My vision...

 

A blog about my personal artwork. This is my creative space where I can share my vision, inspiration, and creative process with the world. Through writing and images, I want to highlight my work and provide insight into my artistic journey. This blog is my platform to connect with my audience as an artist, share my thoughts and ideas, and engage in meaningful discussions about art and creativity. It’s a place where I can express myself freely and share my passion for art with others.

 

 

to enlarge

May 2024

The Pyramid of the Rising Sun

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 1985

 

The Pyramid of the Rising Sun

Welcome to this week's art feature on my blog! I'm thrilled to share with you a watercolor piece that has been a labor of love and a profound exploration of the surreal. As an artist, I strive to create works that not only captivate the eye but also engage the mind, prompting viewers to delve into the deeper layers of meaning and emotion. This piece is no exception, offering a vivid tableau that examines the interplay of dichotomy, complexity, and unity.

The Mastery of Technique

Watercolor is a medium that demands precision and control, and in this piece, I aimed to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with it. The vibrant and dynamic composition showcases a combination of sharp contrasts and smooth gradients, achieved through the wet-on-dry technique. This method allows for the creation of distinct, crisp edges, particularly in the detailed feathers of the blue bird and the fiery central figure.

Each brushstroke is deliberate, contributing to the overall cohesion of the work. The meticulous blending of colors and careful delineation of forms ensure that every element, no matter how disparate, feels integral to the composition. This unity through technique underscores the thematic exploration of harmony amidst complexity.

Symbolism: Layers of Meaning

Symbolism plays a crucial role in my art, and this piece is rich with multi-layered imagery that invites multiple interpretations:

  1. The Bird and the Fiery Figure: Dominating the upper portion of the canvas, a large blue bird with outstretched wings takes center stage. This bird, a symbol of freedom and transcendence, is juxtaposed with a central fiery face that radiates intense energy and transformation. Together, they represent the balance between liberation and power, hinting at the duality of the human spirit that seeks both freedom and control.
  2. Pyramid and Rainbow Colors: The pyramid, colored with the full spectrum of the rainbow, stands as a beacon of enlightenment and ascension. Pyramids often symbolize a connection between the earthly and the divine, suggesting a journey toward higher understanding. The rainbow colors within this structure emphasize diversity and inclusivity, implying that enlightenment encompasses all facets of existence.
  3. Aquatic Creatures: At the bottom of the piece, serene aquatic creatures introduce an element of tranquility. These creatures, seemingly at peace in the water, represent the subconscious mind, the hidden depths of our psyche that coexist with our conscious thoughts. Their calm presence beneath the fiery and airy elements above highlights the balance between the known and the unknown, the visible and the hidden.

Color as a Narrative Tool

Color is a powerful tool in conveying the emotional and symbolic undertones of this artwork. The palette is both vibrant and strategic:

  • Blue: Dominant throughout the piece, blue represents calmness, depth, and expansiveness. It connects the sky, the bird, and the water, creating a sense of continuity and unity across different elements.
  • Red and Orange: These fiery hues around the central figure symbolize energy, passion, and transformation. They stand out against the cooler tones, drawing the viewer’s eye and emphasizing the central theme of dynamic change.
  • Rainbow Spectrum: The inclusion of the rainbow within the pyramid suggests unity in diversity, reinforcing the idea that all parts, though varied, contribute to a harmonious whole.

Dichotomy, Complexity, and Unity

The interplay of dichotomy and complexity is a hallmark of this watercolor piece. By juxtaposing elements of fire and water, air and earth, freedom and containment, I aimed to explore opposing forces coexisting within a single composition. The bird and fiery face embody freedom and power, while the tranquil aquatic creatures symbolize serenity and the subconscious. This balance of opposites invites reflection on the dualities present in our own lives.

Complexity is evident in the intricate details and layers of symbolism. Every element, from the bird’s feathers to the textures and patterns within the pyramid, adds depth to the piece. This complexity is not chaotic but rather meticulously structured, contributing to the richness of the artwork.

Despite the diverse elements and bold colors, the piece achieves a remarkable sense of unity. The recurring use of blue ties different parts together, while the central pyramid anchors the composition. This unity amidst diversity suggests a coherent journey toward enlightenment, where all aspects, no matter how contrasting, find their place within the grand tapestry of existence.

Conclusion

As an artist, my goal is to create works that resonate on multiple levels, inviting viewers to explore the balance of opposing forces, the complexity of existence, and the unity that binds diverse elements together. This surreal watercolor piece is a vivid exploration of themes that resonate deeply with human experience. Through precise technique, rich symbolism, and a vibrant color palette, I hope to inspire a deeper understanding of ourselves and the universe we inhabit. Thank you for joining me in this journey, and I look forward to sharing more of my art with you in future features.

Read more »

Sounds of a Tropic Night

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 1985

 

Echoes of Color: Experiencing Puerto Rico through Watercolor

As a travel and art enthusiast, I've always believed that the true essence of a place transcends its physical boundaries, spilling over into the experiences it fosters and the memories it creates. This belief was profoundly reinforced during my trip to Puerto Rico in 1985, where I embarked not only on a journey through its landscapes but also through its sounds—a sensory exploration that culminated in a series of watercolor paintings. This piece I've titled "Sounds of a Tropical Night."

On our porch next to the rainforest, my friend Nicholasa and myself sat naked on big straw chairs in the extravagant heat and watched as the sunlight faded into dusk. As we felt the warm spray from moisture of the cooling breeze on our skin, we were slowly submerged into absolute silence.  The sounds of the day were finished. For a moment, there was total quietness that lasted for about a full minute.  As the evening grew darker, we gradually heard new sounds, the fresh sound of the insects and animals who just awakened to live for the night.  The sounds got louder and louder until they became as large as a John Philips Sousa band. What we thought would be a quiet evening became a symphony in the jungle. This was our biggest surprise and the greatest joy for our first tropical night.

Enveloped by the soft blanket of darkness, we were greeted by a chorus of sounds that seemed almost orchestrated by nature itself. Inspired, I set out to translate these auditory sensations into a visual format. This painting is not just a representation of what I saw, but an interpretation of what I heard and felt.

In the upper left corner of the painting, sharp, spike-like forms burst forth with vivid colors, mimicking the piercing calls of nocturnal creatures that cut through the night. These could be the high-pitched chirps of crickets or a sudden screech from a night bird—sounds that demanded attention amidst the serenity.

The body of the painting is dominated by swirling greens and yellows, curves that evoke the gentle, almost musical rustling of leaves and underbrush, stirred by the warm breezes. This movement is akin to a soft melody, a baseline that underpins the night’s chorus, providing a soothing continuity to the sharp sounds.

Near the bottom, softer, flowing lines in shades of blue and green suggest the distant sounds of water, perhaps a stream or the gentle lapping of waves, mingling with the whispers of the land. This part of the painting feels like a calming lullaby, comforting and continuous.

A bold streak of red and a rainbow arc cut through the composition, symbolizing the vibrant, unexpected flashes of life and energy that tropical nights unleash. These elements reflect the bursts of intensity that punctuate the otherwise serene soundscape.

"Sounds of a Tropical Night" is more than a painting; it’s an invitation to viewers to hear the lush, dynamic atmosphere of a Puerto Rican night through vibrant watercolors. Each stroke and hue are a note in the larger melody of the island's nocturnal life, a melody that I hope resonates with others as deeply as it did with me.

My journey through Puerto Rico became a process of deep connection with the environment. Each day, as I explored more of the island’s rich culture and landscapes, I collected sounds and sights that later transformed into colors and shapes on my canvas. This artistic process became a daily ritual, where the experiences of the day were distilled each night into a visual diary. Through this, I hoped to not only capture the beauty of Puerto Rico but also to understand and internalize the rhythm of its natural and human-made worlds.

Reflecting on this creative endeavor, I realize that art and travel are profoundly intertwined, each enhancing the appreciation of the other. As I shared my work with locals and visitors, their reactions and interpretations added new layers of meaning to the painting. This interaction reminded me that art, much like travel, is a communal experience—it grows and evolves with each shared perspective. "Sounds of a Tropical Night" is not just a snapshot of a time and place; it is a living piece of art that continues to evolve with every viewer’s engagement, echoing the continuous and ever-changing chorus of the tropical night that inspired it.

This exploration of Puerto Rico through my art has been a reminder of how deeply we can connect with a place when we fully engage all our senses. Marcel Proust, the renowned French novelist and probably one of the most influential authors of the 20th century said, “We travel not to seek other places, but other eyes.”  As I hope to continue to travel and create, I invite you to join me on this sensory adventure, discovering places not just through their sights but through the sounds and stories they offer, each one painting its unique stroke on the canvas of our experiences.

 

 

Read more »

Fight

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 1998 

Fight: Exploring the Surrealism and Symbolism

The Enigma of Combat and Duality

For this week's featured artwork, I take you back to 1998, to a piece close to my heart that I titled "Fight”. This piece is an intriguing watercolor painting that captivates me with its blend of surrealism and evocative symbolism. The artwork depicts a figure, remarkable for its three-headed form, each head resembling a different animal. This multi-headed warrior wields a sword, poised as if ready for combat. The background is a subdued yellow, enhancing the foreground’s drama and the simplicity of the creature's form.

Symbolic Interpretations

The tri-headed figure in "Fight" serves as a powerful visual metaphor for the internal struggles and the complex layers of human identity. The presence of three distinct heads on a single body can be interpreted as an embodiment of the multifaceted nature of the self. Each head might represent different facets of one's personality—the emotional, the rational, and the instinctual. These are often in conflict, yet they are part of the same being, constantly vying for dominance and control. This internal battle is a universal human experience, making the artwork deeply relatable.

Moreover, the weapons carried by the figure—a sword and shield—further enhance the theme of conflict and defense. The sword could symbolize the aggressive, confrontational side of our nature, always ready to fight and assert dominance. On the other hand, the shield might represent the protective, defensive aspect of our personalities, highlighting our need to guard against external threats and internal turmoil. Together, these elements suggest a perpetual state of readiness, whether to face one's inner demons or external adversities.

Expanding on this, the composition and stance of the figure also play a significant role in conveying the message of the painting. The stance, aggressive yet guarded, underscores the constant tension between facing our fears and protecting ourselves from harm. This dynamic reflects the ongoing struggle within every individual as they navigate the complexities of life, balancing their primal instincts with rational thought and emotional understanding. Such imagery invites viewers to reflect on their own lives, encouraging a deeper engagement with the themes presented in "Fight." To illustrate, a friend of mine who immigrated from Asia embodies this struggle vividly. Raised in poverty, each step of his life has been a relentless battle to carve out his place in the world and secure his survival. Fear and the pressure to constantly defend himself are ever-present companions. His journey is a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit and sharply mirrors the themes depicted in "Fight." While his story is uniquely his, it serves as a compelling reminder that we all face our own battles. This artwork encourages us to contemplate our personal struggles, inviting a deeper connection with the challenges we encounter and how we navigate them.

Artistic Techniques

The use of watercolor in "Fight" adds a softness that contrasts sharply with the sharp angles and defined outlines of the figure. This technique allows for subtle color variations and a dreamlike quality that suits the surreal nature of the painting. My choice of a minimalistic style focuses my attention on the symbolism and emotional impact of the piece, rather than intricate details.

Conclusion

"Fight" offers a profound exploration of psychological turmoil and the ongoing internal quest for balance. It invites me to ponder my own inner conflicts and the complex facets of my personality. The painting stands out not just for the technical skill evident in its watercolor execution, but for its capacity to delve into and visually represent intricate human emotions and thoughts through stark, impactful imagery. This work is a compelling testament to art's ability to probe deep into the human psyche and illuminate the struggles that lie within.

 

 

Read more »
April 2024

The Runner

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 2007

 

The Runner

Introduction

Martial arts aren't just about self-defense; they're about shaping a mindset geared towards survival and awareness. For 22 years, my journey through various disciplines has not only taught me how to fight but also how to navigate life's myriad challenges with grace and vigilance. This week's featured art piece, titled "Runner," is my watercolor painting from 2007 that beautifully symbolizes this journey. It depicts a lone fighter skillfully sprinting over creatures with fearsome, tooth-filled mouths—a perfect representation of the constant alertness required in both dojos and on the streets.

The Essence of Survival

Throughout my years practicing martial arts, I've learned that the skills acquired extend far beyond physical combat. They foster a mental sharpness akin to that of a fighter in the ring—always ready, always aware. This painting, with its central figure dynamically poised, serves as a daily reminder of the necessity of this awareness. Whether navigating the bustling streets of New York City or the unpredictable alleys of Southeast Asia, the same principles applied: Be aware, be ready, be light on your feet—like running over a trail of dangers without getting bitten.

Anecdotes of Vigilance

My readiness to face danger can best be illustrated by two specific incidents. In 1978, in Brooklyn, the subway stopped unexpectedly. I was alone in my car, reading, when three teenagers entered. One approached me, demanding my gold ring. When I refused, claiming I had found it on the street just last week, he struck me with brass knuckles. Outraged, I sprang up in a karate fight stance, and inadvertently, my elbow smashed a subway window. The loud crash sent the assailants fleeing. Passengers from the next car rushed over, and a kind lady offered me tissues to clean the blood. At that time, I held a green belt in karate.

Years later, in 1995, Paris presented a different challenge. Just arrived and headed to our hotel near the Eiffel Tower, my friend and I lingered too long checking a subway map, attracting the attention of two men. As we ascended a three-story escalator, they followed. One swiftly positioned himself in front of me as we disembarked. Reacting instantly, I kicked him forcefully and shouted, then grabbed his jacket and used him as a shield against his accomplice. Both surrendered. With all our valuables on us, including a significant sum and a precious ring from Hong Kong, losing them was not an option. My black belt skills in karate were crucial in swiftly neutralizing the threat, ensuring our safety and the security of our belongings. My alertness thwarted two more incidents during that Parisian weekend. These experiences underscore the profound importance of martial arts training—not only for physical defense but for preparing for any unexpected confrontation.

Reflections on a Fighter's Path

Each confrontation, each narrow escape, and each moment of fear echo the dynamic scenes depicted in my watercolor painting. Like the 'Runner' dodging dangers with athletic precision, I've learned to apply my martial arts training to real-world scenarios. These lessons have been invaluable not just in protecting myself and others, but in fostering a proactive, prepared approach to life's unpredictable challenges. I am grateful for the skills I have acquired.

Conclusion

Though I have averted many dangerous situations in cities like New York, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Siem Reap, living the life of a martial artist extends beyond the dojo. It encompasses a comprehensive approach to life that emphasizes readiness, resilience, and quick thinking. Reflecting on my experiences and the vivid portrayal of the runner in the painting, I am reminded that every step taken with awareness is a step towards fighting for survival. Whether on the mats or the streets, the essence of martial arts pervades every aspect of my vigilant journey.

 

Read more »

Puerto Rico

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 1984

Puerto Rico: A Watercolor Reflection

The first day I stepped onto the vibrant soil of Puerto Rico, I was captivated. There was an energy in the air, a rhythm to life that I hadn't felt before—an undercurrent of excitement and a rich tapestry of culture that enveloped me. It was this pulse of life, this colorful blend of tradition and nature, that moved my hand across the canvas, giving birth to a watercolor painting I would simply call "Puerto Rico."

As I brushed the first stroke of color onto the canvas, I felt the warmth of the island sun. With each hue that followed, I found myself translating the essence of Puerto Rico onto paper. The monsters in my painting, each with a set of stark white teeth, began to represent more than just imaginative creatures; they became a lively homage to the myths and folklore that the island whispered to me through its winds.

The orange in my work recalls the fiery Puerto Rican sunsets that I watched in awe, their beauty a canvas in itself. The blues are the whispers of the Caribbean Sea, calm and soothing, yet full of depth and mysteries untold. The greens are drawn from the lifeblood of the island's flora, the vibrant heart of Puerto Rico's natural wonders.

In the watercolor's fluidity, I found a kindred spirit to the island's own—just as the colors on my canvas flowed and mingled, so did the rhythms of salsa in the streets, the blending of cultures, and the fusion of flavors in every dish that delighted my taste buds. My painting became a dance of color, echoing the vibrant steps taken on cobblestone streets, under the glow of aged streetlamps.

This piece is more than a painting; it's a sensory journey. It encapsulates my first day in Puerto Rico—the taste of the rich cuisine, the nightly serenade by the coqui frogs, the colorful display of colonial architecture, and the embrace of a culture that is as inviting as the island's gentle seas.

Naming my painting "Puerto Rico" was a tribute in itself. It wasn't just a geographical marker but a narrative of my encounter with the island's indomitable spirit. Like the uncontainable nature of watercolors, Puerto Rico's culture cannot be confined. It resists, flows, and soars beyond the canvas of expectations.

And now, as this painting finds its place, it stands as a vivid reminder of that first day—a day that has etched itself into my memory, vibrant and alive, a lasting emblem of an island that dances to its own beautiful rhythm.

Walking through the streets of Puerto Rico, I found inspiration in the faces of the people. Their smiles, as warm as the Caribbean sun, seemed to cast a spell of joy over the island. These encounters, these snapshots of daily life, imbued my painting with a deeper layer of connection. The creatures in my art, while fantastical, began to embody the spirit of resilience and joy I saw in every individual I met. Each stroke became a wordless conversation, a shared moment of humanity that transcended language.

There was also music, a constant companion that followed me through plazas and beaches, old fortresses, and bustling markets. The sounds of Puerto Rico—guitars, drums, and the ever-present salsa rhythms—infused my painting with a musical score of its own. As I painted, I realized that the undulating lines and the crescendos of colors were harmonizing with the island's melody. My artwork became an echo of Puerto Rico's soundtrack, a visual representation of its symphony of sounds that resonates with anyone who has ever heard its call.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, the colors of the sky melted into one another, creating a watercolor masterpiece that no brush could hope to capture fully. Yet, it was this very sunset that I attempted to bottle on my canvas. The fading light brought a calm to the island and to my work, ushering in the cool blues and purples of twilight. This natural transition from day to night reminded me of the constant evolution of art and experience, a reminder that both are never truly complete but continue to grow and change with each passing moment.

With every new day in Puerto Rico, my painting evolved, as did I. The island taught me that art is not just a process of creation but a journey of discovery. With "Puerto Rico" as my guide, I explored the hidden alleys of creativity, found joy in unexpected corners, and learned that every splash of color, whether on canvas or in life, tells a part of a story that is always unfolding.

This painting, a witness to my first day in Puerto Rico, now hangs as a narrative tapestry of the island's life. It stands as a testament to the boundless creativity that travels with us, long after we've left the shores that inspired it. It's a conversation piece, a visual diary entry, and above all, a celebration of the place that, even if for a moment, I called home.

In the end, my watercolor painting titled "Puerto Rico" has become more than a static image—it is a living memory. It is my homage to the island, a heartfelt 'thank you' captured in the language of watercolors. For it was in Puerto Rico that I rediscovered the power of art to immortalize the fleeting moments that define the beauty of our existence.

Read more »

The Owl

Medium: Watercolor on Paper

Date: 1984

 

The OWL: Igniting Creativity, the Symbolism in Watercolor Art

Watercolor painting is an ancient art form known for its subtle nuances and the ability of its translucent hues to convey deep emotions and concepts. It’s a medium where light and pigment dance on paper to express something ineffable, something that speaks directly to the heart. Today, we’ll delve into an evocative watercolor painting that serves not just as a visual treat but also as a springboard for a deeper conversation on symbolism and creativity.

Exploring the Central Image

At first glance, the central figure of our featured painting offers a visage of radiant joy. The smiling face, basked in hues of golden yellow, could very well be the artistic representation of the sun – the life-giving, ever-present celestial being. The face is encircled by dynamic strokes of color that suggest a corona of light. This central burst of joy is compelling; it might remind one of the infectious warmth of a hearty laugh or the first rays of dawn breaking through a morning mist.

The genesis of this piece, however, stems from a moment of personal strife. On the day this painting was born, the sun inside me was eclipsed by the shadow of discord. A harsh exchange with a friend left me navigating a sea of inner turmoil, so profound that I sought refuge in the aimless journey of the Staten Island Ferry, back and forth, as time stood still. I was torn, a battle raging within between the darkness of resentment and the light of forgiveness.

In that introspective voyage, as the city's silhouette ebbed and flowed against the horizon, a transformation unfolded within me. The struggle gave way to clarity, and from the depths of my despair, a resolve surfaced: to let joy reign supreme, to rise above the pettiness of conflict. It was this triumphant return to joy – the kind that can illuminate the darkest of hearts – that I poured into my painting.

