Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cosmic Dance

Finally I am back in the studio. Life got the best of me and obligations of the day to day took power over the brush.

Today could have gone the same except Jim promised me a cup of Dunkin Donuts latte if I got in my car and drove into the studio. It was this tiny reward that made me realize I could carve out a morning to paint. The bigger reward of course was painting itself.

Prepping this painting took longer this morning than the actual laying down of paint so far. It is another of my paintings composed of multiple canvases. In this case 12 12"x12" canvases. I like the format of multiple canvases, to me it is a reflection of our pixelated lives—lives bound by multiple lenses, the fracturing and re-blending of ourselves and our concept of community and the larger world.

This painting is inspired by my very many walks in the Vermont forest. The forest has many stories. Their is a story in each tree, in each stump, in each pile of rocks and earth. I think their story reflects our own. How often do we stop to see and embrace our stories?

Lastly I'd like to share this reflection from Thomas Merton that has been embracing my soul the last few weeks as my parents and I are working to bring together the support they need at this time in their lives. We all need support for our different stages—whether becoming a new parent, learning to drive, entering adulthood or mid-life or any change of our health. Knowing when and where to turn and what to enjoy at each stage is where the heart is discovered.

The Cosmic Dance
—Thomas Merton
When we are alone on a starlit night, when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children, when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet, Basho, we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash--at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the 'newness,' the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, all these provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Butterflies and Other Things in a Grateful Heart

This past week in Rochester has gone very quickly—astonishingly so! A week I guess is shorter still when you add in a holiday.
What gave in my planning was time to paint. I had it all lined up in my mind. Imagery solid, supplies all ready to go. However there was the matter of a feast and family and then presentations and interruptions from work. Still I played and thought and imagined what I will create next—visualizing and problem-solving in my mind.

That is one misnomer about the word Sabbatical. Many think it means vacation but instead it really means concentrating on important work that one was unable to concentrate on before. This week it included on the "official" side of the fence:
  • the upcoming NEASC panel (my intro presentation is now on SlideShare!),
  • this week's brainstorming at the Emergent Media Center on creating a "Makers' space",
  • a PACE board call—an IEEE Computer Society endeavor to collaborate across communities to share efforts with the aims of advocating for young people to enter computer careers.

Family was more poignant and far more lovely. I spent a full Thanksgiving with many of my siblings and their wonderful children, a visual feast of a day at the Albright Knox Museum in Buffalo (an artist's must see) and viewing the wondrously magical Hugo with Jim, a marvelous two days with my daughter Tegan, to include a girls' half day with her and my niece Margo, and precious time with my parents battling resources for long-term care and simply enjoying just being.

But in the realm of play, perhaps what linked my work and my life was a few days with my brother Dave, his wife Patti and their lovely flutterbies! They returned me to my youth and through them I once again was a child of exploration and creativity. Together we flew between time and space.

For all of this I am deeply grateful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

In Between

A rainbow greeted me the first day I returned to Vermont.
Since July I've been traveling back and forth between two very different world views. At first it was quite unsettling. For twenty plus years point A has been Vermont, a rural state of some 600,000. My life here is about students, technology, media, and art. It has been a driven life with much work to be done. My breathing space has always been the outdoors.
Starksboro, Vermont
Point B is Rochester, NY, a city of some 600,000. It's the place I grew up within; a city that until the 1990's was a booming technology hub much like California is now. Today Rochester is itself in between. Where once there was segregation, now there is diversity. Where once there was corporate growth, I now am witnessing decay and a rebirth. Borne of the 30 somethings and younger, entrepreneurial spirit is slowly taking apart and building back—renovating and creating Rochester anew in their image.
East Avenue, Rochester - down the block from my studio.
In Rochester I have a studio smack in the center of the metropolis, above the Rochester Contemporary gallery, down the street from the Little Theatre, quite close to the Museum of Play, the Eastman School of Music, the Memorial Art Gallery (where I fell in love with painting as a child), and surrounded by all sorts of coffee shops. There amidst the city life, I have an uncluttered studio where my focus can remain unbroken. When I leave the studio, I enter the world of city streets, freeways, and then the tumbled suburban neighborhood of my childhood. There my questions focus on my parents and our changing life vantage points.
In the studio.
When I return to Vermont, the forest calls me back. It is stick season of sorts—the time between fall's brilliance and the cold, white clarity of winter. The dogs run freely and so does my mind. Here I'm looking forward to skiing at Bolton, snowshoeing out my door and catching-up with friends.
Out my door in Jericho, Vermont.
It is getting so that I like the split personality of my life right now. It is a gift given to me by my sabbatical and one that could only be available in this age of travel. My concerns stretch between the digital, the painterly, and the familiar. My mind seems to be stretching. I realize I have no answers, only frayed threads of ideas. Our collective and individual destiny has become my reflection point.  I'm seeing life as a universe bounded and yet unbounded by time. I am no longer one age but many, I am no longer one place but many. From my peculiar vantage point it appears that family and community are our purpose. We are but individuals who come and go but family and humanity are the living being much like mycelium* is the living body of which mushrooms are a temporary flower. I am learning that it is our connection to each other, to time and to place that profoundly determine who we are and how we will be next.
Off the bike path north of Greece, NY. 
* According to Paul Stamets in his 2005 book "Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save The World" the oldest mycelium is said to be 2200 years old and 1,665 football fields in size.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Soul's Eye

It is funny how the mind and eye work. I set out to create a painting about leaves on moss. And late last night I hated it. The colors were too Christmasy. The leaves flat and lifeless (perhaps because they were on the ground dead!).

So I scraped all of the moss away and woke up the leaves, veering from their true form to what I imagined they would be in air. I then layer in some white tones and went to sleep.

This morning I went at it again and now I have leaves as I saw them truly on my walk yesterday—floating down from the trees. The paint is thick and gooey. I seem to be moving between thick, luscious paint application to calmer, more thinly applied paint and I never seem to know which the painting will turn out to be.
Looking at the painting now, I see that it was just trying to be (and has become) what the theme in my mind is about these days. Flying.
It started with Maine and the birds there, transitioned to the painting "Learning to Fly" I am working on in Rochester. It took a side trip to explore the concept of tree of life through the small painting of the oak leaves. And now this small gem. I believe small paintings need to be gems, precious, complete. So you have it my soul told my eye what to create, damn the logical brain!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Riot of Choice and Color

It rained most of the day today. The sky layered in grays. So I spent most of my day sequestered inside following up on correspondence, reading, and even starting a deviantART page ( But I find the process slow and so only posted three Maine pieces. devaintART has an interesting feature that I didn't realize—the option to sell reproductions of your work. The price is pre-set with no leeway that I've figured out yet. Of course 75% of the funds go to the site, shipping, reproduction costs, with a minimal to the artist. An artist definitely won't make a living this way. All the artist's time and production costs are not covered. Interesting though as reproduction is only a few clicks.

Most of my work is now on Flickr ( ). Flickr has a sale function too—through stock sales agreement with Getty Images ( ). This is more applicable to photography. I haven't read through all of the agreements so for now I haven't registered for that option. However I quite like Flickr for imagery. Etsy is another I may post some work to but there is so much management of all the differing options to stay relevant.

One of the reasons I'm exploring all of these options is to try and understand what is the best way for an artist to showcase work online. Social network sites allow greater audience potential. Custom designed sites allow for finer creative and fiscal control—in essence one's own gallery.
However what I really wanted to do today was paint and get outside. I've been walking through the woods almost daily. A favorite walk of mine is about 2.5 miles through damp woods, across to Barber Farm, through a mystical pine forest, down into deep marshes, along a stream and then arriving at a tall, proud beech forest high above. So about 2:00 the dogs and I headed out.

What is beautiful about rainy days like today is the power of the light and the damp to pull out and intensify colors. Moss is greener, tree trunks blacker, and fallen leaves a riot of brilliant vermillion, cadmium red, lemon yellows, and gold. And today it was if all the leaves decided to drop. Looking up the trees were covered in green, but the floor of the forest was like an impressionist's painting. Almost disorienting. Each area was covered in differing blankets: the scarlet of the sugar maples, the gold of the beech, and the lemon of the birches.
I've brought some of the leaves home and am painting again. But first I completed yesterday's painting.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wisdom of the Oak

Sometimes the most difficult part of creating is not developing the idea but creating the reality. As a modern consumer it is so easy to go on the "hunt" whether online or on foot, to observe randomly and then to purchase. Ideas are often the same. It is incredibly easy to buy or in this connected world to put other concepts together—to "mash-up".
But what makes a true visionary or a time spanning artist is the ability to profoundly create. The reason I most deeply admire Picasso is his ability to take what was around him—all his influences—personal, cultural, rival artists—and then apply his considerable drafting ability to create new expressions that went beyond the relevance of his times into ours. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones I would offer are the same.

A degree alone does not offer this: mentors, time, struggle and doing do. Today I met with Laura Dagan for lunch. She is a master. Learning, compiling, creating in a world not of art but of business. Business with heart, a business that builds people.

So sometimes the most difficult part of creating is the doing, the starting and continuing. In my mind, many thoughts are stirring about, creating an internal ruckus. The painting I've started waits for me in Rochester now weighs on me. How will I return to a dry unfinished canvas? Can I complete it? The concept of flying and the tree of life. My discovery, through my constant walking forests and suburban lanes, is that in form the iconic tree of life is the venerable oak—the tree of Merlin, the symbol of magic, of triumph, and of wisdom.

Today I purchased—oil & watercolor paints. Then finally summing up my courage, I painted. The oak began to come to life.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Different Pace

As the light turns from summer to fall, it seems time to catch-up on turning points I've been experiencing. It is hard to sum up all that I've been doing in the last month and even more difficult to explore all the thoughts pondered. The pace has been different and even my travel mode changes—cars, bikes, and even the train across New York State—all opportunities for new vantage points. Sabbatical has been extremely freeing for my eyes to see, my mind to wander, and for exploration to take on frightening speeds. If I attempt to pin down my thoughts, they continuously circle around the question of the value and the balance points of emotional, spiritual, physical and virtual experience in culture and for the individual self.
Prompting and informing this question has been four meaningful events/activities:
  1. My mother's 80th birthday and the opportunity I've had to spend lots of time with her and my dad at this shifting point in their lives. She happens to be the woman I most admire in the world for both her intelligence and her heart. Her reflections on what has been meaningful in her life have profoundly influenced how I am now considering the next 25 years of mine. My question for myself especially in this sabbatical year is "Am I still on the right course and if not where is the correction?".
  2. Images and Voices of Hope: the opportunity to explore media and life purpose with an extraordinary group of media influencers. The summit only fine-tuned the question above as speakers shared their work from the thought-provoking research of Sherry Turkle ( here's her latest thinking on technology and self) to the emotionally rich, risk-taking photography of Kael Alford (Iraq Unembedded) to the reflective practice of poet Mark Nepo (The Book of Awakening and his poetry). Michelle Hunt created this a wonderful recollection of the weekend. This quote from her blog sums up for me the experience as well:
    "These beautiful people are committed to shinning the light on people and events so we can see the whole of life - not just the violence and destruction. They are not people who wear rose-colored glasses; they have a clear grasp of current reality. Many of them have witnessed and reported the unimaginable devastation caused by of war, conflict and natural disasters. However, in the face of horror and heartbreak they also found the courage to discover and spotlight the beauty and resilience of people around the world. These voices and images of hope inspired me."
  3. Signing the contract on my Rochester, NY studio, moving in, and beginning to paint. An unfinished painting is waiting for me there. It is roughly about all of this and as well about my friends Liz Coyne and Jack Renaud. Tentatively it is entitled "Learning to Fly". The question being in a studio poses for me is why, who, and what. Why in this era of the virtual, return to pigment? Who cares about the output or is it purely for me and the process. And finally what is the purpose of painting? My starting point, there are many painters with beautiful results but to me painting is a deeper art—an art of posing questions and multiple answers.
  4. Walking, walking, walking. Recording, recording, recording. I've given myself a goal of 10,000 steps a day this last month which has forced me out and about in surprising places - from Vermont hills to Rochester suburbs and cityscapes to the unknown forest of the Catskills. What this has meant for me is a visual feast and an ever present camera. Because of this and because of the changes in my social media thinking, I've opened up a Flickr account to share and I am now pondering how reflective action inspires creative thought. The bigger question to me is where and how do we balance "Maya" with "Mash-ups", our earthly existence with our eventual dissappearance?

More to come.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Into the Dark

Before the storm, I had begun a painting exploring the edge of what we can see and what we cannot. It was inspired by the forest edge. The forest I love so much to walk and yet from it calls not only the glorious owls but also the pack of coyotes. It gives me joy and yet it has taken from me a dear cat. When I walk it with my dogs, I am always on the alert.

I was fairly excited about both the concept and the painting but a call on Jim and my anniversary upended the entire flow and I was off on what became four weeks of travel. To Boston twice, to Rochester once, to Vancouver, and then to Maine. The travel brought me even closer to what was stirring in my heart and mind, how life is never what we have envisioned, and life is never a straight line. It is a line of dark and light interludes, weaving in and out and connecting us to the unexpected.

My trip to Maine, visiting with Liz, loosened up my painters hand and clarified my painter's eye. Upon my return, I spent a day painting with another painter friend, Chris Neuhardt. In a day I was able to return. Below are photos from that day. Since then, I completed the painting above and another beyond what is shown here.

The final painting, not published here, I completed before, during, and after Hurricane Irene...without power or running water. Somehow the concept behind the series seems more poignant in Irene's aftermath.