THE JOURNAL / NOTES ON MEDITATIONS
Elegy, for Linda Gregg, oil on paper, 40″ x 50″ 2019
In the mid-1970s, on the occasion of my 2nd or 3rd exhibition at Foster-White Gallery in Seattle, Don Foster asked me to write a statement about the new series, something that would be posted to the gallery wall during the show. I was young and naïve. I pondered over my task and began. I came up with a paragraph, a dense bundle of words I was fully convinced represented the entire spectrum of art. Two weeks after the opening, I stopped by the gallery and spun through the rooms to see what might have sold–discreetly, of course. I passed by my written statement still taped below my name on the wall near the entrance. I stopped. At the very bottom of the page, in faint pencil, someone had written: ‘Huh?’
Brief knitting of brows, a pinprick of discomfort, a flush of blood. Whoever wrote this audacious one-word response was merely uninformed about art. Surely. I looked around. The gallery was empty. I patted my pocket for a pencil with an eraser; I didn’t have one. Then I closed my eyes, stood back, and took a deep breath. Relaxing, I quietly laughed at myself, grateful, after all, to be so cleverly called out. Did I really understand what I had written? Probably not. Though, at the time, I thought I did. Since that long-ago embarrassment, I’ve not gotten appreciably better at understanding nor describing art’s purpose, though I have come to better appreciate its elusive subjectivity and its mystery.
These words I write here are not about what the ‘Meditation’ images might possibly represent to the world at large, or even to those who know me, but only about getting the paintings from within my imagination completed, then across the sea. Challenging, to be sure. Suffice it to say the whims of Fate pay no attention to the predictions of us mortals. I was just beginning to work on a new series, one that I expected to last at least two years when Bam! Kismet dropped in a wild dismantling swoop. My plans unraveled. Still, I had agreed to participate in an exhibition to occur within a few months, and commitments I keep if at all possible. After weeks of thrashing about in the studio, complicated by these unforeseen events wreaking havoc on my creative expanse, an image finally broke loose from my imagination. From it, I heard Sam Hamill’s voice moving from the sea into the light; I felt his poem, ‘What the Water Knows.’ Other paintings followed. Other voices appeared. When I was done, I’d completed less than a dozen works of various sizes, and these were not at all headed where I had imagined they should be. Still, they speak to me. ‘Meditations’ is merely an interlude, an inflection of something about to happen, and I’m grateful these poets for whom I dedicated the paintings came into my imagination, sharing a bit of their sky.
The exhibition, opening in September at the Ryan James Gallery in Kirkland, Washington, is entitled ‘Cadence,’ and, I was told, pays homage to the Poet’s voice. In a few days, the paintings will be shipped across the sea. Now I turn to the next series, still too vague, too early to speculate what might be waiting for me. I’m not worried; something is always waiting. However, I still feel a vulnerability that must be prerequisite for the creative process. It’s too damned ponderous for the joy one finds on the other side. And, of course, within any curve in that direction, I can always count on Kados appearing from some lofty spot perched within my left frontal lobe. Here he is now, pressing into my silence. Sometimes I suspect it was Kados who left me the ‘huh?’ message.
“How do you know when you’ve expressed enough, Galen,”
“What do you mean, Kados?
“Like, you know, do you ever wonder if you’ve made enough art for this life?
“Is that possible?
“Duchamp believed he had. And besides, Galen, how can you possibly know that anything you create will make a difference to this world of ours reeling from so much pain and distress?”
“Those are pretty dark questions.”
“I know. Do you have any answers to lighten them?”
“I don’t; I doubt there are any answers, Kados.”
“So why keep at it? Angst? Idealism? Egoism? Money? What’s the pull? Or is it a push?
“Kados, you might as well ask me why we were born. I suspect the answer involves all of these, in precisely that order, pushing and pulling, always. Such thoughts are too wide and deep to fathom at this late hour. Next time. Goodnight, Kados.”
“OK. Goodnight, Galen.”