This creation is a testament to that victory, a reminder that even in our bleakest hours, joy can be a choice, a defiant act of rebellion against the despair that seeks to engulf us. It's a visual ode to the power of a positive spirit, a celebration of the human capacity to find light amidst darkness.

The Power of Animal Symbolism

Tucked in each corner of the painting are creatures, seemingly in the shadows of this bright central figure. There's a regal quality to these sketches, each animal poised with an inherent grace. They are unfinished, like ideas not yet fully realized, or dreams still taking shape in the dawning light of consciousness. Each animal brings with it a wealth of symbolism. An owl might stand for wisdom, an eagle for freedom, a lion for bravery, and a bull for strength and stability. Together, they form a quartet of virtues, an embodiment of the noble characteristics we aspire to.

Contrasting Elements

The painting is a study in contrasts. The stark, white figure of the owl at the top of the painting seems to burst forth, defying the dark void behind it. This interplay of light and shadow could be seen as an allegory for hope prevailing against the backdrop of adversity. Or perhaps it is a representation of enlightenment, the owl a symbol of higher thought or spiritual ascension emerging from the abyss.

Artistic Technique

The technique employed in this watercolor work deserves as much attention as its content. Notice the way the colors bleed into one another, without a clear boundary, much like the fluidity of emotions or the blending of experiences in our lives. The layering of paint creates a sense of depth and complexity, just as our individual stories are layered and multifaceted.

Invitation for Interpretation

What do you see when you gaze upon this painting? Does the central figure evoke a sense of calm and clarity, or does it stir a different emotion within you? What do the creatures in the shadows speak to your soul? Art is subjective, and the true beauty of it lies in our personal interpretations. I invite you to share your thoughts and reflections on this piece.

Conclusion

This watercolor painting, with its bright center and its dark, detailed peripheries, reminds us that joy can often be found amidst the complexities of life. It prompts us to look closer, to appreciate the layers, and to find our own meaning within the interplay of light and shadow.

So, I leave you with a question to ponder or perhaps to discuss: What symbols in your life reflect the vibrancy depicted in the center of this painting, and what might the creatures in the shadows represent for you?

Call-to-Action

I hope this discussion has opened a window into the world of symbolism in art for you. If it has inspired you, why not pick up a brush and let your own creativity flow onto a canvas of possibilities? Share your artwork and insights with us. Let's celebrate the diversity of interpretation and the unity of our collective appreciation for art.

 

Read more »

The Young King

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 1981

The Young King: A Vision of Youth and Royalty

This week, I delved into an exploration of my artwork titled "The Young King." Through this detailed analysis, I aim to uncover the layers of youth and royalty embedded within its composition, inviting my audience to peer deeper into the essence of what makes this artwork profoundly significant.

Unveiling Youth

What marks the figure before us as a young man? His visage blooms with the vibrancy of youth—rugged black hair and a beard, lips a bold red revealing a white smile, skin glowing with health, and eyes that sparkle with an unwavering confidence. This portrayal isn't just about the physical attributes; it's the composition's youthful spirit that captivates us. The image radiates balance and vitality, from the dual red spheres adorning his head and beard to the harmonious reflection of the headdress's eyes with his own, down to the symbolic markings on his cheeks. Each element contributes to a narrative of health and vigor.

Royalty Defined

How do we discern his kingship? Beyond the assertive gaze that seems to question, observe, and understand all, it's his attire that speaks. Crimson and royal blue are colors of sovereignty. The headdress is not merely an accessory; it's a testament to his authority. This balanced interplay of spheres and eyes once more whispers a tale of calm confidence, a signature of true leadership.

Deciphering Symbols

The symbols of the king demand our attention. Prominent among them is the bird crown, a motif echoing the power and mystique of avian crowns from diverse cultures—from Egypt's ancient dynasties to the ceremonial attire of the dowager empress of China, and even the ornate bird helmet of Bhutan's monarchy. This allusion to flight symbolizes a transcendence beyond the ordinary, a reach for the extraordinary.

The concentric circles, present in both the headdress and beard, are not random; their colors—red, yellow, black, and green—are a deliberate choice, each pair exuding balance and echoing a lineage of power that traces back to the use of precious stones like lapis lazuli and carnelian in ancient Egypt. These circles are more than decorative; they are emblems of cyclical power and eternal return.

A Personal Journey Intersected

As this image took shape, so did a pivotal chapter in my life. Serving as the head of fundraising and publicity for one of the United States' largest art museums, I celebrated the launch of a solo museum exhibition that garnered acclaim from the most coveted critics. This professional high was punctuated by a whimsical realization overheard from my secretary, “You can’t interview anybody who shows here.  They are all dead!”

This realization came just as I was embarking on a new adventure, stepping into a role at one of the world's most prestigious museums. However, life's unpredictable nature soon became evident through a sudden illness—a rare bacteria, unknown in New York until then, confined me to a hospital bed. It was here, in this unlikely sanctuary, that the young king came to life through my sketches, a creative testament to resilience and the enduring power of art to heal and inspire.

Life Lesson: The Duality of Existence

The creation of "The Young King" during a time of personal adversity underscores a profound life lesson: in the duality of existence, beauty and growth often emerge from the depths of challenge and change. Just as the young king embodies the virtues of youth and leadership, symbolizing power and vision, so too does our journey through life present us with moments where we must navigate the dichotomy of struggle and triumph. This experience reminded me that creativity can flourish under constraint, and adversity can become a crucible for transformation and insight. In recognizing the transient nature of both our challenges and our successes, we find the resilience to continue our creative pursuits and the courage to embrace the unknown paths ahead.

 

Read more »
March 2024

The Gifted Child

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 2023

 

Introduction: The Intricacies of Giftedness

Living with the aspects of oneself or one's family that diverge from the norm can be a formidable challenge. My featured artwork this week is all about gifts. The gifts of nature, those unique talents and capabilities bestowed upon us and our relatives, transcend the mundane aspects of daily existence. Yet, this deviation from conformity often means these gifts do not seamlessly integrate into our lives. They stand apart, sometimes uncomfortably, from the routine rituals that define our existence.

The Nature of Gifts: A Double-Edged Sword

Gifts from nature are akin to a double-edged sword, offering benefits and drawbacks in equal measure. Imagine, if you will, the burden of a child, gifted beyond measure, resting heavily on the slender shoulders of a thin, older figure dressed in yellow. This figure, a representation of myself, symbolizes the weight of responsibility and expectation that accompanies such gifts. These are not without their demands; much like the mythical poisonous snakes, these gifts can both protect and peril. My recent musings on the nagas, creatures of dual nature, capture this duality perfectly. Sacred or profane, their symbolism runs deep, much like the cobra that has adorned the ancient Egyptian crown for millennia.

The naga, with its complex dichotomy, serves as a perfect metaphor for the nature of giftedness. Just as the naga can be both protector and destroyer, so too can gifts from nature uplift or overwhelm the human spirit. This complexity underscores the notion that while we all possess gifts, the magnitude and intensity of these gifts vary greatly among individuals. The existence of such a gift can elevate or condemn a person to the fringes of society, adoration, or isolation, sometimes leading to extreme outcomes such as imprisonment or even death.

The Burden of Giftedness

In the visual narrative, a child, endowed with extraordinary talents, becomes a literal burden to their parents. This child, engaged in playing a flute, wearing a ballet slipper, and surrounded by an ethereal melody, represents the consuming nature of exceptional abilities. The red and black hues of the child's attire, symbols of revolution and change, beg the question: Why cannot this child traverse life's path unaided? The answer lies in the overwhelming nature of their gifts, which demand every ounce of their energy and focus.

The Consuming Nature of Gifts

Gifts of a significant magnitude are not merely possessions; they are vocations that demand pursuit and expression. They may manifest early in life or emerge in later years, with some developing rapidly and others maturing slowly over time. Yet, when the call of the naga — the call of one's innate gift — resounds, it cannot be ignored without consequence.

To heed the call of one's gift is to embark on a journey of self-discovery and fulfillment. The artist who acknowledges and embraces their unique talents, guided by an unseen force, is indeed fortunate. This path, while fraught with challenges, offers unparalleled rewards.

The Role of Champions in Nurturing Gifts

Equally fortunate is the artist who finds a champion in a parent, teacher, or mentor. These guardians of potential play a crucial role in nurturing and protecting the fragile seeds of talent from being trampled underfoot by the harsh realities of skepticism and rejection.

Perseverance Through Rejection

The journey of a gifted individual is often punctuated by rejection and misunderstanding. Consider the author from Minnesota whose work faced 432 rejections before finally being acknowledged and celebrated as the Best Book of the Year. My own first books were rejected one hundred times and called most worthless book the head editor had ever seen before finally being called “the most original and creative books we have found in 25 years.” This narrative is not unique but a testament to the resilience required to transcend the frequent dismissals that accompany unique visions and ideas.

Conclusion: The Value of Gifts Despite Challenges

The path of the gifted is strewn with obstacles, not least of which is the specter of rejection. Yet, for those who persevere, the rewards can transcend material success, offering a profound and unique perspective on life. Whether or not a gift leads to financial prosperity, its true value lies in the fulfillment and understanding it brings to the bearer and, by extension, to the world at large. The journey of nurturing and expressing one's gifts is a noble endeavor, worthy of the effort and sacrifices it entails.

 

Read more »

The Monster from the Jungle

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 2023

 

In the dim glow of a silvery moon, the untold tales of "The Boy Who Became a Hotel" find new life in its sequel. This is the story behind my featured artwork this week.

In this image, a new entity emerges—a monster whose form has yet to dance before my eyes, who’s meaning to me remains an enigma.

This central creature is not just an addition to the narrative; it is a reflection, a manifestation of growth, unpredictability, and the wildness of life's nature. In the predecessor story, a boy relinquished his very essence to the creatures of the forest, becoming a sanctuary embodied—a hotel shaped like a seated Buddha, replete with steps ascending to his core.

 

The sequel picks up under a starry night sky. A lone wolf, bathed in moonlight, emerges from the hotel. It lets out a powerful howl that echoes through the night, a call to the wild heart of the jungle. Its fur gleams, and the howl seems to beckon the unknown.

This image of the silver wolf is a symbol of the boy's evolution. Once a giver of life and shelter, he now embodies the vigor and the restless spirit of the wolf. The full moon's silver light heralds his new journey in the muted world—a world rich with life's humidity and murkiness.

 

And in response, the monster appears. Not unlike the creature captured in vibrant hues of red and blue in the accompanying illustration, it stands as the embodiment of life's fervor and its potential for rage. It perches upon the coils of a serpent, a spider lurking nearby under the full moon's watchful eye—a display of nature's enigmatic canvas.

 

It stands as a monolith to nature itself—wild, mysterious, and charged with the essence of both masculine and feminine, suggesting both imbalance and the potential for choice and transformation. It represents the maturity and untamed essence of life—a dichotomy of wildness we all possess within us.

 

The ensuing clash between wolf and monster, a spectacle of primal struggle, rages for hours until, exhausted, they collapse into a singular being at dawn's first light. Transformed by the sun's touch, they arise not as two, but one—a boy of twelve, at the cusp of manhood.

The convergence of boy and monster is a dance of duality: Maturing versus Nature. Their struggle, intense and exhausting, gives way to unity as the sun's rays interweave their forms into a single young soul.

 

With a host of animals at his side, the boy crafts a raft upon the river's edge. Together, they embark upon the water's path, collecting new companions along the way. Drifting beyond the jungle's embrace, they glimpse the city's silhouette through the mist—a beacon of the new lives that await them.

 

As night descends, they camp by the river's song, nourished and weary, dreaming of tomorrow. It is there, in the liminal space between the wilds they've left and the civilization that beckons, that their adventure towards the unknown continues.

Read more »

Smokin' Artist

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 2008

 

My featured artwork this week is an intricate portrait that emerges from the tendrils of smoke encircling a man—myself—caught in a moment of repose and reflection. The smoky haze, with its hidden images, leads me on a journey through the valleys and peaks of creativity. At the forefront, a naked baby gargoyle floats, a symbol of the birth of my ideas, naked and unshielded.

Creativity is my subject, and it's a subject that's as much a part of me as the blood in my veins. My canvas teems with figures, 'ma and pa', their faces etched in surprise and fear—emotions I've seen mirrored in the eyes of those who've witnessed my art and life choices.

I am the 'smoking dude', the one with the four eyes representing an intense, multifaceted focus. Eyes that have seen the world through lenses of reality and imagination, and often, through the bitter sting of judgment. As a boy, when I first wove stories out of thin air, my mother's disbelief at my tales was a sharp contrast to her encouragement. "That could never happen," she'd say, but to me, everything could happen.

Years later, her words turned into a challenge: "I am never coming to see you again until I get my own book published!" Visits after that were cold, her words stinging, "You're a terrible, terrible person!" These words still echo, just as I see her, the woman in the leopard hat running and screaming across my painting—a specter of maternal expectations unmet.

Turning to the Dad figure, growing up in rural Minnesota taught me that men and art didn't mix. When I cried for the shame of having painted at fifteen, it was a cry for my spirit, fighting against the bonds of tradition. It wasn't until I donned the Army's uniform and received letters of praise from Generals that I began to accept that maybe, just maybe, it was okay to love art.

And yet, amidst the praise, there lurked a shadow—'All artists are GAY,' a whisper as condemning as any crime in the era of my youth. I fought this shadow with the same fervor with which I memorized speeches denouncing communism for the State Speech Contest, not knowing I was fighting a part of myself. For the National Methodist Temperance Society, I memorized "The Fatal Glass of Wine," a cautionary tale of a woman whose single glass of wine led to a family tragedy. The absurdity of it—her husband and children's leap, followed by her own, all for a glass of wine. Who got the rest of the bottle? That was the lingering question—unanswered, much like the misconceptions about artists that society clung to.

On the evening I sold my pictures, earning enough to sustain me indefinitely, I toasted myself as a commercial artist. But the old specter returned—was I fulfilling the prophecy that all artists must be gay? That night, with my two editors, I found myself in a bar, witnessing an intimate moment between two men. It was a crossroads of sorts, a moment where I pondered whether my art was intrinsically linked to my sexuality. "So is it true what they say?" I wondered if my success was an admission, a declaration of an identity the world assumed I had.

Yet, as the night grew older and the bar's neon lights flickered like the uncertain beat of an artist's heart, a realization dawned upon me. My art, my creativity—it wasn't a declaration of who I loved; it was a testament to how I loved. Fiercely, boldly, without boundaries. This revelation was liberating, like a canvas washed clean, ready for a new stroke of genius that would be unapologetically mine.

In that dimly lit bar, among strangers and the clink of glasses, I found a piece of my truth. I wasn't there to claim an identity forced upon me by societal stereotypes; I was there to reject the notion that my art dictated my personal life or my personal life dictated my art. The only truth that mattered was that I was an artist, and my work was a product of my soul, not my orientation. The labels that the world tried to affix to me were as transient as the smoke from my cigarette, disappearing into the air but leaving a lingering impact.

Leaving the bar that evening, the crisp night air felt like a baptism, a new beginning of sorts. It was a moment of rebirth, not into a stereotype, but into freedom. The freedom to be and create without the shadow of preconceived notions. And as I walked home, the cool breeze whispered possibilities, each step a defiance of the old fears and a stride towards an emancipated future.

Creativity, as I've learned, often comes wrapped in a shroud of shame. I think of Hermann Hesse, who abandoned his life in a picturesque town for the solitude of the Swiss mountains. "I cannot be both a burger and a fantasie Mensch," he declared. I understand his conflict intimately.

Post-Army, as a designer of stained-glass windows, I was again confronted with disdain. "What's there to design? They all look alike," my stepdad scoffed. A coworker's sneer at my aspiration to be an artist still rings in my ears: "Artist!! That's the lowest thing there is!"

But there's redemption. When an accomplished architect marveled at the nude figure in my painting, I felt vindicated. His appreciation was a balm to the wounds of years of dismissal and misunderstanding.

This painting is a mosaic of my life's journey as an artist—a journey fraught with societal scorn yet also graced with personal triumphs. It's a declaration that my creative spirit cannot be tethered by others' perceptions or my own doubts. It is an embodiment of my defiance against the narrow confines of identity and the unwavering pursuit of my art.

My journey is far from over. Like the figures within the smoke of my painting, I continue to evolve, to confront the specters of the past with the colors of the present. This evolution is my art, and my art is my legacy, my life—unfettered, unconfined, and undeniably mine.

Read more »

Yo, 1965

Medium: Charcoal

Date: 1965

 

As the London January dawn cast its foggy cool light onto the steps of the British Museum, my army buddy Yo and I nestled into a cozy tea shoppe to wait for the museum to open.  We were on a 14-day leave from the US Army Nurnberg, 1965.  We had visited Amsterdam and now had a week in London and would be in Paris for a few days. We were right away served a pot of tea and scones.  We had an hour to wait. I was sketching everywhere we went.  I pulled out my sketchbook and pencils to sketch Yo for the first time on this trip.

 

The first portrait used mostly soft HB pencil, soft enough for light grays and sharp enough for details.  I worked for about forty-five minutes.  Yo was a little tired from travel.  I was the eager relentless tour guide.  Yo liked going to all the places his parents had been, but after a week in London he asked, “Who came first?  Queen Victoria or Queen Elizabeth?”  He was content to drink tea and moved very little.  He was always glad to wait while I sketched.

 

As the city around us stretched and yawned into life more folks came in to fill the shoppe.  This tea shoppe had a dozen tables with red and white flowered tablecloths and also matching tea-cozies.  Yo and I had never seen a tea-cozy before.  We asked for more short-bread scones with the tiny berries.  Yo was six foot four inches and weighed 250 pounds. He wore a 54-inch sized coat and had a 30-inch waist below his beer gut.  He was twice as large as me five foot three inches, 130 pounds; I was the more active.  Yo moved just as far as me but with a much longer stride.  ‘Yo’ was the army nickname for his last name ‘Johanson,’

 

The café was getting crowded.  The museum was getting ready to open.  I wanted to do one more sketch.   I took a 6B pencil, soft and dark not good for details, but very bold.  I did this portrait for Blog 45 in about 5 minutes.  Now as I look at it, I think it is the best sketch I ever made.  Years later three other friends whose portraits I was going to do thought this sketch was one I made of them.  They could identify themselves with his handsome verve.

 

Yo’s handsome features here had come alive.  His gaze was a moment of quiet reflection as the city outside was waking up we hurried across the street into the British Museum full of the treasures I had studied and really was aching to experience. Yes, I carried with me in my sketchbook the portraits of Yo, 1965, from the ephemeral beauty of our foggy London morning when we had scones and discovered the tea-cozy.  Nothing sets up my feeling for a day better than a successful drawing freshly made.  The thrill of seeing the Book of Kells and cases of Chinese pottery was deeply satisfying, things up to now I could only dream of seeing.

 

The museum's vast halls now welcoming us, the contrast between the silent anticipation outside and the echoing footsteps within struck me profoundly. The sketches were tucked away, but the images lingered in my mind, vivid against the backdrop of history and art that surrounded us. The halls of the British Museum were like arteries, leading us through the heart of human civilization. Each exhibit, a

whisper from the past, seemed to resonate with the energy of our morning creation, as if Yo's portrait had unlocked a deeper appreciation for the artifacts that now demanded our attention.

 

In the Egyptian gallery, under the watchful eyes of ancient stone gods, the connection between our simple sketches and these millennia-old relics became unexpectedly clear. Here, too, were creators who had left their marks for posterity, their stories etched in hieroglyphs carved in sandstone. As my fingers traced the glass that shielded a pharaoh's visage, I felt a kinship with those long-gone artists, a lineage of expression stretching through time. Our own morning artwork was a very humble yet living addition to this continuum, a new layer of humanity resting atop the old.

 

As the day unfolded and the museum filled with visitors, the intimacy of our early morning endeavor seemed to swell and blend with the collective hum of shared discovery. Each room held echoes of creativity, from the Rosetta Stone's inscribed declarations to the Elgin Marbles' still living Greek dramas. I realized then that our sketches were not merely pastime but part of a grander narrative, one that spanned across ages and civilizations. The museum, with its corridors of culture, had become a larger canvas, and our morning's work a single brushstroke within a masterpiece of collective human endeavor.

