The Final Chapter


I would like to share below some heartfelt comments by readers of the new edition of Barbara’s biography. It is gratifying to think that such a unique and talented individual will not be totally forgotten.

My archival work on her behalf, however, has unfortunately come to a premature halt, as I have been arbitrarily denied access to her paintings – as well as, perhaps more tragically, decades of Barbara’s personal journals. Her facility with words rivaled her dexterity with a paintbrush and in later years she was immensely excited at the prospect of her life and work being documented. Sadly, that will not happen to the extent she envisioned.

A nurse assistant who described his first meeting with Barbara, a woman more than 40 years his elder, as “love at first sight,” is selling off her canvases to finance his education. I have repeatedly requested that I be allowed to photograph them before they disappear, to no avail. And precious growing pains, the daily sobs and delights articulated in her journal seem destined for the rubbish heap.

Be that as it may, on behalf of Barbara I would like to thank all who have so graciously patronized The Hawk’s Perch. Your presence, your comments, your kindness, your loyalty – each of you was so very much appreciated by Barbara, perhaps more than you know. Many times she told me how her mood soared after a purchase, or a favorable comment. “Too delish!” was a favorite expression of hers when describing a joyful moment.

Thank you,

John Hayes

oops.john@gmail.com

All three volumes of Barbara’s biography may be viewed & downloaded for free HERE.

******

Oh, John, this book is so beautiful.  I spent the first evening simply looking through it and showing Ronnie the ones I loved the most.  He really enjoyed it as well. I’ve shared some of Barbara’s story with Ron, and he loved hearing it because he admires people who go on ahead and take risks.

– M.G.

******

Thank you for sharing it [Chronology] with me. I will pass it on to one of my daughters sometime in the future. There is much wisdom in her writing, and I am inspired by her courage and lightness. You must miss her very much as do others who knew and loved her.  This tribute to her will keep her memory alive . . . And today how exciting to receive the new book [Retrospective] you created for Barbara in the mail.  I am enjoying the animals and plants sections and will treasure reading your conversations with her. What a remarkable tribute you have made to her.

– L.P.

******

Thank you so much for doing this. I connected with Barbara after my daughter found her site online and contacted her about one of her first memories of being with her Father in Coney Island and running into his friend who was a Billboard painter painting the sign “JAZZ”. It turned out to be Barbara! It was a magical reconnection for so many. I have followed her ever since and am so thankful you have kept her site going for those who found her so interesting and special!

She is and will always be a part of my memory. Thank you for sending me the book. I’m sure I will enjoy it as I did the last one you sent me.

– M.M.

******

An incredible story told extremely well by you. I am so impressed by your expressive way of telling her story.  I kinda sense that those few who were allowed to know her were constantly battling the feeling of “Barbara keep talking; tell me more.” and “Jesus, swallow some of that hard-headedness and pride and get your shit together.”

– JN

 

 

Barbara’s Biography


All three Volumes of Barbara’s biography are now available.

Included under one cover (318 p.) are over 150 color reproductions of major artworks, dozens of ‘fire-side’ chats, and a lengthy annotated timeline of her life.

Read online, download pdf to your computer, share with friends – all for FREE!

Click to Access

Barbara Sparhawk: Expressionist Artist & Writer

 

 

Stormy Weather


Road conditions according to Kate Woods Novoa’s chronicle of “Big Sur News & Events” seem to be deteriorating along Highway One, Barbara’s old stomping grounds.

photo by Cal Trans

Barbara lived & operated a gallery in that area, and frequently painted her surroundings.

The Bridge Is Out

11×14 Oil on Canvas

Artist’s Description

“Not sure where this came from, maybe the perpetual thrill of Highway one and all its marvelous danger. I think the pickup truck has been there a long time, and nobody got hurt.”

 

 

The ‘Oddist’


Being an artist was kind of a holy to poor unschooled roughneck kids.

Living above the Black Panthers was no particular treat, but it is cool to remember in the now distant future. Every now and then I’d pass one or more of these guys in the entranceway. These gangsters, what a bunch, and so full of themselves. They cut me a lot of slack. I don’t know if it was my motherhood/infant child status, or so firmly working class waitressing, or that I kept so many animals or what.

Or being an artist. It was a universal and entirely extraordinary thing to New York City. Being an artist was kind of a holy to poor unschooled roughneck kids. There was an aura connected to it. In the whole time I painted at Coney Island, and believe me that was one dangerous hell hole, I was never bothered by any of the gangs, nor was any of my work ever injured.

One day, sitting in front of a small mural I was painting for a game, I hear this guy behind me, ah-hmmm-ing. I was always worried about turning my back on these alleyways. Every one who walked around the place had at least one switchblade. That and steel pipes most common, not guns, guns were more rare but also present.

I turn around.

“So,” says he, “You the oddist.”

“Right,” says I. “The artist.”

“I like that, what you painted,” says he. “You’re good.”

Period. He might have been the big kahuna or an underling gangster in training, but the word was out and even ten years later, more, none of the work I did got graffiti on it!

Two Cats for Sister Barbara


I was a rescue, an emergency, a shelter from the storm. I had [in Brooklyn] as many as seven dogs at one time, and nearly 100 cats. When I moved to Virginia I had 26 cats, hidden from the landlady, and after three years there were six going across country [to California].

Barbara loved animals.

When she was having a heart attack in 2014 and before she sought out medical help, she quickly wrote a message to her two closest friends, which began: “Dear ones . . .  I love you both so much.  I’m afraid I’m dying.”

In agonizing chest pain for at least 24 hours – (Barbara feared loss of independence so rabidly she would often dangerously postpone medical intervention in the belief she could heal herself) – she nevertheless was concerned enough to mention her cat Tommy twice in her ‘dying letter.’

“Don’t let Tommy die please, with help he can make it, he’s trying to live.”

“Tommy had food around 6 pm but he’s not eating on his own. Tommy’s sleeping in the back of the closet on a pillow.”

Tommy had been sick, was in fact approaching the end, and Barbara was worried. Friends were kind enough to take him to the Vet and watch over him but unfortunately Tommy died while Barbara was still in the hospital. 

Oh do I miss Tommy.  I’ve called to him repeatedly, and finally cried a lot.  He was very well cared for at the end, he did not have a rough departure, and he surely knew how much I loved him and would have been there if not prevented.  Oh, John!

