I painted “The Arsonists” about a year ago, partly inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry For the Future.
Ministry For the Future and Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything are the two most important books published in the past decade. They made it manifestly clear to me that Bill McKibben is absolutely right when he says climate change/global warming should be our predominant concern as a society, rather than allowing our mental bandwidth to be taken up with trendy social causes and pointless culture wars.
I know we all have our pet issues but what other crisis confronting us threatens us existentially, putting our entire future as a species in doubt?
The world is burning, as my painting depicts, but it’s the figures in the foreground—disinterested, passive—who should draw your attention (and ire).
It’s a portrait of shame, a depiction of a mindset that will condemn our grandchildren to dystopic horrors we can’t even imagine.
May God forgive us.
While we were in Greece this summer I was exposed to “Cycladic Art” (3200-2000 B.C.) and, in particular, fell in love with a piece I saw in Athens titled “Stargazer”. Here are two photos of the real deal:
I couldn’t keep that little sculpture out of my head. We saw some wonderful art during our European jaunt (including outstanding exhibits in Istanbul and the Czech Republic), but “Stargazer” and a couple of other objets d’art were the most memorable.
I guess my wife finally got sick of me going on and on about “Stargazer” because Sherron made me a replica for my birthday, adding the finishing touches this past week. This is the end result and, man, am I pleased and honoured to own such a lovely work that speaks so intimately to my heart and my spirit:
Recently, I wrote a series of prose poems to accompany six visual pieces I’d created.
The marriage of words and images worked wonderfully and I’m delighted with the result. I’ve always loved collage, combining text and illos, loved staring at a photo or painting and riffing on it, writing off the top of my head, no pre-planning, just letting ‘er rip. “Automatic writing”, the surrealists used to call it.
Here’s one of the prose poems, just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about (click on the image below to enlarge for reading):
Years ago I composed a series of prose bits* on the back of eight postcards I found, some of them based on famous art works, others historical photographs. Again, all I did was glance at the front, grab a mood or thought, flip the card over and commence scribbling. Worked like a charm (and a cool way to break an intractable writer’s block, hmmm?).
Just a little tip, o fellow suffering wordsmiths.
…and since I’m feeling especially cheerful and generous these days, how about some new music, an ambient number I call “Atmospheric Disturbance”:
- You can find these “postcard stories” in my Stromata collection, available from my virtual “Bookstore“…or you can order it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.
Update, March, 2017: The Oleander Review, a literary journal affiliated with the University of Michigan, has accepted “A Personal Cosmology” for publication in their Spring, 2017 issue.
Our youngest kid has now flown the coop and we are, officially, empty nesters. The house seems damn strange without our boys pounding up and down the steps, blasting music or bellowing at their video games in their basement hidey-hole. The silence, as they say, is deafening. But they’re both ready to be out in the world, anxious to be on their own. They’ll have their tough days, intervals when it seems like the whole universe has lined up against them. But they’ll make it. They’re tough and resourceful and bloody smart. Which gives them a leg up in any society.
So we begin 2014, Sherron and I, somewhat sorrowful, missing the lads but eager to get on with the next phase of our lives; back to being a couple again, exploring the world together, seeing where our dreams take us.
I’m fifty years old, as of last October, and that’s also made a difference. I thought any change or transformation would be largely symbolic but turning fifty combined with our sons’ departure has put a whole new slant on things. I feel like another man.
To start with, I realize that more than half my life is gone and if I’m lucky I could have twenty or twenty-five healthy years ahead of me (with my genetics, that might be pushing it). That’s not a lot of time. As a result, I’m not going to waste any of it on stupid discussions, movies, books, music, feuds or anything that doesn’t further my pursuit of wisdom, joy and matters relating to the spirit.
I did a considerable amount of writing in 2013 (not unexpected) but I also found myself exploring other media, employing a variety of means to express myself. As a result, I created more visual pieces than ever before: acrylic paintings, charcoal drawings, lots of photographs, ambient soundscapes, even a short film. Will this trend continue in 2014 or were all these non-literary ventures merely an aberration? Experiments, nothing more.
