Sunday, February 28, 2010

if wishes were horses

I've always liked horses. They might not provide the most comfortable or practical means of transportation but there's something about the idea of horse that lets our imaginations about other ways of living run free. So rather than painting this weekend I spent some time on a couple of new drawings for paintings to come later. Draw while the pencil is hot.

Speaking of lively imaginations I've been reading some articles recently about the efforts being made to clone extinct species and wondering what to think of the idea. There's a project underway to find some useable DNA from one of the mammoths that are occasionally found when the permafrost melts. An egg from an Asian elephant would have the nucleus destroyed and replaced with the nucleus of a mammoth specimen. If successful, the resulting clone would be genetically all mammoth. Wow.

Another plan underway is to bring back aurochs. You may remember having seen their images in cave paintings - huge cattle with sweeping horns, seven feet tall at the shoulder and weighing over a ton that haven't been seen for at least 500 years. Caesar described them as: "a little below the elephant in size" and a favorite hunting prey for wild Germanic tribesmen. I wonder how you'd milk something like that?

There are plans as well to bring back the dodo (perhaps an ostrich would mother the egg) and the DNA of other endangered species is being collected and stored just in case the last real tiger dies in captivity like the Tasmanian Devil did at the turn of the 20th century.

What next, you may wonder? Well, the last one I read about was the plan to clone a Neanderthal. Really. You can read about it here but basically now we're talking about a human species that diverged from our line approximately 450,000 years ago and were very different from us in just about every way. Considering the difficulties for one surviving birth and infancy how would he or she see our world? Could one cope without peers or would the plan be to clone a small band and let them live on a northerly island with mammoths and aurochs ready to fill an ecological niche when we're gone?

Is it possible we need to figure out how to take better care of the world as it is before diving headlong into cloning the extinct? When I think about it for a bit I really don't have a very wild imagination at all.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Crow's dream

Crow here. I'm not going to say humans are nothing but trouble on this planet - then again.. Anyway, I met an interesting character this winter who has a substantial plan underway to start moving people into space. Robert Bigelow, the wealthy owner of of a hotel chain called 'Budget Suites of America', has undertaken to build inflatable hotels in near earth space. His Genesis I and II prototypes were flown into orbit from a Russian base in Siberia a few years ago. The next one is called Sundancer and will actually have three windows. Well, it's not going to be much fun being up in space if you can't look outside, is it?

Now it turns out NASA is getting excited about the idea too and are envisioning astronauts orbiting the Earth in roomy balloons instead of cramped tin cans.

Anyhow, I mentioned this to susan a couple of days ago and she's decided to paint a little portrait of yours truly at some unspecified future date as people move out into distant space in chains of interconnected bubbles. People who can only dream of flying now could do so easily when they're weightless. Even better, there'd be more room for those of us who like to fly in gravity wells and those who eat grass and those who eat the grass munchers. Don't worry, there'd still be room for people who prefer to sit rather than to fly and float.

Sounds like a win win proposition to me.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

sibling rivalry

I don't have any siblings and have no idea what that family circumstance would be like but I do have some very good friends - including some who visit me here. I like that. A few years ago when I first started blogging I'd pretty much given up drawing and painting mostly because very few people ever saw them. It's just not the done thing to drag your artwork to your job to show co-workers the results of non-work related work and besides that, if you've mentioned you paint and people insist they're usually taken aback by my subject matter. No landscapes? No pictures of fruit or flowers? Where do you come up with that stuff?

I finally began painting this one yesterday and just got to this point about an hour ago. I'm not sure if it's finished but I got tired and decided it's done enough for the moment. Generally it takes a week or two to paint something I'm sure to be happy with but right now I need to loosen up by working fast. Besides, I couldn't let another whole weekend go by without something new and silly to show my friends.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

meaning of light

Okay, I've stopped grumbling about my lack of artistic merit and will post a picture of an older painting I really do like. It was painted for my mother some years before she died and now it belongs to one of her closest friends. It's called 'Sun Dancer'.