The Cat Who Loved Flowers

Oil on Canvas

Thomas Jefferson II (“Tommy”) Sparhawk is herein posed for his long overdue portrait, and I painted him to reflect his constancy of love for plants. When in the garden on cooler days he gravitates toward sun-warmed tile. On adventuresome days he sits sphinx-posture in front of the lawn’s gopher holes, patience of saint. Well, actually, of a feline

But first out he will walk through groves of lily, iris, nasturtium, lavender and geranium so that the blossoms brush him cheek to tail. I have watched him, head tilted back, rub his considerable whiskers alongside plants and slowly, deeply inhale their richness.

Quite some cat. Thomas is a very large and very agile tree climber, 20 lbs plus, which I say to brag. We’re both pleased with the enormity he has acquired staying fit and beautiful.

On another occasion, when Barbara was undergoing radiation and chemo for a brain tumor, the same devotional concern surfaced regarding the care of her new cat, Elspeth.

[The typo irregularities mimic the decline of Barbara’s mind & eyesight.]

vALERIE IS HAVING A SPECIAL CAGEHOUSE BUILT FOR ELSPETHER.  aND SHE IS PROSPERIING.

Elspeth IS PROSPERING!

Barbara was ecstatic and immensely grateful that her friend Valerie was caring for Elspeth.

Elspeth on Patrol, Meadow

Oil on Canvas

One year ago Elspeth was a cautious DON’T TOUCH ME visitor, totally feral but smart enough to figure the plate and pillow and shelter was laid out on her behalf, should she design to stop over.

She did.

And then some.

She still does patrol, delivers horrific presents to the doormat, spends her days in the garden and meadow organizing and terrifying rodents, loves a cuddle (not too intrusive), a proper pet, and has her own imposed 9 PM bedtime, inside, on a pillow at the top of the bed above my head.

 

Remembering the Joy of Being Alive


If I have been allowed to live these five months more to witness such remarkable beauty I better take note of it and act more responsibly toward the miracle.

[8 days after the previous post from March 2015, in which Barbara’s mood seemed to flirt with rock bottom, the irrepressible in her surfaces again.]

I am working hard (and you add so much to my life!) very hard on pulling myself from the yawning abyss, that lip of the crevasse atop the darkness.  And may I report that finally I am making headway.

Yesterday before sundown I raced up steps, then over hills, drove up the roads for the best view of stunning skies, stunning. It has been raining two days, exciting and turbulent rain.

Clouds bigger than elephant herds storming across a black sky, raising up brilliant white thunderheads crafted by precision draftsmen, light rays of pure metallic light variously sifting down onto crests of rolling, lushly growing green, ochre and soft-sueded landscape. 

Big Sur River Meets Pacific

And I thought (how could I not) that if I have been allowed to live these five months more (and etc?) to witness such remarkable beauty I better take note of it and act more responsibly toward the miracle.

I have not paid attention to what are reasonable repercussions to me after this major assault on body and face (open-heart surgery; no exercise or muscle building for five months; considerable eye surgeries including fragile adjacent tissue) and it has all horrified me to suddenly fall apart and feel aged by twenty years. The depth of horror that a narrow miss and near blindness produced is in a league by itself.  I have had red to purple blotches all over my face for a month, horrifying me, not going away, no doctor knowing what or caring or thinking it’s their medication (emergency dermatologist appointment? Mid-April!).

And lo and behold, as I keep walking, even running a bit, doing Tai Chi, hoping, determined, refusing to dissolve to tears, dig a hole pull the sod o’er me and give up . . . something’s getting better. At long last I see myself getting reorganized, even restored.  Thank you Jesus! Today, accurate or not, I feel beautiful again.  Older yes, but I wasn’t ready for 90 and I’m back to the pace of the days of yore. All the severity of skin damage around my eyes is gone. (Why didn’t I know it was temporary, from the work on my cataracts, and my psychological fears?) The creases around my mouth and neck smoothed out.

I don’t know where I went but I left and now I’m back. I suspect I had been harboring panic.  I don’t know that that’s gone but I’m learning to work within the changes and see that merely being alive each day is not a premonition of being dead. In tune with the magically constant, totally idiotic medical term of PRE-everything, what I currently have is pre-death.

I’m starting to actually enjoy the idea of work, not the breathless challenge it has become, the pain of thinking this is all I could do to keep alive and better keep at it and there is no time left to me at all.

Yesterday I actually sat at my drafting table. It is both covered and surrounded by wonderful supplies of every imaginable tool of the trade and I have ignored all since bringing my things to it from the gallery. It was quite thrilling to sit amongst things I love.

Tools of the Trade

I started to plan out some of my books last night and early this morning, half in a dream. What has heretofore been an hysterical list-making by some hand other than my own with which I could not possibly compete, became once more the steadier lifelong joy and prospect of making pleasure.  Oh my God I have longed for this without the satisfaction of remembering the vocabulary to urge it forth from me.  I am wise enough at this point to feel suspicion that it may also come and go and is not fully the resident, but was it? Was it ever a constant? The answer is ‘no’.

I am, I imagine, most of all, remembering the joy of being alive.  And there are many doorsteps on which to lay that sweet bundle.

I have felt ever since being very young indeed that I was on the way to living multiple lives.  And it’s been born out that I have by choice and decision and happy accident gone to many different directions and horizons and choppy seas, some of it conquered and some of it involved taking on a lot of bilge. Each incarnation so very different from the predecessor.

You’re a fine example of continual re-inventing.  We share a distaste for boredom and sameness, and a love of challenge and adventure. I love seeing your own taking on and surging ahead.  And the street photographer, the most recent you, is a delight and I can see you loving all its parts.

 

The New Normal


I may just be good and depressed.  Every day is painful in some new way, something hard to handle, some pain that frightens me. I feel ungrateful and uncharacteristically whiney and none of it makes sense.  I hurt and I want the hurt stopping.  I have things changing with my body I don’t understand or recognize and can’t fix.  

[Barbara writes this a few days AFTER successful cataract surgery, 5 months AFTER open-heart surgery, and 3 years BEFORE being beset by a brain tumor and, eventually, a broken hip.]

I came home and was so hungry I stuffed myself and made myself sick from it, and since this morning have been trying to recover from what I did to me.

Maybe it just felt like too much, maybe I’m getting too much done at once. [Heart surgery, eye surgery, dental surgery] I’m overwhelmed, maybe that’s reasonable.

