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ALCHEMIST
After much consideration, I have decided that I am not an artist, but rather an alchemist. The reason for this change in personal identification is that I no longer know what an artist is because I do not know what art is. The definition of art has become muddled if not annihilated by the view, “anything can be or is art”. The process of naming a subject or object is to recognize within it a combination of traits that give it its unique identity. To say everything is art is to say it lacks an identity unique unto itself. Hence, it is pointless to call anything art since it is undefinable and meaningless. The problem seems to lie in the limitations of language to define subjective, human experience and also in the imposition of personal, aesthetic biases. I have decided to jump off the merry-go-around and switch to being an alchemist.

When I speak of alchemy, I speak of it metaphorically. Through alchemy, the alchemist transforms ordinary metals into gold. In my work, I transform a set of materials, feelings, aesthetic sensibilities and perspective into an object that radiates a sense of an independent presence that I view as magical as making gold out of a common metal. Paulo Coelho’s book, The Alchemist, defines alchemy as a means to living a transformative life. The process that leads me to create what I am creating is itself personally transforming. It shapes my view of my existential state of being and has set my path for self-realization and self-fulfillment by putting me in touch with off life. Is what I described above art? I do not know for the reasons I have already mentioned. Figuratively speaking, am I an alchemist practicing alchemy? I would say so.

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THE THEORY OF NOTHING
Recently, I saw the film called “The Theory of Everything”. It made me simplify what I have known for over 30 years—that the human notion of time is an illusion. One need only ask a simple question. When does one moment end and another one begin? If no such division exists neither can time, since time, by definition is a sequence of separate moments. All measurements of time are artificial. In fact, existence occurs in the absence of time or in another word eternity. Existence is seamless and boundless. The same can be said about space. Take away the objects and walls that create the illusion of space and you once again are left with a seamless reality.

What causes us to have this illusion of time and space? The answer lies in the nature of our minds and how this nature interprets existence. Our minds are dominated by the process of dualistic thinking. We see existence as a universe of opposites and all the nuances in between. We are stuck in filtering existence through the binary lens of our minds and senses which render existence as a collection of objects and moments seemingly unconnected. Even our sense of self, “ego/soul” is a concoction of the binary process. What we believe to be reality is simply a fabrication of our minds. In the case of time, we are led astray by another process of mind. It can only absorb existence in a linear manner. What you were, what you are and what you will be all exist simultaneously. This limitation of our minds to grasp the totality of reality is as intellectually crippling as dualistic thinking is.

Yet, there is one redeeming aspect of our minds. There is something about us that intuits or senses that existence is ultimately whole. For example, religion is one of the ways we try to connect to something greater than ourselves—connect to an ultimate reality and power. Interestingly, many people’s concept of God is very similar in many ways to my own view of ultimate reality. God is eternal. God has no beginning and no end and exists at once in the so called past, present and future. God is everywhere simultaneously, occupying all space. My view differs from religion in one significant way. I leave god out of the picture. God is a metaphor—a product of a binary mind. As such, God becomes something separate from ourselves. The problem with religion is that it cannot transcend the metaphor and the layers of rituals and theology heaped upon it. The concept of God as something separate from ourselves therefore becomes a hindrance instead to seeing our existential predicament.

Another theory forwarded in the film was the seeming conflict between Einstein’s view of order and harmony in the universe and that of quantum physics—a view of a subatomic universe as random and chaotic. This conflict like the common view of time and space is a dialectical problem. There is no conflict. The seeming conflict is a result of viewing the universe from two different vantage points. It reminds me of experiencing a Monet waterlily painting. From a distance, you see a harmonious waterlily pond. Up close, inches from away from the canvas, the painting appears to be a chaotic, turbulent and unstructured universe. Time, space, birth, death, God and The Big Bang Theory are all fabrications of a dialectical mind.

DATING ART
Since 2000, I have not dated any of my paintings. I have decided to do this for two reasons. The first is that I do not believe time to be an existential fact. The illusion of time is grounded on artificial forms of measurement which in turn are based on the mind’s software that interprets existence dualistically and linearly. I for one cannot discern where one so-called moment begins or ends nor in what direction life moves if it does. A break does not exist. Hence, we are not living in the field of time, but instead in the seamless reality of eternity; the absence of time. For those who believe reality moves in increments, I have one question. What exists between the increments? Is it anti-time or the absence of time? The idea that reality travels on a string into an uncharted future seems preposterous to me. The notion of time exists only in the matrix of the human mind and nowhere else.

Secondly, my belief is that art or the aesthetic experience is the expression of the eternal. It is this element in art and the aesthetic experience that allows art to transcend culture and history. It is in history, the academy of linear time, that I have found my second objection to dating my paintings. History in the west has co-opted art and taken it into the provincial and mundane. Its latest permutation is the notion of the avant-garde which judges art on how it relates to previous art and how it advances the values of the existing art establishment. In such an environment, novelty becomes the primary measure of quality and relevance. It is a path that has led the art world to mere fashion and the flavor-of-the-day mind set. The situation has gotten to the point where competitive exhibitions and fellowships will not consider artwork more than two years old. I guess if you completed a painting two years and a week ago it is no longer relevant for consideration. All of this leads back to seeing art as an expression of the eternal and as seamless whole. So, it is not surprising that my anti-time views extend to the history driven art world of the west.

Hence, that is why I no longer date my paintings. I see time as a contrived illusion which has shackled art into the limited and narrow matrix of history. James Joyce is credited with once saying that he wanted to awaken from the nightmare which is history. I have awakened and I am rebelling.

TITLES
I am often asked what my titles mean in relationship to my paintings. My answer is “not a whole lot”. My titles are usually based on some whimsical association I have made about some aspect of a painting. Often these associations are esoteric or personal or banally descriptive. The purpose of a title is to help me remember and identify a painting at some future date. In short, my titles are functional. Like many artists, I do not believe that a title can encapsulate or summarize the experiential breath of a work of art. If it could, why bother with the artwork?

Unfortunately, many viewers look at a title prior to looking at the work of art. What often happens is the viewer sees the art piece through the prism of the title, blocking out and/or conditioning, in whole or in part, the insights, speculations and unadulterated feelings one would otherwise have if their experience was a direct one. Even the most literate and poetic titles are not a substitute for a visual experience.

Some artists avoid the problem I have been discussing by either using the “Untitled” designation or to number their artworks or they reference visual qualities such as “Composition in Red, Blue and Yellow”. These approaches do not work for me because as I said earlier, I want to be able to recall a past painting and the only way I can do that reliably is through an association which I have some connection to.

The title to the painting posted on my blog is not revealed. How would you title it? Does your title embody the totality of your experience of the painting? My guess is, no.

CAMPING WITH GEORGE
George and I were art students together and had a budding friendship when one day he asked if I would like to go camping with him. He said his tent was practically new and that he had used it only once before. It seems he had taken his then wife Pat and his daughter Nicole camping and had spooked them out by taking them to a spider-infested location. They had been so scared that he doubted they would ever go camping with him again. This was my first warning of what was about to happen—a warning that went unheeded.
One Friday afternoon George and I started out for the Withlacoochee River where there was a fishing camp he was familiar with. The plan was to rent a boat and head down river. I was expecting a quaint and scenic fishing camp off a curving highway, an expectation that began to fade after we veered off the highway and drove a few miles through the forest on bumpy, muddy roads and at times were there were no roads at all. We finally reached a rotting arched entryway with a sign that read Trails End Fishing Camp. The name was a second warning that went unheeded.
As we entered the fishing camp, it seemed like a scene from the Grapes of Wrath. On each side of us were dilapidated wood sheds and rusted trailers parked in the mud. Also in the mud sat barely working appliances that reflected on a culture that believes major appliances belong outside the home. Further down the road I saw some cabins that appeared to have been built at the turn of the 20th century and had not been maintained since. Across from the cabins was a makeshift assemblage of sheds stuck together with a sign reading Groceries, Bait, and Rentals. Once inside George suggested that we eat a couple of hotdogs because we would not have another chance to eat that day. In a glass encasement a rotisserie rotated in spurts with the most wrinkled pieces of meat I have ever seen. After reluctantly eating a couple, I drank a beer hoping that the alcohol would kill some of the microbes I had just ingested.
George picked up a can of spam, a can of pork and beans, coffee, worms for bait, and two cans of mosquito repellent. Oh yes, and a couple of six packs of beer—George was partial to liquor. We packed the gear and supplies in the boat and headed down river to a place more remote than Trails End. As the late afternoon began to give way to twilight, I started pointing out possible campsites. George would have none of it. He kept saying one more bend, one more bend until we were wandering down the river in darkness with a single flashlight. As I discovered, George loved to see how far he could go before he had to relent. Finally, he pointed the flashlight to a batch of reeds on the riverbank and announced that it would be a good spot. He veered the boat into the reeds awakening thousands of mosquitoes that immediately began their bloodsucking attack. We both grabbed the repellent, showering ourselves with it. Wading through the reeds and water, we reached a patch of semi-dry ground where we pitched the tent as mosquitoes buzzed around us searching for an unsprayed spot. I felt like I was breathing mosquitoes. George suggested that we collect as many dry leaves that we could find and start a smoke fire in front of the tent to chase the insects away. It did temporarily work, giving us the opportunity to get inside the tent and zip up the screen door. I spent the first hour coughing because of the smoke and the rest of the trip smelling like a charred steak.
The next morning we broke camp as fast as we could. It was a mile down the river before the buzzing of mosquitoes stopped. It wasn’t long before we spotted some high ground that we decided would be our new campsite. On the surface, the site seemed to be perfect. However, it wasn’t until I got home that I realized the place was teaming with chiggers and ticks.
We spent the rest of the day trying to catch fish. Trying is about all we did as we didn’t catch a one, not even a bite in spite of the fact that George took us to all his so-called favorite spots. Years later he confessed that he didn’t have any favorite spots and that he had been winging it on that day. It didn’t matter to me since I don’t like fishing anyway. We did finish the beer and enjoyed each other’s company.
Once we ran out of bait, we headed back to the campsite. This time we arrived before nightfall. George lamented that he had hoped to be frying fish for dinner, but instead we ate spam and beans. George had a propensity for animal fat, an addiction that continued for the rest of his life. Luckily, the quality of meat improved. As we ate, night revisited us. Then George announced, “Now that it’s dark, we need to go frogging.” For an Hispanic from a poor neighborhood in Tampa, I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Frogging was not part of my cultural experience. George handed me a gig and explained that I was to throw it at the frogs. The huge trident weapon would have demolished a frog. It seemed more appropriate for a whale.
Once again we were on the river, in the dark with a single flashlight. We were adrift along the riverbank. George stood at the front of the boat with the flashlight in hand, like Captain Ahab in search of Moby Dick. As I sat at the rear of the boat holding the gig, I wondered what the hell I was doing out there. Then suddenly, George shouted, “There’s one!” At that point, he pulled out a revolver and began shooting into the night. “There’s another one!”…Bang…Bang. I began to shout, “George, what are you doing?” He just laughed with that laugh of his that was a mix between impish mischief and complete amusement. The gun went off again…Bang…Bang! I didn’t see a single frog and I doubt he did either. Our success at frogging was matched only by our success at fishing. Finally, when George ran out of ammo, we headed back toward the campsite. We searched the river bank for about two hours in a moonless night until we miraculously found the camp.
As we walked up to the campsite, George decided we needed a campfire. He spotted a tree stump and announced it would do fine. Although I wasn’t a very good boy scout, I knew that you started a fire with small twigs and gradually build it up with larger pieces of wood. George had another plan. He disappeared into the darkness and emerged a couple of minutes later with a can of gasoline. I looked at him with complete astonishment. What in the world was he up to now? He doused the stump with gasoline and tossed a match on it. Flames burst 12 to 15 feet into the air, singeing George’s eyelashes. Once the fire died out after a few seconds, he repeated the process again and again. I felt like I was in Vietnam surrounded by napalm. Needless to say, a sustained fire was never accomplished. Left without gas or ammo, we retired for the evening.
The next morning we drank coffee but had nothing to eat. George had planned for another fish fry for breakfast. Without bait and food and with only enough gas in the engine to get back to Trails End, we decided to head home. The boat ride back was mellow. When we arrived at Trails End, we headed for the general store and actually had some more hotdogs that were still in a state of pulsating motion and yes, still dried out and wrinkled. How we survived those hotdogs, I will never know.
We packed our gear into the car and headed past the cabins and up the mud caked, bumpy road. The fishing camp children in their bare feet, torn clothing and soiled faces ran along side the car, waving goodbye to us. After waving back, I looked over at George and saw in him a sense of contentment. As for me, I was going home without any fish or frogs, but instead with a few chiggers and ticks in tow.
As we passed the archway departing from that separate reality called Trails End, I realized that I had experienced a rite of passage into George’s inner world.
We became lifelong friends.

