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A Message from the Wanderer

Today outside your prison I stand
and rattle my walking stick: Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.

Years ago I bent my skill to keep my
cell locked, had chains smuggled to me in pies,
and shouted my plans to jailers;
but always new plans occured to me,
or the new heavy locks bent hinges off,
or some stupid jailer would forget
and leave the keys.

Inside, I dreamed of constellations—
those feeding creatures outlined by stars,
their skeletons a darkness between jewels,
heroes that exist only where they are not.

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as—often, in light, on the open hills—
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then—even before you see—
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.

That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.

Now—these few more words, and then I’m
gone: Tell everyone just to remember
their names, and remind others, later, when we
find each other. Tell the little ones
to cry and then go to sleep, curled up
where they can. And if any of us get lost,
if any of us cannot come all the way—
remember: there will come a time when
all we have said and all we have hoped
will be all right.

There will be that form in the grass.

–– William E. Stafford

Last week my brother Tom passed away after a 13 month battle with cancer. My enormous and sprawling family gathered earlier this week to remember his life. The hole he left will never disappear. You just settle in next to the hole, and every day you remember that it used to be filled with an outrageously alive, hysterically comedic, rascally rule breaking force of nature. In the words of Anne Lamott, master of how to live with loss:

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly, that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.

Limping along as we are, we also know that nothing stays the same. Groundlessness is life. Flying into Salt Lake, a drought-shrunken Great Salt Lake no longer keeps the shoreline where my partner David’s grandfather could swim from Tooele to Antelope Island. My childhood haunts in Layton and Bountiful are mostly paved over and suburbified. But Stafford helps. It is that form in the grass, as he has written, that thing you cannot see at first but can feel. But then you do see. Then you do get the image.

I believe that comes later.

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A Week Away

Titian’s Danaë from the Capodimonte Museum, Naples, on display at the National Museum in Washington DC

I’m in DC for the week. There is always so much to see at the National Gallery, especially when accompanied by two engaging Renaissance art historians (AKA my daughter Kellin and her husband Sean, visiting from Florence.)

I’ll be back August 11.

Great Salt Lake, my birthland

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

–Excerpt from East Coker V, Four Quartets, by T. S. Eliot

I featured this T. S. Eliot excerpt on Slow Muse earlier this year, but its message is still resonating. I am short on words these last few days, so that is when you really have to rely on the wordsmithers, the geniuses of language to get you through until your own words return.

My languagelessness is about home, about the deepest connections we carry in our lives. I just returned from a week in Utah where I was at a gathering of my far flung family. During that one week another of our elders passed, a baby was born, rusty connections were rekindled, bodies were soothed in the hot springs in Idaho, Kouing Amans were devoured en masse, and an enormous feast brought all of us to table with an outpouring of mirth and gratitude at just being together. Maybe your family has mastered family reunionism, but this was a sweet and rare moment for an oversized (six siblings and nearly 40 nieces and nephews with all the accompanying significant others), opinionated and highly raucous family.

To quote Dean Young in Recklessn ess, some things must be made opaque to be seen.

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Thanks to many friends who joined me at the reception for my show at Morpeth Contemporary in Hopewell New Jersey on Saturday night. Hats off in particular to Ruth Morpeth and her crew for putting this work together with such a careful eye and thoughtful sense of the space. Comingling my paintings with Donna McCullough‘s beguiling sculptural pieces tickled my eye all night. Her exquisitely crafted and paradoxical pieces—part armor and part party dress, constructed out of recycled metal—carried on unexpectedly easy conversations with my layered, atmospheric, hide-and-seek paintings.

The show runs through October 12. For more information about stopping by: Morpeth Contemporary.



















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Kadartha, 60 x 84″, mixed media on canvas, one of several large pieces that will be in the show at Morpeth Contemporary

For any of you in and near New Jersey: A show of my new paintings will be on view from September 14 through October 12 at Morpeth Contemporary in Hopewell New Jersey. Ruth Morpeth has a beautiful space and an exceptional eye, and I am very excited to see how she puts the work together.

