Making Sunshine Out of Night

Anniversary painting

Making Sunshine, Ronald Kok, 2018, Acrylic on canvas

28 years seems like a long time to be with one person. But 28 years also goes by in a beat of the heart.

It is my 28th Anniversary today. On May 26, 1990 we were two young people who didn’t have a clue what was ahead, as is the case with every other couple walking to that altar and saying their “I Do’s”. Those years have sped by but they are also jammed packed with memories, many good ones, some painful ones, others that need some reflection to draw back into the mind. At present, Monique and I are in a season that can seem dark on certain days. Yet it is amazing how often light continues to peek through.

Monique is an avid gardener and fills our house all  year ’round with plants and flowers. So much of who she is in my mind is green and growing, colorful and alive. So it was fitting that I give her the above painting as an anniversary gift. It is a tulip as seen from above. Those of you who know flowers know that tulips do this in the late stages of their blooming. In the traditional view of the tulip, not the best time for a photo opp. But seen from above, like the angle of this painting, there is an entirely fresh and new perspective on the beauty of this flower.

There was something so apropos about that image as related to our marriage after 28 years. It inspired a small poem that I wrote on the back of the above canvas. I share it with you here with the hope that you’ll see some beauty in your own life from a new perspective; perhaps that will help create sunshine to dispel your particular night as well.

 

Making Sunshine out of Night

 

Over time we’ve opened up

More and more to the light

As one we are displaying

A myriad of colors bright

 

The years extract their toll

Day-to-Day can take all our might

But you and I we’re a fire

Making sunshine out of night

 

– Ronald Kok, May 25, 2018

Fowl Fotos

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During lunch time on the banks of the Rideau River in Ottawa in Springtime, you find out who your friends are. In my case today, my friends were fowl; waterfowl to be exact. These “friends” were of the mooching variety, of course, floating around waiting for a hand-out. But instead of taking offense at their self-serving attention, I took photos instead. Then I arted them up to share on my blog!

Here are my fotos most (water) fowl from a beautiful May day:

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Divinity with Talons

eagle

Divinity With Talons, Ronald Kok, pen and pencil crayons, 2018

The Eagle: Symbol of courage, strength, and immortality; “the kind of the skies”; symbol of Rome; connected with Zeus, Odin and the God of the Jewish-Christian scriptures; in Gospel symbolism, the image of Jesus as God from the gospel written by John the Revelator.

A few months ago I did a commissioned work of art for someone in which an eagle-like bird was descending on a female figure drowning in abstract waters, reaching out its talons to grab her hand pushed just above the waves. At the time, I was using the eagle as a symbol of God. The image I drew from for the eagle was fascinating and I wanted to explore it further. Recently I finished the above sketch as a study for a potential mosaic I have in mind. It got me thinking of the eagle again, and the many and varied ways it could be connected with the divine. So, between sitting on a city bus for my commute and hanging out at a coffee shop soaking up some sun, I composed the following poem:

Divinity with Talons

Divinity with talons
Grace with bite
Soaring
Hunting
Among the clouds angelic
You bring pain to earth

Wings spread wide
Awe follows your flight
Swooping
Gazing
Vision piercing disguise
None can hide from you

Fierce and beautiful in One
You fly above all of us
Waiting
Enduring
Wild King of the Wild Blue
Dive into our flesh

From soil to stratified air
You lift up, up and away
Striving
Rising
Rending blood, skin and bone
Piercing hearts, minds, eyes

Your wings uphold all things
All love, all death, all life, all
Gripping
Carrying
Your aerie fouled with our mess
Earth taints Heaven, your home

Powerful, fast, truly free
Peerless majesty on the wing
Stooping
Bending
Choosing the worst on purpose
Everything becoming nothing

Divinity with talons
Grace with bite
Rising
Rising
You take us along in flight
And take our breath away

 

Ronald Kok, April 27-28, 2018

 

Silvia’s Sunflowers

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Ronald Kok, “Silvia’s Sunflowers”, mixed media mosaic on board, 2018

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. However, my latest artwork isn’t so much imitation as it is edification in the purest sense of the word. I took another artist’s work and built my own work on top of it, quite literally.

Over the last year I’ve stumbled upon a mosaic style that has resonated with me. Most of my mosaic creations have been done on what I call “Wal-Mart art” canvases; that is, I purchase an art print that I find at a second-hand store, something originally sold via a store like Wal-Mart or Ikea or Homesense, gesso over it and resuse it as the base for a new mosaic. The “original” print disappears and my new creation appears.

I had purchased an art print on a board at my local Value Village a few months ago. It was an interesting work of sunflowers in a vase:

sunflowers-in-bronze-vase

I really liked the image on this print and had intended to somehow incorporate another artwork into it. However, it ended up setting around in my basement until some inspiration struck: Why not use the image as a template and build a mosaic over top? So that’s what I did.

