Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Reading Derrick Jensen, Painting Salmon

My friend Angela Ford gave me a copy of Derrick Jensen's A Language Older Than Words, just in time for me to be reading it during the days I was painting Salmon Sonnet (acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20"). This was a profound confluence.

Jensen's book is possibly the definitive analysis of our culture's incompatibility with life. His legions of facts are so accurately grim that at several points I thought, the hell with helping the earth heal, let's get on with palliative care. It isn't the first time I've wondered if, with greatest integrity, our task might be simply to witness & mourn.

At the same time, Jensen's candid interactions with coyotes, trees, bees, & other relatives point our only way to health: communication with all those beings we've been wrongly told are unconscious. His Native friend Jeanette Armstrong assures him that the critical difference between Native & non-Native cultures is simply that for Natives, talking with land is not metaphorical, but fundamental, everyday reality.

Affirming non-human consciousness & celebrating inter-species communication is where I've come through my 38 year commitment to creating art for ecological healing. This painting is one little piece. 

 On the back of the canvas is written, "'the salmon have always been very spiritual to us. Now we don't know if they'll survive, & if they do, if they'll be edible." These are the words of a Northwest Coast elder, whose name I've lost. Around the back stretcher bars is written, "the salmon prays for us, that we be fed with their generosity, so that we are generous, so that we recognize that the great conifers along their rivers are our parents & grandparents. O."
The 2 stones at the bottom left are a dedication of the painting for the good of all our relations. The day I finished this painting, an ex-boyfriend of my daughter caught a salmon & gave half of it to me. This is so unusual, I can't count it a coincidence, particularly as her flesh fills me with radiance. The poem that grids the water reads:
she welcomes any danger as delight—
a mystery, a pleasure in her strength
that carries through exhilarating length—
a secret journey cold & fierce & bright.
the salmon hatches in a limpid stream,
remembers every smell en route to sea.
she plumbs the starry ocean deep & free.
the archetype of following a dream,
she overcomes all obstacles. she swims
her river's bends & rapids to the place
where she began. she brings the ocean night
to teach the inland day. the needled limbs
of conifers grow strong in her embrace.
she feeds the people her abundant light.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

photo courtesy of G.M.Sterne

Presenting a Flag to Medea Benjamin

Last Tuesday Medea Benjamin came to Copperfield's, our local independent bookstore, to present her new book, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. A few years ago I painted a series of flags to reclaim this symbol by linking it to things I love about America: mountains, waters, trees, animals, & my kind of heroes. One of the flags, Americans Helping the Middle East, honored 13 people who've done brave & compassionate work there. Medea Benjamin is one of those named in its stripes.

Just I week before she came to speak, I found a forgotten canvas giclee print while looking for something else. The perfect timing pushed me to arrange to present it to her, in appreciation for all she does. [The original is on display at Sebastopol Gallery.]

I don't often meet a real hero, but there she stood, short in stature & huge in heart & voice. With eloquence, humor, unflinching truth, & well-chosen slides, she told us horrific facts about drones, the role of our President & the CIA in their use, & implications for the future. The thousands of lives lost in the Middle East may be followed by turning the killer drones against domestic dissenters. The willingness to kill American citizens without due process, as happened in Yemen, is a monstrous violation of constitutional rights. Killing civilians & even "enemies" in other sovereign nations is an affront to international law & an outrage to simple decency.

The group Medea co-founded, CodePink, is one of several working to stop the killing, partly by making the human costs real, the victims known. I recommend you read her book & find your own small way to help. Over 50 countries now have drones. The potential for surveillance & killer drones to be used to stop indigenous resistors to corporate expansion give me nightmares. 

May peace prevail.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Holding Fukushima

This graphite drawing (16.5 x 16.5") shows Bear Woman & Buddha holding the crippled reactors at Fukushima in their hands of love & power.

I painted this image as a prayer that the horrendously dangerous conditions there do not progress to global catastrophe, that somehow disaster be averted.

There is a critical need for an international team of brave & brilliant scientists, engineers, & others to work together to solve this unprecedented problem—without delay, without political posturing. Please call on your government representatives to act.

Meanwhile, please visualize the form of spirit that is powerful in your life to hold Fukushima, to keep all beings safe.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bear Dance, watercolor, 12 x 12"


When I sketched this bear, I asked her what she wanted to hear. She said, "James Peshlakai." So I put on his wonderful cd, Songs of the Navajo. Every time I worked on this bear painting, I listened to it, enjoying a power & harmony.


Yesterday I shared this on James Peshlakai's Facebook page, & he posted some very beautiful comments on the role of the bear in his own life & in the spiritual life of the Navajo people."They teach us how to live w/them here w/in the 4 mtns, they us how to keep our children healthty & well fed, they teach us how to guide our children on the course of the Beauty Way of Life. It's in our Songs."


Sometimes happiness simply arises while paying attention to the subtle scents & drifts of nature, the way they infuse creative process, the way they support every moment of our lives. One moment I was working on this painting, listening to Navajo songs, I felt Bear whispering:


I am an animal spirit. I bring the power of the sky to the land through my dreaming. I heal the land & I heal you. I bring the pleasure of my strong body as a healing to the land & to you. You need me & I give to you freely.


James Peshlakai lives in the mountains with the bear people. I live in a place once populated by bears. They are missing now, driven away by civilized excess. Yet the trees have grown up & simple painters can hear their spirits, still moving over the land. As we restore harmony, their descendants may one day return.