Today my beloved step-daughter was born. I actually met her mother when she was pregnant with Hannah. Two years later we got together, and soon produced our own biological child, Dante.
I was so charmed by Hannah, and her older sister, Alexis, that I couldn't resist having their mom perform one last time. So glad she did. In a matter of a year or two I had a complete family on my hands. Not that it was perfectly smooth sailing after that.
I didn't have a job. I never have had one after age 26. And I had no idea how to raise daughters. I made some mistakes, but no one seems to care about them except me. The sisters have all developed into beautiful women. The fathers couldn't be prouder. And the adventurous mother is also happy with the continuing narrative.
People are occasionally surprised that everyone gets along so well. We're surprised that they're surprised.
Tonight Dante, Hannah, and I will go to Little Tokyo for sushi. We don't go to restaurants as often as we once did, so this will be a treat.
We'll probably discuss how it's all boiled down to the hard-core trio. Once again. After 25 years in LA, and various loves, we are all simultaneously single, and not exactly eager to mingle.
I'm looking forward to it. Probably go to Zencu Sushi. A favorite. Jackie and I must have hit it 100 times. Today Little Tokyo very busy, overrun by new youngsters. Back then it was dark and forlorn. Not anymore.
I woke up at 7:13. Exactly, because on the way to the bathroom I picked up my iPhone and clicked the screen.
After pissing I climbed back into bed and checked the news on IG and FB. As I scrolled down I came across an article of contemporary philosophy forwarded by Professor Manny. It was about the nature of time, and I decided to read it, while I laid there.
It took a few minutes. The author attempted to show how time doesn't flow. We imagine it to always be moving like an arrow in flight, but this is only because we've accepted that conventional image.
I've realized something similar about the reality of time. It derives from that famous comment of Heraclitus, over 2500 years ago: you can't step into the same river twice.
The implication being that everything changes, everything including yourself, and the river. Everything flows.
But why stop with that image? You can't step twice onto the same sidewalk. Because it, too, is different every time.
You can't step twice into the same pair of pants.
Or the same pair of shoes.
Everything is always different. Nothing is the same. Repetition is a fanciful ideal. A way of stabilizing our everyday life. If we actually thought about the fact that everything is different at every second we might never get out of bed. We'd be swept up in a cloud of wonder. Like Socrates who stood rooted to one spot for 24 hours, trying to solve a metaphysical problem. If a person tried that today the cops would be called.
Philosophy is the scourge of normal, everyday, contemporary bustling. It may have been more central to the Greeks of long ago, in their slow, rural existence. Even city life in Athens would have moved at a glacial pace.
But as for today? We need a much different kind of philosophy, or we're doomed to stagnate. Or behave like insects, always on some instinctual forced march.
Anyway. I got out of bed, made a pot of espresso, and after cruising around to other sites, sat down and began to blog..........
My daughter and I begin our work day by cycling through the web, examining newly posted pix on IG and FB. And discussing other sites, mostly having to do with art.
Dante is appalled by the shortcomings she detects on IG. "Look at their world. It's incredibly bad, even though the people can look all right."
We then flip through several examples.
"I would call this tacky," I said, pointing out a woman. "But she doesn't see herself this way. No one wants to viewed as tacky, which is never sexy."
"This is beyond tacky," she switched to someone else. Someone who follows her. "Can you believe it?"
"I see this world as pretentiously tacky. It's tackiness with an additional level of depressing phoniness. Tacky that aspires to something else. Not white trash tacky, but bourgeois tacky. Even worse."
There are so many kinds of inadequacy. My eyes have been opened even wider because of online social media. I struggle to find words. Before social media there were only a few ways to see firsthand how mediocre the world is. Not just America, but everywhere. Popular magazines, tv shows, songs, even movies. I seem to have overrated people, in general. Imagined that they were more civilized, more cultivated. I'm being brought down to earth.
