There is really no natural limit to the practice of loving kindness in meditation or in one’s life. It is an ongoing, ever-expanding realization of interconnectedness. It is also its embodiment. When you can love one tree or one flower or one dog or one place, or one person or yourself for one moment, you can find all people, all places, all suffering, all harmony in that one moment. Practicing in this way is not trying to change anything or get anywhere, although it might look like it on the surface. What it is really doing is uncovering what is always present. Love and kindness are here all the time, somewhere, in fact, everywhere. Usually our ability to touch them and be touched by them lies buried below our own fears and hurts, below our greed and our hatreds, below our desperate clinging to the illusion that we are truly separate and alone.
― Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
Being connected to modern culture requires a certain amount of screen time. You and I, in order to share these musings, which are surely worthwhile, have to spend time on a device. The paradox of our reality is that, the more time we spend in this two dimensional, textureless yet very real place, the less time we spend interacting with our neighbors and our local, three dimensional environment. What do we do when we need to remember to get out of the box?
My cats remind me by snuggling up to me at the keyboard, rumbling, enticing me with a friendly purr. My husband and friends remind me when it’s time to go to the store, or hang out, or take a walk. Then there are those quiet moments that we long for: at the beach, in our backyard gardens, climbing a mountain. There are also moments brought to us by art. At a museum, in our own homes, in community spaces, physical art, especially sculpture, reminds us of our desperate need for texture, touch and connection. It helps us get out of our shell.
Placuna Anima Maris (Oyster Soul of the Sea), Rowan Mersh and Bob Lorimer. Photo Credit Frankie Pike
I’d like to share the immensely beautiful and exquisitely textured art of Rowan Mersh with you. The irony of sharing pictures of physical art online does not escape me, but the beauty of the internet is that it can show us things that would not enter our normal day to day lives.
Rowan Mersh is a multi-media sculptor living in London. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, he has created a variety of work, from kinetic and interactive installations to textile sculptures. Today I will concentrate on his work with shells.
Asabikeshiinh V detail
Mersh slices the shells, which are sustainably harvested, grinds and polishes them and reassembles them by hand into structures and patterns which he then coats with a fluorocarbon resin that preserves and fuses the piece. It’s a painstaking process; the larger pieces take months to create. These Doxander vittatus shells, common name Vitate Conch, look as delicate as lace. I love the way Asabikeshiinh V seems to flow and move. Do you see a school of fish, or maybe tropical foliage?
Asabikeshiinh II. Photo Credit Frankie Pike.
Asabikeshiinh II detail. Photo Credit Frankie Pike.
As the shells fit together, they determine the design of the piece. The turritella shells in the piece above were laid with the largest in the center and the smallest at the outer edge. Asabikeshiinh II recalls the graphic designs of M.C. Escher, but with the magical addition of texture. Seen up close, it looks remarkably like a lace textile.
Here’s another variation on the theme, this one resembling a light and airy chrysanthemum in full bloom. Does it surprise you that asabikeshiinh is an Ojibwe word for “spider? The legend of the Spider Woman who protects the Ojibwe people tells that, as the Ojibwe became scattered across North America, the Spider Woman instructed women to construct dream catchers to filter out bad dreams and hold them until the sun could destroy them. I knew this legend only vaguely through commercial efforts to sell tourist goods and trendy healing products. Mersh’s works seem to reclaim some of the dignity and significance of the original story. Can you see the webs?
Asabikeshiinh Praegressus shows the evolution, or progression of the dreamcatcher idea. This time, Mersh has allowed the form to curve in on itself, creating a sort of nest or basket. The turritella shells here look more plantlike, almost like reeds, but still retain their weblike pattern.
Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II
Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II detail
Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II detail
Placuna Pro Dilectione Mea II looks as if it is made of soft feathers, but it is actually made of the shells of the windowpane oyster, the same shells that we often see in windcatchers. The hard, brittle, transparent discs, also known as Capiz Shell, are abundant in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. The title translates Oyster(shell)s for My Love.
Turitella Duplicata II
Turitella Duplicata II detail
Turitella Duplicata II detail
Returning to the turritella shells, Duplicated Turitella II leaves them mostly whole, sticking out like some strange sea plant or perhaps a nappy animal pelt. The closer you get, the sharper and more amazing the spines look. An illusion of motion is created by gradually varying the angle of the shells. Mersh’s talent for shaping, which involves thinking of each shell as a painter would think of a brushstroke, is astounding.
Pithváva Praegressus I detail
Pithváva Praegressus I
Pithváva is a deity of the Yurok people of the California coast. He created the dentalium, or “tooth” shell, considered by the Yurok to be sacred. Dentalium shells were frequently traded among First Nations People. This piece is an exploration of both the dentalium and the god, a physical representation that is almost kachina-like in its significance. It is Rowan Mersh’s connection between his material, the natural world and the metaphysical legends of the past that give his work not only beauty, but a reverant resonance. You long to reach out and touch it, and through it to connect to nature and the past.
All images used in accordance with Fair Use Policy for educational purposes. Please spend some time on Rowan Mersh’s amazing website, where he has many more pictures and works to share.
The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move.
After a few years and two floods, I’m finally painting again. Nothing calms me down better than putting some color on canvas and seeing what crops up.