We shall see.
I know that for some time I’ve occasionally experienced a certain amount of frustration with the limits of language and wish to communicate via non-narrative, non-linear means. Abstraction invites collaboration, interpretation, input from the audience/viewer. The vast majority of my visual work frustrates literal-mindedness—the equivalent of Rorschach Tests, shapes demanding speculation and discussion.
Not for everyone.
Obviously, one of the high points of 2013 was the release of my short story collection Exceptions and Deceptions. The book features what I think is our best cover thus far and includes a batch of stories drawn from the past fifteen years, a couple of them previously unpublished and available nowhere else. Every time I glance up and see it on my shelf, I get a tingle. Fans of Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Jonathan Carroll, Neil Gaiman take note: this one’ll rock your socks off. Trust me.
Another fun experience was collaborating with my son Sam on an instrumental number which he then incorporated into a short film for Sherron’s “Agassiz” mask/puppet production, debuting later this month. Sam’s film is a gem and as soon as he uploads it to YouTube or Vimeo, I’ll post a link.
Let’s see, what else…in November I was astonished to learn my volume New & Selected Poems (1984-2011) was shortlisted for a ReLit independent press award. My bizarre verse? Really?
Managed to read one hundred books in 2013, though at one point I didn’t think I’d make it to #80. A big surge in November-December put me over the top. The 100th book, completed December 30th? Italo Calvino’s Under the Jaguar Sun. What a way to finish off the year.
I’ve been noticing how much my reading tastes have changed over the past number of years—hardly any genre stuff these days, except for a bit of SF and the odd mystery/thriller by LeHane or Philip Kerr. Much less fiction, overall. Gimme a fat, juicy history book any day.
We don’t have cable, so we don’t watch television. Have no idea what shows are popular on the boob tube and couldn’t care less. Ditto with movies. By far the best movie I saw last year was Peter Strickland’s “Berberian Sound Studio”. Haven’t heard of it? Tsk, tsk. Grab it off NetFlix, buy or rent it from Amazon, do not miss this flick.
Music? The new Queens of the Stone Age, as well as Nine Inch Nails (live), Steven Wilson, Mogwai, Benjamin Britten and Gene Autry’s Greatest Hits. Keepin’ it diverse.
Looking ahead: I’ll be working on my new novel, as well as prepping…ah, well, mustn’t give too much away. Let’s just say that Black Dog Press has a number of releases pending in the next eighteen months and there will be further information announced in the days to come.
All the best in 2014.
Thanks, as always, for dropping by and hanging out awhile.
It doesn’t happen often, but every once in awhile my literary faculties abandon me and I’m reduced to a non-verbal level of communication. I have something to say but it can’t be expressed via text—and so I’m forced to rely on other, more tenuous, abilities to get across what I feel must be said.
Initially, I worked with collage, refusing to trust my “skills” with paint and brush. Then I shot some abstract films, usually with quasi-science fiction elements, incorporating some of the strange, spacey music I like to concoct with Garageband. You’ll find a couple of these cinematic efforts on my “Film & Music” page. I’m collecting footage for another short flick, which I hope to have ready in the new year (2014).
It took me awhile to work up the courage to paint but Sherron recently bought be a lovely set of acrylics and gave me various brushes and so…why not?
For the past month or so, I’ve labored over three pieces and I’m going to surprise my dear wife by posting them here. Y’see, normally I refuse to exhibit my visual work or allow anyone to look at it—my canvases are kept wrapped and stacked behind a chair in my office. Hidden from prying eyes. Sherron thinks that a waste and urges me to get them framed, hang them somewhere in the house (bathroom? basement?); so far I’ve resisted her prompting.
I’m not a visual artist, I have very little talent but a whole lotta inspiration and desire. An eager amateur, respectful and deferential of the painters who have mastered and transformed their discipline while acknowledging I possess none of their gifts or aesthetic affinities. My efforts may lack artfulness and sophistication, but they do pay tribute to true genius, those individuals who have transcended their medium and presented viewers with an innovative and impassioned view of the world they live(d) in.
