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Saturday, May 31, 2014


prometheus unchained
Last day of Ruth Schowalter's prompt, make something and tell about the making. This one has been swirling in my head for some time, without any ideas of how to accomplish it. It's the theme that stays with me. I feel like Prometheus is an important figure in Greek mythology for our time. In Aeschylus' play, Prometheus Bound, Prometheus is chained to a rock by the order of Zeus as punishment for giving fire to the humans, a pitiful lot. The humans had degenerated to a place where they couldn't get along with each other. They were killing each other toward extinction. The gods believed the human experiment failed, let them die out. Prometheus, the god of foresight, gave fire to the humans, seeing the humans would evolve reason from fire. With reason, the pathetic humans with their bewildering forebrains could pick themselves up and survive as a species. Zeus knew that with reason the gods would become irrelevant to humanity. Prometheus committed a grave act against the gods. He stayed chained to the rock for several millennia patiently, knowing a day was coming when Zeus would need an answer to a question only Prometheus could provide: Who was plotting to overthrow Zeus? That time came in the mid 19th Century with the discovery of electricity, the new fire. The second fire, electricity, is forecast to take us into intuition, the next step in our collective evolution of the soul. Electricity changed everything. We went from riding horses and wagons to the internal combustion engine with the assist of electricity. Our lamps are no longer fueled by whale oil. We are no longer subject to day and night. We have electric light to function round the clock. A wonderful Hungarian film concerning electricity, comes to mind, My Twentieth Century, released 1989. Painting and writing started changing radically after electricity. Literally from one generation to the next, from Rodin to Brancusi. The range of possibilities for the human mind expanded with the discovery of electricity. Cell phones run on electricity. Mary Shelley's story, Frankenstein, was originally titled Prometheus Unbound. Her husband Percy wrote about Prometheus Unbound. It's the story of the doctor regenerating life using electricity. They and some others of the time recognized electricity the new fire was released to humanity at a critical moment in our collective evolution. They had classical educations. They recognized the new fire that would save us, regenerate us and take us one giant step closer to our ultimate goal, collective enlightenment, would change everything. We are truly in the end of the world. All that went before is gone, unto our ways of thinking, illustrated in the Modern period in all the art forms.  
prometheus unchained
The object that serves what I think of as Prometheus' head, a relief of his head with a 1/3 profile, is a chunk of cement I found at a building site. Somebody stacking cinderblocks dropped a wad of cement, it dried and became a rock in landscape. I saw found art, picked it up, brought it home, left it on the ground outside to let rain, sun and weather in general clean it. I saw if often through the years it was on the ground just outside my door. Had no idea what to do with it, but it screamed potential. The wooden post I found at a building site, a treated 6x6, a left over left to burn with the scraps. It was in excellent condition and finely cut at both ends. It stayed in the shed I stored found wood in to keep it dry. The flat rock between the post and Prometheus' reclining head I picked up so long ago I don't remember. I had it sitting with an old chunk of tree trunk remains at the root I found in the woods, about the size of a jagged basketball. I have a few of them around, sitting on a flat rock to inhibit rotting, and a few decorative rocks sitting in hollows. This rock was in the hollow of one. I liked it for being almost square and flat on both sides. The chain with hook I found, again so long ago I don't remember where or when. It ended up hanging from a nail in the shed that is now the donkey shed. Didn't know what to do with it. Hanging on the nail I knew where it was. I had used another chunk of cement I'd been keeping several years to paint blue and suggest a still splash. I saw in this piece of cement something more like burning coals in a fireplace than water. It suggested to me a head of curly red hair too. Insight went zing and I saw Prometheus a red-headed Irishman with fire for hair. I picked up the chunk from the ground and brought it in the house, studied it, examined its peaks and hollows, saw it could also be painted to look like a small island of rock and greenery. But it works better as fire. As fire, it feels, again, like catching a split second in the changing shape of a symbol of change. Wasn't the old testament prophecy about the next destruction of the world after water would by fire, the message in the rainbow. Electricity put an end to even traditional belief systems. Traditional cultures going away all over the world is the nature of our time.
prometheus unchained
Examining the cement, I found it had a face, a bit of a profile, only the suggestion; I wanted no more than a suggestion. I soaked the cement chunk in a mix of latex paint and water three days and nights, letting it dry by day and soaking it at night. It made good primer for the oil paint. I used three oranges from yellow to red and painted the whole thing orange with yellow highlights and reddish trenches. Overnight the different shades of orange faded into a brilliant pastel orange that glows. The ridges still have traces of yellow. I've thought about touching with a brush to make more variety in the hair, but like it so much when I look at it, I don't want to mess it up. Since I had determined Prometheus to be Irish with orange hair, I painted the face pink. Killed the whole thing. It looked like a caricature, like Brenda Starr, 40s comic strip hot dog reporter, or Irish Barbie. I realized Prometheus is not necessarily white. That the Greeks are Balkan white doesn't mean the gods are necessarily white. The gods were about all of humanity, not just one culture. Hindu gods and goddesses are the same as the Greek with different names. The gods are aspects of our human nature. Who's to say Prometheus is not black? The original humans were black. It took a very long time to evolve races. Of course Prometheus was black. A duh moment. I'm recalling a show I saw years ago at that old church in Amsterdam that is now a museum. It was a show of bronze Buddhas from all over Asia. I saw that the Buddha's face had the features of whatever country it was from. A Chinese Buddha had Chinese features. A Buddha from Java had Javanese features, unto Tibet and Nepal where the people look very different from the east Asians. I saw then in my mind's eye how interesting it is that Jesuses tend to be white in Western Civ. In Mexico he looks like a Mexican. Moses in our Western Civ tradition is automatically believed to be white. He was black. He was from south of Egypt. South of Egypt is Nubia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania. Black people come from south of Egypt. The Pharaohs were black. Sculptures I see of Egyptian faces from Pharaoh times have Negro features. I remember when Isaac Hayes album Black Moses was new, it was like a shock to everybody, white and black, a possibility that Moses could be black. It was like saying Charlie Brown was black.
prometheus unchained
I was glad to have a layer of pink to paint the brown onto, for lightness. Brown is a difficult color. I took some burnt sienna and gave it life with some yellow ochre. I was looking for the golden dark honey I see in black skin. I wanted it not just brown, but a golden brown. I think I came close enough. There is no one tone in "black" skin. I feel like the ochre gave it life without drawing attention to itself. The part that is the face has an indented place where an eye would be. The mouth looks like it could be wide open laughing when the light falls in one way. Light falls another way, it looks like a benign smile. The eye looks closed or open determined by the angle of the light. I used no paint to bring out the features. I thought about darkening inside the mouth, but the shadow already did that in a more living way. The only part I felt was mine to do was be sure the brown had life in it. I like that he looks alternately like laughing or smiling. It gives him the visage of someone happy to see what he sees. God of foresight, he sees our bright future ahead that we develop by way of intuition. The hate in the world has to be burned off first, which is what wars are for. There is still a lot of hate, so we have more war in near future. The wars are part of the fire next time that burns off the hate in the air between us. It concerns me a great deal that so much hate has brewed in America over the last 30+ years it will need burning off. It is coming up to the surface to feed a fire. I can't imagine what it will be or what will set it off, but I can imagine it will not be pretty. The school shootings are homeland terrorism, coming from the cancer of hate within. Terrorism is the nature of war now, surprise attacks on civilians back and forth between government and anti-government militarists. It looks to me like a terrorist version of civil war that is happening today in America. Prometheus, the fire next time, the god of foresight who gives us fire, a step at a time, to advance our soul evolution, has become for me deeply significant in this time we're in, on the cusp of the new world, the Age of Aquarius. I wanted to make something I would like to see commemorating Prometheus, a big sculpture in a public space. I can't afford to do that, and I don't want to do the fund raising it would require to make it happen. I compromise by making a small one, a maquette. It was made of all found things lying about in my world. All were in place waiting, like Prometheus on the rock, silently knowing without knowing a time would come the human would see that all these parts belong together. Basic elements, wood, rock, iron, cement and pigment. In the way past lives draw us to the people of our lives, these parts were drawn together by a future lifetime. I chose to call it unchained instead of unbound. Unchained has an immediacy about it, a this moment now. Unbound has only a classical association. It could be by duct tape, rope, handcuffs, anything. Unchained is specific. I hear in my head the band Van Halen, one of their more dynamic songs, Unchained. This is Prometheus now, unchained. Of the gods, he is our true friend.     

