog (note who carries the pack!).  As trees age, their bark develops deep furrows, not unlike our own wrinkles. The ancients are full of character.

 

 

 

A Closer Look

We filter out a lot of information, visual and otherwise. Much of our immediate environment isn’t really seen. Simple shadows on a wall, matted grass on the ground,  the landscape as it zips past the car window, the flooring at your feet – all are worth studying.

Maybe the ceiling is holding the light in a particular way that you’ve never seen before, right now.

I may be preaching to the choir here, because I know that many people who look at this blog already pay close attention to things that others miss. Well, here’s to widening the pool of folks who care to attend to the world a bit more keenly, and here’s to questioning received wisdom and nurturing a different view. Let’s leave our preoccupations and preconceptions at the door, and simply attend to the world.

 

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The photos:

  1. These nets protect fruit trees from hungry deer and birds at the Washington State University Discovery Garden, an agricultural research center and display garden. The flowers in the display garden are eye-catching, but the nets, yes the nets, they’re interesting in and of themselves, if you really look.
  2. Behind this net are apple trees grown in the espalier style, which conserves space, can increase exposure to sun and can make picking easier. They are also at the local research center gardens.
  3. I went to a small art fair on a nearby island. Sorry to say, the art wasn’t very good, but the matted grass and old rusty bits of equipment next to the road caught my eye.
  4. The view from Mt. Erie is spectacular, taking in a lake, forests, water, and islands. (A photo of the view is towards the end of the post before this one). If you take your eyes away from the view and look around, you may find trees casting strong shadows on the rough wall of a steep rock face. You may find a lot more.
  5. Sometimes a blurred phone shot of the scenery rushing by conveys the essence of a place as nicely as a carefully composed camera image.
  6. I’m not sure why a steel plate was put down on this old wooden floor, maybe the floorboards wore through. The worn and scuffed surfaces made a satisfying composition in subdued tones.
  7. Tied up like a big present, another apple tree at the research center has turned into outdoor sculpture, in my eyes anyway.
  8. Wood fragments that might be useful someday were stacked in a corner of the artist’s yard, a perfect foil for deep summer shadows.
  9. The door to the artist’s studio was open so I strolled in. People were pulling prints, laughing, and having a great time. My eyes closed as I inhaled the nostalgic fragrance of printing ink. The glass door pane concealed, revealed and reflected, in a complex dance of what is and what might be.
  10. Barns and farm buildings race by as you drive on the flat valley roads here in Skagit County. Switch the camera to shutter priority, choose a slow speed, and with a little luck, you have an image that carries back the sense of the land floating past you.
  11. The nets again. Do we automatically want to focus on the net, or on the tree behind it? I like the idea of foregrounding the barrier that gets between us and the subject. It’s another view.
  12. The same idea again, this time at home. Focus on the window screen grid and let the tree trunks meld into the landscape. Let go of the names of things, the “shoulds” in your head. Feel the color.

 

 

HERE

Six and a half years ago I packed up my New York life and sent it west. I’d fallen for the Pacific northwest, a region of impeccable natural beauty and a relaxed lifestyle New York City can’t even imagine.  In the short time I’ve been here though, something big happened: Seattle took off. One reason for the awkward growth spurt is Amazon (our largest employer) and the “prosperity bomb” it set off in Seattle. Homelessness and multi-millionaire lifestyles clog the city with uncomfortable discrepancies, leaving less and less room for the middle way. Traffic is backed up, tempers are flaring, the skyline is littered with construction cranes – and the blast zone extends well beyond city limits.

Though I didn’t live in Seattle, I worked there, and my apartment was close enough to feel the heat. Then last year, I retired. So, time for egress. Time to leave the landscape that delighted me initially but is fast losing its charm.

In recent months we intensified our efforts to find a place to live that would be quieter, calmer and maybe – hopefully! – less expensive than Seattle and its tony suburbs. We succeeded in locating a two-bedroom cottage with a porch, and woods on two sides. It’s on Fidalgo Island, halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada.

 

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Now we are here, on this pretty island, separated from the mainland by a modest channel and surrounded by more islands – mound after mound of deep green woods fringed by clean, cold water.  We are here after weeks of backbreaking, all-consuming labor. Last Thursday the movers (three hard-working Mexican-American men, thank you!) worked quickly and efficiently, carefully loading a van with furniture and books as we loaded our cars with potted plants, clothes on hangers and boxes marked “Fragile.”  By Thursday evening we were securely inside, furniture in place, boxes piled along the walls…and two days later we’d created a space presentable enough to invite my family over. They’re from the east coast and happened to be vacationing in the region. What a rush it was, pulling everything together that quickly, and what a pleasure to inhabit and share the new space.

 

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So far, mornings have been delightfully cool and bright, with sweet-smelling breezes wafting through windows on all four sides of the cottage. A mother doe and fawn visit sporadically over the course of the day, robins are gorging on ripening Serviceberry fruit, squirrels chatter in the trees. I just walked outside on bare feet, something I haven’t been able to do in years. Traffic noise is intermittent, not the constant highway roar punctuated by sirens that we’d grown used to in the last few years. The island is far enough away from Seattle to have a different flavor altogether, but still close enough for the occasional city trip. All good.

Over the coming months – and years – we’ll be exploring back roads near home, making day trips to the North Cascade Mountains, the San Juan Islands, and Vancouver – all within striking distance. In the meantime, I’m content to wander indoors and out with camera in hand, enjoying the ordinary treasures this life offers to anyone able and willing to attend to what is right here.

 

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*

Not far from home, a ten minute drive on a winding, tree-lined road takes us to Deception Pass State Park. Not every sunset is dramatic, but Saturday’s had a sweet subtlety, a balm to eyes weary from unpacking boxes.

 

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A crescent moon and Venus graced the color-shifting sky, signs of pleasures to come….

 

 

 

Upheaval

You must have moved before, you’ve been there too, right? Chaos, disorder, and turmoil are constant. Tempers are short, routines are disrupted. If I dare to look, I find fear simmers just under the surface. What am I getting into?

 

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As I pack, odd bits of the past bubble up. In a bookcase I find my mother’s High School yearbook, dated 1941, with inscriptions to “Petey.”  But, her name was Helen. I didn’t know they called her Petey, and it strikes me as bizarre because Pete was the name of her adored older brother. He would have graduated a few years before, her friends would have known him, and maybe he was so important to her that her friends jokingly called her by his name. And no wonder I didn’t know about that nickname, because in my memory Uncle Pete’s name was hardly ever spoken. He died way too young, from brain cancer. He left a wife, three small kids and a grief-stricken sister who would bury her sadness deep, the way relics from the past are buried around my house.

 

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But that’s a distraction, and there are so many distractions these days, as we sort through the piles. A random photo of a temple in Japan surfaces, my grandmother’s distinctive handwriting scrawled across the back. It’s from a trip my grandparents took all the way around the world, in 1959.  A tattered composition book appears and crumbles in my hands. Opening it slowly, I find dozens of newspaper recipes pasted across its brittle pages or pinned to them with straight pins. A recipe for fish cakes is penciled on a torn calendar page dated June 11, 1929. What a distraction this book could be: my grandmother’s recipe file from the middle of the Great Depression. I resist diving into the old book. There’s clothing that doesn’t fit to sort through and bag for the thrift store, and too many books are accumulating in stacks on the floor.

Then, inside a basket that was untouched for years, I find Pablo’s cat toys. My old orange tabby cat died six years ago, just after we moved here. Finding this bag of his toys puts a temporary halt to packing progress as sure as a red light stops traffic. But I will move on.

 

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So many histories vie for my attention. Like stray hairs, they keep me unfocused: I go out to do an errand and forget my keys. Sleep is interrupted by mental bedlam as my brain scrambles to cope with all the details. Dust has made itself at home, settling into the air we breathe. The living room is crowded with flattened boxes collected from Starbucks and anywhere else we can find them. Soon they will be filled, taped shut, labeled, loaded into a moving van and transported 71 miles north, to a new life.

