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birds

The headline in the Parrot’s Weekly read: Titantic Sunk. No Parrots Hurt.

–Katharine Whitehorn, quoted in The Artful Universe by John D. Barrow

Oh the power of a point of view…Parrots may not be your thing, but something is.

Washington’s poet laureate Elizabeth Austen speaks to our proclivity to narrowbanding in her piece, How poetry can help us say the unsayable:

WE make our world by what we choose to see.

I wrote that line years ago, and have copied it from notebook to notebook, waiting for the rest of the poem to arrive. But lately I’ve begun wondering if maybe it’s less a fragment of a future poem and more a manifesto.

At first glance, it might seem like an endorsement of confirmation bias, that all-too-human tendency to only value evidence that confirms our existing ideas and opinions.

Confirmation bias is most insidious as it relates to beliefs we’re not conscious of: We filter the world around us, selectively noticing, believing and remembering things that affirm our ideas, all the while unaware of the unconscious editing we’re doing moment by moment.

We make our world by what we choose to see.

The operative word is “choose.” We can actively cultivate—seek out, take in, consider—perspectives that complicate and expand our view and, thus, our world. Or not.

And from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

From the mountain you see the mountain. We animate what we can, and we see only what we animate. Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them.

These jewel-like mantras feel very useful, and they will fit easily in my backpack of supplies as I head to “new to me” destinations in Asia.

It isn’t hard to get caught in a life that is way too focused on tracking parrots—or whatever it is that consumes the conscious mind day in and out. And as Emerson suggests, we can animate the world anew no matter where we are. But one of the best aspects of a trip to somewhere else for me is the involuntary shift in the frame I have been using. That dislocation forces my hand, gratefully. So yes, I am so ready for a full scale reboot.

I’ll be back Slow Musing in June.

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A few installation shots from my recent show at the Morris Graves Museum in Eureka California, Behind, Beyond, Beneath: Scaling the Continuum. At the opening event on Saturday night, over 800 people came through the museum. I met some extraordinary people and had a terrific evening.

Special thanks:

A stellar team and museum staff—Jemima Harr, Janine Murphy, Laurey Sullivan, Virginia Wood, Laurie Arupa Richardson, Lisa Polack, Dennis Winstead and the Humboldt Arts Council.

Kevin Simmers, Ed Carrigan and Alison Yerxa for being my road trip buddies.

Dale Boudreau et al who made the long drive from Seattle.

Martine Bisagni, Amani Ansari and Brooklyn Workshop Gallery for joining in with an exquisite arrangement of flowers. The colors were perfect.

A few installation shots before the crowd arrived…

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My new exhibit, Behind, Beyond, Beneath: Scaling the Continuum will open April 25 at the Morris Graves Museum of Art in Eureka California. The show features paintings from a variety of series that I have worked on over the last five years but held together by an ongoing exploration into the “micro to macro” span of the physical world. As I stated in my introduction to the show, “What I am continuously drawn to is the rich continuum that is materiality, from images of microscopic particles and single cell organisms to NASA’s hyperspectral radiographs of the multiverse.”

Just in the way of background, Morris Graves (1910-2001) was an American artist whose interests in Eastern philosophy and the careful observation of the physical world greatly informed his work. I have long felt alignment with Graves’ sensibilities, captured succinctly in words he wrote to a friend: “In painting, one must convey the feeling of the subject, rather than the imperfect physical truth.” There is a sense of coming full circle to return to California and to have an exhibit of my work in a museum space that bears his name.

I will be at the museum for the opening and hope to see some of you there that night.

DEBORAH BARLOW
Behind, Beyond, Beneath
Scaling the Continuum

Morris Graves Museum of Art
636 F Street
Eureka CA 95501
707 442 0278

April 25 – June 7, 2015
Opening Reception: May 2, 6-9PM

A beautiful catalog has been produced for the exhibit and includes essays by Linda Jones Gibbs and Kathryn Kimball, 26 color plates and a number of detailed close ups. If you are interested in purchasing a copy, you can do so here.

Last but by no means least: One of the paintings from the show, Nigralle, is featured on the cover of poet Todd Hearon’s most recent volume of poems, No Other Gods, published by Salmon Poetry. I love Todd’s work and am so excited to be part of his wonderful new collection.

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GreatSL

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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Inside a church in Chimayó

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Altar in Chimayó

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Remembrance in Chimayó

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Crosses on a fence in Chimayó

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

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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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