Rock and Plants: A New Direction in My Practice

Hello,  It’s been a while since I’ve paid any attention to this site.  My most recent posts mainly had to  do with music I produced with my brother which ended up in a CD titled “Dancing With Death”.  Given the title, it is not surprising that thousands of people have been eager to listen to this music (just kidding).  Over the past six months or so, I have found myself trying to make sculptures consisting of found rocks, stones, sticks and other natural materials.  I’ll probably write more about this later, but one of the factors leading to this new interest has been the amazing results of my wife’s succulent growing practice.  Below is an article from SDVoyager, an online magazine that features the work of artists in the San Diego area.  The article describes how our garden has become sort of a  collaborative art installation and includes eight pictures.

Meet Steve and Cherie Wilson of Eureka Gardens

Today we’d like to introduce you to Steve and Cherie Wilson.

Steve and Cherie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
All throughout our 53 years of marriage, Cherie and I have dabbled in various arts and crafts; primarily as a way to balance out our left-brain oriented jobs (Steve as a college professor and Cherie as a teacher and CEO of various organizations). I played drums in bands most of my life but also experimented with photography, metal sculpture and most recently, painting. Cherie has immersed herself in creating pottery, stained glass and jewelry. Although we sometimes worked in the same mediums and supported each other, we usually worked independently.

Over the past 3 years, however, our creative efforts have become more of a collaborative process, and our garden has become our “art” piece. What might be considered an outdoor art installation, our garden includes pieces of art produced earlier in our lives, items from other artists and newly created pieces, many of which are living. More importantly, our orientation to the creative process has changed to what might be called an “art for art’s sake” perspective; that is, being less concerned about how what we create is viewed by others, but working for the intrinsic rewards of creating something together.

Several things led to this shift in how we practice art. When we retired to California in 2003, I decided to take some painting courses, despite the fact that I was scared to death of the idea of painting. Cherie started taking classes offered by the Vista Gem and Mineral Society and ended up teaching classes for them and began producing jewelry at an astonishing rate. After several years of classes, I was displaying abstract paintings in various shows and galleries around North County, and Cherie was selling her jewelry to friends and neighbors.

In 2007, our son Andy and his wife Jen opened a wine bar in Carlsbad and invited us to display and sell our art in the store. The shop remained open until 2011, and we were quite pleased with the chance to share our art with the public and make enough income to finance our creative pursuits. When the shop was sold, neither of us felt like we wanted to seek out other venues for selling our art and, although we did do some commissioned pieces, most of our art was produced for gifts and as donated pieces for fundraising purposes.

Then in 2014, we decided to downsize to a single story house that was approximately half the size of the house we were living in. After about six months of focusing on the interior renovations, we were ready to tackle the lackluster yard. Despite the fact that the yard mainly consisted of a lot of bad grass and a couple of bushes, we saw it as an empty canvas presenting unlimited potential. With comparatively less wall space inside the new house, I had relegated a large number of my paintings to a storage shed.

So, early on, we made the decision to coat many of these extra canvases with polyurethane and hang them on the outside of the house and the fences that surround it.

At the same time, Cherie started propagating succulents (with the same vigor she had previously poured into jewelry-making) and began planting them in newly established beds around the property. Cherie had established gardens in all of the places we had lived previously, but she was excited by the idea of working with plants that would grow all year round and with minimum water use. The placement of the new plants was designed to enhance or complement the existing artwork.

A new concrete sidewalk was poured surrounding hand-made stepping stones we had embedded with old jewelry remnants and other found objects. Then a friend offered us a bunch of African masks and wooden sculptures that we weatherproofed and placed in the emerging garden/installation. At the time, I was engaged in producing music on my computer and not creating much in the way of visual art, but I was very much enjoying the fruits of Cherie’s green thumb. Then one day I was taking a break from the computer and just walking around the yard and was overtaken by the emerging Gestalt of the garden.

The various succulents reminded me of “primitive” sculptures and seemed a perfect compliment to the African objects we had placed in the garden. Also, most of the paintings hanging in the garden have an “ethnic” or “primitive” quality to them. The beautifully complex succulent sculptures, created by Cherie, seemed to call for simple or more “primitive” forms to compliment them. Suddenly, I sensed some unifying theme to what was evolving in our garden and a vision of how I could contribute. Soon after, I began producing what might be considered ritual objects (totem/fetish-like sculptures) of various sizes that were inspired by the vibrations of the garden and are now scattered throughout.

