Meditation on Mint

Mint This afternoon, while nursing a cold at home by sticking to non-stressful chores, I took advantage of a warm afternoon and finally raked up the last of the sycamore leaves left from the tail-end of fall. One significantly large mound was by our back gate, where there is also a bed of peppermint planted. As I combed the rake over the pile and moved them towards the leaf bag, I detected a wonderful scent coming from the area of the mint. After identifying what sort of scent it was, and thinking about it for a moment, it occurred to me that the mint, being so agitated and disturbed by my rake, was in turn, wafting a pleasant smell. Out of its disturbance, so to speak, it was creating an appealing sensation.

It made me wonder, how do we (as humans) respond to agitating times, occurrences and situations? The bed of mint, unable to make any autonomous headway against my blundering, scraping rake, responded (according to its created purposes, of course) by emitting a smell that carried with it a beauty; a pleasant scent that was a praise of sorts to its creator. We carry at least one large commonality with the lowly mint: we are both fully created beings. All too often ignoring our created status, we choose–yes, choose–to complain, begrudge, and rail against adversity, simple agitation, and disturbing people and times. Unfortunately, unlike the mint, we usually forget that we have little or no autonomous control over our circumstances, both agitating or not. We do, however, have complete control over our response to those circumstances. Will we lift up our hands in acquiescence to our situations, and instead of complaining, emit a sweet-smelling sacrifice of praise to our Creator?

If the mint can do it, than surely we can do the same.


Way to go, Detroit!

(above, facade of Mocad, or Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit; thanks to the NY Times).

A great-looking new museum of contemporary art in Detroit, jiving with its locale, rather than playing against it...and an awesome exterior graffiti piece by Barry McGee (seen at Space 1026, et al) to boot:


PHL to NY: yoo-hoo...

(above, Hercules in NY, 1970...a Grecian Rocky, stormin' the 212!?)

Hey folks; below is a great little expose of the Philadelphia art-scene from the New York Times magazine...and according to NY Times custom, seems to have gotten a hold of local places/galleries that most Philadelphians don't even know about. But really, if it wasn't for school trips, how many natives would visit the Art Museum anyway? Well, now that Rocky(c) is gesticulating victoriously down by the poor Charioteer of Delphi (sigh)...


Abide, 2006

Just last weekend, my church, Oxford Circle Mennonite, celebrated its 60th anniversary. I had been commissioned to make a painting in commemoration of the event, and also for the 80th birthday of one of our long-time members and deacons.

The painting is titled Abide, and is inspired by the passage in 1 Peter 2: 4-12, which we have been forming the anniversary celebration and theme around:

"As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: 'See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.' Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone', and, 'A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.' They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."

From this scripture I took some inspirations for the symbols, and the way the painting would look; especially since our particular body clearly sees ourselvese as participants in the dynamics Peter mentions in this passage. From "living Stone/stones" I made a background of bricks, a more urban version of a spiritual building material. And from this material, a "spiritual house" is being built, by each life that is given to the life of the church body. I've included a house shape, combined with a keystone shape -- my version of "capstone", or "cornerstone" -- which houses the presence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the form of a cloud/flower shape; echoing the Old Testament presence of God seen in the Pillar of Cloud (Exodus 13:21: By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night).

Doing a painting as a commemoration for such an entity as a church body is challenging, since the whole idea of a church, really, is an extremely mystical and mysterious, and at the same time utterly corporeal and flesh-bound, concept: it is, in fact, where those two worlds collide; clash even. And also, I needed to keep in mind the fact that many people in my church had little experience with contemporary art, especially in the forms and motifs which I normally use. And I am the "missing link" between those two worlds which I love so much. So, I made a piece which I think is largely understandable; connected to the scripture -- which is really just as initially inscrutable as much art, but more familiar, anyway, to the general church population -- and yet still well within my particular style of working. I've found myself explaining this painting more than I normally like, but I see it as an exercise in helping people "catch up" to the tradition of art-making which has continued over the past fifty years, but largely out of sight and grasp of the large percentage of the population. I've learned more than anyone, I think, in the whole process. And that's another thing I love about making art...and educating.


Douglas Witmer at Gallery Siano

(above, Douglas Witmer, Garden Spot, 2006)

My good friend and consummate artist Douglas Witmer has a series of stunning new paintings hanging right now at Gallery Siano, on Arch Street between Third and Fourth in Philly. I was there briefly for the opening, and was very impressed; following are a few thoughts which have congealed since then.

Soon after I had entered the gallery, a little girl of four or five walked in, and said to her daddy that the painting directly in front of them "looked like a waterfall." I had just gotten there, but I decided that I agreed with her: I'm always grateful for a child's fresh perspective; partly because they naturally speak before they think; before their raw thoughts pass through the cultural and contextual filters which are eventually formed in us. It just comes out: blahh, like so. And we all know that particular discomfort that some childish comment has brought to a social situation; a faux pas that we usually laugh off.

