Not many words. Just thanks and thanks. Thanks again (and again) for your great gift.
So, keep up the music, keep making art, keep laughing, and loving, and being Real.
. . . and so it went, but those weeks of rain -- when I was absent from this blog, slogged under the weight of grey clouds and relentless rain -- washed away Peralta Junction weeks before its scheduled end. The junction packed up at the last of November, but I include here a few last pictures of that miraculous event posted with the hopes that the organizers might consider returning to the street when winter rains have fled to summer mountains, leaving the coast once again cold and clear.
Not many words. Just thanks and thanks. Thanks again (and again) for your great gift.
Jean Paul Marcelo enjoys painting the Bay Area landscape under sunny skies, and spent many days painting some sensitive portraits of the junction. You can see more of his plein-air paintings at his website: jpmarcelo.com
On stage, the unicycle antics of Donna Wood and Co. . . . Stayin' Alive, wump wup wup Stayin' Alive.
So, keep up the music, keep making art, keep laughing, and loving, and being Real.
Okay. It's been a while, and my most faithful readers (you know who you are ;-) have been chiding me, gently probing to discover the cause of the 'blog jam.' Would it help to admit that following the demise of summer I am in mourning for the dying sun?
Probably not, but no matter.
Here I am back to offer some last impressions of that season of light. Here in the Bay, we don't have those stunning displays of brilliant reds and oranges covering entire mountains such as exist back East, but there are days, like the recent afternoon pictured below, when trees blush pink and sidewalks are painted gold with fallen leaves, days that make me smile, grateful for the ghost of the sun lying at my feet.
All this yellow made me laugh.
Tripping down this sidewalk, my trusty dog Earnest AKA Toto-in-disguise at my side, I felt certain I would soon see the Wizard or at least stumble over the Scarecrow.
Of course, I didn't.
Unless the tiny woman with the huge bag of recyclables balanced on her back could be counted as a wizard. Who knows? She did give me a big smile and would have waved had she not needed both hands to hang onto the bag and its magical contents of convertible currency, aluminum to nickels. As she moved sturdily across the street, her back bent but her spine stretched long, wizard-like indeed.
It's a prickly time of year, magical and desperate. Spines seem to burst forth with as much vigor as blossoms in the spring. Passers-by look skeletal, wet with rain, hair and clothing plastered close, umbrellas inside out, metal innards quite exposed. Trees stripped of leaves are naked bones, stark and steely gray but still a fragile bulwark against the inevitable winds of winter, fingers reaching to catch the leaving of the light. Such magnificence -- these edges -- I should feel grateful for this sudden beauty, but I mourn the dying of the light, miss the rustle of the leaves. The sound of branches scraping the sky is lost on me.
But that's okay, too.
Autumn skies have enough music to carry me through dark December days. Plenty of strong chords, howling winds, and always the grace notes of geese honking their way further south.
Trees pressed against flooded blue and leaves pressed to rain damp concrete. Both leave lasting impressions.
I came upon these sidewalk leaf prints pictured below while walking recently in Emeryville. The leaves of young sycamore trees had blown down during the last raging rain storm. After the 'river of rain' -- the 'pineapple express' -- had glued the leaves to the sidewalk, tannins leached onto the white concrete, and when the next blustering wind came howling off the bay, it blew away the spines of the fallen leaves, and the shadow of summer remained printed on the sidewalk.
A perfect ghost.
Meanwhile, I've been working, printing books and painting.
Sometimes Sleeping with its imperfect ghosts, standing guard.
The other day, I was walking with a friend and our dogs on the far fringes of West Oakland and came upon the lively mural pictured here. My friend, who has long been busily restoring buildings in the neighborhood, brick by brick, board by board, told me that these murals shield what remains of a lively museum that was once on this site -- the dream of his friend Marcel who has since relocated to New Orleans. The only actual building on-site, an ancient little one-story one-room house slipped between two panels of the imagined street of bustling shops, he tells me, was moved from the opposite side of the street when it was threatened with oblivion. This building, perhaps the oldest building in West Oakland, was once abandoned but now survives as we all survive . . . protected by memory and dreams, grounded but ready to fly.