Most are made of rocks, bamboo, feathers, hemp, and other natural materials. For the first time in my life, I find myself producing art pieces with almost no concern about whether others will appreciate them or not. Each object has a special meaning for me, and many are directly inspired by a particular arrangement of succulents created by Cherie. Rather than thinking of these objects as separate art pieces, I see them as contributions to the garden art installation as a whole. In turn, the placement of Cherie’s plants, in pots and in the ground are inspired by the objects of art, both old and new.

As new sculptures are formed, and as plants grow, the garden becomes an ever-changing labor of love that constantly calls for collaborative efforts on our part. We call it “Eureka Gardens” because visitors say that it evokes a playful sense of discovery. Although there is no desire to reap commercial rewards, we, like all artists, are eager to share their efforts with others and hear about how they experience the garden. In addition to several rabbits and many birds who visit daily, we often provide informal tours for neighbors, door to door vendors and delivery people who express an interest in what we are doing.

In the past year and a half, the garden has also provided a backdrop for three fundraisers, two home concerts (one featuring my band Retro G.A.S.), two tours by local garden clubs, a meditation retreat, a shamanic drum circle, and many private parties. Next up is “Show and Tell in the Kinder Garden” an event where participants will bring objects to be displayed in the garden and offer insights as to how it expresses their “inner kindergartener.”

Has it been a smooth road?
Well, collaboration requires letting go of one’s personal vision and compromising; this is especially challenging for artists.

However, we have found that the final product usually turns out to be better than what either of us could have imagined on our own. Also, we are constantly challenged by change. Plants grow, and new art objects present themselves requiring rearranging of the space.

Each day we see new ways of shaping the garden. It has become an art piece that is never finished, thus offering us endless creative inspiration.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Eureka Gardens story. Tell us more about the business.
We sell art but are most proud of simply providing enlightening and meditative experiences when people visit Eureka Gardens.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Who knows where all of this will go.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 977 Darwin Drive Oceanside CA, 92056
  • Email: 123stevewilson@gmail.com

WHAT THE______ WAS THAT VIDEO ABOUT?

I’ve received lots of feedback on the video contained in the the last blog post, and none said anything like  “I loved your video, I couldn’t stop playing it over and over”.  Most of the comments I received I’ve placed in one of two categories:

1) What a Yucky experience!

2)  What the ______ was that all about?

The two are interrelated but let me start with “What the ____was that all about?”  I relate to this question as I imagine that I’ll be thinking something like that to myself during my final minutes here on earth. I think this is another way of asking “what does it all mean?” Whether talking about art, Zen or life in general, this is an important question and one that is hard to answer.

Whenever I’m asked what my art means, I think of Choreographer Isadora Duncan’s response to a similar question.  She said “If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it.”

Or, what about this?  People say that what we are all seeking is meaning for life. I think what we are really seeking is an experience of being  alive……Joseph Campbell.

I  get it. There are things in life and art that are hard to put into words.  On the other hand, we humans need to communicate about things- that is how we connect- and so I can not completely dismiss such queries.  Even though he disputes the importance of meaning, Campbell’s quote above provides meaning. As Lehrer points out in Imagination: How Creativity Works, both the right and left brain is integral to creativity. Often we artists don’t want to explain ourselves because we are just lazy.

Ok, so I’m  going to try to energize my left brain and try to provide an answer to “What the ________was that all about?”  For this video, the meaning for me is something that  evolved over time.  The best I can do is tell the story of how it evolved.

Most of my paintings have been abstractions using forms and colors etc. that I found pleasant or attractive.  I was not concerned with telling a story or with making commentaries on suffering.  There were a couple of exceptions, one of which was a collage/painting of a woman who looked very sad.  Most of the woman was painted except for the nose, eyes and mouth.  For these features, I pasted on cut-outs of these parts from an enlarged photograph’s of my wife’s face. My wife is not a sad person but the result was a very sad looking woman.  That prompted me to glue dowel rods vertically on the frame so she looked like she was in jail.  When finished, I concluded that , in some vague way, the piece said something about the way we all restrict ourselves by putting up conceptual barriers;  nothing very original and based primarily on my study of Zen.  I called it “Zenda Gets Blue Sometimes” (see painting below).