Yet, I didn't laugh this comment off, and it actually got my thoughts rolling about two things, one following more or less naturally from the other: memorials, and landscapes.

Both of these things I've written about before, but in Witmer's paintings they run along side each other nicely. When I say "memorial", I'm referencing the word's origin or relation to "memory", and referring less to the solid edifices or wordy epitaphs that the word may normally bring to mind. And when I say "landscape", it is also in a slightly less traditional manner; I speak of it as a record of a particular place, but definitely rooted to a physical, tactile experience.

A year or more ago, I remember first hearing of Witmer's interest in thinking about "what his work is for." And, Douglas, I think I've discovered at least a small part of that "for-ness." These paintings are definitely rooted in an experiential place; each one, through various routes--color, title, composition, etc--are intrinsically connected to a happening or event or Thing; what we'll call a memory. And those memories are recorded, or captured in a sense, in these works, for all of us to partake of and participate in. This is where I think part of that "for-ness" is; these works function as a beautiful memory of a "landscape" that can speak in either a general or specific way to anyone who stands in front of them, and gives something of themselves to the painting, and the viewing experience. It does speak to the pureness of the artistic deed, in that something so personal can become practically universal. And this is what the best of memorials do; even a foreign visitor, unacquainted with a memorial's specific "memory" can still look in awe at a good memorial, and realize; absorb the importance, the gravity, the beauty and presence of what that memorial stands for. They can feel the memory.

That points to another reason why Witmer's paintings are so good at memory-sharing: he chooses to use the reductive language of abstraction; the laconic speech of simplicity and spare composition. When an artist uses a reduced expression, the possibilities are greater for communication, but the challenges to clarity are greater; exponentially increasing each time something is taken away or reduced to its simpler form. And Witmer is on his way to making this a science--in the best meaning of the term, which loops back to art--while still leaving so much for the viewer to relish: the musicality of obscured drips under a layer of charcoal paint; the finest thread of bright pink juxtaposed between a felty gray and everyone's favorite red; a transparent spring yellow, in Primer, which at one moment sings like a sun-lit leaf, and the next gives you a crabapple-sour taste in your mouth; the jaunty tilt, in Cardinal, of a color bar, sitting on the canvas like its namesake bouncing on a thin twig.

So, at least I have found partly what Witmer's paintings are for, for me: memorial-landscapes to which, each time I experience them, I add my own brick of delight to the memorial, building my part of them even grander and more heartfelt. They are a greater source of enjoyment the closer you draw to them. Which sounds a little like nature, no?


Occam's RAZR: simplicity reconsidered

(above, William of Occam: looks a little severe, no? The sign of a Reductionist.)

"Simplify, simplify, simplify" is a maxim, this one from Thoreau, which I hold close to myself at all times. It's not always the easiest, nor forthright path to choose; sometimes what looks more simple on the face of it ends up requiring more committment or involving more complexity than first thought; other times the more circuitous means result in a simpler end. Simply a part of our complicated, interesting times and minds. What I do believe, however, is that the more examined and unencumbered life allows us to consider and reconsider, over and over again, what the distance is between our beliefs and our actions; the gap between what our ideals are and where our present priorities actually show through.

For years, I've had a love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with emerging technologies. I am interested when something comes on the market as a device which could really, in its uncomplicated and sometimes theoretical form, actually live up to much of that technology's claims to "simplify our lives." Usually, though, my interest turns to disgust and disdain when these technologies quickly lapse into fads, bejewelled gew-gaws and status symbols, and cheap knockoffs which eventually claim to make easy that which the previous, older technology already did just as well.

And usually, I thought I was right.

But recently, I've been considering my needs to keep connected with my wife; my family; and keep up my church committments, all which require I keep in touch with many different people, at sometimes unpredictable times of day. Which is to say, I often had to put off phone calls because I didn't want to bother the co-worker next to me; I'd wait until lunch, and then another co-worker would come back early; I had to make a private call, and didn't have change for the pay phone; or a pay phone was nowhere in sight, when I needed to call home for something.
All the while, I "soldiered" on with my resolve that I'd never give in. I still tried to strike a balance between putting my aversion to faddish technology over my desire to reach out and help people, which should be my primary concern.

But, with time, I realized I had been increasingly complicating my life to make necessary phone calls, and it was taking up valuable time to do so, when the most obvious solution, which Vicki had long been suggesting to me, was looking much more simple.

So, I'm trying it...what did William of Occam say? Don't overcomplicate the solution? If there is an obvious, simple solution that works, don't overcomplicate it; go the simpler route. And that's what I'm trying to do; outside of technology or not. Technology is almost besides the point at this juncture. Hey; the stick that certain birds poke into a tree to get the insects to come out is technology. Remember screwdrivers?

Perhaps I've given in...I'm not sure yet. But I believe part of my stubbornness stems from being in the blood lines of folks who consistently stood firm in the way of new technologies, questioning harshly their neccessity in what was an already simple, wholesome lifestyle, before they decided to accept or reject.

And trust me; if the wheel of simplicity turns the other direction some day...I will dispense with this solution, and follow Thoreau and William of Occam down a different path...'s_razor


Weening your work

From Bookforum, Sept/Oct/Nov 2006; review of Writings on Art by Mark Rothko, by Harry Cooper:

"This urge to control meaning and reception drove Rothko almost to distraction: Rebuffing the Whitney's desire to purchase his work in 1952, he proclaimed his 'deep sense of responsibility for the life my pictures will lead out in the world.'

As far as my work goes, I tend to follow more the sentiment of St. Francis Xavier when he said, Give me a child until they are the age of seven, and then they may be put in the hands of anyone.

That is to say; raise up your painting in the way that it should go, and in the end it will not depart from it.

Invest heavily in the nurturing and quality of your work while it is in your hands, and it should not disappoint you when it reaches the world wider than our studios.

Loose an immature painting upon the world, however, and you may regret it, wishing for just a bit more time to refine your aesthetic progeny.


Name droppin', Round 2

Alright, a few more names and then that's enough of this:

John Chamberlain
Wilhelm Schimmel
Alice Neel
Emily Brown
Jean Jaffe
Adolph Gottlieb
Ron Mueck
Richard Tuttle
Margaret Kilgallen
Dove Bradshaw
David Goerk


Name droppin', Round 1

Yesterday, I was sitting and eating my lunch in the Lower Merion Township Park, and for whatever reason, began thinking of all the artists whose work I'd "worked with": a long list of art works that I've moved; packed; hung; dusted; took out of the frame; put back in the frame, etc. The list was quite extensive, and was kind of interesting to think about.

I know that some may accuse me of name dropping, but that's okay...on one level, it's just like the grocer listing off the brands of canned vegetables she stocks; or the plumber mentioning all the famous peoples' drains he's unclogged. They are just as invested in their line as I; I am interested personally in learning from what I work with, as well as them.

So, here goes; a list which will bore some and madden the rest...I'll begin with the more "close-to-home" artists, so to speak, and move from there...I've just put them in the form they came to mind. (The names in purple were/are Philadelphia-area based artists; the ones in rust have/had other Pennsylvania connections):

Picasso (just today, in fact)
Van Gogh
Anselm Kiefer
di Chirico
Brice Marden
Judith Schaechter
Harry Bertoia
Maurice Prendergast
William Glackens
Thomas Sulley
Mary Cassatt
Thomas Eakins
Robert Venturi
Ellsworth Kelly
Robert Ryman
Donald Judd
Richard Long
Jacopo (?) Tintoretto
Edward Hicks
Andre Serrano
Sol Lewitt
Warren Rohrer
Richard Artschwager
Martha Madigan
Karen Kilimnik
Agnes Martin
Marsden Hartley
Horace Pippin

Okay, enough for now; I'll think of more later! There are several in my head, whose names escape me now.


Ryman and Barnes

(above, untitled, 1965)

(above, from Series #34, 2005)

Images from

Yesterday at work (Barnes Foundation) I met a scion of art of the last century, Robert Ryman. He was in town for a lecture, and the opening of an exhibit at PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) in Philly, featuring his work from 2002, Philadelphia Prototype. That work had been previously been commissioned by Larry Becker Contemporary Art, North Second Street in Philadelphia. Mr. Ryman was accompanied at the Barnes by Larry and Heidi, the proprietors.

I exchanged a hello with Mr. Ryman in room XIX, telling him I was a great admirer of his work...he seemed genuinely surprised that I knew of his work, but our conversation was quickly usurped by the presence of all the fine Matisses in the room, whom I found out Mr. Ryman adores. So, that was that. I've had more interaction, however, with many of his works; ranging from 1960's to 1980's work, in various Philadelphia private collections.

Robert Ryman is someone I admire for even more than just his seminal work (which alone would be enough): as well for the fact he never had any "formal" training in art-making. As I heard it, he picked up brushes in the 1960's, and hasn't stopped since, hoeing new rows ever since. This lends a freshness to all his, especially early, work.

Speaking of rows, for those of you who are unfamiliar with his work, the paintings (and he also makes prints, and some works which might more accurately be called works on paper), range from earlier pieces which are like a delicate, snow-covered plowed field (ala Warren Rohrer); to more deconstructivist (as far as painting goes, anyway) works from the 1980's which are concerned with how a piece interacts with the wall and its own hardware. Pieces such as the Philadelphia Prototype examine how painting might look, by using simply the hardened paint or medium as the film which holds paper or mylar to the wall. Essentially, though, all manner of whites reign supreme.

I've included (above) two works to give you an idea of what it looks like. But (duhh) you need to see it in person. The DIA:Beacon center has a great collection, and of course he occasionally can be seen in Philly at Larry Becker - and of course now at PAFA.


Care and caprice...and morbid pictures

(a graveyard in the shape and color of the grave markers!)

This morning I was in the beginning stages of laying out the composition of a new painting, the surface being a found one; a shellaced wooden door with random splashes of brushed white paint on one side, which seem to be simply from the door painter cleaning his or her brush on the inside of the door. My compositional elements were two stencils; one a circle with a dimple in one side, much like the top part of a heart shape, and the second a fat tear drop shape. My plan was (and is; I'm not finished yet) to lay out a plethora of these, each successive step a reaction to the previous element.

The first shape I laid down was the tear drop; with this element I reacted against the weight of the brushy white shapes, which are just left of the center of the panel (being a door set "sideways"). OK. The next step was to take the second shape, the dimpled circle, and react now to TWO other things (not counting the colors, which have not been considered yet). OK; that wasn't too difficult. Again, I picked up the tear drop; not TOO much thought needed; still largely an intuited step, but became more difficult to consider. By the time the next application came around, I was slowing down. It was becoming very difficult to intuitively place a shape based on all the other elements around it.

So, I decided to stop there, and make it even harder for myself...add COLOR! In some ways, this may provide clarity, but will most likely slow down the decision process...which is largely connected to my way of working. This brings to light an important balance, which should play a large part in each of the multitudes of individual decisions of which an art work consists, up to its ostensible conclusion: one must balance care with caprice.

Simply put, do I err on the side of agonizing every minutia of the process? No; this usually produces a particularly anal type of work. On the other hand, do I, in a cavalier fashion, proceed blindly, and "let God sort out the dead"? No; this alternate swing in the other direction often produces adolescent, slap-dash works. Thus, for me, a balance is important. Granted, some work by certain artists, depending on their skills, may look one way, but was produced with the opposite mindset. Cy Twombly is one who comes to mind.

Intentionality...and experience plays a large part in this. It brings to mind a story I heard once about a Chinese artist who was asked by a rich man to paint him a picture of a rooster. After waiting patiently for several years, the rich person frustratedly asked the artist when he would ever get around to giving him the painting he'd requested. The artist, then and there, simply pulled out some paper, a brush and ink, and in a few minutes did a beautiful, virtuosic painting of a rooster. The rich man became very angry, and asked why, if he did it so quickly just now, he had taken so long in getting him his requested painting. The artist did not respond, but waved him into his studio: the rich man was astounded to see all the walls covered with thousands of paintings of roosters. Only after all those paintings, could he fulfill the patron's request skillfully.

In the spirit of thoughts on composition, I've included some interesting (and morbid) pictures that I've had for a long time, but haven't used for anything...most of them use the compositional concepts of repetition and pattern.

(a swastika quilt...)

(another quilt, this one made from Klan hoods...sweet dreams!)


Sign Ministry

Spotted these on our trip out to Huntingdon, PA...I believe they were put up by a Mennonite community in south-central PA. There was, and still is in some areas, an odd movement in some conservative Mennonite circles, to paint and put up these signs as a sort of public testimony to drivers-by. They are usually quoting scripture; oftentimes with a message imploring righteous living or a call to salvation. Vicki remarked that they are a stereotypically Mennonite witness: mostly passive; a belief statement not requiring a personal response; an invitation, or a handing-over of responsibility to the spoken-to. I denied it vehemently, of course. I thought the colors and scalloping were great.


New(ish) painting:

Soft Bomb, 2006


Kitchen project ongoing...

Some shots from the past two weeks...

Me, laying down blue painters tape for the checkerboard...

Vicki, finishing up painting in the black squares...the "water", if you know what I mean...

Me again, rolling Fresh Mint on the laundry room walls.

There's much more than this, and more will be on the way. Our floor now has two coats of polyurethane on it, and is (still) waiting for the delivery of the washer and dryer.

The hookups for the washer and dryer are installed, so we should finally be able to do some wash this coming week!


Memorial: Kelly's anti-tecture

Thanx to and

The reconstructed text of a letter from Ellsworth Kelly to the Times' architecture critic, Herbert Muschamp:

"On October 19, 2001, I wrote a letter to you (that I never sent) in response to an article in The New York Times which discussed the controversy of what was to be planned for the `Ground Zero' space, asking artists and others for their opinions. (Two artists, Joel Shapiro and John Baldessari urged that no building be erected at the site,and the architect Tadao Ando made a similar proposition.)
"At that time, my idea for the World Trade Center site was a large green mound of grass. (When I saw the aerial photograph of the site on the cover of the Aug. 31 Arts & Leisure section of the Times, I was excited to see the site from this vantage point. I was inspired to make a collage of my idea for the space, which I am sending you.
"I feel strongly that what is needed is a 'visual experience,' not additional buildings, a museum, a list of names or proposals for a freedom monument. (These are) distractions from a spiritual vision for the site: a vision for the future."


Maybe I'm greedy, but...

...I'd like to do BOTH!

"If I hadn't started painting, I would have raised chickens."
-Grandma Moses, born September 7th, 1860


Good news: Kelly extended

(above, Boats in Sanary Harbor, 1952, collage on paper, private collection; from PMA website:

Good news: the gorgeous little exhibit of early Ellsworth Kelly work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Ellsworth Kelly: Paris/New York, 1949-1959, has been extended until the 24th of September.

I got to see this show back in March, when it had first opened, and it gives a genuine glance at the formation of Kelly's aesthetics, which are still influencing him to this day. It also made me fall more in love with his sensibilities; the realization that an embrace of abstraction is not, as is often assumed, an implicit turning away from the natural and seen, but may rather be a deep, heartfelt and thoroughly human response to, and beautiful interpretation of, the natural world. His drawings inspired by the light reflecting off of the Siene are particularly bewitching.

I met Ellsworth Kelly in 2000, when I was working with Atelier Arts Services at a collector's home. He was there to witness the installation of one of his steel arc wall pieces. He was very sweet; walking around to each of the art handlers that were there, asking us if, we too, were painters.


Why I haven't been making much art...

This past Friday, Vicki and I became homeowners!

We bought half of a twin on Allengrove Street, built circa 1920, in the Northwood section of Philadelphia (just northeast of Friends Hospital, off of Roosevelt Blvd.). We bought it from some good friends of ours from our church, Oxford Circle Mennonite Church, one of whom, interestingly enough, is a fairly close relation of mine, whom I'd not known before we began attending church there...don't ask; it's an Ethnonite* thing.)

It's a great house, and really, thoroughly ready to move into; but for slightly picayune and particular people such as ourselves, we decided to embark immediately on a renovation project (the day of closing!)

Following is a mini-pictorial of the process, which is still in progress. The floor was covered with three decades of linoleum and vinyl (1930/40's, 1970's, and 1990's, according to our guesses). We tore all this up, mostly on Friday, and were left with an old paper underlayment layer. This we spritzed with a pump sprayer, and proceeded to scrape up...this made a surface covered with water-soluble glue, akin to a thin layer of mud on the floor.

I spent most of Saturday on my knees, picking minute staples out of the floor. Sunday came, and the floor had dried; so I began sanding the floor to a paintable surface with a rented orbital floor sander from Home Depot. It came up pretty well; we now have a paintable surface (Vicki will finally have her black & white checkerboard floor!).

The washroom (immediately off of the kitchen) has proved to be more of a problem...termite and carpenter ant damage was found, after I cut out the floor, to the back joist, in order to replace water-damaged floor boards. So, luckily we'd gotten treatment for both ants and termites, so they came and reapplied ant treatment in that area. Washer and dryer (brand-new) are being delivered next week regardless of the floor getting ready or not!

Contrary to the sense you may get from viewing the following, this was NOT my own personal little project; Vicki and her family helped out a BUNCH. Here are the pictures:

(four layers of ugliness...1930/40's "paint splatter" pattern being the best)

(prying up top vinyl layers, to remove shoe molding)

(aww, yeah! tearing it up...)

(scraping up old paper layer)

(floor after sanding, up to 80 grit)

(wash room floor, showing insect damage...and my stylish army greens.)

*Wow, you are a curious person...this is my coined word, being a combination of "ethnic" and "Mennonite". This term is necessary for a community like mine, where most of the members have little knowledge of eastern PA Mennonite culture and oddities - often to their benefit - but are Mennonites, nonetheless.


Where the real $$$ is...

above (, this is not what our house looks like...yet...)

Hey readers...sorry for the dearth of posts recently; I'm still swimming in details, details, details before our settlement on a house purchase, on Friday.

But, you heard it first here: the real money-making scheme is blog investing. You heard me right; check it out. Buy your shares now, before it takes the world by storm:

I was meaning to give you my thoughts on the Haring exhibit in Reading, but I packed my last sketchbook with the notes in the back, and now am stuck without it...hang tight.

If I get a chance, I'll post some photos of the new Gierschick/Liantonio residence, too...


Aarrgh! Schick, like the razor!!

Debut is finally webworthy, minus the second "c" in my name. Why is this so often a problem? I don't know. Anyway, go to and see images from the exhibit.

Check out my friend and fellow painter's blog for some new images of new work; he's working hard for some upcoming exhibits:

C'mon, thunderstorms; wipe away this sweaty pall from us! Thor let us down yesterday, and on his namesake day, too. I am a passive-aggressively belligerent person when it comes to flounting our particularly American addiction to air-conditioning...but I must confess, I didn't mind working in a veritable refrigerator of an institution, this week...


Hearts galore...

Hearts have been on the mind, mornings: my ongoing work-on-paper project, tentatively entitled Antidote, has been what I've been spending studio time on. This is partly because, last week my studio time was cut short by going to work early, and partly because it was usually rather stifling up in the church building. But, the hearts continue, and I'm within probably about a hundred of being finished; both coats.

I shared, many posts ago, about this project, but seeing as the blog-O-sphere is so transient, all memory has probably been lost. It is a series of approx. 4 x 5" paper prescription slips from a Main Line pharmacy, all of them written on, in fountain pen script, from the years circa 1949-1951. I've been painting a plain, white heart on each of them--all 490--in gloss enamel; two coats. And as I've said, I'm within <100>

Themes involved: 70 x 7; love covers over a multitude of sins; redemption; and "antidote", of course.

Other news:
Stay tuned: we are on the cusp of new housing; Near Northeast here we come; Fairmount, you pricey platz, we quit thee.
Also; caught the great Keith Haring at the Reading Public Museum this weekend; a short review and some other thoughts to come.


Dewey as prophet...

"When, because of their remoteness, the objects acknowledged by the cultivated to be works of fine art seem anemic to the mass of people, esthetic hunger is likely to seek the cheap and the vulgar."

-John Dewey, in Art as Experience


An Open Letter to Israel:

An Open Letter to Israel:

Seeing as a small part of the missiles and bombs you are using against Hezbollah are paid for with my money – the tax dollars that I begrudgingly hand over to Caesar – I feel I have paid my blood-right to speak my true mind for once.

Regardless of who actually is, or who is seen as the initial aggressor in a conflict, once a counterattack has been made, it becomes irrelevant; a response in kind has been made, and the two parties’ involvement and culpability are then equal, insofar as blame.

Israel, because you have responded with seemingly the only ultimate language you know (ultimate, since it is always your eventual resort) – violence – this will inevitably cause the situation to be sucked into further violence, not to mention causing further shedding of innocent and uninvolved blood – blood which one of your journalists euphemized as “collateral damage”. This “damage” includes innocent Lebanese who happen to be in the path of fire, and are more vulnerable because they live in a weak democracy. Really, regardless of the target of your campaigns and sorties, which have been so numerous in your short existence as a country, you have never realized an important fact. In fact, only a small minority of humanity actually believes this truth – and it is truth, since there is overwhelming evidence for it – and an even smaller minority lives it out. That truth is this: in the face of even unprovoked aggression, there MUST BE AN ABSORPTION OF VIOLENCE. One of the involved parties must DECIDE to NOT RESPOND IN KIND. If there is not a decisive, unconditional cessation, on either side, then the ping-pong of reciprocating violence starts jettisoning once again, catching all kinds of unwitting victims in its path.

This of course, is a message you as a people and a nation have ignored repeatedly for millennia. Yeshua, a first-century CE prophet and teacher, proclaimed that you’d never really heeded the pantheon of prophets who’d been sent to you; so too, you’d ignore him, the King of Prophets, in your stiff-necked-ness. This was Yeshua’s message:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

The apostle Paul expressed the truth this way:
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Now, good has had many interpretations and permutations of content placed upon it, but we may reasonably assume that, based on the arc of Yeshua’s teachings, that this is the “greater” good: God’s good; a sacrificial good; that is, good for your enemy; the OTHER. But, I’m forgetting; you largely ignored and ultimately rejected Yeshua as both prophet and savior. Perhaps this is one reason for your difficulty in the world; your name, Israel, which means “struggles with God”, is indicative of what you’ve persisted in: struggling with God, the God of the Pentateuch, who has, for more than two thousand years, tried to show you that a new thing – a new wine – was being poured out on the people of God – you. But since, in several instances, you rejected him and his Son, you are still struggling with a God who is largely a shadow – he has long since, in the sense of theophany, become something more complex, and you are still wrestling with his ghost out in the desert.

