First and Last Greetings

The last thing Paul Squires wrote at my blog post Swimming in the adjoining ponds of imagination (written on July 15, 2010) was this:  

More koi Jazz! A long and gorgeous trilling right hand cascade down the keyboard, Oscar Peterson style, all done in colour and movement! Life is a koi pond indeed!

The first thing he ever wrote at a post called Paint for Painting’s Sake (June 16, 2008) was this:

I don’t know nearly enough about the practice of painting, nothing actually, being a writer, but reading your posts back this far and looking at your work had really helped me understand what’s going in a painter’s mind. I don’t think it’s pretentious at all, revealing and fascinating in fact, especially the one about the abstract which really made it clearer in my mind what that was all about and related in a way to my writing. So thanks.

He wrote stuff like this — all over the internet — encouraging others to excel at art (in the broadest sense of the word).  His role as lifter of spirits is one that all those of us who knew him should remember always — and practice in his absence, this lovely humane kindness.

Paul Squires

I have had a running commentary of things to say going on in my head from the moment I learned the news that Paul Squires has died.  And then when I had my notebook in my hand, my head fell silent. Gingatao.

Paul Squires is dead.

Gabrielle sent me an email. 

I’ve taken my daughter to the pool, and I wrote this while sitting there beside the pool in my bathing suit.  It’s been a splendid day in Washington DC, a breath-takingly beautiful day here though it’s winter in Australia.

My life is not an American movie, that’s so true, Paul. Gingatao.

I had debated whether to share my opinion with Paul — I was waiting.  I wanted to tell him that he’s a great poet — like Yeats — but I feared that it would be just baggage for him to hear it — that his writing living poetry would not be helped by the comment however heartfelt or sure.  And he might have longed to hear it, and it would have been true and not flattery, but I was genuinely afraid of giving him an unwieldy burden — better to tough it out in life’s everyday uncertainty “of hopefully interconnected narrative.”

“From which spiny rushes grow” “shoots vertical across the surface like an arrow.”

I figured there was plenty of time — bucket decades of time (never suppose there’s buckets of time) — maybe I’d tell him “shifts the air murmurs dead men’s dreams” in twenty years when it’d have mattered less, when it wouldn’t be an impediment to an elderly poet-master. 

I’ve never met “the only colors are happiness” Paul yet already the friendship “with that frog who throws his voice so cleverly” was solid “like the heart of the sun” enough that I could be thinking things like this — wait and tell him later.  “Where do you think that energy comes from to walk down the street like that?” Gingatao.

Had he lived perhaps we’d have met eventually.  I would have travelled to Australia to meet him “grey muzzled dog” and listened to an expert who knew about “how many narratives there are, how many stories you can tell.”  (The answer is “one.”)

If you can believe it, Paul was a very dear friend, the absolute best friend I never met.  Can you have a genuine friendship with a total stranger living on another continent “composed of dreams” “who is not a story you tell yourself … your life is not an American movie.”  I know Paul understood what I was trying to do in painting and that “though you may close this book and never read another word” we cared about many of the same things.  He was a dear friend.

He understood “the only available redemption is love” — he understood what I do better than I understood what he did (does).  For a long time I read the poems that I did not understand because he had commented at my blog and I returned the courtesy.  I read in courtesy what I didn’t at first understand because of the kind, sensitive comments he left.  He had found me somehow and had reached out.  “Thank you.” 

I had studied literature as a student in college thirty years ago (about the time Squires started writing poetry) and I hadn’t read much in all the intervening years until he appeared.  I was unaccustomed to poetic thought, to wild joy of seeing-hearing-feeling in words.   And his linguistic caprices confused and befuddled me (though I never said so).  He was puzzling.

But I bought the Puzzle Box and reading big breathfuls of his words I started to glimmer in small understandings.  “Insects sing, and there is no other proof of your existence but this … and though you may close your eyes, you can never close your ears….”  His ideas and the magical imagery of his rich, humane and intricate mind started “to come to you and reveal itself to you.”

I had thought I was a pretty good writer by this stage of life and figured that I knew my way around words.  “Because in the end you can look and look and the only redemption is love.”  Paul’s poems in bright sporatic glimmer thingies started to realise me that he was a master architect of words building vast mansions of thought and I in turn was building little potting sheds.  I found that reading his poetry was changing me, teaching me, I was learning not just to write but to think in words, to feel the world in words, that the whole beauty of sounding thoughts was opening to my awareness.  I began to experiment and even wrote a few not-poems that were thoroughly inspired by him.

Did he know he was my teacher?  Of one of them he never commented, though I’m pretty sure he read it.  I felt that his silence was a form of comment too into whose crystaline mirror voids one must find meaning alone.  By this I mean: I felt his silence as an act, as another of his ever kind gestures.  Did he like the poem?  Not like it?  Did that matter liking or not?  Did he know I was his student?  Was he comfortable with that?  In the way that parents love their children I knew that Paul was watching with his silent non-comment and as weird as it sounds I knew he loved me — a total stranger, thousands of miles away, living a day later (how do Australians manage to greet the day so early?).  I was almost a decade his senior, but I was the gawky newbie awkward student.

I’m at the poolside now — a fitting place to contemplate his spirit (of his life I know only what peeks from behind the surface of the poems themselves) (what kind of man can write, can think, like that?).  Paul would approve my remembering him beside the water, in the blue lightness of living and being, near sounds of splashing and children’s squeals (Paul was unafraid to depict beauty).

