Sunday, June 26, 2011

Stop Making Sense

I am sitting at my drawing table this morning and pondering the end of the world. It is an odd hobby.

I am also wondering about what to paint this week. As I sit and ruminate by my window I feel the chill breeze of the morning on my skin. I hear the sounds of my neighbor emptying her dishwasher -- the unmistakable clatter of stacking plates and the chiming of glasses as they casually bump into each other. Yesterday, the cottonwood seeds were floating through my backyard like lazy snowflakes. Their numbers were so immense that it actually did seem like snow and a layer was accumulating on the lawn. Yesterday I also ate a wild strawberry from my yard. Unfortunately, it was more about texture than about taste. My mind has wondered... I am supposed to be thinking of something to paint, something that will trigger thoughts of the end of the world. But there's the rub, thoughts aren't part of the end of the world. Thoughts and associations and dreams and experience are part of this side of the Great Divide. Instead of painting and thinking about the senselessness of the end, I was busy making sense of the moment.

A glance out my window provides the subject for painting - a spiderwort plant in full bloom. I throw on some shorts and head out to cut a segment off and put it in a vase. Again, I feel the chill breeze on my naked upper torso and neck. My hair goes on end.  I feel the wet dewy grass underneath my feet and the smell of rain is in the air. I select, I clip, I place and I draw.

My friend mentioned to me that nothing ends, it simply becomes something else.  That may be true in terms of that which can be physically explained.  But what happens to our experience?  What happens to the simple act of sensing, if one does not have senses?  I do not know what happens on the other side.  But I am pretty sure I will not be sitting at a table, observing a spiderwort, enjoying the smell of eraser shavings (have you ever noticed the smell of eraser shavings?), feeling the texture of the paper with my fingertips and a morning breeze on my skin.  What is beauty without the senses?

Like my thoughts, a spiderwort is an angular thing that zigs and zags back and forth from one plant segment, or node, to another.  Creating a composition out of these scattering energies is a challenge.  I feel what is vertical in essence, seems horizontal in representation. Cropping and editing diminishes the overall effect of this plant.  A part cannot represent the whole because the plant is about the perpendicular relationship of its parts.  How does one work with so much information and condense it into a representation of the whole?  How can one possibly make sense of it?

On the second day of painting, my spiderwort has already diminished to the point that I need to cut another. Again, I feel the breeze on my body.  It is another day threatening to rain.  I select, I clip, I place and I paint.

I went for a run yesterday.  I alternate mornings of painting and running but think about the end of the world while doing both.  My body hit a rhythm for the first time since I have started this ritual.  Although it was work, it was easy. I felt the air fill my lungs and my feet pounding on the sidewalk.  I ran under a tree and its wet leaves touched the top of my head.  A cold wetness sits on top of my head for another half a block.  I think, once the world ends this will no longer happen, there will no longer be someone interpreting sensory experience. We are the one's on the planet that accelerate learning and evolution by giving meaning to experience.  Soon, no one will be placing experience in an order that makes sense, that supports all of this to become more. This decay has already begun.

One day, we will stop using our eyes, our noses, our fingers, our skin, our tongues and our ears.  What will a world be like without the foundation on which all decisions, learnings and associations have been made?  I hope there will be a benefit when we stop making sense.

I look out my window, it has begun to rain.

Warning Mask Collaboration

While up at Mallard Island earlier this summer, I worked with Mike Peterson of Madison, WI.  There is a corner of the eave of the Library where tall people can hit their head if they are not careful.  Don, the Big Cheese, asked that a ribbon or something be placed there.  I decided to do something more.  I sketched a face on some tin and cut it out with tin snips.  I then handed the mask and some paint to Mike, who was doing painting jobs during the week.  He painted the blue and yellow/orange and white on the mask.  Once it was dry, which took quite a long time, I drew the details of the face with a permanent marker.  Mike then added the jingle bells while I created a tongue.  Once complete, I mounted it in place.

