I am often asked, who is my Muse. Who is that person I keep drawing over and over? And to be honest, when this question comes up I cringe a little. Because I don't have a good answer. I mean it is easy to say it is just imagination or memory or whatever, but the truth is, I just don't know. However, I can tell you who my Muse is not. It is not any one individual. It is not someone I know or have known, at least not consciously. And it’s not even someone I hope to meet in the future. What I do know, is how it shows up.
For example, in my ‘Morning Sketches’ (find them here on Instagram), I draw until I recognize something. Often it just starts as a feeling, a kind of excitement. It might just be the way the paper is taking the graphite that morning or the way certain tonal values or lines begin to vibrate. But it’s definitely when things really start to make sense. And then I draw until I feel an emotional connection to the piece. I bet you creatives out there, regardless of your medium, know exactly what I am talking about. Right? It’s that feeling you get when you know you are in the groove, the flow. And always, at some point, the drawing/painting/poem takes over and becomes what it needs to be. Or maybe, you become what you need to be, for it to all come together. That is the paradox, right?
But what is it exactly that I recognize? That seems so familiar? I can’t help but believe, it is our life experiences that drive us to create, in the first place. Things like loss, negativity, and sadness, and for that matter, positive aspects of our lives, tend to accumulate in the bones. And for us to grow, they eventually have to spill out somewhere. I suppose you could call it spiritual growth or spiritual healing or just plain letting go. Whatever you call it, I believe it’s necessary and Art is one vehicle that allows this to happen. But Art is also reciprocal.
How often do you hear a song and know without a doubt it was written for your situation. The artist somehow captured the exact thing you are going through in that particular moment. Whether it be a heartbreak or whatever other catastrophe just landed on your doorstep, the lyricist seemed to know. And how often do you recognize yourself in a drawing or painting. Maybe not the likeness, but the emotion. So, Art is the great connector.
And maybe that is the simple answer. The Muse is that connection. The connection we all share. Often someone will tell me they see themselves in my work. I am not sure there could be any greater compliment. So, maybe the next time someone asks me, who is your Muse, I think I could safely say, it's probably you.
Who is your Muse? What drives you to create? And perhaps more importantly, what hinders your creativity?
(So, I have really neglected my website this year, especially my Blog. Hopefully, in the coming year I will be better about this. But, isn't that what everyone says about their website? Websites are one of those "out of sight, out of mind" kind of things. You can always find something fresh here at my Instagram. And speaking of sites or specifically "sight", here's my annual Christmas tale. I hope you enjoy it and I hope it helps in getting you into the spirit of the season. Peace, PG)
“Morning against morning, splits the night and rubs the soul.”
—4:54 pm on a December evening
I watch as the color leaves the day. It follows the light, you know. And as Winter settles in, all grays and darks, there is a residual red that clings to thin clouds scattered in the south. I wait each day for that red. As it reflects back to the mountains and the east, it hangs there like a promise, like a poignant prayer, like a blush on the day.
Truth be told, red has become an obsession. Not just any crimson or carmine, though—Venetian red. It’s the red of the Italian Renaissance. The tincture of blood. An earth pigment of clay tinted with iron oxide, favored since prehistory. And now, unexpectedly, it shows up in my drawings as a splash of watercolor or a scratch of crayon. It drips down my canvases like a long lover’s sigh. And worries my dreams like a hidden accomplice, though my sleep is deep.
—4:30 am earlier that December day
The dogs flap me awake. (to flap - a full body shake that causes the ears to slap together creating a sound more urgent than an alarm clock and more determined than a cock’s crow.) So, with hat pulled low and flashlight in hand, two dogs and I step into the morning. Outside, we move about in the cold and dark, habitually. Paths are made this way. So too routines, the thieves of the intellect. I scan the the area expecting nothing, but notice a sparkle of frost on the grasses and weeds. And overhead, countless stars respond in kind and I marvel. I no longer seek sleep. I am awake!
