For the time-being …

Because you think your time or your being is not truth, you believe that the sixteen-foot golden body is not you. However, your attempts to escape from being the sixteen-foot golden body are nothing but bits and pieces of the time-being.

— “Uji,” Eihei Dōgen (1200-1253)

Digital pinhole photograph, 2011

How to start?

Starting is always the hardest part.

A good place to start is by decluttering, cleaning up my workspace.  Nothing stops the creative process more for me than clutter.  That could be physical clutter or mental clutter. The two seem closely related.  Also why not freshen up the blog format! Nice, fresh template!

Then, what to do? I was impressed by a piece of advice I read online today while at the office, found while looking for information on the book The Miracle Morning.

I can’t remember where exactly I found this:

“Create what you would like to see in the world, and then make it public.”

The author was mainly thinking about how to make money, but I was intrigued about it in a different way.  What would I like to see in the world, and how could I, as an artist, create that, or at least contribute to it?  Certainly not another gadget, app or infernal machine to distract and mislead people.  Instead, peace, love and understanding come to mind.

So I think my contribution for today will be the Karaniya Metta Sutta, words attributed to the Buddha.  This is what I hope for the world:

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful,
Not proud or demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born —
May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

“One Bright Pearl” watercolor on paper, 2008.

Featured painting of the week: The House is Burning

This week’s featured work is a painting — actually a diptych (two paintings that form one work) titled “The House is Burning.”

"The House is Burning", mixed media on canvas, 30"x44", 2012.
“The House is Burning”, mixed media on canvas, 30″x44″, 2012.

The provocative title should make one think immediately of global warming – climate change.  That’s certainly appropriate, but there’s even more to the story.  Now seems like a good time feature this painting, since it appears that the house is not going to stop burning anytime soon.

So– The direct inspiration for this title is the famous “Parable of the Burning House” that appears in the Lotus Sutra — one of the most important religious texts of Mahayana Buddhism.  Here is an excerpt (lightly abridged) from the parable (Burton Watson translation):

“Suppose that in a certain town in a certain country there was a very rich man. He was far along in years and his wealth was beyond measure. He had many fields, houses and menservants. His own house was big and rambling, but it had only one gate.  A great many people … lived in the house.  The halls and rooms were old and decaying, the walls crumbling, the pillars rotten at their base, and the beams and rafters crooked and aslant.

“At that time a fire suddenly broke out on all sides, spreading through the rooms of the house. The sons of the rich man, ten, twenty, perhaps thirty, were inside the house. When the rich man saw the huge flames leaping up on every side, he was greatly alarmed and fearful and thought to himself, I can escape to safety through the flaming gate, but my sons are inside the burning house enjoying themselves and playing games, unaware, unknowing, without alarm or fear. The fire is closing in on them, suffering and pain threaten them, yet their minds have no sense of loathing or peril and they do not think of trying to escape!

“This rich man thought to himself, I have strength in my body and arms. I can wrap them in a robe or place them on a bench and carry them out of the house. And then again he thought, This house has only one gate, and moreover it is narrow and small. My sons are very young, they have no understanding, and they love their games, being so engrossed in them that they are likely to be burned in the fire. I must explain to them why I am fearful and alarmed. The house is already in flames and I must get them out quickly and not let them be burned up in the fire!

“Having thought in this way, he followed his plan and called to all his sons, saying, ‘You must come out at once!’ But though the father was moved by pity and gave good words of instruction, the sons were absorbed in their games and unwilling to heed him. They had no alarm, no fright, and in the end no mind to leave the house. Moreover they did not understand what the fire was, what the house was, what danger was. They merely raced about this way and that in play and looked at their father without heeding him.

“At that time the rich man had this thought: The house is already in flames from this huge fire. If I and my sons do not get out at once, we are certain to be burned. I must now invent some expedient means that will make it possible for the children to escape harm. …

I’ll stop there and not get into how the father managed to get his children out of the house. The parable is a powerful one. To me, it aptly describes the present human condition.

Yes, indeed, the house is burning. Will we notice? Will we get out?

The Lifeworlds Project

Lifeworlds is a long-range painting project I started in 2012.  The project started initially out of a desire to explore the square format in painting. The inspiration for this was not Instagram as one might easily suppose, but the square format Landscape paintings of Gustav Klimt.  I then chanced upon the evocative term “Lifeworld” in the philosophical writings of Edmund Husserl and from the confluence of these two streams the project was born.

"Lifeworld 1", oil on canvas, 20x20" (approx. 50cm2). Summer, 2012. The project starts here!
“Lifeworld 1″, oil on canvas, 20×20” (approx. 50cm2). Summer, 2012. The project starts here!

Now, three years into the project, Lifeworlds continues to evolve and develop. I decided early on that I would continue to make square format paintings under the title of “Lifeworld” until I felt that I had exhausted the possibilities of the format entirely.

In reality, the possibilities of this form may never be exhausted.  Therefore, I thought it best to put a cap on it: so the idea arose to work toward the completion of 108 paintings.

Lifeworld 14, oil on canvas, 20x20", 2013
Lifeworld 14, oil on canvas, 20×20″, 2013

Why 108? Those who know me and have followed my work for a while will also know of my interest in Buddhism, and the influence it’s had on my work.  108 is the number of prayer beads in the Buddhist japa mala (a Buddhist rosary). The number is given various meanings in Buddhist cosmology and additionally simply refers to any proverbial big number in the same way that a “myriad” (literally Greek for “10,000”) has come to stand in for anything large and virtually uncountable.  So, instead of making some infinite number of paintings, I will make 108 to represent that infinity.

Since one of the uses of a rosary or japa mala is to count repetitions of chants or prayers, a nice thing about the number 108 is that it emphasizes how the project becomes a kind of prayer or meditation on the artistic process, and on the artist’s relationship with his environment — what I’m calling a Lifeworld.

"Lifeworld 12" mixed media on canvas, 20x20", 2013.
“Lifeworld 12″ mixed media on canvas, 20×20”, 2013.

So, I see each Lifeworld as a snapshot of a particular state of mind formed when the artist encounters his subject. Although frequently quite abstract, each painting results from the process of observing my surroundings. The square is both the container for the composition and also one of its principal motifs.

As of this writing, the newest Lifeworld pieces are numbers 32, 33 and 34, all completed earlier this year.  The precise imagery continues to evolve and shift, all the while remaining within the parameters of the project: square format and 20″ x 20″ (around 51cm2 — 50.8cm to be exact) in size.

"Lifeworld 32", oil on canvas, 20x20in., 2015.
“Lifeworld 32”, oil on canvas, 20x20in., 2015.
"Lifeworld 33", oil on canvas, 20x20in., 2015.
“Lifeworld 33”, oil on canvas, 20x20in., 2015.

A small note about the size: there are a couple of early Lifeworlds, numbers 5 and 7, that are actually 24×24″ (60cm2).  I was still experimenting with the parameters at this stage; I may end up going back and redoing these to fit the program.

Lifeworld 7, oil on canvas, 24x24in., 2012.
Lifeworld 7, oil on canvas, 24x24in., 2012.

So a big project like this needs help, which leads me to …

How you can help:

A big project and entails certain tangible challenges to the artist (not to mention all the intangible challenges!), not least of which are the cost of materials, the cost of studio space (ever-increasing in New York City) and the potential storage costs (108 paintings take up a lot of space!).

So I’m reaching out to you — dear audience!  There are several ways you can help:

1. Lifeworlds are for sale! Some have sold already. Prices currently run from $800 to $1,200 for each painting.  If you would like to see or purchase a painting (or two or three), contact me.  I do hope to mount an exhibition of all or a selection of the paintings in the future — and how cool would it be for you to have a painting that you own in a major retrospective of my work!

2. I accept tips, donations, contributions … etc. If you’re not up to purchasing a painting at the present time, you can also contribute any amount (no matter how small) toward the project through Venmo (the best! No fees for you or me!) or by clicking the paypal donate button below.  The arts has always existed through the kind generosity of its patrons.




Wow, if you’ve read this far, I really appreciate your interest.  A brief outline of the project (as well as some images) is available on my website, and all of the Lifeworlds can be viewed together on my flickr account.  I’ll continue to post future developments here.  Stay tuned!

Lifeworld 2, oil on canvas, 20x20in., 2012.
Lifeworld 2, oil on canvas, 20x20in., 2012.