prometheus unchained

Friday, May 30, 2014


the gum tree farm band

Afternoon of next day I'm still reeling from the music heard last night, The Gum Tree Farm Band on the Willis farm, next driveway down Waterfall Road. This is Josh Willis' present band, a Young Fogies old-time band with a new-time sound, not restricting themselves to old-time, though its their base. Josh brought the others with him. They are getting their groove together toward the Mt Airy fiddler's convention next week. I had the good fortune to be invited to hear them play, an audience of one. And they fed me, fed me well. I had the impression all of them cook. All five of them were in a kitchen of tight quarters, comfortable for two, best for one. These are people of a generation far more social than my generation. They were also a band, same as a family. They play in a tight circle in amongst each other. Everybody was sitting on the deck on a very pleasant spring day in the mountains, rhododendron and dutch iris in full bloom, overlooking the lake. A cloud came crawling through Air Bellows Gap across the lake, reaching as clouds do like an imaginary herd of white horses, the fastest ones out in front dancing across the water in slow motion. I enjoyed it doubly in the company of people who were in awe of what they were seeing. One of my beloved aspects of these hills, the clouds crawling over them. These people were all artists, their senses awake to appreciation. Good, peaceable vibes flow between them hanging about on the deck talking, breathing the mountain air, a tent on the lawn, Yuengling beer cans on the deck rail, four dogs milling about, winding though the maze of our legs and chairs. Peaceable people, peaceable dogs. I had to know where they were all from. It's something I picked up in the mountains, asking somebody you meet where they're from, where they live. On the local AM radio show of mountain music, I always told where the musicians were from, what county, what state, what town, because it gives a mental place. Especially in the old-time way, every region had its own sound. I just like to know where people I meet are from. It's not a judgment thing, rather a push-pin on the google map in my mind.
clockwise from lower left: shona carr, niels bonefass,
sam stallings, gailanne amunesen, josh willis
A meal seemed like it came out of nowhere. Different ones were going and coming. Gailanne, fiddler, appeared to be presiding in the kitchen arena. I didn't know what they were doing and didn't pay attention. Talked with one for awhile, another for awhile, learned who they were and where they were from. Gailanne is from Orlando and her mother is a painter. Shona, fiddle, if I recall correctly, said both her parents are musicians. Sam, guitar, came from Staunton, Virginia. his dad is a musician and his mother into gardening. Every one of these people can play so well it seems uncanny, all or most of them under thirty, and they're multi-instrumentalists. Niels, banjo, can make a banjo do what he wants it to do. At one point, during a break between songs, Niels was showing Shona some runs on a song she was learning. He took his fiddle out of its case and I saw in that brief demonstration he has a fine touch with a fiddle bow. I'd guess he's every bit as alive to the music with his fiddle as with his banjo, and his banjo does it right. Its important to note they play music. They don't slow it down. Its foot-moving music, music you feel. I'm recalling a time I played an old-time band on the radio show that was from down the state close to Raleigh. Later, when I saw Jr Maxwell, bluegrass banjo picker, he said, "Weren't no music in it." I knew what he meant. It did not make you move. It's sit-down old-time. Old-time is a dancing music. These people have the music. The music is what each one of them is playing. They play so freely with the music that a sour note becomes part of the tune, somebody stops playing a moment, the music goes on in such a way that melody and technique become irrelevant when the music is flowing. They, every one of them, play from the heart. They play from experience, too. It seemed to me I heard several years of music making in them.
niels banjo, shona and josh fiddles
sam guitar, gailanne fiddle
Niels, the banjo picker, is from Denmark, and drove down here from New York, a twelve hour drive, the day before. He came in around midnight, I was writing and saw a car stop out front. I thought I'd wait to hear a door close before turning on the light. It was Niels looking for the turn to the farm. I told him it's the next driveway up the road and he was gone. He was wired from the drive. I get the impression he makes his way busking. He plays clawhammer style his own way. He can bear down on it  too, and make it walk. Sam on his guitar, also Staunton, Virginia, can play melodic guitar and he can wear it out, too. He works his guitar, like Niels with banjo, keeps it going like a racehorse, their fingers pounding the strings like horses' hooves on a dirt track. Three fiddles going and these guys keeping the rhythm flowing. Shona, Gailanne and Josh played fiddles through several songs. Later, Josh brought in his stand-up bass and Gailanne put her hair up in a loose Rasta hat for dreadlocks. Gailanne has a talent that is all her own. She's an artist first, and whatever art form she would go with she'd do it well. Shona plays all four instruments. Niels I know plays banjo and fiddle, don't know about guitar. I'd like to hear him play a tune on his fiddle. I like his touch with a bow. I can tell already his sound is uniquely his own. I like about these musicians that they are not about saying one way of playing old-time is less valid than any other. When they get in motion and all are flowing in a good groove, they have what it takes to play, bring in new sounds, try this, try that. They are musicians who love playing old-time without the constraints of saying it is only one way of playing. They play the spirit of old-time, the dance spirit.
sam guitar, josh bass, shona tenor guitar
Last night was the first I knew of Josh playing a fiddle. He can play it, too. He plays banjo beautifully and makes the bass into an instrument you make art with. Gum Tree Farm is Josh's family's mountain summer place. His grandparents, Ben and Agnes Willis, from Winston-Salem, bought a farm in the mountains, the old Jim Scott place, put up a dam and made a lake, put up a round house with glass all the way around. I knew Agnes and Ben since my first summer in the mountains. Agnes was shy and liked her solitude. They leased a couple hundred acres of grazing land to somebody who kept cattle, and paid Tom Pruitt to be caretaker of the land, the farm part of it. They were good people. Josh's mother and dad now own it together with uncle Ben and his wife. Josh is about the only one who uses it now. He brings whatever band he's working with at the time to the mountain house to jam and practice. This is, if my memory serves a reliable assist, the fourth band he's brought here. He invites me to come over and listen while they jam. I feel privileged to be an audience of one with some excellent musicians who know how to make music. All Josh's bands have been ones to play music in its fullness. It's the music Josh is connected to. It's why he plays. The day he dropped by with the invitation to go hear them, he noted they're a pretty good bunch of musicians. I said, I know they're good. All the musicians you make music with are good. It's not that I'm a prophet, it's just the pattern. It was a remarkable experience for me to sit and chat with new people I didn't know, except Josh. No problem. Everybody was friendly. Beautiful people. If they are the people of the future, I say, bring it on. They're also musicians, artists performing their art. In their art form, the artist is on stage making the art through time. We get up from our places on the deck and move inside as darkness crept up on us slowly like the fog. They went to their instruments, talked about starting their first tunes with the instrument they're most comfortable with and play best. This is rehearsal I'm witnessing, tuning in with each other toward Mt Airy, finding what flows with them best. I made two  videos I meant to put on YouTube today, but time went by and it's one of them days there's not enough time in. Going back over when this is done and posted. Camera charged and ready to go. Tomorrow, that's the first thing in my mind to start the day. It will be several hours. Their music is worth it. They played so well. I'll put up a note on facebook when they go online. I'm charged and ready to go too. I love a good concert.
niels, sam, gailanne, josh, shona

