Archive | Short Reads

“Silent Conversations: Long Departed” $926

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Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
Size: 20″ x 16″
Year: 2016

Free Range/Outdoor/Plein Air Price: $926
*all prices subject to change and availability, CONTACT us for specifics on this piece.

Notes:
Desolation row out here. Didn’t see a single soul for the few hours I spent on these cliffs a good distance from any of the more visited headlands in this region. I’ve been told this is the site of one of the oldest human settlements in North America. Long departed now, nothing remains but a man made hill of shells and refuse surrounded by the windblown dunes built up around it. That and the wind. The wind has always been here.

As I was scouting the headland doing the legwork of composing this painting there was a large platform of bare rock extending just below the vegetated bluff that was begging to be explored. The views from this platform were suitable as they were, but as with any time you find yourself in a spot like this, you have to walk out to the furthest edge as well. A finger of rock with a maybe 10 foot flat area extended from the platform a good 30 feet or so, sheer cliffs dropping straight to water on either side. From this vantage out on this ledge these 5 seacaves became visible while from just 20 feet back on the broader platform none of them could be seen.

If you’ve followed my notes about painting these on-site paintings, you know what an issue strong winds can be, and the difficulties they can bring. The wind this day was already blowing steady with undertones of far greater force to come and it was still only mid morning. It takes about 3 hours to set up my gear, tackle a painting this size, and pack it up again, so I knew that by the time I would finish a painting here, I’d be dealing with a fairly tense situation.

Now I had a dilemma. I forgot to mention that the broad platform from which the finger extended was rimmed by ten foot eroded dirt bank that provided excellent wind block at many locations. The view I sought was out on that finger though, and as it was the wind was blowing from off the open water directly behind the formation, slamming into the face creating all sorts of turbulence, and rushing onward toward these caves.

In these times of decision I always take a moment to seek direction from the Silence around me. Even in the noise of life there is always Silence around each of us, and within that Silence, a Voice, easy to miss, but impossible to ignore.

Go out to the edge and paint. Beauty is never without risk. I am with you.

Ok then. It was quite a chess match getting set up here, requiring total concentration on each movement and considerations of weight and flight risks for each element involved in my painting process. Rocks were gathered. One item at a time moved into place while the rest remained weighted down until bit by bit, all was in order and the painting could begin.

In the midst of all this, other voices were present in the wind. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned. Not threatening voices, but not welcoming either. The Silent Voice seemed to be speaking back to them and something in me was in awe of the conversation taking place around and within me while standing out on this precipice unknown and unseen by a single soul. They were ancient voices, but not as ancient as the Silent one. I couldn’t understand their conversation but continued on unsure of what to expect. I began to wonder if this was a sacred site, and my presence was in some way violating an unspoken boundary.

I noticed mists of white blowing past me as I painted, always passing between myself and the headland to the left, as if to separate me from the land I came from. They’d blow over the finger I was standing on and swirl down seemingly into the cave below. At first I thought they were stray bits of marine layer caught up in the wind but then looking back to see in the direction of the wind and seeing nothing but bluebird blue skies out there I figured maybe they wisps of moisture from the breaking waves below. It wasn’t until I was nearly finished painting that they began to hit me directly and I was a bit surprised to find myself being pelted by sand. From where? The nearest dune around was literally the base of the mound left behind by the ancient civilization just a few hundred yards behind me. That gave me a moment of pause in appreciation of nature’s poetry.  A more appropriate body for these voices I’d been hearing could not ever be found.

I also took it as my cue to wrap it up out here and proceeded to methodically deconstruct my mobile studio in reverse order. If there ever was a windblown disaster in the making (thing gear flying off cliffs, painting blown out to see, artist vanished) this was it. I attribute this painting surviving to be enjoyed today (sand embedded in the paint and all) to the One who is with me always. Many thanks to Silence.

“Milk and Honey” $452

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Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
Size: 12″ x 12″
Year: 2016

Free Range/Outdoor/Plein Air Price: $452
*all prices subject to change and availability, CONTACT us for specifics on this piece.

Notes: Plein air from the van.