Sometime later, a group of artists at The Vista Zen Center were asked to put on an art show at the annual Anti-Trafficking Awareness Walk” sponsored by Soroptimists International of Vista.  Not having ever thought of depicting or commenting on human trafficking in my art work, I chose a couple of paintings, including “Zenda Gets Blue Sometimes” to display at the exhibit. A picture of the painting was included in an article on the Walk published in the Union-Tribune..  In a backhanded way, I had produced art that meant something and not a particularly pleasant something.  I was left with the weirdness of having a painting constructed out of parts of my wife’s face as a poster for the victims of human trafficking.

The artist’s at the rally also set up a tent intending to call to mind the reality of human trafficking.  The tent contained a circle of chairs around a small empty bed with a teddy bear on it.  Viewers were invited to sit in the tent and “bear witness” to the horrors  of human trafficking.  Again, I saw that art can be something more than just pretty pictures and that there may be some value in creating yucky images; bearing witness to the reality of horrors that our culture would rather forget.

Later, when I started making art videos I began working with abstract and engaging imagery combined with spacey music, similar to my paintings.  However, I was struck by the narrative potential of video and began wondering how I could combine pleasant and unpleasant images in the same video.  Life consists of both of these poles and, as a Zen student, I felt that I needed to embrace both. The video in question is one of my experiments in this vein.

The title of my video “Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing one Sees” is also the title of Lawrence Weschler’s biography of artist Robert Irwin. It is clear from this book that Irwin believed that the viewer is the key ingredient in the “seeing” of art and that he hoped to create art that had a “presence” for the viewer.  For Irwin this meant that the art should help the viewer let go of or “forget” about its meaning.

Garden Designed by Robert Irwin

What does the video mean?  Life is sometimes Yucky?  More than one viewer tried to speed up the video or turn in off turning the realistic beating clip.

So, yes the video was supposed to be yucky.  But, as the title suggests, there is more.  I was interested in whether  I (and others) could basically forget the Yucky feelings and thoughts, if presented with something comparatively pleasant and distracting.?

In the art world, as well as the Zen world, we talk a lot about being in the present moment which inevitable means letting go of thoughts and expectations about the past or future. Zen writer Eithe Dogen wrote

To understand the Buddha Way is to understand the

Self.  To understand the self is to forget the self.

                                                   

When we forget the internal dialogue that fuels our sense of self, we actually are remembering something as well.  We remember the joy of doing something just for the pleasure of it.  Yo Yo Ma told  Lehrer that he always tells professional musicians to aspire to the state of the beginne where one plays only because it feels good.  This sounds a lot like Suzuki’s “Beginner’s Mind.  But, we might also remember the unpleasant sensations of earlier times.  In fact, I will argue in future postings, that we need to experience the unpleasant as well as the pleasantness of being in our bodies.

The kind of remembering that happens by forgetting the ordinary self reminds me of the Shamanic use of the term “remembering”.  According to Eliade, prospective shamans in a variety of cultures have a dream-like experience, either while sleeping or triggered by illness or hallucinogens of being torn apart (“de-membered”) by a spirit or wild animal.   Later the person with have a “re-membering” experience, ” which leads to a feeling of being whole again and becoming a shaman. By facing the unpleasantness of our somatic being, we are free to experience the joy of the same.

In “forgetting” self-concepts, we open ourselves to a wider, more wholistic experience of whatever is happening.  Lehrer, who sees this forgetting as an important component of creativity, cites Yo Yo Ma as having the ability to forget himself when performing and remember the joy of simply playing the cello.

Most artist speak of their practice as their meditation where they can forget themselves by playing in the present moment and hoping that those who view or hear their work will also forget their ordinary selves and “be in the moment” if only momentarily.

That’s the reason the video begins and ends in a museum or gallery.  In-between are potentially positive and negative experiences that mirror our everyday lives.  But as I’m sure you know, no song or painting or performance can pull us into the present if we are not willing or able.  A new painting hanging in our house may transfix us for a while but before long it is likely to become another piece of furniture.

Meditation and other spiritual disciplines can help us learn techniques for being in the present moment at more and more times as both pleasant and unpleasant  present moments roll by.  In so doing Life becomes Art.

 

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