In the process, I discovered that the artist of the original is Silvia Vassileva, a Bulgarian-born painter who has been incredibly prolific in her lifetime. I scrolled through literally thousands of art prints of hers on sale online, searching for these sunflowers. Finally, I just searched “Vassileva sunflowers” and got the image immediately. It is titled “Sunflowers in a Bronze Vase”. My title? I thought “Silvia’s Sunflowers” was appropriate, considering what I owe her in my edification of her work.  If you want to see more of what Silvia Vassileva has done, check out her work on Art.com.

Below are images of the process the artwork went through to go from Siliva’s print to my mosaic:

Nearly Spring Haiku

nearly spring

Most likely I am guilty of slaughtering a venerable form of Japanese poetry. But I must admit to loving the simplicity, the challenge and the possibilities for humor and juxtaposition that Haiku provides.

It is Nearly Spring here in my little part of Canada, that aching time of seasonal limbo when we hover between the lingering cold and the coming green. A lot of snow has melted, yes, but certainly not all. The ground that has appeared again isn’t green but grey. The trees still look bare except if you examine them closely, then they reveal their humble bud beginnings.

These Haiku poems I share today are a form of therapy for me during Nearly Spring. I confess to eagerly awaiting True Spring with only tiny shreds of patience. These humble lines of five syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables help me cope.

Nearly Spring Haiku 2018

Spring ready to leap
But winter will not release
Its icy talons

Have you every thought
Spring sprung in February?
Poor befuddled fool

Snow post March twenty
Feels like a wet soggy slap
Across your bare cheek

Brownish greyish gunk
Never looked so beautiful
As on a thaw day

The snow blanket goes
Revealing the plows scrappings
Suburb detritus

Melted mini-lakes
Make some of the sidewalks seem
The place for canoes

Tiny buds appear
At the tree branch fingertips
Peeking at the sun

Spring surprise party
As things hidden for long months
Grin at us again

Green will soon o’er take
Winter’s ice-blue dominance
Time guarantees it

 

by Ronald Kok, March 24, 2018

Florence + the Bunny

florence 1

A simple post from me – pen and ink drawing of Florence Welch, one of my favorite voices in the music world today. The photo I drew from comes from the little booklet in a Florence + the Machine CD on my rack.  I didn’t do any pencil work on this first but jumped right in with the ink – always a challenge when you can’t erase. The bunny in her lap looks like some other kind of creature but…

That’s why it’s called sketching, I suppose.

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Blasted Birch

Blasted Birch

Ronald Kok, Blasted Birch, 2018, chalk pastels on paper

Part of my week is tending to a small art studio in the day program where I work. Once in awhile, I’ll pull out a different kind of medium as a challenge. I know that it is easy to get too comfortable with one medium. You get used to it and suddenly feel that you have to cling to that all the time, almost like a security blanket. The problem with that is it can stifle new forms of expression. So I will personally use different media to keep myself fresh and will use the same approach with the artists I help guide in their creativity.

This week I pulled out the chalk pastels and encouraged a couple of my artists to use them. I showed them how cool they can be to blend and displayed some of the different effects you can get with them. Then, as they were drawing, I started doodling myself with the pastels on a piece of brown paper, blending colors and making layers. I ended up with the drawing above.

I always find it fascinating to begin with no clear end in mind. That is kind of counter intuitive to all the seminars we attend and books we read on paths to success and having a purpose-filled life, etc., etc. The concept of goals and setting out your path to achieve them has always rubbed against the grain for me. There is nothing inherently wrong with making goals, of course. But it can, at times, stifle the serendipitous.

As I drew, a stand of birch trees emerged. I was simply trying to get an impressionistic feel of a forest in late fall/early winter. But after I was done, I realized there was a melancholy feel to this, and it reminded me of photos I’ve seen from World War I, after a copse of trees has been blasted apart by artillery; or of the remains of a woods after a forest fire has marched a path of destruction. How did I get there? I’m not sure. Certainly, as I look at this drawing I can’t help but feel I’ve made something reflective of my state of mind, my perspective on my life as a whole right now. There is a part of me that feels blasted, kind of torn up and scorched. In some ways, I think I made a self-portrait here. Maybe that happens more freely when you begin with no clear end in mind.

The good news? You can blast a bunch of birch – either through war or fire or change of seasons – and it will come back. There will be green again. Buds will form, life returns, and hope appears.

That is something I need to be reminded of when I am feeling shredded, when things look grey all around me. An image like this captures a moment in time but never, ever the full picture.

Not a bad thing to keep in mind if you, like me, are not where you want to be right now.