On that morning of the long walk through recent West Oakland history, I returned home and then sat very still for quite some time, elbows on my drawing table, fingers stretched across eyes, thinking of what is created and left behind, what crumbles, what remains . . . the through-lines describing the limits of birth and death . . . and all that expands between. I thought about the great generosity of these paintings -- and all street art -- offered so freely to those who pass. I thought about all the hope that breathes in West Oakland -- the gardens, the art, the cheerful hellos -- in spite of struggle.
What we give, what we keep, what we leave behind.
Once upon a time, I came close to abandoning a decade's worth of my own paintings stashed for an even longer time in a tin-roofed desert warehouse, but then rallied and retrieved them, damaged but more or less intact. Decades earlier, I did abandon all my sculptures. Too much weight. Maybe some survive -- who knows -- those I gave away might still be available to eyes and hearts. Often that which we give to others, lives; that which we stash away and hide, dies.
As I sat at my drawing table, listening to John Coltrane with my thumbs pressed to my eyes, I thought of all the stories and poems of my own that remain trapped in files, uncollected and unpublished . . . and what that means . . . if anything. I recalled a small number of poems written during a rather difficult time in my life when I had been forced to deal with some intense internet 'bullying' that both affected my ability to work, to earn money, to be in the world. Even as that cowardly bullying cut my 'worldly' ties, I held fast to my creative heart and wrote.
I decided to paste a few of those poems into this blog -- as odd as they might be. When I wrote them, the very foundation of my world had cracked, and I was feeling quite alone, no longer sure whom I might trust. Nonetheless, I determined to remain close to beauty, to grace, to kindness. I didn't want to descend into the dark howling desperation clawing at the fringes of my life and did my best to ignore the miserable virtual nastiness of behind-the-scenes bullies. I set out instead to find an affordable home, putting one foot in front of the other, listening to the city, talking to trees, watching the sky. And while I searched, I wrote down words pushed through the open windows in my heart.
I have include these poems here not as commentary on the remarkable murals discovered on my recent walk and pictured here and not because I think they are 'gems,' but because of their obstinacy, a reminder to myself that that art creates life and that art can be made even in the worst of times . . . we all need to breathe . . . and breathe and breathe. Just breathe.
The poems stand, I hope, quietly respectfully to the side of the images as separate rhythms -- drums, strings or piccolo.
You decide. Or not.
Afternoon Tea with Bees and Bombs
Downstairs, an old woman, gray haired green eyed,
speaks of pastimes, carrots grown in backyards.
The boy nearby smokes clove cigarettes, breathes
symphonies, hardwired to LED lights
taped to his chest. A legless woman, blond,
complains of mud and frogs while clematis
bloom blue and wide on vines attached to drains –
two orange cats curl against an iron pot
awash with moss and forest ferns. Beauty –
soon smoked out by evening fog. I can’t stop
grinding down my teeth. Yesterday, driving
north through thirty-five miles of acrid smoke,
heat eclipsed dry hills, screaming traffic noise.
I melted faster than the grasses burned.
Now, I’m hammered steel, pollen etched, extreme.
Tomorrow, rockets explode stars to clouds –
White gold – what it is to be disbelieved.
. . . . Ballantine, 2008
A stray dog runs the stairs near waterfalls
with a stride so wide, I hear his hoof beats –
see him shake his mane.
A Buddhist monk comes down at slower speed –
a six-foot scroll painted under redwood trees
rolled beneath her arm.
Below neatly pruned roses bloom, and here
on this waterless slope, dry weeds tango –
red spikes and white rounds.
I’m hanging tight to god’s rope, trapped inside
falling water, rolled flat out to circles,
chained inside the heart.
This absence of doves, such a lack of bees
can’t matter. Living behind barbed wire
is not an option.
. . . Ballantine, 2008
An End to War
Morning glories at dawn, cobalt circles
on a flat pink wall. Commotion below.
An ex-Navy seal talks loudly of dolphins
blinking as light curves across sonar screens.
