Other artists

If art is your life

August 17, 2015

To Millie

And to all young artists who are at the beginning of their hopefully long, most times rewarding yet sometimes torturous, career in the arts ……. some hints.

For the young who want to

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

Marge Piercy

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Speaking of love, you must love your art as dearly as towards a person.

In my home, next to the dining table where I can view it daily, is nestled a tiny, fairly faded post card reproduction of ‘Pygmalion and Galatea’ by French sculptor Jean Leon Gerome. I keep it as a reminder of the power of artistic intention.

Basically, the painting is of an ancient myth where the sculptor Pygmalion falls in love with his own artistic creation. This love is so strongly felt that the sculpture literally comes to life.

My personal interpretation of this story is that, as artists, you and I have to love our work with such an intensity that what we create becomes embodied with a life that is as viscerally connected to us as with our own children.

To be frank, most people will have no understanding of what this means and they will continually, from ignorance, refer to our works as though they were just objects or things. Certainly, nothing imbued with heart or soul.

But be kind to these people, as they know not what they talk about.

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Lastly, you should familiarise yourself with “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke. Beautifully descriptive and insightful, here’s a taste:

“As you unfold as an artist, just keep on, quietly and earnestly, growing through all that happens to you. You cannot disrupt this process more violently than by looking outside yourself for answers that may only be found by attending to your innermost feeling.”

“Allow your judgments their own undisturbed development, which, like any unfolding, must come from within and can by nothing be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation and then birth. To allow each impression and each embryo of a feeling to complete itself in the dark, in the unsayable, the not-knowing, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and humbly and patiently to await the dawning of a new clarity: that alone is the way of the artist — in understanding as in creating.”

Stay true to the muse that resides within you. A great life awaits.

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John Smith

March 1, 2015

This is a tribute for my friend and colleague John Smith who passed away last week.

John Smith

It was late autumn (northern hemisphere) 1984 and I was in Hawaii with my partner Linda for a week’s vacation before heading back to North Carolina where I worked as a designer-maker of sculptural furniture. On a whim, I called my home phone to see what business messages might have been left. After listening to this strangely accented voice asking whether or not I would like to come to Tasmania and lecture at the School of Art on a two year contract, I hung up, turned to Linda and said: “Where is Tasmania?”

Two weeks ago I celebrated the 30th anniversary of having arrived in Tasmania in February 1985.

The person with the “strangely accented” voice was British born John Smith. Considering the history (think 1776) between America and England, I am culturally inclined to not speak favourably of anything English; especially, the monarchy.

But without the slightest hesitancy or phoney smile, I can unreservedly say that John Smith, and John Smith alone, gave me the golden ring that would spell out the deeper meaning and purpose of my adult life.

Yes, I, myself, had to grab that gold ring when proffered, but the hand that extended it has to be acknowledged. The hand that shook my hand at the airport upon my arrival thirty years ago has to be acknowledged and that acknowledgement has to be both heartfelt and full of gratitude. Which it is.

Without a doubt, the shaping of my adult life, the deep ecological perspective of my art work, the eco-feminist nature of my home Windgrove, and, the fulsomeness of my creative life could only have happened by John placing that original phone call. For this I will be forever in debt to John’s physical existence on this earth.

And herein lies the strength and legacy of John Smith. Without his determined vision to create a world class design-in-wood department at the School of Art, there would hardly be a ripple of designer-makers in Tasmania making their living out of their craft. Just like Claudio Alcorso had the vision to create a vibrant wine industry in Tasmania — against the “perceived wisdom” of the day — John Smith stuck to his belief that Tasmania could educate and foster the talents of many people.

Like all artists and people of vision, John had his critics. And, at times, this would include me. But underlining every engagement with John, whether in agreement or disagreement, the look in his eyes spoke of a steely determination to achieve his dream. This, surely, must be admired.

Today, just as there are over 250 vineyards springing up across all of Tasmania, designer-makers are also springing up across this small state. In both cases, my guess is that most people will not know who laid the foundation stones for their respective careers to survive and flourish. They should, though, know this history.

I’m not suggesting that we build a statue of John in front of the School of Art. However, a simple plaque carved in huon pine and then cast in white fibreglass polished to the highest shine — this, now, would be symbolic and appropriate.

….The above photo of John was from the 1980’s when I arrived in Tasmania.

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Enlightenment, for me, is having an embodied, sensual and felt interconnection of oneself with all other beings on this planet through all time. It is a deep ecological awareness of one’s unique, present makeup of fire, water, air and earth that has evolved through 4.6 billion years.

The path to enlightenment is littered with the corpses of gurus and any number of other people who have made it their business to tell a privileged few what to think, wear and eat , along with where to live and how to live.