It’s funny, peculiar funny, odd.  None of the usual remedies come through . . . a longer sleep, a happy day, a good painting session, a good story written . . . things that buoy my spirits. I still don’t feel as if I’m moving up and out and away from the great low hit in September [open-heart surgery], and so much curing is being done why don’t I feel it inside and outside me?

I may just be good and depressed.  Every day is painful in some new way, something hard to handle, some pain that frightens me.  And new doctors for consulting and visiting. See this one see that one. Now my skin’s broken out terribly in blotches, I’m guessing it’s nerves or the heart medicine, the doctor says no, then what is it and it’s horrifying me and why can’t I make it go away. And gaining weight, exercising more and gaining weight. Makes me feel so wretched.

I haven’t felt good for close to a year and I still don’t know what happened to me, how this happened, why.  Or, most of all, how to fix it and finally feel better.

There are a lot of things, critical things that need fixing. Eyes, teeth, restoring muscle, I’m working on a long list.  I’ve been accustomed to feeling strong and hardy and healthy and fit, and now I’m swept away from myself.

Yet here I am having survived by some miracle exactly what kills less fortunate multitudes.  And on the heels of that my eyesight restored [successful cataract surgery], incredible. Think of it! I do think of it.

I was speaking with the recovery room nurse.  Several years ago she got a sudden splitting headache pain in the lower back of her head at her neck.  Her husband said something’s wrong, drove her at once to the hospital, she’d had a brain aneurism that burst!  Flown up to Stanford, operated on, recovered in time, and back at work!  

That seems even more incredible to me, and there we were talking, caring about minutes in a way neither of us had before, yes minutes.  I asked if they’d stayed together through her recovery and return and yes, something which can drive people apart, she said sometimes he looks at her and tears will roll down his cheeks in gladness.  He’s making dinner tonight, they share the dinner duties, she’s in her 60’s and lovely.

Not everything’s perfect she said.  She has some residual paralysis in her face, her throat, scalp. She looks wonderful, her face was mobile as far as I could see, entirely.  She said she can no longer whistle. She can’t gargle.  She said it with feeling because these were things taken from her that she missed and I understood every ounce of that pain. The sense of it, too.

So the trouble I’m in is maybe this desperate lust for perfection, for not being called out for not being 100%, imperfect; vulnerable; some of that wretched history I still need to lose and have not.

I feel confused by the dramatic change I think, and eyesight returned is sure part of it, I mean, my God, the difference is beyond monumental, I may never get over what it is like to see again, and really that it’s been so long since I could. A very long slow process that may have been more than I could stand without knowing it.

Books. It’s an enormous pleasure to be able to read once more.  Oh the printed word!  Page after page of any book. Any time. Any light.

I don’t know John, I feel ungrateful and uncharacteristically whiney and none of it makes sense.  I hurt and I want the hurt stopping.  I have things changing with my body I don’t understand or recognize and can’t fix. I know what small things they are in truth.  I can walk, I can take care of myself. I can still paint and read and write and sing.

And maybe all of it is the new normal.

And maybe fate provided that moment this morning when I got to hear something I needed to hear . . . a survivor of dramatic sudden near-death assault on her good health expressing to me the sadness in her when she said no, she could not whistle any more.

“O Death, where is thy sting?”


There will be newspaper stories about widows in farmhouses outside Paris and south of Duluth who discover a Sparhawk used three decades before to wrap the fish or carry the tulip bulbs through winter, and the auction of the original painting will allow her to buy her house, not face eviction, and put the 16 grandchildren through college.

******

Of all the things that might have caught my attention last September 15 that fateful night, the retained shock was coming home [from open heart surgery] two weeks later and looking around me and realizing that had I never returned (impossibly possible) my things would have been (as they are under such ordinary circumstances) thrown into dumpsters, snatched and concealed, ferried off or tossed.  This would not only be the possessions I care about and personal treasures, but of course and most of all, my life’s work.  All the drawings and writing and paintings unsold . . . it was an incredibly devastating shock to see that so emphatically, so cold and raw. 

******

I had the feeling few hours ago that nothing I thought that mattered, matters.

******

It doesn’t always dawn on me that I’ve been hither and yon and done a thing or two, and should probably work on publicizing it. The editor of the NY Post, Jerry Nachman who was a good friend of mine, once said to me, incredulously, “Don’t you believe in self-promotion?”

Well, uh, I never thought about it. Is it too late?

******

I don’t know how to write out my whole life.  I think the end results, these past two decades maybe started me turning my life around. Which really began with therapy in my early twenties.

It took me such a long time to turn from my very ruthless beginnings. From so many early years of being unfeeling, not quite human really. And KNOWING that, working to fully alter my character, terribly desperate to change.

Maybe it would be useful for people to know that it really is possible.  There’s so much pain. I grew up in such terrifying horror. I don’t know how to go into that, approach that. I can tell you this:  I NEVER expected my life to be as free or interesting or adventuresome as it has been. Though I’m in a constant battle of feeling such contempt for the me I once was, before I really understood my own acting out, and now-me who is trying to hold on to the heroic I’ve gone through to be born anew. I’m Heathcliff and Jekyll and Hyde and St Joan. 

I have been dragons and I have slain them.

******

I would love to have books of my work with good prints, and I’d love seeing it too, my progress and change in style and evolution of moi. Or a slide show, or something. I regret having bad photographs of so many, or even worse, none at all. I never never never never never used to think of taking pictures of my work. Never. Now I’m thinking it’s something I can learn from, as well as the preservation aspects.

I remain certain that I am going to be universally considered an important American artist at some point, hopefully prior to dropping dead. And my work finally collected in museums. I know it’s good, and unique, and original.

Not everything’s worthy of documentation but a good 60-70 percent is. Not bad for a kid from Brooklyn.

******

The only impulse I’ve had is to try and organize and solidify my papers and work, to make it easier on historians to keep alive, and still have some control over what gets selected out. Whoosh. I want some legacy, I think about it.

******

Eventually (nice to think of being alive to see it) someone will be collecting the work I’ve done into professional shots from the actual painting, and setting up museum displays and wings, and making lots of books and making up lots of nonsense about what I must have eaten that day to paint like that and where I stood in what light and the turn of a wrist and grasp of a brush and brand of a pigment and my blue and green and water and sky periods and what I really meant not what’s just obvious.  Secret mystical symbolism. Sigh!