He drinks gin at 10 a.m., toasts the girl
with neon pink hair slashed above her eyes –
She answers with tales of roller-blading
on Ecstasy, snorting lines in Home Depot.
The plastic drainpipes (she says) in Plumbing
sang songs as fine as fishnet catching light.
When she tells him a mermaid sat astride
her bass fiddle, mouth agape to sea sounds,
he laughs and clouds of dragonflies rise up.
. . . . Ballantine, 2008
Yesterday, the washing machine caught fire.
The smoke alarm didn’t sound.
We put the fire out.
Now, a small bird builds a nest
of twigs and dryer lint, tucked
into the morning glory vine –
and at last – a silver-spangled
maple leaf, chemical orange.
Moths singing soprano through the night.
This missile could reach targets
as far away as Jupiter.
. . . . Ballantine, 2008
Peralta Junction is now officially open for business.
Today's grand opening was joyous and peaceful, alive with music and smiles.
Pumpkins were carved. Faces were painted, and visitors danced while music played, and I came away with some moderately priced and unique gifts for future occasions neatly tucked in a paper bag.
Last night the fog horns were moaning dolefully out on the Bay, but the early morning fog burned quickly away, leaving stunning blue skies and warm -- almost too warm -- sun. I walked up to the Junction late morning with my little Earnest trotting beside, discovered the magic of this brand-new creative commons , and then returned mid-afternoon alone so I might explore the booths and speak with the artists. The morning crowd was small, but by mid-afternoon, the parking lot was filling fast . . . (yes, there is a parking lot -- and a parking lot attendant!)
I can't say I was able to speak with all (I'm too shy) or that I saw all that there was to see (so much!), but what I did see and what I did hear, I thoroughly enjoyed. The Midway was open with its delightful games carefully (and playfully!) crafted from found materials. I think my favorite game is the one that has participants shooting streams of water into suspended oil cans. Fill the cans and a truly magical balloon ship careens into an imagined sky. Cooperation encouraged. :-)
By the way, as a woman, I have mixed feelings about the painted women standing targets, patiently waiting for beanbags to hit their clad bottoms and tops, revealing what hides below. I don't want to throw any kind of object at man or woman, even in play. I understand, of course, that as Baktin suggested, that 'to degrade is to bury, to sow, and to kill simultaneously, in order to bring forth something more and better,' to ask us to confront our habits -- as uncomfortable as that might be. I just wonder if a similar and equally happy game might be made with a magically painted landscape, clouds hovering above. Hit the clouds and flowers sprout below. Hit the sun and fruit sprouts on the tree. I do, however, appreciate the cheerful carnevalesque painting of the Bucksome Bedy booth. This is carnival, farcical fun. Farceurs have long considered it their responsibility to breathe a little oxygen into the smoldering fires of society’s discontent . . . and do so while inhaling lyric beauty.
The surrounding shoppes offer hand-made foods -- organic doughnuts, delicious Oaxacan tamales (meat, chicken, or vegetarian; I once enjoyed one of their breakfast pineapple tamales -- exquisite), popcorn, and gorgeous little cupcakes plus all kinds of hand-made goods and crafts, including organic body lotions, distinctive hats, wild vests, metal work, hand crocheted baby shoes, jewelry (no bling, just hand-made wondrous stuff), and the unique silk-screened ties, cheerful dresses and skirts of Trinity Cross' inspired Field Day.
Have fun browsing and rummaging. You're sure to find something you like.
And for those who want an unusual souvenir of their day at the Junction, there's even a photo booth where families can have their picture taken against a cheerful red and white background . . .
I don't think it's possible to come to Peralta Junction and leave grumpy. There's just too much to make you smile, too many other people smiling and and laughing, too many horses and monkeys and elephants and strange birds -- and pumpkins -- all grinning madly.
Don't wait until November to come to visit the Peralta Junction Midway and its shoppes. Most vendors now on site will be gone by November. There will be new folk, new wonders, in November, but certainly, you don't want to miss these folk!
See it all!
Come on down and dance a little, smile a little, remind your bones what it is to have fun.
Your heart will thank you.
It is -- as you like it! Peralta Junction Opens!
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.
