PneumaShift 14, oil on panel, 1981
In This Edition
- The Fluted Brow / Back with Kados
- Over at Marrowstone Press
- The Interview: Nirupa Umapathy
- Featured Artist Series: Chang Lek
- Projects /2020
THE FLUTED BROW
Galen, you look somewhat fluted in the brow, a bit overly fixated. Why the consternation? Thinking of Vincent again?
Precisely, Kados. Vincent and I chat when I’d rather not have you bantering about.
What can the Dutchmen give you that I can’t?
I’d rather not go into it just now, Kados. Besides I’m mostly concerned about getting the art out…or not.
Out of your imagination? Why should getting art out and into the studio give you such a rippled face; you’ve been doing it for half a century.
True, but it’s never the same path taken. Not for me anyway. In any case, I’ve…
come to the far end of the curve and I’m thinking this soon-to-be series will be my last.
Uh-huh. Sure. I’ve heard that before, Galen. I didn’t believe you then and I don’t now.
I won’t argue that. You know me—us—better than anyone. But just the thought of it being my fin de Voyage de Coeur is a bit exciting. I see myself going back to my earliest serious beginnings. Remember? The early 1970s?
Indeed I do. Scouring the streets and alleys of Seattle for old paper abused and faded by rain, or those tossed away ancient layered billboards being replaced by new ones; we dragged loads of fodder back up to 531 East Denny, down into the basement studio of our little rented house, making abstract collages. Your first few shows at Foster-White Gallery.
That’s it! That’s it, that’s where I’m heading. But different, of course. Everything gets mixed in–the landscapes, the figurative work with their dark brooding and anonymous narratives, the abstracts—and somehow weave them all together. Tempting.
And getting the work out to the world?
Yes, there’s that, Kados, but what I create in my life doesn’t necessarily have to find a target while I’m still here. As we know, I essentially left the gallery world over twenty years ago; I’ve come to accept that reality.
Do you miss it?
The gallery scene, the exhibitions, the crowds, the city.
Sometimes. Sure. But not enough to regret my self-imposed exile, if that’s what we should call it.
So, what you’re saying is that art, in some strange way, blooms in spite of us.
Yes, I suppose we could express it that way, though not strange. Not at all.
But, Galen, why give it up? Why is this next series your last journey? No more painting? Seriously? Why?
I certainly wouldn’t be the first nor the last to put the brush away for good. You know as well as I do, Kados, one of the most difficult things about making even one painting is when to proclaim it finished. Let’s stop and think about it. Is there a point in time when we should acknowledge we’ve finished a totality, that we’ve placed enough in the world? I believe there is.
And what does Vincent think? I can’t imagine he’d agree.
Oh, Kados, you know I’m only as serious as this sentence is long when it comes to what propels me. Tomorrow? Who knows? Maybe another conversation with the Dutchman will change my thoughts again.
So what exactly do you talk about?
Someday, Kados. Someday…
“Weltner’s agile, passionate ear guides and clarifies imagination, as the poems’ emotional truths dance to an intricate, organic music, delicate, tidal.”
“Weltner confronts the reality of a zone poised beyond the limit of death conveniently drawn by us.”
Nirupa Umapathy is an independent writer, researcher, and social entrepreneur, writing across a variety of media including fiction, non-fiction, and essays to investigate the role of the individual as a maker of change and culture. After 14 well-spent years in financial services, she founded a creative thinking and learning community called Salons for Life for individuals to intentionally gather and co-create roadmaps for ideation and action nourishing personal and social change. Nirupa writes at www.radicaleverything.com/
a conversation with NIRUPA UMAPATHY
Galen: I’ve long been fascinated with the shifting arc of the spirit’s journey. Was there a specific and potent event, Nirupa, in your mid-career that deflected your trajectory? Or was the change subtler, something slowly and finally coming into focus?