The reception will be on Saturday, September 21, from 6-8pm. I would love to meet any Slow Muse friends IRL. Stop by if you can.


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The Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve, Layton Utah





My mother grew up less than a mile from what is now a Nature Conservancy preserve on the Great Salt Lake. This landscape has fresh water and salt marshes, ten foot high grasses, ponds and pools, mudflats and fields. The colors and textures change constantly throughout the year, so every visit is a surprise. I have never been to the cemetery where my mother is buried (just a few miles north of this place) but coming here feels like the best way to commune with what was my mother’s earthly substrate.

The preserve is also an important stopover for all kinds of migrating birds, a rest area for pilgrims winging their way from Canada to Central and South America. How appropriate. Many creatures come here before continuing on journeys that cycle rather than terminate, perpetuate rather than complete. This spot is my personal sanctuary of remembrance, my way of staying connected to what has been.

And lucky for us, there are so many ways to do that. It is often hard to describe, and sometimes you just have to be with it rather than talk about it. I had that feeling over and over during my time in Utah and New Mexico. Two weddings, each with specific rituals to sanctify and seal. The desert landscape, full of evocation and imagination. The quiet power of the little village that harbors El Santuario de Chimayó, a pilgrimage site outside Santa Fe. Crosses. Saints. Roadside altars. It is an immense net of remembrance and sacredness.

In All Things Shining, authors Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly explore how literature can help us reconnect passionately with the world. They take us through a tour of meaning from the works of Homer, Aeschylus, Augustine, Dante, Kant, Melville and David Foster Wallace. (The chapter on Moby Dick should be required reading.) In redefining what is sacred, they quote DFW:”You more have to come at the aesthetic stuff obliquely, to talk around it, or to try to define it in terms of what it is not.”

Dreyfus and Kelly add this point:

This glancing approach is inclined towards reconciliation instead of purification. It involves a fully human notion of the sacred that lives not in the repudiation or transcendence of pain and boredom and anger and angst, but rather in the recognition that these difficult aspects of our existence live together with the sacred moments, that they complete one another, and make sense of one another.

Meaning is afloat, in the grasslands of the Great Salt Lake and the desert skies over Chimayó. Leaning into reconciliation rather than purification feels right to me.

Chimayo copy
Inside a church in Chimayó

Altar in Chimayó

Remembrance in Chimayó

Crosses on a fence in Chimayó

After enough years, the crosses placed on this tree have become embedded in the bark

Desert sky (This is not painted. Amazingly.)

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Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake City

In Mary Ruefle‘s Madness, Rack and Honey, she references the concept of “unhitching.” The very word delights me: the idea of not being tethered or contained, of being let loose.

It can mean so many different things of course, but Ruefle is referencing its particular use in Claude Lévi-Strauss‘s Tristes Tropiques, a book that she says “for better or for worse, changed the views of Western civilization in the twentieth century.”

The full quote from Lévi-Strauss is below, a wild and rhapsodic invitation:

When the spectrum or rainbow of human cultures has finally sunk into the void created by our frenzy; as long as we continue to exist and there is a world, that tenuous arch linking us to the inaccessible will still remain, to show us the opposite course to that leading to enslavement; man may be unable to follow it, but its contemplation affords him the only privilege of which he can make himself worthy; that of arresting the process, of controlling the impulse which forces him to block up the cracks in the wall of necessity one by one and to complete his work at the same time as he shuts himself up within his prison; this is a privilege coveted by every society, whatever its beliefs, its political system or its level of civilization; a privilege to which it attaches its leisure, its pleasure, its peace of mind and its freedom; the possibility, vital for life, of unhitching, which consists—Oh! fond farewell to savages and explorations!—in grasping, during the brief intervals in which our species can bring itself to interrupt its hive-like activity, the essence of what it was and continues to be, below the threshold of thought and over and above society: in the contemplation of a mineral more beautiful than all our creations; in the scent that can be smelt at the heart of a lily and is more imbued with learning than all our books; or in the brief glance, heavy with patience, serenity and mutual forgiveness, that, through some involuntary understanding, one can sometimes exchange with a cat.