A Bit of Spring… as We Wait… and Wait…

A Bit of Spring for Heidi

Ronald Kok, A Bit of Spring for Heidi, 2018

Last week in this space I posted a small painting I had made for my wife for Valentine’s Day. It was a grouping of six red/orange tulips against a white background. A dear and long-distance friend of ours saw the painting online and commissioned a similar one for herself, only this time with yellow tulips. As she put it from her similarly wintry surroundings, “I am in great need of spring (in my heart and in the weather!)”.

Winter does that to those of us who can’t escape to Cuba or the Dominican Republic or some other such exotic and warm locale. At first, I enjoy Winter. When the snow falls and the skies turn bright blue in the cold, cold days, I really don’t mind. In fact, I love so much about it. But after a few weeks, usually near the end of January, you realize that Winter has come to stay. And it lingers and lingers… The season becomes like a relative that you’re happy to have stay with you for a few days because they’re fun and fresh and provide a distraction… but then they end up staying with you for about four months instead, and start leaving underwear on the floor and peeing on your toilet seat. Winter can be fun and different and enjoyable for a time but then the bad habits of the coldest season show up – Freezing rain (or worse freezing drizzle – the combination of those two words just sounds awful), huge brownish-blobs of heaped up snow along the roadside like a forbidding and ugly mini-mountain range, cars filthy with salt and dirt. Recently, I saw a van so covered in crap that I literally couldn’t tell what color it was originally though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t “River Silt Brown”.

Winter brings its charm but also brutalizes. And it can wear you down as you wait… and wait… and wait. For what? For change. For thaw. For Spring.

I appreciated the chance to revisit tulips in watercolors (thanks, Heidi!). Hopefully, if you are also dragging your feet along, tripping and shuffling through the most dire days of Winter, my simple offering of the promise of Spring gives you hope and a bit of renewed energy. Always at about this time of year, I have to remind myself that, to quote Oprah Winfrey, “A NEW DAY IS ON THE HORIZON!” I know she wasn’t talking about Spring but I hear her voice in my head as I’m thinking about it.

As I know what’s coming, eventually, every year as we go into Winter, I’m beginning to see that I may need to paint more Spring flowers come February. It is a good way to beat back the blahs and bring in the joyful expectation.

So enjoy this bit of Spring as you wait… and wait…. and wait…

 

A Nothing Means More Than Nothing

Six Tulips for Valentine's Day

Ronald Kok, Six Tulips for Valentine’s Day, 2018, Water color pencils

It’s not much. Six tulips on a small piece of watercolor paper. The paper is only about 5″ by 7″ in size. It took me about an hour to make. In reality, just another small, simple bit of art that doesn’t break new ground or set the art world on its ear. Quite literally thousands of works like this are done daily, if not hourly, around the world. Some are quite professional and sharp, others amateur but alive with life, others primitive but heartfelt, others sloppy and unsophisticated. Each are drops in the vast bucket of human creativity.

On the surface, unexceptional, everyday, commonplace.

I did this small painting on Valentine’s Day, 2018. My wife and I have been married over 27 years so we don’t make a huge deal of the Hallmark instituted “holiday”. Yet it is impossible not to think about each other on the day, to want to express, in some way, the love we have for each other. She left me a cute little baggie of chocolates with a note on the kitchen table that morning. Nothing big, nothing showy, yet conveying everything important – Someone loves me enough to think about me when we’re apart and, more so, to put something together just for me.

I took an hour or so of my day that day to make the above painting. As an artwork, nothing special; as an expression of my heart to my wife, I would hope that it is much more than just another simple bit of creativity. It reminded me of the fact we so often overlook when seeing something someone has made with their own hands like this: There is a story behind every single bit of art, be it a masterpiece or be it a clumsily crafted work.

In so many ways, the thousands bits of creativity offered daily, even hourly, by the human race reflect the profound reality of the world: We are, on the surface, mostly common, mostly unexceptional, mostly just another face in a sea of billions of faces. But behind the faces there are billions of stories, billions of heartaches, billions of battles, billions of hopes, billions of emotions that rise to the surface and find expression in billions of ways.

As I exist and take in my world, seeing a multitude of faces each day, swept along in the tide of humanity in my spot on the globe, I often consider how I am just a little bit more than nothing amidst all these people, all these stories, all these gifts, all these lives. Yet what can seem almost nothing when put against the sheer numbers of humanity, when the truth about each face is revealed, it is a powerful thing to realize that each person contains all that is truly important. Each of us, in a sense, is a self-contained universe. Each of us created to be unique, to be only ourselves, to be that singular person that has never existed before and will never exist again after we are gone.

And we will be gone. Each of us. But does that make who we are and what we do insignificant?

Was my little painting insignificant? I don’t think so. Really, how could it be? Motivated by another, meant as a small message of care for someone else – Nothing like that means nothing.

And nothing like me or you means nothing.