Nirupa: Only looking back, is it evident that my preparation for change had started over a decade ago. I worked in the heart of the financial markets and got to witness the financial crisis in 2008 as a middling salesperson. The systemic devastation that followed was mirrored by a deep sense of personal displacement, even if I benefited tremendously from the professional success that followed. This contradiction never sat well within. I felt like I was sleepwalking for much of 2008 and 2009, and a brief but precipitous fall into depression was my first wake-up call. The journey of self-healing began with a more earnest practice of mind-body work through Pilates and then yoga, and 8-9 years of therapy that was more spiritual counseling. This revelation emboldened me to leave many known paths of security in 2015—a well-worn relationship that had been my anchor for 17.5 years, half my life back then, and a well-established career on the sell-side of finance. I took a risk and joined a smaller firm, and that job prematurely came to an end in 2016. I now knew the cycle of my career in finance was over, and I was being prompted to be bolder and take even bigger risks. In 2017, after weeks of insomnia, I woke up one day, finally present to an unknown voice within; I will never forget this day. Under white ceilings and fans slowly spinning, I heard, “take your time back.”
I thought I was delirious. And for a few minutes, I did not know what this could mean. But I soon realized it was a clarion call to take my autonomy back, to be the keeper of my own time, and to see what follows. And thus, a magical, exhilarating, and wondrous journey began: Of being a student of change. And to be an average student of change, you must study time and the space in which such change takes place.
And this is where I am. Puzzling, wrestling with the thrumming pulse of the unseeable but so ever-present—the song at the atomic level
Nirupa Umapathy, Nashik, India, 2017, photo credit: Bjorn Maroten
Galen: This song of ours, this immutable pathway leading into and out of us, is a puzzle indeed. When and how did the idea of creating Salons for Life come to you, and has this ‘roadmap’ you’ve co-created through collaborations with others help define your voice?
Nirupa: Creativity I have come to realize is a community-fed fountain. Meaning no idea is original. It is more a thread in a larger tapestry. While the spurt of an idea or the thrust to shape it can be terrifically idiosyncratic and the practice itself, very personal— any creative project is a sublime act or result of co-creation. I recognized early in 2017 that the more I was in conversation and had the chance to witness diverse practices and ways of living, the more the tapestry wove itself. This pre-meditated exposure became a part of my creative method.
The salons as a word did not come into my front-brain consciousness until July of 2017. I had been experimenting with self-teaching aspects of life design, applying design-thinking principles to the act of daily living. I was so astounded seeing how an individual can be emboldened to take a literal and figurative pathway to change, that I cold-emailed Kathy Davies, who taught life design at Stanford. It was her idea to start the prototype of life design micro-meets; she called them salons. This was the pre-cursor to Salons for Life.
I did many versions of these, mostly virtual and found that gathering with a shared purpose unlocks self and group discovery so intimately and safely, that in those few hours when we are mirrors to each other, we reignite and come home to a fundamental human right—being seen and heard.
The Salons Project is a co-created experience and is so by design. The concept—its end use and format—has been tested, keeping the human in the center, as design-thinking calls for. So all participants—the storyteller or the artist, the audience and the facilitator—have provided insights that have helped coalesce what the salons are: co-learning communities that gather under the shared context of learning when we first activate reflection on a theme. For example, political displacement, and through conversation what this might mean from a personal to a social level. The goal is to stretch the roadmap further for micro-actions, where we implement from our awareness, meditation, to hopefully guided action.
One of the most significant departures from our past has been moving away from zero-sum processes where ownership of production is controlled and staked. Every act of the salon is a co-created manifestation where outcomes are not always known; there is only a mutual intention to gather mindfully and a framework with shared values and principles that guide our action. It is democratic where authority is shared and where expertise is not delegated. It is the wisdom of our experience that rises—our capacity as both teachers and learners. This is real-life university.
Galen: I certainly believe the concept of mutually creating a spiritual space, if you will, from which the results of collaborative ideation become more durably beneficial is a good idea; reciprocity abhors ownership.