I would not change it. ( II.i.)
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrance . . . ( II.vii)
And the stage is set!
O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful
wonderful! and yet again wonderful, and after that,
out of all hooping! (III.ii.)
Welcome. Set down your venerable burthen,
And let him feed. ( II.vii)
Peace, ho! (V.iii.)
Recently, I was bent over my drawing table, swimming in color and listening to KQED morning talk program "Forum," featuring Michael Krasny and his guest David Talbot, founder and CEO of Salon.com and the author of the article How Much Tech Can One City Take? recently published in San Francisco Magazine. I had tuned in to hear Salman Rushdie, scheduled to appear in the second half of the show. I was listening to the discussion of the big bad tech take-over of San Francisco by default and found myself both bemused and slightly annoyed by the sometimes pompous discussion of the recent technology boom in San Francisco (there are now 1700 tech companies comfortably ensconced downtown) as causative of a rapid rise in rents, resulting in an exodus of lower income citizens and a perhaps unwelcome change in the social and cultural climate of San Francisco.
I listened and thought these 'innovators' are growing old and tired. Rather than revealing open minds, their verbal struggle was suggesting a rather stubborn unwillingness to accept change. I turned the page in my sketchbook, cleaned my brushes, polished my palette, and readied myself for a new painting, thinking about similar conversations that I participated in some thirty-five years ago in NYC. I had been as convinced as are Krasny & Talbot of the 'danger' of the obvious changes in my neighborhood. Deja vu, all over again.
Then, I was living as a low-income struggling artist in downtown Manhattan in a zone of open raw industrial lofts, useful for studios, an area south of Houston St that would later become desirable for those with comfortable incomes who appreciated art and wanted the expansive 'freedom' of artist lofts. I had been living with my husband on Lispenard St, below Canal St, paying far less than $300/mo for a loft with a fully equipped kitchen, skylights, a working studio, a bathtub large enough and deep enough to serve as a swimming pool for my toddler sons. When that marriage exploded in a sea of sparks, I lived for a while in a more modest one-bedroom $40/mo railroad apartment on East Fourth St (yes, that is really FORTY), and then in a third floor walk-up (a two-bedroom apartment on) Greenwich St. When the rent on that 'too-small' apartment (spacious by today's standards) threatened to go to $375/mo, I threw up my hands and joined the outcry of too high, too high.
I wrote a song with lyrics that I thought amusing yet confrontational but now recognize as being rather tinged with the same bitterness that Krasny and Talbot were savoring as they discussed changes happening in SF. I used to sing my silly song as I walked through the shifting sands of the developing neighborhoods of Soho and the newly named Tribeca, glaring at those who carried briefcases and sported expensive hand-tailored Italian suits.
Think I'll move to Soho
Paint my kitchen Day-Glo
Just like an artist, just like an artist
And then come Saturday
I'll go hang on West Broadway
Just like an artist, just like an artist
There were other verses, but the refrain Just like an artist, just like an artist would always repeat, repeat, repeat. I suppose I was angry that my neighborhood was being 'co-opted' by professionals capable of paying higher rents. Like many, I resented that they had access to resources struggling artists did not. I was one of the many who felt these nameless (and no doubt hard-working) folks did not belong. They were creating unwelcome change that would melt the city, destroy the easy cultural vibrancy we all enjoyed, take all that we had struggled so hard to build. They were vampires.
And so I moved my studio and my family into a very raw 3000 sq.ft loft on the Brooklyn waterfront and signed a ten-year lease that allowed the rent to rise at a glacial pace, rising to $175/mo only as the lease neared its end. The neighborhood had been essentially abandoned -- storefronts gaped open, fires smouldered everywhere, glass and broken brick littered the sidewalks -- and the landlord was not looking to 'cash in.' He was simply grateful to have capable tenants who might keep his property safe from roaming vandals.
