From Rilke’s Book of Hours

My sister sent me this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, from his Book of Hours, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy. It speaks to me deeply. “Go to the limits of your longing,” indeed:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours I, 59

Martha Graham

I have to share a profound quotation from dancer and choreographer Martha Graham that my friend and fellow artist Shirley Wagner just shared with me:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. . . . No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

Context deepens the resonance of her words for me. The quotation comes courtesy of fellow choreographer Agnes de Mille, in Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham (Random House, p. 264), who precedes the Graham quotation with: “The greatest thing she ever said to me was in 1943 after the opening of Oklahoma!, when I suddenly had unexpected, flamboyant success for a work I thought was only fairly good, after years of neglect for work I thought was fine. I was bewildered and worried that my entire scale of values was untrustworthy. I talked to Martha. I remember the conversation well. It was in a Schrafft’s restaurant over a soda. I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be. Martha said to me, very quietly . . .”

Researching this quotation led me to these other inspiring gems from Graham, the sources of which I don’t know, unfortunately:

I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.

Read more of this at the web site This I Believe. Also:

All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.

Dancing is just discovery, discovery, discovery.

Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.

Winter small-works show at Flux

Small-works show at Flux Gallery, December 10 and 11

Flux Gallery will feature small works for sale on Friday and Saturday, December 10 and 11, 2010, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., in conjunction with Grey Dog Trading Company’s annual winter Zuni fetish show. (Grey Dog is just a few doors away from Flux at Plaza Palomino.) Customers who present a same-day receipt from Grey Dog will receive a 10% discount on the small works at Flux, or Flux customers can present a same-day receipt from Flux at Grey Dog to receive a 10% discount on their fetishes.

In addition to the small works by member artists Carol Ann, Lee Roy Beach, Peter Eisner, Maurice Sevigny, Shirley Wagner, and me, we will also have work by incoming Flux member Katherine Minott, a photographer with a love of color and texture. Katherine won’t officially be joining Flux until January, but this show will give visitors a preview of what is to come.

Join us next weekend at Plaza Palomino, and give your loved ones the gift of beauty this season. For further information, please contact Flux (520-299-5983) or Grey Dog (520-881-6888) directly.

“The beauty that changes the soul of the world . . .”

Another quotation, this one from “Thirst for Beauty, Thirst for Soul” by Joan Chittister, in Creation out of Clay: the Ceramic Art and Writings of Brother Thomas:

What we do not nourish within ourselves cannot exist in the world around us because we are its microcosm. We cannot moan the loss of quality in our world and not ourselves seed the beautiful in our wake. We cannot decry the loss of the spiritual and continue to function only on the level of the expedient. We cannot hope for fullness of life without nurturing fullness of soul. We must seek beauty, study beauty, surround ourselves with beauty. To revivify the soul, the world, we must become beauty. Where we are must be more beautiful than it was before our coming.

The Artist and Monk Are One

The following quotation is from “The Monastic Spirit and the Pursuit of Everlasting Beauty,” by Joan Chittister, in The Journey and the Gift: The Ceramic Art of Brother Thomas:

If, indeed, truth is beauty and beauty truth, then the monastic and the artist are one.

Monasticism, in fact, cultivates the artistic spirit. Basic to monasticism are the very qualities art demands of the artist: silence, contemplation, discernment of spirits, community and humility.

Basic to art are the very qualities demanded of the monastic: single-mindedness, beauty, immersion, praise and creativity. The merger of one with the other makes for great art; the meaning of one for the other makes for great soul.

It is in silence that the artist hears the call to raise to the heights of human consciousness those qualities no definitions ever capture. Ecstasies, pain, fluid truth, pass us by so quickly or surround us so constantly that the eyes fail to see and the heart ceases to respond.

It is in the awful grip of ineffable form or radiant color that we see into a world that is infinitely beyond our natural grasp, yet only just beyond our artist’s soul. It is contemplation that leads an artist to preserve for us forever, the essence of a thing that takes us far beyond its accidents.