I’ve been swimming, often floundering, most of my life in this vast and endurable sea of creative expression, confronting art’s paradox, that ambiguity of purpose, of being both subject and object. I return to my reason for the Journal interviews: Why Art Matters. The stunning miracle of human imagination, it seems to me, is that, like snowflakes, no two minds can be the same…and yet…somehow, and for some reason, we’re soldered into one necklace of light. As you travel further into your Nirupa-spirit, whether through revelations from Salon for Life or from the quantum discovery of Nirupa’s Voice, leading it out into the world as Gift, how do you see it intertwining and why does it matter?
Nirupa: How I love that: reciprocity abhors ownership. Inherent then, in reciprocity, is trust—a deep faith in which freedom as well abides, a non-zero sum kind of open sky, freedom that the skies and mountains, the plants and trees inhabit.
The most divine gift that has been given me is the lack of a language and knowledge in the subject matter of art. And in this boundless space, I remain blissfully not in the know, unable to smart label, unable to analyze and think my way forward.
I was so racked up with anxiety as I began this journey into writing more earnestly in 2018, so quick I was to want the purpose behind the pen; it defied me and I am so grateful it did. The answers never came.
Only looking back, I realize that the act of writing is an intertwining, an entanglement with the deepest parts of yourself that will not surface except under the willful scratches of the pen—the hand—and as I see glimpses of a poem or letters that have nowhere but to drop on the page, it is more the outpouring of something that sits in collective memory that I feel to be a strange kind of conjuring, a witchcraft that will forever defy any of the manicured output my striving mind wants to push forth. And in this sublime outpouring—in a certain madness that can only be unedited—I have a hunch that it does not matter where the reader and the writer begin or end.
Galen: I do so agree with your understanding that this divine gift of creative imagination inhabits a world beyond knowledge. Things and ideas we express are but inferential acts of faith. Keep your hunches well-fed and the animal of your crafting hungry. Thank you, Nirupa, for this conversation.
FEATURED ARTIST: CHANG LEK
Little Elephant, acrylic on canvas, 60″ x 72″ ca. 2003 by Chang lek
Chang Lek is from the Akha hill tribe in the mountainous part of Northern Thailand, though when he was a young boy, he was sent to a Buddhist School in Wat Sa Kaow, near Bangkok, until he was nearly fifteen. After a few years back in his village, he was sent to Chiangmai to work and provide income for his family. I met him and brought him into the studio as an assistant. I went on a trip for a few weeks, and when I returned, I discovered Lek had taken it upon himself to do his own paintings. These were stunning, especially for someone who had never studied art. Over the next few years, I began to encourage that part of his spirit. Part of that encouragement took us to Europe, where he feasted on the paintings of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, and then down to Paris we went to breathe in that remarkable City of Light: The Louvre, The Musée d’Orsay, Picasso, Sainte Chapelle, etc.
He continued to make art, both paintings and experimental photography; He had a few exhibitions in Chiangmai, and also in the Seattle area. A year or so after his return, he married, had children. The creative urgency—that often unpredictable Muse —went into hibernation. It does that. My intuition tells me, however, that it’ll soon return, and I do believe in a positive way. Let’s pray that it does.
Black Snake, acrylic on canvas, 10″ x 14″ ca. 2003 by Chang lek
Sky 12, acrylic on canvas, 44″ x 20″ ca. 2005, Chang Lek
Akha Landscape, acrylic on canvas, 30″ x 40″ ca. 2005, Chang Lek
Chang Lek in the studio, ca. 2005
There will be more images by Chang Lek on his soon-to-be-live site, Art and Elephants, promoting his art and a special elephant tour in Northern Thailand. Stay tuned for that!
COMING SOON: A NEW PROJECT FOR 2020
A GRAND COLLABORATIVE GIFT EXCHANGE
BETWEEN ELEPHANT AND HUMAN
Wishing all of you a Magnificent Holiday on into the New Year!