Thursday, May 29, 2014


work in progress

In response to this week's prompt by Ruth Schowalter in the Daily Creative Practice group, I had two things conceived that were not yet in process toward manifestation. I've seen the above image in my mind's eye for a few weeks looking for ways to perform it. Had it mapped out to satisfaction when Ruth's prompt came up. Thought I'd finish it before end of week and use it for the project. Simultaneously, I was wanting to make something to call Prometheus Unbound. It would have to do with fire and electricity. It is in process too. May take more than a week. This red and black one began as a study in black and red, two equally intense colors. I do not buy that black is not a color. In pigment, black is the presence of all colors. In light, black is absence of color and white is all colors, the reverse of pigment. I'm dealing in pigment, so black is a color same as purple is a color. My favorite black is made from mixing thalo green and thalo red. They make a black like doesn't come in a tube. Blue and orange make a nice, warm black. The black in the picture above came out of two tubes, mars black and ivory black mixed. I used both because I didn't want to empty either tube, only take each one down a ways. They're good for different purposes. This performance above I have been tossing around for a title. The only words to come to me is the one word, Red. I was thinking about calling it The Black and the Red. But, upon more or less completion, I regret that I did not make the black rectangle half an inch taller and wider. It would have balanced the red. Now the red is dominant and the black looks like negative space. I tell myself, though it is finished as far as original vision is concerned, doesn't mean it's finished. Might even call it something like Warehouse. All that is floating around in mind space. Thinking maybe I could buy a wooden egg, paint it like a freaked out easter egg, or several and fix them to it from behind with long screws. That's the beginning of getting complex and the purpose here is simple as possible without imitating Barnett Newman. This shape doesn't have any association resonances with me, though it does favor a corner of a warehouse door and portions of two windows in a brick building. It was not original intent, which is why I like it. An accidental association, so why not bring it to the front.
original notes
The pictures above are the notes recording original vision. The small one was made in the coffee shop where I was sitting at the bar working a Jumble puzzle in the paper, tore off a corner of the paper to make a note. At home, I put it on a square of white paper to let it start growing. I'm thinking I could make another one a different size where the black is dominant and call it Black. And maybe do another size with balanced black and red, to go together or separate. I like the idea of repeating this shape in variations and sizes. I sketched the colors onto the wood, a piece of 3/4 inch plywood with braces glued and screwed to the back to inhibit bowing, as plywood does. It was already primed from more than five years ago when I prepared it for no reason, just to have it ready some day. Original plan was to print the colors onto the wood by cutting out pieces of cardboard the shape I wanted, paint one side of the cardboard, lay it down, press it and lift. Voila! It works small, but I hadn't yet tried it bigger. The size is 9"x11.5". It didn't take too good. Left big splotches that were ok, but also not. Woke up in the night wide awake and head swimming with how I wanted to print it in layers, one on top of the other while wet to mix several shades into one. Good ideas don't always translate into a physical form with the golden glow the it had in my head. The red was not anywhere near to satisfaction, nor was the black. I mixed up some more paint with medium (varnish, turpentine and linseed oil, equal parts) and started slathering it on with palette knife to spread it more or less evenly to maybe lay the cardboard stamp on top of it and lift it off to give the texture I wanted another way. No. I liked the palette knife strokes. At first, I wanted slick, smooth surface and lines. Once the palette knife started dancing, I scraped the paint left on the cardboard, used it all, spread it like soft butter on toast, making it a point to avoid self-conscious swipes in the paint, just slather it on like a kid, keeping the lines straight with soft edges. I began to see what I was doing with the paint, spreading it like it was plaster can only work when it's spread unselfconsciously. Any conscious pattern found in it would catch the eye. I want them to keep the eye moving, a pattern that is not a pattern. A still flame.
jean (hans) arp
First vision was slick and sharp. It softened in process. Using up all the paint and smearing it on with the butter knife, I was thinking I'd screwed the whole thing up. It didn't work. What the hell. Not enough black. I could let it dry and paint over it or anything. Looked at it, said, "Sucks." Went back to bed after daylight. Might be good to paint something over later. Woke around noon, got up groggy, made some coffee, talked on the phone with Carole, dreading seeing what I'd done. I liked it, liked the paint smeared with palette knife. Now I want to make one the reverse of this. At the same time of putting this one together, another one is in the works. It is a chunk of cement found on the ground at a building site. I see it a head in profile and a profusion of curly hair. The chunk is soaking in a bucket of pale yellow latex paint and water, staining the cement, letting it soak the pigment into it. Next, I'll take some oil red and orange and brush it on lightly. I want to make it suggest fire. Prometheus, the god of foresight who gave us reason by way of fire. For giving us fire, he was chained to a rock. Thinking about fixing a short, old 3-link rusted chain I found somewhere long ago, rusted. I'd leave it hanging loose to suggest unbound. I'll make Prometheus an Irishman with pink face and curly red hair. It will be simple. The chunk of painted cement is to lie down flat atop the pedestal, 5.5"x 5.5"x 9". The wood will be sanded, steel-wooled and stained ebony. Another red and black. I may use a copper wire in some yet unknown way to suggest electricity with Prometheus. I don't want to think too much about it. I want to let it put itself together, let it tell me what it needs, let things fall into place.