Read more »
February 2024

Moon Goddess

Medium: Watercolor on paper 

Date: 2023

 

The Enigma of the Moon Goddess: A Journey into Symbolism and Feminine Divinity

The moon has long stood as a beacon in the night sky, a symbol of mystery and a guardian of the nocturnal realm. Throughout history, various cultures have revered lunar deities, attributing to them the qualities of femininity, motherhood, and mystique. The painting "Moon Goddess" is a contemporary ode to this celestial icon, capturing the essence of the moon’s connection to the divine feminine.

Unveiling the Moon Goddess

At first glance, the painting presents a calming array of pastels, creating a soft background that feels both tranquil and otherworldly. Dominating the canvas is a central figure composed of a complex array of faces and crescent moon shapes, all interwoven into a harmonious design. The color palette is subtle, relying on muted tones to evoke a sense of peace and introspection.

Faces of the Divine Feminine

In "Moon Goddess," we see not one, but several faces. Each seems to express a different demeanor, from serene to somber, as if representing the multifaceted nature of womanhood or the various goddess archetypes that span cultures and mythologies. The presence of multiple visages invites us to ponder the complexity of the goddess's identity and her roles.

The Crescent Moon and Its Mystique

The crescent shapes adorning the painting are reminiscent of the waxing and waning phases of the moon, symbolizing growth, renewal, and the cyclical nature of life. These crescents cradle the faces, perhaps signifying protection or the nurturing aspect of the goddess.

The Abstract and the Spiritual

"Moon Goddess" leans into abstraction, freeing us from the constraints of literal interpretation. This artistic choice beckons viewers to delve into their spiritual insights, finding personal connections to the divine. Abstract art often acts as a mirror, reflecting our innermost thoughts and emotions.

The Moon Goddess in Historical Context

From Artemis to Chang'e, moon goddesses have been etched into the annals of mythology as protectors, hunters, and symbols of purity. This painting may draw inspiration from such deities or perhaps seeks to redefine or challenge traditional depictions. It stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of these celestial figures.

The Moon Goddess's Relevance Today

In contemporary society, the figure of the moon goddess has been embraced by new-age spirituality and feminist movements alike, symbolizing empowerment and the reclaiming of female space. "Moon Goddess" plays into this narrative, presenting a deity that is both timeless and timely, echoing the voices of women past, present, and future.

Personal Reflections

As we stand before the "Moon Goddess," we are compelled to reflect on our own place within the cosmos. What does the divine feminine mean to you? Do you find solace in the moon's constant presence? Or does its ever-changing nature resonate more deeply with your own life experiences?

Moreover, the "Moon Goddess" invites us to consider the role of intuition and inner wisdom in our lives. The moon is often associated with the subconscious, the tides of emotion, and the ebb and flow of our inner worlds. How does this painting speak to your own intuitive powers? Does it stir within you a lunar-like pull towards introspection or creativity? This piece challenges us not only to appreciate its beauty but to also embrace the lunar qualities within ourselves — those aspects that are powerful, cyclical, and often shrouded in mystery.

In contemplating this artwork, take a moment to acknowledge the phases of your own life, the transitions, and transformations you've experienced. Like the moon, our lives are full of phases, some bright and full, others dark and hidden. The "Moon Goddess" serves as a serene reminder that there is beauty to be found in all these phases, and that each phase brings its own form of wisdom.

 

Conclusion

The painting "Moon Goddess" is a cryptic composition that opens up a realm of interpretation. Its significance lies in its ability to transcend cultural boundaries, celebrating the universal allure of the moon and its goddesses. In this piece, the artist has created not just a visual spectacle, but a spiritual journey that beckons us to explore the depths of our own souls.

What does the "Moon Goddess" evoke in you? Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments below. Perhaps this discussion will inspire you to visit a gallery, seek out a painting, or explore more works that delve into the realm of the divine feminine.

 

Read more »

Nagas

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 2023 

 

My latest art feature is not merely a static image; it is a prelude to a narrative. As the artist behind this watercolor painting, I stand at the intersection of fear and fascination, surrounded by the nagas of my creation. This artwork is a testament to the unpredictable beauty of life, a snapshot of the surprise that grips us when confronted with the unknown. It is an acknowledgment that we must trust in the journey, in the tools we are given, and in the life that pulses within us. The nagas, with their humorous eyes, beckon us to embrace the good, to be wary of the potential for harm, and to see within every surprise an opportunity for growth. This is the essence of my art, the heart of my stories, and the spirit that I hope will linger in the minds of those who gaze upon the yellow-dogface and its entwined companions.

Yellow dog face and the Naga-snakes

The art piece started with my bright yellow face surrounded by colored naga-snakes. My face is a dog’s face with big, pointed ears. When I awoke from my dream, I put down on paper the dog face. I am comfortable with dogs, and yellow is my favorite color. I added the naga-snakes one by one as I recalled each one: first, the red naga, which then grew two heads; second, half of the double black naga; then a yellow naga, which gradually became the green naga with feathers; finally, the second half of the double black naga; together, they look like a highway. Two blue nagas grew later. These nagas have fun in their eyes. The colors show various kinds of nagas.

Sacred Snake with Feathers

I wanted to depict a snake that bore the sacredness of feathers. The ancient artisans of the Hongshan culture, dating back to 4000 BCE, channeled their spiritual vision into jade carvings, rendering snakes with delicate feathered outlines. Similarly, the Aztec civilization revered the feathered serpent, a deity that soared the heavens, borne aloft by the mighty eagle. My artistic journey has been a continuous quest to capture this mythical synergy on canvas. The allure of these legendary beings is irresistible, and my devotion to their form and story remains unquenched. Within the bounds of this particular painting, I have realized my rendition of the feathered serpent, a personal milestone in my exploration of these enthralling mythical creatures.

Surprise! Naga of Technology

The gaze of the yellow dog in my painting is one of bewilderment, reflecting the shimmer of something new. There is a spark of curiosity, a glimmer of the unknown that captivates its eyes. Perhaps it's the glint of a new device, as enigmatic and alluring as a naga slithering into view. For the dog, and indeed for myself, the encounter with modern technology—a cell phone, a labyrinth of new codes, the ritual of updating passwords—is akin to stumbling upon a mythical creature. It's an unexpected marvel, a puzzle that eludes comprehension, leaving us both in a state of surprise.

In the intertwined cables that power our lives, I perceive the essence of nagas, pulsating with vitality. These serpentine forms of technology are dual-natured: they are the carriers of innovation and progress, yet they possess the potential to ensnare us in their complexity. Just as the naga can be a force of benevolence or a harbinger of malice, our technology holds a similar power. It is a testament to duality, to the polarity that defines our existence. In these lines of energy and information, we find the embodiment of potential and peril, a reflection of the nagas' dualistic spirit.

Naga Story on the Farm

The narrative of extreme energies found in my dreams, imaginations, and intuitions mirrors the dual nature of the nagas, symbolizing the profound contrasts and balances within nature and our own lives. Nagas, embodying both benevolence and malevolence, parallel the stark contrasts between my desire to feel the scorching heat of the sun and the biting cold of frozen Arctic ice. These serpentine deities encapsulate the essence of elemental forces — as unpredictable and powerful as the weather patterns of my youth.

Once on a Greyhound bus coming out of South Dakota, two men near me talked. The first said his daughter said to him, “Dad, why don’t you write some stories about your childhood?” The second replied to the thought, “I have been asked to recall my childhood, too. All I really remember is the weather. The weather is so violent, so cold in the winter. The solid snow drifts driven by particles of ice into solid masses of cement of ice. Our difficulty was to find an open road into town. The heavy rains—once 12 inches in 20 minutes. The mud where we were stuck for 5 days and when I lost my boots pulled off by the sucking mud. In the summer, the great cracks in the dry earth where I lost toys. The summer sun that grew enormous trees of corn and cockleburs and forests of these growths to run through and get lost as a child and later the cornfields to work in as a teenager and later to fill the canning factories for the corn where we worked our way through school. The weather was overwhelming always in life both great and exhausting.

Just as the conversation on the Greyhound bus reflects a man's vivid recollections of weather's extremes — from brutal winters to suffocating summers, from snow that binds to mud that traps — the naga represents life's inherent unpredictability and its capacity to shape human experience. The weather, in its ferocity and beauty, becomes a metaphor for the naga's dual aspects: its ability to bestow fertility and abundance, akin to nourishing rains and sun that coax life from the earth, or to unleash destruction, reminiscent of storms and droughts that ravage the landscape.

This story, centered around the profound impact of weather, serves as a poignant reminder of the naga's symbolic significance. It underscores the duality of existence — the constant interplay between creation and destruction, growth, and decay — and the human resilience in facing nature's vicissitudes. Just as the weather leaves an indelible mark on the memories and lives of those who endure it, the naga stands as a testament to the enduring power of nature and the spiritual reverence it commands, challenging us to find harmony within these extremes.


Naga Story in the City

My friend Nicholasa wrote stories about the diaspora of Puerto Ricans in New York City. Her books are full of people interacting in their homes, at their bodegas, scuffling, and partying in the streets. Racism, police activity, loving connections between people, and bad connections within families or with strangers were the subject of her stories. She said to me, “What are your stories about? They seem to be about nothing. Why don’t you write about people?”
I replied, “My stories are about nature, the weather, about myths of people who lived close to the earth. Nature will kill you. It can be glorious, too. This clash is what I have in my imagination. We worked on the land. Our food was from the land. Nature sometimes destroyed our food for the year. Our poverty came through the land, not, as in a city, from hiring and firing between people. My images are about the mystic connection I felt as a child with Nature. Your memories are from people.”
I see country life and city life as a dichotomy, two sides of the same thing. Nagas is the same. Nagas can symbolize the essence of life.

Nagas and the Spiritual

Why do we worship the snake? Nagas stands for a spiritual dichotomy of nature. Snakes are mysterious with their slithering movement and their ability to act quickly with a strike to what frightens them or to what they want to eat. Snakes slough off their skin and are renewed, reborn it seems. Perhaps because of their mystery and their danger to us, long ago snakes became Nagas, creatures that could bring us danger and can be worshipped to avoid this danger. In India and Southeast Asia, China, and Japan, “snake” morphed to “naga,” the spiritual snake.

Feathered Snakes

Birds have the mystery of flight and the mystery of feathers. How they soar through the sky remains a subject of awe and scientific study. How does flight work? Look at the colors and patterns the colors have. Some ancient societies did worship birds. Birds are not frightening; a bird may take our life. We are drawn to them by their mystery. We are not drawn to worship them in order to avoid the danger. Their feathers do not often appear on images of snakes. Sometimes they do. Feathered nagas can fly. They can represent what we cannot understand and what we fear, even a better reason to pray to them. Ancient civilizations did not just observe birds; they deified them, drawing connections between their flight and the divine.


Buddha and the Nagas Temple, Yangon

A spectacular temple called Buddha and the Nagas is in Yangon. It is on the map of Yangon but not on any tourist itinerary because there is another reason to venerate the naga: male erection. In the temple, sculptures of colorful men in red or blue dance happily with their erections. These guys are life-sized sculptures prancing in the audience area in front of this very large (30-40 feet tall) Buddha, which has a screen carved in teak wood standing behind it. The subject of this magnificent screen is intertwining snakes. Come to think of it, the tools of human reproduction are totally essential to our life. Outside of our bodies proper, a snake is the closest live creature in appearance to the tool we need for reproduction. We do worship our continuing life. Don’t we worship life, too?

Bible Snake

In the Bible, the snake wrapped around the tree of knowledge. Eve pays attention to the snake. The snake offers fruit from the tree to Eve. Eve accepts the snake’s offer. Eve offers this fruit to Adam. He accepts her gift. They leave the innocence of Paradise, Adam and Eve begin their family and their hard life. There is an enigmatic allure to the serpent- a creature shrouded in the duality of danger and desire. In its story, we grapple with our own vulnerabilities, the innate human tension between temptation and morality. The serpent's power, which once evoked fear, now compels a deeper understanding, perhaps even reverence, as if by honoring it, we might temper its influence over us.

Angkor Wat

At Angkor Wat in Cambodia, there are huge nagas protecting this temple. Nagas is part of this enormous holy place. Nagas on the bridges and on the terraces keep the temple safe from those who could damage the shrines, steal the wealth, and injure the holy dancers and priests.

Trust Life and Trust the Tools for Life

In my picture, the yellow dog is surprised and looks frightened. Yellow dog does not know what to do, yet he is a strong yellow and will trust life. The nagas have humor in their eyes that reflect their contained energy. Reflectively, I think of our technology today as a naga energy which can be for great good, but also can be dangerous. That dichotomy of great good with the real possibility of great negativity is the pull of attraction. This is the unconscious draw of the nagas in my pictures.

As these narrative winds to its close, we reflect on the dichotomy that the naga embodies. These creatures, be they of myth, earth, or technology, represent the dual nature of existence. They symbolize the ever-present balance between creation and destruction, between the nurturing warmth of the sun and the biting cold of the Arctic ice. The tales spun within the confines of a Greyhound bus, or the bustling streets of New York City are not just stories; they are the essence of life's perpetual dance, a dance where every step is a moment of living, every movement a note in the symphony of our days.

The journey through the landscapes of sacred snakes, feathered serpents, and technological marvels culminates in an understanding that life, in all its forms, is a force to be revered and respected. In temples and texts, through the lenses of cultures spanning continents and eras, we find reverence for life's tools, be they biological or spiritual. The snake by the tree of knowledge, the naga on the temple bridge, they are more than symbols; they are reminders of our intrinsic connection to the world around us, of the power that lies in renewal, transformation, and the continual cycle of rebirth.

 

Read more »

The 5 Faces of Life

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date:  2023

 

The 5 Faces of My Life

The featured art piece this week is about the five faces of my life:
Childhood; Youth; Adult; Aged; and the face of Demonic Energy.

The Face of Childhood
As a child, I loved dragons. My grandma had a vase which I was allowed to hold in my hands at age two, on my lap covered with a big towel. I looked at the dragon on the vase for hours. Outside, I could see the dragons in the clouds. At home, I drew pictures of dragons. When my mom was almost 100 years old, a friend asked her, “What is Jay going to do when you are gone?” “Oh, he is going to live in China! He loves dragons.” My dragon pictures at age 9 surprised the art department at the University of West Texas and got me my first exhibition there at the university. Leonardo da Vinci said, “There are faces everywhere, in every stone and every piece of mud.” I see those faces too. Mom’s admonition that every rock and every blade of grass is alive and has a soul was an encouragement to look into life for the details of faces. Here in this picture, the child holds a bird. This represents creativity to me. In fact, birds could be considered the last of the prehistoric dinosaurs. The Bird God was sacred to the Maya people of Mexico. Birds reside in the realm of dragons.

The Face of Youth
Here a thin fellow in a beginner's karate uniform hovers anxiously. For me, this was a time of rules and disciplines without observable reasons to me and a time of no creative growth. This was a time of fear and following rules in life. With great discipline, I was able to follow the rules successfully. My university experience was the most uncreative time of my life, but as in working in the cornfield, “You just keep a-going!” ‘Youth’ includes my first life in the city, grad school, and the Army where I was named ‘Model Soldier’ of the battalion. In the Army, for the first time since early childhood, I had time to myself. I saw and drew the vision of a flying pig in the sky as I lay in the long uncut grass by the Maine River at Wurzburg, my Army post. This picture event is still one of the most thrilling moments of my life. Also, ‘Youth’ includes being in the first group named ‘hippies’ in San Francisco and my move to New York City. To live in New York City was my goal since age five after seeing a movie of women in red velvet drinking champagne under chandeliers. I told my mom, “I am going to grow up and be in society.” Mom said, “Nonsense, we are all in society.” I turned away. “This woman knows nothing.” She had not seen the movie. Years later she said, “I never thought you would be the one to live in New York City.”

The Face of the Adult
I live in New York, a goal as fulfilling to me as finding a real dragon. The Demonic Energy first experienced as a child devoted to dragons found me a place in New York. I found my loft on Canal Street my first day and have lived here nearly 60 years. My association with some demonic people expanded my experiences (both painful and glorious) of the world bigger than my cornfield. I used my Army art habits to write and illustrate 6 books for children (Hadn’t I made all these pictures of battalion mascots to give to generals and colonels in Germany?) Here in New York, Castelli Gallery came to see my soft sculpture, but he saw the children’s books. Castelli pointed: “Go there. That is where the money is!” I showed the books to over 100 publishers before they sold. Suddenly!! I sold those books for the amount I thought I would need for the rest of my life! For my 50th high school reunion, I wrote: “My works have been published in books and exhibited in Museums. I have performed in theaters and fought in Madison Square Garden.” Part of the Adult life was my 22 years study and teaching martial arts in Brooklyn, focusing the energy of the physical body and helping others to find that, too. The picture here is me in my karate uniform, an unexpected and glorious part feeling the joy and power of being adult.

 

The Face of Aged
The face here at the top, wreathed in blue circles, is me, the aged adult. The circles represent a completion of my life experience and for myself, the wisdom that I feel I have, whatever it may look like to another viewer. I fulfilled my divine child. Furthermore, I experience now each part of my day more deeply. My images in paintings are deeper, clearer, and more fluid. Twelve of my books are being published on Amazon. What could be better for an aged person? Another face of age is after 80 years of cello playing, thousands of hours of practice, including practicing out in the motor pool in the army while studying at the Bayerische Conservatorium—I have this year discovered music. I found a profound teacher, a nuclear physicist on YouTube. I learned how to discover deep meaning and emotion in the cello. I feel the music and can glimpse the tremendous complexity and beauty of J.S. Bach whose work I have played for 70 years. Why could these changes not have come earlier in my life? Can you relate to that, too? Did we do as well as we could do along the way?

The Face of Demonic Energy
Here a dragon drapes over the shoulders of the Adult. As pictured, it is the image of the dragon brought to China with Buddhism from India. This is the fish-tail dragon with the head of an alligator. The Chinese redesigned it to look like the Chinese dragon today. This dragon is a combination of both the negative and the positive. With its demonic energy coursing through me, it emboldens me to embrace risks and unleash creativity. It ignites a joy in discovery that lights up the path of innovation and adventure. It has the demonic energy of my fingers in a light socket. It connects to the Adult and the Aged but only touches the Youth. I see it as luck. I see it in the resolution of problems through work that I have experienced in New York. I feel it as the tremendous energy in New York in all the many fields of creative energy that I feel all around me. I feel it as intuition. This aged person completes the cycle begun as a child. I feel floating on the demonic energy of a lifetime.

The Future
Is this a finished picture? No, not while there is a breath to enjoy many of the changes in demonic energy which has become part of our lives today. We know where that demonic energy is for each of us. Some is in the new cell phone!! Where is the energy you are using? How is it today?

Read more »

Wild Branches, Trifecta

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date:  2008

 

On our Iowa farm we had a lane marked by old pine trees. Mom had once had tree houses in them where she could sit and read.  On this night, Halloween, when I was aged three and my brother aged five, we walked with our mother down the lane. In the pale evening light, I could see the faces and bodies of animals and birds. We walked over the gravel road and into the ditch.  The ditch was full of dried thistles and those awful very sticky cockle burrs. 

Two pheasants jumped out of these low weeds and flew down the road in the dim light.  Mom had a flashlight which my brother carried and focused on the black big clouds of earth from the field plowed recently full of the stubble of corn    stocks all dried and bristly.  We struggled over this plowed field for about half a mile. 

Mom carried a big pumpkin.  I saw cut into the face of the pumpkin were two eyes, a nose, and a mouth with teeth.  We came out of the stubble and earth clod field to a place with much higher weeds, some higher than me, and then after that with the flashlight I could see the flat area of chicken pasture and up to a house. 

From the window of the house came a light. Past the kitchen curtains was a woman that I knew.  It was Mrs. Gamalgarde our neighbor.  We did not usually cross the fields to get to her house. We usually went in our car. And Mrs. Gamalgarde visited our house, too.  Something tonight was different.  Mom set the pumpkin down and got out a big candle. 

There was a place for the candle carved into the bottom of the pumpkin.  She took out a very long match and reached up into the pumpkin’s mouth past the three teeth.  She took her hands back out again.  Seeing a stone nearby she scratched the match.  It lit and she put her long fingers back into the pumpkin’s mouth and lit the candle. I could see the face really well; it was kind of a scary face. 

Mom held the pumpkin up to the window.  Mrs. Gamalgarde screamed, threw her arms into the air, and ran from the room.  Mom chuckled.  My brother smiled.  I was just a witness. 