 

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So many questions – what will life feel like in the new town? Will the house be as quiet as we hope it will be? How will we fit our lives and routines into the new space? Will the birds come when we put feeders up? Where will I get my afternoon double espresso? Will we be happy in this new place? What difficulties lie ahead that I can’t even imagine?

 

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In spite of the doubts and fears, I do have faith that it will work out, but right now we are living in barely controlled chaos, and let’s face it, it’s not comfortable. I know it’s counterproductive to push the discomfort away. I just have to live it – not live WITH it, but simply live it, as best I can. So here is my offering to the gods of disruption: five images expressing the current state of affairs, chaos and all.

 

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These photos – well, what can I say? All except one were taken recently. Some were mistakes that I kept, others were experiments. I played with them until they seemed to reflect how I feel. I live with an art therapist so I know that’s a good thing to do! 🙂

ALL THE SOUNDS

On a cool October morning in 1972, I woke up with a plan: I would write down every single sound I heard on that day.  As soon as I was aware of a sound, I began to record what I heard in a small notebook.  At the end of the day, exhausted, I fell back into bed and noted the last sounds I heard; the final sound was “breathing.”   In the following days I went through the notebook, deciphering my scribbles and working out the grammatical kinks, resulting in a 60 page typed manuscript.

Since that day I’ve contemplated repeating the exercise, but the world is infinitely noisier now than it was back then.  In any case, the piece stands on its own: a lopsided record of an ordinary day, made extraordinary by a single-minded focus on sound.

Here are a few excerpts from the Sounds piece, interspersed with images to complement, rather than explicitly adhere to, the narrative.  I noted the time sporadically throughout the day, whenever I thought to look at a clock.  In this excerpted version a line:  ___________  means I’m skipping ahead to a later time in the day.  I begin here at 9:30 am, a few hours after I woke up.

9:30am

light switch turning on

light switch turning off

stomach grumbling

sparrows chirping

blue jay calling

door opening

clothes sliding against each other

door closing

clothes falling on chair

paper falling on the floor

door opening

paper bag rustling

jars hitting each other

door closing

door opening

glass hitting the counter

door closing liquid pouring door opening

door closing

blue jay calling

___________________________

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1:13pm

page turning

lid screwing on

swallowing

glass hitting other glass

paper rustling

biting

chewing

bell chiming

my voice

voice

match striking matchbook

paper sliding across table

paper rustling

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my voice

voice

footsteps

siren whining

horn honking

bell chiming

liquid pouring

voice

my voice

footsteps

humming

chairs scraping the floor

voices

footsteps

banging

match striking matchbook

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footsteps

crash

sirens whining

papers rustling

crash

piece of wood hitting table

voice

my voice

whistling

paper tearing

sandpaper sanding wood

swallowing

fingers scratching head

voice

my voice

burp

laughing

___________________________

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6:40

truck passing on the street

feet stamping

hands clapping

fingers snapping

elevator door closing

laughing

cooing

voice

elevator door opening

elevator door closing

elevator door opening

elevator door closing

elevator door opening

footsteps

door opening

door closing

my voice

___________________

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voice

slide projector motor running

laughing

voices

chairs creaking

whispering

paper rustling

cigarette pack dropping into bag

voices

coughing

pad rubbing leg

blowing

laughing

slide projector clicking

voices

laughing

voices

laughing

slide projector clicking

____________________________

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8:40

my footsteps

ladder hitting the floor

my voice

voice

whistling

traffic passing on street

chewing

bus passing on street

hand rubbing my hair and face

elevator door opening

elevator door closing

elevator running

fingers tapping

elevator door opening

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voice

radio

voices

laughing

whistling

plastic rustling

horn honking

voice

my voice

kiss

voices

kiss

laughing

my footsteps

my voice

kiss

my voice

nibbling

subway passing by

burp

motor in clock running

 