Years piled into decades and downtown Manhattan continued to change, to grow and expand. As rents rose and rose and rose, many more artists did leave . . . A rose is a rose is a rose, after all, but their exodus did not kill the city or the arts. It helped develop the outer boroughs, especially Brooklyn, into arts communities. Later, of course, that changed, too. The collapsed neighborhood that provided edgy sanctuary for escaped Soho artists is today, like Soho, an extraordinarily desirable tree-shaded neighborhood largely occupied by professionals who cannot afford Manhattan rents. The once trashed storefronts are now occupied by restaurants and exclusive shops, any artists have moved once again, deeper into Brooklyn. Soho continues to change; it is now more of a "shopping district" than a buzzing hive of art, but there are still galleries and now even a museum or two. Change happens. It's the spine of life.
San Francisco will change as the tech industry blows in, taking over some spaces once occupied by artists. . . and Oakland will begin to bloom as an arts center. It already is . . . And then, it will be deja vu all over again.
So, come on, boys, stop whining.
Peralta Junction . . . GRAND OPENING -- OCTOBER 6!! Come one, come all!
When William Carlos Williams wrote “No ideas but in Things," I'll swear he was thinking of 'thing' as resting within its original meaning -- A meeting, an assembly, a joining. A juncture. A Junction -- Things are happening in West Oakland. Poetry is rooting in the earth, attaching to fences, drifting skyward.
“The subject matter of poetry,” Wallace Stevens reminds us, “is not ‘a collection of static objects extended in space’ but the life that is lived in the scene that it composes; and so reality is not the external scene but the life that is lived in it. Reality is things as they are."
And here are things as they are at Peralta Junction in West Oakland. Everyday a new cheerful painting appears on the exterior wall; Nome and Eskae's two story mandala is very nearly finished, and Haley's blue whale is leaping through vibrant waters. None of these artists is being paid to create these magnificent works of art.
They paint for love, for community, for our collective futures.
Imagine that. They paint for you, for me, for us -- all of us. Not 1%, not 5%, not 47%. All of us.
They are creating art, life, future . . . and poetry.
Rene Magritte stated in a letter to Sarane Alexandrian: “I conceive of the art of painting as the science of juxtaposing colours in such a way that their actual appearance disappears and lets a poetic image appear . . . There are no ‘subjects,’ no ‘themes’ in my painting. It is a matter of imagining images whose poetry restores to what is known that which is absolutely unknown and unknowable."
And, so, here on a dusty lot in West Oakland artists are working together, collaborating consciously and tangentially to “restore to what is known that which is absolutely unknown and unknowable."
They are working magic and transforming reality. Burlap becomes beauty; Shipping containers canvases.
Reality is not stable; it cannot be.
Reality is productive activity--green mountains forever walking; a stone woman who bears a child by night--an endless phenomenal flux, and therefore, if an artist wishes to reproduce the ‘real,’ that reproduction is necessarily unstable, in a constant state of revision, layered stroke upon stroke, much like, perhaps, the unfinished but glorious paintings of Albert Pinkham Ryder, a painter much admired by the quintessential modernist painter Jackson Pollack who once defined modern art as “the expression of contemporary aims of the age,” aims that might be described as the physical manifestation of collective desire, the reality of things not as they ‘are,’ but as they are becoming.
Let the noble creatures of the sea live. As we enter this time of actual sea-change, let us awaken our imaginations and see through walrus eyes.
To love the world so deeply as to want to recreate as recognizable, beautiful, and as verifiable images that can be preserved is a grand and even graceful ideal, and it is equally marvelous to summon the unknown and allow it to coexist with the known.
To welcome the unknown is to trust that there can be a future and also, to allow that future to be imagined and created.
George Oppen writes in Being Numerous,
Because the known and the unknown
and as witnesses, we can recover active memory, capable of dialoging with the future. True vision, clear seeing, comes not from recording the limits of things but from hovering outside those limits and noticing what transpires at the border between the known and the unknown, the past and the future.
That shifting border, indescribable and uncontainable, is reality.
Art is that which connects us, as artists and as people. Art is the vibrancy that reminds of our skin, of the borders that separate us, of the love that can penetrate those borders without destroying the subtle communication of distance.
Art need not deny realization, or transcendence if we learn to love and to keep love.
“In love, in art, in avarice, in politics, in labor, in games,” as Emerson writes, “we study to utter our painful secret. The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.”
