A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 49: Saturday Life Quotes #7

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“I come from a family of very devout, praying people. That idea of peace and love toward humanity shouldn’t be nationalistic or denominational. It should be a chief concern for all mankind.”

Mos Def (AKA Yasiin Bey, born Dante Terrell Smith) is a 43 year old hip-hop artist and actor from Brooklyn, NY. He can be seen in movies such as “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, “The Italian Job” and “16 Blocks”. He has recently announced his retirement from music and film in order to focus on a career in the fashion industry. He is an intelligent and insightful artist who has taken on the thuggish tropes of Rap as well as police brutality against blacks in America.

Below is a link to a great article about the artistry and influence of Mos Def, plus some more quotes…

http://www.thefader.com/2017/02/14/what-do-we-owe-yasiin-bey

“Good art provides people with a vocabulary about things they can’t articulate.”

“I just don’t think it’s very dignified to ask people to like you. You can just wind up being somebody’s ottoman.”

“Everything’s got space between it, the planets, trees, your eyes. Your eyes get too close together, it’s a whole different world. You can lose perspective.”

“There are a lot of people who call themselves teachers or leaders, but they’re really just propagandists.”

“I feel like being into the beat of your own drum has become too prominent in the culture.”

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 48: Inspired by the Original Selfie

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Recently, my co-worker noticed that I had been doing a lot of self portraits and remarked, “You’re very inspired by yourself lately.” Well, I hope it isn’t as self-centered as all of that. What I thought I was doing was taking images from the history of art – mostly, the original “Selfies” – and using the self portrait format to explore what those artists had done with color, line, composition, etc.

Portraits are a favorite of mine. Doing another person’s portrait is a great experience in many ways. I’ll probably explore that further in future posts this year. The self portrait is a fairly recent phenomenon for me. I did a couple of them in college, both of which are pictured below. The first was one that reflected some of the wire-wrapped canvases I was working on at the time. The other was a cartoonish attempt at displaying my state of mind down in the art department we called “the Dungeon”…

Part of my reawakening to creating art has been finding things to work on, to practice, to help move me along and help me improve. I think I look to the self portrait as so many artists have throughout history: It provides a readily available model (me) who happens to be around whenever I need him. Plus he’s cheap. And I can draw him without him taking offense at the finished product (most of the time). With the ease of digital photography, I don’t even need a mirror around, just a selfie that I can then turn into a self portrait. How handy!

Here’s some examples of self portraits I’ve done over the last couple of years…

Lately, I decided to revisit the concept of using an artwork from a famous artist in history as an inspiration for my own. I had first done this with the self portrait pictured at the beginning of this article. I had found a self portrait by Henri Matisse and, inspired by his wild use of color and simple drawing with basic details, I drew a self portrait that owed much him…

That was two years ago. For some reason, I went back to this idea again. In some cases I was inspired by the original Selfies of other artists, sometimes simply by the piece itself or the artistic movement it represents. Here is a small gallery of these self portraits and the inspiration for them side-by-side:

The first is one I drew for fun after looking at some colorful and whimsical work from Paul Klee. That set my on the path of creating more self portraits…

The second is an attempt to channel my inner Picasso…

The third was the most fun so far: Marc Chagall’s self portrait with seven fingers; a wonderful painting with so much autobiographical detail. Chagall puts in references to his Orthodox Jewish upbringing, his thoughts on the small town he grew up in, the fact that he was residing at the time in Paris, all presented in that dreamy and quirky Chagall style. I decided to add my own autobiographical detail: My thoughts on Colorado and the U.S.A. where I grew up, my current locale of Ottawa, Ontario, a reference to my love of comic books (see Spider-Man’s leg and arm in the “painting”?) as well as the dogs I grew up with and the church I lived next to, and, of course, a Denver Broncos Sweatshirt…

The fourth was inspired by a self portrait I found that Joan Miro had done in 1917. It looked very different from the works of Miro I was familiar with. I realized that as a young artist he was inspired by the Fauve movement happening in Europe at the time. Artists like Matisse and Andre Derain we doing radical experiments with color, composing their works with basic lines and shapes, steering clear of too much detail. Because of their bold and uninhibited style, they had been dubbed the “wild beasts” (fauves). Miro’s self portrait reflects their influence and consequently influenced me, too…

I just realized that in every single one of these self portaits, I’ve pictured myself in a hoodie!