I tried to leave this area after the last one, I was beat, dirty, and looking forward to a hot shower and my family’s faces once again. But just as I was mentally plotting where I might find the nearest cheeseburger before making the 5 hour drive home, there was a fork in the road.

To the left was food and the prospect of being home tonight, to the right was a road that would take me further out on this headland, already an hour’s dogleg from highway one. I’d never been this far out here before and not knowing when I’d be this way again it was an easy choice. I’d have to sleep in the van one more night.

Then 5 or 10 minutes down that new road there was another fork that headed to the leeward side of the headland. I thought I would just take a look and then continue to the end of the main road. I never made it past this view. I literally used the side door opening on my van as a viewfinder for this one.

Nothing in me felt like painting except for the sense of awe and opportunity that this beauty presented, so I ate a bit of dry bread for fuel and pushed through this one as quickly as I could and moved on.

By now the exhastion and hunger had the best of me and this time I chose the cheeseburger over the end 0f the road. Still had to sleep in the van though.

 

“Her Answer” $603

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Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
Size: 12″ x 16″
Year: 2016

Free Range/Outdoor/Plein Air Price: $603
*all prices subject to change and availability, CONTACT us for specifics on this piece.

Notes: I’d hiked this windswept beach for hours through the midday heat when the sun is at its shadowless peak. I was looking for a few things- a painting mostly, but also a wave or two. What I found was mostly wind. Lots of it. Blowing hard offshore early in the hike, then sideshore as the coast gradually bent to meet it.

Just once the wind let up briefly, then switched gently and met me face to face, greeting me with a holy sprinkling of sand, curiously examining this bearded fellow with the funny backpack. Not threatening but not welcoming either, whispering a cautious reminder of what she did to those Spaniards the other day who attempted to sail her waters. I told her what I was looking for but she said nothing and flew violently back to her Maker, leaving me to search in vain for a spot to paint that would convey the desolate beauty here.

Even if I’d mustered the mojo to scramble up the cliffs for a better view, my gear would have surely blown off and out to sea before getting too far. Still early in the afternoon, I was resolved to find some sort of windblock in or near the next ravine.

The steep wall that sheltered me there would surely cast its shadow soon. The tide would fill in and cover the wet and rippled sand along the rock wall on which I perched. I would wait patiently and go after it when the time was right.

After a long while 3 things became clear. First, the afternoon brought a shift in the wind and I was no longer sheltered, canvas bouncing like a kickdrum at a punk rock show, and my heavily weighted easel threatening to set sail with each gust. A brush in one hand, my easel in the other attempting to ride this bull to completion. Secondly, the tide had peaked and the water would not crest the berm today. And thirdly, the coast here hooks so unusually that I had no bearings on direction when staring at the overhead sun and grossly miscalculated its arc. This ravine would remain lit up and shadeless for hours to come.

I’d already blocked the painting in, anticipating these changes and really enjoyed the way it was looking, so I did what any fool that speaks to the wind might do. I kept on going, and that was her answer.

 

“Welcome Home” $484

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Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
Size: 12″ x 12″
Year: 2016

Free Range/Outdoor/Plein Air Price: $484
*all prices subject to change and availability, CONTACT us for specifics on this piece.

Notes: Had to charge my dead phone at a small bar in an even smaller town the night before I painted this. Open mic night was raging for a handful of locals and passers-throughs. Nursing my beer in the corner by the pool table (only spot near an outlet), and watching a few Mexican fellows play their game, I must have looked a bit too interested because next thing I knew a local had me lined up to shoot a game with him. He chose a poor opponent, I nearly didn’t sink a single shot even after he cleared his from the table.

We got to chatting a bit and I mention I’m down from Humboldt, and he says he knows the guy that painted the Humboldt Surf Company sign years ago when they were on the plaza. I’m tripping cause he doesn’t even seem slightly familiar to me but he described the sign I painted for them pretty well. At one point he turns to me and for some reason says “welcome home”. He was fairly stoned too I reckon, he said so himself anyway.

Had a few other fun conversations as well, one with another artist who saw me painting at the path down to the beach earlier in the day. During that conversation one of the Mexican pool players took to the mic with a guitar while a gringo joined in on piano and belted out some numbers that had the whole room hooting and hollering.