Only by seeing the unseen within can the artist dredge it out of nothingness so that we can touch it, too. It is a capacity for the discernment of spirits that enables an artist to recognize real beauty from plastic pretentions to it, from cheap copies or even cheaper attempts at it.

The artist details for the world to see the one idea, the fresh form, the stunning grandeur of moments which the world has begun to take for granted or has failed even to notice, or worse, has now reduced to the mundane.

It is love for human community that puts the eye of the artist in the service of truth. Knowing the spiritual squalor to which the pursuit of less than beauty can lead us, the artist lives to stretch our senses beyond the tendency to settle for lesser things: sleazy stories instead of great literature; superficial caricatures of bland characters rather than great portraits of great souls; flowerpots instead of pottery.

Finally, it is humility that enables an artist to risk rejection and failure, disdain and derogation to bring to the heart of the world what the world too easily, too randomly, too callously overlooks.

Charles Peguy wrote, “We must always tell what we see. Above all, and this is more difficult, we must always see what we see.”

Tucson Artists’ Open Studio Tour

The spring Tucson Artists’ Open Studio Tour is coming up again next weekend, March 13 and 14. I will be here from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., so please come by and see what I’ve been up to (and get first dibs!). I may even have some work in progress on the lathe, as I’m busy getting ready for the Spring Artisans’ Market at the Tucson Museum of Art at the end of March. I’m especially trying to finish some mesquite vessels with stone inlay.

You can find all the details about the tour, including a complete list of participating artists and maps of the studio locations, online at the tour’s website or in the current issue of Zócalo magazine. (This “Tucson Urban Scene Magazine” is worth hunting down; read it online or find it at various locations around town.) Fellow Flux artists Steven Derks, Peter Eisner, and Maurice Sevigny will also be opening their studios.

Flux Gallery

Nine of us Tucson artists have responded to the current economy by banding together and starting a gallery of our own. We’re calling the gallery Flux, to emphasize its changeable, fluctuating, fluid nature, and we have acquired space in Plaza Palomino, at the southeast corner of Swan and Fort Lowell Roads. We have our first show pretty much installed, though we’re still tweaking which pieces are placed where, and we’re preparing for our grand opening on Friday, October 16, 5–9 p.m. There’s a wonderful of variety of work to be seen, and we’re hoping to have a big crowd to help us celebrate. In addition to the art, we’ll have wine, water, appetizers, and music from a string quartet, so please mark your calendars and join us.

We’re a diverse and talented group that includes painters, sculptors, photographers, mixed media artists, and me! Here is who we are:

“Shidoni,” by Carol AnnCarol Ann: After eight years of painting semirealistic expressive watercolors, Carol began to experiment with collage, acrylic, and a more abstract style. This new nonobjective evocative approach anchors her work and has become her passion. Worldwide travel and the American Southwest, where she lives, continue to be her primary influences and inspiration. She loves the labor-intensive layering of paint and paper as she mines and refines her work to represent the concepts and the heart of the places her paintings represent.

“Deception,” by Lee Roy BeachLee Roy Beach: Throughout his forty years as a research psychologist, Lee studied, among other things, the neurological and experiential aspects of visual perception: how the mind creates visual representations of environmental events from partial and unreliable sense data. He found that this act of creation makes the representation both meaningful and compelling to the observer. As a result, he strives to avoid dictating the observer’s experience, providing only enough visual data for the observer to create his or her own artistic experience, thereby inviting participation in the creation of the work itself. The goal is for the observer to have an artistic experience that is both intellectually and emotionally stimulating and that is unique to him or her. He has been painting since the late 1950s but began his art career in the mid-1990s and has exhibited work in numerous shows and galleries.

“nonexiestance [sic],” by Bryan CrowBryan Crow: Bryan says this about his work: “I feel compelled to draw or paint every day. I try not to judge or filter what comes out; instead, I try to learn what I am going through, by letting go. Oftentimes I paint patterns and designs to get the creative process started. I enjoy making something concrete and meaningful out of the random mix of words and pictures that come to mind. When I watch my thoughts and pick out spiritual, psychological, meaningful, and arbitrary words, phrases, and ideas, I begin to put the puzzle together that results in the final image. When I put meaning to all that runs through my mind, I put meaning to my life.”