******

I have begun to pose for your documentary. I sashayed through the garden drink in hand cigarette locked in toothy smile, decked out in a fabulous red silk multicolored embroidered robe. Feelin’ good!

Ah, Barbara! You had a sneaky premonition your reach might exceed your grasp.

I have a kind of vague hope to organize all my work and set things in order but I don’t know if I’ll make it, though I have felt more lively and that I just might live to 100.  Most of my relatives made it into their nineties.  I certainly ought to outlive the bastards.

I’m working on it, Barbara. The Hawks Perch is alive & well, garnering new viewers and keeping your memory alive. And the first book of your biographical trilogy is about 50% complete.

It is my mission to help you “outlive the bastards.”

[NOTE: Any pictures anyone might have of Barbara or her artworks and/or any memories of Barbara you would like to share for possible inclusion in the biographical material I am compiling would be most welcome.]

oops.john@gmail.com

 

With Silver Bells & Cockleshells


I’m accidentally on purpose in just the right place. Everything grows here.

In the garden all morning, I admit to realizing that I made this and it’s good!

Especially now that so much is taking shape and filling in blank places. There are new things popping up that haven’t seen the light of day in ages, ancient transplants, accidental seeded soil. A small-headed but tall daisy suddenly made itself known out of weedy looking foliage (which I have learned to leave be and observe because some surprise is always in it). The center of the bud was very dark, almost black, wispy little pointed projectiles out of it. It’s starting to bloom now, one main flower and several new buds, and it is deep purple with lighter near fuscia dots on the inside, I still don’t know what the petals will turn to but WOW.

Birth of the Garden

Oil on Canvas

The gardens, the old cabin of the Jardine Ranch was a miracle to live in. Probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived. The bed was set into a bay window, quite high up, Cecil Bruner pink roses lapping and climbing the cabin redwood, a pond only a dozen feet away with waving grasses and yellow iris and cattails, a river behind me, Pfeiffer Beach five minutes down the road. They had exquisite, roughhewn but spectacular landscaping. My God the color and variety! An orchard with pears and plums and cherries, and all of at the road bordered by the huge famous black green cypress trees. The horses, cats, dogs, pig named Wilbur. I miss so much of it. But the intrusion, the sense of excluding was pervasive. I thought of all that this morning, not a new thought, that I have more privacy here than anywhere in California so far. And I can do whatever I choose to the landscape, not so with the rock and roll legend [Al Jardine of the ‘Beach Boys’] and his family. I’m beginning to see as well that this is probably a very special climate and land for the kind of garden I want. Farther east to the mountains it is dry and hot. You struggle with gardens and the flowering varieties are limited. I love thinking of your video in that field of yellow flowers, way to go!

I’m accidentally on purpose in just the right place. Everything grows here. Wet enough from ocean fogs, the air heated by the big open meadow just beyond my garden and moisture in the air from the Carmel River at that border. Carmel-by-the-sea has exquisite, old established gardens. We’ve the same climate as the Riviera, as South Africa’s coast. Plants grow here that do not in other parts of America. I’d still like a house on the coast and maybe someday will again.

Carmel is a crappy snooty place to live in, but finds can be had. It’s dreadful that some of the most beautiful places are populated with idiots.

 

The William F. Buckley Portrait


The Buckley portrait . . . you know I had never met or spoken to him but he was causing a great stir in NY at the time, National Review, then running for mayor.  A reporter asked what he’d do first if he got elected. He said, “Demand a recount!” 

And me being me, in my mid-twenties, I wrote him a letter.  I had decided I wanted to paint portraits of interesting people I admired, he answered and we went from there.  When I went to meet him the first time I was heavily pregnant.  The first sitting included holding Trevor, who was in a bassinet behind me, to keep him from crying. To which Buckley said, ‘That’s got to be a first.’

Buckley himself was actually totally charming, sort of swooningly charming, a lovely man.  The terror that was mine was more along the lines of Oh my God what have I gotten myself into here and can I possibly pull it off and not disappoint.  It’s one thing to chat about working miracles when you’re still a novice, and another to do it. 

I was living on the second floor-through of a cold water flat on Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn; Black Panthers in the store front one floor below.  There was no heat but hot water.  The newly widowed landlady (youngish, Greek, head to toe black clothing) would come by for rents, never filled the boiler, I kept the stove going and literally ran the shower for steam heat. Hot water, on a separate system. Trevor was about six months old. I was waitressing. I had two dogs and maybe thirty cats. And a rooster, living in the one closet with a chicken wire door I’d made. Don’t ask.

There was a big kitchen with a room in the corner I’d built for the cats, and a smaller bedroom for more cats, and Trevor in a crib in the kitchen and my mattress on the floor and easel and paint set up in the front room which had the best light. Holy shit. I did the whole portrait there, then moved.

I wish I’d gotten more feedback at the delivery stage, the end, than I did.  It apparently went to Buckley’s home in Connecticut but I have no idea if it’s still around or how he really felt about the outcome.  

William F. Buckley, Jr 1925 – 2008

Oil on linen, Life-size

[B/W photo of original painting]

******

Artist’s Catalog Description

I painted a portrait of William F. Buckley, Jr. from sittings, many years ago. The man was a phenomenal wit and intellect, used the English language exquisitely, and was a thoroughly charming and towering human being.

I was in my twenties and had the cheek to write him and ask if I might paint his portrait. I said we were both questing for the truth.

His famous & phenomenal secretary, Frances Bronson, wrote back and said WFB asked three questions needing answers:

1. Might he read during sittings

2. May he bring his cocker spaniel

3. How much will it cost . . . IF he likes it

We worked out the particulars and he came to my studio in Greenwich Village, New York for sittings.

He was very famous, doing radio, tv and publishing his magazine The National Review. Buckley was a beacon of conservative thought causing trouble, uproar, and having an enormous amount of fun. The author of over fifty books. He ran for mayor of New York once, and (expecting the outcome in advance) when asked what he’d do first if elected, said, he’d “demand a recount!

He debated everyone with equal intensity and mischief, and had a fabulous time with sailing around the world, writing essays and books filled with his astute observations of American politics. When he turned 50, he decided to learn the harpsichord and ended up giving public performances. At the same half century mark he started writing fiction novels – spy stories reflecting some early work of his own.

He was reviled and adored in equal measure, not a bad outcome for a life fully lived. Meeting him and painting his portrait has always been one of the highlights of my life. Totally gracious, charming, eloquent, brilliant man. I miss him already.

