On being here now

Dear Artist, On January 23, 2001, I wrote you a twice-weekly letter from a hammock beside a sleepy lagoon in a tropical clime. Heliconius butterflies skipped over the calm surface where unseen tilapia and bobo mullet roiled below. The daily passage from sunrise to sunset was a metronome for easy-going productivity. Here’s more or less what I wrote on my laptop and transferred to our server by satellite phone:

Note the snowy Canadian painting left on the lid of my Costa Rica paintbox. In those days I used a Toshiba laptop and sent the letters via a Qualcomm Satellite phone.

Sleepy Lagoon is a good place to practice the “be here now.” Limitations become advantages and new and unfamiliar phenomena become fresh challenges. I have only this — and this day to do it. Come to think of it — this goes for pretty well any place or any space. We get mail here. Over the last couple of weeks artists have written and described the space they’re in, what they’re doing, and what their windows tell them. Some letters were pure poetry. There was a sense of contentment, inner peace and centering. Other letters were not so happy. My attitude — whether it’s under a grass parasol, under the basement stairs or under the bright lights of a sociologically-diverse office — these are our studios and it’s best to be happy in them. I’ve looked at the “be here now” as a special place where we learn to unfold a private quilt of our own making and design. It’s less a physical space than an attitude. At the same time it’s a linear thing, like the frames of a film, where every frame makes a contribution to the eventual whole, and every frame asks for attention as it rolls by. I don’t think everyone is capable of the steadiness or perhaps the obsession required. But this steadiness, this plodding, is the key to our lives as artists. Like it or not, I’m realizing that my pool-edged fortitude is the sort of blessing that carries us from dilettante to professional, and might just be key to self-understanding.

“Let us not forget the value of solitude.”
Sara Genn, North Shore, Oahu, 2004.

Best regards, Robert PS: “Art is viable when it finds elements in the surrounding environment. Our ancestors drew their subject matter from the religious attitudes which weighed on their souls. We must now learn to draw inspiration from the tangible miracles around us.” (Umberto Boccioni, 1882-1916)  

“Great White Heron at Sleepy Lagoon, Costa Rica”
acrylic painting, 11 x 14 inches
by Robert Genn, 2001

Esoterica: Many of us hunger for an important space so we can fill it up. Currently, I’m reminded of the value of the minimal.There’s mind-clearing joy in the simple life. There’s plenty of good stuff right around here. The play of light, shade and reflected light is a Sorolla-like education. The absence of some tubes of colour, readily at hand in my home studio, has served to bring out improvements in colour mixing. I keep telling myself: “Less is more. Keep it simple, stupid.” Meanwhile, on the horizon, construction cranes warn me that forces are at work to take away my sleepy lagoon. “A rain-tight roof, frugal living, a box of colors, and God’s sunlight through clear windows keep the soul attuned and the body vigorous for one’s daily work.” (Albert Pinkham Ryder, 1847-1917)   The value of memories for the here and now by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA  

by Peter Brown

The great thing about the here and now is that it is so obvious. One cannot escape it. Even in Disneyland. That being said, truly being in the here and now takes great effort and practice. In some strange way, when I am distracted from the when and where I am, in some situation, I aim my memory towards time past. Moments of being in a time and place. Times and places when I was in the moment. This is counter-intuitive, but thinking about vivid memories in my history often helps me connect with the here and now, in the present time. I often think of working in my grand-father’s garden. My son’s first day of school and his Superman belt buckle. I do not live in the past. Certain memories remind me of how I should feel, everyday.   Now or never by Kay Vontz, Sarasota, FL, USA  

Necklace with amber and sterling silver turtle, adventurine nuggets and chips and sand-blasted sterling silver beads
by Kay Vontz

“Be here now” is most essential the older you get. It is a habit worth fostering as otherwise you wake up one morning and realize how much time has gone by and how much of it has been non-productive. Remember, you have NOW and you’d best do everything with it you can. You don’t get a chance for a “do over” with NOW! It’s truly NOW OR NEVER! And so each day when I wake up, I say to myself, “Today is the first day of forever and the last day of never and so best to get on with it!”   A spiritual state of man by Olga Knyaz Yaroslaw, Moscow, Russia  

“Ways of overcoming”
wool tapestry 24 x 19 inches
by Olga Knyaz Yaroslaw

As to the lagoon of inspiration it may be a material place or it may be a spiritual state of man. What I remember before now about myself the inspiration comes with a spirit of creativity. The creativity comes when is present the moment of investigation and new decisions to investigate. Except this, must be present the stimulus to investigate. The stimulus are different for different peoples, You know, of course these.         Cluttered and scattered studio by David Skrypnyk, Cowichan Bay, BC, Canada  