"People seem better looking than ever, but also much stupider. I don't know if this is an improvement."
"This is particularly true in LA, but it isn't as if we are just now realizing it."
"Right, but I feel I'm being shown more layers of imbecility. Layers I didn't suspect. I recall what my brother once said. People will settle for less. People will be happy with less originality, less precision. They don't even see the difference. But it's still hard for this truth to sink in. And even harder to make paintings with this in mind."
"I think they want too much. They always overdo it," she said.
My daughter is the genuine minimalist in the family. She gets it from her mother, who has impeccable taste. Mine is spotty. Not natural to me. I've had to learn the hard way. Through miles of experience.
"So. How've you been?" I asked Gina. It was yesterday afternoon when she called. I hadn't spoken with her for weeks. All this, after her adventurous stretch, which landed her in jail.
"I'm good. Everything is good." She sounded bright, and level-headed.
"Where are you calling from?"
"My apartment. I'm packing up and leaving it."
"I thought you'd already done that."
"Only half-done it. Just finishing the job."
"Where will you go next?"
"I'm thinking of Napa."
"Sounds great. I'd like to visit you there."
"I'd love that. I have so much to tell you."
She's once again re-united with her dog, who's grown.
"Mexico is over. I won't be returning. There're no more Mexicans left."
This was a strange statement, and I didn't want to open a can of worms. Gina has some very unusual interpretations of life. I was determined not to set her off, although I mentioned that there were a lot of Mexicans in my neighborhood. She agreed, but changed the topic.
"Well, I'm glad to be talking to you, and that we're still happening. I was afraid you might have had some angry thoughts about me. Like 'I won't ever listen to that guy again!' "
"No, no! Not at all. In fact I've written a song that I'd like to send to you. It's called 'Space Brothers and Sweetheart.' You told me about that, right?"
"I did. I'd love to hear it."
"Okay. My parents gave me back my car, and this really helps. I'll drive to Napa and look for a room."
"Call me when you have a chance. And send the song."
I never know where my odd stories will end up. The "space brothers" are a group of glowing non-humans who a man told me about. They love the word "sweetheart." Among other curiosities. I've never met a space brother. It was only a story from a very original man. I can talk for days about the incidents in my life, but only a few bizarre things are remembered, and planted in another's mind.
So happy that Gina is back in the game, and, according to her "not on drugs." A step in the right direction.
When I was growing up I never heard the word value around our home. It wasn't part of the conversation. It was an abstract, colorless term. But the value of value was everywhere. Value was an absolute reality, but hidden, implied, permanent, and powerful.
Value extended to everything, in a mysterious, unquestioned way. It was felt in your bones, blood, in dreams, perceptions, and whisperings.
Good and bad. Black and white. Nothing in between. Nothing fuzzy, or overlapping. There were people who knew at a glance how this separation happened, and these people had no doubts whatever. Their judgments were crystal clear and reached from the beginning to the end of time.
The three supreme values were, as I found out later, truth, beauty, and goodness. But growing up in a medium sized town in Midwestern America in the 1950's it was goodness alone that counted. Truth and beauty lagged far behind, and were never viewed as co-equals. Goodness reigned supreme. It was never really challenged or debated to any serious extent. It simply existed. And was firmly in place at the top of the pyramid.
Truth had a foot in our world, and so did beauty. But both were only given lip-service. You were not supposed to lose your head over either. Truth was cloudy and filled with rumors. Beauty was nice enough, but also a trap for the unwary.
And at the apex of this world there was God, who ruled from his throne in heaven. God was of course good, but even more than that he was just. His goodness wasn't as impressive as his justice, where he dealt with people, according to whether or not they obeyed his commandments.
The Midwestern God of the 1950's was a kind of accountant who had a massive ledger which was covered with marks, next to everyone's name. He never left out a single act, or idle thought. You died and then stood before him and received your score. It was hard to imagine anyone not fidgeting a little at that point, looking down at their feet, biting their lip, beads of sweat on the brow.