Once they wrapped up, I checked my phone and it was charged, checked my beer and it was empty, checked my social interaction comfort level and it was as non-existent as ever, so I promptly checked out for the night and hit the road at first light and arrived not too much later to this desolate beach I’d been wanting to explore for years. Up on the bluff looking back over this pristine piece of Califaornia that I’d never laid eyes on before, I noticed my van in the carpark, and I welcomed myself home.

“Free Range 16: Sweet Cherries for Sale”

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Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
Size: 16″ x 12″
Year: 2015

Series: “Free Range: California”
Odometer: 766.8 miles
Notes: Was digging this roadside view near a produce stand selling “sweet cherries” and had just gotten set up when the cherry slinger walked up and told me I’d have to move. Says I was blocking his sweet cherries sign. I wasn’t, but I could see how from over at his stand it might look that way. I began to tell him about my road trip, which he took as a challenge and interrupted to inform me bluntly that he’d driven all the way from Modesto, so he wasn’t impressed, and furthermore that he had a permit to set up there, and even furthermore that since he was there first there was no point finding a mutually beneficial solution. He was real good at cussing too. His parting shot was that I had to move or he would call the sheriff and have me forced to relocate.

After he left I was wondering if it was really worth the hassle when I see a uniformed official approaching on foot. Shocked he had the pull to get an officer out that quickly I resigned to pack it up as I hadn’t even started painting yet anyway. The official comes around to the back of the van and starts right off telling me I wouldn’t be able to park there… then his face came into focus and it was none other than a long time friend and college housemate who had been working with the state parks doing trail construction for years in this area. Apparently he’d driven by, saw me and was just stopping to say hi and joking around. He had no idea about cherry man’s problems.

We talked for a bit in full view of cherry guy and resolved to just move the van a few feet and carry on as I was safely parked, not blocking his sign, and permit or not he didn’t own the highway. Pretty funny to think of cherry guy seeing me talking it over with a very official looking park ranger and staying put. I wasn’t finished painting when cherry man closed down and when he came over to get his sign, he backed up as close as he could to the back of my van and made a great effort to spray me with gravel as he put all the horse power his Chevy astro could mister on the line. It was sad. Barely kicked up any dust. I’m still embarrassed for him. Oh well. Just bummed he bailed before I finished. I was going to buy some cherries.

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Depth Together.

A high-minded artist speaks of lofty ideals
and grand ideas
and creates to conceptualize
all the pretty lies
they feel
into every piece of art they steal
from the ether
and deposit through the vaulted gallery door
while the kid on the floor
scribbles away
trying to draw out the poison
from the wound incurred
during the last family feud
and though the one speaks highly
and the other barely whispers dryly
they both see the scene
through one eye apiece
and only perceive
depth together.

Fini

The artist.
You created this.
You accomplished everything.
Did what you never thought you could.
Lived circles around your own preconceptions.
Saw your children grow and scatter to the four winds.
Heard their glowing reports from the four corners of the world.
You’ll live your last days here in the shelter you’d always sought after.
Not working for the hollow dream of another man’s profit .
Just breathing now with the rhythm of the martyrs.
Breathing in the deep sweet breath of the dying.
Your youngest child still on the easel.
Bound to miscarriage.
No memories.
Gone.

Upholstery And Smoke

She was just a child
Leading the Rebellion
With discarded toys.
Striking out
At them.
At us.
At herself.
And though she made a fool of the Enemy
Throughout the Ten Year War
She lost the Final Battle yesterday.

And now she is gone.

She left home too soon.
There was heaviness in the entry way
As she said her goodbyes.
We did not understand why.
Our parents cried.

She picked us up in her Chevy Nova at the age of sixteen.
We were only nine.
She smoked cigarettes like a real grown up.
We couldn’t see the road.
Just the upholstery and the smoke.
She gave us punk rock.
She bought us pizza.

She fought like hell.

If we’d learned anything from her
Perhaps we could fight back these tears right now.
But every drop is a salty rebellion
Led by a mere child
With discarded toys.
She was never one to be easily denied.

Goodbye Sister.

