Mako and I recently recorded a conversation about the latest edition of Mark Rothko's book "The Artist's Reality: Philosophies of Art." This text is an interesting exploration of what Rothko thought of as the themes in viewing and making art. If you are interested in a more academic take of these concepts I recommend reading. In the meantime enjoy listening to the conversation we had about "The Artist's Reality" The latest edition from Yale University Press which includes Mako's afterword can be found here.
These paintings are part of the "What Lies Beneath" series which utilizes scripted words as the foundational paint application method before the salt is applied. Both phrases come from the book ""How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy" by Jenny Odell.
I have the opportunity to participate in a book club right now and this was our first book for discussion. Many others proposed brilliant questions, but here I offer those that I generated prior to our conversations.
“‘Nothing’ is neither a luxury nor a waste of time, but rather a necessary part of meaningful thought and speech” (Odell, 4). How do you resonate with or reject this concept of nothing? How can/should the “benefit” of nothing be divorced from productivity and capitalism (xii)?
How is listening (25) linked to “nothing” in your own practice?
How do you connect with the period of “removal” Odell references (9)?
How do you identify addiction in yourself? In others? (31)
What is your dream retreat? Be specific.(34-35)
How do you threaten social norms? Do you want to? (64)
How is discipline valued? (72)
How distracted are you? How do know you are distracted? (81)
What are you paying attention to? (93)
-what do you want to pay attention to?
-what are you willing to pay attention to?
How do you contextualize yourself? (96) bioregionalism (148)
What are you curious about (104)?
Ethical persuasion or self-control? (116)
What reality are you interested in constructing? (126) Be specific.
When was the last time you were in a park (181)? What was it like? Do you think it was an act of resistance?
“Where and when am I, and how do I know that?” (185)
What do you think of the idea of manifest dismantling (186-204)?
While these questions are very direct, I think there is benefit in answering them for yourself as you reflect on the concepts that Odell proposes. I highly recommend this book and Odell's latest "Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock."
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Makoto Fujimura, friend and mentor, about the importance of listening, silence, and curiosity in the work of making and culture care.
In addition to this interview I am including a reflection guide on Curiosity that I put together this spring. May it guide you on interesting paths.
I remember reading this article about Nina Sankovitch in 2009 about her year of reading which included 365 books. The envy I felt was keen. The desire I felt was certain. I wanted to read 365 books in a year. It is an Everest of an accomplishment for those of us with the inclination. As the pandemic has stretched on and my need for a Covid conscious life persists I have found myself reading more and more for fun, aided by the end of graduate degree schooling, and Libby (an app connected to my local public library) which delivers books to my phone and e-reader with ease. Throw in the audiobook format and all of the elements have coalesced to deliver my reading year. It is currently the middle of June and I am at the 300 book mark already. This makes me more likely to hit the 365 mark, but I will not be certain until it happens. Just like summiting Everest you never know what the next step will bring. If I reach 365 books this summer, then who knows? Perhaps I will extend my reading goal even further for the years end.
My rules for the challenge are:
It's a book if it has an ISBN.
Children's books count.
Audio books count. (If you don't think so I encourage you to investigate ableist bias.)
I can read series.
I can re-read favorites.
I only read books six days a week (one day off).
Here are some of the best books I have read since January:
Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell
I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times by Mónica Guzmán
Both of these books address the shaping power of language.
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
This book has great content for discussion regarding how we utilize our time and attention.
Beauty is a Basic Service: Theology and Hospitality in the Work of Theaster Gates by Maria Fee
Redeeming Vision: A Christian Guide to Looking at and Learning from Art by Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt
Great books from friends about how to look at art and what art means in your life, community, the world.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
A Prayer for the Crown Shy by Becky Chambers
This beautiful duology poses the important question of "What do humans need?" with immersive world-building.
If you are interested in following along with my reading in real time I update with star ratings (and the occasional review) on StoryGraph and goodreads. According to Story Graph the books I read are primarily reflective, emotional, and informative, averaging 275 pages long, with a 60/40 split between fiction and non-fiction.
I have put the books mentioned together in a wishlist on Bookshop.org for your ease in learning more. Purchasing books from this site allows you to support independent bookstores even if you don't have one in your area. Did you know that the New York Times bestseller list pro-rates sales from independent shops for their famous bestseller lists? And that new books are published on Tuesdays in the United States because of those lists? And that independent bookstores are cultural hubs for their communities even if no "events" happen there? All that to say there are conglomerate alternatives that have known and unknown impacts. Hope you read something good this week friends!
A version of these words was originally delivered to Concordia University Irvine students in an artist talk and then published in my newsletter. Neither of those are my own platform and I am increasingly convinced of the importance of placing things in places were you are in possession of the foundation. So I include it here.
As dining with friends came to a halt in early 2020 due to the pandemic, and my external studio space closed and my dining table became my studio and host to another kind of relational event, that of materials, learning about each other. The personification of material in the contemporary context can be drawn from Walter Benjamin’s essay which asks the maker to consider “What does this picture want to be? How do these materials relate to each other?” For two years, I consistently hosted this conversation. The timelapses of their creation (which are observable on my Instagram and YouTube) document the getting-to-know-you phases of the materials and how the relationships evolved over time. The dry paintings are a result of those “dinner parties.” They stand as remnants and reminders of the way in which relationships change us by way of question and possibility.
Allow me to introduce you to the primary conversation partners of this dinner party.
The first guest to arrive is paper. Rives BFK is traditionally a printmaking paper, relatively heavy at 280gsm, and a cotton mold-made paper, which means that the cotton rag slurry is rolled onto a continuously moving woolen felt. This allows for the paper fibers to dry in multiple directions, yielding a very strong and smooth surface, placid if you will. Without this kind of strength, the paper would shred and disintegrate given the amount of water used to create these images. Rives BFK is similar to fabric in many ways, it bends but does not break, it is not easily torn, a stalwart companion, and foundational to the success of this gathering.
The next guest at this proverbial dinner party is Winsor and Newton Payne’s Grey Professional Series Watercolor. According to the Winsor and Newton website “Payne's Gray is a dark blue grey made from a mixture of Ultramarine, Lamp Black and sometimes Crimson. It was named after the 18th c. water-colorist William Payne who created the mixture and often recommended it to his students as an alternative to plain black.” It is a semi-opaque paint with staining properties. What I love most about this paint is the range of opacity and transparency. Payne’s Grey always has a je ne sais quoi element, making it mercurial and transitory as a conversation partner. And yet its allure keeps the invitation extended, because no other paint can do what it can do.
I still remember the first time I was introduced to salt as a watercolor companion, 8 years ago. I was in Barnes & Noble leafing thru a book on urban watercolor sketching and came across a page that suggested spit or salt for adding texture to a painting. I had never considered salt (or spit) before, as I was more interested in printmaking and pattern design at the time. But I quickly became obsessed and tested every salt in the cupboard at home and then purchased a few more. Now most people that view my work have no idea that my original training was in printmaking, because this watercolor and salt relationship has taken over so thoroughly. Salt is a relationship that pulled me away from everything and everyone else, but proved to be such a good companion that I can’t imagine my life without it. What emerged as my salt bae, specifically, is Morton’s Coarse Kosher Salt because of its size and reactivity with the chosen paint.
The Princeton Neptune Line 3/4” oval wash paintbrush is a true companion. I am in love with this brush. There I said it. We can debate the theological ramifications of loving objects in a different talk, but suffice to say the Princeton Neptune 3/4” oval wash is the brush of my devotion. It is what artists call “thirsty”, meaning it holds A LOT of paint. This is particularly useful, because it is a rather small brush when covering sheets of paper 22”x30’ or 30”x44”. A larger brush picks up too much paint and leaves glumps on the paper, and the smaller brush is too dry when covering this sized surface. The 3/4” is my best friend, always there, ready and willing to pick up the conversation wherever we left off and wherever it leads, hence their presence at this dinner conversation.
Water and Time are also in attendance. Both constant companions to human existence and integral to this party. I think that they need no introduction as they are universally known and acknowledged.
All of these materials are in conversation, with each other and with me, constructing a careful measure practice. Deepening the relationships thru deliberate action. They are also a practice that points toward the Christian idea of the new heaven and the new earth, a restored existence. This dinner party of materials is only a glimpse of the eternal feast that is to come.
You may be wondering why I articulate the material relationships in such detail? Because we have a G-D that spoke the world into being, we have the ancient word abracadabra, which translates to “as I speak I create” and the paintings are a visible construction of hopes and prayers, creations without words. These paintings are a practice of painted prayers, in the manner of Brother Lawrence who suggests that every action we undertake can be done as a prayer, washing the dishes was his famous example, and painting is my lived example.
Done during the various waves of the pandemic the paintings are records of a conversation, missives sent with the knowledge that one-day things will be different, conviction of restoration. They depict reflective observations of the present, echoes of landscapes explored and to be explored. The imagery is biomimetic, referencing bones, shadows, ice, coral, flowers, tree bark, bacteria, and mud. These paintings are a direct result of a years-long studio investigation focused on the interaction between watercolor and salt, prayer and practice. It is my hope in hearing, with specificity, about these materials that portals to knowledge and understanding will stand unlocked and ready for you to explore in your own constructive life and practice.
I gave this artist talk in February 2020, but didn't publish it anywhere at that time. I still think, three years later, that it should be shared and so I am including it here.
I want you to think about a moment when you felt stuck, like maybe you were struggling to button your jeans or a window wasn’t opening, or a pickle jar… You might have said aloud “Oh come on.” Yes? In that moment you were in conversation with a material. Theorist Walter Benjamin writes about being in conversation with material as central to the work of making art, and while he means something slightly different than talking with the pickle jar, it is also similar: this idea of being in conversation with the things around you, being aware that there is a relationship playing out.
These paintings are a conversation with material and were created as earnest prayers to the creator G-D. They started as small paintings, eight inches by ten inches: ipad size. They were very precious. My studio mate, Eric Tai, has an important phrase painted on his easel,“Not a thing is precious.” This reminder constantly calls us back to the paradoxical reality that, yes, objects are not precious in the sense that they cannot be interacted with or must be placed on shelves away from realities of life, but precious in the sense that care can be taken and love can be extended to all people and things. And I painted 50 small precious paintings, and learned a lot the paint in the process, and moved from an affinity for the color to a love for its essence.
The color is called Payne’s Grey, and is very diverse depending on how much water you add to it. It rarely looks grey, but frequently is blue. It doesn’t split apart when the salt is added to it, but rather pushes and pulls around it. The paint interacts with the way the definitive way the salt box is shaken. I shake the box so that the salt forms all-over patterns or clusters, in conversation with the paint pigment. As I was practicing, with the salt and pigment, I wanted more room to play, so I sized-up slightly to 14 by 20 and then 18 by 24. And talked with the material the whole time. Learning that there is a point where there actually is too much water and pigment so all nuance is lost. By the time I got to 18 by 24 inch paintings, Maria Fee, who invited the work to be shown here when it was still 8x10 and was my encouraging studio mate throughout this entire process said, “You have to go bigger.” She said this for two weeks and then one morning she literally put a large roll of paper in my hands and said “Paint on this.” She was in dialogue with the work as a viewer, and could see the expansiveness of the form long before I could. This is why it is important to have community around you in all of your work: paper writing, speaking, theologizing, painting; you need people that see the things you can’t, things in your proverbial blind spots. And while this may be implied I think it is important to state explicitly: Have people around you who see things differently than you, so that you do not get lost in an echo chamber of stagnation.
As evidenced here, I did paint that roll of paper that Maria placed in my hands, that paper that she had the ability to envision covered with this dialogue between pigment, water, and salt. I had the thought that if I could wallpaper this room with paintings, if I could change our perspective even just a fraction, it might help our community to gain a sense of hope in a time of disruption. A time when our school is figuring out its vision, on a metaphoric and practical level, the United States is facing another contested presidential election, our world is facing a potential viral pandemic. So what is the work of an artist right now and right here? How can I speak into our current situation with images? How can I create paintings that point towards a hope? A future? As I painted I was particularly focused on light in the eucalyptus trees of our campus, the fires in the Amazon, the perpetual motion of clouds in the sky. Places that point me towards the direction of a new earth. A place free from disease and destruction where suffering is not the dominant motif, but rather thriving and flourishing are de rigor.
This work is called “a subtle hope” because as I painted last summer and thought about what this community might need in the middle of winter, at the beginning of this reflective season of Lent, the idea of an almost pernicious invasive hope came forth. Something that stands in the face of cascades of doubt and uncertainty. These paintings are done as puddles and pools of paint. I mean, gallons of water get poured onto them and how fast they dry depending on humidity and what air currents pass over and by them all contribute to the final effect. That being said, while those gallons are being poured onto them, there reaches a kind of equilibrium where the pigment estuaries form aesthetically pleasing landmarks, and at that moment I chuck the salt over the entire image in an attempt to stop the entropy that can lead to muddy paintings. The paintings themselves are an act of hope, that the actions I take will lead to future beauty.
Osheta Moore says that “Beauty is at the heart of shalom,” Shalom being the Hebrew word for pervasive peace and wholeness, a sense of wellbeing that operates down to the cellular level. The artist Gerhardt Reichter says that “art is the greatest form of hope” and I think what he means is that it is a bold thing to work towards beauty in a world that is continually destroying itself. How do we find hope when confronted with the climate crisis? Uncertainty about the future? Serious sickness of loved one? For me, it is found in the things the paintings reference: interior and exterior elements, micro and macro: cells under microscopes, light through philodendron leaves, icebergs, and the paths of waves on embedded sand. They are asking you, my beloved community, to enter the ongoing conversations about embodiment and imago dei, what it means to be made in the image of G-D, what prayer can look like, and the serious need for climate care.
The works function like signposts, wayfinders to wayfarers presenting a vision of a new earth. I would encourage you to spend time with the discomfort and questions that these paintings might bring up, knowing that you might think you don’t like the visual, because of the feeling it creates, but like everything else in seminary and life, I would encourage you to do some excavation and see what question is really being asked and what you want to say in response.
As a response to one of the frequently asked question about these paintings “How long do they take to paint?” I will tell you the answer to that is, quite simply, they have taken my whole life. Every moment of observation, conscious or unconscious, every practice stroke with a paintbrush, every hour of study in school, every moment of conversation with materials has lead to these paintings. And so I would encourage all of you to think about what you are doing that takes your whole life, and what you are creating with that work. I have no doubt that your work will be different than mine, but perhaps together our conversations with words, materials, images and relationships can point others towards hope, and bring about glimpses the new earth.
I love the wild parrots!
This is a very controversial statement to make in LA, where the racket of these birds roosting by friends homes is a sore spot. I do not live in proximity to a rookery, and encounter the parrots at the height of golden hour when they head home. Their sound is loud, but not like passing ambulance sirens. It causes me to look up from reading and away from the computer. It is a natural noise, in the manufactured landscape. The parrots are an indicator of this other life that continues in other rhythms, a life that adheres to something other than a syllabus. The parrots cacophony is a delightful alarm clock going off and reminding me to delight in the changing of the light.
The wild parrots also remind me of Mary Olivers' Wild Geese:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
May you experience the delight of having your place in the family of things announced.
I have just started my second quarter at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. In my first quarter I encountered many thoughts and ideas. The most readily applicable to the majority of people is the Rule of Life. This phrase is frequently used to describe the guidelines used as as the construction blocks for your time, actions, interactions, and resources. Encompassed in the Rule of Life are concepts of rest, simplicity, lament, honoring the body, listening, stewardship, solitude, silence, guidance, and discernment. I have been creating a Rule of Life for myself for years without calling it that. I venture to say that with some reflection you have too, consciously or subconsciously. I crafted my first overt Rule of Life in 2012 and called it Rules for Healthy Living. It was followed by a revised list in 2014. My current list is very much streamlined as evidenced by the image about, but no less comprehensive in scope as each word is an inclusive umbrella term encompassing many regulatory elements common to the Rule of Life ideology:
Read: Guidance, Discernment, Lectio
Pray: Listening, Guidance, Lament, Discernment, Examen, Stillness
Rest: Honoring the Body, Stewardship, Stillness
I encourage you to consider what rules are governing your life. Are they taking you in directions that are helpful and constructive? Do you want to be going in another direction? Prayerfully ruminate on what your Rule of Life is. Write it out and place it somewhere as a reminder of the direction you want to be moving in. I made a little sticky note on my computer desktop since as a student I am looking at that screen for hours every day.