Bass Lake, Outlet dam 1957

Throwback Thursday. We spent the day drawing at the beach, Bass Lake, Mason County, Michigan. This is a pen and ink (crowquil) by my mother, Mary Johnson.

Mary J Outlet dam 1957

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Moving Forward by Moving Back

Bridge over Outlet Bass Lake

Bridge over the Outlet, Bass Lake

From December 31, 2012: The Ox

Okay–so it’s arbitrary. A change on the calendar that means nothing but what we want it to. But I like these marker times… not the holiday stuff, which makes me feel profoundly alienated, but days where I can check where I’ve come to on the ascending (or descending) spiral… where I… we… all of us, have come to occupy the same space again, a place–which is not the same at all.
Years ago… pretty sure is was Martin Buber (I was in thrall of him in my 20’s), said something to the effect that ones life is never over so long as one has the capacity to begin again. This year I made one of those life change moves… from a little too expensive efficiency at 13th & Morris in South Philly, to an old, unheated warehouse on N. 2nd St… sharing space and life with some 20 others… all many decades younger.

This was like… and has proved in one other profoundly significant way, a move back by moving forward… or the other way around. I lived in a commune from 1966 to 1970. Here I was again.

At that time, I was painting… in oils. Had many hours and courses in art behind me–from children’s classes at the Art Institute in Chicago… where (like the Nelson-Atkins Gallery in Kansas City years later, I was able to wander the halls and bond with the art as a child… with almost adult privileges. Sunday at La Grande Jatte … was like something in my second living room (all the museums in Chicago were like that, thanks to an unmarried Great Aunt who lived nearby).

I gave it up… for 8 years or so, to make pottery. And then… some dumb ass wish to be respectable (?)… merged with a genuine passion for intellectual pursuits… I gave it up.

After moving into the Ox… even before–the first view from the roof, I knew… that with space to work, and tools. I moved quantum leaps forward by moving back.. this time, without the pretensions, the inhibitions of what it meant to make ‘art.’

In June, I walked to New York from Philly with Occupy Guitarmy.. and everything I saw made me want to go back and start putting things together. THINGS. Objects. Street junk. It was an act of pure pleasure. With no sense at all of where this would take me. But I kept doing it. And found that I was .. surprised, startled… by what was happening. What I was making. It began to sink in… that yeah (still hard to use the word)… I was making ‘art’ … and it was, like .. ok. I mean… maybe better than ok

It’s become an obsession. On a day when I make progress on a piece, or finish one, or begin another… I’m happy! I mean… as happy as I’ve ever ever been in my life! And on days when I don’t… ?

So here I am. End of this arbitrary number (2012)… having begun again. Half way through my 72’nd year. Thinking… this time, it’s to the end. It’s all the way. Maybe… before 2013 has passed… I’ll be able to think of myself as an ‘artist’ without irony, without self-consciousness. Not just all those museum images.. it’s family. Really talented family… never felt quite up to snuff. Mostly, cause I was trying to do what I thought OTHERS judged worthy. Now… I’ve found my own way. I’m so glad I lived long enough.

For Those of us Who Keep Journals

 Bridge over Outlet Bass Lake
photo by Will Hardin. Bass Lake Outlet
Journal entry
Vol. 44:
Friday
1/11/08
After 5576 pages (since 1987… earlier volumes destroyed), nothing could be clearer. My journals don’t aspires to “literature.” To be sure, there are moments–caught up in passing enthusiasms–whole volumes when plain insanity wears the mask of “art” –but day after day, page after page, what I’ve compiled is nothing more (or less) than a verbal equivalent of the middlebrow albums of the snapshots my family used to keep.

Moving pictures.

Like the reels and reels of 16 mm family movies–long since lost. Moments, images, brief visual narratives I hope to return to–and save from the ever changing sequences of organic memory. Something external, I tell myself. Like a photograph. Like those lost silent movies. No less subjectively framed, so no closer to “truth”, but at least–external. Free of alteration.

Vane hope. Every reader, and every reading… rewrites what is read. But at least, I tell myself, the words remain. There. In their original sequential order.

So many pages, so many words–an embarrassment of false memory, a presence that begins to weigh on my life (is that why I’ve burned ten-year segments–twice?… since my earliest entries… 50 years ago?)

Memory serves us to our advantage–only to the degree that we retain the power to transform it.
Anything less, is …?

If this is so for us as individuals… how much more is humanity burdened by the false memory of history?

If it’s our lot–condemned to misremembering, erasing the violence we have done, to ourselves, to our fellow creatures on this earth, let us begin to remember forward, to creatively body forth from imagination, a world where there will be no need to forget the horrors we seem unable to face in our past.