Paul, I love you.   How I wish my teacher had not left when I’m just a child with words, why make so many friends face the world of words alone.  Paul, I had meant to wait until you were old — perhaps seventy — to tell you that you are a great poet like Yeats.  I wish now I had told you when I first thought it, when you were living Paul.  It’s a minor consideration now.  It would have been extra freight to carry while you were writing living poems whereas you can calmly hear it now whispered in God’s own voice. 

Let not your hearts be troubled, those of us left behind.

Gingatao.  Paul Terry Squires  (November 19, 1963 – July 27, 2010)

Drawing lessons from the koi pond

Had to do some research yesterday so I went swimming.  Ah hem! Okay, it wasn’t all research, it’s just that I had to take the kid swimming.  Perhaps I wanted to go as well.  But even beside the beautiful blue of the swimming pool, I could not let go of my koi.  In our beach bag of supplies, besides the sun block and the snacks, I took colored pencils and my big tough notebook.  My pencils were pre-sharpened (though I have a handy portable sharpener like kids take to school) and I drew blue patches and fish silhouettes.

Was thinking about how people learn to draw, and I decided that this would be a pretty good first foray into art for those so inclined: to take simple materials like colored pencils (for the pool I use the cheap dime store brands!) and make color patches.  You put colors beside other colors and teach your eye to marvel at how certain color combinations make your perception dance.

I think of it as proto-art — that first impulse to mark, to color, to decorate, seeking and discovering delight.  For me these pool side drawings are experiments with different patterns.  But for someone else they might also provide simply a beginning.

I swam a lot too.  In between swimmings, I swam in the pond of thought.  Being in the pond, I learn the role, find my inner fish, work to get inside the Koi mind.  And outside the pond, I play like a child with my artist’s tools.

The Water’s Surface

Spent another day painting koi.  One of the challenges of these paintings is what to do with largish areas of canvas that are just blue — as in the detail above of the painting-of-the-moment..  I have been thinking with the brush in hand, but I also make drawings in which I experiment with different shades of blue set side by side.  Or I try to figure out how to create some facsimile of the dimension of the water itself. 

It’s more “thinking about” than achieving “success” at this point, but it goes to show how any motif can take you deeper and deeper into the question of how we perceive our perceptions.

After painting, I stopped by the koi pond to see the guys.  They all say “hi.”  They’ll be very happy if I can make them famous. They think they’re worth it.

It was quite hot and muggy in Washington DC today (our typical mid-summer weather), but I had a quiet pool of blue water to stare at so I was vicariously cool as can be.  Still have a long ways to go with this painting, propped outside the studio door at my secret, fortified bunker studio in the heart of the Nation’s capital, many days to go during which I will sit beside my koi pond in thought.

Guest at the party

My friend Bénédicte of Carnet de Dessins has been participating in Julia Kay’s Portrait Party, and I sort of went along to the party as Benedicte’s guest.  I found Benedicte’s picture and began making several versions of it.  I’ve been following Degas’s dictum, “il faut refaire la même chose dix foix, cents fois….”  [“You must redo the same thing ten times, a hundred times.”]  I’ve got a bunch of versions so far, but none quite captures the lovely enigma of Bénédicte’s self-portrait photo.

I have been drawing and drawing.  There’s two portraits of Ben by other artists that I would love to rival, this one by Ujwala Prabhu and this one by Mariah Oneill.  But their drawings would be hard to beat.  Anyway, it’s intriguing how much mileage you can get from one photo — equally intriguing are the ways one’s mind reinvents an image after its own fashion.

Il faut refaire …. good thing I’ve got plenty of paper and pencils!

Owning It

I want to own an Ingres drawing, but they’re all already mostly spoken for and a bit out of my league financially those that are still floating about.

So I copy.

And then you own something.  Your thoughts about it that you made with your pencil and with your mind!

Myself Squared

I’ve been told that math replicates nature and that other things — patterns especially — express mathematical relationships.  And I cling to this notion, I do.  For the mathematical nature of reality is something I deeply respect.  Indeed I respect all the ways that Nature is understood, even if (as with math) I don’t understand the representations.  I am beyond math illiterate.  Math illiteracy would be a step up from my dungeon of unnumerical ignorance.

Anyway, on a whimsical morning I squared myself using a very mathematical tool, my computer.  And it seemed to be a fitting gesture — a kind of handshake in thought to poor Ellsworth Kelly who I mischieously disparaged (and doing so has brought my little bloggie many hits) and to Jennifer Bartlett, the now somewhat overlooked but very clever painter of steel tiles and gridded life since the mid-1970s.

I will square my little fishes, my beloved koi too, but that is for another day.  The squares are a device that’s becoming a bit over-worked in artists’ studios, but what of that.  Who would deny us our fun, those of us who turn the image into big chucky bytes?

Anyway, like Betty Crocker I am seldom seen photographically.  But I thought I’d make one brief appearance, and then it’s back to my pencils and self-portraits.

Swimming in the adjoining ponds of imagination

The koi fishes of the latest large koi drawing (bottom picture) have friends in the earlier drawings.  I’ve never seen the drawings together — except here on my computer.  My studio is too small for me to look at the other koi while I work on new ones.  But I have to wonder how big my koi pond has gotten … if I put all my koi pictures together. 

Suffice to say I’ve used up a bunch of blue crayons of various shades.  And I work so much and yet I hardly ever get wet.   And saying that, I realize now that I really need to get myself to a swimming pool.  It’s mid-July!  But I love my fishies almost too much to take time away from them. 

Life’s a beach koi pond.

koi color music

I caught a lot of fish yesterday.  And all day I’ve been dreaming about my return to the pond tomorrow.  The fish change between media and from one format to another.  Doing the same motif, all kinds of little shifts occur in this koi jazz.