Sunday, October 28, 2007


Webster’s dictionary defines authentic as, “original, genuine; one who does anything with his/her own hand; being what it purports to be; not false or fictitious; genuine; valid; verified; authoritative; reliable.” I have been obsessing about this for the last two weeks because of two separate situations. They both deal with religion and politics.

My friend, Bo, and I have been friends for over 40 years. He was the one who turned me on to smoking pot. He helped to nurture my growing interest in Jazz. He was the person who taught me how to be a carpenter. After all these years I am still pretty much a liberal (with some libertarian overtones) while he has grown more and more conservative, both in political and (organized) Christian attitudes. Like old friends everywhere, we spar and debate on issues that are important to us. Over the years we have learned that friends do not need to always agree.

A public figure that acts as a lightning rod for some of these dialogues is the (quasi) religious leader, James Dobson. He is the head of the conservative socio-religious group, Focus On The Family. Dobson has stated that the two most important issues facing the US today are abortion and gay marriage. Well, not only do I disagree with that statement but I also think that it is a biased load of crap. I see it as a prejudiced statement being used as a scare tactic to manipulate peoples’ thinking. Of course, my friend disagrees. This was a wonderful opportunity for debate. God, how I love a good fight!

I don’t necessarily believe in abortion but I do believe in choice. I believe in people’s rights to make their own decisions on how to live their lives. I also don’t want anyone to interfere with me on how to live my life. I am capable of screwing it up all by myself, thank you very much. I believe that the current worst evil in the US is economic injustice. I believe it to be the root cause of so many social ills. I also see that attitudes on the conservative right as being so screwed up that even a contortionist would stand in awe. Part of my argument against the radical right is that the life is only sacred until it is born. After birth the child no longer matters. If you grow up in poverty with inadequate food and housing, well too bad. If you don’t have health insurance, too bad. Part of the problem is that the radical right just doesn’t want to put their money where their mouth is.

My youngest daughter feels the consequences of this attitude. She is a single mother. Even though she works she doesn’t earn enough (including child support) to support herself and the child. She lives with us and we help her where we can (we are on a fixed income) because we fell that is what an authentic family would do. Her employer does not provide health insurance and the state says she makes too much money to be eligible for health benefits. I somehow don’t see how an annual income of $10,000 is “too much” to support a family of two. I argued to my friend that she was raised in a pro-choice household knowing that whatever she chose to do, we would support her. Her choice altered the course of my life and that’s just fine with me. Without hesitation we chose to support her whereas the state and the radical right chose to abandon her. Last week my old friend sent her a substantial check (he is also on a fixed income) because he knew that to be authentic to his beliefs that he needed to live them and not just talk about them. He put his money where is mouth is.

The other incident is with someone who is becoming a new friend. Rosie is a dancer, a teacher, and a student in a fairly conservative seminary. In her ethics class that day the discussion was about gay marriage. She said it turned into a gay bashing session with hers being the only dissonant voice. She has been selected to present an opposing argument to the class next week. I am not a religious person but I am spiritual by nature. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. I have studied Christian theology as well as the theology of other traditions. I am conversant in Christian orthodoxy and the bible. I am, however, not conversant in being a homophobic moron. I’m just a poor dumb artist but I just don’t understand how someone who professes to be an authentic Christian can believe in and speak hatred, ignorance, and prejudice.

About four years ago, our oldest daughter came out to us that she is a lesbian. Our response to her was, “Okay.” She was being true to herself she was being authentic. She is my daughter and I love her. All I have ever wanted for her was to lead a good and happy life. To become the person she was meant to be, a real person. She is one of the most creative, intelligent, and compassionate people that I have ever met. How could I be true to my beliefs and myself if I couldn’t accept who she is as a person?

What does all of this have to do with art? Well, being authentic as a person effects whether or not my art will be authentic. Becoming true to myself, becoming more authentic to myself has never been easy. It means risk and vulnerability. In the case of my disability, my mental illness it means risking ridicule and becoming ostracized. It may sound odd but losing my last job because of this was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It gave me a great freedom. I no longer had to pretend to be someone other than myself. If people ask me if I’m crazy I can proudly answer yes, certifiably so!

That attitude has carried over into my painting. Something happened recently, I’m not really sure what it was, that allowed me to break a link that was holding me back. I was able to break free from concerns about financial success or acceptance in the art community. The more I accept who and what I am the more authenticity I see in my paintings. If my work is not true and authentic to me they will never be perceived that way by anyone else.