Then we went over to the kitchen door and knocked.  The lady came out and laughed with my mom.  She invited us into the house.  She had hot cocoa on the stove. 

We sat at the table and drank cocoa.  Mom and the lady were happy to be together. 

They remembered past Halloweens.  This was my first Halloween.  

What really stayed in my mind were the bare gnarled branches of the old pine trees along our lane. In the areas between the branches, I had seen faces and bodies of animals and birds in the pale evening light. I compared my visions with that unexpected face on the pumpkin.  I was satisfied that I could make faces, too.  

Then our dad came with the car to take us home.  

It was a special night. This art piece is a testament of its magic. 

It still lingers with the familiar warmth up to this day 

 

Read more »
January 2024

The Wolf in Lamb's Clothing

Medium: Watercolor on Paper

Date: 2023

 

The Wolf in Lamb's clothing

 

I remember clearly when I was age four that my father brought in from the barn a newborn lamb. This tiny animal was intensely bright pink.  The lamb had a little face and little hoofs.  My excitement was palpable, eliciting laughter from my father. Since that day, the thought of eating lamb has been unthinkable to me, as my mind always returns to that perfect, miniature animal. Perhaps in that delicate lamb, I saw a mirror of my own childhood innocence. The vibrant pink of the lamb, so vivid in my memory, is the same hue that colors this picture.

 

And then there's the gray – the color that comes to mind when I think of the wolf. Could it be that gray symbolizes the years with my stepfather, a time marked by emotional distance, heavy discipline, and violence? Gray was the only color my stepfather wore in those years when losing his business, a visual echo of our strained relationship.

 

In those same years, I remember the story of the wolf who donned lamb skins – perhaps many – to blend into a flock of sheep, a cunning strategy to ensure his survival. This image of the wolf in lamb's clothing, a defense mechanism to sustain life, resonates deeply with me. It's a stark reminder of the lengths one might go to for survival, a theme as present in the animal kingdom as it is in human interactions.

 

I am particularly drawn to images that embody dichotomy, where opposites in feelings or visuals coexist within the same frame. In this case, we have the wolf and the lamb, pink and gray. This juxtaposition suggests camouflage, contrasting the sweetness of pink with the heaviness or bitterness of gray. Such dichotomies create a powerful reverberation. This concept is echoed in a historical anecdote from Mexico, where the king of Tribe B, having married the princess of Tribe A, uses her skin as a disguise during an attack on her tribe. This act of deception for success is a deep-seated, unconscious memory we hold – akin to a wolf or wolf-like figure using the guise of an innocent, lamb-like person to achieve their goals.

 

Some animals are incredibly smart, a trait often explored by famous writers in their stories. These animals, capable of cunning disguises, remind me of an incident from my childhood. My brother, at the age of five, hitched our goat to a wagon and placed me, then only three, inside it. He climbed in as well. To our surprise, the goat, seemingly placid, had other plans. It headed straight for the coal pile and overturned the wagon, dumping us both onto the dirty coal. The goat's placidity was but a disguise; it knew exactly what it was going to do. This incident is a testament to the unexpected intelligence and cunning that animals can exhibit, much like the wolf in the story, skillfully cloaked in its deceptive lamb's skin.

 

In this artwork, the smart wolf is disguised, wearing a subtle smile that barely conceals his sharp teeth. He knows what he is going to do.  This picture speaks of pretense, a means to an end. It reminds me of the many characters in Shakespeare's plays who adopt similar tactics. We, as an audience, are drawn to the tension created by these characters, much like the tension in tragedies that arises from two irreconcilable positives. What will happen next? In this picture, the wolf, driven by the need to eat, must sneakily approach his prey. This dynamic of "Complexity, Dichotomy, and Unity" resonates with my own artwork and my desire to explore the tension inherent in such dichotomies. The wolf is not inherently bad; he is simply doing what wolves do. Yet, he wears the skin of a dead lamb to feed on another. This raises questions about the lamb's role – is it merely there to be eaten, or is there more to its existence? Perhaps the lamb, in its innocence and vulnerability, serves as a poignant reminder of the natural cycle of life and the delicate balance within ecosystems, where each entity plays a vital, albeit sometimes sacrificial, role.  

 

In contemplating the lamb's role further, it becomes clear that its significance extends beyond its physical presence in the natural world. The lamb, often symbolizing purity and innocence, also represents the inherent vulnerability in all living beings. Its role in the cycle of life is not just as prey, but as a symbol of the fragility and interdependence of life itself. In literature and art, it challenges the viewer or reader to consider deeper moral and ethical questions. It compels us to reflect on our own roles within the natural order and the responsibilities that come with our actions and choices. The lamb's presence in this narrative, therefore, is not just a passive one; it actively engages us in a dialogue about the complexity of life, survival, and the moral dilemmas inherent in the natural world.

 

Read more »

Tropic Day

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 1988

 

Tropic Day: The Enigma of Perception

In the realm of art, there is a space where my mind's eye interprets more than what meets my literal eye. It is in this space that the image I created, Tropic Day lives—a surreal and provocative place that invites a multitude of interpretations, reflections, and emotions. This piece is the second pictured that was inspired by the unfurling fronds of the basket fern tree at the edge of a Caribbean Rain Forest at a place where I stayed with my friend Nicholasa.

At first glance, the picture offers a vibrant contrast of colors with a central focus on what appears to be a set of eyes. The vivid blue and white hues create a swirling effect, reminiscent of the hypnotic patterns one might find gazing into the depths of a kaleidoscope. But this is no ordinary set of eyes. It seems to host an entire universe within its bounds, with elements that suggest a scene far beyond the familiar.

The pair of eyes in the image humanizes it, with one eye impaled by a lance symbolizing human suffering. This depicts the blurred lines between joy and the essence of existence. This symbolism extends beyond the eye being a window to the soul, suggesting it as a gateway to infinite possibilities. It embodies the power of imagination and our inherent urge to delve into the unknown whether it be a painful experience or not.

The abstract nature of the image allows for a personal connection. What do I see within this eye? Does it reflect my inner thoughts, hopes, dreams, or perhaps even fears about the vast unknowns of our own subconscious?

And to speak of the unknown, this image was imagined and drawn at the very edge of the Rain Forest in Puerto Rico in July.  Experiences at this place were beyond my imagination. A scientist said, the universe is not only beyond what we do imagine but also beyond what we can imagine. 

One evening we returned to our house to see a toad 4 feet tall looking in the window. In the day as we sat on our terrace surrounded among huge leaves, snails as large dinnerplates came to see us as they crawled up from behind the leaves and then crossed over the leaves.  We imagined one snail could feed a dozen people. Truly beyond my imagination were the sounds from the forest.  Day sounds were very different from the night sounds.  At sunset and again at dawn all sounds stopped for about a minute.  The silence at these times was awesome. The sounds that began at dawn were totally different from the sounds at night.   The sounds came from different animals, insects and birds when it was dark.  While we were listening and enjoying the sounds from the forest, flying insects like big cockroaches splattered against the walls as rats as large as small pigs tore through the house running out of the forest and shooting out the front door. Nicholasa dealt with the flying bugs on the walls as I funneled the rat-pigs out the door.  When we sat savoring the fern basket tree, which this picture describes, we had never seen or experienced such events of nature.

This piece serves as a reminder that art is not just to be seen but to be experienced. It challenges me to look beyond the surface and to find my own unique meanings and narratives within. It's a call to question what I accept as reality and to open my mind to the surreal possibilities that lie just beyond my perception.

In conclusion, the image is a visual storytelling that goes beyond aesthetics. It encourages me to explore deeper questions about my existence and the universe. It's a powerful example of how art can transcend traditional boundaries and become at least a conversation starter, a thought provoker, or a mirror to my soul.

As I navigate through the web of my daily life, often focused on the tangible and the concrete, this image reminds me to pause and to contemplate the larger canvas of which I am a part.  I'm inspired to embrace the enigma of my perceptions and the art that calls me to explore them.

How does it speak to you? I’m sharing my reflections and inviting you to share your thoughts.

 

 

Read more »

Tropic Night

Medium: Watercolor on Paper

Date: 1988

 

Beside the rainforest, from the porch of our house on the steep hill, my dear friend Nicolasa and I sat in the overwhelming heat. Our skin was bare, feeling the spray of water from the surrounding mist. In front of us were the tops of a dozen trees, known as basket ferns.

 

Like the colors of the surrounding atmosphere, which could change each second, the plants and trees on our slope were continually changing, too. We sat for hours, mesmerized by the changing plants, animals, insects, mist, and colors, unable to move in the intense heat. We sat on armchairs made from woven grass, cooled and preserved by the rain-filled mist which blew across us as if we were two heads of lettuce in a market. We could see across the valley from the mountains behind us all the way to the mountains on the other side of San Juan. The clouds in the distance were huge and ever-changing. We were right next to the Rainforest, the major such forest in the Caribbean.

 

In front of us, a small tree grew large leaves over the past half-hour. It quickly dropped foot-long stems from which dangled large pods. I had heard that these pods were hallucinogenic, so I grabbed several pods and began boiling them, eager for some of that tea. I recall my sister persistently begging me not to drink that tea. I gave in to her entreaties. I did find out later that it was deadly nightshade, hallucinogenic if done right but deadly if not done right.

 

I loved the basket fern. There was at least a dozen on our steep lawn. This tree grew by unfurling its top branches. Once the unfurling began, it took about 25 minutes to fully open. This was a beautiful sight. So strong was the impression that I made a drawing of it. Later, several nearby residents remarked that it resembled a figure made by the Taino Indians, who had lived in this rainforest for centuries. I called it Tropic Day.

 

The year 1988 was distinguished by my journey into mastering computer programs at the law firm where I was employed. During this period, I devoted myself to painting this piece. This endeavor was a gradual exploration, a process through which the painting revealed its hidden depths and secrets to me. Parallel to this, I worked on its counterpart, "Tropic Night" – both artworks reflecting my artistic interpretation of the day and night in a rainforest. "Tropic Night," a creation equally rich in narrative and symbolism, will be the focal point of next week's blog, offering another glimpse into this vibrant and mystical natural world.

 

As we delve into the surrealistic essence of this picture, we start on a journey that transcends conventional boundaries. The bold blues and yellows merge, creating a vision that seems to draw inspiration from the depths of the subconscious mind. At the heart of this dreamlike vista, the eyes gaze back at us, like a sentinel in a sea of swirling hues, a reflection of the soul’s innermost thoughts.

 

This canvas became my playground for imagination, where each stroke of the brush told a story that resonated with my own. The interplay of light and shadow danced across the surface, bringing to life a world that defied the mundane. It was as if I had captured a moment of pure, unbridled emotion and crystallized it in color and form for myself. This picture, in its abstract beauty, spoke to me in a language beyond words, a language of pure feeling and sensation. It was a visual symphony that resonated with the deepest chords of my being, inviting me to explore the uncharted territories of my own psyche.

I found myself lost in its intricate details. Each element, no matter how small, played a vital role in the overall tapestry of the artwork. The way the colors blended and contrasted with each other, the subtle nuances of the brushwork, all contributed to a sense of harmony and balance within me. This picture was not just a feast for my eyes, but a journey for my soul, challenging me to look beyond the surface and discover the profound truths hidden within. It was a testament to the power of art to move, inspire, and transform me, a reminder of the endless possibilities that lay within the realm of my imagination.

 

Tropic Day, reminiscent of a dreamscape, beckons us to journey across its canvas. Each element, seemingly abstract at first glance, intertwines to form a complex tapestry of meaning. The colors and shapes converge in a harmonious chaos, mimicking the unpredictable nature of dreams. At the core of this chaotic beauty is the human form, portrayed not as a distinct entity but as an integral part of the larger cosmos. This inclusion of the human form is not merely a visual focal point; it is a symbolic anchor, reminding us of our perpetual quest to find our place in the universe. It is a visual representation of our innate desire to connect, to belong, and to understand the vast and often incomprehensible world around us.

 

Read more »

Past and Future

Medium: Watercolor on Paper

Date: September 2023

 

The Knight of the Past and the General of the Future

As I look upon the watercolor that mirrors my life, I find myself reflecting on a phrase I once wrote: “Knight of the Past and General of the Future.” In this artistic representation, the Knight lies within a funeral casket, symbolizing the past, while the Future, embodied as a General, gazes down tenderly. This scene, set against the backdrop of a funeral adorned with the flowers of the present, encapsulates the journey of my life.

A life of Dichotomies

Though lying in repose, the Knight is very much alive. His eyes, vibrant and reflective, bear witness to a life lived battling various dichotomies. These dichotomies, as intricate as the segments of his armor, reflect the contradictions that have defined my existence.

My life's narrative weaves through contrasting experiences: from laboring in fields alongside migrant workers to embracing the role of Little Lord Fauntleroy at home, a testament to the varied facets of my upbringing. At home, I maintained a stoic demeanor before my mother, never daring to question, while my inner world was rich with ancient mythology, literature, and a passion for the arts. The rigid discipline of Sunday school teachings and church programs in my rural community contrasted starkly with my personal struggles and early sexual feelings, which at one point led me to contemplate extreme measures in pursuit of perceived spiritual perfection. I wanted to be perfect in the eyes of God and further, in the eyes of mom.

The silence and underlying tensions in our household, marked by unspoken anger and jealousy, stood in stark contrast to the brightness and acceptance I found in working in town. This duality continued into my university years, where I pursued dual majors in Business Administration and Art History, the latter being a secret passion of mine. My life was a relentless cycle of work in the cafeteria, rigorous study, and living in a parsonage among other hardworking, religious students from similar backgrounds. One boy, Larry, and I celebrated each week on Sunday night after church with a small ice cream cone.  Larry did become a professor at MIT.

After graduating, I landed what felt like a dream job at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, complete with a TR3 sports car and a girlfriend whose hands sparkled with 40 diamonds, her platinum blonde hair shining just as brightly. My next endeavor led me to join the army, hoping to learn Chinese, but fate took me to Germany instead. There, for the first time in my life, I experienced what it meant to have free time, a period that marked the beginning of my adult life. During this newfound leisure, I discovered a passion for drawing, a personal journey into the world of art. Interestingly, it took me two years in Germany to taste beer, a beverage once deemed a 'leading sin' in the Methodist Church and at the university I attended.

The 'compartments of armor' that symbolize the different aspects of my life were still very much a part of me. In Germany, I was recognized as the Model Soldier of the Army, a title that reflected my adherence to duty. Yet, I balanced this by crafting gifts for visiting generals from the Pentagon, intertwining my role as a soldier with my artistic pursuits. My work as a spy was complemented by my passion for painting, creating a unique blend of military duty and artistic expression. These dichotomies are vividly represented in the armor of the Knight of the Past.

In New York, my journey took another turn as I attempted to help individuals struggling with mental illness, not fully realizing the impossibility of such a task, despite my best intentions and efforts. I supported one man for 22 years, during which I often thought to myself, 'If I could give him just 30 seconds of peace, it would be worth sacrificing my own life.' This relentless dedication saw the Knight in me working tirelessly, channeling all my resources and energy into what I considered my own private salvation army. By day, I was clad in expensive clothing, executing my duties with intelligence and efficiency, even earning accolades from the New York Times as one of the best officers in New York's museums.

A Tapestry of Complexities

These dichotomies, once intertwined, forged the complex tapestry of my life, a life I have depicted through my artwork. In this artistic expression, the circle symbolizes unity, a unity maintained through immense discipline. My effort to reconcile these dichotomies included 22 years of dedicated martial arts training. The rigorous discipline cultivated in my early rural life proved invaluable across all facets of my existence. Yet, amidst this discipline, I recognized a void: the absence of normal emotional experiences. For years, I grappled with this realization, understanding that such feelings were strangely alien to my life's experience.

A poignant moment that encapsulates this emotional journey occurred during the last meeting with my brother before his passing. Our mother, mustering considerable courage, attempted to kiss us for the first time. With her eyes closed in anticipation, she missed. Her excitement was palpable as she exclaimed, “I know how to do it. I've learned from the Italians in New York.” This interaction highlighted the stark contrast between our rural upbringing and the diverse experiences she encountered later in life. This passage of personal and cultural growth culminated in my appointment as the Assistant Director of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. It was only in the years leading up to my 85th birthday that I finally began to understand and experience the emotions that had long eluded me, including the simple, profound reason why people hold hands.

On a bus trip from Philadelphia to New York City, my mother's interaction with two couples, who identified as Jewish, left her in awe. She expressed her surprise to me, saying, “I didn’t know men talked.” This remark reflected the vast cultural distance she had traversed from our rural roots.

Reflections for the Present

We have reached a point where we are laying to rest the Knight, a figure who tirelessly sought to understand and feel emotions. In the casket, the Knight's expression remains wary, a testament to his lifelong vigilance. However, standing above him is the General, a figure who gazes down with a sense of compassion. This General is not just powerful but also exudes maturity. Encircling him is a kaleidoscope of hopes, each color representing a different aspect of the future he embodies.

Reflections for the Future

The General, embodying my envisioned future, represents strength and peace. Encircling his head are large, colored circles, symbols of the varied hopes he harbors. This future self represents a transition from the dichotomies of my past to a more integrated, peaceful existence.

In the last two years, I've experienced a profound transformation in my approach to music. After playing the cello for over 80 years without emotional connection, I discovered a YouTube channel hosted by a Scottish physicist and musician. His courses taught me an invaluable lesson: to play with feeling, one must slow down and truly listen. This realization, much to my astonishment, brought a newfound depth to my music.

There's a palpable sense of happiness and peace when I look at the General's face. He signifies a farewell to the Knight and the dichotomies that once influenced him. While these dichotomies remain a part of my life, they no longer exert the same control. The complexity arising from them has softened, thanks to a sense of unity that rounds off their sharp edges. This change stems from a kind of love, a response to life's events, rather than confronting them with an armored suit.

Looking Ahead

I've shifted my focus from striving for perfection or attempting to save others, despite being acutely aware of suffering around me. As I navigate the later years of my life, I have embraced a different perspective. My endeavors now include maintaining an active website, jay-ells.com, where I weekly update my blog with descriptions of artworks in my gallery. Currently, there are 36 posts. In the realm of publishing, I've published three children’s books last year all available on Amazon, part of a series of 12. Furthermore, I am working on a coffee table book that will feature my blogs alongside illustrations. This project, along with my renewed passion for painting, has led me to reorganize my life and workspace to better support my artistic aspirations.

In sharing my experiences and art with the world through media and publications, I embody the sentiment a friend once expressed: "You have a few more fucks to give so let’s make it count."

As I continue this path of creative and personal evolution, I am guided by the wisdom that life's true essence is not found in relentless pursuit but in the meaningful connections we forge and the stories we share. With each brushstroke on canvas, each word penned for my books, and every interaction on my website, I am not just sharing a piece of art or a narrative - I am sharing a piece of my soul. My journey, chronicled through art and words, is a testament to the belief that it is never too late to reinvent oneself, to find new passions, and to make a lasting impact. I am poised to make these remaining years as enriching and fulfilling as possible. In this chapter of my life, I'm not just living – I'm thriving, embracing each day as an opportunity to add another vibrant stroke to the ever-expanding canvas of my life's work.

 

 

Read more »
December 2023

Buddha and the Nagas

Medium: Watercolor on Paper

Date: October 2023

 

Buddha and the Nagas

 

A Picture with a Profound Emotional Impact

This blog piece holds a profound emotional significance for me. It recalls a moment when a friend, upon first seeing the base drawing of this artwork, was moved to tears. My artistic journey began with a vision to portray a Buddha holding a cobra. After meticulous studies of cobra images, I endeavored to perfect the depiction of a radiant red cobra, investing in high-quality carmine watercolors to capture its essence. The Naga, alongside the cobra, emerged from my brush as an integral element. Delving into the subtle details, I painstakingly worked on the Buddha's skin tone and the illuminating halo around his head. What mysterious truth was I chasing? Currently, I am contemplating enlarging this piece to a striking height of 50 inches, immersing deeper into the inspirations and intricate details that breathe life into this image. Through this ongoing engagement with the artwork, I find myself uncovering deeper truths within me. These blogs serve as conduits for the exploration and discovery of my inner life. Thank you for joining me in this journey.