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A few words of explanation: Early that morning I made a decision to record sounds by naming what made the sound, rather than spelling out what the noise sounded like. I quickly realized that trying to write down the actual sound I heard was impossible, in most cases. Using a tape recorder to make an actual recording was not a consideration, because my primary interest was in exploring the relationship – or the space, in a way – between the sensory traces an object makes (our perception) and a record of those traces, a concern that interests me to this day. *

What is different about a sound you hear and the mute, written words that describe that sound? What is lost and what is gained when you step back from direct experience, and put something – in this case, the written word – between you and the experience? What does a day look like when the traces that are left of it are only a written description of the sounds that were heard and some bits of memory? How is the shape of the day itself altered when one sensory component of it moves into the foreground?

I was in my final year at School of Visual Arts in New York when I made the Sounds piece. I had moved back to my parents’ house temporarily, after losing a shared Brooklyn loft and all my belongings in an unfortunate incident. Each morning that semester I awakened to the quiet of suburbia, then I commuted by bus to the city and took the subway to school or to my part time job as an artist’s assistant at a studio on Irving Place. On this October day I went to work first, then walked to an evening art history class, probably with Carter Ratcliff.  Thankfully, those classes were usually a lecture with slides, and were relatively quiet.  But as soon as my friends figured out what I was doing, they made their best efforts to interrupt any quiet that would give me a rest from mad scribbling in my notebook by producing an assortment of difficult-to-describe sounds. A few are seen above, along with my foot-stamping frustration. Unsurprisingly, it was for me, a day of few words.

I used a small notebook to write down what I heard that day. When I was in a quiet place I would hear the page turning. Later, when I typed up the piece, I chose to follow the same page spacing as in the original notebook, so that “page turning” appears at the top of some pages. The piece was submitted as part of my final work for a fine arts degree, and was well received. Now the paper edges have softened, the cover is tattered, and rust is slowly eating into the binder’s metal insert.  I hope to transcribe and digitize it one of these days.

An earlier post on this subject with photos of the original manuscript is here.

The photos:

  1. A light fixture for sale at ABC Carpet and Home on Broadway, in New York City. I took the photo in New York on October 17, 2017, exactly 45 years after I made the Sounds piece.  What goes around comes around; the artfully distressed wall behind the light is reminiscent of the way walls actually looked in downtown lofts in the early 70’s. It wasn’t chic then, it was just what existed.
  2. A rope-tied rock serves as a polite barrier in a path at Seattle’s Japanese Garden.
  3. A view of trees outside a window. A small piece of blue glass in a wood frame rests against the window.
  4. A collection of insects at an eccentric museum inside a Roman Catholic seminary in Mount Angel, Oregon.
  5. At the Seattle Japanese Garden, workers erected a tarp to protect plants while they worked on a new addition to a structure in the garden.
  6. Hoses on the old wood floor of an auto repair shop in Ferndale, California.
  7. The view across the street from the ABC store window where the lighting fixture photo above was taken. This view hasn’t changed since I was in school.
  8. A single rubber glove dropped on a sidewalk in Seattle.

 

 

* A concern with investigating the difference between objects as they are and as we perceive them was prevalent in the 1960’s and 70’s art world. It was a time when conceptual art questioned art itself, and minimalism was beginning to battle it out with post-minimalism, a term coined by art critic Robert Pincus-Witten, who taught at SVA.  Dorothea Rockburne, one of a number of working artists who taught at SVA then, would often bring up Kant in connection with ideas like this one, from Wikipedia:

Kant argued the sum of all objects, the empirical world, is a complex of appearances whose existence and connection occur only in our representations.[2] Kant introduces the thing-in-itself as follows:

And we indeed, rightly considering objects of sense as mere appearances, confess thereby that they are based upon a thing in itself, though we know not this thing as it is in itself, but only know its appearances, viz., the way in which our senses are affected by this unknown something.

