I am I was I will be


I find that can only read John Berger’s essay in Landscapes, Revolutionary Undoing: on Max Raphael’s The Demands of Art, a page, or paragraph at a time, without being brought to full stop. Here is one of those passages, where I have to close the book to take it in.

“There is not a significant artist in the world who is not asking himself whether his art is justified — not on account of the quality of his talent, but on account of the relevance of art to the demands of the time in which he is living.”

I have to stop because these thoughts have been troubling me, and the more assured I am–the more confident I become in my creative powers, the more troubling they become, trouble me to the point, that I’ve come to believe that that to make art for our times is impossible, or rather–that there can be no validation here in the making of art–not in this world, for us as artists. Justification, if it’s to come, will have to wait for the new age.

To go on making art, then, is–must be–an act of faith–that against all evidence–or in its absence, which comes to the same thing, what we do will have to find it’s meaning elsewhere, in the world we must create if we are to survive for long on this planet. A world that does not now exist, except as a dream and a necessity.

It isn’t enough to be ‘topical,’ to be what others would call, relevant–that is, to make art that serves the revolution–an impossibility, because the revolution, whatever form it will take, is still invisible, and the best we can do to directly serve the cause–is make propaganda–pieces to encourage and embolden our would-be revolutionaries. There is nothing wrong with that. Such efforts are needed. But whatever is of use now, will not have the power to resist being usurped, and put to uses antithetical to the revolution, and to the world we are called upon to build.

This is different than the old hope in posterity, a posterity that would be like us, but with greater understanding. This is a faith in a new reality. What we make now, we see only with the eyes and mind of this reality. That which will exist in the new reality, is present now, present in the art we are making–and yet, but beyond our ability to in the eye of our imagining. That’s the nature of our faith, the faith we must have. That if we are true to the promptings of our own vision, we will bring forth work that exists now, both in and beyond our time, visible in the present only as a work of the the present–but pregnant with a future no eye as yet can see.

#629 Black & Blue

The Green Spring of Human Freedom encroaching on the Foul Oil of Capitalism!
11″ x 7.5″ Watercolor, ink, white gel pen


How is it, I wonder, that when I enter into a novel, or in reading poetry, listening to music–into any work of art or making art–with such intensity that it seems that I have left my own life–almost my own body and entered that of another–that those are the times that I should feel must fully and completely myself?

Found Things: making art at the Ox

262314_573942727920_1508677231_nThis was a journal entry from 4 years ago–popped up on Facebook.

Found Things… The significance of a fond object is that it has none. Decathected, by being lost—though I don’t mean lost, so much as discarded. The objects I find on the street, in empty lots. Not things still useful—things sticky with the snare of desire. The desire that adheres to and generates the delusion of ownership.

I like these objects because they are free. I don’t want to own them. I don’t want to return them to a state of servitude, to become their slave.

When collected, placed in some degree of proximity, they suggest their own form of desire… placed beside, under, inside another object, I sense affinity—or indifference. If the former—it is as though they have become a new object, each retaining its own identity, but now also, a part—of something else.

These are the assemblages that I build… or better– build themselves when I lend them my attention.

The prime rule… is that there must be no rules. Else I would be the Master, the enforcer, the tyrant god … and so, eviscerate my own existence… for there are no gods. No Masters. Were I to aspire to that… I would not be.

Art and the Machines of Power: Connections



It’s difficult, when those in power, those with power over the lives of others, expose themselves as hateful assholes–difficult to not slip into the belief that it’s the fault of these assholes that we are, collectively, in such terrible trouble. If we could only be rid of the assholes–give power to ‘good’ people, everything would begin to improve!
But when I can manage to set aside my anger, my entirely justified anger, at these figures, I see that they do what they do, not because of character flaws, but because they follow the rules of the system, of the roles they have been assigned. Whether they have taken on those roles for selfish, or class serving motives, or because they sincerely believe that this is what works, that this is ‘reality,’ and if you are a ‘realist,’ you act accordingly. If Dick Cheney exemplifies the former, Obama might exemplify the latter–but what they do, the killing, the destruction of our supportive environment, the endless war, their support of the vindictive surveillance state, where whistle blowers are punished–when you measure them by what they do, there is little to tell them apart.

The machines of consumer capitalism, the war machine, are in a real sense, not metaphorical–self generative, independent actants. It’s those complex social/political/economic machines that determine the actions and ideas; it’s those machines that manufacture the assholes they need to keep them running.

Those of us of more progressive or radical views, have no problem recognizing how, in poor and marginalized classes, material and social conditions make criminals, create anti-social behavior, and yet we too easily fail to see how the capitalist myth of the individual, and personal responsibility, shape how we react to the assholes of the oligarchy–even when we understand ‘class,’ even when in our mouths and heads, we know it’s “The System,” and that it’s the system we have to change–that we waste our energy and thinking when we rail against individuals in power, instead of demonstrating how the system works to create the assholes, and dictates to them what they can and cannot do within it.

In my art, I think of this in terms of representing, not objects or ideas, but connections. Even when objects are represented–I am drawn to emphasizing the connections, and leaving the objects partially erased, covered over, and secondary to what is more real than the “thing” … the connections between that create, destroy, and create them again as something new.

#511 5 black holes metalpoint


Urban Street Sketching: learning, and long way to go

If it wasn’t a challenge, wouldn’t be much fun. Not very good at this yet… a lot to learn. Every day, out on the street. I think it’s because I’m a life long obsessive journalist that I’m drawn to this. I would describe what I see on the pages of my journal… this kind of sketch is like a journal entry without words.