MY FRIEND GEORGE
My friend George died. George could be known to be a bit of a curmudgeon – cantankerous and impatient at times. But, he was so much more than that. He was funny and witty; intelligent and talented; generous and resourceful. He was an artist and a great cook. He was a Renaissance man – a man of ideas and taste. Politically, he was an outspoken liberal democrat. Yes, George was outspoken on many issues including religion. But, there is more. He was a cracker, a photographer and a drinker. George did enjoy his toddies as he would call them. He was a reader, a scholar and a prodder. The latter he cultivated into an art form. He delighted in pushing people’s buttons to see just how far he could go. To some he was an s.o.b., but to me he was a charming rascal.
What best describes George can be seen in a question I asked Michelle. I asked her if in all their years of marriage, did she ever comb George’s body in search of that wild hair. I imagine that she never found it or if she did, I am sure glad she never plucked it. It was the spark that made George, well…George.
I do not know how or why some people bond for a lifetime, but George and I did. I thought of him as my brother. Without George around, the world will be, for me, a lesser place. I will miss him. I salute you, George.

AM I DELUSIONAL
I have come to the realization that there is only being and everything else is merely a fabrication. We live in a state of delusion. Having said this, there is a specific delusion that I have been dealing with lately. It has to do with my recent paintings. I have felt that many of my recent works which all address the basic truth I have mentioned above, are masterpieces. They move me with the same aesthetic and spiritual essence I have come to recognize in the world’s greatest works of art. However, the problem is that for the exception of a handful of people, all the latest “Academy of Arts” professionals disagree. As a matter of fact, they seem to believe that my paintings are too decorative, too traditional, too enigmatic, too …. too …. or not painterly enough, not utilizing the latest technologies, not ugly enough, not, …. not, …. or lacking in angst. Am I in a terrible state of delusion or is the academy or are we both hopelessly lost? Ah, the web we weave when we first practice to “conceive”. To be or “to be”. Sorry Shakespeare, I hope you appreciate the irony.

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