prometheus and stand
prometheus in process
I'm seeing the influence of one of my favorite artists, Jean (Hans) Arp. French/German early Dadaist in Zurich. He cut wood forms with a jigsaw, fixed them together and painted them. I've admired them since I first saw they were his. Saw two, maybe three, at the modern art museum in Zurich. Every time I see something by him, I pause within, receive it, admire its utter simplicity, its accident. I committed a sin against art in the Zurich museum. I saw a stunning piece of white marble, a sort-of circle misshapen Arp-style. No one was in sight. I touched it for a hundredth of a second with the tip of my forefinger. I know it's against all the rules. I also know I did not disfigure or endanger it in any way. I did it to make contact with a favorite artist, an inspiring artist, the Dadaist I connected with best. He played with chance. His simplicity has the same stillness as a Brancusi sculpture, smooth, aerodynamic and hydrodynamic. Arp's paintings and sculptures have a lighthearted air about them. Making a cloud of marble and it having a seeming lightness by association seems like art to me. Arp wrote Dadaist verse as well. I have a book of his poems and essays. He writes a lot about clouds. Change and chance were the subjects that ran through his work. I think it is his lightness that inspires me. I like to embrace the principles of dada in a similar way to how I like to embrace the principles of mountain musicians in my work. It's an attitude about art. Don't take it seriously. Do it in the spirit of play. Marketing not an issue. It's all in the doing. This is why I call making an art object a performance. Off stage. The finished object is on stage. The artist's performance is over when the piece is signed. The performance is from conception to completion, the mental, physical and emotional process of creation. I've wanted to do something that involves colors as themselves. Red and black appeal to me for their strong resonance. I'm feeling inspired, wanting to make some art objects that appeal to me and me only. Make them for my own aesthetic reasons with no consideration to what anyone outside my house might think of it. Something that satisfies me, made freely enough it has no economic considerations, only physical, mental and emotional.

jean (hans) arp

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


I've found the notebook from my first months on Waterfall Road, the winter of 1976-1977. Conscious mind has forgotten most of it, but these reminders from page to page bring back the people, the places, the moments. Thought I'd share some of it with you. Tom is Tom Pruitt, later known as old man Tom. I am remembering these first experiences knowing him. Then, he was new, someone like I'd never experienced, somebody who, himself, was the old-timey way. He would be my teacher and friend for the next fourteen years. I helped carry his coffin from funeral home to grave site. I saw him last a few minutes before spirit left the body, or may have been while spirit was in transit. I came to know his life over the period of time I had the good fortune to know Tom. In the time I knew him, his culture was waning fast. He was left surrounded by exurbanites he was an oddity to. Farm land he'd spent his life working had become suburban lots with new houses. The exurbanites around him thought it was funny, like mystical, he always knew what the weather was going to be. "Is it gonna rain, Tom?" Tom's answer, "Always has." They thought he had the old farmer way of knowing by signs what weather was around the corner. He watched tv news from Winston-Salem and heard the mountain weather report every evening. No one ever questioned the source of his knowledge, assuming he was the wise old farmer who could read the signs. Characteristic of Tom's personality was his direct way of seeing and speaking. He said it came from his mother's side; she was direct. Tom never skirted around anything except when he was consciously misleading. I about got shot by him once. After I'd been here maybe four years, he was mad at me and told a great big lie on me to three different people. All three told me and all three told the same story separately. I went to his house and spoke to him about it. He swore he didn't say it. It came to, "You calling me a liar?" In the mountains, when somebody says that, it's the same as a death threat. It means WATCH. YOUR. BACK. I knew he was lying, he knew he was lying, he knew I knew he was lying. I answered his question as directly as he spoke, "Reckon I am." His eyes became shotgun barrels. There was no more for either of us to say after that, and I left. Walking from the door to my truck I anticipated falling down dead any split second. Tom would not miss. We were both irritated for awhile, then it passed. This journal entry is Thursday, February 3, 1977. Temperature outside was between zero and ten F, snow.
tom's house today
2-3: This afternoon at four I went to visit Tom. We sat before the stove and he told me some good tales. He talked about Christ and salvation. Christ and John the Baptist, according to Tom, are the only two perfect men that walked the earth. I about mentioned India, but held back. I asked him if he knew the reverend George Farmer, who preaches on local AM radio. Tom said, "Money preacher. He preaches for money. He don't preach from the spirit." Tom said a real preacher is a man chosen by God who has the spirit in him and lives by the spirit. He told of a preacher he knew who was a money preacher. The preacher had a vision once of himself and another preacher fishing. He came back with two fish over rough, dry, rocky ground. The other preacher came back with a load of golden fish over a green meadow. As a result of the vision, the preacher with two fish became determined to match the other preacher's abundance. He never amounted to anything and lived a carnal life for a preacher. "He didn't have sense enough to know them two fish was his churches." He was working two churches trying to make money. He told of another preacher at a wedding Tom went to, who passed the offering plate twice.