Sculpture by Steven Derks 
Steven Derks: Finding and collecting curiosities in thrift stores and junkyards is a lifelong preoccupation and a passionate experience for Steven, rather like going to church. Three or four times a month, he visits one of Tucson’s four junkyards. Steven walks around alone, looking at the forlorn piles of bent, twisted and rusted metal lying all over the place. Now things start to happen very fast; everywhere he looks he begins to see metal transformed into finished sculptures. Most of his sculptures are conceived right there in the scrap metal yards, where he finds both the vision and the ingredients for his work. Most of the time, during one visit, he is able to locate all of the actual metal parts that will be necessary to complete many sculptures, but occasionally an exciting piece of rusted metal will languish in his studio yard for months, waiting for the day he will find the piece or pieces that are missing.

“Beech Tree, Handcolored,” by Karen Dombrowski-SobelKaren A. Dombrowski-Sobel: After a 15-year career as a designer in large New York City architectural firms, Karen turned her lifelong hobby of fine art photography into a new profession. That was twenty years ago. Having developed and printed her own black-and-white work for many years, she started selling her work in galleries in New York, the Hamptons, Sag Harbor, and Carmel. In addition, she created fine art portraits for many NYC and Long Island clients. Being a painter early in life, she used those skills first in her hand-painted black-and-white photos and, more recently, in the digital work she creates with Photoshop. She moved to Tucson in 2005, after traveling around the country for a year. She is concerned with environmental issues, and her recent work centers on the landscape, and trees, in particular. Her wish is to create with her work an intimate relationship between the viewer and the subject, to inspire more thought and care for our wildlife and natural habitat.

“Burning Bush,” by Peter EisnerPeter Eisner: Peter currently has his studio at 801 North Main in Tucson. His work includes both freestanding metal sculpture and woven metal wall pieces. Peter’s work is currently being shown in Tucson at Gallery 801, the gallery at the restaurant Elle, Flux Gallery, and Art Marketplace.

“Tuscan Poppies,” by Maurice Sevigny 
Maurice Sevigny: Maurice is originally from Massachusetts, where he majored in art education, ceramics, printmaking and painting at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the Ohio State University. He taught studio art and arts education at Western Kentucky University, then served as the director of the School of Art at Bowling Green University (1977–1986). He was department chair and Marguerite Fairchild Centennial Professor of Art at the University of Texas at Austin (1986–1991). Since 1991, he has lived in Tucson, where he served as dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Arizona for 18 years. He did postgraduate studies at Harvard University and completed a summer residency internship in figurative realism and painting at the La Napoulle Foundation, in the south of France. In 1998, he completed a sabbatical teaching and studio art research residency at the Rohampton Institute, London, England. He has exhibited frequently and his paintings are in many private and corporate collections.

“Prelude,” by Shirley WagnerShirley Wagner: Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Shirley obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Youngstown State University and lived in New York City before moving to Tucson in 1983. She now resides with her husband and three sons in the Tucson desert, about which she says, “What appears at first to be harsh and desolate terrain carefully reveals a partnership of dynamic forces working together to survive. I am inspired to create a living plane to chronicle the harmony of these extremes.” She was a visual arts specialist in Tucson’s public schools before dedicating herself full-time to her wood assemblage work. Shirley was nominated for the Arizona Governor’s Art Award in 2006, in recognition of her contribution to the arts. She has been featured in various local publications, including the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Lifestyle, and her work is in various private collections throughout the United States and Germany.

“Mother and Child,” by Lynne YamaguchiLynne Yamaguchi (me!—pardon the third person . . .): Seven years ago, acting on a gut feeling, Lynne quit her career as an editor and book designer to become a woodturner—giving notice at her job before she even knew how to turn. Now an internationally known turner, Lynne uses traditional lathe techniques to create nonutilitarian, sculptural vessels that are deeply informed by her Japanese heritage. In 2007, she was a fellow in the International Turning Exchange, an annual eight-week residency sponsored by the Wood Turning Center in Philadelphia. She has demonstrated and taught woodturning techniques across the country and sells her work through galleries and art shows, and online.