 

Quiet Meditation and the Artistic Scribble

Reflecting on my fascination with lines and colors, I realize the depth of meditation embedded in this composition. A few days ago, while pondering the inception of a new piece, a friend whimsically suggested a depiction of a phallic symbol. However, my approach is not to illustrate directly but to allow my mind to wander freely, scribbling, and discovering potential forms in these abstract lines. In this process, I observed a central figure emerging, reminiscent of a shaft, with knees subtly resembling testicles. Echoing the words of the great Cézanne, "Everything is a column, a circle, or a square," this figure, too, adorned a halo, symbolizing the sacredness of our bodies, particularly the sensitive parts of our genitalia. The halo, comprising primary colors of red, yellow, blue, and white, encircled with pink – the color of love and affection – represents not just the phallic head but also a deeper, sacred connection to our bodies.

 

Buddha and the Central Cobra

In this portrayal, the Buddha, emanating from his halo, gazes upon a cobra rising from his navel. This cobra extends along his body and merges into the form of a Naga, framing the base of the image. This symbolism represents the universal energy inherent in each of us – an energy of growth, sexuality, regeneration, and transcendence.

Expanding on this theme, the intertwining of the Buddha and the cobra symbolizes the harmonious balance between spiritual enlightenment and primal energy. The Buddha's calm and contemplative demeanor juxtaposed with the dynamic and potentially dangerous cobra reflects the duality of human nature – the pursuit of spiritual wisdom alongside the recognition and acceptance of our more instinctual aspects. This artistic depiction serves as a metaphor for the journey towards self-awareness and the integration of all aspects of our being.

 

The Radiance of Buddha Surrounded by Nagas

The Buddha's radiance, amidst the Nagas, evokes themes of fertility, reproduction, and the natural process of species continuation. It highlights the profoundly sacred aspect of our connections with one another. From the smallest cells to complex organisms, the act of reaching out to one another for the creation of new life is, perhaps, the most crucial and sacred aspect of our existence. Sex, in this context, is more than an act of pleasure; it's an act of regeneration and continuation. In the quiet and kindness towards others, we find our need for Buddha, amidst the symbolic snake-like phalluses, the Nagas.

Furthermore, the image underscores the vital role of interconnectedness in our lives. The intertwining Nagas around the Buddha serve as a visual metaphor for the interconnected web of life, where each entity, from the smallest to the largest, is intrinsically linked. This artistic representation echoes the Buddhist concept of interdependence, suggesting that our individual actions and existence are intimately connected to the larger cosmic dance of life, reinforcing the idea that in caring for others, we care for ourselves and the world at large.

 

Nagas: Fear, Respect, and Worship

Snakes, as symbols, invoke a mix of fear and fascination. In religious and mythological contexts, they often symbolize fears related to coupling, connection, and the initiation into the cycle of life and death. Their unique, sinuous movement, potential for speed, and venomous bite command a blend of fear and respect. This duality is what makes the Naga, with its fierce yet formless and undefined shape, a powerful symbol in spiritual contexts, often used to guard sacred spaces like the Nagas of Angkor Wat.

In addition to their role as guardians, Nagas in various cultures are also seen as symbols of transformation and renewal. Their ability to shed their skin is often interpreted as a metaphor for rebirth and the shedding of old habits, beliefs, or past traumas. In this artwork, the presence of the Nagas not only signifies protection and respect but also alludes to the potential for personal growth and transformation. This dual role of the Nagas enhances the depth of the artwork, inviting viewers to contemplate their own paths of spiritual and personal evolution.

 

Sexuality/Fear and Sexuality/Radiant Happiness

Contemplating the paradoxical nature of sexuality, I think of species where mating can lead to death, like the black widow or the praying mantis. This dichotomy is evident in the natural world, where life and death coexist in a delicate balance. The phallus, reminiscent of a snake-like creature, embodies this paradox – attractive yet repulsive, bringing both pain and happiness, and offering a deeper understanding of our place in the universe.

This paradox extends to the human experience, where sexuality can be both a source of profound connection and deep vulnerability. It's a realm where the highest forms of pleasure and intimacy meet the fears and insecurities rooted in our nature. In this artwork, the depiction of sexuality as both alluring and daunting challenges the viewer to confront their own perceptions and feelings about this fundamental aspect of life. It invites a deeper introspection into how we navigate these contrasting emotions and how they shape our relationships and understanding of ourselves.

 

Sexuality in Mythology

In the realm of mythology, the tales of heroes and heroines, and the life aspects they represent, underscore the importance of reproduction, interconnection, and survival. These stories are not just narratives; they are reflections of the dance of courtship, the play of sexuality, and the continuity of life, symbolized by the Nagas and their connection to our lives.

The rich tapestry of mythological stories provides a window into the collective psyche of humanity, revealing timeless truths about our desires, fears, and aspirations. These myths often portray sexuality not just as a biological act but as a sacred and mystical experience that transcends the physical realm. By weaving these mythological elements into the artwork, a deeper layer of meaning is added, suggesting that our sexual nature is not merely a biological imperative but a vital part of our spiritual and emotional existence. This perspective invites viewers to see sexuality through a more holistic and reverent lens, acknowledging its role in the larger narrative of human experience.

 

Read more »

Little Prince

Medium: Watercolor

Date: 2023

 

Little Prince

 

This artwork captivates both my daughter and me, sparking curiosity about its inherent appeal. It bears resemblance to the rare kneeling figures crafted in white marble by the ancient Greeks and Romans, albeit with a modern twist of a painted mask.

 

This fusion of eras not only enchants with its beauty but also challenges our perception of antiquity, as the modern mask adds a layer of contemporary identity to the timeless form. The enigmatic expression, originally left blank to represent universal humanity, is now given specificity and a touch of whimsy. This blending of old and new invites a reconsideration of historical art forms, as it seems to suggest that even the most classical of artworks can be reimagined and revitalized for the modern eye.

 

The pose of this figure has inspired photographers and painters alike, notably in the acclaimed work by Elihu Vedder from around 1890, now housed in the Brooklyn Museum. I happened to be given the opportunity to manage the publicity of Vedder's exhibition at the said museum 45 years ago. This interest deepened upon discovering similar figures in periodicals of that era. The figure’s solidity and rounded form, reminiscent of a boulder, particularly resonated with me.

In my rendition, the figure’s body remains unpainted, akin to ancient sculptures whose original colors have faded over time. This choice reflects a Renaissance-era fascination with white marble statues, a tradition extending to contemporary sculptors.

However, unlike its ancient counterparts, this figure’s face is vividly painted to express deep emotion. The stark red and blue hues convey power, while the asymmetrically positioned eyes inject a sense of humor.

A bright yellow background bathes the figure in light, symbolizing optimism. The luminous yellow hue not only encapsulates the figure in a halo of warmth but also alludes to the golden hour of Renaissance painting, a time when light was used to define and elevate subjects.

Additionally, I have incorporated a reference to male fertility, echoing the explicit representation found in many ancient statues. The inclusion of this symbolism, while provocative, is a bold statement on the continuity of life and art's role in celebrating the generative forces of nature.

 

The deliberate preservation of the figure's purity in the body creates a striking visual contrast with the painted face, emphasizing the blend of the classical form with the emotive potential of color. The decision to maintain the body in its unpainted state underscores my intention to portray the permanence of the human form. The unadorned body figure, while classical in its presentation, serves as a canvas to explore the theme of sexuality in its myriad expressions. The figure's form, evoking the natural curves and lines of the human body, invites contemplation on the diversity and fluidity of human sexuality. It stands as a testament to the enduring human fascination with the physical form as a vehicle for expressing desire, intimacy, and identity.

The variegated hues adorning the figure's visage not only represent the spectrum of emotions but also symbolize the ambivalence and doubt many face in acknowledging and embracing their sexuality. The interplay of colors serves as a metaphor for the complex and often non-linear journey toward self-acceptance, reflecting the internal conflict between societal norms and personal truth. The mask's transient palette, contrasting with the statue's timeless form, underscores the ephemerality of these emotional states — a reminder that feelings of uncertainty are but temporary shadows over the enduring human experience. 

In this way, I hope that the artwork becomes a bridge connecting the viewer to the broader discourse on sexuality, challenging and expanding upon the historical perspectives traditionally represented in visual arts. In the process, it becomes a silent yet powerful ally in the dialogue about the acceptance of one's sexual identity, challenging viewers to confront their own vulnerabilities and the societal constructs that shape them.

 

As I draw this blog to a close, the interwoven themes of this piece stand as a living embodiment of the principles that drive my artistic journey. "Complexity, Dichotomy, Unity"—this triad resonates through each stroke of color and every untouched surface of my medium, marrying the intricate layers of human emotion with the stark simplicity of form.

In the silent dialogue between viewer and painting, space is created for personal introspection and societal observation, where the echoes of past narratives meet the pulse of present identities.

With this piece, it is my aspiration that you, too, might find a personal echo within its composition, discovering a harmonious resonance that speaks to the shared complexities of our human experience.

 

Read more »

Scipio, Ruby and Mary

Medium: Graphite

Date: 1979

 

In my studio one afternoon in 1979, I found myself immersed in the delicate task of sketching Easter lilies when my dear friend Scipio paid an unexpected visit.

 “Draw my portrait. I want you to do it right now,” he said. I was really focused on my lily. He insisted his portrait be done right away. Somewhat irritated, I just turned the lily to the bottom of the paper and began his portrait on the same paper. I did it quickly. He liked his image. He only said, “I don’t have such thin lips.” He took the pencil and changed the lips. I was surprised. I expected him to say everything was slightly wrong. He was an extremely particular person when judging art and especially anything done for him. He had studied fresco painting in Florence for a year some years ago. He seemed relieved that his picture was finished. He did not insist that I perfect the drawing further. He seemed to be OK with the flower on the same page as his portrait. I thought that was odd. He turned and left the studio without taking the picture. More odd behavior. His unexpected satisfaction and the peculiar circumstances surrounding his portrait marked the beginning of a story filled with intrigue and wonder.

Ruby, his mother from Trinidad, living in West Harlem, loved lilies. She wanted lilies at her funeral. However, she had joined a church which forbade flowers at funerals. The church would only have flowers on the altar at Easter. Those flowers would always be lilies. In the backdrop of this intriguing circumstance, we can begin to fathom why this particular portrait held profound significance. His mother died at the time I was drawing his portrait. Scipio had not seen her for over a year.  Scipio was very highly intuitive, very intelligent, and a professional astrologer on the side. He could feel something needed to be done right away. The time was the day after Easter. Ruby had lilies at her funeral. The flowers were kept in the church until the Sunday after Easter. She had a strong sense of intuition, too. Scipio was in touch with his mother Ruby at the time of her death.

Scipio’s power of intuition always amazed me. A day or two prior to Ruby’s passing, he told me about the life of another woman he loved.

The day before the funeral I attended a meeting of the New York public relations club. There I met a very attractive tiny woman dressed in black carrying two red roses. I caught her eye. “Oh, where did you get those roses?” I asked. “A young man gave them to me on the subway coming here,” she replied. An hour later I met her coming to the bus stop where I was waiting. We boarded. The bus was full, but we happened to find seats together. She began to tell me some amusing anecdotes about her life in response to comments I was making. After about 30 minutes, “You are Mary Cooperfield!” I exclaimed excitedly. She had been talking to me in a very cagey way some sophisticated women I had met had conversed with me. She never guessed that I would guess, in New York City nonetheless, and how I could put these scraps of identifying material together. Mary was a very private person. However, she had been Scipio’s lover 30 years ago. He had just this week enthusiastically described to me these details about her life.

I did not tell her how I knew her name. She had been very involved in dance and headed Dance in America in the late 60s. Working for Sol Hurok, she had been able to get her friend Merce Cunningham invited to perform at the World's Fair in Belgium in 1958. It put him on the dance map. Scipio’s first wife was a Martha Graham dancer. Mary had been a Graham dancer, too. Scipio was a sensational dancer himself and his mother Ruby was a very great classical opera singer, a black opera singer recorded circa 1940.

The correspondence between these important events in the same week of Scipio’s life intrigued me. First, his portrait done at the time of his mother’s death and with her favorite flower on the portrait of her only child. Second, his compulsive telling of the story of a favorite woman in his life in the week before his mother’s death. I feel there is a connection between these two women drawn together under the umbrella of his intuition.

This is the only portrait I ever drew of him. I did become a very good friend of Mary. She invited me to join her in her freelance business doing special projects for law firms. When I was working for the Federal Civic Court in Las Vegas, Mary and Scipio met in New York in the hallway of the law firm where Mary and I were working. Neither one spoke. They recognized each other. They were so disappointed in how much they had changed from their earlier glamorous selves. Later, I asked her what she remembered about him from years ago. She said, “Scipio was always very polite. He always had perfect manners.” He said to me, “She could make herself look so beautiful, so simple and unusual she could astonish a massive crowd.”

For me, this blog is a chronicle of the transformative journeys not only within the lives of Scipio and Mary but also within our own lives. It's a testament to the profound shifts, both subtle and seismic, that we all undergo as we navigate the complexities of existence. Through the lens of Scipio, Ruby's only child, this blog becomes a canvas that vividly portrays the intricate tapestry of dreams, aspirations, and ultimately the somber reality of Ruby's passing. It captures the essence of the human experience—the ebb and flow of relationships, the dance of intuition, and the ever-present specter of change that weaves its threads through our lives. In honoring Ruby's memory and celebrating the connections that bind us, this blog serves as a poignant reminder of the fragility and beauty of our shared human journey.

 

Read more »
November 2023

Spoiled Tomatoes

Medium: Watercolor in Paper

Date: 1970

The Commission

This picture is the frontispiece for the book "Spoiled Tomatoes" with 32 pictures by Jay Ells, published by Bomar in 1970. This was one of twelve FREEDOM BOOKS written by Bill Martin, Jr., about the United States. This collection of books appeared in most schools and libraries throughout the U.S. A librarian in South Carolina said that just the "Spoiled Tomatoes" book itself was so popular in their library, they had to order four more copies.

I received the commission Friday evening on the way to Mancy’s, where I worked from 6 PM to 9 PM selling pictures. I had just come from the Bronx, where I worked with children and parents in the Bureau of Child Welfare from 9 AM to 5 PM. I was late to Mancy’s and resigned that evening. I left the social work job, which I had loved, the next day.

Eleven FREEDOM BOOKS were already completed. I was given only 3 weeks until the publishing date for their twelfth book. I needed 300 hours. I am usually exceptionally good at planning time.

 

The Pictures

I had worked in color separation at Hallmark Cards, so I had an idea of what to do for publishing. I began drawing my ideas for pictures that first day.

I drew all the pages in pencil. In 1970, printing was different compared to now. Black was printed alone. Bill wanted the black separated from the color. I drew the black with pen and India ink on clear acetate. Half of my time was spent cleaning out the pen points or starting new ones. I used about a hundred pen points. Then I put this acetate over a lightbox. I covered the acetate with watercolor paper. I used Arches 140 lb. cold press. I painted the watercolor with light coming through. I planned all the pages in advance for the colors. I was in a hurry. I mixed each color used for the whole book only once. I used the same orange for every page. I did only one coat. I did all the oranges, then all the yellows, all the blues, etc.

As I began, I received a legal notice for jury duty to begin in two weeks. I was told I could not postpone the duty and that it was for the full two weeks. This was 1970. I began working at night. I needed 100 hours each week. The jury timing could not have been worse. I worked all night during these first weeks. But this was exhilarating. This was my first commission in New York.

Bill checked the drawings after 10 days and approved them. His only comment on one drawing of a spaceship was, “That looks like a penis!” I did not see it, but I changed that part of the image to please my client!

After working the last week, I finished at 8:30 AM as planned and went to Bill’s office to turn in the pictures. I worked 300 hours and finished on time. Bill said I was one of only three artists who finished when they said they would. I arrived at jury duty at 9:30 not having slept for three days. Well, maybe I did relax a bit during jury duty! For the text, I added very elegant and simple lettering, but Bill had hired another letterer for all 12 of the books, so my lettering was not used. My pictures did not always accommodate the new lettering, but I was paid very well. I was exhilarated. Bill said he would buy more from me. Boy, was I happy. I was a ‘commercial’ artist, not some namby-pamby, peculiar fine artist.

 

The Penis

I grew up in very rural Minnesota and absorbed the values of the area. In my senior year at the University of Minnesota, the Methodist church, where I lived and worked, said, “No kissing before marriage.” The biggest university in the U.S. in the 1950s did not allow beer to be sold within a mile and a half from the campus. In high school, my brother had a date with a very upstanding Catholic girl, but our minister said, “Your brother’s life is now over. He dated a Catholic.” My brother was a teenage church state officer, and the Catholic girl was the smartest in the school. This brings me up to date with the sale of these pictures and my wanting to be in business, not art. Graduating from the School of Business, I did study a lot of history of art, but no art classes. I did not want to be peculiar, as I thought all artists had to be, even when I did not know what “peculiar” meant.

Now, after I agreed to this commission, I had mixed feelings as well. Bill and Peggy, his business manager, and I went to a very fine small bar near their offices to celebrate with a drink. I had never had a drink in a bar, so I did not know the names of any. I had beer, which I knew from my life in the Army. I was on Red Alert! Does selling a book make me gay? When we sat down at one of the 3 small tables by the short bar, two very well-dressed young men came in, greeted Bill and Peggy, and sat down at the bar. At our table, I was the one facing the bar. The two guys began to fondle each other. Then they kissed. Yes, I went into semi-shock. Was this the life I was accepting by accepting a commission? Even to stay in New York and be happy with the fun of my imagination, what could I accept? In my life until then, I had never had the free time I wanted. This commission was a great opportunity for free time. This was the dream of my lifetime to be published and make money. So, yes. Whatever. Let me see what happens. (Well, nothing did happen.) In my loft, I already was putting up with my NY ‘Neighbor from Hell’ who poured water through the gnarled ceiling, had dropped on my face through this ceiling in the night every kind of wine, beer, and whisky, and played all through the night ear-splitting music so one neighbor dreamed the Concord was taking off. One night he played all night “I can’t get no satisfaction” so loudly my heavy drawing table was shaking. We were all living there illegally, so no legal complaints. Maybe I was paying my dues, and this was just another due.

 

The Mom

I phoned my parents on the farm. My stepdad was extremely angry and did not believe me. He said I was crazy. Mom held back any excitement because she did not believe one so young should be able to make so much money. She tried for 40 years to sell her writing and was unsuccessful. When she was 90, she said, “I always thought there was something wrong with you. I see there wasn’t. You are an artist. That is who you are!”

Holy Cow! I’m not a spoiled tomato, after all!

 

Read more »

Life Lessons from a Portrait

Medium: Acrylic on Canvas

Date: 2006

Life Lessons from a Portrait

This gentleman, whom I shall call "G," was a very good friend. We had traveled to Tibet together, for instance. He was well-known in Greenwich, CT. G was asked by his daughter for a portrait of himself. He chose to have a painted portrait commissioned by me. Jumping ahead in time, he often asked, "Did you learn something?" This commission did not work out well. I did learn something, and we totally stopped being friends.

But what was it that I learned in the six years and 850 hours I worked on this?

First, I learned to DO HOMEWORK. Take the client to a museum and look at portraits. What really is the client's dream? Does he even know what his dream is? He told me to go ahead and do whatever I wanted. My OWN dream was to do a portrait in the style of Alice Neel. I made a blue suit and a yellow background reflecting G's very bright aura and liveliness. He is a Leo. His tie that he wore was lettered "Capitalist Pig." When he saw the progressing portrait, he said, "I like my portrait, but I want a brown background and a picture that would be like a Rembrandt." We celebrated our interim success with good champagne.

I can do perfect photo-realism. See Blog #10, The Father's Memorial. I took five photographs of him. Another twenty were taken by his extremely beautiful companion, whom I will call "M." She said both to me and to him, "Jay is really good."

As I proceeded under his direction, "My eye does not droop like that," he said. I replied, "Look at the photographs. Look in the mirror!" "Yes, I see you are right," he said. But my nose is not that crooked. Make my lips fuller." I knew that G had been an extremely handsome young man, but although he was still very handsome, he was now past middle age. "You have made my hair too gray. I am glad you got my ears right. I did not tell you, but I had them pinned back. I wondered if you would discover that." My artist neighbor, whom I'll call "V," had advised me, "You got the ears wrong!" "No," I answered, "I spent 40 hours just on the ears." G said, "Make everything perfect. Give me full lips, a perfect nose, a different hairline, and a better hair color than I now suggest. I see that you are following the photos perfectly, but I don't want that. Make me all perfect."

When it was finished, a prominent lady said, "It does not look like you, G." "Well," he said, "Artistic license." Finally, after lots of changes on the hair, and after the portrait was finished, he chopped off some hair above the bottom of his neck and said, "Here, make it this color." That hair was not in the photos.

The clincher came with the varnish. As I am a self-taught artist, I did not learn about materials, which I assumed one did in professional art classes. As this was my first portrait, I wanted it to be perfect. I asked V, a professional art school graduate, about varnish. She said, "I don't know anything about varnish." So, I bought some varnish. This was a new chemical varnish. The directions said to do a very thin coat. Twenty-four hours later, make a second very thin coat. I finished the varnishing with the first coat. However, as I finished, V walked in. "That is not the way you do it!" She grabbed the brush and approached the picture. "No! No!" I said, "Don't do more. I followed the directions." "Well, you don't know how to do this, and I do."

"Yes, I am going to varnish it. I am going to. I am going to do it." I tried to stop her. I grabbed her arm. She was like marble. The steely glint in her eye was totally focused on the portrait. She started to varnish, I said, "No, V, stop. Please stop." She could not hear me. Only by slugging her could I have stopped her. I went into the bathroom. About ten minutes later, she called me, "There, that is varnished." The picture was dripping. In a couple of hours, I went to see G and M in a very good restaurant to deliver the picture. M was so pleased. "You got all the colors just perfectly." G said the hair was not the right color. Yes, the varnish had altered the color a little. He insisted it be changed. I wanted to change it so it could be perfect.

V advised, "Oh, just Xerox it. I have heard they can Xerox on canvas now. Then just change the hair color yourself." But I called the manufacturer of the varnish. The varnish was much heavier than it should have been, but they told me how I might proceed. I worked slowly for 50 hours to remove the varnish and change the hair color. G gave his OK and said not to varnish the hair place which was now duller than the rest of the picture. I wanted to get the whole picture to have an even shine. I varnished just a little. The hair color changed.

G had been very generous to me, and I had wanted the portrait to be a gift from me. In my frustration of working so many hours and having heard how he can disparage something when he finds any fault, I scolded him about the many changes and offered back to him his small down payment. We never spoke again.

I do have the picture. I am very proud of the work I performed. I found a book on portraits. Fifty percent of these often-well-known portraits were not accepted. Sargent's great portrait of Madam X was refused by her family. Sargent felt it was the best portrait he had done. He left it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where we can admire it now.

 

Secondly, Communication is a two-way process. Don't imagine for myself, however reasonable I may think that may be. LISTEN to the nuances and put myself in THE CLIENT'S shoes. Had I known what he wanted, I could have done what he wanted. But I could have insisted on his original requests and should have refused his flimsy additions or insisted on further payment for the changes he requested. There was no contract in the beginning. I realized that was a problem. We had spent some years together. We were good friends and drinking buddies. I thought I knew him.

 

Lastly, and I believe the most important of them all is that I have to leave well enough alone. DO NOT TRY TO BE PERFECT. Embrace the beauty of imperfection, as it often paves the way for creativity and innovation. Perfectionism can be a barrier to progress; it's important to value progress over perfection. Imperfections can also provide unique character and authenticity, making work more relatable and genuine.

 

Read more »

Just Me

Medium : Watercolor on Paper

Date : 2022

 

This week's blog features an image of a male figure set against a stark white background. The figure's pale-yellow hue sharply contrasts with the white of the paper, immediately drawing the viewer's eye. Adorned with two pink clouds—one at the lips and another at the genital area—the figure blurs the lines between masculinity and femininity, imparting a universal appeal to the image. Outlined in bold black, the figure has several breaks in the line, introducing a dynamic energy. This deliberate choice invites viewers to interpret the image in diverse ways, allowing for a sense of freedom and personal connection.

Just me

Let's examine the two openings, each tinted in pink, at either end of the body. These pink-hued areas could represent both Mars and Venus, symbolizing the simplest forms of gender identity inherent in all of us. As Roberta Smith, the art critic for The New York Times, once noted, truly connecting with the emotions conveyed in art requires us to be in touch with the masculine and feminine feelings that coexist within each individual.

Wisdom and Children

Over the years, I've often heard people say that my artwork, devoid of overt sexual themes, is primarily suitable for children. 'Add more sex to your pictures!' is a common suggestion. Yet, one of my pieces subtly suggests the theme of sex, perhaps embodying both Venus and Mars within a single figure. 'Venus and Mars Combined' might even be a more fitting title. This artwork could also be interpreted as telling a story.

What I've realized through my interactions is that children may not be as naive as many adults assume. When I engage in conversations with children, showing a willingness to listen, they often express their feelings with surprising depth and clarity.

Wisdom from my own early sex life

I recall a time in my childhood when my neighbor Susie and I, both about 5 years old and latch-key kids, formed a close bond. We had sex every afternoon. Our days were filled with innocent play, often emulating the roles of adults as we understood them, a game of 'mommy and daddy,' inspired by the world around us. Each day after school, I would bring her a large cookie as a token of our friendship. When my mother noticed the cookies disappearing, she would ask, “Where are all the cookies going?" I said, "I don't know." Yes, I knew.

Almost ten years later, Susie and I were in the same Sunday School class, facing a collective push to pledge lifelong abstinence from alcohol. Among our class of twenty, we were the only two who chose not to commit to the pledge.

Sex at the Exhibition Plus

At an exhibition of soft sculpture and children's books in 1975, I was told to cover up one pedestal pasted with photos from porno magazines. However, when the group of 20 kids ages 4 to 6 from a day-school from the Upper West Side in New York came into this very large L- shaped room, some boys ran to the first sculpture of a figure, separated the legs and said wildly and happily, "Is this a man or a woman?" Then they ran to a large vegetable-type sculpture sewed in black velvet and shouted, grabbing two pieces of the sculpture, "Are these black cocks?" At a day school I visited in Tribeca, a 4-year-old nibbling on her tortellini humped her back and said to the boy on the next mat, "C'mon over. I'll show you how to do it."

Wisdom from a Babe

I had a friend who had just turned seven. She stood on a footstool at the sink, busily washing pots and pans. Glancing over at her mom and me, who were sipping coffee at the table, she asked, “Why is it that when you talk about other artists, their art seems so bad, and yours so good?”

At eight, she remarked, "I don't know how to tell you this, but... you're commercializing too much. Your earlier work was much more subtle. This new work? It's too easy to see through!"

Later, commenting on a new book, she observed, "Each of your pictures is a chapter. Every detail is clear. The more time I spend with them, the more I see that each picture has a beginning, a middle, and an end."

As she grew up, she became a remarkably successful lawyer.

Kissing at age 6 and my wisdom

When I was six, my mom caught me kissing some girls on the street. She said, “If you keep kissing those girls, you won't have enough love left for me!” I remember thinking, “She knows nothing about love. Love isn't like a cup that empties. We don't kiss at home, but it feels nice.”

On another occasion, I asked her why I had to be spanked every night after supper. Her response was, “Everyone likes you. This is the antidote.”

Summary of these anecdotes with a Future

In sharing these anecdotes, my aim is to reveal the unique perspectives on sex and wisdom from the viewpoints of various children, including my younger self. My wisdom, rooted in childhood, has evolved with life's experiences. I believe this wisdom, often unconsciously, permeates my creative work, be it in books or paintings.

When the renowned Castelli Gallery in New York took an interest in my soft sculptures, they also discovered my first children's books. Their advice was clear: “This is where your money is." They were right. Following their guidance, I expanded my book collection.

 

Currently, my multimedia manager is digitizing and re-coloring these works, encompassing both the half-dozen published titles and an equal number of new ones. We are making progress, now focusing on the third book in the planned series of twelve. (For more information, see amazon.com/childrens-books by Jay Els.)

 

Read more »

Shaman

Medium: Watercolor in paper

Date: 2023

 

Childhood Imagination and the Allure of the Shaman

As a kid walking up and down in the cornfield, I used my imagination to amuse myself. Yes, I had no cellphone back then in the 1940s. We did not have a radio in the house either. Our mom was very interested in the lore of the indigenous Sioux and Dakota nations, which had ruled our lands.

One of these ideas was the intensely dramatic vision to me of the idea of a shaman, someone who could make contact with other worlds. I knew that indigenous people who had walked this earth beneath my feet had shamans who had done rituals to attune their senses to other worlds beneath their feet or high in the sky.

This seemed like an ideal way of life for me when I would be older. "Are you going to be a doctor, a fireman, or a minister?" adults would ask. My confident response was, "I am going to be a shaman!"

The foundation of this fascination came from my mother. Mom had started us not only with Indian lore but with beautiful scrapbooks. When we were age six, we were allowed to paste in our own selected pictures. My first was a shaman. Yes, it is on my bulletin board now in New York. By now, I have made a number of my own shaman pictures.

 

Artistic Evolution: The Shaman's Journey

My showcase blog for this week is aptly titled " Shaman". It was drawn about 4 years ago and underwent an interesting transformation. For some unrecalled reason, two years later, I enlarged it onto a canvas, but in the enlarging process (see the pencil grid on the picture), the final image shifted from my original vision. I did not feel strongly that I could proceed with the changes, and it sits still, waiting after the past two years. As I look at this smaller image now, I somehow see the large unfinished image as much stronger. Especially this smaller one has a short headdress, while the large picture has a number of straight lines going up from the head and off the picture plane. In the big picture, the shore is bigger with black sand, and the flipper sandal is going off the picture into the water, too.

Emotions and experiences change us, and over the past four years, I've felt that shift within myself. Analyzing my art, I ponder if this emotional transformation is positive.

 

Decoding the Shaman Image

This face is a mask. The eyes focus in different directions. The lips are large and bright ruby red. Across the forehead is a white ribbon holding a group of triangles of varying colors. These colors match the rainbow which crosses the top of the picture and down the sides, holding the whole image together. The skin of the mask face is ocher yellow; I think of yellow as a spiritual color. On either side of the headdress are deep black wiggly lines like spirits coming out of the head. Down each side are a series of faces such as the shaman might have contacted. The shaman is walking by a shore with one foot bare and the other in a short flipper. The shaman's clothing is an animal skin tunic in red and over the lower abdomen a skull in white. These two colors seem spiritual to me, or is this a memory of our high school colors, cardinal red and white? At the end of the ocher-colored sleeves emerge birds. Birds represent flights to other spiritual corners possible for the shaman.

 

Childhood Memories and Lessons

As a child, I liked talking to these imaginary creatures during the hours in the fields. Once when I was age 9, Mom said, "I see you always telling yourself stories. Tell me a story. I will type it as you tell it." Thus encouraged, I told the first sentence. She looked up from the typewriter with big eyes and in a shocked tone exclaimed, "That could never happen!" I turned away, happy staying in my "never happen" world and leaving her to her world.

The image of the shaman tells a story too. What is this shaman saying?  He has one foot in water, a symbol of the unconscious, and has a flipper slipper, so he is beginning to have a feel of going deeper into "never happen". His red lips may be full of storytelling. The mouths of the other faces are also open to speaking. His clothing of an animal face and a skull is fearsome. His hat indicates some magic. In the advanced later picture, his hat is full of lines going straight up. He is going deeper to find more spirit—to experience more magic.

Still, I find myself immersed in the "never happen" myths from my fields inspired by the indigenous people who were there before me.

In fourth grade, a conversation with a teacher left an indelible mark on me. I asked the teacher, "Didn't we just steal the land from the Indians?" She said, "Well, we can use it better. We are Christians." This has stuck in my mind all these years. She had never walked the earth in my field.

 

Read more »
October 2023

The Malabar Caves

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 1976

 

This week, I'd like to present to you my artwork, "The Malabar Caves." Within this composition, I've depicted a radiant yellow elephant with captivating blue eyes, overshadowing what appear as two brown eyes with pristine white pupils. These brown eyes, based on the title, seem to represent mysterious cave entrances. A serene river flows gracefully past the elephant and these caves. Upon the river, two women energetically row their boat upstream, one adorned in red and the other in blue. But what inspired this intricate scene?

 

My inspiration stemmed from E.M. Forster's poignant novel, "A Passage to India." Central to the narrative is the enigmatic Malabar Caves. Forster described the caves as embodying "the impression of a muddle and the sense of an inexplicable mystery." When readers yearned for clarity on this mystery, Forster responded, wishing for the enigma to "remain a blur." This mirrored his personal sentiment of the uncertainty that shrouds many life events. Within the novel's pages, a trial unfolds to uncover the mysteries of the caves. Yet, the protagonist is declared "not guilty," and the heart of the mystery remains veiled. (Reference: Project Muse)

 

I was compelled to translate my interpretation of this conundrum onto canvas. The elephant's yellow hue in my painting symbolizes strength and certainty, contrasting with the rapidly flowing river that portrays life's unpredictability. The two rowing women, draped in vivid red and blue, encapsulate the emotions and turbulence I felt while reading. Although the images are vivid and intense, the inherent ambiguity of their exact interpretation mirrors the obscurity of Forster's narrative. To me, the painting remains an enigma, much like the book which, despite resonating with millions, left its core mystery unsolved.

 

Soon after completing the painting, a close friend visited. She admired the artwork and inquired about its price, also expressing interest in having it framed. I quoted a price equivalent to my month's rent – an amount I currently lacked. She purchased the painting, allowing me to cover my rent. The frame I crafted for it was made of heavy wood, which I varnished, painted, and sanded to resemble 17th-century Dutch antiques. I used black velvet for matting and double-thickness glass, giving an illusion of peering into a profound, enigmatic pool. Interestingly, we never discussed the painting again after that transaction.

 

Over the years, I've often pondered about the painting's whereabouts and its current home. I believe she took it to Paris, France, and presented it to a friend there in 1984. Regardless of where it might be now, I hold a deep conviction that the message embedded within a painting is timeless. Just as stories find their listeners, paintings too have a destined path. Ultimately, every artwork will discover its rightful place, fulfilling its inherent purpose and communicating its eternal message.

 

Since that fateful sale, my artistic journey has been enriched with numerous creations, each carrying a piece of my soul. Yet, the memory of "The Malabar Caves" remains vivid, almost as if it was painted yesterday. Every brush stroke, every choice of color, and the emotions interwoven within its canvas continue to resonate with me. The painting was more than just an artistic expression; it was a bridge between Forster's world and mine, a bridge I had hoped others would cross and find connection.

 

As an artist, one aspires for their work to leave an indelible mark, to be a beacon of emotion and thought that stands the test of time. While paintings might change hands, and their physical locations might shift, their essence remains unchanged. They become like old melodies, forever imprinted in the recesses of our minds, resurfacing in moments of reflection. Wherever "The Malabar Caves" might be today, I trust it continues to evoke wonder, curiosity, and a sense of timeless connection in every observer. This is a testament to the universality of art and its power to bind souls across continents.

 

(Source: Project Muse. Jo Ann Hoeppner Moran, "E.M. Forster's A Passage to India," MFS Modern Fiction Studies, Johns Hopkins Press, Volume 34, Number 4, 1988, pp. 596-604.)

 

Read more »

Summoning the Animal

Medium: Watercolor on paper 

Date: 2019

Firstly, this is an image that I cherish more than most. It possesses a mystery and ambiguity of meaning. It poses a question but doesn’t provide an answer. It delves into what my intuitions have drawn me towards: the enigmas layered within mysteries. We’ve witnessed profound mysteries in various spiritual practices across the globe. This picture revolves around these spiritual practices.

In this image, the shaman’s expansive oval face beckons the animal, in this case, resembling a gazelle. The layers of the translucent lips portray a gentle whisper, a soft summoning that begins with, “Are you there? Are you willing to emerge and be seen by me? Which animal are you, and what can you offer?” The animal materializes amidst beams of radiant light. These rays emanate from the shaman, highlighting his intense concentration and the patience of someone waiting for an image to manifest. When the image does surface, its hue is more vivid than anything nearby. The shaman’s minute eyes squint, attempting to focus on the emerging animal figure. In the backdrop, there’s a faintly visible disapproving figure adorned with a crown.

Let’s discuss animals in art, animals with shamans, and animals as individual beings. Animals are occasionally used as symbols. They represent deities or creatures to be revered, admired for their graceful movements, piercing gazes, fierce attacks, and inherent gentleness. In many ways, they mirror us. Animals unveil the mysteries of our cosmos. They are tangible realities.

A shaman bridges the known world with the unknown. Animals often seem to dwell in both realms. Every animal can be depicted to mirror these dual realities. Most photographs of animals, and renowned paintings like Durer’s “Rabbit,” showcase their external appearance. The spiritual essence of animals has frequently been symbolized by snakes.

My depicted animal, possibly a gazelle, is conjured by the shaman. The shaman emits beams of concentration, pulling this creature from another dimension using his magical prowess. He anticipates communicating with a possibly mystical world where this animal genuinely resides. The creature is about to step into our visible world, ready to harness its innate magical abilities. The shaman has invoked an animal. Is he aware of the specific creature and the purpose of summoning a gazelle? I believe not. He’s mastered the art of concentration to beckon a life-sized animal, but I sense he’s uncertain about the outcome or his intentions for this being. Personally, I have no intentions for this animal.

Close by stands a man with a crown, his expression marred by disapproval. He seems to frown upon this practice of contacting animals from perhaps the underworld. He’s unfamiliar with this ritual. He fears losing his crown’s power. As a child, I often daydreamed. My parents would say, “Such things can’t happen!” But I’d ponder, “Perhaps they could.”

The animal is gradually materializing, not instantaneously. A certain transparency, possibly its spiritual essence, surrounds the creature. This illustration underscores imagination. As we’re aware, our universe thrives on energy. Every terrestrial, aerial, and aquatic creature comprises energy atoms. These minuscule, invisible atoms are consistent. We’re all crafted from the same essence. So, how can we continually maintain our distinct boundaries? Is it plausible for us to occasionally blur our individual confines?

HOW CAN WE DISSOLVE OUR LIMITS TO UNITE WITH OTHER ENTITIES? IF WE’RE FUNDAMENTALLY COMPOSED OF IDENTICAL ATOMS, THEN WE’RE AN INTEGRAL PART OF EVERY EXISTING ENTITY. WHAT FORM OF MAGIC DEFINES OUR BOND?

Read more »

One face of India

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 2019

 

Please take a moment to sit comfortably. I'd like to share the backstory behind this week's featured artwork: 'One Face of India'.

 My interest in India is part of my life. My new stepdad spent army years in Agra during WWII, at which time the Taj was repaired. He brought me a piece of the Taj. I was six years old. I still have that stone. He also brought jewelry and cloth to my mom. I could see she mostly was not interested in foreign things. His army cloth patches were made in India, embroidered with silver thread and boldly colored silk. After the war, he gave these to me. I had my mom sew them on the sleeves of my jackets. I still have them, now in tatters. My secret love was always on the lookout for "foreign things." India had plenty then and now.

To bide my time on the long Greyhound bus ride from San Francisco to New York in 1967, I bought a book of color photos of the architecture of India.

In Omaha, I met a girl also going to New York City who became my lifelong friend. I relished showing her my book. Later she sighed, "I guess I cannot get away. My father is an architect in Portugal. The British Museum just photographed our beach house. My fiancé is from India. I just met you and you are telling me about the wonders of India. My life is fated." I then became a lifelong friend of her fiancé, who happened to be an engineer who cooked very good Indian food. Later I liked very much the company of his brother and sister. One of the great regrets of my life was not being able to attend the wedding of his very beautiful sister in her gold sari. India has stirred the senses in my imagination.

There is so much that is fabulous in India. The richness is mind-boggling. Yet there can be a veil over all this beauty, because the viewer can be overwhelmed by the amount of it. In this picture, you might see the steel-framed glasses of Mahatma Gandhi or perhaps the spaciousness of the great Islamic gathering place in Delhi. Frankly, this place in Delhi was the most beautiful architecture I had ever seen until I beheld the Taj Mahal the next day. Here in this picture, I tried to express my love for the quietly perfect proportions and the joy of the Islamic architecture that I have gloried in seeing. I have tried to express the great color that appears everywhere in Indian saris.

I loved my trip to North and South India. For instance, there was the rather astonishing wide carpet of red zinnia flowers leading to the summer house of the Tipu Sultan, Tiger of Mysore (1751 - 1799). He said of his country house, "If there is paradise on earth, it is here." He certainly was pretty much right. It was so unusual for me to see so many zinnias of the same color at the peak of their bloom. There were so many things everywhere, but I missed them. It seemed they were just behind a veil. I think I have never done a picture with better color and a kind of classical shape. I say, "I have done a clear picture of the remembered beauty; it must be in this picture."

This art piece holds my strong impression of India. I found perfect proportion in the architecture of the Taj Mahal. I found brilliant colors in the paintings from Rajasthan. I saw mysterious darkness in the paintings of the Kangra school. Everywhere there was the vivid sparkle of clothing.

In the artwork, the face exudes a harmonious balance, with colors layered with the precision and grace of a finely woven tapestry. The ears, slightly unconventional in their depiction, hint at the profound mysteries and sacred nuances of India. An observant eye might notice the subtle asymmetry in the eyes — a deliberate choice, inviting a deeper exploration beyond the initial impression. The forehead's bindi seamlessly transitions, connecting to the golden hue of the nose, leading gracefully to the delicate pink of the lips. This portrayal is not just of a face, but of a goddess. Her alabaster arms, elegantly represented, become the eyebrows, framing the visage and drawing attention to the central, hidden essence of the artwork — a reflection of India's profound beauty and depth.

Read more »

God Speaks To Me

Medium : Watercolor on Paper

Date : 2019

 

My featured art piece for this week is a strange picture, and it is a favorite image of mine. I meditated on each new line. I worked on it ten hours every day for six weeks through November and December 2019. I wanted to respond with feeling as deeply and exactly as I could to each detail and each line. I wanted to make it noticeably clear to myself what my feeling was in this image. I focused my intuition to build each of the many layers of watercolor that created this image.

Interestingly, many viewers seem to appreciate this unique work. It's heartening to see that others might connect with the intricate lines and shapes in the same way I do.

Why does this matter? Visualizing from intuition is not usually clear to the artist at first. I search for the line which fulfills my feelings. So here, I experimented with many different lines to see which one felt right. There is little physical accuracy here. Accuracy to my feelings is what I was trying to achieve. I am satisfied, and some viewers are satisfied, too. I hit the mark on that one, I think. I have never been an individual that puts feelings first before the mind, and this piece is a way to change that. A friend called me erudite and that is an accurate description of me as an individual. 

While I worked, I sensed a profound, enigmatic force, as though a deity was whispering guidance to me.

How did I perceive this? I felt this mysterious, almost divine nudge. It was as if the universe was dropping hints.

As I began this picture, I saw on the paper in front of me yellow frames for glasses, somewhat like those David Hockney has worn. This reminded me that I saw him recently give a lecture at the Metropolitan Museum. Why does this matter to me? He gave the last lecture of the daylong symposium on the work of J.A.D. Ingres, whose portrait drawings are so technically perfect. Hockney's observations about how this perfection came to be were so vital they overshadowed the discussions by all the very careful art historians. He said Ingres used a small lens which focused the model's face on the paper, and that was why Ingres' drawings of faces are so perfect. Ingres' father, a prominent portrait painter of miniatures, used a small lens too. Just because Ingres did not mention a lens in his own writing does not mean it did not happen. This was a really down-to-earth explanation. Even Leonardo da Vinci, who drew perfectly, used sketchy lines as he searched for the correct lines for his own perfection. Ingres used sketchy lines when he searched out the correct lines for the clothing of his model. He did not have to do this for the tiny faces. He copied the face directly from the focused lens. Why did I bring this up in relation to the picture in this blog? The much-admired American painter Marsden Hartley said, "Ingres' faces have no feeling, no life in them." Yes, I too can draw perfectly from a photograph, and these drawings can be expressive. The difference is that this blog image is focused much more on just feelings. The face is a recognizable structure. The structure is a language that helps to communicate clearly. This is not an abstract expression. This is an expression of feelings balanced and displayed on a structure.

As the image began to unfold, I felt the power of intuition talking to me through my third eye. I feel pressure like a sharp beak pushing. The spoken beak message reveals itself in yellow spirals exposed against black. I have the bird labeled 'god' pushing its beak into the red pool in the center of my forehead. On either side of the bird are grapes and a blossom. What do these details mean to me? Grapes are bountiful, delicious, and beautiful food. The various sizes, shapes, and colors of the grapes show feeling. The flower is beauty itself. Do these shapes indicate joy in life? To me, they do.

In the image, the human head communicates non-verbally with the bird god through yellow spirals emanating from the mouth. The teeth, reminiscent of a medieval Japanese warrior, reflect my studies in karate. Surrounding the head, ethereal fumes rise, evoking the ambiance of incense wafting around a temple. These fumes weren't premeditated; they materialized organically as I sketched. Through this, I felt deeply connected to the profound message of the bird god.

In essence, this piece is a playful dance of introspection and artistic flair. It's a testament to the joy, depth, and sometimes sheer whimsy of the creative process.

 

Read more »
September 2023

Visions

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 2019

A psychotherapist, whose practice follows the work of Carl Jung, said to me, "In all adults there is still both a little girl and a little boy. We can talk to them. They have wise observations. For instance, we can ask, what is your opinion about what kind of picture l should do next? What haven’t I given you that you need? What am I hiding? This is a way we can talk to our subconscious to get answers and advice that has not yet come into our clear thinking."

Visions, my featured work for this week, is an illustration of myself sitting with a boy and a girl on my lap. The girl is dressed like a tiger. The boy is wearing green winter underwear.

I ask, "How do you feel?"

My girl says, "l want to run and pounce and sink in claws. I want you to ruffle my fur. I want you to direct me to something really hard for me to do." She's all about wild energy, wanting to run, pounce, and tackle life head-on. Yes, I think I do often feel like this. I want to fight. I want to tackle something difficult.

My boy says, "Leave me alone. I'm tired. I feel really thin. I am not hungry. I want to just sit and read. My sister has good ideas. Pay attention to what she suggests to you." He is more of a chill reader, not so hungry for action. But again, yes, I can often feel like this as well. I guess I can always do what he says.

The tiger says to me, "You need to do a picture that shows your violent side. You need to do several. Do not hide this side of yourself. You do not have to show them to anybody but my brother and me." She wants me to embrace it.

I see that the boy is starved and naked. His color is odd, and he does not look well or energetic. His head looks like a skull. He has glasses as if he reads too much. He is over disciplined.

The female side of me is the raging little tiger, lots of bristly hair, sharp teeth and claws. She is frantic with energy. She is wild and will be free once she gets away from being held by her daddy.

I, as the paternal figure, sit on an ancient Chinese folding chair, symbolizing the intellectual posture that encompasses both the creator and the male child figure. This grown man bears a resemblance to the boy, appearing thin with a pallid complexion, his darker face squinting in confusion, uncertain about his gaze.

In Marie Louise von Franz’s book PUER ETERNUS about the eternal boy in men, she said the essence of the male is "Spontaneity!" I said to my brother, a clinical psychologist, "I have always thought the essence of the male was 'Duty" "Yes," he said, " have always thought so." We were amazed by the possibility that "Spontaneity" could be our essence.

Examining my artwork, I perceive the bear masks floating in the background as liberating expressions, diverse in size, form, and color. While not violent, they exude a sense of power and a hint of a potential bite.

The feminine energy of the cat looks like she could jump right out of the canvas. I believe she channeled her energy, intertwining it with the suppressed vigor of the boy, birthing these imaginative bear masks. I asked her if this is so. She answers. "Your boy is dreaming of being a bear, big and powerful and possibly hungry. I get you to put this down on paper. He has dreams but unclear. I have the energy to make you get your pen to work. Shall I try to prompt you to put down more of these visualizations?"

"Yes," I said to her.

The bear masks, with their colorful personalities, stand as cheerful witnesses to this fascinating journey.

As my hands glide across the canvas, it's as if the playful spirit of the universe joins in, adding a sprinkle of stardust to every art line. The boy's dreams, once elusive, now unfold like a captivating story, urged to life by the energy of the wild, feline muse.

In this vibrant tapestry of imagination, I find myself embracing the unexpected with a grin and a flourish of my brush. After all, isn't every stroke a witty conversation between the artist and the canvas, each color adding its own punchline to the tale? Here's to spontaneity, dreams, and the delightful surprises they bring to the canvas of life!       

 

 

Read more »

Venom

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 2023

 

My featured art piece this week, Venom, is no ordinary mask. It's a mask that's all about playtime, and boy, does it know how to have fun! It's got a snake in its mouth, and just to keep things amusing, it's also wearing a bright red nose. I mean, come on, it's a clown! But wait, there's more! The ears on this thing are like something out of a wild cartoon – wiggly and whimsical. Sure, they might not be great for hearing, but who needs that when you're here for a good time?

Now, let's talk about the neckline. Sharp points, folks! But hold your horses, it's not about scaring the pants off you; it's about keeping you on the edge of your seat, wondering what delightful surprises are in store.

But here's the real kicker: those cheeks! The mask sports two faces – one tragic, one comic – and they've got this sly, mischievous look that tells you there's more to them than meets the eye. It's not just tragedy, and it's not just comedy; it's a mashup of both, a rollercoaster of emotions right on your face!

Now, what really tickles my fancy about Venom is the combo of fright and fun. It's like the ultimate party trick! Just like those classic theater masks of tragedy and comedy, it's here to entertain and bewitch. It's got a little bit of everything – a dash of humanity, a pinch of fun, and a sprinkle of something devilish lurking in the background.

And if you want to see where the mischief lies, look no further than those eyes. You know what they say, right? The eyes are the windows to the soul. And boy, do these eyes have stories to tell. They're the real deal-breakers, the ones that spill the beans about the whole shebang.

So, let me share a little secret with you. I work my artistic magic to blend these two sides together – the fun and the devilish. It's a jolly dance of colors and strokes that keeps me going until I've got that perfect balance. I revel in each side separately, pouring my heart into every detail. But it's when I bring them together that the real magic happens. It's like a party in my studio, where kindness and mischief share the dance floor.

Now, you might be wondering, what's the deal with masks in our lives? Well, when a mask covers our face, it's not just hiding our features; it's hiding our feelings, our personality – everything! With a mask, you can be anyone or anything you want. You can be kind, you can be mischievous, you can be the star of a written play, or the improvisational genius in a spontaneous riff. You can play with your own perception or exaggerate those quirky, hidden parts of your character. You can laugh uproariously: "Hee Hee! Hee!" Or you can spring a message on someone: "A Hal A Hal A Hal Gotcha!"

So, there you have it, my friends – Venom, the life of the party in the world of masks. It's all about the joy of play, the thrill of mixing fright and fun, and the delightful dance between kindness and mischief. So go ahead, put on your favorite mask, and join the carnival of emotions – because with masks, life's a never-ending, jovial masquerade!

 

Read more »

Tornado Wolf

Medium: Watercolor on Paper

Date: 2009

 

"I'm not in Kansas anymore!" Those were my thoughts as I found myself in the bustling streets of New York. It felt as if I had flown over the rainbow and landed in a world of endless possibilities. But amidst the urban chaos, I could not help but think back to a different kind of storm-the one that raged within me during my Midwestern upbringing.

Picture this: a red wolf, fierce and untamed, standing atop a tornado that had spiraled up from the heartland. Below, a red barn and a familiar windmill stood in defiance. It was like a scene from the movie "TORNADO WOLF" directed by Jay Ells (see painting) in 2009.

In that image, the wolf gripped two young boys by their hair--one in blue and the other in red. Those were the colors we wore in our childhood, my brother in blue, and myself in red. We grew up on a farm, a place where dreams and tempests both took root. As the years passed, a storm of rage grew in me and him.

Our mother introduced us to the world of literature through Shakespeare and the adventures of James Fenimore Cooper. We played violins starting age 4. Meanwhile, our stepfather, a man who could do well many blue-collar jobs, attempted to impart the wisdom of survival through hard work. We did not have indoor plumbing and for some years no electricity. Our parents were like tigers, pushing us to excel in school, music, and sports. They demanded perfection, even in our table manners. Once brother touched a pea on his fork; stepdad kicked the table over; the kerosene lamp cracked. Not even the smallest question or comment from us boys was tolerated. A sense of silent objection did bloom inside us.

My brother died at age forty-eight. He had achieved great success in music, sports, and his profession of clinical psychotherapy, yet his final words to me were haunting: "l have never felt angry in my whole life. Our childhood has killed me. Seek therapy and save yourself while there's still time."

When we were just fifteen and seventeen, our mother wanted our stepfather to adopt us. Our mother let us boys decide. Our birthfather, in a bid to sway our choice, promised each of us a college education if we declined the adoption.  At age 7 I started working away from home to earn the money to chase my dreams, thus, I was the one who made the decision to accept the money for the college education.

 However, the final word rested with my mother. She approved the adoption. She wanted to keep me on the farm. Over the years, she would often cast a condemning gaze my way, her words like daggers, "How could you? How could you? If anyone truly knew you as we do, they'd want nothing to do with you."

At the age of sixteen, my mother decided something was amiss with me and sent me for three days of psychological testing at the University of Minnesota. The Minnesota psychologists found no fault in me and encouraged me not to run away from home, but to complete my final year of high school. My mother, unconvinced, insisted, "You used your magic on them. You tricked them. You trick everyone you meet into thinking you're a good person." After my three years in the army, I spent a decade staying away.

When this picture of the tornado wolf popped in my head and onto paper, at first, I thought it symbolized the malevolence of my stepfather. Now I realize it reflected my own pent-up anger. In fact, the energy from my tornado-like rage became an unexpected pillar of support as I navigated the streets of New York, my very own Emerald City.

It was not until I was given my brother's psychoanalysis reports from his final year of life that I discovered he had carried as much anger as I had. He wore a perpetual smile and possessed the ability to see all sides of any question -a true embodiment of "Minnesota Nice." We seldom played together, as our interests and social circles were different. Our few conversations we remembered exactly alike. "What will our name be? Can we go to college?" In his last year, my brother said, "I don't remember that we ever had a minute off. We worked all the time." He had yearned for a substantial violin scholarship, but instead, our mother told him to dig the basement for her new house by hand. He dug with a garden spade from dawn to dusk every day throughout the entire summer just before his last year of high school.

I never set out to compose a blog filled with such personal revelations. Yet, how else could I convey the significance of this image? Through this blog, I have embarked on a journey of self-discovery, delving into the depths of my emotions, and attempting to understand why this image resonates with me.

For the past decade, I have been haunted by the idea of crafting a white wolf monster, but the meaning behind it remained elusive. Now, I grasp its significance. It is no longer the red rage that once consumed me; it is now a cherished and forgiven memory of my feelings and the struggles my parents faced. My mother never achieved her dream of selling her freelance writing, and my stepfather lost his Ells Trucking business after seven years of extremely hard work. They had to sell our land, our possessions, and, at last. our house.

During the final eight years of my mother's life, as she journeyed toward the age of ninety-nine, I took on the role of her caregiver. Dementia began to cloud her mind at the age of ninety-one, leading to emotional difficulties on some days. Yet, we also shared countless moments of joy and laughter. She often said, "I am so grateful that we are friends.". At age ninety she heard me give a fundraising seminar for her local Kiwanis Club. Afterwards, she said, "I always thought there was something wrong with you. But now I see there was not. You are an artist. That is what you are!"

Those words made me smile with relief and joy-it was better late than never.

Read more »
August 2023

Shepherds

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 1985

 

All right, folks, let's dive into this picture that makes people do double takes. It is one of my most popular. You know the drill: they spot it, and suddenly it's all "Oh my gosh, I'm obsessed!"
But for me? Nah, not so much.
So, hold onto your hats, because you're about to uncover why this art piece is giving me the slip.
Here's the scoop on how this creative rollercoaster started. My friend Amy, straight out of Minnesota, decides to set up shop in the hippest spot on New York's Lower East Side. She names it HAT. Now, get this, her buddy from Minnesota does the same thing right across the street with a shop called DRESS. It's like a Minnesota showdown, Big Apple style. Amy and I even teamed up for a show in Two Harbors, MN, where we unleashed our cloth and kapok sculptures that we'd sewn and stuffed to perfection.
Now, fast forward to Christmas, and Amy throws the ultimate holiday bash at HAT. Amidst the festive chaos, I spot a hat that's basically calling my name: it's short, snazzy, military-inspired, and rocking a bold red X right on the front. I'm smitten. I need it. But wouldn't you know it? Sold out. That hat's a goner. And no, Amy's not whipping up another one. Bummer.
Now, hold up a sec because I'm having a real brain-tickler about that red X. Why on Earth is it tugging at my creative strings? I grab a watercolor paper and slap that X on it, diving deep to see if any funky images start dancing around. I'm not trying to explain a whole novel here; I'm just letting my creative vibes run wild. Could that X be dropping hints from my subconscious?
And get this, as I stare at that X on the paper, a realistic face pops up right smack in the middle.
Surprise, surprise! Then, out of nowhere, wings appear above the X, complete with their own set of peepers.
Those wings? They're like a pod getting ready to pop open. Suddenly, there's a lion lounging in the corner, like it's the VIP guest. And boom, a whole human-ish figure takes shape. I see hands cradling a head, sleek legs leading down to a mysterious black disc where this figure stands. The realistic head? It's like a mask that's about to steal the spotlight above the X, right where a regular old face should be. Just above that X, there's this glowing, otherworldly space, like it's hiding a secret superhero godhead. And hey, that lower mask-head thing? Could totally be a godhead coming incognito as a human.
Now, imagine this cosmic crew floating way up high in the sky, with the universe doing its epic stretch behind them. Oh, and that blank space? Yup, you guessed it—a pelican could totally snag that spot.
For me, this whole scene feels like the cosmic birth of a god turned flesh. It's a symbol that cultures around the world totally vibe with.
Smart folks like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell have chatted about these symbols. It's like this cosmic enigma of a sacred figure popping out of the universe, making its grand entrance in the middle of the night. Right above this cosmic crew, a blazing light, like the universe decided to throw a cosmic party.
So, there you have it, my friends: a whimsical journey into the hat that led to a cosmic masterpiece.
 
Read more »

Anxiety

Medium: Watercolor on Arches paper

Date: 1999.

 

I reside in a loft in Tribeca, Manhattan, New York. This loft was built in 1894. I moved here in 1967. For many years, I could see the people who lived above me and those who lived below me. The ceiling and the floor had holes between the boards. It was like playing peekaboo! I have now put tape over the major views of the neighbors, both for them and for me.

Lofts like mine were commercial spaces. Nothing was finished to make them into living spaces with plumbing, electrical outlets, and finished floors and ceilings. I do have ten large windows and a 10-foot-high ceiling. Believe it or not, in 1967 these lofts were like the rebels of the living scene – totally illegal!

 Laws changed gradually to allow artists like yours truly to occupy and jazz up these spaces which had become too small for commercial uses. Got my very first lease in 2005 – what a milestone.

 Back in the swinging sixties, friends living in lofts could be evicted by the Fire Department like a surprise party with a six-hour notice to vacate.  When the FD made their semi-annual visit to me, they saw I had no bed, kitchen, or bathroom; but they always commented approvingly on my new paintings.

One morning in 1999, while I was unleashing my creative genius on a canvas, I saw two large wasps fly in the window, they would hang around for a bit, and then fly out. These were two stunning enormous wasps.

The next morning, déjà vu - I saw these same creatures fly in the window and disappear again.

On the third morning, I tried to follow them with my eyes. They disappeared into a separation between the narrow ceiling boards. These boards were not on the same level as each other, so dirt and nails, old screws, and even coins from the former commercial tenants would occasionally filter through. Many times, liquids come through from any part of the ceiling. There is no part of the ceiling where some liquid has not fallen. To this day, if the neighbor above spills coffee, water, or a drink on their floor, it lands on my floor. If there is enough liquid, it goes through my floor onto my downstairs neighbor's floor. I have had wine, beer, whiskey, or bourbon land on my face in the night while I am sleeping. I usually sleep in various places. There is no safe space to figure out where to avoid an alcoholic nightcap. Talk about anxiety!

But what I noticed with these wasps was that they were not only frightening-looking but were incredibly determined and serious in their work.

On the fourth morning, I was waiting under the ceiling where it seemed to be their destination. Sure enough, each day they stayed longer than the previous day. Today was the longest, maybe 45 minutes. My guess! They were building a nest in the darkness above me. I grew up on a farm, and I do know about wasp nests!

I have never needed screens on my windows as my loft is on Canal Street, the super busy street connecting New Jersey with Long Island. Few insects could survive the car fumes to live here! Gladness for no mosquitoes but while it's a mosquito-free party zone, there's still that tiny buzz of worry – I mean, car exhaust for breakfast can't be a good thing, right? That morning I bought and installed screens for all ten large windows.