He talked about the divinity of Christ and quoted scripture. He said he could talk scripture all day, but he wasn't a preacher. He didn't have the spirit. He could get up and talk scripture in church, but it would be speakin, not preachin.

He told of the time he broke his wrist jumping out of a hay loft and had Don, his nephew, pull it back into place. Later, the next day, after sitting in the chair all day, after sitting in the chair all day the day before, pulling on the hand with the broken wrist to keep it in place, he knocked it out of place again. He went to the doctor to have a cast put on it. When the doctor pressed it with his thumb to snap it back, Tom said, "I like to jumped a foot from top to bottom."

Every time I'm around Tom, he tells me stories and tales I love to hear. I sit all ears, trying to be a memory box, and lose most of it due to there being so much. I look hard at his face and his clothes and his hands and his feet propped up on a chair in stockings. I don't think he ever washes anything. He carried a pot of stew from the wood-stove to the kitchen, using a cloth for a hot pad so filthy a woman would scream seeing it.

quan yin on cloud mountain
1-27: This morning I took a walk down to the waterfalls. Walked through snow over the ankles with Sadie, whose four legs could not go as slow as my two. She ran off ahead of me sniffing the snow for rabbits. She would turn and come back to say hello, and be off again. Often she would walk ahead of me and I would follow her through the thick trees as she always finds the easiest ground to walk on and the best ways through the most dense places. Followed the stream that runs by this house, under the road and through Tom's property. Many small streams flow from springs in the hills on either side, down to the stream that grows as it moves along. Small falls about a foot high, all the way down, then the big one, at least fifty feet high and just as wide. Most of it was covered with ice, huge forms of ice that cover the rock shaped like a big thick white quilt. There was a huge open space about ten to twenty feet wide where the water flowed at its constant rate, changing so fast a high-speed setting on a camera might not be able to catch it. I climbed down close to it and watched the water shapes that reminded me of white flames flowing down rather than up. Heavy flames.

Yesterday I cut down two more maple trees for firewood beside the road. They both fell perfectly between the fence and the road. The first one gave me a jolt when the butt of the trunk came down on my left arm, which was holding the chainsaw, and it running. Fortunately, the tree's major weight was held by the growth of laurel, and the saw was hung up in the laurel branches. I could not let go of the running saw and could not turn it off--my thumb could not find the switch. I stood there a few seconds trying to figure out what to do with the weight of that trunk on my wrist and the saw in my hand. I forget how I got out of it, but it was easy. I must have taken the saw with right hand, which had been occupied holding me in place on the steep bank wedged between laurel branches. Dealing with that saw is like having a loaded gun. You have to be conscious every second of what could happen if you slip, or if it jumps out of your hand. That, I suppose, adds to its excitement.

Sadie was funny today when a rabbit ran across the top of the snow in front of us. She took off in great excitement leaping through the snow. Every time she jumped, she broke the crust and sank in the snow to her shoulders. But she was not discouraged by this impediment to her grace and speed. She kept on hopping the same way she hops through tall grass, in great deer bounds.
photos by tj worthington

Monday, May 26, 2014



barbie by andy warhol


Ken has a big job at Castle Air Force Base,

where the work is challenging and the future

lies on the cutting room table, docile and clear

for Ken, who with scissors unwrinkles its face.

Ken drives to Paso Robles on the weekend

in a sports car that runs on needle bearings;

he takes the turns hard and as he does he sings

for up ahead is the ocean and the sand

and Barbie in a pink negligee, Barbie

waiting in her tall pink pumps, golf clubs ready.

The coast hills are greener than they used to be,

the ocean restless, only Ken is steady.

Soon they'll be together, brother and sister,

Barbie and Ken, sharing a toothbrush, sharing

a toilet, a tub, sharing the same old song

that freezes on their lips, sharing each other

for that breathless moment when the elders

bow to their credit card. Sundays would be hell

what with packing, parting, and the long haul

if brother and sister weren't such good soldiers.