That ‘expression,’ barbaric yawp or not, can exist as invitation to each other and to life.
Playful pixies have been skipping about town, scooping up armloads of fairy dust, sparkle, and bits of glittery sunshine, and now they're getting ready to open their arms and throw all that light into the air, let it drift down over West Oakland, settling a smile on every face.
Plans are underway to transform a dusty lot in West Oakland to a lively pop-up creative commons, featuring art, performances, and interactive activities. Peralta Junction, located in pie-shaped lot at West Grand and Peralta St, is scheduled to open October 4 and the organizers hope it will bring joy and wonder to Oakland Residents throughout the fall season. Activities have been scheduled for weekends throughout October, November and early December.
This arts-based gathering space will soon come alive with carnival barkers, sweet talkers, artist harkers, and maybe even a dog or two. Jugglers? Maybe. Clowns? Wait and see.
Come one, come all! Come have fun at Peralta Junction! Experience the magic, the wonder, the dream!
After all, tis the season for magic and witchery, spells and dreamery. There will be Halloweenery! Pumpkins! Gardens! Music!
And laughter , especially laughter.
Take a deep breath and discover how art can create community by creating happiness.
Already this empty lot is being transformed. A steel dandelion gone to seed has sprouted in one corner, towering over pop-up garden beds alive with thriving squash plants and pumpkin vines.
A stage is being built and the existing storage containers are being painted with vibrant murals while the fence ringing the yard has been hung with burlap brightly painted with light-hearted images: playful elephants, singing birds, and wizards winking magic into the air.
Change is happening, and that change is for the good.
May there be more color, more song, more laughter, and acres and acres of joy.
Below are a few photos snapped today of some of the already completed paintings and the artists who have so kindly and generously offered their creations to the folks of West Oakland. Thank you all!
Ancient Hapu Fern tangled with an Ancient Red-red Rose
Last night, I lay quietly listening to the earth exhaling -- slowly with a long blue hiss that slid easily over BART trains quarreling with highway traffic and settled pink on the hollow fog horns. I liked that even with all the noise -- sirens, drunk halloos out on the street, dogs yapping, horns honking -- I could hear the earth whistle like lace.
That now in these drab grey desperate times at the edge of this lumbering city the earth could sing such a sweet lullaby may seem smiraculous but I know it's really quite ordinary. Blessedly ordinary. I thought of the red-red roses I had seen earlier in the day attached quite firmly, almost intentionally, to the underside of the giant frond of hapu fern our front. The fern frond had been drooping towards the earth, the rose reaching for the sky, and when they touched, they attached. Of course, no one -- except perhaps the wind -- had pinned the rose to the fern, but there they were, joined at the lip. They had been both busy dying -- the rose petals curled and dropping, fern fronds turned and drying -- but then quite unexpectedly t here they were united in a sudden celebration of life.
Thorn to frond, corsage to lapel.
I sighed to see those two ancient plants leaning into one another . . . Nature the artist creating an unexpected tableau, reminding me to keep breathing, keep dancing, watching the brushstrokes of light and color, listening for sky songs and answering sea echo. I don't care how corny it may seem . . . I love such small moments of gasping love that the earth provides.
If such beauty daily remin us of just how precious -- and miraculous -- life is, why do we humans continue to pollute the planet, endangering and perhaps eliminating the future? Are we so foolish to think life eternal, beauty everlasting? Why can't we change our habits of consumption, learn to live more simply, find happiness in small moments? Why do we need to have and have some more? Why are we so convinced that the only way to cure our economic woes is to buy and buy and buy?
MELTDOWN. Acrylic and watercolor on paper 12"x12" Tia Ballantine, Aug 2012
The arctic ice is melting at an unexpected speed; the Greenland ice-sheet went into full meltdown this summer, and still too many believe that this desperate problem we have created will somehow right itself. It won't. We have to change. Abandon war. Grow gardens. Love one another. Make art. Sounds so simple as to seem rather desperate, I guess. What do I know? Who am I to say? I'm just a breathing being living close to death, loving life and waiting for the wind to pin a rose on me.
