dancing to wild open music

I started another koi pond at the secret bunker studio.  This one is darker from the dark blue of the paper on which it’s drawn.  In the past I have sometimes used lines from poetry as titles for pictures.  I decided to use lines from Paul Squires‘s poems for the titles of the koi pictures as a remembrance of this great poet whose untimely death occurred on July 27th of this year.

The title for this picture “dancing to wild open music” comes from a line on page 33 of the first edition of The Puzzle Box.

These dance to music that only fish can hear.

you gotta work for a living

If you work hard on a painting that will not of itself make it into “art.”  Great works of art are not, as I think it was Corot who said it, the products of an infinitude of labor.  And if he’s right, hard work alone won’t do it.

Yet though “art” be this “je ne sais quoi” thing yet sheer hard work does take you a long ways toward the goal, for it builds skill, gradually more sure, graceful and resolute skill, which one fine day lends assistance to “art.”  Perhaps.  If some morning after eating your bowl of Wheaties, breakfast of champions, you discover inside yourself a great idea rich in beauty and filled to the brim with brilliant insight — well then you have the tools, you see, to wrestle that idea to the ground.

It works something like that.  Skill is not “it” but a way of meeting “it” someday.

But in the by and by, if you work hard at art ….  Well, let’s say you just make yourself work as hard as you can.  You pursue the “infinite” labor on a smallish territory in the space-time and turn yourself into the absolute devotee of whatever it is, say, a pear in a basket on a table covered by a red cloth.  If you pour yourself into that image, even if it lacks the gravitas of the entire Italian Reniassance, it will come to possess largish chunks of your thought and desire.  And that, my friend, we can say without immodesty will hold some fascination.

For, recall, we do not make ourselves.  We find ourselves at least partly assembled.  We are products of Nature.  We can delve into the vast interiors of our own woodlands, or craggy precipices or vast seas or slender streams and quiet lakes or little mud puddles and make discovery.  Not on a scale with Christopher Columbus or Magellan, perhaps, but not shabby either.

The human’s humane territory holds beauty in particularity.  I learned this redrawing things.  No two drawings are ever quite alike, though I swore I’d be a Xerox machine.  And no two koi have exactly the same spots nor snowflakes the same ….  Of course, you already knew this, right?

So yes, you know but it’s more a matter of daring do.  Self expression by itself flirts with narcissism, but self expression with hard work tends toward discovery.  Authentic discovery (of continents unknown).

Work hard, therefore, and dig assiduously for there’s gold in them thar hills.

 (“Je ne veux plus voir que mon coin et le creuser pieusement,” said Degas.)

fish like food

fish like food

but are like emblems/ as symbols or digits of encryption/ for bold vigor, a shimmering shiny idea/ such swift action, delicacy, grace, gregarious garrulousness or volubility

you could draw the folds of the bed covers and find ripples and waves that resemble currents in water/ and the dreams of your sleep move like the fish/ at the bed’s edge you peer forward to see better, they swim into your angle of vision/ a glimpse is just a fragment/ the whole pond holds all the fish

the fish swim in and out as fleeting thought do/ hold the attention a moment then dissove from sight/ folds away into another narrative

thoughts that dart, dive, are gone/continue swimming somewhere below the surface/ felt pushing heavy curtains of gravity forward/ forward only alas

somewhere between energy and matter is thought

on light bright air melodious insects/ swill silence, drink a void/ cicadas shimmer the green leaves/ in electric chatter emanating lines/ of choral contrapunctal waves which/ ebb and really swell with dilating buzz/ in brightening unmoored yet tautened sound

the singing’s vibration wavers not fast enough/ to transmute energy into matter/ though they create dreams and thought fabrics/ whose flutters and unfurled folds/ loosening unfix the mind’s atmosphere/ raises it aloft, afloat in porous delight

Like a real pond

After working on my drawing at the secret bunker studio, I took photos as I usually do.  Then got an odd notion.  Why not photograph the picture from below as one might see it if it were mounted high upon a wall.  (Sometimes that’s the only way you can photograph pictures when they’re housed somewhere.)  And as I saw how distorted the image became, I inclined to indulge the distortion in extravagant ways.  After that I was in search of distortion, the stretchier the water’s topography, the better.

When you’re photographing the real fish, their movements and the wave patterns are often stopped artificially or alterred greatly from what our brains tell us we see.

Photographing the drawing from every angle across its flat plane, I saw the fish begin to “swim” even more — round the curved edge of the earth’s watery.  Like koi explorers they looked to drop off the edge of the space-time.  And the blues widened like a curtain furling.

If I were to use these distorted photos of my drawing as reference images for other pictures, I could draw the distortion right in and jazz riff something new.  Or one could combine the distorted sections into a new “whole.”

Collage is possible, or rescrambled puzzle pieces made more puzzling.  Lots of improvisations possible as one follows the path.  Or the wave.  The fish wave.

I decided to treat my drawing like it was a real pond.  With real fish, who move.


One of my first intimations of the koi paintings came while my daughter was a crawler, though I didn’t know it at the time.  I was studying Monet’s water lilies, the nympheas, and also the works of Joan Mitchell and Emily Kame Kngwarrey all of which seemed linked in my mind to the rigorous scribblings of my toddler, her bold vigorous lines.  In naptime breaks while she slept, I was able to recapture aspects of my previous artist’s life, and sometimes I made fast, big drawings like this one (which I recovered from a pile at the secret bunker).

Koi Pond Maintenance

Whenever I clean my house, which I occasionally do, I do! — those who know me look skeptical, I like to look around afterwards and marvel —  marvel, I tell you — at what I’ve accomplished.  I don’t think it should be any different with drawing, painting, art. 

Indulge the sense of satisfaction over the amount of work accomplished.  Whatever it is you do, in the having done thus much of it.

For me it is fish.  Count these fish and you will have counted a lot!  And I really stocked the pond today.