I’m sure there will be more of these self portraits popping up this year. Don’t be too surprised to see my face pop up here again. Hopefully, you’ll understand it is an experiment in artistic expression and not an exercise in simple narcissism.

I least, I don’t think that’s what it is…

 

 

 

 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 47: In a Dungeon

I’m keeping the Valentine’s Vibe going for awhile this week… I unearthed another poem I wrote for my wife, this one from seven years back. It concerns the place we met and those early days of falling in love with each other.

In a Dungeon 

In a dungeon dark with artwork

I saw her, a score years ago or more

She draped herself in black and quiet

Her brown hair long and scarves she wore

In that place of unusual faces

She alone of all caught my eye

A crystal sea blue and brilliant gaze

Behind which such intensity lie

When at first I made her laugh

For a moment I couldn’t breathe

Warmth and beauty together there

Should not be directed just to me

Soon my thoughts never strayed

From her in dream or daytime wake

How could one person, small and soft

Fill me up enough to make me break?

In that dungeon many years ago

I became captive to on person alone

And the years have gone, age has come

But she remains for me the only one

And in my mind’s eye, as we share days

I still see that woman from time past

Now she drapes me in grace and life

Warmth and beauty, together will last

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 46: A Kiss is Just a Kiss

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“Here’s Looking at You” Ronald Kok, 2016, Charcoal on paper

Though it is February 15, I thought it might still be okay to stay on the Love theme of Valentine’s Day! Here are some famous romantic images from the history of art (and one not-so-famous that I drew myself – my wife and I on our wedding day). You’ll see the tenderness, emotion, passion, ridiculousness, clumsiness and mystery of love in these artworks. A kiss is just a kiss… unless it is preserved forever on paper, canvas or in stone, of course.

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“The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt, 1908. Certainly the most famous of all of Klimt’s work, infused with his trademark eroticism.

 

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“Pygmalion and Galatea” by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1890. This painting depicts the story by Ovid of Pygmalion, the statue created by Galatea, which is brought to life by the goddess Venus.

 

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“In Bed: the Kiss” by Henri de Toulouse-Latrec, 1892. For its time period, this is a shockingly intimate moment to be portrayed in art.

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“The Kiss” by Constantin Brancusi. One of four versions of this sculpture that Brancusi created. This work makes me laugh as it reminds me that most of us don’t have that Greek god/goddess body: We look more like one of these two!

The Kiss 1901-4 by Auguste Rodin 1840-1917

“The Kiss” by Auguste Rodin. And then there are those with those Greek god/goddess bodies… In this famous sculpture, the lovers’ lips never actually touch, symbolizing a story to two lovers who were killed before they had the chance to consummate their love for each other.

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“The Birthday” by Marc Chagall, 1915. Chagall pictures himself and his wife Bella in dreamy and playful bliss on the occasion of her birthday. As others have remarked, Chagall illustrates how he could bend over backwards for love.

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“Kiss V” by Roy Lichtenstein, 1964. I love Lichtenstein’s comic book-inspired art. This embrace leaves room for ambiguity: Is this joy, sadness, or grief? We can’t be sure. However, we can be sure of the genuine affection and empathy of this piece, despite the graphic art nature of it.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 45: Silly Little Love Poem

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Ah, Valentine’s Day! The flowers! The chocolates! The passion! The absurdly ridiculous expressions of love! What is it about romantic love that makes us feel like a god but act like Pee-Wee Herman? You can take the most sane, rational, level-headed person on the planet, smite them with Cupid’s arrow, and they become instantly stoopid. This day is full of silly and inane ways of gloriously and garishly showing the one you love just how much they turn you into a strangely cartoonish version of yourself, clad in full red, pink and lavender hues.

I have certainly been guilty of the wackiness of love. Perhaps there is good reason for this. Love makes you giddy. Love lifts you out of yourself. Love gives you wings. So you flit and float like a drunken pigeon, crash landing into the window pane of L’Amore.

To the many, many people who endure Valentine’s Day as someone without a partner (i.e., those who consider it “Singleness Awareness Day”), this day is enough to make them ill. You can’t blame them. Love makes us all look bonkers and do bonkerish things.