— Prolegomena, § 32

 

 

 

 

 

Invitation

Last year color curled up tight, rolled itself into a ball and hid like a bear in winter. Emerging tentatively

now it spritzes the air with a stippling of pale mint green on charcoal gray branches,

blushes the twigs of dogwood blood red, or gold,

washes the magnolia tree’s petals faintly, with rose and cream

and softens the horizon with a thousand filmy greens

as the swollen buds of birch, alder and maple rejoice.

Color paints the tips of tiny moss leaves gold, and in the wetlands

shines see-through light on brave grass sprouts,

fixes a silky shimmer on the fur of willow catkins,

lights the sky with a delicate shade of lavender blue,

and invites reverie. Color returns, indifferent to all our small sufferings

ignorant of our diseases and wars, just the season’s dependable procession

for now.

 

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The photos:

  1. Magnolia flower; Rhododendron Species Garden, Federal Way, Washington.
  2. Magnolia petals on the ground; Bellevue Botanical Garden, Bellevue, Washington.
  3. Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) buds and foliage; Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  4. Moss spore capsules; Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  5. Moss-covered rocks border a stream at the Seattle Japanese Garden, Seattle, Washington.
  6. A yellow variety of Red twig dogwood ( Cornus sericea); Juanita Bay Park, Kirkland, Washington.
  7. Native shrubs and trees in early April on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, Duvall, Washington.
  8. More trees and shrubs, including willows, on the trail in Duvall.
  9. New leaves of Red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium); O.O. Denny Park, Kirkland.
  10. Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), another Pacific northwest native; Juanita Bay Park.
  11. Flowering tree and cloud reflections in a stream at Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  12. Forget-me-nots (Myosotis arvensis) at Rhododendron Species Garden.
  13. A pair of Douglas fir cones nestled in moss at Rhododendron Species Garden.
  14. The woods are greening at home too. The moss glows like neon on the branches, but the Big Leaf maple (the gray-barked, spreading-limbed tree) hasn’t unfurled its leaves yet; Kirkland.
  15. Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) and Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) intermingle at Juanita Bay Park.
  16. An old willow begins to leaf out, and bright green Licorice fern adorns its branches at Juanita Bay Park.
  17. An insect pauses on a Magnolia bud at Seattle Japanese Garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CURVES

Here’s an idea to consider: there may be a recurring motif in your photography and/or your artwork that you haven’t discovered. Maybe a particular shape, line, gesture, tone or quality shows up, again and again. Maybe it’s even echoed in your body, in the way you move.  I’ve noticed that I return to a certain shape over and over again. It’s a curve, a curl, a rounding of line. Almost a circle but not quite, it’s more like an open sweep. Here it is, in photographs I made of grasses in the water and bursting fireweed seed pods.

 

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Word derivation tells us the word curve arose in late Middle English, from Latin curvare ‘to bend,’ and curvus ‘bent.’  Bending has interesting associations: bending the will, supplicating, the bend in the road….but a curve is a little different. Still, I can see the association between bending and curving clearly here:

 

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Here are the curves I’m drawn to again, this time in water. I think curves express water’s essence; formless on its own, water finds curves when other forces or elements act on it.

 

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This recurring curve lives inside my body and mind (which of course aren’t separate, though we insist on separating them). I picture it beginning tentatively, then building: a swoop, a swirl of the arm, maybe a twirl of the body….then I see a spiral floating expansively in the air. The curving gesture may be small and compact, perhaps repeating like arcs made by knitting needles, or the tight twists of a vine, sprung upon it’s own stem.

 

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On a straight path you’ll find me deviating in small, curved side shoots, ever mindful of what is appearing on the periphery. Another way the curve inhabits me.

 

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The curves in a twining house plant I had caught my eye, so I painted the leaf and stem, then photographed the plant and drawing curving together. A pine cone’s perfection of curved stem and spiraling sphere – such elegant curves – prompted me to make an ink drawing years ago, when I studied botanical drawing. Especially if I draw, the curve keeps appearing, rolling up to the surface of consciousness through the interstices of my neurons, neurons that curve in a tangled, unknowable dance.

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The curve I gravitate towards is something I see in the built environment, too. Of course, I’m not the only one responding with joy to curves, as you can see in the Richard Serra sculpture below.