52nd Street fruit stand, looking toward Pine. Pen & ink, watercolor wash.
52nd St fruit stand

Mediating Vision: a class in drawing mediation?

Drawing found things

Walking this morning in the bright spring sunlight, I happened on a pine cone, a weathered piece of wood, a twisted twig with peeling bark: the kind of objects I like to have before me when I want to draw, slowly–in a state of concentrated attention. While few of my finished pieces are representational–it’s in drawing that I learn to see. Drawing mediates between what my eyes encounter, and the corresponding inner vision that is the source of my art.

The photos below are examples of what I think of as drawing-meditation.

It occurred to me on my walk, that I would enjoy teaching this kind of drawing–for anyone, but primarily for people who don’t think of themselves as artists, who believe that art is for special people with ‘talent,’ who have convinced themselves that they “can’t draw a straight line with a ruler”

The goal would not be to learn to draw–in the usual sense of what that means: making drawings that “look like” what you see, but rather, to learn to see through the mediating act of making marks on paper. Drawing as meditation, as the key to opening the third eye–to seeing what is there, and what is not.

There can be no right or wrong, no good or bad to the drawings we would make–because the marks and patterns we would be creating/dis-covering, wouldn’t be on the paper, but in the mind, where no one else can see to judge them.

We could begin, for those with no background, with some ideas about how to make different kinds of marks with a pencil, how to use a fine pen nip with ink. This too, is about learning to see: acquiring a simple vocabulary to use when we begin to translate the vision of the eye to the vision of … but why give that a name? …as there is no label that would be common to all.

We would need three pencils: a 2H, an HB, and a 3B. (later, you might want to add an even softer/darker pencil: a 4 or 6B.

A pencil sharpener (or single edge razor and piece of fine sandpaper)

A #102 crow quill pen nib and holder.

A bottle of India ink.

And paper.

If I had space to do this (I was thinking that a picnic table in a park would be perfect–where we could always find objects nearby to draw), and people who would like to do this with me, I might ask for $15 a session… but no one turned down for lack of funds.

Would you like to try something like this?

Silverpoint practice featherdrawing bark#459 silverpoint dry flowers#399#335 Sidewalk 2

#178 (from 2013) reworked.

#178 reworked Ox stucco

24×18″ Flakes of stucco from the Ox, acrylic on back of a Draino Sign.
Moving pieces around until they seem to slide into place. Three years ago.

The best scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind: making that mashed potato mountain on the living room floor. You know there’s something there but have no idea what it is, and no single piece will ever bring it forth, whole and shining with afterbirth. You have to keep doing it. Over and over. Nursing the symptom.

Something had been troubling me–for a few weeks now. I wrote a piece in that mood, posted it… than deleted it (copied and pasted it below). Too raw. To close. I felt flayed. Looking at #417, I began to get it (See what I wrote on that post) –an insight…. a better understanding of what I’m doing when I’m making art.

What follows, is what I posted and deleted.

I may take this down by morning. I’m weaning myself from FaceBook, so this might be the kinda shit I’d post late late at night exhausted mind weary before giving up on the day and surrendering to inebriate dreams.

Though WordPress will post it on FB. Don’t matter. I ain’t there.

I make no pretense, claiming that my obsession with making art is healthy–least of all for me. Like the walking dead say… it is what it is.

I feel a need to link up with others so afflicted. Hard to find. Lotta peeps make art. The more the better! I’m not looking to throw sandbags around some privileged status! But not all who do… are like 19th C. obsessed. Have.. as good as traded their souls for it.

Oh yeah. I did. I gave it up–whatever that was, that soul thing. I said–you can have it. Let me make art. That’s all I want. Sometimes I hear this weird echo laughter… like.. but I’m doing it.

I have no idea what it means to anyone but myself. Whether it’s good or bad–or what good or bad could possibly mean in our time.. when we have no “posterity” to fall back on… living, as we do, at the edge of human self-extinction.

I’d like to think that what I do might lend itself to imagining a better world. But poets are probly better equipped for that–having words at their disposal. Ideas.

I just…like… see stuff. In my dreams. Play with things. Real things. Pieces of trash… arrange them. Or colors, lines. Maybe they look like stuff you see in your world… mostly, probly not.

Useless. I mean… the LAST thing I want, is to be USEFUL in this bloody horrid corporate fascist world! but it does leave me… feeling useless.

I’d like to live in a world where… there was a place for what I do.. for what I have become. I’d like to be able to make that better world visible. But you can’t “intend” that. It has to come from one’s engagement with the world. If you are. It will emerge in your art. Anything you “intend” will only show what already ‘is.’ To body forth what will … what might be… one can only let go.. .and let it happen.

I did… I made this deal with the devil, like I said. You want to be healthy, happy–or make art? If that’s the choice–which will it be? No hesitation. I want to make art. I always have.

Ok, said the devil. Have at it!

Like my mother said. One should always listen to one’s mother.

“Don’t be an artist. Artists are the most selfish people on earth. But if you are… an artist. There’s no hope for you. There’s nothing else you can do.”

Yeah.. .she really did say that to me.

That’s my curse.

and the worst of it… I don’t want to be cured.

I want to reach out to others so cursed… who know themselves damned, as I have been. We could have a lot to talk about.