In the spirit of that weird and wonderful side of love, that Pee-Wee Herman side in us all, below is a ridiculous poem I composed for my wife, Monique, on Valentine’s Day five years ago. It is very hard to rhyme anything Valentine-appropriate with “Monique” (freak? geek? leek?) so I decided to use the nickname she was known by many, many moons ago in our college daze…

I Love Mo

Written Feb. 14, 2012

I love Mo, you know

When cold winds do blow

When down comes the snow

Yo! I love Mo

I love Mo, you know

When the ice melts and goes

When the grass starts to grow

Yo! I love Mo

I love Mo, you know

When the sun smiles down below

When the flowers put on their show

Yo! I love Mo

I love Mo, you know

When trees go orange, red and yellow

When cool wind again does blow

Yo! I love Mo

I love Mo, you know

Through times of joy and times of woe

Together in life hand-in-hand we go

Yo! I love Mo

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 44: To Be Nobody but Yourself

As I was looking over my blog posts from the past, I came across this article which seems so apropos for my 2017 goal of posting some daily creativity. I wrote this almost three years ago and am happy to report that I am still on this path… and still winning this fight.  

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My wife bought a piece of artwork with this quote on it for me many years ago. She knows me very well. She understood then and she understands now that the “hardest battle” of my life has been the fight to be truly myself. She loves who I am and wants me to experience that and, more so, wants other people to experience who I am. Yet there are times I’ve felt crushed by the weight of other people’s expectations. And times when I’ve felt that who I am was slowly disappearing.

A friend of mine recently commented to me that it seems I’m going through a “mid-life revival”. I really liked that sentiment. He was referring to the fact that I have been delving back into artwork, posting my creations on Facebook and also writing the very blog you happen to be reading right now (thanks for that, by the way).  Edging closer to 50, I am putting myself out there more than ever and expressing myself in these ways more than I have for many years.

I am an artist. And like so many artists, I’m not content to stick to one area of creative expression but tend to dabble in multiple areas when I get the chance. I have always felt most fully alive when I am making visual art or making music or acting on stage or writing prose. I made the decision to enter the blogosphere because I wanted the impetus to get back into writing for the shear creative joy of it.

For many artists, the act of creating is almost as natural as breathing. But it has not always been so for me. I have had long stretches in life where I felt I was becoming someone else and that artist side of me was fading, fading away. There are a number of factors that contributed to this but most of it had to do with a Twofold set of realities in my life: (1) I am a Christian; and (2) I am a Pastor.

The evangelical Christian world is not always the most welcoming and accommodating world for the artist. Artists, when they are remaining true to their creative impulse, like to push the boundaries, ask the tough questions, challenge themselves and others to view their world from different angles and in different tones and hues. This impulse is not generally encouraged or fostered in the evangelical Christian setting. The mysterious, the mystical, the grey areas, the fringes – these are not places where the Evangelical mind and spirit tend to go. Yet they are precisely where the Artistic mind and spirit go on a regular basis. The Artist doesn’t mind ambiguity, uncertainty. The Evangelical minds it a great deal and much prefers clarity and certainty.

I am generalizing, of course. But I stand by these generalizations because they are so often the way things play out. And so often the Artist feels very much a stranger in a strange land when he or she dares dwell among the Evangelicals. I have dwelt in that place and felt strange indeed. I have sensed the tension. When I did have the Jones to create, I’d find myself self-editing, concerned that I might offend someone. Or I’d have to defend myself for acting in a play in which the character I was playing said “Oh my God.” Or I would get the less than enthusiastic responses that spoke quiet volumes of displeasure about something I had created. And often I found myself tucking the artist in me deep down somewhere where it would not rock any feathers or ruffle and boats.

Yet, ironically, I ended up in Christian ministry, a Pastor. I won’t get into how that all happened because, frankly, after almost 20 years I am still bemused by it. Imagine, if you will, already feeling on the margins of Christian life and then ending up as someone who people look to for leadership in that Christian life. My artistic sensibilities took a beating from my own sense of responsibility to “the Call” and from the expectations of the Flock. When these things conspired together the Artist in me became almost undetectable and I no longer felt the natural impulse to create. I would continue to be creative, of course, and find avenues to do so, but it became a sidebar to my life, not a main part of the story.

