December 16, 2018
The winter sky is spooling out a pale Vermeer blue. It gently spreads through the woods and across the rice fields while I sit gazing out of my large window, watching these lovely old trees catch the light and feed it to the nearby river. Summer rains have been generous.
I alternately contemplate between the landscape before me and bursts of image-ideas from within. I try to freeze them in my mind. How will they get through me into reality? What paths are taken? This part is never easy, not because I’ve lost my way but because there are so many paths, so many ideas to choose from, and the older I get, new paths indiscriminately weave into those of a lifetime, never fully resolved, merely evolving into yet another reflection. Still, as I observe the morning light spin across the water, I begin to stitch together a new visual language and how it might take shape as part of this luminous miracle life has given me. I’ve grown old in this incredible sheath of skin, blessed by being loved, by loving, and remembering love. Knowing where I am, and processing what is and what isn’t, what works, what doesn’t is a blessing I hold onto.
Last July, When I turned seventy-four, I not so seriously calculated how much of my life I’ve devoted to making art. All of it? In some ways, yes, of course; there is that curious little itch encrypted in the genes of my DNA blueprint. When I made the commitment to make art slightly over forty-five years ago, I’d venture to say the arc of my creative processing, which can occur in every gear of the mind at any time—reading, eating, sleeping, biological functions, and all social synapses—has occupied a good chunk of my life’s clock. Though I’m not an obsessive artist nor particularly prolific, I can confidently estimate that since the beginning, I’ve turned over the same ruminations during at least a third of my time on earth. Imagine: forty-seven quadrillion nanoseconds fishing in the unknown then serving up the results in one expression or another. Why? Why, indeed. There’s no stick to measure why we make art nor the results from doing so. Nothing other than belief.
As I knew they would, the images begin speaking to me, blooming into my consciousness, growing stronger, more precise, zigzagging across the busy streets of my occipital lobe, spilling out into the morning light, struggling for definition, insisting themselves to a fully charged input, ready to be made whole.
I’m delighted but ever cautious. Every act of painting is an engagement with uncertainty. I know this all too well.
“Be patient,” I tell them.
“Simplicity,” they demand.
“Ok. I like that.” I offer.
“Give us color, rich and pure, the kind of hues the mind adores. And contrast the shapes, if you would, and shift them, so the language is clear.”
“Anything else?” I ask.
“Yes. One more thing.”
“What is it?”
“Keep us close to your breathing, to your heartbeat.”
“I will,” I answer, smiling, moving away from the window, back to the studio.
Every leaf of the lotus holds a universe at its center.
For this final month of 2018, here’s a fascinating interview I did with the American poet and translator, William O’Daly, on the gift of poetry, of art, and belief.