Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Fishing Boat.

Here is a little sketch of a Mexican fishing boat some where off the coast of Baha California. Not much, a white page, a few scratched lines, it could hardly be called a "work of art" if only because it is so ephemeral, so incomplete. For me it serves a different purpose; its very lack of polish brings it closer to the reality of perception. It is free to just be itself. It is always a miracle to me; a few scratched lines and what a minute earlier was before even thought itself has sprung living onto the page.
What I like about this shadowy little image is that it is so shaggy, so ill defined. There are so many places a viewer can get a handhold, to interact, and be drawn into the page: unfinished by design, it lives forever as potential. With our own imaginations, we can feel the quality of light that casts the ship in shadowy outline;- the shimmering pearly light of the Sea of Cortez. We can call up the crew ,their personalities, their lives when they are home again with their families ashore.
It is the subject for an ongoing meditation that it could never be if it were a painting with all the details complete; - with all the blanks filled in. It will continue always in a state of becoming.

Low tide. Crows and Seagulls.

A wide vista: a breezy afternoon at the docks, boats, a rocky breakwater, islands, blue sky. In the foreground, so easily overlooked, is a low tide mudflat, a temporary landing strip for a swirl of crows and seagulls: all wings and strident calls.
My original sketch shows none of this swirl of movement in black and white. I drew what I saw: a few crows resting on a mudflat amid the pattern of shallow breaking waves that bend as they curve around the point of the flat.
So why the change? It has much to do with working with brush and ink and a fascination with pattern. If a little is good, then a lot could be more so right? It can happen faster than I can think with a big brush on rice paper. So the brush and the paper and my hand fly along like greased lightening and suddenly there is a new entity before me. It is as much of a surprise for me as to any other viewer.

...a flight of pelicans
Is nothing lovelier to look at;
The flight of the planets is nothing nobler; all the arts loose virtue
Against the essential reality
Of creatures going about their business among the equally
Ernest elements of nature.
"Boats in a Fog."
Robinson Jeffers.


A canoe glides along beside an ocean shore. The bow paddler pauses in his rhythm and nods towards a distant headland."There, at the base of that cliff. Bear!" Later, closer,"Rock! Now a rock."If these are indigenous peoples in the canoe, this would not be a natural mistake in perception ("For a minute it looked like a bear but my imagination was playing tricks on me") but rather that the perception never changed, the thing observed did: it transformed from bear to rock.
This way of experiencing the world as transformational is, or was, the norm among many peoples around the world. Not hard to understand intellectually, but difficult for those of us raised in a different world view to blend with our own. They are wildly divergent ways of understanding the world but create an interesting tension when they occur together.
Only after finishing and living with this ink painting for a while, did I see the face in the rocky cliff in the foreground. Its one of those figure ground images: either you see the rock or the face, it flickers back and forth. At first I resented this intrusion into a painting of a favourite family camping spot on Portland Island. It was not in my plan. Then I thought about this transforming image and realized how much I rely on being open to the unbidden, the unexpected. If I take control and paint this out I will be negating the greater truth that`s trying to speak through this painting. Even in a landscape so closely associated in my mind with intimate family memories, there still resonate other older perceptions and ways of seeing. There is a depth here to which I need to pay attention.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


We have had our second winter storm. First, wet heavy snow weighed down and broke trees and branches. Then a powerful warm front came in with heavy rain and warm south-east winds causing rapid melting and flooding. Finally with the following cold front we had a last wild bout of strong gusty west winds and wild waves.
At these times the people of the coast know the world as flux; the solid certainties and rational predictabilities of daily life and work interrupted by the storm sweeping in from the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps its not such a bad thing to be reminded that life is in its essence all flow and that once forced out of our life routines we can feel the movement of the larger natural world of which we are a part. Uncomfortable yes, but liberating.
In this drawing of two companion islands I show a real solid rocky place, that is also part of the ocean of ever moving sea and air. The sandstone shores are carved and shaped by the waves. The trees, bushes and grasses feel the salt spray and grow formed by the winds of winter. If we think about this relationship at all, the chances are we will think we must frame it within a scientific perspective: weather fronts, erosion ( even glaciation.),and all of the complex biological processes busily at work. I find though, that if I am to make a picture of flow and movement I must reach for another set of tools, a way of thinking, that permits me to feel my way into my subject. That stepping out of the world of culture that we experience in the midst of a storm, the feeling of being part of the wild world, is the mind space I reach for. Empathy is usually thought of as applying to a deeper understanding of other human beings but I do find it answers for my art as well. That alternate tool box of intuition, emotions, passion and spirit holds the key to the Dragon`s gate.

Knowledge does not enrich us; it removes us more and more from the mythic world in which we were once at home by right of birth.
Carl Jung.

Salty sea breeze

The afternoon sea breeze funnels up the narrow bay creating small crested waves that pant rhythmically as they hit the beach. Higher up the shingle are rounded driftwood logs, a dense salal covered bank and a magnificent grove of big alder trees leaning fulsomely into the wind.
This is parkland, no waterfront homes, no marina, just a secluded little bay, a salty sea breeze and the natural sounds that belong to it. When I was a Park Ranger I walked along this bay often as part of my duties, in all seasons, at all hours, but it is this particular scene that tugs sharply at my memory. Those alders leaning into the briskly flowing air, their fluttering leaves filling the bay with sweet sound and flickering light, the steady beat of the waves on the beach; it was all so fecund, so full of life. And I, trotting purposely along in my uniform and wearing my Ranger hat, was pulled out of myself for that moment and felt the lovemaking of the world and knew that I was part of it.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Dragongate Genesis

Snowberry bushes grow on the slopes of the rocky knoll behind our house. Common as dust, nondescript green during the summer, in winter they are bare sticks covered in white berries. On cloudy wet days, thousands of white dots hover above the dark sodden ground, a kind of Milky Way that reaches as high as my belt. That starry image drifts into my mind unbidden and I welcome it with an inner smile. This trick of mind that opens the gate of perception runs like a background program playing with words, images and the associated ideas that jostle and elbow each other seeking a new life, a new amalgam.
Dragongate, emerged typically as an almost accident: typing in several possible blog titles and finding them taken, I drifted into the image of the wooden dragon I had created and placed on the lintel above my entrance gate. Success! Like the dragon himself springing to life from a piece of driftwood, the name became a presence, a daemon, that stands at the gates of perception.
The dragon is a potent symbol in western culture. Like fire itself, the dragon is both a destructive and a potentially creative entity. Pillaging and burning, guarding a treasure hoard locked up in the dark primordial earth, it is also the creature we must go through to regain the sequestered treasure that we must have if we are to constantly renew and revitalize the world. I remember the Dragon ships of the Vikings. These too were a force that gnawed at civilization, civilized thought, the accepted world view and were in the process an agent for change and renewal. I could not have thought of a better symbol for the power of the creative process if I had tried.