Weight-Bearing

Load upon load
and weight to bear weight
these beams bear witness to our memories lost in the fire
on the night we crossed the bridge
to the hobo camp
passing driverless cars
and the rising tide
forced us to climb over the rocks in order to round the headland
where lovers loved
and dreamers dreamed
and thieves did their best work
stealing all that we had
and leaving us with nothing
but ashes.

Cold Cure

The machine grinds away churning the night into writhing hallways of smoke, sweat and indifference, pierced by the rapid fire strobe of distant memories flashing on the back of our collective retina. Memories that keep us here, even as we stumble through the back alley exit, numb to the cold, numb to the sight and sound of the neon machine engaged in a timeless battle with the wind and the rain and the darkness of night.  Candy coated electrical conduits transmitting the disease.  Infected.  Stage 6.

Waking in the gutter, shirtless and void, no cure in sight, we fix our blurred gaze on the sliver of crescent moon hanging low on the vertical horizon as the sun prepares to slip sideways into the light of day.  Our long lost senses slowly return to their frostbitten homes amongst our synapses, and an inescapable reality envelopes us;

Cold.

It has become our enemy, gripping and shaking us as we wrestle into our still-wet wetsuit, 20-grit with sand from yesterday’s ocean.  The frozen darkness of pre-dawn has not yet revealed the reason we put ourselves through these paces, but we can hear it in the distance, like a machine grinding away, churning the remains of the night into swirling walls of water, salt, and stoke.  The sound stirs memories that keep us alive, and keep us coming back for more.

We stumble out the back of our van, insulated now from the cold, nearly tripping over the shirtless guy in the gutter.   Where’d he come from?  Back to the van for a blanket and a bagel and what’s left of our morning coffee.  We throw the blanket over his wretched frame, stopping to see that he’s breathing, leaving the food and coffee beside him, hoping he’ll figure it out.  We make our way across the sand as the first light of day dawns, the moon hanging even lower now over the rhythmic horizon, soon to be immersed in it’s daily cure.  Just like us.

Traveling Light

Now let me get this straight, I’m supposed to want what you’ve got?  Ain’t no wagon big enough to hold all the worldly possessions you offer, the shine and pop glittering off your leadbolten chains sunk and anchored deep in the molten core of the earth. No offense, friend, but I’m aiming to travel a little lighter than that.

Everything I own is packed up here, ready to go wherever life is still fragile and not yet covered with concrete and steel.  Boxes of unsettled memories, most of them mine, some of them borrowed, but that’s just fine.  I trade them on the roadside to strangers and friends alike just to feed my family. I got kids that call me Pa and a wife that loves me true and a newborn baby with eyes so blue they make the ocean cry even when the sun is shining, so it don’t bother me none that my tarp’s been leaking and my lung’s been rattling.  You call me poor, but I am rich. Richer than you anyway.  Your mountain of worthless money can’t buy what life has given me freely.

And you still say I’m supposed to want what you’ve got?  You step out from behind your polished black veneer of tinted glass to hurl spit and fire at me, threatening with scorn that I should dream your dreams for you?  You wonder why I stand unmoved as you command me to sign the dotted line and exchange what I’ve got for your drunken dream?  A cup of clean water for your barrel of poisoned wine?

Your dreams are nothing to me. I am the undreamed, my friend, and your stillborn dream will be left on the road unmourned where it will be trampled by the masses you dreamt of trampling.  And as for me, when all the words have been spoke and all the dreams undreamt, I’ll ignore my leaking tarps and my own rattling lung just long enough to smile on my kids and hold my wife close and jump in to the cleansing ocean of my baby’s eyes one more time before I have to travel even more lightly on.

Death is Unoriginal

There is nothing creative about death.  Destruction and decay follow the course that’s been laid from the foundation of the world.  Turning life into death is the natural order of things and always has been.  Tune into the program nightly and witness the procession of fast-food destruction served up on microwave-safe trays for public consumption on a global scale.  Pass the ketchup.  The armchair graveyard is never satisfied.