I was doing good things for people and trying my best to remain faithful to what I felt God was asking me to do. But my wife could see that who I am and what made me feel most fully alive were not being given adequate expression. So when she came across the quote above, she thought of me.

I do not blame my Christianity or my role as a pastor in the Church for this fight to be myself. If anything, I have found over the years that I have no one to blame but myself. It was my choice to hide things away, to bury the Artist deep within; no one forced me to do these things. If anything, this Mid-Life Revival is showing me my own responsibility in all of that and also challenging me to no longer allow that to happen in my life. And it is my faith, and the belief in a God who created me exactly the way I am supposed to be, that gives me the motivation to be nobody but myself. In fact, I have begun to see that it was the Artist in me, the part of me that liked to push the boundaries, ask the tough questions, not be content with simplistic answers, and continually embrace challenges, that has made me most effective in my years of Christian ministry. I look at the Bible and my faith from odd angles, as an artist would, and that has given a distinctiveness to what I do as a pastor.

To any of you out there who also exist in this tension-land of Art and Faith, I would ask you to take heart. You do belong. You do have a role to play. People will not always understand you. You may offend some. You may confuse others. And there may be times others question your faith or you yourself do the questioning. But as artists we’re here to give expression to alternate realities, to be on a continual quest for compassion, to make people feel a bit uneasy in order for them to see God where they hadn’t seem him before.  That is a scary but fabulous calling.

The Great Artist made you an artist for a reason. So be that artist.

To those of you who are not artists, know that we will sometimes freak you out, whether you are a Christian or not. We will sometimes offend you. We will certainly confuse you. But if you let us speak, sing, act, write, draw, paint, sculpt, dance – create – you will be opening yourself up to a much bigger world. And that expanse in your spirit and mind and heart will make it that much easier to embrace all of Creation. You, too, are unique and uniquely gifted. And you, too, help people see God.

From now on until I die, I want to be unashamedly myself. I still have a lot of work to do but I feel I’m on the right track. I have steeled myself for the fight. Bring it on!

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 43: Sunday God Quote – Mavis Staples

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“The devil ain’t got no music. All music is God’s music.” – Mavis Staples

Daughter of the legendary Pops Staples, she was the transcendent vocalist of the Staples Singers and remains a Gospel and Rhythm and Blues performer par excellence. In her long career that has spanned SEVEN decades (!) she has collaborated with a host of musicians across a wide range of musical genres. She once even turned down a marriage proposal from Bob Dylan. These days you can experience her vocal power in a tune called “I Give You Power” recorded with Arcade Fire, released on Inauguration Day. I’ve posted a YouTube link below because I think you deserve to hear Mavis for yourself, if you have never had the pleasure.

You’re welcome.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 42: Saturday Life Quotes #6

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Nelson Mandela needs no introduction. His words are as resolute and powerful as the man himself. Invictus! 

“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

“Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.”

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

“We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 41: The Road Not Taken

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My mind has been in the woods and on trails lately. Seemed fitting to reprint here perhaps the most famous poem by Robert Frost. Written as a joke for an indecisive friend in 1915, people took it as a serious poem, to which Frost quipped, “I’m never more serious than when joking.”
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 40: Second Photo Walkabout of 2017

 

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Well, it didn’t take me long to get back out hiking with my camera in hand. I was in need of the anti-anxiety medication that is a heavy dose of the Great Outdoors. I ventured to a different trail in the Mer Bleue Conservation Area. The trail began with the bold and mighty chickadees and the joy of seeing a yellow-bellied sapsucker up close (usually they are way up in the trees, tapping away). Mostly, I welcomed a quiet and still place, the cold air in my face, and the chance to think and breathe.

In my photo-taking, I tried to pay more attention to the small things, the details along the way. Some winter days seem like living in Black and White TV or in sepia tone-land, depending on the sunlight; the colors aren’t showy, if any show themselves at all. You don’t get the burst of color from other times of the year, of course. Everything seems to be waiting, just biding its time, in no rush but laying in wait when Spring shows up. Everything, that is, except the busy Chickadees!

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