This afternoon, I fixed myself a cup of tea and sat at my drawing table in front of the open window, listening to the street and to my heart. I waited until I could feel color dance my bones, and then I opened my sketchbook and painted the small painting above.
Anonymous, "Flight of the Peace Dove", driftwood & seaweed on sand
When J.S. Bach lost his beloved wife Maria Barbara to a sudden illness in 1720, he reportedly looked to the sky and cried out, "Dear God, let me never lose my joy." At that time, he was composing his Partita for solo violin in D-Minor (BMV 1004), and some scholars have suggested that the final movement was written in honor of Maria Barbara whom he clearly loved and mourned. She was the mother of seven children, one dying shortly before she did and four surviving her death. We can't know, of course, if Bach really said, "Dear God, never let me lose my joy," or if he wrote the Chaconne specifically for his beloved, but by listening to the music we know he was writing through loss and love. Artists walk through the hollows of their hearts when creating, and the best art blooms from the love found there. Or so I do believe.
Recently, wanting to feel and taste the sea, a friend and I drove up Highway 1 to listen to the heartbeat of the planet. We found it in the breathing waters outside the cliffs of Gualala. Waves are always remarkable, pounding and spraying sandy beaches -- so joyous with their shining sliver spray -- but when deep ocean reaches a shoreline without the gentle slope of beach that encourages the surge of waves, the water swells in great green mounds of longing that speak of an even wider joy, not as transparent or as brilliant perhaps as that wrapped in a perfect wave crashing onto shore but more transcendent, the kind of joy that is linked to loss, the joy that arises when we understand death, know life is indeed short, but exquisite and wondrous. As an artist this is the joy that sustains me.
Anonymous, "Seated Dog" hand-carved on redwood table-top
I always look for such joy as I travel, and I especially seek it in the living art of the world -- the trees, the sea, the boundaries between and in the human art created in situ -- murals, music written as gift as response as joy, sculptures created for and given to a particular place.
I found the driftwood bird of peace (pictured above) on Stengel Beach and immediately fell in love with its grace. Someone (or some several) spent considerable time gathering armloads of seaweed and dozens of bits of driftwood, the bones of the sea and of the land, to create this bird, its giant wings outstretched on the canvas of sand, unafraid of waves, flying flat and high. I found the diminutive dog carved into the surface of a table top looking out to sea, a portrait perhaps of a small dog staring as I stared at the vastness of the sea below. Looking at these two images, I felt grateful for the spirit that allowed these anonymous artists to create these small gifts for those who might visit after they had long gone.
Travelers seeking beauty.
Art as art belongs to the human world, but we cannot deny the artistry of our great mother Earth. Wind, rain, seasons transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, and the power of such seemingly unintentional 'sculpted' beauty always wraps our hearts. I found these silvered and stubbornly graceful cypress along a cliffside path just south of Gualala. Their invitation was so genuine, so gentle, so determined, that I laughed, grateful for the wind that even on the clearest summer day slices across the cliff edge. Few sculptors can wield the great knife of the wind or the brush of light to create such cheerful beauty as can the planet itself.
Bene Bufano, "Madonna of PEACE," Redwood, metal, mosaic
But hooray for the human sculptors who engage in call and response with invisible sculptors of the sky, matching greetings of the wind with lasting greetings of their own. Bufano's totem, entitled "Madonna of Peace", is one such voice. First begun in 1962 and finally installed on a high cliff outside Timber Cove Inn in 1969, Peace is a lasting reminder of human creativity and responsibility. San Francisco artist Beniamino Benevenuto Bufano was eccentric and dedicated; he never "sold" his art. He was a pacifist and one who decried the culture of consumption, one who believed wholeheartedly in the power of art. He resisted all wars with such passion that when the US entered WWI, he sliced off his trigger finger and sent it to the President. He created thorough his heart, made art believing that art the both the power and the strength to encourage the growth of peace in human communities, convince us all that it is far better to celebrate peace and joy than to argue ourselves into an unending state of belligerence and war. Like the trees on the cliff, like Bach's Partita, we too can last in beauty.