The crushing weight of seven LA freeways cannot compare to the tragedy of the needless speeding of Death’s Process.  Recklessly darting from lane to lane while shrieking a mournful howl across all 8 lanes, Death’s Process hangs one hand out the window flipping a wretched bird to every hopeless soul who by birth, design, or foolery lacks the horsepower to keep up with the flow of traffic.  Confined to the right lane, where they await a forced exit, cut off forever, these legions of hopeless are unmourned by the onslaught of a constantly accelerating culture.

Standing on the side of the highway, breathing in the concrete vapor of exhausted lives it’s a terrible and tragic fleeting moment when you connect the dots and see the wreckage spelled out in slow motion.  Parents weeping for children ripped from their arms by needless disease.  Children stranded, orphaned, and worse because we all had important things to do the day we saw them on the side of the road.  In this moment, delicate as the fluttering wings of a butterfly, the rush slows to a walking speed, the city evaporates and there is nothing but barren fields of earth.  Welcome home.

The TV is dead and gone now.  A new vision has sprouted from it’s earthen grave. Why live another spoon-fed day when we can go to the kitchen ourselves and cook up a thunderstorm with the fruit of the suddenly fertile earth? Feed the children, comfort the parents, take them all in to your own broken heart and listen for the sound of the wind and rain beating against that thin veil separating you from death itself. Life is not what you ever expected.

The Unexpected

It happened again the other day.  Cruising up the coast for a surf, minding my own business, getting passed by a speeding funeral hearse, and in one instant flash, the course of my life was altered.  No, it wasn’t an accident, at least not of the car wreck variety. It was more of an accident of mind, and it’s been happening a lot lately.  Apparently I never read the life-as-an-artist handbook that warns of all the dangers of inspiration.  I worry that if I keep this up, my creative license may get revoked.

Inspiration is a tragic fleeting moment where a new vision sprouts from the shallow earthen grave of a bad idea.  Often times I cling to the rotting corpse out of desperation, not knowing where else to turn, ignoring the funeral procession, refusing to wear black.  But I play the fool.  Death itself was made for bad ideas. There is nothing creative about destruction, decay, and death.  Turning life into death is the natural order of things.  Do nothing, and you will have played your part in the unmourned dance.

The tragedy of inspiration is that often the lifeless idea is the safe idea.  And when inspiration comes gently fluttering in with the breeze, behind it lurks the force of a thousand waterfalls not to be resisted.  Life itself blasts out a soul-splitting bass-line from the speakers of the funeral hearse.  Get up and dance!  Mourn if you must, but get up and move!  When death turns into Life, it’s never what you expect.

It’s often not what anyone else expects either.  Always surprising, at times embraced, but more often rejected, true creativity has no other path than to walk through these rusty gates.  The lock’s busted, the gates swing freely in the wind, creaking out a strangely melodic tune.  Welcome to the graveyard of bad ideas.  Here you’ll find the world’s best artists dancing on the graves while Inspiration herself does donuts on the graveyard lawn with the volume turned up to eleven in the funeral hearse.

California Gold

 

“Welcome to California.  Now get lost.”

Getting lost is an easy feat in the old city of one way streets and construction work dead ends, where the 2 a.m. limousines cruise the darkened streets and the drunk Russian couple leans out the window and invites you to their apartment for crepes and cigarettes and possibly no return.  Nothing to do but surrender to the waves of the pulsating neon narrative rewriting itself in the shade of this towering symbol of prosperity. The Golden Gate.

In truth there is nothing golden about this Pacific sea-faring gateway to the land of wealth and opportunity.  The gate itself is actually red.  The color of caution and rage, a warning shot to all who enter here seeking gold that it will not be easily gained.

Its been this way for a long time here.  Territorial disputes. Warring tribes. Warring nations. Blood-soaked ground.  Quick wealth seekers with gold dust in their eyes. Out of work dust-bowl refugees with only survival in their eyes.

Fast-forward to Silicon-chip greed gamblers. Buy-and-sell-for double real-estate mass-ponzi schemes. Grow-your-own-money-tree under the sheltering shade of medicinal legalities. Securing investments to disrupt our collective social engineering experiment with a handheld bet wagering ever higher stakes. In each of these manifestations of wealth-without-work mass mentalities, the winners are few and the collateral damage runs high.