A year ago Christmas, I received a telescope as a gift from my beloved. Now on cold clear nights, you will find me in the dark exploring the heavens, serenaded by coyotes. Where once there was a sky full of “pretty” stars, now I see patterns and movement.The winter sky has returned, with Orion and its nebula (a birthplace for stars) and Ursa Major (the greater She-Bear, the Big Dipper), forever bright and straight overhead. And with them, gathers a memory of a late January night, when I stumbled upon a smudgy brightness in the west—the Andromeda Galaxy. Our nearest galactic neighbor, and yet, the farthest these eyes had ever seen!
—later that same December morning
I finish my run under a cloudless blue sky, as Matchbox Twenty blares How Far We’ve Come, through my earbuds. It is colder than I expected, still I sweat. As I come to a walk, I point to the heavens and silently pat myself on the back, grateful. I cannot help but smile, because I feel...well...alive! And, in part, I know it is the season.
I have come to believe one grows to be a Winter person. Warm hats and scarves make me incredibly happy. Bare trees lay bare improbable truths. Snow falling eases age in the eyes and the heart. Winter seems to scrape away the superfluous bringing one closer to the soul. This I believe, as a guitar somewhere gently plays a 19th Century Christmas carol.
May you truly see your world this season and every season.
Pat, December 2017
I CAME TO TALK OF DEATH or possibly life. Sometimes it is hard to know which. Yes, they are tired, old, worn, subjects and what more could one possibly have to add? Nothing probably. But at a certain age, it all seems to be more in your face. Funerals become more frequent. People you couldn't imagine not being in your life, are gone. And well, the statistics are there, right? So whether you want to or not, the subject of life and death will enter your lexicon. And even if you try to push it away, thinking foolishly, it doesn't pertain to me. Not yet, anyway. You will find yourself thinking about it, eventually.
So, I want to believe it is a continuum. A transition, to be sure, but things keep on going, just differently. And I hear you shouting, that's what religion is all about, dummy. Yes, but I find myself needing to take the dogma out of it and just look at the evidence. Everything is cyclical. Take a look at plants. They die back at winter to return in spring. Look at the progression of the seasons, or the movement of night into day. Our whole observable Universe is in a state of becoming. Becoming something else. You see, it's the way it is all designed. And we are part of that design. No different. Death is a part of the cycle. That's all.
Now, none of this is new information. Nothing earth shattering about it. But when you can start to take it in on a personal level, there is a real beauty, a real elegance to the design. And personally, I find great comfort in that design.
(a footnote) As I am writing this, I know of someone who is dying. Possibly very soon. So, as I am wrestling with that, I needed to state or restate some things in a public manner, for my own sake and maybe for anyone else who is facing this tonight.
12/17/2016 0 Comments
LIKE SOME GREAT migratory beast, after a killing frost, he moves to his winter space. It's a spot next to the window. He tends to circle the room with the seasons. It's all about light and temperature and temperament. And this space is closer to the heat, closer to the light, and closer to his thoughts. His winter thoughts.
The ones that hang around like the edges of a shortened, dark day. The kind created out of blue nostalgic notions. Thoughts that are full with the faces and the voices of the ones who have gone on. Bittersweet and dripping, it is where he wallows.
Yet, out beyond the window, past the cold glass, other thoughts beckon like a wild clarion call. Worrisome thoughts about the mindset of his country, the ever changing tone of a fragile world, and a future that seems to echo a much darker past. It is history's scream above deaf ears.
And still, somehow, everything joins with the day's flying snow. Whipped to a frenzy in a frigid indecisive wind, first from the north then from the east, it all grapples with the frozen landscape, until it becomes a crystalline adornment for the yellowed, sleeping grass. And surprisingly a tonic for his soul.
Snow has that unique way of conjuring youth. Old becomes new. The fiercest storms always subside. Everything cycling from beginnings to endings, and beginning again. It is the way of Nature. It is the way of us.