Regrettably, this is the only photo I have of the finished portrait, and it’s black & white.

Addendum: There are so many tributes now appearing about William F. Buckley’s life and wit, and this is typical, and so good, a comment made by Ronald Reagan in 1985: “Once when Bill was asked what job he wanted in the Administration of his friend the President, he replied in his typically retiring and deferential way:Ventriloquist’.”

 

The Santa Cruz Commission


The couple are delightful. I swear, I was so happy painting yesterday I was laughing all day long with joy.

Santa Cruz is about forty minute’s drive north from here, right up along the coast on Highway One, through growing fields and harbors, fruit stands, rapidly changing weather from dense fog to sun mile to mile. Quite pretty all of it.

The house is spectacular, up on a very high hill alone, facing the ocean, nothing but treetops in view from the decks above, and the Pacific beyond that. The couple are delightful. I swear, I was so happy painting yesterday I was laughing all day long with joy. I go back for more on Monday, and right now in the studio I’m painting an old surfboard they plan to use for a headboard. Life is good.

I couldn’t help but think of a lifetime of varied wall painting experiences, including Coney Island and billboards, and man-oh-man this is some different kind of doing. No pain, freezing winds, dangerous turf, devoid of hardship. I have gone through much for the pleasure of having a loaded brush in my hand. It’s mostly been thrilling but rarely easy.

This is cake and eat it all the way.

******

I have thought very hard about this and do not think I was ever told to paint out my work before.

Not a great day in Santa Cruz. I should have known, remembered, that when people say they love my work, go ahead and do whatever you like! they don’t actually mean it. It’s not that they don’t mean it, they don’t KNOW they don’t mean it.

Today, I was instructed to paint out – remove – a great deal of what I’d painted. (“Too much; color too strong”) So I did. For three hours.

Notes were left in an empty house. I felt the umbrage rising and fought it. I got everything set to launch anew, saw the notes. I did a little painting, got angry, packed up, got as far as the front door and went back in.

I use potent exquisite oil paints. They do not fade or lose vibrancy. I’m painting on a kind of light yellow/ochre wall. They bought a quart of paint close to the finish used but no cigar, certainly no cover. So, in line with retouching an old painting that’s lost its way, I began eradicating the really divinely beautiful trail of whisping vine and flowers I had run around parts of the kitchen border, as originally devised in conference.

I will actually try to make a long story short. I took out more than half the work, marked for destruction with bits of paper.

The owner returned midway.

“We don’t seem to be communicating. I told you that I wanted….”

[Aside to John: You know, I’m not really used to being talked to that way.]

She continued, “I have to leave, I’m late for a meeting with a nun..”

I said, Have the meeting. I want you happy with this.

“I don’t know what to pay you. Do I pay you?”

“Forget about it now, have the meeting. This is your house! I want you happy with it!”

I behaved very professionally. The final result is nothing like the original, which had such beautiful flow and grace and color to it. I don’t know if I’ve ever painted such beautiful flowers. Now it’s inexplicable piecemeal. I suspect she wanted more control. Like my penchant for high grass, I don’t control well. I’ve spent a lifetime edging past it or bowling it over

I have thought very hard about this and do not think I was ever told to paint out my work before.

I don’t know the couple well and will try to cut some slack. They do intense work [at the local hospital] with life and death. I just don’t want to be part of fabricated emergencies.

Swinging on Scaffolds


I was on fire all the time.

I have had thoroughly miserable jobs working for people who would have benefited the world by being institutionalized. But never with painting.

The first job I had getting paid for holding a loaded brush in my hand all day was on billboards. I did that five days a week and then tended bar Friday nights through Sundays. It was on West Broadway, which was not then but became SoHo and a crappy little smelly delightful place called The Barnabus Rex, run by an overly dramatic southern girl who liked violent boyfriends.

Local artists and bikers were drawn to it, it was always incredibly crowded and lively. You cannot begin to imagine (or maybe can) the amount of crap I was subjected to by the ‘ARTISTS’ who came in and cleared bar space to study and fill out GUGGENHEIM and MOMA grant forms, filled with ridicule for me because I was making commercial art!

Not one of them with an ounce of guts, all looking for some free ride.

And meanwhile five days a week I was swinging in the breeze on scaffolds 10 to 25 stories up above Times Square, New York City’s 42nd Street mecca, having the time of my life. Coney Island the same.

We did cigarettes and booze and Broadway openings. John Belushi’s “1944”, The Wiz with young Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones 1973 World Tour. A bottle of Dewars sinking into the Manhattan skyline sunset. You had to work fast, we mixed all our colors on the scaffold, pots of pigment, Japan drier, linseed oil and benzine. Eyes were painted with four-inch brushes. The standard billboards were 30 X 60 feet.

Big. Sweet.

In l972 I worked on the mammoth New York Times Square billboard. A city block long marquee, since torn down. It was my first billboard gig, I did the MADE IN THE SHADE (David Bowie in Drag) cover that was the first of a series to be added to the turbo eagle’s talons.

[Sparhawk painted the album cover, about 20  4×8 sheets of Masonite. Paul Chan painted the turbo eagle.]

 Whether I was painting dripping ice cream cones or steaming hot dogs, oh GOD!!!! it was incredible. Color and paint and turps and brushes.

I was on fire all the time.

I worked for ArtKraft-Strauss and Villepigue. The companies never wanted women in the business but I was good at faces and they hired me. I’d get fired every 30 days, then brought back in, kept me ineligible for the union.

The last job was 25 stories up. The street temp was 18 degrees and it was a windy November and I decided they weren’t paying me enough for all that, and quit.

Rainstorm on Pond


John, I started having the most phenomenal experience with painting yesterday. I got to the gallery in the afternoon, late-ish. And I have to watch that now because I’m entirely accustomed to strong natural light and when the sun goes, earlier every day! Damn! it goes and then I go.

But I’m working (along with your portrait) on a large floral. Big waving flowers that increased in sized and long stems in a nice floating in the air thing, and starting some light along the top then I realized, oh, they’re underwater. So I kept increasing the water level on the horizon from about an inch to three inches deep and yesterday suddenly began distorting the tips of the blossoms that are both under and out of water and oh my God it’s beautiful! I got so excited by what was happening, totally thrilling.