Recently I’ve been reading about Mark Rothko and poring over his oeuvre. Simon Schama has a wonderful feature on Rothko, which can be found on YouTube. The story I love best about M.R. is when he received a huge commission to provide paintings for the Seagram building in New York and ended up giving back the money and keeping the gigantic canvases he’d executed because he dined in the restaurant where they were to hang and didn’t like the affluent patrons frequenting the establishment. Walked away from over a million bucks in today’s currency because, at heart, he was a leftie/anarchist who had little truck with institutionalized power.
My kinda guy.
A casual glance at my daubs and smears reveals a chap whose influences are all over the place. Like my writing, my visual efforts are impossible to categorize, highly personal…and decidedly not for all tastes.
For instance…”Beneath”, the first painting (top of the page)—is that some kinda blundering swipe at impressionism?
And what about the second one (above), unhelpfully titled “Rosetta”?
Obviously influenced by my love of cave painting, ancient visions of the world as imagined by minds that were proto-human…and already beginning to question the solidity and permanence of the universe around them. Oh, for a few hours in Lascaux…
Hard to do credit to these pieces in photographs—there’s lots of layering and texture that is obliterated, subtleties and nuances (yes, there are a few) utterly lost.
I use gobs of Wellbond glue, found objects, whatever I can lay my hands on to give an impression of a third dimension in my work. Scrape at the canvas with trowels, x-acto knives, sandpaper; employ toothpicks, Q-tips, styrofoam and (frequently) my fingers, often discarding brushes as too inexact.
How about this last picture (below), “Yule”, which started out as something completely different and gradually morphed into what you see here. I hope it’s apparent from this piece: I love Christmas, a Grinch who secretly desires to run down and join in the fun with the good folks in Whoville. Don’t ask me why, I won’t be able to supply you with a coherent, reasonable answer. Christmas morning, I’m the first one up, practically bouncing off the walls as I wait for our family to descend and gather in the living room for our gift opening. Possessed by child-like excitement. Hopefully, all that is evident in “Yule”.
The rest I’ll leave up to your imagination.
(Click on paintings to view enlarged versions)
My Muse is very odd.
Drives me like a pitiless slave-mistress one minute, refuses to speak to me the next.
Then, yesterday, a bit of a bone. An offer to collaborate on something with me, except it had to be a visual piece. Sherron had given me a square of canvas to play with, so I went down to my basement cubbyhole and there, with watercolors, model pigments and a shot or two of spraypaint, I concocted “Europan Blue”.
God knows what she’ll have me doing today….
(Click on image to enlarge)
My wife is pretty clever.
She snapped a picture of me while I was outside, on our back deck, trying out some wax crayon thingees she gave me. You can use them as regular crayons or take a wet brush and smear the colors on, like watercolors. Very cool. It was fun to play around for nearly 4 hours, totally oblivious to everything except the mosquitoes (bastards!). Didn’t keep the finished work, quickly shit-canned it as an interesting failure.
I was much happier with three chalk pastels I completed a week or so ago. Those I plan on getting framed…and then hiding them behind my chair in the office. My visual stuff definitely not for everyone. Call me an enlightened amateur. An idiot with a smidgeon of savant. I don’t claim to be one of those Renaissance men, equally capable in a variety of disciplines. I’m definitely a one-trick pony—a wordsmith and dang proud of it.
But every so often I have to get away from WORDS. I’ll go out and snap some photos or shoot some footage with my palm-sized digital camera. Assemble a weird collage, paint something semi-representational on an old board. Create some strange ambient music.
The end results aren’t always stellar, frequently they’re downright godawful. But they’re helpful exercises, stimulating different parts of my brain than I usually employ when hard at work on a novel or short story. These interludes also allow me a chance to play, something much under-valued in this day and age. Spending a few hours on something completely non-productive, entirely without aesthetic or commercial value, making a mess, being silly, whatever you want to call it.