                                ----Philip Levine

andy warhol by andy warhol

Sunday, May 25, 2014


air bellows outdoor art museum

I found my first notebook/journal from the time of arrival in the mountains. It's a spiral bound school notebook that covers the time of transition from city to mountains, 3-12-76 to 3-30-77. I've looked around in it, read a few pages. It covers the first complete winter. I was reading forgotten experiences. The dreams in that time were horrendous nightmares. Much old going away, much new coming in. I want to see my thoughts about the people I was becoming acquainted with. Old man Tom was the same age I am now. I knew him fourteen years, he died almost twenty-five years ago. In the time of knowing Tom, he was the most interesting person in my life. I was a pallbearer for Tom and swore off it, would never do it again. My arm still feels his weight and the grief. I didn't think it would hit me so hard when Tom died at 86. I went to the funeral home the day before the funeral. Sat and wept for half an hour, was so bad somebody came from the back and handed me a box of Kleenex. At funeral next day I thought I had my tears all cried out. Harold, the funeral director, placed me on a bench behind some people I went to church with, Tom's brother's church. First thing, the two rows in front of me stood up and started singing. They sang three songs, Amazing Grace the last one, songs by Tom's request. I leaned forward and let the tears flow. They made a puddle on the floor between my feet. I was chosen as one of six to carry the casket to the car and later from car to grave. Standing next to Tom's grave and casket was about more than I could take any way but in silence. A niece of his began jabbering some gossip questions and I had to control myself, make myself not say, Show some respect. I've been to his grave a few times, but don't like it. I see a nasty old skeleton in rags and can't get the image out of my mind. This always happens when I go to visit somebody's grave. I wonder, What the hell am I doing here? There's nothing here. I have memory; that's where he lives.
air bellows outdoor art museum
Found an entry in the notebook from a week before the permanent move to mountains. I was here for a weekend, brought a pickup load, wanted to see and feel the place that stayed in the front of my mind, the mystery of the unknown. The day of the final drive to the mountains was October 30, 1976. I found this entry from a week before the move, after a conversation with old man Tom. I call him old man Tom, because that's what everybody called him. It's how he was known, and it was how I thought of him. The scene is him in his pale ivory colored Chevy pickup that looked like it had been through a demolition derby, had never been washed. His elbow sticking out as he rests his arm on the truck's door at the open window. Khaki work clothes and dark brown hat with brim all the way around. Tom was thin and walked like a stork. The corners of his mouth had a permanent brown stain from "backer." His eyes were the pale blue of a winter sky. They were a bit unsettling, they looked so cold. My entry for October 24: Advice from Tom Pruitt: The proper way to wear insulated boots is to warm your feet and put the boots on. This is to warm the inside of the boots. You take them off and warm your feet again, then put the boots back on. Your feet will be warm all day. Tom said, "After I thought about that awhile, I could see the reason in it." Tom talking about the cows: He said you have to talk to them softly. When they are sold and bought they travel in trucks to strange places, get shuffled around at auctions with people all around them. By the time they get to the farm, they've been shuffled around so much they're afraid of people. He said if you give them sweet grain they begin to trust and like you. They will come to you when you walk through the pasture rather than run from you or attack. He said be gentle with them. He said he can drive his truck right into the herd and they won't run away.
air bellows outdoor art museum
Earlier this evening hearing the NPR news at about ten minutes to six, the news guy was talking about some reprehensible white male behavior by two yoyos in some Yankee city and called them hillbillies. My back went up. I thought, Hillbillies? You mean city-slickers, city boys like you. Don't be comparing ignorant city behavior to mountain people you know nothing about. I was thinking, what else can he say? Every other derogatory term is off limits by way of political correctness. White man hillbillies are ok to use for demeaning examples. It's white man the non-prejudiced people are prejudiced against. At first, it grated my nerves. But I remembered: it keeps them away. The more ignorant the flatlanders think the hill people are, all the better if it keeps them away. Wrong Turn North Carolina is even worse than Wrong Turn West Virginia. They say the way you know the toothbrush was invented in West Virginia is anyplace else it would have been called a teethbrush. One thing I and other hillbillies like about this Depression we've been in since year 2000, it put an end to tourism. The local Chamber and a women's club of white middle-class women from Florida and the suburbs of North Carolina cities, who gather in a club to get to know people, think up cosmetic ways to make Sparta attractive. They are a whole chapter unto themselves, the busy dwarves that never do anything. They get their pictures in the paper and pat each other on the back, getting credit. Now the flatlanders can't afford the gas for a drive to the mountains to tell them ignernt hillbillies they don't know nothin. We've got more brilliant flatlanders now than we can stand. The mountain people don't mind people from the suburbs moving here to be in the exurbs, if they could show a little respect. Unfortunately, the people coming in here from outside have spent their lives watching television and know nothing of respect. They look down on the toothless illiterate they see in everybody. They're so high up the mountain people don't even see them.
air bellows outdoor art museum 
Can't say I knew much about respect, myself, in the first years. I learned gradually the importance of respect in mountain culture. Diplomacy I learned in the mountains. It is a world of diplomatic decorum in conversation between mountain people. I took to it happily, liked living among people who regarded one another diplomatically. It is the first thing I see when I get in a city. Many times in a city I am tempted to say, If you lived where I live, you'd have quit talking like that in first grade. You'd have had your ass kicked until you shut your damn mouth. In the mountains, a lot of people have short tempers, and you don't always know who it is, though you mostly do. You don't provoke anybody. You don't disrespect anybody, ever, unless you're ready for a fight that could turn into a gunfight really fast. You don't get away with calling a man a son of a bitch; that's slandering his mama, and she aint got nothin to do with whatever the problem at hand may be. Much of this tradition in the culture, being respectful of others and diplomatic, comes from history, the old days, the old ways, not very far back in time when every man carried a gun for hunting and protection. These mountains were wild for a long time in the old days. About all the men drank. Many of them had short tempers. You walk softly among drunk short-tempered men quicker with their guns drunk than sober. The diplomacy that became a way of life stays with the culture now that the men are not drinking so much anymore or carrying guns. They have access to one right away, but most often are not carrying. I like the diplomacy in the culture. Thought I'd look through the notebooks I kept in the early years. Different notations trigger memories. Old man Tom always carried a .32 revolver in his belt in front when he walked into a pasture with a bull. He told me about bulls and I observed what he said to be true. You might think one is calm and tame, think nothing of it. One day you're unsuspecting and you better look out. Bulls are not predictable. Looking back to the days of slinging a scythe through briar patches, briars raking across my face. It's the best way to get rid of them without using chemicals. Cut them back a couple years in a row and they don't return. There was a time Tom seemed so timeless, so outside time, it was not conceivable there would be a time without Tom. He stayed in place all his life and the world changed around him.    
air bellows outdoor art museum