Collectors of Wood Art Forum

The Collectors of Wood Art (CWA) held their annual forum in Scottsdale this weekend, and I was able to drive up for some of the Saturday sessions.

I first got to see a panel discussion chaired by sculptor Connie Mississippi, with sculptor-carver Susan Hagen, turner Merryll Saylan, turner Virginia Dotson, and furniture maker and artist Wendy Maruyama. The theme was place, and each artist presented images of places and work inspired or informed by those places.

Susan Hagen focused on a series of ten dioramas (Recollection Tableaux) she created for the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, depicting aspects of life in the prison throughout its history.

Merryll Saylan talked about home and community as place. Some of her pieces had domestic themes; some were more broadly influenced by her environment (e.g., changing color palettes), neighborhood (urban, industrial), and community (family, friends).

Virginia Dotson focused on the geology and cultures of the American Southwest, showing images primarily from Canyon de Chelly. As a desert dweller myself, I have always loved her geologic layered work, and I was interested to see that her new work incorporates painted petroglyph and petrograph motifs.

Wendy Maruyama touched on the World War II Japanese-American internment camps in the United States but focused mainly on inspirations from visits to Japan and China. Her incorporations of hentai images from Japanese pornographic comics and iconic images of Godzilla were particularly amusing. She has also begun using digital video in her work, such as a video of an Asian woman (her sister) applying “dragon lady” makeup, seen through a two-way mirror in a piece.

After a break, the forum continued with digital-image or slide presentations by various artists, emphasizing future work.

I first discovered the exquisite naturalistic carvings of Janel Jacobson this summer in the collection of Fleur Bresler. Janel showed the progression of her work from relief carving in clay to the fully dimensional wood carvings she now does, and she shared some of her specific techniques. The detail in her work is astonishing.

Turner Dewey Garrett’s work always interests me. He is always exploring fresh ideas, informed by his background as an engineer. He has now built himself an ornamental-turning system, but he’s not content to stick with traditional rose engine patterns; he has written software for himself that enables him to create patterns on the fly.

Sculptor Michael Peterson is continuing to explore organic shapes and textures in his work. I find his work irresistible.

Sculptor Jack Slentz is playing with Swiss cross and gear and star shapes, and complementary pieces combining positive and negative shapes. He is also using new materials: stitched rubber and street signs.

Kerry Vesper, furniture maker and sculptor, is carving wave or flying-banner forms and blossom forms in plywood. He is also playing with collaborations with glass artist Alisha Volotzky.

Todd Hoyer and Hayley Smith say they haven’t been making a lot of art recently, because for the last three years they have been engaged in building their studios and a house. Their joint presentation was about just that process. It was particularly interesting to see how the process reflects their approach as artists; for example, the floor of Hayley’s studio is essentially a sample board of colors and textures they were testing for use in floors in their house.

After the presentations, I spent a couple of hours savoring the del Mano Gallery exhibition set up in the conference center. They had multiple pieces from some four or five dozen artists. I haven’t taken so many photos since the ITE. I would share some with you, but I think del Mano would prefer that I not. You can see a lot of work at their web site, however, so check it out.

Going to the forum also gave me the chance to say hello to some friendly faces I met through the ITE this summer: Elisabeth Agro, Albert and Tina LeCoff, Steve Keeble and Karen Depew, Arthur Mason, Joe Seltzer. Brief though my visit to the forum was, it really makes me want to get back to the work I’ve been distracted from by moving and shows and holidays and new toys. I have so many pieces just begun or even just sketched out that draw and build on my ITE experience. That’s the work that excites me most, but, alas, it must yet wait for another few weeks, until after my next show. It must wait because it requires space, psychic space, birthing space. In the meantime, I think about it, dream about it, plan it, work out the details. It gestates in me.