The art shrine

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Dear Artist,

Some weeks ago an anonymous subscriber wrote: “The Painter’s Keys is not a website — it’s a vision. It’s a vision of a universal brotherhood and sisterhood, timeless and for all time. It’s a vision of solitary strugglers who are united in the obligation for quality while serving their own individualist dreams. What we artists do is noble and life-enhancing for others. It requires a balance between outward learning and inward contemplation. Thank you for providing this shrine.”

rgenn-obos

I often think of these words. I’m deeply proud that there are many who get the point. Our website is certainly one manifestation of that shrine, and while it is not a physical spot or a spiritual dogma, it might be a metaphor.

Years ago, I started placing small “obos” in remote places. An obos is a Japanese term for a pile of rocks, often only three, one on top of another. The obos merely says, “I was here.” Being an unusual configuration, it is obviously from the hand of man. Further, if it is knocked down or desecrated, it is easily rebuilt. There can be one at the bottom of the garden or in a private corner of a public park. I’ve seen obos among potted bonsai in a sparse apartment high above Park Avenue’s clatter.

On one of our west coast islands, I built a few obos on a rocky foreshore just above the tide. Returning twenty years later, I found them still intact and dressed in moss, as if spirited there by some ancient coastal cult.

Obos is a destination, a sanctuary, a shrine and a focal point that reminds us that we work with our hands. We are builders and what we build is sacred. Obos may appear inconsequential and be unnoticed by casual passersby. It’s a private tribute to something higher, something we might be striving for but find difficult to attain. Approach obos with a relaxed, curious mind. It can help with answers to questions not consciously asked. Obos gives pause, a contemplative thought or a new direction, a respite from clutter, a rededication to our struggle and an affirmation of the value of our personal effort. Obos is the carrier of a golden secret. Obos is like art itself. Obos is a joy to build.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” (Rabindranath Tagore)

Esoterica: Many artists have also written of the creative rejuvenation to be had in simple walks. Whatever the mechanics of this phenomenon, there is no question that it works. Early on I wondered just how many of these mini-sabbaticals my spinning mind could take in any given day. I contrived how my recycling might be quickened. I required a destination that was worthy of many visits. According to current statistics, we now need fewer friends — an indictment of our society based on TV and the celebrities we think we know. The Internet also offers the busy keys of friendship and the understanding that we are not alone. But down to the bottom of the garden is also a good place to go. Down and back from our shrine.

 

Untouched places
by Jeanne Long, Minneapolis, MN, USA

 

111706_jeanne-long-watercolor

Evensong
watercolor painting by Jeanne Long

I take quiet exception to your advocacy for Obos. I suggest Nobos instead. Nobos might mean “leave no mark,” an odd suggestion to artists. We need to walk through this manifestation with the goal of reflecting its beauty rather than marring it with one’s presence. Hold up a mirror to the light for the other pilgrims so that their way can be enhanced rather than held back by my desire to let others, or even just myself, know that I’ve been there. I can show the creator that I’ve seen the beauty by being silently one with it, rather than needing to mark the spot. Then I leave it untouched, therefore free for the next traveler, uncolored by my former presence, which may have caused him to want to leave his mark as well. If everyone who marveled at the Grand Canyon left an obos, would it be a canyon any longer?

(RG note) Thanks, Jeanne. At the time we wrapped up this clickback, at least 30 writers had expressed this opinion. Some added it was okay to do it on private property.

 

Mysterious additive process
by Dave Thompson, Regina, SK, Canada

 

andy-goldsworthy-stone-tower

Stone Tower
Artwork by Andy Goldsworthy

We have recently started to notice these little rock configurations along some local trails here in Saskatchewan – usually those by a lake, since that’s where the rocks are. I notice that some of these around here become larger as people obviously just add to them when they walk past. There is something in them about transience, connections, simplicity, non-destructiveness, community and communion – some of the qualities in the art of Andy Goldsworthy.

(RG note) Thanks, Dave. Andy Goldsworthy is a British environmental artist who makes a life out of planting sticks, rocks, leaves and other items in significant ways on various landscapes. While often quite fragile and only made permanent by photography and publication, his works generally hold a significant metaphor–a nest, a love object, a broken promise. Of the recent books on his work Hand to Earth and Passage , both 2004, give valuable insights into the potential of the medium.

 

Marking the spot
by Sue-Grace Talley, New York, NY, USA

 

I found obos all over Korea — marking important events in people’s lives. If you climb a mountain, or graduate from college, you build an obos, in pride and thanksgiving for the accomplishment. In the British Isles, cairns are remarkably similar to these, and of course the ancient Hebrew people first marked encounters with their deity by erecting a pile of stones at the place of epiphany. There are so many beautiful traditions that are common to humankind and show our essential unity. Perhaps our shore art in the San Francisco Bay area is something of a continuation of the tradition. I like it. For me, a pile of stones is a beautiful sculpture.

(RG note) Thanks, Sue. And thanks to everyone who sent photos.

Cairns submitted by <a href='http://www.painterskeys.com/link_detail.asp?n=Gloria%20Coker&f=linksc.asp'>Gloria Coker</a>
Cairns
submitted by Gloria Coker
Fisherman at Okarita, NZ submitted by Nancy Stewart
Fisherman at Okarita, NZ
submitted by Nancy Stewart
Stupas, Lanikai beach, Hawaii submitted by <a href='http://www.painterskeys.com/link_detail.asp?n=Angela%20Treat%20Lyon&f=linksl.asp'>Angela Lyon</a>
Stupas, Lanikai beach, Hawaii
submitted by Angela Lyon

 

Words from the cosmic unconscious
by Pat Cummings, Concord, NH, USA

 

111706_pat-cummings-embroidery

Oak and Reel
traditional block with a twist
by Patricia Cummings

On Victorian pillow shams embroidered in Redwork Embroidery, from the late nineteenth century (1800s), one sham will often say, “I slept and dreamt that life was beauty,” and the other will say, “I awoke to find that life is duty.” I wonder if Rabindranath Tagore had heard that saying. Since human experiences are so alike, it would not surprise me if the same sentiments were uttered by two people who did not know each other.

 

 

 

 

Meditation place
by Mayanna Howard, Las Cruces, NM, USA

 

When I travel, I try to bring home three tiny rocks from that place to put in an area of my backyard I lovingly call the Rock Garden. I live in New Mexico and most of my yard is rocks, but the Rock Garden is special. If I’m not flying, I bring one medium-sized rock for variety. I have rocks from an old silver mine in Pozos, Mexico; Santa Monica, California; the Colorado Monument in Grand Junction, Colorado; the farm of a dear friend in Missouri; Arizona; and Red Mountain Pass in Colorado. This is a meditation place and has become almost like a grotto. I hope to be cremated when I die and the ashes placed among these reminders of my life.

 

Connecting to the Maker
by Nancy Lennie, San Patricio, Mexico

 

In Hawaii there is a similar process. You wrap a rock in a ti leaf and leave it on the edge of the rock piles that have been identified as heiaus or ancient temple sites. Fishermen always leave a rock wrapped when they are going out fishing. The meaning is to tie oneself to God for all the same reasons you find in Mexico at the shrines of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the way over mountain passes with many lit candles. We need a way to connect in a very personal and tangible way to the Maker of this fine world that we try to capture in paint.

joan-murphy-the-village

Joan Murphy’s Village provides a rendez-vous for deep-forest joggers.

(RG note) Thanks, Nancy. Several years ago Joan Murphy was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition and sent to a care home near my studio in Crescent Beach, BC. Almost every day Joan goes deep into the nearby forest and works on her “Village.” She appreciates the cathedral-like setting and claims that its spirit has replenished both her heart and soul. “The Village is ideal for me,” she says. “Just the right amount of bending down and moving things around.” She digs the stones out of the ground. “Kids knock the Village down and it’s part of the lesson to build it back up again. Kids do less damage around the district if they have my stuff to knock down,” she says. Joan Murphy doesn’t have email but if you want to write to her you can send to me at rgenn@saraphina.com and I’ll take it over to her.

 

Art resonates life
by Jenny Arntzen, Vancouver, BC, Canada

 

111706_jenny-arntzen-painting

Christmas Pears 06
oil pastel by Jenny Arntzen

It is evidence of my passing, of my pausing, of my attempt to make sense of myexperience. It exists, whether it is framed and hanging in exhibition or clamped between sheets of cardboard in my closet. I return to it years after the fact of its production and marvel at its endurance, those qualities that continue to resonate as it reflects the light of day. I sit with pieces, right now, on display in my living room. They catch my eye as I sip my coffee and think through my plan for the day. They are done, complete within themselves, and yet radiating this life, their own life, separate from me, and part of me, at the same time.

 

Friends of the Wild Rocks
by Lori S. Lukasewich, Calgary, AB, Canada

 

111706_lori-lukasewitch-painting

Abalone
oil on canvas 30 x 40 inches
by Lori Lukasewitch

Believing that rocks are living beings, we became the Friends of the Wild Rocks. Because their lives are so much slower than ours we reasoned that moving them would be giving them a whole new experience. We are always delighted to find one still standing when we return to the spot once again. Special ones come home with us to live. It sounds silly but it makes all of us feel good and somehow a little more connected with the wild. And we now look forward to the day we can initiate our grandchildren into this gentle and humorous family tradition.

 

Stone and wood for unique prints
by Aimee Youmans, Alaska, USA

 

An extension of the obos idea is the cairn, although it is a bit more purposeful and communal – marking a path. These are wayside markers used by everyone from the Celts to the Inuit – the latter refer to these inukshuk, or stone men, to find their way across the tundra. Sometimes, a group of inukshuk appear as travelers add a stone to mark their passing. It feels a bit like your obos adventures, to place a stone among those of travelers who went before. It also speaks that I was here, I came to this place and share your experience of it. I belong to a group of printmakers, the Baren Forum, who are involved in a project of building a cairn of images by way of puzzle pieces – each of us carves a block of wood that Maria, the originator and chief engineer, has cut from her large pile of stones, i.e., an image imprinted on wood. She then re-assembles these 78(!!) images to print them. Each stone carries the personality of its maker, and is a contribution to the community of the Baren Forum.

baren-forum-member-image-cairn

Example ‘puzzle print’ for the Baren Forum cairn print.

An extension of the obos idea is the cairn, although it is a bit more purposeful and communal – marking a path. These are wayside markers used by everyone from the Celts to the Inuit – the latter refer to these inukshuk, or stone men, to find their way across the tundra. Sometimes, a group of inukshuk appear as travelers add a stone to mark their passing. It feels a bit like your obos adventures, to place a stone among those of travelers who went before. It also speaks that I was here, I came to this place and share your experience of it. I belong to a group of printmakers, the Baren Forum, who are involved in a project of building a cairn of images by way of puzzle pieces – each of us carves a block of wood that Maria, the originator and chief engineer, has cut from her large pile of stones, i.e., an image imprinted on wood. She then re-assembles these 78(!!) images to print them. Each stone carries the personality of its maker, and is a contribution to the community of the Baren Forum.

 

Dog activity
by Jacquelyn Schechter, Asheville NC, USA

 

We have four basenji dogs, called the “barkless” dog of Africa. They’re independent, playful, intense, and known to be a bit weird. One of our dogs’ brothers was discovered making a neatly stacked column of stones from various parts of their yard. He was caught in the act so there’s no question who did it. After that he would occasionally make alterations (add or subtract a stone) and lie beside his rocks. Any comment beyond that would be pure projection – but I have decided he was also saying “I was here,” and as far as I know the obos is still there.

(RG note) Thanks, Jacquelyn. Photographic evidence is needed for this one — preferably candid video. Even our Stanley doesn’t “volunteer” his creativity, elephants have to be convinced they’re going to be “big,” and horses may be led to water but they can’t always be made to drink. Squirrels, with much less grey matter, make neat piles of nuts. But then again they have winter to think about.

 

Artist needs to be taken seriously
by Lawrence Miller, Newport, PA, USA

 

I worked as a commercial artist for thirty-five years. My children are almost grown-up. I’m trying to launch another career as a fine artist. Are their other artists out there that are offended when people in other professions think we are having “fun” and living whacky lives? Frankly, I feel as if I had to be strong, responsible, and focused. I’ve honed my ability by serious study, practice, and education. At the age of 57 I am trying to accomplish my original intent. I feel as if I had to dumb-down for thirty-five years. No more. What a release. But, “fun”? I don’t do fun.

(RG note) Thanks, Lawrence. Myth, jealousy and expectation surround our vocation. As you say, that doesn’t stop one from being strong, responsible and focused. A lot of art is perceived to be a goof-off. Those of us who would be focused must endure the public’s frequent miscalculation. Building obos, for example, isn’t goofing off, it’s a gentle form of work that deals with a mystery that is at the core of life itself. We artists set an example. “Work is more fun than fun.” (Noel Coward)

 

Just how noble is art?
by Gaye Adams, Sorrento, BC, Canada

 

111706_gaye-adams-painting

Purple and Gold
acrylic on canvas 22 x 28 inches
by Gaye Adams

I’m wondering if you can further comment on the writer’s statement about art being “life-enhancing for others” and the producing of art being “noble.” I’m sure there is truth in that statement, but I struggle with the fact that producing art can also be largely self-serving. Art is by nature an introspective pursuit, but at what point does it become narcissistic? Then there is the temptation, when collectors might “ooh” and “ahhh” over a piece, to indulge one’s ego, which some artists fall prey to (not me, of course). I would enjoy hearing some comments on how producing art serves the common good. Do artists serve others, or do we serve the self? I would like to think of myself as noble, but I know that I paint for myself.

(RG note) Thanks, Gaye. When civilizations fail and man’s baser instincts come to the fore, there is always art. You serve yourself because it’s built into human nature to build and make things. Indulging this aspect of our nature is more noble than the alternate. Apart from perhaps medicine and informed statesmanship, there is no higher calling than the arts—all the arts. I always feel a bit sad when I realize I’ve lost some of my idealism.

 

Research on the future of art galleries
by Carrie Thacker, Preston, Lancashire, UK

 

I’m a third year student at the University of Central Lancashire in England. I’m currently researching for my dissertation about the future of galleries. I have looked at how galleries choose which artists to exhibit and how artists choose which galleries they want. I also need to find information and opinions on how the mass production of inexpensive canvas prints and copies affects artists and galleries and the effect of online galleries.

 

Using the Painter’s Keys website
by Peter Trent, QC, Canada

I have just spent an eye-opening half-hour wandering through your Anatomy of a Commission and your Ramparts. I feel that in this short time I have gained a greater insight on the functioning of an artist’s mind than I have since I started painting those many long years ago. I have never been able, until now, to see the creative muse at work. Thank you so much for sharing this with your friends.

World of Art Featured artist Candace Wilson, Toronto, ON, Canada

Cathedral Of Ice
Oil on canvas painting by artist
Candace Wilson, Toronto, ON, Canada

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.

That includes Ernst Lurker of East Hampton NY, USA who wrote: “The Painter’s Keys website is actually mind-boggling. You have 7 years of clickbacks with God knows how many images and thousands of art quotations in 337 categories. It is unimaginable how much computer space all this data requires. Your operation seems like a miniature Googleplex to me.”

And also Judy Crowe who wrote: “I hope I never become so enamored with myself that I forget that I am not the center of the universe.”

And also Candace Faber of Dallas, TX, USA who wrote: “Stonehenge, Easter Island and the Venus of Willendorf are all indicative of humanity’s most basic creative urge.”

And also Ongis Mutan who wrote: “Please make your ‘obos’ with a number of stones not equal to three. Three stones (or, three any-things arranged to draw notice) are a Universal sign of distress, and may cause a search to be undertaken.”

And also Laura Powers of Atlanta, GA, USA who wrote: “These writings have inspired me to think, laugh, explore and appreciate. It’s like having a lovely cup of tea with a good friend and art mentor. Your insights and willingness to share are a gift. I so appreciate the beautiful spark each of your essays contain.”

And also Susan Collacott of Port Credit, ON, Canada who wrote: “The variety of art represented and the contributions of opinion create a real time community that is of unmeasured value to artists of all stripes.”And also Martha Bilski of Long Beach, NY, USA who wrote this poem:
“A shadow vessel
When boundaries are defiled
and everything
every means of resistance withdrawn
every covenant and trust is brokenthen you scatter
you leave, your body becomes
an obos, a shrine
a shadow vessel
your faint trajectory traced in memory”

Obos -- Martha's Vineyard posted by <a href='http://www.painterskeys.com/link_detail.asp?n=Mary%20L.%20Moquin&f=linksm.asp'>Mary Moquin</a>
Obos, Martha’s Vineyard
posted by Mary Moquin

And also Mary Moquin of Sandwich, MI, USA who wrote: “Perhaps we should all be encouraged as they say to make ‘random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.’ Our world would be a better place.”

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