This was a fun project working with Mike Peterson and doing something that might at least help some people not hit their head on this overhanging eave.  Thanks, Mike.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Final Resting Places

This first week of painting while being mindful of the end of the earth, I decided to finish an old painting I had begun over a year ago.  It is a watercolor of a wild ginger plant (previous entries about this painting can be seen here:

The painting had a base coat that delineated the veins in the leaves and the stems and the small basal flower.  It had been awhile since I worked on this painting so I took my time mixing the colors I needed before putting brush to paper.  There is nothing worse than ruining a painting with your first brushstroke of the day.

While painting, I was thinking about the end of the world and it occurred to me that part of creativity at the end of the world would be to go back and finish up some things.  As time draws to a close, there is a need for a sense of closure.  If one has time to see one's end coming there will be time to put some things in place.  With human life coming to a close, culture will be completely decimated and revealed as the facade that it is.  In this state, what kind of role could art and creativity possibly have?

One role would be to make things whole by preparing for the end - to put things in their final resting place.

One aspect of this would be using creativity to complete things that are still undone.  I don't think I would worry about completing a particular painting that had been sitting around for a few years.  Then again, finishing it might give me peace.  But as I look around the world that is left I would probably see things that just seem wrong - out of place.   There will be fewer and fewer people to track the volumes of "stuff" we have created and I am sure it will be strewn about from wind or thoughtlessness.  How much of my studio and house (especially my tool bench) are taken up by old things that I will never use - that others will never use?  How many paintings have I had sitting in my studio for years?  Will this be my legacy to eternity, that I collected and created useless stuff and left it lying around?  It would only be fitting considering the consumerist culture I live in now.  But at the end of time, perhaps the best thing we could do is put things in their rightful and proper final resting places, which might mean getting rid of them completely.

As I work on the wild ginger painting, I am focusing on putting things in their proper and final resting place.  I already have a painting that has a few stages completed.  I am now pushing edges back by darkening them, bringing edges forward by warming them up.  Areas of the leaves need to feel more like a surface, so I am placing grey/light blue over whole areas.  I am taking the structure that already exists and adding colors to create surface, to create a sense of life.  My goal is to place every square centimeter of the painting in its final resting place.  When I step back to critiqued my progress I am looking for unsettled places, places where my eye (my heart) cannot rest.  If I cannot find rest, I have to go back in and rework that area more.  My painting won't be complete until the entire painting feels at rest -- when each stroke, color, value and surface feels in its proper and final resting place.  Then, and only then, do I know that it is done.

At the end of the world it is much harder to put things in their proper place.  We obviously have not been good at putting things in their proper place, otherwise the world would not be coming to an end.  It would be understandable in our present condition if one's life ended feeling disrupted and out of sorts.  The act of putting objects and relationships in their proper final resting place can help to make the soul less disrupted, less aimless, less hopeless.  It can be healing.

My thoughts are that I would take all of my useless stuff and compact it into an area where it is out of the way, so it has a small local impact instead of a broad impact. I would like to make a game of it.  When our population is down to a few hundred, we could have competitions to see who can hide or destroy the most debris.  Perhaps I would burn it all up and leave no trace of it.  I need to make space for the world again to be what it will without me -- without us.  It is the respectful thing to do in response to our decimating the planet.  Then I would go about trying to put bigger things in their rightful place.  Perhaps I would become the last Johnny Appleseed, planting trees throughout the land to replace the forests humans had destroyed centuries earlier.  I wonder about creating an art piece that might be found by others visiting our planet or if life here ever became self-aware again.  Perhaps a highly evolved squirrel might one day climb onto a stone sculpture I created and recognize that someone as intelligent as it had been here before.  Perhaps not.

And this brings me back to questioning the relevance of creativity and art at the end of the world.  If no one else is going to see it, what is its relevance?  Obviously, art at the end of the world will not be created for  others to consume (is that all it is now?).  It will go back from where it came -- to ritual, to healing.  I wonder if there is a way to begin putting the human race and its impact in its proper place?  Is there a way to gather all that we have done, package it up and store it away so the next world can have its own go at life without our leftovers disrupting it?  That is, once the environment becomes inhabitable again.  As an artist, I like  to think that we creatives might best be able to look out at the canvas of this planet and recognize how best to put things in their final resting place.  We've already done this hundreds of times with our art.  Perhaps the most important art piece we'll ever create as a species is our final resting place - the planet we pass on to the rest of eternity.