Wine Valley Express””
tempera on paper 13 x 18.5 inches
by David Skrypnyk

My studio is a happy place. I won’t produce unless I am in a good frame of mind. It is paradisiacal where I live so my lack of much recent output is a mindset of distractions caused by lawyers, executors, a handful of parasitic relatives and friends of my recently departed wife. In my way of thinking, the studio is the mind of the artist. The space around is where he/she can lay it all out; what’s in his/her studio. My studio is currently cluttered and scattered and nothing comes out.   There is 1 comment for Cluttered and scattered studio by David Skrypnyk
From: Marti — Dec 29, 2013

David, Very sorry about your wife. Make sure to take special care of yourself (like if you had an illness). Your painting is great.

  Where this dream will take me by Eric Beggs, Boulder, CO, USA  

“Arc Attack at Mohawk Lounge, Austin TX.”
by Eric Beggs

I’m sitting in my 31 foot Airstream trailer, a 1971 model I’m converting to a mobile production facility. I’ve installed a computer bay in the front area replacing the kitchen with a 4×5 vertical copy camera and the couch/bed with 15 feet of countertop for computers, scanners and printers. I’m in the countryside near Austin, Texas, about a mile from McKinney Falls State Park. At night I can step out the door and hear coyotes howling. I’ve set up a bird feeder by the trailer hitch and can see all the activity over the monitor as I work. The computer system is geared for eventual video production as well. When my fiance finishes graduate school, I’ll be ready to take the “Camp Studio” on the road and spend more time at desirable locations producing prints and video in the field. I’m a photographer by trade but often delve into other related visual fields. I work in pinhole, panoramic and stereo formats in B&W, infrared and color. I shoot up to 8×10 formats and have recently been experimenting with Zone Plates which produce a wonderful, ethereal soft focus effect. I’ve been fascinated with clouds this past fall and plan to paint cloud forms on the ceiling of the computer bay, with glow-in-the-dark stars for night viewing. I was outside painting the darkroom sink today for the lab which is nearly finished in the rear of the Airstream, when I looked up and saw a large flock of crows rising from the newly plowed fields. It was a vision of dreams realized to me. I’m excited about scanning images from my collection and producing large format digital negatives which can then be printed on handmade emulsions using palladium, gum dichromate and cyanotype chemistry. I’ll also be able to print up to 20×24 B&W prints from 4×5 negatives. I’m interested in microphotography, stereography and kite aerial photography, large prints and digital enhancement. I’m having a wonderful time designing all the details which make working in this funny little aluminum tube a convenience and a pleasure. The darkroom is a seated affair, since the headroom is only 6 foot 6 inches. I built a custom sink 34 x 88 inches to accommodate 20×24 trays at a height of just 30 inches and the enlarger baseboard is set at 28 “for comfortable printing. The vertical print washer has been lowered to floor level for ease of print handling and the windows are blacked out in a way that they can still be easily opened for toning, views and fresh air when I’m not printing. So, this is my dream in process. As I put another coat of paint on the sink or pull wire for the phone system, I wonder where this dream will take me, what will be revealed and how I will change from the experience. I’m looking forward to seeing around the next bend in the road, as I so often do on my bicycle tours in Ireland. There are 3 comments for Where this dream will take me by Eric Beggs
From: Gentlehawk — Dec 23, 2013

What a wonderful life! May you create a great 2014 and beyond! Enjoy the new energy! (Have ya been over to Enchanted Rock by Fredericksburg?)

From: Anonymous — Dec 24, 2013

That is a lot of work…I hope it all goes well. Are you in San Leanna?

From: Rose — Dec 24, 2013

It is wonderful to see a person doing what they want to do…I am happy for you.

  Being here now the key to happiness by Mary Susan Vaughn, Weddington, NC, USA  

“Apples on a plate”
oil painting, 8 x 10 inches
by Mary Susan Vaughn

When we live in the past or worry about the future, we lose the peace and blessings of “right now.” I have discovered that I appreciate the present for what it is — a gift. I find that I appreciate more the things that are heartfelt and need less the things that are tangible. Less really is More. This is true also in our paintings. As I grow as an artist, I find that my paintings tell a story better when there is less clutter. I also notice that keeping the painting “simple” and “calm” in colors used also adds something special to the painting. Just as it is difficult to focus on the subject of a painting if all the other “things” around it are screaming out for attention, if everything in your painting has bright, bold colors, then it takes away from the subject and every color is screaming for attention. Simplicity is key to many things — happiness, satisfaction, appreciation, and paintings. As we approach Christmas, it is so peaceful to sit back and know that it is more about the giving than the receiving. I agree that “being here now” is the key to happiness.   Here and now helps in trying times by Dyan Law, Pipersville, PA, USA  