The section of wall to the left of our fireplace has some damage from whatever hung there in the past. It’s a rather tall footprint, and I didn’t have anything to fill it, so I headed to the craft store and bought a canvas. I hung the bare canvas briefly and realized that I should have bought a taller one, as part of the damage still showed clearly. Instead of returning it, I decided to make this a mixed media piece and attach a fabric skirt to the bottom to extend it. I went through my fabric stash and, after some deliberation, settled on a gauzy green fabric embroidered with vines. I gathered it in the lower right corner and tied it off with some twine. To make the transition work and help anchor the fabric, I glued pine bark gathered in my back yard across the top of the skirt. Then I applied gesso to give the canvas some personality and texture.
The next step was to make the piece more cohesive and cut down the contrasts between the canvas, bark, and fabric. I began shading the canvas with tones of yellow with red and pink mixed in. I painted the bark, favoring metallics, yellows, greens and blues that would give the bark more color and some iridescence, exaggerating the edges and patterns that were already present. White gesso, which has more body than paint, created a smokestack effect across the upper third of the painting, while a blue creature with arms appeared in the middle third. At this point I had not yet made a conscious decision as to what this painting was going to present, but the hints were all there.
With the encouragement of Facebook friends, the painting became a beach scene featuring a starfish. As I began to paint and overpaint the starfish, building a nice layer of impasto (texture achieved by layering paint), I also detailed the foliage of a plant, intending to place a flower between the rocky bark and the creature, who appeared to be stranded on the sand. I worked more pink and red into the sand, which I later toned down.
I could not leave that beautiful creature to die on the sand, so I began to shade in some water, thinking he was in some inlet or tidal pool. The water grew deeper and more turquoise, then I decided it was deep enough to splash where it hit the starfish. White gesso created the illusion beautifully. The flower had its first incarnation and other plants sprang up on the shore. At some point, I noticed that there were pockets under the bark where I could put items… a bit of pine cone, some fuzzy dried plant matter. Have you ever cut up a pine cone? It’s a daunting task.
During the next phase I tried out some things that I liked, messed them up and then came up with better things. The only time that painting gets stressful is when I get attached to a particular item… a texture, a line, some shading… and it gets destroyed as I’m working. I’ve learned that, most of the time, the thing that comes next is more well-suited to the piece as a whole. Here are a few nice near misses.
Here is the final product, Outgoing Tide, my seventh completed painting. The shading on the sand and the plants took me some time, but I am pleased. There’s a painted seedpod added that I find a happy touch. Painting the sides black makes the piece stand out; I went back and did that to 5 of my other 6 paintings. They won’t need framing now. As far as perspective goes, I decided we are on our stomachs looking down over a rocky ridge past some plants in the foreground toward a tidal inlet surrounded by sand. The tide is going out, and that starfish will be carried back out to sea, far from the yellow flower that reaches out to him. From a damaged wall comes a vibrant new piece of art. I’m going to have to paint more.
My sister said that when the tide was out you could walk all the way to America; the waves pulled back that far. So far that the starfish forgot there ever was an ocean and stiffened with dismay. So far that the seaweed wept itself dry on the rocks with nostalgia.
The ground was so far below him, he could barely make it out through the grey mists that whirled around him, but he could feel how fast he was falling, and he knew what was waiting for him down there. Even in dreams, you could not fall forever. He would wake up in the instant before he hit the ground, he knew. You always woke in the instant before you hit the ground.
In our world, that’s the way you live your grown-up life: you must constantly rebuild your identity as an adult, the way it’s been put together it is wobbly, ephemeral, and fragile, it cloaks despair and, when you’re alone in front of the mirror, it tells you the lies you need to believe. For Papa, the newspaper and the coffee are magic wands that transform him into an important man. Like a pumpkin into a coach.
Infinite mercy flows continually
But you’re asleep and can’t see it.
The sleeper’s robe goes on drinking river water
While he frantically hunts mirages in dreams
And runs continually here and there shouting,
“There’ll be water further on, I know!”
It’s this false thinking that blocks him
From the path that leads to himself,
By always saying, “Further on!”
He’s become estranged from “here”:
Because of a false fantasy
He’s driven from reality.
Perception requires imagination because the data people encounter in their lives are never complete and always equivocal. For example, most people consider that the greatest evidence of an event one can obtain is to see it with their own eyes, and in a court of law little is held in more esteem than eyewitness testimony. Yet if you asked to display for a court a video of the same quality as the unprocessed data captured on the retina of a human eye, the judge might wonder what you were trying to put over. For one thing, the view will have a blind spot where the optic nerve attaches to the retina. Moreover, the only part of our field of vision with good resolution is a narrow area of about 1 degree of visual angle around the retina’s center, an area the width of our thumb as it looks when held at arm’s length. Outside that region, resolution drops off sharply. To compensate, we constantly move our eyes to bring the sharper region to bear on different portions of the scene we wish to observe. And so the pattern of raw data sent to the brain is a shaky, badly pixelated picture with a hole in it. Fortunately the brain processes the data, combining input from both eyes, filling in gaps on the assumption that the visual properties of neighboring locations are similar and interpolating. The result – at least until age, injury, disease, or an excess of mai tais takes its toll – is a happy human being suffering from the compelling illusion that his or her vision is sharp and clear.
We also use our imagination and take shortcuts to fill gaps in patterns of nonvisual data. As with visual input, we draw conclusions and make judgments based on uncertain and incomplete information, and we conclude, when we are done analyzing the patterns, that out “picture” is clear and accurate. But is it?
―Leonard Mlodinow, The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives