September 28, 2014

beauty and cruelty

mark horst "the holy family no. 36" oil on canvas, 12" x 16"

But this “universal love” will be found upon examination (like most other utopian projects) to make such severe demands upon human nature that it cannot be realized, and indeed, even if it could be realized it would in fact cramp and distort man (sic), eventually ruining both him and his society. to because love is not good and natural to man (sic) but because a system constructed on a theoretical and abstract principle of love ignores certain fundamental and mysterious realities, of which we cannot be fully conscious, and the price we pay for this inattention is that our “love” in fact becomes hate. [from an introduction to “The Way of Chuang Tzu” by Thomas Merton]

Merton is writing about religious “systems” but I’m thinking about painting and drawing.

For me, Merton’s argument is also an argument for paying attention to the very specific and very individual characteristics of the figure. No two figures the same. No two faces the same. No two hands the same. Just look.

The price we pay for our failure to pay attention to individual beauty is that our looking becomes judgmental and our standard for beauty becomes an abstraction that no individual can approximate: our hunger for beauty becomes cruelty toward ourselves and others.

September 20, 2014

some thoughts about the India paintings

[notes from a gallery talk at Canyon Road Contemporary on Sept. 19, 2014]

thanks to Nancy Leeson and CRCA for inviting me to do this work
thanks to my partner in art and love Elisabeth for encouraging me to do it my way…
thanks for coming out to look…
the paintings don’t need words
and I’m not going to give you many…
but here are three things I might say about them…

1. these are studies of scenes from everyday life…
I love India and there are some aspects of these images that are typically Indian, but I think what interests me the most about them is that they are typically human: parents hold hands with their children, friends with these gestures of warmth.
One of the things I love about India is that most every aspect of daily life is visible and out in the open.

2. I’ve tried to keep these paintings very direct and honest.
To me that means I’ve worked on them until they communicate an honest feeling. I’m not trying to make them more than what they are. So in painting these I kept asking myself if they were speaking; if they were carrying a sense of life and mystery. I found that sometimes I painted right over that sense… and had to stop and go back to something more simple; sometimes more detail, more color, meant less emotional clarity.

3. and finally I want to try to say something I’m not sure how to say:
there is something else about India that I love very much and that is an acknowledgment of mystery as a part of life. I’ve thought a lot about that as a painter and I’ve come to think that the access to this sense of openness and freedom only comes indirectly. I can’t say: let me see you and then get this picture of spiritual depth; I can’t resort to visual cues that say “mystery” or the painting becomes something like a visual cliché.
So, for me, the only way to approach this thing I sense in India is to return, again and again to the ordinary and the common. It’s here that the mystery can speak most clearly.

September 14, 2014


"injambakkam no. 19" oil on canvas. 24" x 30

These paintings emerged from time I spent at Cholamandal Artist’s Village in South India. This past winter Elisabeth and I spent five weeks there in a small studio belonging to the Indian painter Vishwanadan.

I spent a part of every day drawing and photographing the people around us: boys sharing bike rides after school and swimming in the temple tank. Women walking with their children. Fisherman mending their nets and launching their boats into the bay of Bengal.

There is still much of daily life in India that spills out into the street and becomes public. Friendships are more visible as are animosities. The rituals and rites of daily life play out before you. Shop keepers light incense and ring bells reminding the gods to pay attention. Homeowners sweep their houses and draw patterns in rice flour on the sidewalk as a gift to the eye and the ants.

In all of this there is, for me, a feeling of warmth and mystery: a sense that in all this activity something deep and beautiful and strong is at work. You don’t get at this “mystery” by going away from everyday life. Somehow it rises up through it and shows itself in small acts of mutual affection.

The drawings and photos from Cholamandal are the basis for these new paintings, which attempt to capture some of the warmth and mystery of my experience.

"injambakkam no. 13" 24" x 30" oil on canvas.