So, feeling old and fat, he lays aside faded photos and worn out worries. He bends to tie his running shoes covered in another day's dust. And with his stocking cap pulled low, he steps into the cold and stands for a moment watching snowflakes spiral. Snowflakes that gather like cliche, like fallen stars on a black sleeve. He remembers the adage no two are alike and wonders briefly who did the comparisons. He shakes his head and begins to run. Breathing too hard, he runs out of yesterday and out past tomorrow. He runs determined. And as he runs, between breaths, not thinking, he begins to laugh.
For joy happens when we make room. It's most often found outside of ourselves. It's there on the tip of a bird's wing as it flies. It's there in the slight red of a winter sunset, just as the light leaves the sky. It waits in the periphery, somewhere between the heart and the soul.
May you find your joy this holiday season.
Spring is well upon us and Easter is now behind us. An annual restlessness begins to settle in my bones. It comes with the spring winds. It comes with the tumbleweed season. When the winds pick up the tumbleweeds race, in numbers too many to count, across the desert floor stopping only when a fence line traps them. They pile up like a colony of other-worldly beings, jostling for position, forever quivering in the wind, and attaching to each other, creating an insurmountable mountain of dried thistle.
Recently, I discovered that the tumbleweed or Russian thistle, which is symbolic of the West and seems to appear in every western movie, is not native to the West. It originated on the tundra in the Ural Mountains of Russia and didn't appear in the US until the late 1870's. Apparently their seeds were imported here by mistake with some flax seed by immigrant Ukrainian farmers in South Dakota. By 1900, it was in almost every western state and had spread all the way to the Pacific ocean. Rolling in the wind is how they spread their seeds. How very efficient and how very invasive.
The news, the other night, showed thousands of them hugging a fence that runs parallel to Interstate 40 here in New Mexico for miles. I, myself, gathered three large trash bags of them just the other morning after a particularly windy night. There is something creepy about this annual migration of these dead, skeletal weeds, and yet, awesome at the same time.
THE STARS BLINK white hot in a flawless black. Here, no city lights mar their brilliance. Still, their heat, trapped in unimaginable distance and time, warms little more than a poet's heart.
This morning, the morning of the Winter Solstice, the dog and I are out in the dark. The cold is palpable and we both make little frost clouds with every breath. He is doing dog stuff. I wait and stargaze, allowing my thoughts to meander like the Milky Way spread out above me. I bend down in the dark and pick up a log or two of firewood. This simple action triggers a strong memory of a young boy.
A small, skinny kid who had to fill a five gallon bucket with coal every evening at dusk. It was a time when coal was delivered to rural households by a dump truck. Big black rocks, with names like anthracite and bituminous, that were ordered by the ton, delivered and dropped in a pile. It must have been a cheap source of heating, back then. Back before it's reputation was so soiled.
The coal pile stood like a black mountain, intimidating and challenging. And invariably, most of the coal would be in chunks too large to fit into the mouth of the coal stove. They had to be broken. This was the boy's job. It was the job of his brothers before him and it wasn't all that rare to see his mama lugging that bucket up the hill. But when the task fell to the boy, he would pull on the brown jersey gloves blackened by a season's worth of coal dust and beat the chunks with a hammer that was always too heavy, until they split. There was an art in getting them to break just right. I don't recall if he ever mastered the technique, but my brain still registers the struggle. Again, time and distance often make things irrelevant.
The memory is fleeting, but I quickly pull off my glove, half expecting to see remnants of that black dust still embedded there. But there is nothing, just my hand, old and aged, and a strong desire to hold a piece of that shiny black rock again. It plays in the mind like a toy.
I look back up at the stars knowing that I am seeing only hints of what once was. I'm looking back in time. Some of those stars burned out long ago, but their light is just now reaching us. A beautiful legacy. Still, there's probably more dark and cold to the Universe, than light and warmth.