The next morning my wasp visitors showed up outside the new screen. They tried to get in. They inspected every corner of the whole screen. These wasps were furious. They went to the next screen and to the next until they inspected all ten screens. They could not get into my loft and return to the home they were building. Eventually, they left for that day. Each morning the wasps returned, very determined, very mad and upset. After seven days they did not return. A year later I did see again in the morning very similar wasps determined to get in, but again the screen stopped them. Again, they seemed very anxious.

This piece was the result of this experience. While I was working on this portrait, I noticed on the paper a faint view of two wasps trying to get into the eyes. This is the only portrait I have ever created showing the anxiety of the sitter aware of two wasps in his eyebrows trying to get down into his eyes. A frightening vision indeed. And because I am all about those dichotomies and find opposites attract me, I split half of the face light and one-half dark. I do think black and white tiled floors are attractive. Here was the chance to put black and white in the sweater too. Satisfaction! But in deference to real life, I did not make the wasps two different species. Don’t want to make it too much!

Frankly, I do find this portrait scary too. Even now when I look at it, I get a little shiver.

 

 

Read more »
July 2023

The Solitary Wanderer

Medium: Acrylic on canvas

Date: 2010

As you first glance at this expansive acrylic painting on canvas, a captivating skull seizes your attention, occupying the top third of the canvas. Entitled "The Solitary Wanderer," this painting serves as a self-portrait, embodying elements of my life: the skull, the head, and the body.

The skull symbolizes Death, an inevitability that marks the conclusion of life as we comprehend it.

Divided into thirds, the painting's middle section showcases a head, while the lower third presents an animal body. These illustrations represent my personal experiences and emotions. The head features an abundance of black curls, reminiscent of Louis XIV of France, and dons a hat akin to one from my Army days. It's an embodiment of strength and authority. The meticulously crafted nose and mustache, and the finely detailed eyes with their disdainful downward gaze, consumed a substantial portion of my time and effort. The eyes cast a downward look towards the animal body, hinting at an uneasy attachment. Resting on a horse blanket, the head pays homage to my grandfather, a horse trader, and my ideal of manhood. The body takes an animal form, demonstrating a rugged toughness along with evident afflictions. These afflictions are manifested as black triangles along the rear and protruding spines from the tail, details that emerged spontaneously during the creative process.

The painting's lower third embodies a flowing, swirling stream, symbolizing the subconscious, drawing inspiration from the psychoanalytical theories of Freud and Jung. The water engulfs the animal's feet, indicating a deep submergence in the unconscious realm.

My Interpretation of this piece tells me that life unfolds in a singular narrative, a solitary journey navigated independently despite the deep ties that bind us to others and our surrounding world. The figure in "The Solitary Wanderer" serves as a potent metaphor for this concept. Despite being placed in the foreground, the figure appears detached from the pale, elusive background, a reminder of the omnipresent yet often forgotten reality of death. Our existence, much like this figure, is deeply rooted in the rich soil of our subconscious, shaping our actions, reactions, and interpretations of the world around us. We meet life's myriad experiences, as mundane as sitting in a dentist chair, with our unique blend of resilience and vulnerability.

The creation of this painting was a transformative journey. The initial stages were marked by vague concepts and hazy outlines, much like the early stages of any significant endeavor. As I conducted three preliminary watercolor studies, the ideas began to solidify and coalesce, eventually gaining clarity and focus. The finished piece was a testament to the journey, a culmination of exploration and evolution of thought.

Interestingly, this piece evoked a variety of responses. Two close friends, who had been fervent admirers of my previous works, unreservedly expressed their aversion to this piece. One friend succinctly commented, "This mural encapsulates the essence of life." I couldn't agree more. Such diverging opinions are a reminder of art's subjective nature, its ability to resonate differently with each observer.

However, this painting found an admirer in Elena Scola, a long-time friend and fellow artist in Sonoma, California. I decided to gift her a smaller rendition of an early study of "The Solitary Wanderer". Elena has been appreciating my work since 1966 when she bought a large painting of mine titled "Garden 1," in San Francisco. This token of our enduring friendship remained in her ranch bedroom, occupying a special place in her bureau for the last decade of her life.

My affinity towards this painting has only deepened with time, a testament to the emotive power of art. It remains a vivid representation of my feelings, reflections, and experiences, a mirror held up to the complex human experience we collectively share.

Read more »

The Setting Sun Meets the White Fish

Medium: Watercolor

Date: 1990

Hello Friends. Let me tell you a story from my life.

My brother had been invited to Colorado Springs by the Olympic Training Center to coach a group of Chinese athletes in table tennis. For many years, he had been a renowned champion in both tennis and table tennis in Minnesota.

I still remember his wife's amusement at the seriousness of the Minnesota players. When Miss Universe visited their club, not a single player looked up from their intense game to acknowledge her.

My brother led a healthy lifestyle. He abstained from coffee and alcohol, had a love for vegetables, avoided sugar, and ran 10 miles a day. At the age of 47, while training at the Olympic Center, he felt in good health. However, a physician on duty there recommended that he go to the hospital for a check-up.

With no particular concerns, he went for the check-up. The physicians at the hospital delivered shocking news to his wife in Minneapolis. "He may not wake up," they said. He had been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.

After his diagnosis, he returned to Minneapolis. To provide a peaceful diversion, his wife purchased a large water tank and filled it with an assortment of small, beautiful freshwater fish. We all anticipated watching them swim serenely in their spacious pool. However, the reality was different. The fish darted back and forth, their frantic movements being more unsettling than calming.

Adding to the strange dynamics, four tiny crabs we had introduced were found the next morning hiding in a nearby clothes closet. As the days passed, we noticed one or two fish disappearing. We were baffled, unsure which fish was preying on the others. Yet, we kept watching. Our focus shifted from the cancer to the unusual aquatic activity.

A couple of months later, we learned that the two tiny lobsters were the culprits, having devoured the other fish. The fate of these two lobsters remained a mystery, and I never asked whether one had consumed the other.

My brother, a respected administrative head of a large hospital and a clinical psychologist, was encouraged by his wife to receive mental therapy. Known for his even temperament and his ability to understand differing perspectives, he had earned a reputation for wisdom, calm, and a quintessential "Minnesota Nice" demeanor. During his PhD studies, he had never been recommended for therapy. We were raised not to express or even feel anger.

His parting advice to me was poignant. "Our childhood has killed me," he said, "Go into therapy and save yourself while there is still time." After our cousin David gave me a book, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware by Alice Miller, I decided to follow my brother's advice. I spent twelve intense years in therapy.

Today, I look back on this time as transformative. Over those years, I painted a picture of the water tank with one menacing fish, symbolizing the lurking threat. This blog is about that painting.

As is my habit, I stared at the blank paper for a while, waiting for some form or image to begin manifesting. Patience was key until enough lines were there for me to follow. There was no preconceived idea in mind; I merely followed the small fragments that began to appear amidst the fog of white.

When a halo of rays began to emerge over the water in my artwork, a friend with a remarkable sense of color came by. He made some suggestions, indicating where certain hues should be placed. His advice worked wonders on the piece.

Finally, I discovered a small, vicious white fish in the lower corner of the painting. I knew then that the picture was achieving a subconscious meaning that had been hovering in the back of my mind. It felt as though a piece of a puzzle had fallen into place. This tiny, seemingly insignificant creature represented so much more than just a fish - it was a symbol of the silent and deadly cancer that had snuck up on my brother, much like a predator in a peaceful tank of fish. It was a reminder of the cruel unpredictability of life, the way danger can lurk in the most unexpected places.

This white fish was more than just a part of the painting; it was a manifestation of my fears, my grief, and the helpless anger I felt towards my brother's untimely demise. Each stroke that formed the fish was a stroke against denial, a recognition of the raw and painful truth. It was a manifestation of my brother's courage and the indomitable spirit he had shown in the face of a fatal disease. He said with a laugh, "On my shelf I have 2000 books that I need to read but now I do not have to."

The painting, thus, became more than just a mix of colors and shapes on a canvas. It was an intimate journey through loss, remembrance, and eventual acceptance. The vicious fish served as a stark reminder of the capriciousness of life, a brutal testament to the truth that life is a mix of light and dark hues.

So, when I stood back and looked at the completed painting, I didn't just see a water tank with a white fish. I saw a chapter of my life - marked by loss and healing - enshrined in color and canvas. I saw the culmination of a subconscious thought process that had finally found expression. The painting was not just an artwork; it was a piece of my soul, a testament of my journey through grief, and a tribute to my brother's memory.

Read more »

Born of the Earth

Medium: Watercolor

Date: 2007 - 2023

 

This art piece is a long time coming. It outlines several chapters of my life story. I therefore invite you to read in the hope that somehow you will feel the origin of my soul.

Heritage and Vision

I followed my mom when she said, “I love the earth, to walk on it, to look over it in the far distance.” She said, “Every rock is alive, each plant has a soul.” She raised me on the myths of the indigenous people who had owned our Minnesota land, the Sioux, Dakota, and Winnebago. I had “Indian blankets” and pictures of braves on horseback and visions of “The Happy Hunting Ground” on my wall. We read James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans” before going to sleep. We lived for years in a black tar-papered chicken house on the earth without electricity, plumbing or trees. I wanted to name our home Black Swan Hall, but mom wanted The Good Earth. When I was 5 years old, I saw New York City in a movie of party girls drinking champagne under chandeliers. I fell in love with New York. To live that life became my goal.

Plan

When I was 7 years old, I took the opportunity to earn money to make this dream come true. Mr. Murdinger, who managed many farms including our own, asked my brother, who was 9 years old, to hoe thistles and how much he would charge. “50 cents an hour,” my brother said. “No, too much,” said Murdinger. I was a small 7-year-old but piped up, “I’ll do it for a quarter.” I got hired. My brother said, “How can you work so cheap?” A bus ticket to New York was what I planned.

Training

Much of what I have learned about life for me, I learned in the next 10 years working on the earth in the cornfields, hoeing thistles, and cockleburs, jumping up to detassel corn and stooping to pick up fallen corn and cutting greens to feed the pigs and chickens. I worked the corn row by row back and forth to the ends of the field and returning. I thought I would never finish to the ends of the fields.

Experience taught me to keep going. I learned, “A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” I got to know tiny bugs and insects in the field, to play channeling water through the mud in spring, and to slip safely over the frozen snow in winter. While I worked, I told myself long stories. I kept several stories going at once so I could always pick up the next chapter that fit the day. Enjoying the beauty of the earth, of the fields and their growths, walking on the warm, thirsty earth in summer and skating over the dense snow in winter, I entertained myself.

Quest

On that bright morning in June, just before I joined the Army, I took a walk in the field. It was almost one hundred years to the day since my great grandfather enlisted in the Civil War. The air was cool and crisp, and the corn had grown to a height of eight inches. As I breathed in the clean air and felt the soft, moist earth beneath my feet, I was enveloped by the freshness and fragrance of the field. I noticed that the thistles had been eradicated by defoliants, and DDT had eliminated many of the insects, except for the mosquitoes. It was a perfect day, yet it was both an end and a beginning. The end of my life as a boy born of the earth and the beginning of my life as a man of the world.

Even now, after all these years, I can still feel my roots deeply embedded in the ground. My body once felt as strong as an elephant, but today I have been living in New York for over 50 years, still drawn by the glamour and champagne that captured my imagination so long ago.

Read more »
June 2023

Apollo and Daphne

Medium: Watercolor

Date: 1993

I believe this is probably one of my best watercolor works. Like the start of most of my images, this piece started out empty. I looked at the paper and half an hour later, I saw a big X. I looked at the X for an hour and finally saw the beginning of a figure intertwined with the X. This was a male animal figure with a quizzical expression. "What am I doing here? This is not quite working out." I saw he was trying to hold onto a female figure. I saw branches growing out of her hand. She was very scared.
I realized these figures could be Apollo and Daphne of the Greek myth. According to the myth, the god Apollo was pursuing the nymph Daphne to give her a child. She was frightened of him. What was he trying to do to her? She called for her dad, a river god, to help her. Her dad turned her into a tree on the river bank.
Well, this tree is a very nice, short, fragrant laurel tree. Apollo, god of the arts including sports, loved the tree. He took the leaves and made wreaths. These are the wreaths of laurel that crown the victors as in the Greek Olympics.
Apollo was also in charge of the Oracle of Delphi. This oracle was sacred, the center of the eastern Mediterranean world. Many rulers, political and royal, came to ask the priestess of the oracle for advice about their futures. The Oracle of Delphi was sitting in Temple of Apollo... The temple priestess was chewing on these same laurel leaves. As she chewed, she was inspired to think up one of her world-famous challenging answers. Apollo, helped by the laurel tree, was the god of these mysterious prophecies too.
In Rome, Italy, in the Villa Borghese is the legendary sculpture Apollo and Daphne by Bernini finished in 1625. With its dramatic realism, it was considered a miracle in its time and still is a miracle today.
A dear friend, Italian, and I have discussed this piece of marble. We both love it. Yes, this friend now owns this painting. And yes, Bernini was born on December 9th, the same day of the month as myself.
Another good friend and I went to a Halloween party dressed as Apollo and Daphne. This myth has been around, but no, there was nothing to ask about as to what we were wearing and I will leave that to your imagination. 

Read more »

Face of God

Medium: Acrylic. 6 x 7

Date: 2014

Every artist has his/her own unique artistic process. For me, to start a picture, I look at the paper and try to see if some small lines are prominent. Sometimes I see a figure, small or large. Other times, I only start with a few lines which I follow with a pencil - a figment of fantasy that I pursue quietly. This figure might take a few months to show up, as it did in the case of this picture.

Carl Jung, a father of psychiatry, said to follow a figment of fantasy as far as you can. This is like playing cards in a game of solitaire. At Disneyland’s Epcot Center in the Pavilion of Imagination, the visitor follows a little dragon named Figment who guides them through all kinds of imaginations: visual, musical, written.

If the lines feel right to me, I keep following them even if the figure takes a while to show up. I trust some lines to be the right ones even when I do not know where they are leading and to what kind of image I do not know.

The large figures of the rider and horse appeared on the paper first. As I worked on them, the wheel emitting rays showed up. I accepted it and traced it where it appeared. Later, I read that the horse, rider, and wheel can be symbols of the sun. Here these symbols can also picture a mythological god.

The tiny figures of Adam and Eve are leaving Paradise and heading for the seashore where there is a rowboat named Cythera. Cythera is the name for the island on which Venus was born (in Greek mythology). Cythera symbolizes physical love and passion, which could be the next adventure for Adam and Eve.

Masaccio and Watteau are two of my favorite artists. Masaccio (1400-1427) was the first renowned artist of the Italian Renaissance. His portrayal of Adam and Eve has been considered the greatest ever done. He happened to die in a knife fight. His fresco which I copied is in Florence.

Watteau (1697 - 1734) was the first leading artist of the French Rococo. His large oil painting, Embarkation for Cythera, is in Berlin. It shows a group of folks headed for the island of love, for a picnic. Adam and Eve had been painted nude. The leaves covering them done for later centuries have recently been removed.

This acrylic painting on canvas is 6 x 7 feet. It copies a small watercolor done 25 years earlier drawn in a period of months prior to and after my first visit to Puerto Rico. I had never seen such fluffy big clouds as I saw on the island.

The huge clouds full of rain were added to my watercolor after that visit. In that early small watercolor, there were many figures representing the religions of the world in Egypt, Greece, Southeast Asia, native people of America, and Europe. Here I dispensed with the figures representing those lands.

With this large painting I made Adam and Eve prominent and added the rowboat named Cythera. I wanted Adam and Eve to have a place to go even if they had to row their own boat.

Read more »

Father's Memorial

Medium: Graphite

Date: 1998

This piece is my contribution to Father’s Day. I created this portrait for my good friend, Jay Jr. His father, Jay Sr., passed away from throat cancer in China at the age of 42. At the time, Jay Jr., who was 14 years old, was in school learning how to teach his father to read and write. After his father passed away, Jay Jr. left school to work in a factory to support his family.

Fifteen years later, Jay Jr. was running a general merchandise store in New York City, in the same building where I was the superintendent. He was now a married father of three daughters. “I love my daughters so very much,” he said.

Jay Jr. was always quick to help me with any problems I had in the building. He was very skilled in electricity and plumbing, and I deeply appreciated his willingness to offer his skills and fix many problems beyond my abilities.

One day, he showed me a small, cracked photo about one inch square. “This is a picture of my father,” he said. “It’s the only record we have of what he looked like.” I offered to turn the photo into a larger portrait for him.

To create the portrait, I enlarged the dark, broken photo using a photocopy machine. I then copied the outline with ink on acetate and used a lightbox to trace the outline onto Bristol board for the finished drawing. Carefully observing the photograph, I made the drawing in graphite, imagining the missing and hidden details.

When Jay Jr. came to see the finished portrait, he exclaimed, “Wow! This really does look like my father!” We were both happy with the result. And just by chance, we are all named Jay.

Read more »

Becoming a Shaman

Medium: Watercolor

Date: 1986

Description:

This picture depicts a shaman and an acolyte who is aspiring to become a shaman. The shaman is adorned with a mask representing a horned animal with a snake on its forehead. Through meditation, the shaman delves deep within himself to access a reservoir of spirituality. This spirituality encompasses both positive and negative aspects. The horned animal and the snake serve as symbols of transformative energy, representing both its benevolent and malevolent powers. Rays of intense energy emanate from the shaman as he concentrates. One might question whether he intends to assist or harm his acolyte in their quest to become a shaman.

"Sein oder nicht sein, das ist die Frage."

To be or not to be, that is the question. This famous quote from Hamlet encapsulates the dilemma at hand.

The shaman holds a figure firmly in his mouth. This figure has been diligently working towards the path of shamanism. Thus far, the figure has developed large eyes that emit powerful beams of light. It hopes to be on the verge of complete transformation into a shaman, but there remains a crucial test to be passed. This trial can be referred to as the liberation from the shaman's grasp or the revelation of the guide's secrets on how to elevate an ordinary individual to someone capable of navigating deceit or harnessing the immense power of love for internal transformation.

Read more »

The Nurse and her family

Medium: Graphite

Date: 1998

My neighbor’s sister was a nurse from the Philippine Islands. She was battling cancer and had lost her hair due to the treatments. In a show of love and support, her husband had also shaved off his hair. They had two young children and her brother wanted to have a memorial portrait made for her and her family. She selected photographs from two years prior when both she and her husband still had hair. She also provided me with recent photographs of her two children, aged 7 and 10. The finished drawing was a beautiful tribute to this beloved wife and mother. When she saw the finished drawing, she exclaimed, “Oh, the artist made me pretty.” It was a touching moment that captured the love and strength of this family during a challenging time. Despite the challenges they faced, they remained united and supportive of one another. The portrait will serve as a lasting reminder of their love and resilience.

Read more »
May 2023

The Smith Family

 

Medium: Watercolor

Date: 2007

My friend Jack, also known as “Uncle Scrooge,” had a special request for me. He wanted me to create a portrait of the Smith family, whom he held dear to his heart. The portrait was to be the perfect size to fit beside his grand old desk. To ensure that each family member was represented in a way that reflected their individuality, Jack sent the Smiths to the museum to study old master portraits and choose an image that spoke to them. The son chose a sword as his symbol of bravery and adventure. The mother was drawn to the background of the Mona Lisa, which she discovered in a photograph. The father simply wanted to stand next to his beloved wife. And the daughter was captivated by the image of the Virgin with a starry halo from the 12th century. With these choices in mind, I gathered several photos of the family members and added their chosen images as I imagined them.

Jack wanted this portrait to capture not only their likeness but also their personalities and interests. The son’s love for adventure and bravery was represented by the sword he held in his hand. The mother’s appreciation for art and beauty was captured in the background reminiscent of the Mona Lisa. The father’s devotion to his wife was evident as he was beside her, his hand on her shoulder. The daughter’s fascination with history and spirituality was reflected in her choice of the Virgin with a starry halo from the 12th century. I then surrounded this watercolor portrait with a frame of pale gold to emphasize the worth of family relationships.

I put all my heart into this portrait, making sure every detail felt right. And when I presented it to Jack, he was overjoyed. He said it was like looking at his family through a window into their souls.

 

Read more »

Let me know your thoughts...

Add comment

Comments

There are no comments yet.