Saturday, May 24, 2014


medea by tj worthington

I had not thought of it before now, but I have a painting on the wall, a favorite that does not leave the house and has its place in my will that only itemized a few things. An heir gotta have it, can't live without it. Its conception came in reading. Visually, I was wanting to paint rock and wood. I call it Medea. Took it to the gallery soon after it was dry. Response by gallery director: "What is it?" First thought: He has to ask? I said, "It's called Medea. It's a piece of wood, a rock and plywood." I added, knowing already it was going to go zip over his head. "It is the moment she is making her decision to do what she has to do." He looked at me with a blank in his eyes. Unto that moment I felt like I was out of my league with this gallery. Having to explain Medea to an educated man who is apparently interested in the arts didn't feel right. I think he was most interested in being seen in an expensive sports car convertible. It just disappointed me. Living where I live in a culture that does not value education, reading or art, I've learned to explain things in the simplest terms. I felt like he was asking me to talk down to him and I wasn't comfortable doing that in the same way I'm not comfortable talking to adults who insist on being regarded like children. I left it there a month and brought it home. Brought everything home soon after. Not because of him, but because of a monthly seven hour round trip and being treated like a truck driver at that end. Since then, Medea doesn't leave the house. It may be my favorite piece of all I've done. I made a set-up with a piece of plywood behind, an orange rock with lichen all over one side and a piece of wood I'd found years before. Painted it black. It was the model for Medea. She was a sorceress, psychic with powers, a shaman from Turkey in the time long before the Ottoman Empire. I saw Medea pacing in a black robe glowing in moonlight, on a floor with lines, a stage. Behind her, a rock that looks like a freely-drawn version of the Greek archipelago. The lichen is the Mediterranean, the orange rock the islands. It's obvious the plywood is the night sky. I use the idea of sky from Tibetan paintings with flow lines. Plywood is nothing but flow lines. The full moon is the open mouth of the sky crying over what Medea is thinking. The painting itself is a stage set.
paolo pasolini's medea
I chose to paint Medea perhaps for the power of her story, my Goddess image. I love a good Greek tragedy. They are written so beautifully, writing and conception, they've not been matched except by Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett, maybe Harold Pinter, too, and Jean Anouilh. Allowing room for many I've never heard of. Just now had a thought of how I would compose Prometheus Bound. Christ on the cross was first image to flash in mind, Dali's crucifixion, suspended in space. Prometheus chained to a rock by a sentence from Zeus, to have an eagle tear him open and eat his liver every day in blazing sun. He heals overnight in the freezing cold. Prometheus hangs patiently, the god of foresight, knowing the day will come Zeus will need an answer to his question of who intends to overthrow him. Prometheus was chained to the rock for giving fire to the humans. From fire, reason evolved. Reason made the humans independent of the gods, a grievous act by Prometheus against the power of the gods. He pronounced it "thirteen generations" into the future Zeus would be compelled to release him for knowledge of who meant to overthrow him. I imagine electricity is the second fire, the new fire given humanity by Prometheus, telling me Prometheus is unbound. Mary Shelley titled her story about Dr Frankenstein, Prometheus Unbound. Her husband, Percy, also wrote about the unbinding of Prometheus in the time when electricity was the new discovery. We are in the beginnings of the new Promethean age, the Age of Electricity, the second fire, intuition. Intuition is next in our collective evolution, already begun, the next step toward full consciousness. The modern world all around the earth is the changes brought by electricity. We will always have electricity. It won't be generated like it is now. How we make electricity will evolve, is evolving. I feel like Prometheus' story is especially relevant to now. Today is conception day for some art object to make in near future inspired by Prometheus Bound.
from lars von trier's medea
I don't do that much, make an image from a story, Medea the only time I can think of that I have made an image from a story. Her husband, Jason of the Argonauts, was an ambitious Greek hotshot military officer. Medea was his wife, a Turk, eternal enemies of Greeks, and she was a sorceress, astrologer. She wore black gowns and gypsy earrings, long black hair, dark eyes. She knew her way around in the spirit world. Her psychic powers found for him the Golden Fleece, the reward for which was promotion to top dog in the Greek military, their version of the JCS in one. Jason and Medea had kids and were moving up in years, about the time a successful man finds a mistress. Jason lost his good sense over a babe. He wanted a divorce so he could marry her. Medea didn't take to the suggestion, but complied. She set her plot into motion agreeing to divorce so Jason could remarry, playing the role of friends after the divorce. She asked if she could make the wedding dress, a gesture of peace, giving her blessing to the union. She wove the cloth of phosphorous threads. At the I-do moment, Medea went Zap and the dress flashed in a white-light intense phosphorous fire and cremated babydoll at the pulpit. Before Medea went to the wedding she killed their kids. After babydoll went up in smoke, a chariot drawn by dragons came down from the sky, picked Medea up and took her back across the water to Turkey. The tragedy is Jason's. He survived alone, bereft. It is also Medea's tragedy in that she threw away all she loved in her revenge. A do-not-take-me-lightly kind of woman. She gave her man the honor and glory he wanted, and he betrayed her. Jason might have thought that one through a little better before taking up with a Norwegian hottie he met at the gym in a midlife crisis moment. He did know, after all, not to mess with Medea, or seems like. Brings to mind a movie I never want to see again, a feminine revenge story, reject it so much from my mind I forgot the name and the actress. Now it's back. Kathleen Turner, Body Heat. Thank you, Google. I have been uncomfortable seeing her in a film since. It disturbed me. Like the actor who played Ted Bundy in a movie, I cannot see him in anything since without discomfort, like he was Bundy himself. A testament to good acting.
frankfurt opera medea
Medea is a powerful story of the feminine, and I don't mean the dark side, except at the end. She was from a land rich in Neolithic archaeology where goddess figures are found everywhere. Medea was still with Goddess, may have been a goddess herself. She seems to me the fullness of the feminine, the light and the dark, the psychic powers, the willingness to give all in love, all that goes with goddess. Medea can truly say with conviction, I am woman. I'm recalling a saying I haven't heard in a long time, since before political correctness, Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Medea is the extreme of that aspect of the feminine. She's even such an extreme in love. She is the yin/yang, a balanced woman, a goddess. Medea was from the Age of Goddess in the patriarchal age. Women did not concede to men in the Goddess time like they do in the patriarchal time. Goddess is coming back and women are coming back, too, as full human beings with a choice of whether to attach self to a man for survival, or make it on her own, or in partnership with a man or woman, instead of subservience. I see Medea, herself, a woman who embodies the energies of the feminine a woman has to draw from. She's like the fullness of Goddess, all that is woman. Jason didn't know his good fortune. Aint that just like a man. Recalling a few years ago, I was with Justin who needed to see a guy he worked with on a Saturday for some reason I don't remember. A mother and son lived in the next trailer, the son not long out of prison; the windows had clear plastic duct-taped onto the frames, the exterior of the trailer showing what the inside looked like. They fought all the time, both drunks. We step into the trailer of Justin's friend; the guy's wife and two kids had just left him. Chainsaw on the living room shag carpet, and work boots. Empty beer cans lying about that hadn't found the way to the trash basket yet. Ashtrays full. Kitchen empty. Television going opposite the recliner. The guy was helpless. His purpose was gone. He didn't see in time to help himself that she was his purpose. He didn't appreciate that she washed his nasty underwear and socks. Another Jason who simply failed to get it. Wife goes back home to live with mama and daddy until she gets back on her feet. In him I saw a pitiful version of Jason, same story, not so Xtreme. Man doesn't get it; woman says, I'm outta here, whatever it takes.    
nancy kovack as medea in jason and the argonauts
from lars von trier's medea