“Silent light”
oil painting
by Dyan Law

Your letters have transported me into the world of fellow artists, public and sometime private… and you are the one who has unselfishly guided us all through these “artist open worlds.” Art has been my life’s “reward” from the day I picked up my first ruby red crayon. I can’t remember wanting to do anything more than being a creator of artwork, with the exception of trying to heal from Breast Cancer over 13 years ago. My art helped me through those tough times as I trust your art is doing for you at this “here and now”! Presently I am working on my first large formal commissioned portraits and have three more portraits awaiting me. I thank the powers-that-be, thank myself for all the years of study and hard work and those who have supported my wishes to paint, when working in my studio each day. It took me many years to finally give myself permission to do a serious portrait for a client, being I was always waiting for the “right time” to accept such a delicate task! So far so good and almost ready to submit the piece to my client for Christmas! This grandmother with her grandson will have an image as seen through my brush to refer to for a long time to come. Always questioning if I was worthy enough, ready enough, dependable enough to take such a work on… I can tell you I finally have realized the time is always right to try my best and that I have.  

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for On being here now

From: David Gellatly — Dec 19, 2013

Yes! THIS moment! Exactly. Joyous holiday moments to the Genn family!

From: Susan — Dec 20, 2013

This is a very beautiful letter. A lot of the time we can get into the habit of thinking,when I have the prefect studio,I will make better paintings. When I lose twenty pounds then I’ll be beautiful! always chasing after something,when in reality we only have to day. Thank you for reminding me of that. Hope you Robert are content. You and your family are in my prayers.

From: Delia Pelotti — Dec 20, 2013


From: ReneW — Dec 20, 2013

Beautiful letter, Robert. You touched on a subject that hits home to me. Recently I relocated 300 miles away in a different environment and making new acquaintances. I have my own studio with lots of room to paint which I did not have before. I am happy in this new space. I live in this moment, it is a gift. So I enjoy everyday.

From: Jackie Knott — Dec 20, 2013
From: CayDenise — Dec 20, 2013

I really appreciate this post..and am taking this moment to be with my grateful and fond thoughts of Robert.

From: Carrie Berry — Dec 20, 2013
From: >J. Bruce Wilcox — Dec 20, 2013

Where else is there for creatives- Robert- but here and now? All ART of value is created in the here and now.

As you prepare to release this body-life experience where you’ve done the impossible- made a substantial living as a creative- what more could you want? Of course- a little more time to go to Australia & New Zealand- possibly- but you’ve done what you came to do and have opened the pathway for others to follow- and we couldn’t have asked you for anything more than that. To KNOW the place/time/space that is the HERE/NOW is to know the ONE. But the ONE isn’t a religion- the ONE just IS. And for artists- knowing the ONE means our creative expression and experience happens at the highest level- the highest vibration. It’s our individual and collective gift to humanity. Still- completing/leaving happens best and easiest when we detach from the mundane- difficult as that may seem- to one who has over 130,000 lines of attachment out on all us artists. So I would encourage all us artists to detach from you- release you- making your passing all that much easier. Will it happen? Unlikely. Will there be much weeping instead of the celebration it should be? Probably. Maybe Nelson Mandela’s celebration can guide. Enjoy your here/now. Head for the HERE/NOW when you’re finished. See you next time…
From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Dec 20, 2013

And now for my second post!!!

Any of you christians paying any attention to that duck die-nasty dickhead diva disaster? Hours after his filthy anti-gay comments were released- there were almost 45,000 comments on the yahoo page- and of the ones I read- all were in favor of his right to express his opinion. His opinion being that I- as a talented- creative- intelligent- humorous- sensitive- enlightened human being can somehow be reduced to a single sex-act that he (and his version of christianity and his version of god) has somehow judged as less-than. So hear me now. If he gets to express his vile opinion-SO DO I. All you christians- and muslims an hindus- especially those of you in India- who’ve recently decided to re-CRIMINILIZE my very existence- look out- as I’m standing up to you and pushing back- FOREVER. Just try to take my freedom to exist away. Just try.
From: Angelika Ouellette, Saskatchewan — Dec 20, 2013

Upstairs in my studio is a painting awaiting creative energy and attention. Here on the main floor … my floors and vacuum cleaner patiently wait for the same. What would they do without me? I like to think my interaction with them has meaning and purpose. Being in the present moment gives either activity ‘value and weight’ in my awareness. Both challenge my ability to enjoy the process. Choosing an attitude of being happy in the moment is powerful. Robert your letters always touch the heart of the matter. Thank you.

From: Katherine McLean — Dec 20, 2013

Dear Robert,

I have been a grateful recipient of your twice weekly letter for many years. I was also lucky enough to take your’s and Sara’s “Plein Air to Abstract” workshop last summer at Hollyhock. Today, your comments on the need to “be here now” are hitting home in your usual way. I tend to think that we artists are always a little bit mad, a little bit crazy. Conversely, I find that connecting with the need to “be here now” in my studio has in fact, kept me a little bit sane. Just a little bit. Everyday life delivers blows, some of them fatal, and the need to “be here now” in our studios, whether it is in a hammock or sitting on a rock on the beach seems to me to be our best connection with the divine. In everyday life, I watch as my husband’s life is silently stolen by ALS. I am grateful that it is a little slower than most/some That he can still breathe and speak. That we can still enjoy our time together. I have searched for some way of looking at this journey as having a relevance, as a way of learning something important. Not much luck there. Except for this; In my studio, working, I connect, the day lifts off, the light improves, my mood is quickened, the mystery of colour calls me, ideas come forth. “Being here now” is the new normal. Maybe “being here now” is just us saving our souls.
From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Dec 20, 2013

Last night, the most unlikely moment, shone in some clarity. I was about to start some nasty exercises which is always a low point for me, so to make things worse, I started mentally piling all the bad stuff that happened this year, and there was a LOT. I kept thinking this for a few minutes ending with – what a lousy year of big time letdowns…I have been working harder than ever and gave it all my best, and still nothing worked out, no wonder I feel like crap.

And then, from some reason, my mood brightened up…because I realized that indeed – I gave it all my best, so I did NOT let myself down! Eureka! The bad stuff happened because of circumstances, or because I barked up a wrong tree, or because of things that have nothing to do with me. Well, I can deal with that situation simply by continuing to do my best as I always do…plodding as you say! So I did the dreaded exercises, took another bath, and things feel just a bit more normal today. Isn’t it amazing what our minds do to us, and it comes and goes without anything really happening – mindboggling!
From: Janice Carter — Dec 20, 2013

Your letters often speak to me where I am at present and such is the one today. Thanks for all your inspiration, for so many years. I have often wondered when you have time to paint (or sleep) with all you do and the frequency and beauty of your writing!

Many prayers are with you and appreciation to your daughter for her part!
From: Suzy Way — Dec 20, 2013
From: Jennifer Goodwin — Dec 20, 2013

Thanks so much for these amazing reflections on life, a timely reminder to be grateful for what I have in front of me.

From: Adam Cope — Dec 20, 2013
From: Mara Schiavetto — Dec 20, 2013

A quick thank you note for all the wonderful articles. We all share your emails and even re-send when one especially applies to a friend…which just about all of them do.

From: Jane Appleby — Dec 20, 2013

The moment at hand is the only place we are actually “present ” to do something beautiful in. Thank you for taking moments to write to us as you do — Your dedication is inspiring.

Happy Christmas Season to the Genn Family! May every moment spent together be extra special. Jane
From: Peter Hollick — Dec 21, 2013
From: Bart van Kempen — Dec 21, 2013

Thank you for your letters….. I look forward each week to reading them. Australia.

From: Sharon Norman — Dec 21, 2013

When you communicate with me — as to many others — with your thoughts and your wisdom about life and painting, I feel that I know you as a friend. Your letters are so wonderful and I can’t even believe that you can be so prolific with them. Many painters that I know cannot verbalize what they are trying to say on the canvas and you are amazing at both painting and writing. It is a lovely talent.

From: Peter Matthews — Dec 21, 2013

Robert, here’s to you having a wonderful Christmas and a rich, meaningful, Be Here Now 2014.

From: Boris Solovetski — Dec 21, 2013
From: Troy Weldon — Dec 21, 2013
From: Dick McGrath — Dec 21, 2013
From: Jeannie — Dec 23, 2013

Merry Christmas, Robert. Merry Christmas, my friend.

From: sylvia weir — Dec 24, 2013

When choosing a job–from a professional standpoint–I’ve always taken the one that was the most interesting–not the one that paid the most. And although I made less than a lot of others in my profession, I think I made a difference for all of those I met (I was an ER doctor–now out on temporary disability). I dabble in fiber art and creative writing for my own pleasure but that too has led to success. I think creativity rests on being peaceful and content within yourself–at least it does for me. Thank you for all your wonderful letters; they are always inspiring although I could never quite get the knack of the whiskey–scotch in my case as my husband is of Scottish forbears.

From: Gigi Starnes — Dec 24, 2013

Interesting that you’re describing place when discussing being here now. I find that no matter where I am, my creative juices are always in the exact same place — inside my head. Being an opposite all my life, opposite of who I’m expected to be and how I’m expected to behave, I come from that place inside my mind that guides every piece of art I create, whether it’s a watercolor, an oil painting, multimedia, pieces of warm glass, or a child. As an artist and a writer, I’m supposed to be an observer; I am not. I see that which I want to see rather than what is for the most part. That’s where my art stems from. Perhaps that’s why I’m not ‘successful’ at selling, no money magnet me. I don’t create to sell, I create to please that place in my head. I am, however, so appreciative of the art and talent of others, the generous teachers, the givers. God bless you all.

From: Graeme Shaw — Dec 24, 2013

Hi Robert.

Didn’t know of the “bomb” which may have just landed when last we spoke. My apologies for bugging you with the mundane at such a time. Its my prayer that you will recover from this Robert. Yes I know it is a serious prognosis but I know with God all things are indeed possible. He out of the blue ran my life into yours when I was a twenty something wannabe artist..and then you turned up and helped. I got into one of my first galleries — the Georgian ( remember ?) via your good word. I then got to hang out with you in your studio in those years — to watch you pace and paint and talk and talk and pace ..positing the many ..” I see..I see” comments to my inputs..as Sara or David would wander in and out of the studio. I even got to ride out with you that day on the Swell down the inlet…be part of your movie making fun times .. got to have you visit my family in the arctic with James (I believe it was) and more. I see all these things as blessings from God to me though you. I like so many others have been very troubled with this news of your sickness — that I got so late.Yes I shall pray that God grants you more time Robert but I do hope and pray most of all, that whether God chooses to grant you healing or not, you are fully ready for what Solomon called man’s long home- eternity. Its span turns all of life into less than a breath and so proportionally so so much more important. Surety as to the pathway there I have found (as you know but must say again) is in one person — Jesus. Doubting Thomas said to Jesus in John 14:5-7 “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me..” The greater promise of Jesus is found in one simple verse John 3:16. Thanks for all your help, advice and friendship through the years Robert. You have been a blessing. I’ll be praying for you and your family graeme
From: Mary Ann Laing — Dec 26, 2013

Thank you for this letter, I saved my reading for after the chaotic busy of Christmas. I am thinking now about your thoughts on the importance of “here and now” for our creative explorations. So much of it is related to attitude, so much of attitude is related to self discipline, so much about self discipline is related to what others might think of my art space, what a mess!! It really is only what others might say that bothers me, I can clear a path of mess to spend hours of painting in sheer joyful bliss, it doesn’t stop me at all. But if someone wants to see my studio I panic and tell them they can’t, it’s a mess. Are they coming to see how tidy an artist I am? No, but on the other hand, they may be expecting to be wowed by the “artist’s studio”, hoping for high ceilings and white walls, sky lights and grand easels holding up canvasses well on their way to masterpieces, and image far from what they’ll find. Instead, they’ll find piles of Cd’s, books, rubbermade containers, cans and cans of brushes in various stages of wear, bad paintings near the given up phase, mountains of papers and photos, piles of nice looking boxes and bags I can’t throw out, paper shredder with confettie all around it, paint boxes and frames old and not so old, baskets full of tubes of paint, shelves filled with stuff, no sense of order at all, a total MESS, and I love it. It’s only the judging eyes who scare me. I am working on that, though, I am. Not working on being tidier, working on not caring what anyone thinks, not easy to do, but a lot easier than that tidy thing might be. I wish you and your family much love and joy for this holiday season, Robert. thank you always.

Mary Ann
From: Marilyn — Dec 31, 2013

Robert, you’re a poet.

Thanks for all your letters. Wishing you that wellness comes to you in God’s best way.
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Eros and Thanatos

graphite, gold leaf and hydrangea petals on paper by Yoann Lossel, Paimpont, Brittany, France

  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, 2013. That includes David Lauterstein of Austin, TX, USA, who wrote, ” ‘The essence of analysis is surprise. When people are themselves surprised by what they say, that’s when they are really making some progress.’ (Sigmund Freud). Mr. Genn, thank you for often surprising me by what you say; it has helped me make some progress!” And also Liz Maness of Wimberley, TX, USA, who wrote, “I love art of any kind and am constantly working to keep my dealer in Santa Fe stocked with art to sell. Artists are so fortunate to do what we do and never have to stop.”  

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