 

 

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The curve has been with me for a long time, and it comes and goes, or maybe my awareness is what ebbs and flows.

 

 

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There’s something comforting about the idea of a motif recurring in my work, something to hang one’s hat on and organize around, perhaps. Not a bad thing is these complicated times.

 

Notes on the photos:

The first is of grasses and reeds in the Sammamish River, not far from home, January 2016.

The fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) seed pods were photographed in a local park in August, 2016.

The Checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris) was photographed at the Center for Urban Horticulture, April, 2014.

The swirling water photograph was taken at a fountain in Bremerton, Washington, in 2012.

The wave photo was taken at Youngs Creek, outside of Sultan, Washington, September, 2014, at f22, 1/3 second.

The vining stem of a Manroot plant (Marah fabaceus) was photographed in Duvall, Washington, May 2014.

The curving path is at Wright Park in Tacoma, Washington. Photographed last November.

The watercolor and ink drawing were made in the 1990’s.

The curved roof is at the Chinese Scholar’s Garden at the Staten Island Botanical Garden, New York City, photographed in 2011.

The Richard Serra sculpture is at LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It’s made of weathering steel and is titled “Band.”  It’s huge (12 feet high), and some consider it to be Serra’s magnum opus. In an interesting review, writer Guy Zimmerman said, “Standing in the Eastern gallery with Band you have the feeling that there is no valid reason to be anywhere else.”  I concur. My take on the sculpture can be seen here.  Photographed in 2016.

The curly, dried grass was photographed at Umtanum Creek, near Ellensberg, Washington, June, 2014.

The carp were photographed last year at Wright Conservatory, Tacoma, Washington.

The beached log was photographed at beautiful Rialto Beach, Washington, on a misty October afternoon in 2013. More photographs from that day are here.

 

Drawing the World as the World Draws Us

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When we drop our preoccupations, the world

draws us in closer

and maybe, as we get closer, we’ll see the world is

drawing us, drawing us with the grandest and most minute gestures,

through every breath,

through every cell.

We’re lucky when we’re subsumed into the process

of this intricate artwork, more lucky when we are aware

that we’re part of it, that we’re so much

larger than

the sticky, messy, but necessary idea

called I.

 

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The photos:

  1. A pair of coots (Fulica americana) swims toward the shore of Sikes Lake in the Snoqualmie Valley, about 20 miles east of Seattle. The rugged Cascade Range rises in the background. Photographed with an Olympus OM-D EM1 camera and an Olympus Zuiko 45mm f1.8 lens; processed in Lightroom.
  2. Coots and American wigeons (Anas americana) congregate on a sheltered bay at Juanita Bay Park. Seattle is a little over a mile away across Lake Washington. Photographed with the 45mm f1.8 lens; processed in Lightroom.
  3. Reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) at the edge of the Mercer Slough, a slow-moving body of water in Bellevue, which is also across the lake from Seattle. Photographed with an Olympus Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro lens; processed in Lightroom.
  4. Sunlight illuminates the morning fog near home. Photographed with the 45mm f1.8  lens; processed in Lightroom.
  5. A Western redcedar branch (Thuja plicata) waves in the breeze at Mercer Slough; the striated, reddish bark of more cedars is seen in the background. Photographed with the 60mm f2.8 lens; processed in Lightroom.
  6. Indian plum, or Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis), a common early-blooming native shrub, blooms at Bellevue Botanical Garden. Photographed with a vintage Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens; processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  7. Birch tree reflections on the placid Mercer Slough. The slough (pronounced “sloo”) is fed by numerous streams. In a wild water-dance, the water finds its way to Lake Washington, then, through a series of bays and canals that divide Seattle in half, the water reaches Puget Sound. Tide-driven Puget Sound waters flow out through the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Pacific Ocean. Our area’s water is further enriched by an “underwater Amazon River” entering the Strait at its mouth, over a hundred fifty miles west of Seattle. Photographed with the 60mm f2.8 lens; processed in Lightroom.
  8. An old cherry tree in the wooded area of Bellevue Botanical Garden has just begun to flower. Photographed with the Super Takumar 50mm lens; processed in Color Efex and Lightroom.
  9. A stand of European silver birch trees (Betula pendula) at Mercer Slough. These graceful trees have become naturalized in our area. Photo made with the 60mm f2.8 lens; processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  10. Fallen leaves, moist from recent rains, surround a cross-shaped shoot of new growth at Bellevue Botanical Garden. Photographed with the 60mm f2.8 lens; processed in Lightroom.
  11. An unidentified grass at Mercer Slough. Photographed with the 60mm f2.8 lens; processed in Lightroom.
  12. A close-up of cherry blossoms on the tree seen in #8. While I was there, a Downy woodpecker worked on dead branch while chickadees and juncos flitted through the trees, conversing amiably. Photographed with the Super Takumar 50mm lens; processed in Lightroom.
  13. Looking back in my files I find photos of this tree in bloom from April 3rd, 2017, and March 24th, 2013. We seem to be a little early this year.
  14. Two of last year’s willow leaves lay on the boardwalk handrail at Juanita bay Park, while this year’s fresh growth glows brilliantly in the distance as the sun goes down. Photographed with the 45mm f1.8 lens; processed in Lightroom.

