Mysticism May Be
Being in the flow of creativity is at times mystical. Bush Whacked the fourth painting in a series of 15 paintings literally shocked the breath out of me. Upon completion of the painting, while stepping back to observe my work, I was mesmerized by what appear before me. I observed the painting for several silent moments perplexed and pondering what stood before me.
You see, I had painted something that I was holding in my mind but not trying to depict in the painting. Let me explained… The thought that I was being lied to every time I heard President Bush speak; post 9/11 was always at the front of my mind. I never had the intention to literally say that Bush was a liar. However, the thought was there every time the sound of his voice touched my eardrums. I could not tolerate hearing his voice and every time, whether it be on radio or television, I’d turn it off. I wanted to form my own thoughts. I didn’t want, nor did I need to be told what or how to think and feel. Every time Bush opened his mouth the doctrine of fear spilled out. With each additional fear speak speech that slipped from his tongue the greater my feelings grew that I was being deceived.
I did not intend to make a literal depiction of a liar. However, if you look at the light blue parallel oblong rectangles in Bush Whacked and the placement of the single star over the more distant oblong rectangle, and the letters A & R painted in red against the night sky, you will read the word LIAR. I did not plan for this design and nowhere within my intentions had I set out to write the word LIAR in the sky. I did not purposely compose this image it materialized through the process. I did not even see that I had written Liar across the sky until the whole painting was completed.
In my mind and action, I was experimenting with the idea of a symbol (in this painting a star) used in tandem with the letters A & R to stimulate and deepen the viewers perceptions of the painting. My theory was that while seeing a star the sound of ST would form in the viewers mind. And then like reading left to right the viewer’s eyes would scan the letters AR. My hope was to cause a mental connection, or spark if you will, connecting symbol to letters. Potentially deepening the experience of the onlooker by stimulating the part of the brain that reads symbols and the other part of the brain that reads letters. In doing so, I’d hoped that the viewer’s imagination would either consciously or subconsciously awaken to the multiple meaning that a star symbolizes. The two meanings of the symbol of a star that I was exploring were, the star as a guiding light in the night sky and the cultural phenomena of a celebrity being labeled as a star. Specifically in Bush Whacked, I was curious about President Bush as our guiding light as president and his status of being a celebrity globally for his position as president.
I know this will sound crazy to most, but in the midst of painting Bush Whacked, I felt as if the painting had taken over, I was simply following its lead. I was there physically holding the brush and pushing the paint but I was also being driven by another force that did not feel totally of me. Hence my descriptions that this painting felt like a mystical experience. It is also important to note that I was painting in what felt like and ecstatic state of mind. In one month, I painted all 15 of the Stars and Stripes the Deception Series. The paintings felt to be pouring out of my mind. In that one-month time frame, I only paused to eat and sleep, all my other waking hours were spent painting. It is also important to note that I do not suffer from any kind of mental illness. I would complete one painting and another would be there patiently waiting to be materialized. Recognizing this to be a unique happening within my body, I gave into the process and followed each painting as it revealed itself to me. Upon the completion of painting 15, I felt the process complete itself within me. For thirty days and nights my mind tumbled and turned and churned the complexities of 9/11, war, patriotism, deception and inequality, then at its end 15 objects of art were born.
Prior to and within the process of creating the series, I felt like a forced silence was being imposed upon me. To dissent with the Bush administration’s point of view was considered unpatriotic. When in actuality to dissent is totally patriotic and is an essential component for a democracy to work. Within an ideal and fully functioning democracy all sides should be equally represented. I, as a gay man, artist and educator did not feel represented at the table of democracy. I felt that it was hypocritical to be forcing the ideals of democracy on other nations while here at home we were not yet realizing democracy’s full potential. Rather than staying locked in silence, I choose to give form to the content of my being in an effort to self express but also all to give voice to others who might have also felt silenced by what at the time felt like an oppressive government.
“What can I do?”… This question seems to pop into my mind whenever I feel hopeless. (For the entire eight years that Bush was president, I felt pretty hopeless.) After the question has risen into the front of my mind, I then examine what is available to me now, which typically results in the realization that I have a health body and mind. What I don’t have are large amounts of money, which is often times equated to power and power is a force that works as a catalyst to change. Not having money in the United States of America, which we call being poor, means that you are rendered silent, invisible and powerless. Having grown up poor, I know this reality all to well. However, I also know the opposite to be just a true. The perception that poor equals diminishing outcomes which is perpetuated by the collective mind is a one sided perception of the poor. Being poor does not have to always equal being silent, invisible and powerless. I know this as fact because I have lived it too. If you have a healthy body and mind you can be a force in the world more powerful than any amount of money. But first you have to ask yourself the question “what can I do?” The trick is to realize that having a healthy body and mind means that you have the power to transform thought into action and action into whatever reality you can imagine. With Stars and Stripes the Deception Series, I transformed my invisibility and silence into action and action into art. In doing so, at its completion, I felt restored, because I was being an active participant within the world rather that a passive witness to events. I was doing what I could do… I have a powerful imagination, an innate understanding of paint, a love of form and symbolism and the discipline to put it all to work. “Paint my thoughts and feelings,” was the answer to my question and so that is what I did. What can you do?
Upon completion of the series my mind changed from being a war zone to a clear sea with a vast and open uninterrupted horizon. The act of transforming thought into action and then action into form is the key to self-expression. Self-expression is linked to the phenomena of interconnectedness and we can see this played out in all life forms. For example, when we visit places where nature has not been altered by humans, and we tune into the natural beauty of the environment, we are often times help in a state of wonder, arrested by the shear awesomeness of our world. This state of wonder is awakened by the perfect self-expression of every living thing working interconnected and in harmony with one another. In this regard self-expression is not an act of selfishness but rather an action that connects the individuals in a more holistic and integrated way to the entire world. So when answering the question “what can I do?” for yourself, consider the interconnected wonder of our world and then move towards the healing of our planet.
Tapping into forces that feel greater than ones self is to know the mystical interconnected nature of all life. In the many many hours that I spent painting this series, I did not feel separate or disconnected from the world, I felt like a conduit connecting the collective unconscious. I was giving form to the silence of the many that ran contrary to the words that were coming from our President. I was making visible the other side of the coin. Stars and Stripes the Deception Series was first exhibited in Asheville, NC and on opening night, I was repeatedly greeted by attendees, stating to me, “you have painted what I have been wanting to say and what I feel. Thank you.”
I could ask for no greater reward than their gratitude. To stand in a moment deeply intertwined in expression with another human is what life is all about, each of us fully alert, open and awake to our humanity connecting our beings through Art and forming relationships.
In Bush Whacked, I began representing president Bush as a shrub and it is he who sits gazing no eyed at us. This seated crossed leg image of President Bush burnt into my brain first in the Michael Moor’s Film Fahrenheit 9/11. In Moor’s film one of the scenes includes the in-real-time footage of President Bush being told by the secret service that the first plane had flow into one of the World Trade towers. In the film Bush is in a classroom reading to children. He receives the information and then without any change of expression he goes on reading to the children as if nothing had happened. In the movie theater there was an audible gasp from many audience members. In my painting, I wanted to capture that moment of an expressionlessness bush. My shrub sits crossed armed and legged, in a posture of confidence, closure and ease. All of which are the opposite postures most would take when delivered such ominous news. Especially when that person was our president.
Bush is seated in the same blood stained star, that I had depicted myself in within the painting Blood Stain Star. This was a way for me to express the reality that if America goes to war we are all a part of that war and all the blood that spills is on all of our hands even if the blood is not spilled on our land. In the US it is easy to feel disconnect form war because we don’t see the daily outcomes of death and destruction out on our front lawns. And so, I have sat Bush on a perfectly coiffed patch of lawn his seat of power surround by blood. War is always about land, power, and greed (often times cloaked in the guise of religion) and the payment for those deliverables is human life. This single truth has always broken my heart.
The first time that I measured my heart breaking was when I was no older than two years old. I remember watching a television screen late at night from a laying down position possibly in my crib. On the TV screen black and white footage was playing from the World War II, Holocaust. The black and white footage showed bulldozers pushing heaps of naked dead bodies into mass graves. At two years old the baby me knew that this was a profoundly wrong thing to be happening. The fragile beautiful value of life was already part of my consciousness at two years old. My heart broke at the sight of all those empty bodies, which life had once flown through. I “got it” at two years of age that all life is of equal and great value.
No life should expire due to the delusions of war makers. Especially when the persons sent to war are made up of poor underserved youths who potentially perceive themselves as having no other way to get-ahead, receive a higher education or build a career other than by joining the military. The many that give their lives in war to fulfill the want of those who sit in power and who reaps the greatest reward seems to be totally out of whack. War making is part of the mechanism, which helps to keeps the wealthy rich and the poor poor. I can guarantee you that all the young people who have given their lives for the ideals of war, that their family have not suddenly fallen into great comfort associated with wealth, increased their owned land mass, or suddenly feel empowered to change their circumstances. In the US, while engaged in war the person at the top remain safe and comfortable and rarely is it their children who go to war. And, even if their children join the military 1% no matter how you look at is a small number. The young and often poor are the ones who fight and give their lives in wars. It is their beautiful existence that ends; cutting short this extraordinary adventure we call life. When will the value of a life be measured more greatly than the temporary illusions associated with the preservation of freedom, and the cost of that freedom being lives lost to war? It is delusional to continue to believe and teach that war making will solve any of the complexities of being human.
We know that everything is temporary – life, objects, thoughts and actions are all included in non-permanence. Everything is temporary. Knowing this distinction does not diminish the spark of true love set ablaze between a mother and father and their new born. The ability to feel true love deeply and totally for the other is what makes life so very valuable. And I’m not talking romantic love, which ebbs and flows based upon biology. I’m talking mother bear love, which is, ‘I sense you as a threat to my offspring, I rip your head off,’ kind of love. Humans, because we have big reasoning brains are a little different than a mother bear. However, ingrained within people the understanding that the preservation of new life is of the utmost importance too. Though we are temporary too, while embodied the phenomena of life, all life, should be protected with a mother bear kind of love.
All of our instincts tell us to walk away from the baby cub roaming the woods. Our instinct does not tell us to run up and grab the baby cub and cuddle with it or try to save it. Our instinct tell us baby bear equals mama bear somewhere near by so get a move on. Move away from the baby bear. No heads lost, no wars simply the choice to move in a new direction. Why? Because your whole being instinctively knows that the preservation of all life, your life, the bear cub’s life are what is of the utmost importance.
Imagine a world that recognizes and honors the interconnected nature of all life bound together by true love. The illusion of us verses them could melt away and all of life would be honored equally. The value of a life would be measured against the true love of a parent and that love would never allow a child’s life to be spent on war. Wars, will never ever, not ever, get humanity to peace. The whole-being comprehension of the interconnectedness of all life and the practice of true love for all beings is what will realize peace on earth. True freedom and peace is a byproduct of true love.
War can be sold under many guises; however when we look deeply at the root of war we see that war in its most simple true form is the taking from the other for the benefit of self, which always manifest a sense of degradation within the other. This phenomenon will never increase peace on earth. There will always be the resentment of the one who was taken from and that resentment is what blossoms enemies and enemies more often than not want to take back, divide, and fight for what they believe to be theirs. Warring perpetuates its self because the byproduct of war is the making of enemies. Enemies move against one another in a constant unbroken loop. Now add to the mix, ‘you killed my child, I want revenge,’ and you can see that war is not a problem solver but rather the problem maker. War can never ever not ever make true peace. True freedom cannot be won at the cost of lives. The only way to stop is to stop. Humans must stop making war.
In Bush Whacked, to symbolize the deceased of 9/11, I painted a hazy outline of a human form in a laying down position. I repeated the form to represent all lives lost at the Twin Tower attack. Though their bodies were dead the echo of their spirits felt imprinted upon the atmosphere. I was in Manhattan two days after the attack and the atmosphere had a weight that I’d never felt before or have ever felt since. I wanted the spirit of the deceased to be in the atmosphere of Bush Whacked because I felt that their death was a direct result of the terrorist – our enemies and that the Bush family was somehow tied to the making of those enemies. I wanted Bush to be seated in the weight of the atmosphere that I felt: As my feet made contact with the island of Manhattan on that sad and horrifying day, my two year old broken heart from so many years ago, gashed back open, and with every fiber of my being I felt a deep overwhelmingly consuming sadness. In the awe of those moments the same question kept crisscross my thoughts, ‘How could we do this to each other again and again and again and not learn from our mistakes?’
The oblong rectangles that I mentioned earlier in Bush Whacked are there to represent the Twin Towers absence from the sky. Out of the night sky, I have cut-out the space where the twin towers once stood and replaced the void with the light of day. Where the towers had once held the space what is left behind after collapsing is the light of the lives lost illuminating the atmosphere. The outline of all those gone are held within the shadow of the light cast by the missing buildings, all of which rest at the feet of Bush.
At the very bottom right hand corner of the painting, I have painted the symbol of the Eye of Providence; also know as the all-knowing eye of God. I did this because Bush made the declaration that God had told him to invade Iraq. Did Bush, like me have a mystical experience? I can’t say only he could answer that question truthfully. Personally, though I find it very hard to believe that the creator of all life – God – the Christian God, whom I believe Bush, believed himself to be channeling, would say to one human go and take away from that other human on my behalf. Imagine God the creator of all life saying to one person go and invade a country kill many of its people and build enemies so that war can perpetuate itself on my beautiful perfect planet, which I created so that you could all practice killing each other in my name. Oh, and as an aside, as God the creator of everything I’m going to have other people in other lands develop the same concept of monotheism. They will all believe that I’m the one and only God too. I’ll be the one and only God in many lands with different names and laws and I’m going to pit you all against one another, by providing people in leadership roles mystical experiences, where I tell each of them directly to attack and kill one another in my name.
I don’t know about you the reader but to me as the author thinking and writing theses things the whole thing sound ludicrous, horrifying, insane and down right stupid. Nutty as the story above description of God sounds we actually know it to be true. Wars are more often than not caused by an invitation from God, to a leader, calling him to send soldiers out to die and to kill. Come on…why would God create life to snuff it out in such horrifically violent ways. And for what? The landmass on this planet is pretty much fixed, though shrinking at the moment from rising seas. God, surly has everything and is and need and want of nothing, especially if he made it all up. The God that I learned about is all knowing and powerful and when you have all the power there is no more to get, ALL – is – ALL. As for the all-knowing Part of the equation, God already knows the outcome so why would he care about winners and losers?
As extraordinary and exquisitely beautiful as I knew this planet and all its life to be, I cannot of sound mind believe in that god. Whomever those leaders are channeling, whom they consider to be the One, calling them to war, and if that singular creator is entertained by being a trickster, deceiver and tormentor, I doubt that one to be the same that made life.
In the eye of the Eye of Providence, I painted with the tip of a sewing needle “fear the liar,” it was the absolute last gesture made to Bush Whacked. After writing those words, I stood up to take in my finished work. In that moment of standing, I read for the first time LIAR across the sky. A death like chill ran through me as my breath escaped me.