Here is an invitation, however esoteric it may sound in my language: listen to your God; be still and know Him; look for a God who is more than Jehovah in the desert, but is now also Yeshua of the New Fire. Accept the OTHER, and begin the divestment of SELF. He himself said,
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The gentile believer’s – and your – original conception of “righteous” doesn’t exist anymore, ultimately, except in evil permutations. What was right is now wrong; for those who so choose the path of Yeshua, and his call for absorption of evil:
“You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

So, in this conflict with Lebanon, Syria and Hezbollah, try this: lay down your missile launchers, and stop. Just stop. And see what the response will be. And pray – pray that the tactic will so shock the aggressors that they stop in confusion – or whatever reason. Would your casualties really be that much more if you stopped bombing the OTHER – THEM? This path has largely been circumvented, but has yielded surprising results when followed. Try it, and see – absorb the violence; divest SELF; embrace the OTHER, no matter the stench, and stop. And see what happens. It may be then that you begin the end of your wrestling with Jehovah in the desert – and the Almighty God will give you a new name.


DEBUT opening pictures

Here are a few pictures from the opening reception, Friday night, at Gallery Siano (thanks, Vicki!):

(in the foreground of the second, third, and fourth photos, is steel sculptural work by Colleen Quinn).


Sheaf drawings

About a week and a half ago, I drew a number of inkwash drawings, based on a shape which has been fascinating me recently: the sheaf; grain specifically. After a lot of doodling in months past, I came up with a quickly executed, stylized version of the sheaf, which would simultaneously be completely believable and recognizable to those who are familiar with this historically important motif, and at the same time be a svelte, refined version of that same motif; "smoothed" out, so to speak.

The drawings were largely successful; I did them all in about two hours, trying to maintain a particular shape-focused mindset; and they were all done on the same paper. This paper is from an old notebook, ruled for musical composition. Overall, I am very pleased with how they turned out, and I offer a few of my favorites for your perusal:



Tonight is the opening reception for the exhibition I'm part of, at Gallery Siano at 309 Arch Street, Philadelphia. Come out and support your local artists!

The reception is from 5 o'clock until about 8...and there are many other galleries open tonight to peruse, since it is First Friday.

Be there, or be...well, square is okay too.

(Take the bus: - you will thank me).


(partial) Barnes birding list

(above, Common Yellowthroat)

A selection of birds identified and recorded as of 6/29/2006, at the Barnes Arboretum:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Northern Flicker
Red-eyed Vireo
Common Raven
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Gray Catbird
House Sparrow
American Goldfinch
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Yellowthroat
Blackburnian Warbler


Monday morning semiotics

"There's certainly luck involved, but maybe what you took for laziness was (and I'm going out on a limb here) a sort of divine relaxation.
When I write what I consider to be a good song, when I realize it's going to hang together, when I somehow manage to get it into the boat, so to speak, I invariably find myself looking upwards and thanking something or even, dare I say it, Someone...I believe in the power of inspiration, in the mysterious gift of creation -- creation with a small "c," that is -- creation as in one's work, hauling in the day's catch...mostly I'm happy, I think, because I've experienced a real mystery. I haven't the slightest idea how it happened or where or from whom or what it came. I'd prefer not to know."

-Loudon Wainwright III, singer-songwriter, on NPR's "This I Believe" series, Morning Edition, June 19th, 2006.

"...I confess that I prayed and strove with all my might that I might prove a Christian: not because Plato's teachings are contrary to Christ's, but because they are not in all respects identical with them: as is the case with the doctrines of the others, the Stoics, the poets, and the prose authors. For each, through his share in the divine generative Logos, spoke well, seeing what was akin to it; while those who contradict them on the more important matters clearly have not obtained the hidden wisdom and the irrefutable knowledge. Thus, whatever has been spoken aright by any men belongs to us Christians; for we worship and love, next to God, the Logos which is from the unbegotten and ineffable God...for all those writers were able, through the seed of the Logos implanted in them, to see reality darkly. For it is one thing to have the seed of a thing and to imitate it up to one's capacity; far different is the thing itself, shared and imitated in virtue of its own grace."

-Justin Martyr, early Christian father, died 165 C.E.

PS. Logos refers to Jesus the Messiah as the Divine Word, specifically as in John, chapter 1.


Tardy miscellany

GOOD GRIEF! No posts for two weeks; for shame. Well, I haven't been slacking otherwise, so I'll tell you about some of the things which have been keeping me activated:

Working on frames for my upcoming participation in a summer show at Gallery Siano, 3rd and Arch, Philadelphia. The frames, as of Tuesday, are done; and the paintings are ready to mount, as of 7:00 this AM. So, stay tune for that, coming up July 7th - August 26th.

