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It’s a Riddle

I, for the life of me, cannot figure out how a sculptor can see a piece of wood and carve out her/his exact vision of what is hidden in it or what s/he wants it to represent. Another instance of an extreme craft underlying a seemingly effortless artistic product.

I was introduced to wooden sculpture as a child, visiting various churches during travels, and what I most remember is my fascination with the millions of holes made by the woodworms. These days, now more enthusiastically exploring churches, I always wonder about how the facial expressions of the various saints and madonnas could give such testimony to grief or suffering in such static material.

However, the place I REALLY want to visit if I could get my act and my finances together, is Inhotim.  It is a contemporary art garden and museum in Brazil, with a wacky history and a mind blowing collection, from all I have read. The founder was recently sentenced to prison for money laundering (rumors had swirled for ages.) In any case, they have a collection of sculptures – benches made from found wood – by artist Hugo Franca that I long to photograph. The link below has a banner that shows some of the amazing works in succession.

Imperial Sculptures, The Benches of Inhotim

Wood sculpture has come a long way from a Madonna statue carved from Lindenwood. Artists from all over the world combine vision and skill to create something modern and yet somehow archaic.  Just look at the kinetic work of Dedy Shofianto. Links below show the diversity, from choice of material to degree of inventiveness.

Hybrid Kinetic Insects Carved from Wood by Dedy Shofianto

Pixelated Wood Sculptures Carved by Hsu Tung Han

And here is an artist from Holland working with found wood:

Bare Bones

In the meantime the Northwest woods have to suffice on this end, offering their own bounty of wood to be marveled at and photographed.

It’s an Enigma.

And it should be one. Landscapes can acquire a strange, beautiful quality inspiring anything from subtle goosebumps to an outright sense of the ominous. At least when photographed in the right light from the correct angle.

A lot of professional photographers have that down pat – partly because they are able to travel to landscapes that are inherently dramatic, partly because they know the craft to make the image focus on something particularly sublime and/or lurking.  I tend to be dismissive of that, be it from jealousy or an allergy to “slick.”

However, I do make exceptions, when the people in question also display intellectual substance; case in point is the essay linked to below,  – long, I warn you, but worth it – from Mark Meyer, a photographer of international renown, the kind you’d want to do your advertising.

Photograph by Mark Meyer

He describes enigmatic beauty but also talks about philosophers’ approach to nature and I found myself concurring with some of the observations made by them and him – on the scale of my own life as a lesser mortal wandering in more quotidian landscapes. This quote rang particularly true:

Here are more of my own photographs, taken in Eastern OR and the Silverstar trail in WA. Some I have probably shown before, they are just images I really like.

And then there are those photographers how have creative ideas that add to the enigma – like Henk van Rensbergen who created scenario that had animals as the sole post-apocalyptic survivors.


Back to naturally enigmatic landscapes, though. I certainly believe that documenting them involves representations of something invoking disquiet. Of the early Italian painters, no-one was better at that than Leonardo da Vinci. Look at any of his paintings that include landscapes, and you find something mysterious, unsettling. In our own times, Salvador Dali picked up on that and stretched it to truly otherworldly surroundings. Here is a link to an exhibit three years ago at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburgh, FL, that I only read about, but that made the point.

I tend to gravitate towards trees as subjects of enigmatic landscapes, but really consider myself an omnivore. If the quote below exchanged the word color with  light (or added that to it), it probably still holds, now for photography.

The poet Friedrich Schiller on the Italian paintings in the Dresden Gallery: “All very well; if only the cartoons were not filled with color. I cannot get rid of the idea that those colors do not tell me the truth.


It’s a Mystery.

It truly is a mystery to me how some people can use a pencil and with a few strokes generate a three dimensional image, evoke a sense of place, represent what’s in front of our eyes. In drawing, there is none of the forgiveness of working in oil or acrylic paints, where you can re-do over and over again; none of the softness of watercolors which also need to be rendered with skill, but don’t require the precision of the pencil.

Strokes of genius, indeed, which was the perfect title of a NYT article last year that reported on an exhibit at the Morgan Library, aptly titled Drawn to Greatness, and my general view of drawing, which is, of course, not something I will ever be able to do.


All this came to mind because my latest hikes felt like walking through landscapes drawn in colored pencil. There is something figurative going on before the buds come in, at the end of the winter when all leaves have been thoroughly blown away, and all that remains is the structure of the trees and the shifting, dry grasses and berry brambles.

There is a delicate quality of the views, something almost feathery. And the monotones, something reminiscent of renaissance drawings, are occasionally interrupted by a burst of color, red, or silver or gold, that has a childlike joy to it, for lack of a better description. As if a kid got her hands on that one red pencil and went wild.

Here is a list of numerous renaissance draftsmen that links to their work.

And here are last week’s Northwest landscapes. Judge for yourself.

Landscape photographs this week are in honor of three friends of mine, Roger Dorband, Michael Granger and Ken Hochfeld,  who are currently showing images from Clatsop County at Argyle Winery Tasting Room in Dundee. If you feel like a little field trip go out there and admire their work.



Happy Birthday, Oregon!

Yesterday was Oregon’s birthday and here is all you need to know about it…..

Well, there are some facts worth knowing that were not included, but let’s stick to the fun and positive today, if only to match the mood of last week’s insanely warm and cloud free walk along the Willamette river, about 7 minute north of my house.

The sun was out. Heuer und Hund were out.

So were the lovers,

a million Chinese tourists,

the anglers and wake boarders,

Mt. Hood and Mt. St Helens.

The geese were out as were the goose flowers.

The sea lions were out,

and  the cormorants preening.


Public art or what goes for it in these parts was out.

And the verdict was in: nothing happier than those little birds in the budding shrubbery.

For art today it shall be a painting of the Willamette in earlier times

and  birds – more precisely it shall be an invitation to Friday (2/16)  night’s opening and auction at 7:00 pm here:

Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1624 NE Hancock St. Portland, Oregon.

Show runs February 16 – February 25, 2018
Cloisters Gallery Hours:

The group show of more than 50 artists will be up for a week only; I’ll have some framed bird images there. Please come and join me.




Cold Peace

Germany has seen a major storm yesterday, coincidentally named Friederike, with hurricane strengt fury.  Snow, ice and winds up to 200 kpm throttled traffic, closed every single train service and delayed planes. People died and got injured, and the recovery will be slow.

I had planned to write about Germany because an article caught my eye that talked about a student exchange between the former East and West of Germany.The general idea of student exchange among different nations is of course to overcome stereotypes, learn to know and hopefully like your neighbors, and have first hand impressions of historical and political differences and similarities.

An exchange then, within the same country, is unusual, unless that country has been artificially divided for decades. As it turns out, the exchange used to work perfectly fine, with a lot of East German students living in West Germany and fewer but still many West German students doing the reverse. Not so in the last three years, however. The program has basically folded.

Why? Many kids from the East do not like to be treated in the West as backwards, potential yokels, or aligned with Neonazis. Or they are aligned with Neonazis and do not want to live somewhere where that is still taboo. A full quarter of the West German youth of the teenage age range now has a migrant background; they fear that they will actually not be safe if going to school in East German states where anti-foreigner sentiment runs unbridled.

There is fear and there is an decidedly conscious sense of “other” on both sides.

The NYT, by the way, had in their recent 2018 travel recommendations mentioned “Germany’s Western states,” and nothing about the East. The latest facts bear out a warning for those who look different (reported in – and I am just giving two examples.

Two days before New Year’s 19 people were injured and 14 made homeless during arson of a house of Roma families in Plauen, Saxony. The DA reports that neighbors attacked the fire brigrade and yelled insults, including “let them burn” and Sieg Heil.

A refuge shelter was stormed by people who beat up the residents. Guard personell was passively looking on, according to witness reports in Cottbus.

It makes me sick to my stomach. Just as much as the latest reports from Poland, immediately adjacent to the Easter provinces:


Photographs from the spring feeling here this week, nature being impervious to the crap going on in the world and blissfully sporting 56 degrees in mid January……

Sparks of Fire

A bit of fire represented by sunlit shrubbery all photographed yesterday might counterbalance Monday’s water and Tuesday’s ashes, I thought. Well, the colors of fire.

For the written bit I’ll focus on the fury, however. More specifically, the fury we find in current music that is reacting to the age of Trump.  The link below is a thoughtful and comprehensive take on contemporary protest music, describing musicians we all know, and also several many of us might not be familiar with.

The article is an interview with the U.K. music critic Dorian Lynskey who wrote a book, 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs in 2011 and now talks about the boom in music explicitly protesting against the current state of affairs. He claims that Trump elicited more protest music than previous political figures because he is so detested and so much the focus of what is going on. Only wars have been able to generate more protest music than despicable public figures.

Lynskey points out that protest music had already seen an upswing around the evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement and the increasing polarization that people were willing to risk, in the entertainment business, under Trump. An example is Eminem’s freestyle—if you’re a fan of Trump and you’re a fan of me, I’m drawing a line, which side are you on? People are willing to lose parts of the audience (unless they are country music singers who stay silent. And of course there is Ted Nugent…) Many of the ideas expressed in current protest music are not just dealing with the ugliness of Trump and his minions, but about the ideas of America. The songs tackle how we are going backwards due to greed and hunger for power, how so many feel powerless and in mourning.

Here is Lynskey’s take on what the music actually accomplishes – a take I very much liked.

Protest songs make people feel not alone. If we were looking at a situation where no artists were doing songs about Trump and nobody was talking about opposition to him, you would notice the absence. It would be painful. On a macro scale—a global or online scale—it serves the purpose it served in civil-rights demonstrations, where you’d be walking along singing freedom songs. This is where I think preaching to the converted is underrated. It’s fine to cement beliefs to inspire people to act on them.

There are also cases where they can turn somebody on to a particular fact or a certain way of looking. I learned a huge amount from Public Enemy as a white, suburban, English teenager. A large part of the reason many people know about Kent State as they do is because the [Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young] song “Ohio” brings it to people who are not necessarily researching the Nixon era.

Among the many examples the author gives for music clips, one of my favorite musicians is Kendrik Lamar. Many of my readers might not be familiar with that style of music but it is worth some exploration.  

Same is true for a Tribe called Quest. Stretch yourself and leave the comfort zone, listen to the words – even if the use of 4 letter ones remind you of the one they’re directed against.






A Smidgen of Black

Yesterday the US celebrated Martin Luther King Day, with the usual platitudes, the usual wagging fingers from sources that otherwise spew racist sentiments quite frequently, and a president who played golf.  There were also, of course, some smart articles that reminded us what the day is all about, what someone who fought in a civil rights movement with the strongest commitment and who paid with his life for it, stands for.

I selected two things as important reminders to keep an eye on during the struggle for social and political change. One is the fact that institutions are easily influenced by their leaders and one wonders how much they are impervious to change. For that I picked the blackmail letter that the FBI sent to MLK in 1964, demanding that he commit suicide unless he wanted them to publicize his extramarital affair.  Yale historian Beverly Gage found the original in the national archives and commented:

When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received this letter, nearly 50 years ago, he quietly informed friends that someone wanted him to kill himself — and he thought he knew who that someone was. Despite its half-baked prose, self-conscious amateurism and other attempts at misdirection, King was certain the letter had come from the F.B.I. Its infamous director, J. Edgar Hoover, made no secret of his desire to see King discredited. A little more than a decade later, the Senate’s Church Committee on intelligence overreach confirmed King’s suspicion.

The article below discusses the details.


“King, There Is Only One Thing Left For You To Do.”

The second thing we should take to heart, is a fact that King himself pointed to: racism, poverty, militarism and materialism are all intertwined.  An attack on one needs to include a rejection of the other factors as well, if we want lasting, structural change. Here is a smart, short essay on the topic in the Paris Review.

Martin Luther King’s Radical Anti-Capitalism


Drops of Water

Wish I could just relish the beauty of little drops of water. Water is on my mind because of the crisis in Puerto Rico, however. They don’t have time to waste there over a discussion of the beauty of water – all that counts is the absence of it, the horrifying, shameful, sickening lack of it.

Two articles make my point better than I could, the first one written by a homegrown young man who is really making a mark on the world as a writer and reporter. Proud to know him.

I visited El Yunque in 2012, together with about 12 million other people on that very day. None of whom will this spring be a tourist in Puerto Rico, depriving the island of income now needed more than ever. All of whom will recognize too late what our unwillingness to help with the disaster relief implies: try and find a hospital that is not short on infusion bags during the current influenza wave…. or  a cancer ward not short on chemo infusions.

All that pales, of course, in comparison to what the people of Puerto Rico go through, without end in sight.

Drops of water just like little drops of help won’t make the difference – there needs to be systemic, structural change.



Random Associations to the Republican Tax Bill


Yes, you read that correctly – this week will be devoted to strange associations to this monster of a bill, as they pop into my head. And they are not about low hanging fruit but real consequences for large and vulnerable populations in our country.

One thought that came to mind when reading the analysis of how the bill surreptitiously (or not so surreptitiously) guts healthcare is that people need to eat more fruit to ensure strong immune systems. Not that they will have the money to buy those fruit because climate change has affected the prices – we see a steady increase.

Changes in climate are decimating citrus fruit groves, apple orchards, avocado farms. Factors involved are increased heat; increased chill; fires; floods; increased frequency and strength of storms, to name a few.

Link below outlines the CA fire damage to orchards.

Back to buying fruit, now more expensive due to climate related shortages: even though the USDA strongly encourages people on food stamps to buy more fruit and vegetables (healthier, though less filling,) the folks who gave us the tax bill also plan to cut food stamps by 20 % over the next ten years.

I guess we will have to resign ourselves to seeing fruit not as the real thing, but in abstract representations: check out these Japanese shelters.

Or visit a banana museum:

Or stay in a fruit shaped guest house at some fancy Asian resort:

And just think how many people will profit from the tax bill, so they can stay at the above resort in Thailand… (the very ones who had the funds to stay there all along.)