The Spanish galleons seen on yesterday’s evening news were listing heavily from cargo holds full of dreams to be sold. They still circle the bay today, docking in the dark fog of modernity, selling these dreams to the corporate midnight brokers. They rebrand them and sell them for double on these beautiful streets of ancient brick as the smell of roasting coffee awakens the city daily from these plastic dreams that have been broken and left us broke.

Just like all the other scared souls afraid of losing what never really belonged to them in the first place, there are two things these merchants know very well; first, that broken bodies heal faster than broken dreams, and second, we are not in their dream.

Just how its always been…   “Welcome to California. Now get lost.”

Drink Deep

For the ordinary soul who owns not a boat or a plane, the only way there is by your own two feet, one step at a time. Unless you are the ordinary soul’s dog, in which case it’s more like your own four feet, two steps at a time or something like that. In other words you’re just gonna have to hike. Eight miles. On sand and cobblestones loosely piled up between vertical mountains and the deep blue sea. Only at low tide. Higher tides and the surge of large swells will submerge that little eroding sand bridge to which your feet (or paws) will hopefully remain planted upon.

One such surfer and his dog endured that hike in the late spring one year, after a season of heavy storms, which swelled the creeks and brought with it a series of rock shattering swells and a fierce longshore current that removed all but the most stubborn sand deposits. Oh sure, they scored some quality surf, but it was a ride they took on the hike back that would define the trip.

It was one of those days when the low tide wasn’t really very low. Combined with the somewhat unruly and large swell, these were not the optimum conditions for attempting this hike. But since boatless , planeless, and now foodless ordinary souls and their dogs tend to need to get back into town once in awhile, they really had no choice. The day was getting late. Only a mile or so to go and then it happened.

The ocean seemed to calm a little, and the air became quiet. There was no reef or sandbars on this particular stretch of sand, just deep water. Taking a check of his surroundings as an alert surfer will do when the ocean changes her tune, he knows he’s in a tight spot. Sheer crumbly cliff greets his left hand, the big lulled ocean his right. Up ahead about 60 yards is a somewhat higher sand berm he’s been heading toword for the last ten minutes. So close, but with the forty plus pounds of gear on his back, it’s a good minute or so away, even at full speed. The swell is running at a 17 second interval. He grunts and picks up the pace, but no sooner than he became aware of making that decision, he sees the deep water welling up on the shore.

Seeing the futility of racing this impending wall of water he braces for the worst. He sees his dog running for high ground and as he digs his hands into the course and cold sand he watches the first surge of water envelop his companion of the last seven years. A second later it’s his turn. Larger than he had anticipated, the oncoming whitewater makes quick business of uprooting him and tossing him shoreward into the cliff. Then comes the rebound back to sea. Like a rolling stone he is pulled off the beach, barely getting a gasp of air before going deep into the drink. Being dragged to abnormal depths by the pack on his back he wrestles himself free of it and begins the task of exiting through the large shorebreak.

Finally making his way up the beach, he stops and looks for his dog. Scanning the shorebreak for any sign of life, he finds none. The ocean gives and takes away. As if to cruelly punctuate that thought, he spots his pack rolling up with the next surge. Quickly dragging it up the beach and making his way to the higher and drier ground, all he can think of is that nothing in that backpack is worth anything next to his old friend. The beach is broad and wide the rest of the way, so there is no need to hurry now. There is time to sit and wait. To hope and pray for a better ending to this bad dream. A good hour he sits and almost dries out, never taking his eyes off the shorebreak, scanning for any sign of life. But there is nothing. It’s almost dark now, time to go.

Emotionless, he finishes the hike to his truck. The warm beer that awaits him there brings no joy or satisfaction this time, just a little more numbness to wash down the plateful he’d just eaten. He heads to the overlook as was his usual custom, just to stare back up the coast and put the period on the last sentence of this chapter. The sun is down, just the dimly lighter western sky illuminates the thoughts he is lost in. Just as he turns to go he hears a faint noise that penetrates the walls around him and brings him full force back to the here and now. Even from this distance and through the constant sound of the crashing waves, he knows that bark.

He hollers back and saves some beer for his friend.

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