I have read this passage about ten times, and every pass through feels like the words moved off the page since the last time I was there. It’s a full spectrum quote.

But it also feels like an apropos parting nod. I will be away from Slow Muse for two weeks while I am in Utah and New Mexico. As always when traveling, I fantasize about being engaged in all manner of unhitchedness, wandering far afield of hive-like activities. I will be looking for an entrance into the contemplation of mineral, and of the lily’s heart.

Adieu til June 19.

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Close up of the surface of a painting from the Orbilinia series

I am honored—and really humbled—by a terrific post written about me and my work by Sloan Nota. We have been friends for about 20 years. While our orientation to many aspects of art and art making are very different, we share a mutual and deep respect.

Sloan is wicked clever, devilishly smart and so companionable. But what stood out for me in this post was how close she comes to the bone of how I work and think about art making. I feel seen. That is a very satisfying feeling.

Deborah Barlow: Blogger, Painter, Force of Nature

A few excerpts:

Barlow reads widely across disciplines and dives deeply. You can go to her blog assured that she has winnowed out the bloviators and winkled out the juicy bits from writers who are real. She also engages with the other arts — visual, musical, dramatic — at an intense pace that would fell me.

My sense with Barlow’s paintings is that I’m not looking at them, I’m looking into them. Falling into the same kind of space you dial through with a potent microscope. It’s not my space, me standing in the laboratory twiddling knobs, but a space caught in a drop of liquid on a slide or between a glassy painting surface and a canvas.

For us big plodding human meats these are invisible realms available only through a lens. The lens we look through here is our idea of paintings: they hang on a wall and we interact with an image — a face, a place, a maze. Except these imagesless paintings are here to tempt you deep into the paint. There are bubbles, flecks, drifts and no signpost for scale. As at the microscope, you have left your scale at the portal.

In a studio visit I was introduced to the painter’s technique. Colors get laid on the white canvas, texture builds up, bumps, crevices. Then texture is taken down — sanded maybe? So its Himalayas become eroded plains. I was granted permission to finger this surface, the pigments’ tooth. More layers then, lots of gel medium to retain visibility into the new world abuilding. Additions, erosions, and at the very end clear layers smoothed to a glassy optic. Your window and invitation into the no-image that paint can become. This is not mark-making.

Spend some time and check out Sloan’s work on Green as Sky: A gambol in the goodies. It is luminious, unexpected, inventive and engaging.

It is a bit like raising a child, having an exhibit: it takes a village to bring it into form. Orbilinia, a show of my recent paintings at the Woodbury Museum in Utah, was an (art) barn raising that needed the essential help of friends, family (I have the world’s best sisters) and an extraordinary museum staff—curator Melissa Hempel, installation wizard Allison Hamnett and lighting genie Larry Revoir. (For a complete guide to the show click here.)

A few images of the installation and the opening…










At the artist reception, March 12, 2013

















(Photographs by Julie Pierce, Keegan Drawe and Anne Call House.)

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Bharry (54 x 72″), Indradah (48 x 84″) and Kadartha (60 x 84″), from a show of new paintings called Orbilinia

I’m out of town again, this time to Utah for my show at the Woodbury Museum. I’ll be back home March 21.

In the meantime, I’m including a bit about this show, the largest exhibition of my career. If you live in Utah, please stop by.

New Paintings by Deborah Barlow

Artist reception: Tuesday, March 12, 5-8PM

Woodbury Museum
575 E University Parkway
Orem UT 84097
801 863-4200
March 11-16, 2013

More about the exhibit: Orbilinia

Orbilinia_300 copy

Note: Many thanks to my daughter Kellin—she was kind enough to design the show postcard from her remote perch in Florence.

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