Tuesday, May 17, 2011

An Altered Book on the Japan Tsunami

When a friend suggested I make an altered book about the Tohoku tsunami, I wondered whether I was called.... Then everything started coming. 

I went to the local thrift store & found the perfect book to alter: Stepping Stones to Japanese Floral Art by Rachel E. Carr. The binding of this 1960 edition of her 1955 book resembles a hand-made book. It beautifully illustrates one of the most graceful & delicate aspects of Japanese culture, dramatically contrasting with the tragic disaster of the tsunami.

Sebastopol Gallery is having its first concert: Hale Thatcher, Pete Tomack & Sahar Pinkham playing a lovely benefit for Japanese tsunami relief. In looking for an image for their publicity, I found this charcoal drawing of out-of-control water, which I used on the cover & title pages.

Trout Black, who is reading his moving poem, "This Didn't Happen Over There," at the concert, not only gave me permission to repeat it in the book, but also sent this one:

After the Tsunami

The cherry trees
near the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant
are blossoming now.

No one comes 
to see them.

They are lonely.

What else is there to say? But in altering the book, I had to go on to say a lot. I painted images of the tsunami rearing up over towns. I made charts of nuclear waste, Japanese reactor sites, threatened wildlife. I wrote accounts of kindnesses, a friend's first-hand experience of the tsunami as it traveled to Moro Bay, the Dineh legend of ancient warnings to leave uranium in the ground, the work of Professor Katsuhiko Ishibashi, the loss of 110,000 Laysan Albatross chicks. I made windows of pressed flowers, weaving, netting.  I wrote my own poem:

undersea great mountains crack
out of groaning rocks
death pours wide circles

I also interspersed chants to Kanzeon & Amida Buddha, & images of Buddhas & Bodhisattvas. I ended with an origami crane, these words, & a linocut:

All over the world
   people pray 
        for the Japanese
& for themselves
          each other

& for the radioactive waters
             & the fish in the sea

All over the world
       we pray with
       the fish in
              the sea....

Friday, February 11, 2011

American Raven: Ideology, Painting & Prayer

One summer a small branch was blown off my neighbor's pine tree, landing on my patio complete with a lovely set of cones. In the process of sketching it, I added a raven with an empty spirit eye, clinging to the branch. I called the sketch "Pine Branch Warning Raven."

This uncritical allowing elements, including titles, to arise as they wish is a crucial part of creative process: it's an open invitation to spirit to speak through us as artists, to give messages to others, to the world.

I liked the sketch, scratching my head about what Pine Branch might be warning Raven about. I decided to take it further, make a big acrylic painting from it. I started by streaking a big dark area on a 40 x 30" canvas. After I had painted the spirit Raven & the pine branch to my satisfaction, another inexplicable element answered my open invitation. I painting stars & stripes on the gray area, creating a subtle & somewhat ragged American flag hanging upside down behind Raven & his branch.

Now the idea of warning became meaningful. I called the painting American Raven, & sat back to savor the complexity of its message.

It's a big painting, & knows a lot more than its artist. But I'll foolishly offer some ideas about it.

Raven is my friend, guardian & guide. Raven is a healer & trickster, who has provided for the people from ancient times. With due respect to Eagle, America would be well-advised to heed Raven's counsel.

The pine is a rather ordinary tree, not grand like oaks or redwoods. One species or another of pine probably grows in every American state. Ordinary or not, there is mystery about pines. When I was a child, my friends & I always hurried past the pine grove, fearful of the sound the wind made blowing through them.

Like Raven, Pine has a character of healing, magic, & law. Is there a pine anywhere in American not aware of the damage suffered by every forest we've exploited, degraded or destroyed?

Yes, I believe trees are conscious & in communication with each other. I believe ravens are intelligent & aware of earth changes. And I wish with all my heart that our country were run by leaders who believe these things, who bring reverence for nonhuman beings wiser than ourselves to their process of leadership.

Among the complex things contained in this painting is the simple recognition of Raven & Pine as knowers & guardians of this land, with its political boundaries & heartbreaking errors, its loving & hopeful people, its countless living creatures, its waters, stones & clouds.

I pray we become a country aware of their guardianship, grateful for their knowledge, & willing to learn.