But what if this picture was completely wrong? Distorted beyond recognition. A crazy fantasy. A juvenile bit of nonsense. What then?
This is what the artist has to contend with. How to proceed from this point. With a new vision. And more perfected values.
God is so much fuller, deeper, and closer than we were taught. Rather mis-taught. And all the highest values shimmered throughout him. It was intensely dazzling. Beyond words.
Worked on this one over the weekend. The solitude of a few days in a row gives me an opportunity to concentrate my efforts. By the time I quit painting last night I was pleased with the results. Not exactly a breakthrough, but a good abstract piece according to my standards.
I wish it could be more personal, more original, but it must have those qualities to some degree otherwise I wouldn't approve of it. To like it at all, the canvas must faithfully express my vision of life.
It's not quite finished. I can see a few areas where I'll hit it today. But it's at that stage where I have to be careful, as if I'm a doctor operating. Instead of a madman having a meltdown. The madman can start the painting, but the surgeon must complete it. Often repairing the damage of a frenzied melee.
A painting requires multiple personalities, all working either simultaneously or sequentially: the raving lunatic, the sober judge, the charming drunk, the hot-blooded lover, the melancholy loser, the exhausted bum, the airy mystic, the silent monk. They all have a crack at making something that lasts. All seem like sides of myself. Some of the sides.
Photographing it late at night in the dim studio gives it a vintage feel. Slightly grainy, blurred, darkened, classic. Leaning against a stovepipe helps take it back in time. The reds looks murkier than they are in reality.
But later today I'll take it outside in the intense summer light of Southern California. It'll reveal things that can't be seen otherwise. And snap a pic with my iPhone.
I often wonder if I'm gearing up for a big explosion of new work. And whether or not this is even a good thing.
Mystified. Must shrug it off. What will be, will be.
A Polish psychoanalyst named Dabrowski had a theory of "positive disintegration". He's not that known in America, but he might become so. I haven't read his books but I'm thinking of buying a translation of one.
I like the sound of his thesis. He writes of primary integration, which is primitive and more or less just a way of organizing yourself in reaction to external pressures. This results in a socially acceptable, but shallow, mediocre type of adult.
This development doesn't go far enough. More energetic, overly excited, curious, independent humans will fight against these conditions, feeling that they're unreal, unhealthy, unauthentic. They then dismantle, break down, and dis-integrate this temporary structure, in a purposeful, deliberate manner. Like a chicken bursting through its shell in order to be born.
A secondary integration process then occurs. It's more personal, with greater attention to higher, more universal values. This integration follows the positive dis-integration of the immature, clannish, conformist, narcissistic, alienated phase.
I'm probably mis-interpreting Dabrowski, reducing his theories of human development to a mere sketch. But a fascinating sketch, to be sure.
Each person has a path. A way through life. Either he follows another's path, or strikes out on his own uncharted, pathless path.
You may begin on a well-traveled road, and that may satisfy the great majority of people. But there are also those rare few who take a detour into the wilderness, searching for something better. More fulfilling. More truthful.
They don't automatically find what they're looking for. But at least they know for an indisputable fact that it's not back there with the anonymous masses. It's either up ahead, or nowhere.
Or, most incredibly, right here and now, under your very nose.
To dimensionally understand yourself, you need all the help, all the wisdom, all the experience, you can obtain.
I'm amazed by contemporary painting. It's discovering its own long suppressed freedom to be itself. People have been shackled by tradition, convention, religion, politics, economics, superstition, and slavish opinions for centuries, or longer.
Art isn't totally free. You can still be locked up or worse for doing something the world condemns. The cops are ready with their clubs and handcuffs. Ready and willing to pounce.
But in America you can still get away with a lot. Before that happens. The artist is a co-conspirator with the law. The typical artist has an internal cop inside his brain. He censors himself out of fear, lack of imagination, or lazy indifference.
The painter makes progress by confronting and conquering these obstacles.
I worked late last night on a canvas. This is one sure way of getting a solid, uninterrupted peaceful night's sleep. I really conk out if I've physically tired myself before climbing into bed.
I experimented with another new way of painting. New to me, at least. The results generally bring other artists to mind. "Ah--hah. So that's how they did it!"
I feel as if I've been let in on a series of secrets. These practices are not for the faint-hearted. They only reveal themselves to those crazy enough to risk it all. Often in solitude, unloved, broke, exhausted, sick, miserable . . .
I'm not there yet. I mean I feel excellent, have a few bucks in the bank, some friends and well-wishers. I'm as close to happiness as I ever thought possible.
Correct that. I never believed I'd be this contented. I didn't think it was for me.
I didn't imagine I could ever feel this way if I reined myself in to such a rigorous extent. If I cut out all my absurd behavior so ruthlessly.
I believed that a creative, concretely virtuous, life was painfully empty, but--in spite of this alleged deprivation--worthwhile.
I never realized how full and beautiful it could be.
Here is a photo Dante took yesterday. The lighting in the studio might be good for paintings, but not as desirable for people. At least not when it comes to my mug. We had to try a few different spots to see where it was not so terrible.
When I grumbled about my looks my daughter said, graciously, "It's the lighting." Well . . . it may not help. Bad lighting. However, even the most Hollywood professional lighting can't work miracles. Not on this kind of material.
You'd think I'd be more concerned how the painting appeared. No. The painter is what catches my eye. I suppose this attitude hasn't advanced my art that effectively. Not when there is too much focus on the artist. Such absurd vanity.
On the other hand I've always preached that the art should become more beautiful simultaneously with the unsightly disintegration of the artist.
At least an artist has an intelligent way of compensating for his own decline. He can even make money out of his depressing state. Consider the final paintings of Rembrandt. Or DaVinci's celebrated self-portrait in red chalk. DaVinci was once regarded as "the most beautiful man in Florence." Many years earlier. Picasso took pleasure in drawing caricatures of old men when he was a member of that tribe. Old, horny, ugly men alongside voluptuous women. It probably made him laugh bitterly.
Life is compensatory. The pendulum never stops swinging. I'm old, but content. A failing memory, but a few simple insights are stronger than ever.
I guess it might be true: the first 100 years are the hardest. And I take this to be factual. The next thousand should go much more smoothly.
I was stretching some canvas and my daughter was planing a board. We can work in the same room, since it's large enough.
"You know," I said, "I always feel better after I start working."
"I mean it doesn't matter what I was doing before. Whatever it was it didn't make me feel as good as when I stand up and begin on another painting."
"Have you always felt that way?"
"No. I don't think so. I can't remember. After the first few minutes nothing is a pleasant as work."
"But it depends on the kind of work."
"This is true. It has to be your own work. But even that might not be the best way of seeing work. Any kind of work can still give pleasure. It's strange how people are so eager to retire, and stop working. It seems as if they didn't lead the best kind of life. And are still unable to live properly."
"To find pleasure in work is the best. Yesterday I had to ask this friend of mine if he's still working. Lately all he does is complain about this or that small thing. And he's always sick. I think it's because he hates his work and wants to quit doing anything."
"But how does anyone do nothing? You always are doing something."
"A little less pain, and a little more pleasure seems to be the best way to go."
"Right. To want a huge helping of pleasure is a mistake. As foolish as imagining no pain whatsoever in your life. These are childish ideals."
"Being an artist comes close to having a great life."
"For the artist himself. Or herself. But not for those around them. They have a hard time dealing with the artist's self-involvement. And his strange happiness. As he works away until the end. It galls them."
"So people don't like to hear that you're an artist?"
"Hah. They're deeply unimpressed. You ought to see their faces when I tell them what I do. The disappointment. The indifference. Even bordering on disgust. Maybe it's this town. But I don't think so. It was everywhere I've been. But I have a hard time not sounding proud of my vocation. Or calling. Gift. Whatever it is. I'm happy to be an artist. Are other people secretly envious? I have no idea."
Face it. People think artists are nothing but boring crackpots. I even feel that way about other artists. Some of them. Most of them. Talk about getting no respect. Or about needing no respect.
A good artist loves what he does to such a point that nearly everything besides making art is worthless. As dull as a parking lot.
I was beaming from yesterday's realization, when another idea came to me. Hot on the heels. It must have been my overdue luck arriving.
It was like this. I splashed my large painting with very fluid pigment, spilling it over the edge, onto the floor. Rather than track paint around the studio I then grabbed some blank canvas remnants and laid them down on the wet surface.
On the following morning I pulled them up and realized that they had made an interesting pattern from the night before. From the liquid paint on the concrete floor.
I stared at it for a long time. I concluded that I'd made a kind of mono print. A mono print is a one of a kind print pulled from a wet surface. I once knew a French artist who only worked this way. He used thick watercolor paper and a sheet of glass. He then brushed on a freely formed drawing and pressed the paper down on top of it. After a few seconds he lifted the paper and, voila, a mono print. Then he washed off the glass for re-use. Simple and effective. His name was also Patrick. I wonder whatever happened to him.
I liked his technique but I don't care for working on paper. It's actually more expensive than my own methods. Plus art on paper ends up getting stuffed in the closet. People resent having to go to an expensive framer. They put it off and it never gets done. Then the paper disintegrates.
After studying the canvas scrap I decided to stretch it and see how it looks, ready to hang. It reminds me of Sam Francis, or Helen Frankenthaler. Or even Joan Mitchell. But not quite. It has a very random patterning. Impossible to get with a brush. But this was the first attempt.
It's one of the advantages of owning my building. I can make a big mess, every day for many years. No one is going to complain. Or stop me.
I slept poorly. Had trouble falling asleep, then awoke early and feeling unrefreshed, irritable. What was the trouble?
My Instagram account isn't working. I spent the entire day and much of last night tinkering with it. Nothing. It was still messed up. Then had to reset passwords. And after getting no response from IG support I guess I'll have reinstall, but I hope my page is saved.
In addition I was frustrated with a large painting that I've been working on for much too long. It's not that I hate spending days on a piece. It's rather that it isn't turning out. After so much sweat. Literally. It's very hot in the studio.
I drank my espresso, feeling that I am finally out of ideas for painting. I wondered whether or not I should take a short break. I realized that I'm not getting anywhere, and the harder I work the worse it becomes.
But then I had a new flash of insight. It came out of the blue. Or maybe because of the book I was reading. It's on the philosophical practice of zen. I picked it up at a junk store the other day. For a buck. The author, Shunryo Suzuki, helped bring this subtle form of Buddhism to the West. The first zen temple in America is right here in LA. In Little Tokyo. Just over the bridge from the studio. It still exists. I've parked next to it dozens of times, on my way to a sushi dinner.
It all started to come together.
Painting, like other pursuits, improves little by little. With a lot of difficulty. Even agony. But then, when you least expect it, and having said to yourself hundreds of times, "well, fuck it. I give up..."
I jumped up and grabbed a brush, mixed a bucket of paint, and started throwing it down. I covered the piece in a matter of minutes with a final transparent glaze of greenish blue.
It looks beautiful. To me. It's a problem if I can't judge my finished painting to be beautiful. It may be a hangup. I don't know what it is. But when I stare at my painting I must believe in its beauty.
No matter if it's a kind of rough, naive, unfamiliar, accidental, derived, conventional, unfashionable, sentimental, or violent beauty. Any type of beauty will do.
Above all, above every other value, it needs to be seen clearly as beautiful.
In my eyes. At a precise instant.
A lightning strike. Of visible beauty.
Tomorrow it may seem less so. But that doesn't count. It'll always be less so (or more so) in the future. That doesn't concern me. It's out of my hands. It belongs to the bigger world.
I finished this one yesterday. It's the first piece of painted text that I've done using this technique. I suppose I could call it my personal calligraphy. Although calligraphy may be giving it more credit than it deserves.
I painted over another canvas to arrive at this one. Man, it is heavy as a chunk of steel. With all these layers of plaster, paint, and asphalt. But you don't see that when it's hanging. Generally it's thick frames that give paintings weight in pounds. But this heft is due to its surface.
I made the words with a ruler and by squeezing plaster through the pastry bag. Finally, brushing white house paint over the plaster. The effect is....I really can't say. Sturdy? Simple? Matter of fact? Personally impersonal? Awkward? Naive?
Whatever. It does however have its characteristic message, like nearly all of my language art.
The word merciless looks strange. It's not misspelled. Nor ungrammatical. But its strangeness must come from something else. Maybe the way it's slightly collapsed, fitting into the dark surface of the canvas. I say "into" rather than "on" the background. I had to plan the text and sketch it in first with chalk, which I erased after completion.
The second word "beauty" looks familiar enough. You see it in many places. Signs, magazine articles, advertisements.
So, about merciless beauty.
It's a rare type of the beautiful. One of my favorite poems is La Belle Dame Sans Merci by the Romantic genius Keats. A great, imaginative, painfully lyrical piece. The beautiful woman without mercy. The merciless beauty of a particular woman.
But of course this could also be referring to all types of merciless beauty. A storm, any person, a spiritual vision, an approaching death, an offer of a special gift, a ruin, a landscape.
I have gazed at a supremely desirable beautiful woman and thought "she is infinitely ravishing and equally unattainable." This is a very conflicting sensation. Something I want in the most vehemently urgent way that is utterly beyond reach. This feeling doesn't happen often in a person's life. Maybe never. But if it does--it stabs straight into the heart's core.
Facebook needs to have an automatic button that sends out birthday greetings to the group of friends. If you have over 400 "friends" that'll mean possibly every day someone will require a note. You will have to wonder whether or not to write. You'll drive yourself mad.
I was surprised by the hoopla on my birthday. Extremely minor, but nevertheless something. I am generally indifferent to these chronological events. But like everyone I respond dutifully.
Jackie used to make it a point to show up at the studio and paint on her birthday. I think however that she's not done it lately. These resolutions change over time.
I wasn't able to complete a new painting by my birthday. It shows that painting-time differs from clock-time. My development as an artist is very different from my movement through space.
Which is one of the many mysteries of time itself. Not only does it go forward, but it also retreats backward. I've always quoted Bergson on this: the future creates the past. You can observe this everyday. Books, programs, news, opinions: all redefining, reinterpreting, reassembling, re-discovering the past. And also falsifying and rewriting the past.
Time is like unwinding a spool of thread, or a strip of photographic negatives. It goes from the present to the past. The latest to the earliest. Psychological time goes backward a la Proust, clock-time goes forward.
We constantly examine the ways we arrived at this moment. We're all forensic investigators of the crime as existing mortals. Like the two-faced Roman god Janus: one looking forward, the other backward.
Blazing heat in LA. Breaking long held records. Hard to do anything. Even lay still with an industrial fan cranked up and blowing in my face. But it'll pass.
For now. But it comes back. More intensely.
When people stop believing in hell, they get busy making their own version. This is what is happening today. On several levels.
Humans need food, clothing, and shelter. It's impossible to be human without these three necessities. They might be considered individual rights, guaranteed by all governments. But it isn't so today.
When these three primitive conditions are met they are then followed by the advent of luxury. Elaborate dishes, elegant clothing, and ornate dwellings. That is, art. The most archaic society doesn't have art.
If you lack food you will choose an apple over a painting of an apple by Cezanne.
Three people could create a fundamental society by a division of labor: one would grow food, the other would makes clothes, and the third would build shelter.
All functioning society means living for others, not oneself. A purely selfish world dies out before it gets started. Robinson Crusoe had the advantage of a wrecked ship which provided him with necessary tools. An axe, rope, gunpowder, etc. That is, things made by others.
Humans living in luxury must realize that these privileged conditions were created by others.
With luxury there is inequality. Rich and poor, higher and lower, bigger and smaller, front and back . . . until the original structures are covered over, hidden, and long forgotten. But they still are there, submerged.
Absolute selfishness means non-being. You won't even exist. Not even be born.
Humanity is automatically in debt to itself. For as long as it is in this state. To be human is to shoulder inescapable obligations. A human is an animal with freely chosen responsibilities.
A human is a human because he understands that he understands himself as such.
Seventy-fucking-six today. 76 years traipsing, blackberrying, slogging around this bizarrely beautiful whatever.
What is this place, anyway? It seems so different examined from different corners. A testing ground? Yes. But for what purpose?
Testing ground brings to mind empty desert sites where weapons are tried out. Bomb craters. Shrapnel everywhere. Sterile, dangerous, no man's land.
76 years is a lot of time, or nothing at all? A mere wink of the eye. Or a drawn-out, painful, ambling, forced march.
What is time? It's several things, but one thing stands out: time is separation. Into parts. Into past, present, and future. Into here and there. Then and now. You and me. I and Other-than-I. Into what I was and what I will become. And who I am today.
But all these bits and pieces, all these sidelong glances, these passing profiles, comings and goings . . . what brings them together? What glues, welds, joins, knits them into a comprehensible wholeness?
I can answer that: non-time. Transcended time. Richly fruitful super-time.
In short, eternity.
Eternity is the creative hands of God forming my compliant soul-self.
I wanted to finish a painting and post it today. I'm mostly done, but Dante isn't here to photograph me standing alongside it.
I kind of rushed the painting, but that isn't such a bad thing. When it comes to painting. Maybe it's not so good when adding up a column of numbers, measuring a building, or assembling a space capsule. But pressing hard and quickly is can work when painting.
I want to be able to complete a new painting by my birthday, which is July 7. So I started on it yesterday, having made the plywood support on Tuesday.
I've always been pleased at the date of my birthday: the seventh day of the seventh month. A doubly lucky number. Not that I base anything on numbers. In fact I've always been obsessed by quality rather than quantity. But, like most people, I still pay attention to numbers. Just for fun. And occasional profit.
I was surprised to learn one thing about my date of birth. It appears in a song by the blues great Willie Dixon, and was made famous by Muddy Waters' version: "The Hoochie Coochie Man."
The lines read:
"on the seventh day
of the seventh month
the seven doctors say
he was born for good luck
and that you'll see"
And he writes in another place:
"he's gonna be a son of a gun
he gonna make pretty women's
jump and shout
then the world wanna know
what this all about"
When I first examined the words to this catchy tune I said to myself, well, what do you know about that! Am I the hooch-coochie man? And what exactly is the hoochie coochie man? Sounds . . . risqué. It's news to me, but then again, as Socrates said "know thyself." So this is another piece of the puzzle to my multi-sided identity.
From one angle I have been lucky. And, in fact, I've made a few women "jump and shout." Not exactly shout for joy, however. Yeah, I've heard my share of blistering salvos from a pretty woman or two. My ears are still ringing.
But the the world hasn't really wondered what "this all about." No. And I still consider that lucky.
Last night seemed more like a battlefield than ever. Fireworks went off from dusk until the early morning. They were coming from all directions. From public parks, backyards, school grounds, parking lots, streets, driveways. Such a love of spectacle, of noise, and sparkle. It's all kind of lost on me.
As a kid I was crazy about fireworks. But today? My nostalgia has its limits.
And all the displays of flags. I am critical of flags. I've never bothered to paint one. I'm against the idea of nation-states. With their iron borders, their us-against-them mentality. Their latent eagerness for war. Their un-neighborliness.
Give me a one-world government. Under one inclusive banner. To me this is progress.
Brothers and sisters everywhere: unite! I grew up in a large house full of children. This is my idea of humanity. The earth is a vastly beautiful single-family home. Or it could be. Someday it will be.
So much squinty-eyed divisiveness. Bitter hostility and groundless fears. A nauseating amount of self-satisfaction.
Where's the love? I once thought I'd live to see all the jagged resentments flooded with affectionate sweetness and gentle mercy.
I was too optimistic. Old nightmares die hard. This planet has a long road ahead, out of its whirling confusion.
Starting on a new painting today.
Also begun reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's letters from a concentration camp, before he was murdered. His words have a very contemporary ring to them. He writes of the dangers of political and religious power, and "how the power of some needs the folly of others." Astute.
Power and foolishness: like stale bread and rancid butter.
This tragic martyr lived during an evil time, but he rose above it freely and responsibly. An example for us all today.
The more I live, and the more I delve into things, I realize that I am less and less original. I'm beginning to see that originality is nothing but another delusion, one of the biggest, and often the last to go. At least for those who see themselves as "creative."
Everything comes from something. Or someone. It's a long line that goes around the block, out of sight.
If you imagine that someone is original you haven't looked hard enough. Or lived long enough.
The best you can say about someone is that they're diverting. Entertaining. Not completely dull. That they've managed to keep a small blue flame flickering. Until it gutters out.
But isn't it a little much to expect people, anyone anywhere, to always be fascinating? And it's the height of egoism to imagine that you never become boring to yourself.
Originality is like a thunderstorm that keeps you alert for as long as it lasts. And it always ends. All the things that seemed original actually were original --- to you. At that miraculous moment. That's the essence of originality. A flash of eternity ripping like a meteor through time and space.
Original means not passé. But everything slips into past, sooner or later. Which means that it's no longer thrilling, no longer original. Or that it's merely original for others.
Original: it takes one to know one. It's as if original means unpopular and hidden. If you know about it, then it's not that original. It's something that's never on the tip of everyone's tongue.
Original is like the shyest animal of all. So rare as if it doesn't even exist. You could spend a lifetime tracking it, searching for its burrow. Maybe it's only a rumor. Or (more likely) cunningly hidden in plain view.
Time to tend my so-to-speak garden. Isn't that what Voltaire advised?
I posted this yesterday on IG. It received a fair number of likes, and even someone wants to buy it. This is a good sign for me, since it represents a newer direction for the future.
I've made thousands of paintings with words involved, but this is the first one where I simply made the letters freehand without using any other prop. No standard fonts, no projection, no silkscreen, not even a straight edge. Just working spontaneously, eyeballing as I go.
I know. It looks it. I have to improve, and because of this I see where improvement is possible.
With art you have to make it and then go from there. It must become concrete, above all. It can't be done in your brain. And it must allow for changes during the process of actual construction.
Ideally it means perfect harmony between theory and practice. Not too much or too little of either.
The form and content in art is, or should be, identical. How it's done is no different from what is done.
This takes a little getting used to. This unity of form and content. For me it's been a hard concept to fully accept. To fully understand. But it's slowly sinking in.
The idea of this painting rises above gender, sexual orientation, age, and culture. I think of it as a desirable woman who can't help creating a little havoc wherever she goes. The problem of intense beauty entering the world. Like Brigitte Bardot. How she must have upset everything in her midst when she first appeared at around 18.
My daughter reads it and sees a very handsome man. A real heart-breaker. She accepts that it could be a Bardot, but "most pretty girls are in tears more than anything else." They don't devastate a dazzled community. Their looks only matter to a degree, and no further.
Whatever the case, it can function as an inkblot test for people. They see in it whatever they want to see. Whatever has shattered their comfort level.