Today was a welcome break for me and, as you can see from the picture, I was utterly enthralled.
A lovely photo by Sherron, taken on our back deck.
The sunny weather means that I’ve been outside, raking and doing yardwork…and found the imprint of a maple leaf, pressed into the cement.
The picture I took wasn’t nearly as nice…
My, my, how time flies.
It seems like only yesterday we were having the book launch but I see that a significant amount of time has passed since then, the summer well in progress…and I’m overdue for an update.
You know how it is, when this blog goes silent, that means I’m working. So deeply immersed in a project, I’m thinking of nothing else. Including food, water and most of the other basic necessities of life.
I’ve been feeling in a rut, writing-wise, which sometimes inspires me to bend my brain in other directions. I know very little about visual art, theory or practice, but every so often I like to pick up a paintbrush, find an old slab of board and have at it. This time around, my medium of choice was collage. I keep files of visual images and dozens of issues of old magazines lying around just in case I get it into my head to try something like this. Collage is a cumulative process; I moved the images here and there, tried them against different backdrops…but the key for me came when I decided to incorporate small blocks of text, usually relating to economic theory (the most savage form of social Darwinism imaginable).
It struck me as I was going through the literally hundreds of images I’ve collected over the past X amount of years, that I am an astonishingly morbid person. I mean, Jesus, click on the image (above), you should get a larger sized version. Would you trust someone who saves pictures like this to babysit your kids or date your daughter?
This is some sick, sick shit.
But as I was piecing everything together, as it all started to fall into place, I realized that what I was creating was a depiction of humanity run amok, the awful, indescribable damage we, as a species, have inflicted with our ideologies, our stupidity and greed. Depressing, yes; sick-making? Undoubtedly. But is this vision inaccurate, flawed or misleading? Well, like any creative endeavor, it’s up to each individual to decide for themselves.
The end result of that little experiment pleased me to some extent but I didn’t feel like I was quite done with cutting things up. My eyes happened on a pile of books I’ve snagged from various thrift shops and library book sales over the years. I decided I wanted to create an homage to one of my literary heroes, William Burroughs. I’m sure you know all about the “cut-up method” that was developed by Burroughs and his mentor, Brion Gysin. Take any number of literary texts, carve them up, piece them together and marvel at the wonderful word collisions and strange juxtapositions that are created.
My project started out as a noble venture but, as with most activities that involve me creatively, my Muse took over and things quickly got out my control.
I used scissors to pare out sections of a 1960 thriller called Operation Terror! I then snipped out various portions of the other books I had lying around: an anthology of detective fiction that included Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue”, a forgotten novel by Ngaio Marsh, etc. etc. Found a heavy sheet of black cardboard, set up on our basement workbench and proceeded to play with the various passages I’d selected.
At one point I realized I was probably defeating the purpose of the whole intention of “cut ups”, that my method was too conscious and controlling but by then it was too late. I was caught up in creating an all new narrative, trying to come up with a satisfactory climax–
Once I’d arranged the text into a coherent storyline, I decided I wasn’t done: I would then write a story based on the outline I’d created using the borrowed snippets. A completely original work utilizing pre-existing text. And I’d frame it as a teleplay for a long-forgotten TV series…
I repeat: Good Lord.
But there’s no use trying to talk sense to my Muse: she simply won’t be reasoned with. Once she gets an idea into her head, I am powerless to resist her.
So at the conclusion of this article you’ll find a link to the PDF version of my weird, whacky “mashup”. It’s an homage to Mistah Burroughs in the form of a script from a 1950’s crime drama that never was. Go figger.
I make no apologies for this story and predict it might annoy a significant proportion of readers. But fans of Burroughs and Gysin might be more inclined to give grudging approval to the thought behind this bizarre creation. They would see it, quite rightly, as a labour of love and even if they found fault with its execution, they’d think kindly of me for at least making the attempt.
Click on the link directly below for a free download of my story: