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Red Shift

I have been working on a piece since NASA launched its final shuttle mission and that event set the course for the new work.  So many things about that shuttle launch struck chords in my psyche.  The gears jumped into action and I was just waterskiing behind the flood of ideas.  The connection with the last time I watched a shuttle launch, which was in fourth grade when the Challenger exploded over Reagan's eyes, was palpable as was the fact that I was watching it on the new medium of live internet stream.  A section of my life felt neatly bookended by the shuttle missions and was now lining up with another event in my life, the imminent birth of our son, Marvel Heron Ingram, also known as Mars.

Mars is our second child so I knew to some degree the difficulty of the road ahead.  Watching NASA perform flawless feats of impossible proportions I felt the seductive pull of that level of control.  Gearing up for the arrival of our son, I drooled at the idea of having NASA like control of my home and business and life.  I could taste the propaganda that NASA was born for, the clear intention in the space race to show the world who was "in control".  I made a decision to adopt a NASA mindset for the making of this piece.

Almost immediately I felt adversarial to my chosen path.  I knew the first NASA step was creating a clear mission statement followed by the mapping of logical steps between point A and point Z.    I found myself in paralysis, stuck between the right and left brain.  I was mired in artists eternal questions, "why am I doing this?"  "what is art for?" "what is my goal, what do I hope to achieve with this piece?"  These are usually questions that I love to talk through and giggle about and see where my mind ends up, but I was attempting greater control this time and so I set pen to paper and came up with this:  Mission Statement- Create a drawing that will evoke a similar awe to that of the shuttle launch experience, but one in which the message is not "USA is all powerful," but rather, "the individual is all powerful."  This was an awful mission statement. It lacked the impact and simplicity of, "put a man on the moon," there was zero objectivity, but I was on a schedule and had to get on with it.  I began drawing with no confidence in my mission and a growing sense of failure already heaping upon my shoulders, ironic because of the NASA byline, "Failure is not an option."  I thought, clearly if you set a mission statement and are not able to meet your statements demands, then failure is the option.

A common thread in my work is the mirror image of macroscopic to microscopic.  In this piece the echo was between the beautiful reach of humanity striving to cross the threshold of our planet's atmosphere and emerge into the frontier of outer space, and the epic adventure of parenting.  I feel a comparable sense of astonishment at the force of  humanity's will power and the constant push of biological life.  Experiencing the growth of my children from single cells into screaming, breathing, giggling, miracles is like watching the entire evolution of humanity, from water-born amoeba to homo-sapiens, compressed into one year.  To be alive in the time when our species emerges from the "womb" of our planet's atmosphere is akin to watching a new birth. Inspired by the similarity of my personal experience to the cosmic experience I began to think of the heads in this drawing as floating space orbs - myself a moon, my son a new star. This metaphor gained authority when a rarely observable supernova occurred on Marvel's birthday.

My wife gave birth to Marvel at home in an inflatable hot tub that we all shared at the spectacular time of his graceful emergence.  In that warm water, seemingly removed from the familiar dimension of time and life's general buzz, I received my mission.  I feel hesitant to use that word, "received," but that was the very specific sense of it, that it came in from the void of wisdom or greater reality at a moment of exceptional access to that place.  It was the proverbial "ah-ha" moment and I realized that my mission was "Fatherhood."  It was just a moment of furrow-browed understanding that might have easily been forgotten like an element of a dream had I not been stewing on what the heck my "mission" was to be.  It was very clearly not, "to be a good father," but rather the announcement of a state change and what felt like a cellular acceptance of this new reality.  In this mission it was clear that failure was truly not an option, that ideas of success and failure were too small and applied only to the narrow scope of the sensitive little ego.

 

We remained in new-born bliss and sleepless delirium for six weeks, and I had just returned to a full head of steam in the studio, drawing myself and drawing Mars while napping, when he got sick and a fever started to spike.  Newborns cannot handle infection the way the rest of us can, and what followed was a terrifying four days in the hospital, with multiple spinal taps, CAT scans, chest x-rays, intravenous antibiotics and fluids, and words like bacterial meningitis, brain damage, and death.  We watched Mars change before our eyes, turning strange inhuman colors and remain for long long periods in deep sleep.  We always kept skin touching his skin and talked and sang to him, but what was announced to me was that life can fade away and more importantly, it will.

The piece changed after our stay in the hospital.  I referred again to a macroscopic view comparable to my microscopic experience. Due to the Doppler effect of light, anything viewed in outer space that is moving away from us has a "red shifted" appearance and anything moving toward us is "blue shifted."  When it was discovered that everything out there was shifted red, it seemed for a moment that perhaps we were in the center of the universe.  Then it became clear that if we are a spec in a sea of expanding space, then everything is moving away from everything else.  This can seem like a lonely prospect until you realize that everything is sharing that same experience.  I applied a faint red fade to the side of my head to announce the perpetual drift away from my son.  I am still working to find the poetry in the fact that we all share this drift and it is in fact what holds us and the universe together.

 

 

 

Why Blue

I work in a cave-like studio- blinds drawn, doors locked and ear plugs in when I need to focus.  I recently saw "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," a documentary about cave paintings in southern France,  and realized that I do essentially the same thing with the same materials that my distant relatives, homo sapiens, did 35,000 years ago: Large imagemaking with burnt wood.  This new piece is as much about that distant connection with past humans as it is about the very human instinct to push further, to explore, to make new paths by walking where no one has walked.  Just when you think you are on the furthest edge of humanity, that our entire history has led to this very moment and that it is special for that reason, you realize that every human for all time has felt that same way.  That is the infinite loop I see when I look in the mirror.

This blue piece was made in reaction to, and is partnered with the previous piece in this series, "Easter Island."  I was experiencing the connection to humanity through a very different lens with that piece.  I was intentionally staying "informed" about global activity by choosing my news sources and listening while I drew.  It was a devastating news cycle drenched in suffering, power struggles, murderous wars, regime changes, family destruction, disease, and nuclear fallout.  I found myself calling this "reality," and began to feel a sense of delinquency when I started backing away from the news.  By not listening to the news I felt that I was dwelling in my ivory tower while ignoring the suffering peasants.  The problem with this (aside from the inherent untruth that the USA is a palatial utopia to gaze "down" from) is that it is the road to guilt and it is a dead end.  Guilt is self imposed and when it gets too uncomfortable we have many ways of turning it off or ignoring it.  Ultimately, that will not lead to connection or responsibility.  In reaction, I began looking for the circuitous back road to a more sensible place of connection.  After my time of listening to the global affairs, I began looking inward again, to places of direct experience with what it means to be human.

The above image in the middle is by Carl Jung, made between the years of 1912 and 1917 when he explored the boundaries of his psyche and allowed himself to be overrun by his creative "illness."

Jung: "The years, of which I have spoken to you, when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life, Everything else is to be derived from this.  It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore.  My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me.  That was the stuff and material for more than one life.  Everything later was merely the outer classification, the scientific elaboration, and the integration into life.  But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then."  C. G. Jung 1957

Jung placed a high value on the interior landscape of visions, dreams and fantasy.  He helped countless individuals by validating what our culture had come to consider the useless ravings of madness.  With one foot in western medicine as president of the International Psychoanalytic Society, and one foot deep in the rabbit hole, he was able to give a legitimate voice to those silenced by the new dominant mindset of science and logic.  He not only validated and made legitimate these deep human stirrings, but put them back on the pedestal of the sacred.  As an artist I feel a sense of duty to explore and reach past the confining barriers of that mindset.  It is the artists' responsibility to liberate minds, to show the vast reaches of creative impulse, and to expose the poetry available to this peculiar life form, homo spiritus.

I was reading Jung's Red Book as I was drawing the grid pattern I see when I scrutinize the surface of my skin and came across this image he drew.  I suddenly felt Jung's drawing in the same way I felt connected to those cave drawings.  The era and location of these two works are so different from my own that it would seem impossible to imagine what was going through the minds of the creators, and yet the thread that connects these artists to me and my urge to make art reveals some subtle classification of what it means to be human.

So why blue?  It's a thank you note and an homage and a hall pass to and from Jung.  It's the midnight of space and water, two realms within the reach of human curiosity.  It's beautiful- what's more human than that?

 

Clever Idea Mind

This piece began with a duel.  Staring at 7 feet of white paper, my Clever Idea Mind charged out of the gates with wild abandon and flung his "Ideas" all over the place.  The slow editing mind began the review process and was seduced a few times, smitten a couple of time, wowed and dazzled here and there, but ultimately vetoed each "Idea" for lacking integrity.  This period of time is like an adolescent love affair with wild mood swings from cocksure touchdown dances and declarations of revolutionary genius to pure self-loathing.  This should be a predictable conflict but it catches me off guard every time.  The challenge is one of endurance, I just have to keep saying "no" to the ideas that don't touch the timeless until my Clever Idea Mind surrenders and all I am left with is the work of drawing.

The work of drawing is the same battle, but it's in the field of action, not Ideas.  Drawing accurately means consistently disregarding what the Mind thinks it sees and devoting the hand to what the eye actually sees.  This implies a hierarchy: that what the eye sees is better than what the mind thinks it sees, and generally I feel that this is true.  I believe that what goes on inside a flower is more amazing than what I could make up about what goes on inside a flower.  I believe that what actually happened in the cosmos to create our sun and earth is exponentially cooler than what religions and creation myths have come up with.  I believe that there is more grandeur available to an individual when the ego can step aside and stop insisting upon its point of view as the only right one.

That said, I was not immune to Nancy Reagan's propaganda films with fried eggs, and so I too think a mind is a terrible thing to waste.  I have been looking for a good use for this mind and feel that I am on to something with the work I have been doing in this drawing.  In the case of witnessing this grid that I have been seeing, the mind is subservient to the eye, but active at the same time.  I am trying to make sense of what I see and I feel echoes of Darwin trying to make sense of the evidence that was staring back at him from a bone or a butterfly proboscis.

Stay tuned for "Why Blue?"

Easter Island

I just finished.  I was so excited to have crossed the finish line on this one that I almost misspelled my name when I went to sign it.  I hope that there is some voo-doo connection with the completion of this piece that will trigger that completion of global mayhem that has caused so much suffering and destruction during the course of its creation.  It is a naive hope.  I know that there have been many times in human history when people believed that the world was going to end, but it seems these days that there is more evidence stacking up to support these fears.  This drawing saw the Tunisian people light a fire in the Middle East and Northern Africa that still burns.  It saw the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and subsequent nuclear disaster.  It has overseen the spread of cholera in devastated Haiti and now the launching of American missiles into Libya.  So is this it?  Is this the big one?  Is this where oil dries up, the temperature of earth rises those crucial three degrees, disease spreads and our teetering economic infrastructure crumbles leaving our exponentially expanding populations scrambling for kernels of genetically modified corn and irradiated rice?

Easter Island saw this type of collapse, when deforestation lead to radical population decline.  The trees were being used to move those giant heads from place to place, and the cultural obsession with these monuments blinded them to the consequences.  Their world did come to an end.  As the drawing progressed it began calling for this title, the parallels added up and the title "Easter Island" started dictating some of my decisions.  My original intention was to focus on a depiction of the pattern I have been witnessing on the surface of my skin, but in accurate perspective.  I set up a horizon line and two vanishing points to make my drawing in two-point perspective.  As a result the head started looking rather block like.  The size of the head is the largest I've drawn, six and a half feet from beard to hair line.  My resistance to color, due to the somber gray mood of global death tolls, had me watching this huge stone-colored head come out of the darkness of my studio.  It started looking like an Easter Island head before the metaphor of collapse came on board and started steering the ship.

I made a promise to a politically active friend to stay "informed" this year.  I sense that I have acted narrowly to this imperative.  I have been a bit inundated by the news these days and while it has increased my compassion and knowledge about what is going on outside the studio walls, it has also started clogging my drains with fear balls.  I do believe that our insular world view is to blame for much of the maladies that take place globally and that if we were all "informed" about the connections between our lifestyle and those atrocities we would change, but apparently the dosage of  information about this must be regulated to maximize efficacy.  I think this piece is a reflection of  my  limited definition of "informed."   I intend to remain vigilantly aware and I know now that this means staying in tune with the seasons and the migrating birds as much as current events.  My aunt offered these words as salve to this particular ailment:

"There's a neat dial on my sewing machine, it's called "the tension" or sometimes "tension control" and the sync between the two spools of thread that perfectly unite inside the machine makes up one line of beautiful smooth stitching but not if the tension is dialed to the wrong milemetre.  Fortunately, it's a dial so it's operable and adjustable. There's wisdom in those spools."