Poetry is painting in words and Rumi said best what this picture means to me:

I died from minerality and became vegetable;
And from vegetativeness I died and became animal.
I died from animality and became man.
Then why fear disappearance through death?
Next time I shall die
Bringing forth wings and feathers like angels;
After that, soaring higher than angels -
What you cannot imagine,
I shall become that.

Monday, February 15, 2010

aiming high

Courting the Muse by Daniel Merriam

I'd like to be a good artist. More to the point, I'd like to be a very good watercolorist. I can draw moderately well but when it comes to painting there are some who are so many miles ahead I feel like the race is over while I'm still looking for the gate. It's the last day of a four day weekend, part of which I spent working on the painting a week test scheme I came up with around Christmas. It turns out to have been an overly ambitious plan. I get distracted quite easily by little things like household duties, grocery shopping, reading, watching movies - any excuse will do to avoid the hard work of trying with my limited skills to paint something I'll actually like.

Among modern practitioners one of my long-time favorites has been Daniel Merriam, born in the early 60's and raised with six siblings in a small New England town. His father was an architect and Daniel trained and worked as an architectural artist until the late 80's when he turned to fine art as a full time career. His skill as a draftsman is clear but what really impresses me is his amazing ability to utilize color, particularly over very large areas. Almost all of his paintings are large - some in the range of 4x5' - and I recall reading an interview with him years ago where he said once a painting is begun he stays with it from wet paper to dry until it's complete. He also said he paints almost everything with a number 2 Windsor Newton Series 7 round brush. For those who don't know that's a very small tool.

By yesterday morning I had this drawing (with most of the pencil marks lifted) ready to begin coloring. It was raining and I had no excuse to go out so I spent the day mixing colors and testing gradations on a cheap watercolor block I keep for that purpose. The drawing is bigger than the last few and I was afraid of making a bad decision. Since my art books are in storage I decided this morning to go find some inspiration from what Daniel Merriam has been up to recently. Although I have a fair supply of high quality paints I decided perhaps I just need some new colors and so I went to visit another Daniel (Smith). Any excuse will do in a storm - including writing a blog post rather than painting.

"The fabric of the night sky glides off the brush in this heavenly new shade. Granulating lunar black floats above a phthalo undertone, perfect for capturing a moonlit sky. Inky as midnight, or diffused as the moon on water, semi-transparent Lunar Blue lifts beautifully, leaving behind a mere shadow of itself. This moody new watercolor is sure to entrance."

With descriptions like that you'll understand that painting something beautiful should be as easily done as water flowing off a ducks back. Now that I've written a post and have ordered a couple of new colors I have no further excuse for not heading back to the drawing board.

A girl can always dream. See you soon :-)

Friday, February 12, 2010

cantankerous crow

Crow here. On cold winter nights when it's more comfortable on a perch here in susan's living room than outside flying, I enjoy alternate history, ie, whether or not there were higher human cultures before yours that, like Atlantis, sank beneath waves both literal and figurative over the course of the millennia of human existence. I also like reading about how humanity might possibly develop and where you might go as you move inexorably into the future. Often the most difficult place to be is in the present.

Avoidable human misery is generally not caused so much by stupidity than by ignorance, especially ignorance about yourselves. You inhabit a global civilization in which the most important elements - transportation, communications, medicine, protecting the environment - depend on science and technology. Yet things have been arranged in such a way that very few people understand those subjects. Media programming is generally focused on the lowest common denominator with the result being that study and learning can be seen not only as unnecessary but undesirable. It's not only sad but dangerous to have an uneducated majority in a modern democratic society.

There have always been power elites whose main interest is in manipulating the populace and if you're desperate enough you become all too willing to abandon reason and skepticism. People in general are very susceptible to believing things that are in their own self interest so when powerful corporate structures determine that it's more profitable to deny something they hire people willing to deride the science or history:

'How can you say there's global warming now that the east coast is covered in 6' of snow?' If the population in general had been exposed to even a modest level of scientific education they'd know that weather systems are both complex and chaotic. A small change in global ocean temperature can cause unexpected and likely unwelcome results.

'The government plan for single payer insurance is a plot to take away your health care.' Little or no mention is made of the fact that every modern industrialized society has had great success with government mandated health insurance for the past 60 years.

'Regulation of large banks will mean you can't get a loan to send your child to college or to buy a home or anything else.' The history of general economic growth and what allowed for the largest expansion of a comfortable middle class came from the regulations established over banks after the Depression.

'We must let bygones be bygones and not bring criminal charges against the last administration.' The trials at Nuremberg were a lesson to the world that there were serious consequences for those prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany. All they did was to invade sovereign nations who were not a threat to them.

'We have to continue war on an idea (terrorism) in order to protect you far into an undetermined future.' Now anybody who isn't aware of my old friend President Eisenhower's final address to the United States warning of the dangers inherent in the military-industrial complex has probably spent too much time watching television rather than reading.

Yes, I enjoy immersing myself in alternate possibilities but I still understand the difference between fantasy and reality. These are just a few brief examples of how ignorance is disseminated to the population at large and I wish more people would spend their time reading and talking to one another like you do on the nets.

It's too nice a day to stay inside so I think I'll shake the dust off my wings and go to see if my friends the swallows are back from Capistrano. By the way, have you ever seen squadrons of geese returning north? I'm going to have to ask them if they fly commercial on their way back.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

just passing through 2

Okay, I still don't know where they're coming from or where they're going to either. I'm not so sure it matters. All I know is it's time to start another in hopes that eventually sense will come of it all.. or maybe not. Perhaps we're just too close to see the big picture :-)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

fragility of information

The Rosetta Stone, discovered by soldiers in Napoleon's army in 1799, was found to have three different bands of writing inscribed on it. The top band contained Egyptian hieroglyphs, the second an Egyptian script called demotic, and the third band was in ancient Greek. Since the Greek language was still in use, translation of the rest of the stone was possible. Both demotic and hieroglyphic languages had been lost to the Egyptians more than a thousand years earlier.

I realized a few weeks ago I'm going to have to take new digital pictures of the older paintings in my small collection because the originals were lost when the new computer crashed a while back. Now that's really not much of a problem but it made me wonder what would happen to society if all the computers went down? It's even possible that some catastrophe could strike, say a massive solar flare, that didn't kill us but did destroy the power grids. If something serious happened would we know how to put things back together?

Most of us have experienced losing access to music, movies and video games simply because the technology has changed so much in recent memory but we're generating more information than ever before and storing it on ever more transient media. Much of what is being lost is hardly essential. I mean future generations aren't going to fail because you lost the family photo album when your hard drive died but it would be a very different story if all the bank and financial records disappeared, never mind medical records and technical manuals. Every time Amazon tries to sell me a Kindle I wonder what they have planned for books. Paper isn't manufactured to last for decades either but surely would outlive the plastic screens. Most of the digital storage media that's used in the world today has a short shelf life.

So far as I know they never figured out what they'd write on signs to warn people in the distant future about the dangers around nuclear waste sites. I haven't heard about that topic in a while but don't think it was resolved. I wonder what kind of Rosetta Stones we could develop for ourselves just in case things changed very suddenly? Is it even worth thinking about?

Maybe we should be leaving repositories of knowledge for our descendants. Perhaps we should be making copies of wikipedia printed on acid free paper or carving the basic ideas and history of our culture on clay tablets that we can fire and seal away somewhere. It wouldn't cost very much and someday might prove helpful. It would be a good idea too if education covered more practical skills and apprenticeship - a reasonable alternative to current pastimes designed to increase consumption.

Every civilization thinks it will last forever, and none of them do.

I met a traveler from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.