maria callas as medea

Friday, May 23, 2014


jack's nose

Calm, quiet day after a night of big thunder and rain. I went out with a couple of five gallon buckets to shovel up some donkey droppings to spread under the rhododendron around the house. They are huge, ready for some nourishment. I don't know how well it works, but I spread it on the ground out around the outside edge of the branches where the root tips crawl through the ground. I've been told donkey is high potency manure that burns the plants. I'm assuming leaving it on top of the ground and letting the nutrients soak in a little at a time during rains will be more gentle. I'm not tilling it into the ground. The pink rhododendron that get full sun are blooming now while the ones in the shade are just now popping the buds. In my early years in the mountains the pink rhododendron, the ones the people in the old way called purple, bloomed in late June every year. The  blooming has crept forward in time until they're blooming mid May now. I've watched their blooming season advance closer to the end of winter. These rhododendron have almost rounded tips on their leaves. They love sunlight. The other rhododendron has pointed leaves and white flowers the old people called pink. They also called rhododendron laurel and called mountain laurel ivy. It was a language overlap in changing times the old folks couldn't adjust to. Laurel was laurel and ivy was ivy. Somebody comes along saying that's not laurel and that's not ivy, the old folks would let it go by, somebody else trying to make something common into something high sounding. One of the many insights picked up in these mountains was seeing that the people of the old way before electricity and oil were not less intelligent than us because they didn't finish high school and their grammar was different. We from outside the mountains tend to look at the old hillbillies as none to brite, people who were poor because they were uneducated. I see it so the other way around now, I have to watch judging people who take mountain culture for a lesser version of their own, because I did it for too long a time to admit without embarrassment.
jack's topknot
When it comes to intelligence, they had it all over us. Their educational system taught them how to figure things out. Ours has us memorizing details. Ever tried to read a high school history text book? Detail after detail to be memorized. So boring you never want to read another book the rest of your life. Bring back the Bible, just because it's good reading. I'm not going to say anything about the twitter generation, because I know nothing at all about them. I see a few in the coffee shop and they act like they're not even there. That's the extent of my experience. Recalling a time recently I went into a local restaurant with friend Bill Nixon from Atlanta. I came face to face with the guy who was to seat us, looked to be about 18. I drew a blank. I don't know how to talk to an eighteen year old. So many generation gaps have gone between us I lost track of the young long ago. I'm looking at the guy and he's looking at me and I don't know what to say. Every experience I've had in recent years speaking to somebody that age, they say, What? I didn't want to go through any of it. I put two fingers up. Bill stepped up. He and the guy talked like peers. The kid talked to him like Bill could hear, and Bill was older than me. Bill has taught art in university much of his life. His students are people of that age and he knows how to talk to them. Knows so well, the guy lit up talking with Bill. The difference, Bill saw him person to person, I saw him the other side of a communication barrier. It was all in my attitude. Bill looks like old Walt Whitman and I look like a retired cop. Now, when I have occasion to address the young, I tell myself to receive them for who they are, like everybody else, and talk like the other can hear. In many ways, it's like being in a foreign country among the young in this time of the life. The ones I know, I connect with them easily. It's the ones I don't know that put me in a state of bewilderment. Perhaps I put too much emphasis on not understanding their culture. I admired that moment in Bill. A bit of urban sophistication was in the mix too, none of which I have.
jenny's whiskers
My friend Meredith I've known since she was a baby. Wasn't around her much, a time or two a year, but feel like I know her. First time I saw her after her PhD, I felt like she was closer and at once farther away. Farther away in that she has impressive knowledge in her head. A time I saw her when she was in high school, she had read on her own for fun, the Iliad and the Odyssey. She was then reading a two inch thick commentary on them. I daresay I was impressed. I might have wiggled my way through maybe one of them, but never the commentary at that age. She now has a baby as cute as she was. Her parents never hit her and she will never hit her baby. My friend Pat, who lives in NY state close to Massachusetts, raised two girls without hitting them. Oldest is now a surgeon. The other works with her in her landscaping business. They are brilliant, beautiful women, inside and out, contributions to the world around them. I'm comfortable in my age, comfortable in my culture, comfortable in my world of friends and neighbors. People come in from outside these parameters and I'm lost for what to say or do. I don't understand people outside my world anymore. I've given so much focus of energy to understanding the culture I live in, the people I know and the mountain of memories that go with advancing age, I don't pay attention to anything outside these fields, or meadows. Nobody tells me anymore I need to pay more attention to the world out there (television). Everyone in my world knows I never will. I've not paid attention to tv since 1961. Only have one now for watching films. Films are art forms. Tv is too, but about as much an art form as a child's coloring book. The art in television is mind manipulation. A century and a half of the study of psychology and what is the result? Mind control by way of television, addictive mind control that creates imaginary reality as directed by.... When you don't watch television and live in a world of people that do, just the frame of mind, ways of thinking make me an outsider. I hear Patti Smith again, Outside of society! That's where I wanna be! Followed by Lenny Kaye's guitar strings. Hail Yeah! Rebel yell.  
jack's nostril
Outside of society is where I'm comfortable. A thought of being comfortable in society gives me the shivers. There was a time in the life when I never imagined it possible to get out from under the constant assault of other people's expectations, like it would be impossible. The day I turned off caring, it became possible. I came to realize nobody has a right to expect of someone else. I quit allowing other people to expect of me. I quit caring before the move to the mountains. I'm in a place, have been here awhile, where I don't perform other people's expectations unless I agree to it or offer to. I found in these hills that the people outside society are the very most interesting people around. I'm remembering what friend Jr Maxwell told me his daddy, who was born months after the end of the War of Yankee Aggression, told him, Stay away from important people. I was inclined in that direction when he said it, but it was nice to have it so succinctly put. When somebody says, I didn't expect that of you, I think without saying it, that's your problem, not mine. I know I've pist an awful lot of people off with indifference to their expectations. It keeps them away. I don't want around me people who expect of others, especially the unspoken expectations, my favorite kind to trample. I have a maxim of my own on the subject, expect me to walk on your eggshells, they will be broken. It's been my attitude a very long time, so long I don't think about it anymore. It's become my nature. If I wanted to be a social butterfly, I would not choose here to do it. I came to Waterfall Road to perform that corny cliché, find myself. Oh, what a difference it made. A particular church here I liked, felt the spirit good there, went a few times, then the expectations start, "We expected to see you last week, brother." I'm gone. Once expectation raises its head and starts talking, I make tracks, high-speed tracks that barely touch the ground.
jenny's eye