 

 

 

Snowy Interlude

Snow comes and goes quickly in the Pacific Northwest, and here in the lowlands, it is more likely a delightful distraction than a dreadful inconvenience. We had a bit of snow last month, so before Spring is upon us, I thought I would post some photos of it. They were all taken at home.

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All the colors snow lends

the landscape: palest gray, soft violet, smudged

dull green, luminous

buff….they comprise the dustings,

the coatings, the thought coverings, to

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The photos:

  1. Footprints on the sidewalk, from the window upstairs. This is not snow, it is graupel, an unusual (for us anyway) weather phenomenon that looks like granular snow, halfway between snow and hail. My German readers will be pleased to know I have learned the German word graupel, since we don’t seem to have an English one. Danke, Deutsch Sprache! The photo was taken with a Samsung phone, and processed in Lightroom, beginning with a Lightroom B&W preset.
  2. The ravine behind our building from my third floor deck, taken after a snowy night, at 7:25am. Olympus OMD EM1 camera with Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens. Processed in Silver Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  3. Three tree trunks in the graupel! Taken in the parking lot with a Samsung phone, processed in Silver Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  4. The sun lights up the woods after a snowfall. Taken from the third floor deck with with the OMD EM1 and 45mm f1.8 lens (at f4.5). Processed in Lightroom. The tree in the right foreground is an English holly (Ilex aquifolium), a species that has become invasive in Pacific northwest forests. Under these hollies, shade is dense and few native plants thrive.
  5. Another view of the woods taken from the third floor deck with the OMD EM1 and 45mm f1.8 lens (at f4.5). Processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  6. Sun lights up the woods. Taken from inside, through a window. Camera and processing same as above.
  7. Two of our native Douglas fir trees (Pseudotsuga menziesii) with an understory of invasive Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) and the native, graceful Sword fern (Polystichum munitum). Taken from the third floor deck with the OMD EM1 &  45mm f1.8 lens (at f4.5). Processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom. 
  8. and 9. A potted Jasmine plant on the deck with spots of snow on its leaves. Both photos taken with the OMD EM1 and 45mm f1.8 lens, at f2.8. Photo #7 was processed in Color Efex & Lightroom, #8 in Lightroom only.

Speaking of snow, best wishes to my east coast USA friends, who are dealing with a gnarly nor-easter this weekend. Thousands of flights cancelled, power outages – all the usual fun!  And my friends in Europe had it worse, as a wickedly cold Siberian system caused deaths in at least ten different European countries, as well as the UK (Oh, the UK is part of Europe? I forgot, my brain was Brexited!) Maybe photos of snow and graupel aren’t what you want to see right now….I guess Spring can’t come soon enough!