Doing Barnes garden walks instead of eating lunch, has been very rewarding...I've always had a minor hobby of birdwatching, and entertained the desire to be an amateur naturalist and nature I've found a way to curry those passions, and it's been a wonderful experience. I am compiling a birder's list of all the birds I identify in the Barnes arboretum, and I'll be posting that list for those who might be's longer than you might think. I've been posting my list data on Also, explore

Reading when I get the chance: Early Christian Fathers by an Oxford don whose name I cannot recall, and Journey into Summer, by Edwin Way Teale. The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, is waiting in the flanks (July 4th weekend??).

Studying the book of Acts for my church's growth group training and upcoming small group program returning in October...very rewarding! As a group of leaders/potential leaders, we read through the book in its entirety, alternating chapters between us, in one evening...if you get a chance, do it with your family or some's amazing how you gain some new insights reading Scripture this way.

Researching mortgages, working on fixing furniture we found in the trash, and other various moving/house related duties...come August (Lord willing) we will be moving to our first house. When I become overwhelmed with speech of "escrow; PMI; Fannie Mae; amortization, etc.", and want to tear at my follicles, I repeat three times: "the first time is the hardest..."

Also, have been working at some short poems; a new painting based on my hard-fought search for a stylized grain-sheaf shape, and other various esoteric pursuits...stay tuned!

...And you're so right, Rubens; Jehovah, he is so good...


Spring has fled...

(Forsythia, latex on panel, 2006)

Spring has fled...if not by calendar, then pushed away by 90 degree temperatures. Here is a little painting I did in April, commemorating that most joyful of spring woody shrubs, the forsythia.

One grouping of three shrubs, in particular, that I admired on my morning commute, was the direct inspiration for this painting. I went to visit it one lunchtime; did some sketching to capture the wonderful shape that all three shrubs melting together made, and then transferred it to a painting. I also tried to capture that particular pink, which seemed to create its own aura this past spring; a flood of pink and yellow that one felt immersed in.

My uncle Mike said it well, last weekend, when he stated that it seemed to him this spring everything was more vibrant, and showy. I agreed, and then wondered if it's so much that this year was more spectacular, or if we just forget how the previous year was. I'd like to think that it's the former, but it might be (at least in my case) the latter: and there's something charming about that. A forgetting of splendor, so that it seems fresher and better every year: this reminds me of something about the gospel..."new every morning."

Some of you savvy folks may point to some influence of Fernando Colon-Gonzalez in this painting...I must humbly admit it to be so. See my previous post:


Prayer Files: preview

My Prayer Files series will be on display this July; here's a preview:

(from top: F, Mc, P, S: all, gesso, india ink, latex and enamel on file dividers)


Intelligent design?


Walking into the new Annabeth Rosen show at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery downtown, I quickly ran through thoughts of viscera and brains, and began to realize that it was more akin to taking orbit within a linear galaxy. Here was a small group of ceramic planetoids; like our galaxy, each one part of a larger whole, but nevertheless wholly their own bulbous selves. In fact, partly because many of them were shallowly elevated on stubby feet, and all topped with some larger single motif or assemblage, they brought to mind ancient Hebrew cosmology: a footed foundation, which, bowl-like, holds the seas; rimmed by land, which pillars up the firmament all around, from which the stars hang, jewel-like.

Each one of these microcosms is a delightful hybrid of the biological and the technological. Hard-edged, extruded shapes, and softer ringlets of worm-pilings are all balled up like an escaped, writhing ramen noodle dish, topped with those more definitive shapes or motifs, suggesting such things as creamy porcelain balloons, arched cement porpoises or barbells, and mutant kohlrabi. Here and there the mostly dun, brown and white glazes are punctuated with painted striping, dots or other purposeful accent. This causes one to wryly wonder, is this a sign of intelligent design on these little planets? Perhaps.

Thinking planetarily of these sculptures made even more sense upon seeing shots of Rosen's studio, shared with me by John Ollman, gallery director. There was the creator, spinning out one after the other of her asteroids into the macro-universe of her studio; stack upon stack, row upon row of accumulated semi-orbs, accompanied by scores of wall-hung works on paper. Here each part of the creative process seemed yet another step in a series of elemental increases: from clay molecules, on to wet ceramic shapes - then a detour of purposeful artifice - and finally on to this curated, galaxial collection.

Through June 10th
Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, 1616 Walnut Street, Suite 100, Philadelphia, PA


Redux: anti-slavery document

(The 1688 anti-slavery petition. — Photo by Rob Smith / Germantown Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends)

This past February, which is Black History month, I posted a transcription of the document which several Germantown Quakers, some of Mennonite background, wrote and signed, in protest against slavery. The actual document had been missing for several decades, and has just been re-discovered in the Arch Street Meeting House, downtown Philadelphia. Here's the article from Mennonite Weekly Review:

And here's my previous post, with some related links:

Peace, y'all.

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