Does being on a spiritual path require a teacher/guru anymore than one requires a personal trainer for physical health?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

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Seekers of enlightenment should witness the bloody birth of a child along with drinking wine from a chalice; should work in a hospice with the dying along with attending meditation workshops; should put their hands in the soil daily along with putting their hands together in prayer.

More than anything enlightenment should not be a masculine construct of left brain thinking divorced from the flesh of the earth.

The real challenge in living a life of authentic spiritual awareness is to become “common as mud” — both metaphorically and literally.

And no one better encapsulates this then my mentor Paulus Berensohn.

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Regular visitors to my blog will know that Paulus is one of my closet friends and major influences. Dancer, potter, teacher, journal maker, philosopher, deep ecologist and “fairy godfather” to many, he has much to offer all of us to strive to bring an artistic response to a world in need.

Last year, another great friend of mine Neil Lawrence shot a feature documentary on the life and work of Paulus called To Spring From the Hand. Neil expects that the film will be released and available for sale in the first quarter of 2014, but in the meantime has made a  beautiful trailer and a 10 minute film called Soul’s Kitchen. If you go to – www.springfromthehand.com – it will take you to the main website where you can watch the short film, the film trailer and explore past posts.

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The photos above are when Paulus was here at Windgrove eleven years ago in 2003.

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Ross Langdon / Elif Yavuz

September 23, 2013

This morning I slammed down the phone hard and burst into tears when told of Ross Langdon’s death in Kenya at the Nairobi mall. The screams that came out were guttural and intensely grief stricken.

He was a much loved local lad. He was a colleague and friend who went out into the world as an architect doing wondrous things. Yet Ross always returned to his family and cultural roots here on the Tasman Peninsula and we all took immense pride in both his architectural abilities and his very generous, positive, and loving personality. There just was no dark side to Ross that I ever saw in the twenty or so years I knew him.

I would always bring up Ross as an example of how a young person — growing up in a rural setting — benefited from this closer connection to nature than could be had at the more “elite” urban schools.

He designed  — pro bono —  an aids hospital in Kenya. Being in his early 30’s he had already given a TED talk. In Uganda he designed and supervised a unique eco-village employing only local labour. There is much, much more. For one so relatively young, the list of achievements is long.

Let me just mention this, however: Ross was about to start on a $35 million museum centered around the earliest fossil record of humanoids walking: two adults and one child. Ironic, because equally tragic is that his partner Elif Yavuz and their unborn child (due in two weeks) were also killed in the massacre. When they visited me at Windgrove a year and a half ago, Elif had just completed a PhD at Harvard; last month she was personally visited by Bill Clinton in her role with the [Bill] Clinton Health Access Initiative based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

A week ago I wrote about how talented people needed to move out of their comfort zones and get involved with changing the world before the ongoing “unraveling” tipped into the No-Return stage. For me, and a big reason for today’s grief, is that Ross and Elif symbolized the sort of people doing the Work. They were agents-of-change in the best sense.

Both had dedicated their lives to working for a peaceful world. Both had so much to offer.

Besides a personal loss for myself, this is a major global loss. This cannot be underestimated or glossed over by the political pundits who will label Ross and Elif and their unborn child as unfortunate casualties in the war on terror.

Yes, I have been punched in the stomach. Yes, I have collapsed emotionally. Yes, I am not feeling particularly happy or even “forgiving”.

But there is another Yes. And this is a bigger “yes” that says — in honour of Ross and Elif — I will eventually pick up the pieces and continue on with the sort of work they themselves were so involved in: bringing about change to a tattered world based — not on religious grounds or economic gain — just a pure love for all of humanity and the natural world.

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Hanging out with Byron

July 30, 2012

Recently, a young lad of 16 stayed here as part of his school’s work experience/mentoring program. The project he set out to do during his six days was to document myself and Windgrove through interviews and film footage. Back at school this would be turned into an hour long video.

I had forgotten how much a teenage boy can eat.

When talking to young Byron about art, the importance of tree planting, the philosophy behind the creation of Windgrove as a refuge for learning, the need to abstain from alcohol and drugs, my own personal foibles and shadow history — basically, what I felt to be the most appropriate, purposeful guidance to someone just starting to forage their Way into being an adult — as honest as I tried to be, I was aware that I had the potential to feed personally biased information to a growing malleable and curious mind.

Even explaining the why’s and wherefore’s of the Peace Garden could see me “bending” the truth in order to get a point across; thereby, prejudicing his enquiring mind with answers that, possibly, only served to pad my own sense of truth (even if gained over 66 years of adventurous living).