These paintings are a continuation of my using the cold wax medium. I am finding that it is really unifying my style and technique. I am finding that my work is becoming more unified as a whole. The first image is a continuation of my daily walks with the dogs. It measures about 15” X 15” and is oil on paper. The next image is based on a bridge that I used to see everyday when I was still working. It measures 30” X 48” and is oil on hardwood panel. The wax medium gives me more confidence to work larger. Finally, poor Jafabrit made the unfortunate mistake of posting a photo of herself and her dog, Rufi, on her blog. Well, I have been wanting to practice my portrait skills so I took the opportunity. If anyone else is daring enough to post their photo or email me one, I will probably attempt one of you. This piece is 24” X 20” and is oil on hardwood panel.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Book Notes

It has been quite some time since I posted anything. It’s time for me to get back into gear. Life has been very introspective lately. My doctors have been working on fine-tuning the balance of my medications. Where it adds in one place it sometimes detracts in another place. But I have been happy with the results. Not only is my focus better but also my attention span has slightly increased. This in combination with using the cold wax medium I discovered is helping me to make new some old things.

After years of searching and experimenting, the wax medium gives me the ability to get a similar affect in oils to what I had with pastels. I am pretty happy about this. I am able to build up separate and individual strokes in multiple layers with minimal intermixing on the surface. A lot of what is happening on the surface goes back to attitudes from when I was doing color field paintings. There is also a slight color shift. The paintings are still bright just not garishly intense. I am working slower and with more deliberation. I will write more about this later.

So what I have included here are some of the notes I have kept while reading a book on the American artist, Joseph Raffael. Reading becomes a somewhat slow process for me because I am always taking notes. I refuse to mark up a book by underlining, highlighting, or dog earring the pages. It causes too much distraction when I may go back to the book years later. It also keeps me from discovering something new in the book. Anyhow, I hope that you find the notes interesting.

The paintings included here are my experiments with the wax medium and using a technique similar to what I did with pastels. The still life of the apples measures 20” X 24” and is done on a hardwood panel using oils and cold wax medium. The pear still life measures 14” X 11” and is done on a hardwood panel. Again this was done with oils and cold wax medium with assorted elements added using oil pastel.

Reflections of Nature: Paintings by Joseph Raffael
By Donald Kuspit and Amei Wallach

He is an altogether twentieth-century incarnation of a pragmatic romanticism out of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Nature “is the organ through which the universal spirit speaks to the individual, and strives to lead back the individual to it,” Emerson wrote. P.9

Nature in Raffael’s twentieth-century cathedral is transfused with the theories of Carl Jung; the teachings of Krishnamurti, Gurdjieff, and Tibetan Buddhism; the poetry of Rainer Maria Wilke and Wallace Stevens. P.9

“To be religious you don’t have to be part of a religion,” Raffael says. P.9

The thing about painting is that it is an activity, and it’s about life and death. P.10

Edward Hopper seems astonishingly close to Raffael in his statement of 1933, the year Raffael was born: “My aim in painting has always been the most exact transcription possible of my most intimate impressions of nature. If this end is unattainable, so it can be said, is perfection in any other ideal of painting or in any other of man’s activities.” P.10

…at New York’s Cooper Union School of Art in the early 1950s, Wallace Stevens, Jung, and Buddhism as taught by Daisetz T. Suzuki at Columbia University were the intellectual air that avant-garde painters breathed. “I am nature,” Jackson Pollock had declared, meaning that he was of nature, not merely an outside observer. P. 12

“My concern is with the rhythms of nature…the way the ocean moves…The ocean is what the expanse of the west was for me…I work from the inside out, like nature.” Pollock was quoted as saying. P.12

Albers himself may be most noted for his investigations into color through the painted medium of stacked minimal squares, but his teaching, honed in the gesamtkunst world of the Bauhaus, was more catholic. “We want a student who sees art as neither a beauty shop nor imitation of nature…but as a spiritual documentation of life,” he wrote. He taught that “color is the most relative medium in art,” and that under no circumstances should an artist get on an aesthetic bandwagon. P.13

Then, as now, Raffael’s paintings took nature as their form and abstraction as their means. They can be read either as whole or as fragmented into thousands of prismatic effects, which, like Thoreau, float with “the impetus derived from the earth and the system, a subjective heavily laden thought, in the midst of an unknown sea.” P15

Raffael married Lannis Wood…together they determined that what was needed for his art was to strip himself of all outward concerns with community and ambition. They moved to France, where painting became the core around which their days were constructed, even to the extent that they slept on a mattress in his studio. P18

Consider the duck (in the painting Galactic Waters III) as the eyeball in Thoreau’s notion of a lake as “earth’s eye, looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” P. 21

“The mystery,” says Raffael, “is being a human being, finding oneself in this universe, and trying to make head or tail of it.” P. 23