Again, I drift back, fifty years or so, to the world of the coal boy. It was a turbulent time. It was the sixties. War was raging and hate was spilling out all over. There were calls for peace. And then, I look to this time, the world we live in now. Wars are still raging and hate is still spilling out all over. And there are calls for peace. Not much has changed. What will shine forth when I'm used up? Will time be as kind as it has been to the stars?
With my face to the heavens, I realize this is a prayer. As the planet leans away from the sun, I lean inward. And as living creatures, we all need warmth and the light, even if only in a little corner of our mind. It's called hope.
I look down into the shining, black eyes of the dog and he lifts a paw as if in question. I say, "We're done here." Together we move inside, into this new season, trusting there will be warmth. Trusting there will be light.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and may Peace come to us all.
Brief, intermittent rains cross the valley this morning. The slight moisture mixes with downed leaves to create a pungent leafy smell. Fall has draped the desert. There are not many trees here that change. Mostly, at this altitude, it is evergreens: junipers and piñons. The transplants who have settled here have brought in a few deciduous ones, though. It seems everyone is from somewhere else and has a need to carry along a few memories of once lived lives. Eastern trees and green lawns dot the West as a testament to this.
The two aspens out back are turning yellow. The locust, too. They are small trees, somewhat stunted, but they provide just enough of a visual change for the season to sink into one's bones. Leaves turning seems important for the soul. And the morning chill naturally pulls us inward.
Fall is no doubt a season for the senses. Probably the reason so many tout it as their favorite. It's the respite from summer's heat and the forewarner to winter's cold. It's a little stopping off place, a chance to reflect. It's a break.
Three incredibly orange pumpkins sit on the back porch and watch.
There's a painting hanging on the south wall of the studio that I painted eighteen years ago, or so. It was the first thing I hung when I moved into the studio. On the easel today is a painting I'm working on of the very same subject.
Much has changed, in that time, but much has not. The model for the painting from eighteen years ago and the painting today is still beautiful and I'm still struggling, pushing paint around. Back then she was starting first grade, now she's working on her Master's degree.
Back then, I was a trying to be a realist. My brushstrokes were all cautious and tight. Leave no visible mark was my creed. No telltale sign that I was even there. Now days, I find, I paint in fits and starts. Kind of choppy. And I welcome when the paint runs and splatters with a mind of its own. Seems somehow more real. More like life.
Same subject. Same painter. Different eyes.
Two days ago, a small, black-covered book arrived in the mail. It is a book by artist Sophie Jodoin. It's a catalogue, of sorts, about a show she had of her work in 2004 called, 'Drawing Shadows: portraits of my mother'. As the title suggests, it is all portraits/drawings of her then sixty-five year old mother. All are black and white mixed media of acrylic, pastel, and charcoal on black Stonehenge paper. The images slip out of the dark. Intimate. Haunting. Poetic.
So, for two days, at odd times, I have found myself returning to this small book trying to unlock its secrets. It does what all great art does. It grabs you somewhere deep and lets you know you're hungry for something you didn't even know was missing. All of Jodoin's work is that way. I am in awe, in the truest sense of the word.
This is the first week back after a week at the beach. Re-entry was hard. The beach was at Cape May, New Jersey, to be specific. It's a part of the East coast I had never visited before. The ocean was beautiful and memorable. The weather was hot and humid, with an emphasis on the HUMID.
The contrast of the ocean environment to the desert is obvious, but what struck me was their similarities. They share an austere beauty. Both have the immense skies, with a sense of the infinite. Oddly, with all the expanse, in both cases, I often find myself pulled to the smallest details: the delicate color of a broken seashell washed up on the sand or a shard of bone on the desert floor. And both have the relentless winds that hint at the ever changing but constant moment. Different but the same.
I looked up at the sky last night. It was clear and star-filled, with the Milky Way so prominent and I thought how the word 'home' has a much broader meaning for me these days.
Pat Greenwell is an artist. A painter and sometimes poet, he has been searching the New Mexico desert for a couple of years now, looking for lost possibilities and probable intentions.
"...mostly stream-of-consciousness stuff, you know...