(As an aside, I often question why our “elder” teachers very rarely step down off the podium in order to sit as a student again. Perhaps the ego enhancing, rapt attention of those front row dewy eyes are not directed at them?)

Instead of providing specifics or dogma about how to live, a good elder need only work to open up those mentored hearts and minds to the “wonder, awe and gratitude” at their luck in being simply alive on this planet at this time in its evolutionary history. The rest will take care of itself.

A good elder will talk of the necessity of “continued patience and exploration”; of the importance of a life time spent polishing technical capabilities whilst always venturing off the well trod path of conformity into the mysterious, slightly dangerous, sometimes lonely, unknown zones where creativity dwells. From this will come a “skilled compassion”.

A good elder will understand that he/she is only there at the beginning of the youth’s lifetime journey and will not be around to witness its mature flourishing. Sort of like planting trees. You give them a healthy start along with a prayer and then allow their inner blossoming to unfold as they are wont to do, anyways.


At the culmination of my week with Byron, I could only admire and stand back and watch with admiration the agility and optimistic depth of this young person about to fall head long into the waters of life.

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Continuing on with the theme of last week and how one learns compassion — whether towards others, or just as importantly, towards oneself — I gifted myself with an oil painting by friend and colleague Jerzy Michalski (shown sitting). It now hangs where an aboriginal dot painting once hung; this newer painting seeming more appropriate as it is a clearer, cleaner reference to my western cultural background: that part of me that needs recognition and understanding despite my rejection of current mainstream Judaeo/Christian power structures with their insistence on literal interpretations of the Bible and a heavy emphasis on the masculine.

Appropriately titled “Past Glory” the painting depicts a cathedral whose ruined interior is portrayed with peeling plaster walls, missing pews and an overall sense of “no longer useful”.

I agree that the old church edifices are no longer sufficient to contain the burgeoning needs of this world. In a way, the Church must be larger now. It has to move out beyond human constructed walls of conceit and enclosures that lock out the natural world.

Lest we forget: It is the trees that inform us of the shape of a cathedral’s pillars; it is the trees that we need to humbly come back to to create a hugely bigger church where our animal, earthly nature can reside more easily with our spirited selves and remain in balance.

That is one meaning. The power in this painting, though, and why I choose to hang it in my home, is that it conveys the message of what Christianity, even Buddhism, is about: Scarred by struggle, transformed by hope.

Descending Theology: The Nativity

She bore no more than other women bore,
but in her belly’s globe that desert night the earth’s
full burden swayed.
Maybe she held it in her clasped hands as expecting women often do
or monks in prayer. Maybe at the womb’s first clutch
. she briefly felt that star shine

as a blade point, but uttered no curses.
Then in the stable she writhed and heard
beasts stomp in their stalls,
their tails sweeping side to side
and between contractions, her skin flinched
with the thousand animal itches that plague
. a standing beast’s sleep.

But in the muted womb-world with its glutinous liquid,
the child knew nothing
of its own fire. (No one ever does, though our names
are said to be writ down before
we come to be.) He came out a sticky grub, flailing
. the load of his own limbs

and was bound in cloth, his cheek brushed
with fingertip touch
so his lolling head lurched, and the sloppy mouth
found that first fullness — her milk
spilled along his throat, while his pure being
flooded her. (Each

feeds the other.) Then he was left
in the grain bin. Some animal muzzle against his swaddling perhaps breathed him warm
till sleep came pouring that first draught
of death, the one he’d wake from
. (as we all do) screaming.

Mary Karr

After reading Karr’s poem about the birth of Jesus, looking again at the painting “Past Glory” a new interpretation presents itself. The crumbling cathedral actually looks like a stable; an ancient medieval ruin turned into a farm yard stable. Throw in a mix of dirt, dung, hay and animals and baby Jesus would feel right at home.

Click here for larger image of painting

The hope in this painting is found in the far niche where a soft glow of radiant light streams into and throughout this struggling, well worn, humble cathedral; a cathedral where flesh and spirit can be worshiped together; where there is a direct connection between debris, decay, crumbling walls, rat shit and the divine.

James Hillman throughout his life argued that artists need to create art that helps heal the social ills and environmental problems of the world. Jerry’s painting “Past Glory” not only does this, but it is a daily reminder to me of what I should be concerned with.

Through the more feminine portal of earth’s arching branches, the fire light of spirit can stream through to warm up the moist ground below.

Lest we forget: It doesn’t matter whether or not we believe in Jesus as a fairly savvy social activist (as I do) or, indeed, as the “son of God”. The honest truth is that his first life experience — and no doubt first pleasurable moment — was at the breast of a woman.

Even the virgin Mary cannot escape the all too human/mammal condition of birth: for her just born baby to survive she must offer her own milk.

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