Sometimes I really feel I’m beginning to understand paint and pigment and brushes and me and what I want to do. I’ve begun to think this long dry spell of no customers is destiny, and a chance to change my work and delve into painting again. I’ve always felt so serious about it. I produced a lot of work that I’m proud of during the Big Sur gallery spell, but much of it was fast, too fast, and I guess it’s okay because it allowed me to sell cheap. But I do enjoy the times I can really stay with a painting and work it. Not every painting lends itself to that. Sometimes you get at a finishing point fast, and there’s just nowhere left to go. I love painting water and its effect on things, and this is getting really wonderful.

RAINSTORM ON POND
oil on canvas
20 X 30 inches

What IS the magic in rain hitting the surface of a lake, the ocean, a stream, a pond? A plane of glass gets wind-rippled then punctuated by drops, distorted and pushed and heaved right and left by torrents from the sky.

I wanted to see the turbulent top along with a dunk below. The motion most intense at sky level, then gradually shifting the stems and roots underneath. When I see plants in motion (which is most of the time) I get a fine internal boost, I’m that sure they’re happy. As a friend once said, “Of course the wind loves growing things. Otherwise there wouldn’t be poetry.”

These are dark Prussian blues, rich greens. Waterlilies on the surface go from pale pink to yellow-whites. Some russet in the stems and great twisting escapades.

 

 

The Artist’s Mission


I know the midnight fears. The daylight doubting.

We are all so often astray in this business of living a life. I aim for better, fuller function. For seeing and understanding what I have in me. It has become a compulsion to me to say out loud what I have learned, lay out the battlefield and battle.

I know the midnight fears. The daylight doubting. The spinning rooms of walls covered in my agonized torn flesh and soul’s blood. Can I help another mortal in describing what my passages have been and saying I came through alive and this is our commonality? I only know for sure how much the finely-honed creative work of others before me has helped me live. It’s proof.

I was late coming to it. My son’s death was life-altering. Most of all what has risen to the surface is not to leave words unsaid. I don’t know any more what forces silence, but it’s a fool’s game and detrimental to all life, especially our own.

It is anti-life. I vote against it.

‘Oh fuck, what’s the use’


I think my work lacks some commonplace universality

I know part of what I’ve been going through is feeling ‘oh fuck, what’s the use’. You know, John, it’s been a very long life of forging ahead with gusto, filled with hope of getting what said I’ve got to say and exhibit, then despair at the struggle. I’m not being a good trooper at the moment, but it is the core of the essential me and will return.

I have at least, thank God for it, seen that my work is meaningful to the world. I have managed to produce some life altering experience for my fellow man, to move people by what I do, to add to the experience of life on earth for more than me. I’ve witnessed that, and will keep at it. I expect the size of the audience I reach will expand when I’m dead, some misty time in the future. But I sure as bloody hell would like to see it, and profit from it, before I meet my hereafter.

There will always be an abundance of bad stuff being lauded by the roving eye within the bodies wherein critical critique and museum ownerships and benedictions are stored. It’s as much the way of the world as a lucky break or overnight success. I think my work lacks some commonplace universality. At least it has not been benighted by those whose approval makes it acceptable for an embrace by uncertain multitudes. All intelligent judgment has gone that’s based on personal certainty. People are afraid to like things that have not been pointed out to them first as something that’s okay to like.

So, knowing all of that too full well, I have, in my lifetime, plowed ahead determined not to notice or care. And buoyed, as we all are, by the stories of the unsung years of the now adored and famous, either present among us or in the mists of time passed.

I will see if I can start selling my work here, which I remain hopeful may happen, as it did in Big Sur. I don’t want to try and find a gallery there again, it’s a miserable place to run a business and that was a golden two years’ experience that gave me much. Whatever the new is, I’m in it now and need to push the parameters. I hope this makes some sense.

War of the Roses


You see what gardeners go through. It’s a whole fucking planet whirling through the solar system and I can only hope for daily gravity.

I have two of the most interesting trees here, they are evergreen, never shed, slim black trunks -so rare- growing like a kind of Aspen but in one tight group. They reach about twenty feet or more, one at the corner of the side wall by the rock wall, below the general walkway. The other by the same rock wall across the patio, about fifteen feet apart, sweet sentries. The second is also alongside the steps leading up, lightly touching the banister. The leaves are like a spearmint shape, pointed, but green inside, a kind of yellowed pale green, with a full white border on each leaf!  They’re very unusual, I have no idea what they are and can’t find them referenced.

Well like most things here they’d grown down to the ground in a nightmare of dead branch and bramble inside.  I’ve been working on clearing them out. They’ve been trimmed and pruned previously to a huge elongated barrel shape, which, with clearing the bottom, I am changing. In the process the beautiful stone wall is revealed and exposed to sun which makes for more plantings! So the tree shape is changing. Sort of round popsicle-y stemmed. They’re very round. I pruned to about three and a half or four feet up from the bottom, in a kind of swaying, gentle curve, but primarily flat across on the bottom. Then I thought I’d see how high the top went if left to its own devices, but wasn’t liking it much. The tops are visible from the walkway and parking lot. I’d say up to a good twenty feet so far and spurting higher.

Well I got back to the bungalow and Caesar was leaving with all his tools looking pleased with himself and we said hello and I went down the steps and I’m seeing all the green and white leaves and thinking what the hell!!!  Like previous mentioned raccoons, or rutting deer at war in my garden!  Leaves and branches everywhere! What the hell….and then I look at the tops and Caesar had cut them — flat off.

Now a gardener, I have discovered or anyone fitting the bill despite qualities, is no more someone to have truck with than a chef before dinner is served.  You have no idea what you might be in for after starting a war. So I recovered from the invasion, which had me screaming YOU CAN’T DO THIS HOW DARE YOU to nobody at the top of my lungs, and which offended me greatly, swept up and took another look.

I’m very fond of Dr Zeus’s landscapes, they are in fact all over this area, trees pruned into balls and pyramids and inverted who knows, and all delightful. And I was looking at these trees over the past year, knowing I wanted some whimsy to them and had decided about a week ago I’d go for the African veldt silhouette, that kind of wide spread oval high up where growth stays beyond the reaching neck of the giraffe and its large teeth.

But I hesitated doing anything quite so dramatic at the walkway, because the tops of my trees kind of, well, belong to the property in general more than my own garden. (Let anybody try telling ME that). And then tonight Caesar did the work unannounced.

The funny thing is there’s already a history, a delicate first week boundary war.  I saw what he did to everything in the place, square cut and Mohawks, and FORBADE his entering my garden.  I knew it ruffled but I stood my ground and I am quite sure it ruffles every time he’s here when he looks down and instead of geometry sees rambling chaos he cannot understand or like.  In trade I am solicitous, warmly greeting, and sing his praises to all who’ll listen including the landlord with whom he is very close.

So here as if by magic it was almost as if I’d asked him, or whispered the thought. He is now wearing a sense of triumph, and I will be quiet about mine, which arrived sans repercussion. And sweep up the rest of the mess in daylight. And not ask for my bicycle back. I might even try looking slightly wounded for effect.

Caesar and crew are ruthless in gardens. They just trimmed back a daisy hedge near Saddlemaker Bob’s, the size of three buffalo and filled with yellow daisies to the limit. It’s now a smaller green ball. THE FLOWERS ARE GONE. So I don’t even know how they think except as a tenant here said, These are more Aztec invaders than Mexican gardeners.

If he TOUCHES my cherry tree, which he had sawed down to a five foot collection of six and four and eight inch stubs and which, left alone at last, has, since last summer, sent out twelve foot shoots. If Caesar touches that he will pay dearly, et tu Brute all over again.

I may be up to asking Moses to describe to Caesar in their native tongue that I am doing drawings and paintings of the garden, my garden, AS IT IS!!!!! and it greatly disturbs my artistic nature and temperament when things are altered or moved about.  But I’m not convinced Moses could pull it off, he has a limited artistic eye, and then they’d be talking the mother lingo which I could not amend or adjust to my specifications, and it might start a war after all.

You see what gardeners go through. It’s a whole fucking planet whirling through the solar system and I can only hope for daily gravity.

Cradle of the Sun


This painting is a real treat.  I’ve kind of headed into it the way Trevor’s Treasure Island developed, more every day and in an odd direction.  With absolutely no foreground but rocks going into darkness I have all of a sudden added a chair and desk on the top of a peak, some kind of Greek ruins on a sandbar, a turquoise-lavender pool, stone gargoyles and seahorse, a writing desk, and steps…many steps.  I’ve decided to go with it, do not know what the hell I’m up to but up for the adventure.

It’s the sort of freedom I felt with your portrait which is a rare experience. Certainly possible with what you allowed, and unique in that only with historical portraits of my own devising have I ever moved into such a myriad of things.  Yours is the first portrait I let myself and you let myself do that with, and I am liberated from previous constraints as a result. 

It IS getting interesting.  I keep moving the waves and clouds around.  The very clouded sky reveals a reticent sun.  I’m calling it The Cradle of the Sun, or The Sun’s Cradle, which I find very exciting in and of itself and not sure what I’m up to.

The Cradle of the Sun

There’s a storm coming in from far away places ~~ sweeping up water, spray marking its path ~~ dark and fierce on a gentle cove.  Still visible inside fast-moving formations, the Sun is cradled by its cloudy banks. The golden strength hits boulders and quiet foreground pools which will be next to feel the crash of wind and sea. Large birds take frenzy flight. And a viewer’s ready chair says ”Come to me”… a kind of magic seating  … a match to the heady seascape beyond, and below, and around it.

Maybe I Can


I only made ten bucks all weekend.

Now I have to tell you, this has been a day of miracles.  Absolute miracles. 

I woke in great distress about a handful of troubles. Washed the Miata, which meant facing the bumper but the car needed a wash, and even used Bob’s vacuum cleaner. So worried about what might fall off though.

Then I bit the bullet and wrote the landlord about being late. I only made ten bucks all weekend.  I worry a lot about the landlord’s feelings toward my tenancy.  He had been stunningly thoughtful, the gallery rent has stayed HALF since I’ve been here and I will never find any place to live so sweet and cheap as this, plus my garden. Or as benevolent an owner.

I went to the gallery to paint.  I thought, I will WILL WILL sell paintings. Went back to the bungalow at noon and landlord had not responded to my email. Increasing gloom and despair. I went back to the gallery and thought, okay, this is foolish, I just have to give the gallery up.  I’ll figure out something somehow, but it’s depressing and extravagant and I just simply do not have a business anymore. Well that was pretty emotionally tearing me up.  I went outside to the mailbox for some air. At that very second a couple drove up who have been keenly interested in Trevor’s Treasure Island but had decided against it about a month ago. And there they were!

And they bought it!!!

I had lowered the price a couple of hundred bucks in emails back and forth the past two weeks but they hadn’t responded.  And here they were! They’re Chinese Americans I think. They’ve bought a lot of paintings from me, I even did a blog on them called The Returning Customers.  Mostly Calla Lilies. And C____, the wife, really loves my work.  (M____ is more circumspect and less effusive.) C____ is reserved but speaks about her feelings. And she was so moved, even the first time, at Trevor’s Treasure Island. 

She said, There’s a child’s playground, immersed in nature and no computers or distractions. Something for her grandchildren to inherit, to see now, to learn from. 

Oh John.  Well I was awash in tears.  It’s not only going to someone who loves it and understands it.  It’s almost as if it waited for them. And I’ll know where it is.  It really is a beautiful painting. I was pretty sure it needed to leave me though I’ve been concerned about where it would go.

And C____ also bought the new one, the orange/yellow tulips in the blue vase with the blue background.  Incredible. 

Tulips in Blue Glass w/ Fruit

I think I was in shock most of the day. I emailed the landlord, saying he should ignore the pathos of the previous email because the ship came in. I stopped in at the local gas station run by two Sikhs who are very Americanized and like Brooklynites and one of them fixed the bumper in a second with a baggie tie! Tight as new! For Free!! What a time I was having.  I ran to the bank in Carmel. The post office with the rent checks. Then groceries at Safeway, and man I was out of EVERYTHING.

I should have more faith. And just so you know, your faith in me has been justified. Everything changed in a matter of minutes.  And the landlord wrote back, thanking me for keeping him up to date on what’s happening, wishing me well, and hoping the rest of the year is just as good.

It’s the only thing that really has ever been missing from here, actually having a going business to support me.  It really doesn’t require keeping up with anything like the overhead in Big Sur, and who knows, maybe I can actually do this now.

Maybe I can.

(IV) A Mother’s Loss: GRIEF


It’s very hard still to describe accurately what intense grief causes.

Now that we’re talking about it, I remember some visualizing I did about coming back to life and it was this…

I saw that I was kind of on plateaus I had climbed to, pulled myself up to from a very foggy bottom. There was almost always a rope bridge to cross, there was nothing about the trail leading to the new level place that did not involve fear and danger. But then I’d be there. And realize I had got there. And look back and see the place I had been, below, and that I was no longer in it.

It was an enormously pleasant, rewarding thing to see. Most of the time for especially the first two years I didn’t think I was leaving the insanity at all or getting better, yet was on some level very determined to be fully functional again.  It’s very hard still to describe accurately what intense grief causes. It’s different than depression. It’s different than sadness. It’s different than a deep neurosis or psychosis. It’s grief and has it’s own defining and I still can’t describe it well. It’s very out of body, very like being on another planet, a loss of normal references, information, history.

I wasn’t sure I’d write Edith’s Story at all. But you know, John, it was a new place for me that put me where other human beings have gone before or are going through now, and for that reason I thought well damn, record it.

When I decided to write that story it was in part to remember my child and in part to forgive myself for some of my very bad parenting.

Edith’s Story is published in The Gandy Dancer & Other Short Stories.

CLICK TO READ

Part 4 of 4

[NOTE: A Google search yields no mention of Trevor Paul Sparhawk, nor can I find any record of his traffic fatality in NYC archives – although I may need to dig a bit deeper. If anyone reading this knew or knows of or has any information about Trevor, his life and/or death, PLEASE email me at oops.john@gmail.com]

(III) A Mother’s Loss: THERAPY


All of a sudden I start to paint a child, about 7 or 8 or 10. And of course my head’s already at war, pretending there’s no significance. Oh just a child. I think I’ll make it a little girl. Feeding one of the birds on the steps. But all that’s crap because it’s not just a child and not a little girl it’s my son, and there he is.

(1)

[From a letter addressed to South African painter, Jolande Hesse]

“I would like to suggest something, which has taken me a long time to discover about painting and I would like to pass on to you.

It is possible, in creative work, to change and alter realities. It’s useful as a fundamental source of experimentation, but can go beyond that into the realm of self-fulfilling prophecy. Not too many years ago I was doing a great deal of traveling, living rough, and all my things were stored on the other coast. I was heartbroken over the separation. I started a painting of a wonderful big studio with me in it, in a fabulous bed, with everything I owned and missed around me, including the spirits of friends and animals. Studio and Spirit Dreams was the result. Afterward I ended up moving into several very similar places. The painting was cathartic.

Sixteen years ago when my son died I was swamped in grief. I have literally been unable to paint him at all. Only this past week I started a painting (without knowing where it was heading) of a wonderful garden island paradise, filled with birds and insects, flowers, sailing ships, a jeep, beautiful skies…then suddenly at the end of my brush my son appeared in it, and it was his. It is, in truth, the way for me to picture him still growing up with all the delightful things around him that I would have wanted him to have, to play and explore. It has certainly produced a great deal of emotion in me to paint it, which has turned from tears to delight in short order. And a sense of making something right over which, gone so wrong, I had no control. I’m suggesting this in part because . . . of your own story. You are new to painting, and wonderful at it. Instead of years usually wasted in developing technique that is ultimately discarded in favor of originality, you went right in with your heart in your hand, and it’s wonderful to see. I suggest you consider this skill as a playground for your imagination, to use in a way that will liberate you, and the subjects you paint, even more.

Artists have it in them to absorb and feel the depth of despair of life, and also to walk, with the viewer’s hand in ours, to imagined wonders that resonate with hope.”

(2)

The memories of my son always lurk, hover. Sometimes surface, sometimes a surprise arrival. wHOOOOOSH! I still cannot fully resolve the experience in me. I don’t know why. Maybe it never leaves anyone. But I want to somehow conquer the despair, to end the despair.

I get fairly trembling if I go into it all. And that scares me because it led me to a very bad place when he died, those first couple of years, not any place I want to go again.

So I’m back in the gallery painting on the landscape. I know it’s lacking. I’m adding some interesting things but there are still big open spaces I don’t know what to put in, make it more, make it better.

All of a sudden I start to paint a child, about 7 or 8 or 10. And of course my head’s already at war, pretending there’s no significance. Oh just a child. I think I’ll make it a little girl. Feeding one of the birds on the steps.

But all that’s crap because it’s not just a child and not a little girl it’s my son, and there he is.

So I’m getting very shaky and starting to cry, thinking what the hell am I doing to myself. And then I thought if I make it right maybe that’s precisely what I’ve needed to do. I haven’t been able to paint him at all. So I make myself keep at it until the form is right. I add a big Labrador. A jeep. Now he’s got a dog and toy. And the animals. And the garden, and off in a wild place with a wide open sky. And the bird, the hawk I started painting two days ago is really a sparrowhawk, wings spread, soaring, and Trevor’s on the steps under the sparrowhawk.

Trevor’s Treasure Island

(3)

I started thinking today that I’m not entirely pleased with the way I’m painting, almost as if everything I’ve done up until now is not right, or wrong, or off, or problematic. I end up with colors on the brush I don’t want, and then work and work on it and suddenly there’s a combination that’s so right it makes me cry.

I’m also doing essentially the first portrait of Trevor. He’s not the center of the painting but an important part. He’s a young boy on this strange bit of land, he is leaning forward feeding crows. I know much is coming from my subconscious. Without specifically planning it he appeared under a large protective sparrowhawk. It was going to be only a large sky and landscape, and there are massive flowers front and center, then I kind of started creating a treasure island, for Trevor, and oh God the things that have come into it, birds and emotions and sailboats and a jeep and more birds and dragonflies and crashing waves and trees and it’s getting very Hieronymus Bosch-y actually now I write this out.

I have likely studiously avoided delving very deep into anything, imagining I’d return to shaky ground. It’s so interesting to have you to write to, I swear. It helps me understand myself.

But the problem with not delving is a run of superficiality, which I don’t care much for either. I kept painting, saying, it’s not beautiful, it’s not beautiful….and then there’d be a start of something that worked, that was.

I think I may be having some rush of feeling to put everything in it that didn’t get done, know what I mean? It’s some kind of completing thing. I worked hours on Trevor. I wanted the physical to be just right, he’s leaning forward, in curiosity not a boy’s mischief. I want it sweet. There’s not much detail on the face and may not be, it’s the posture that says it, the position of the hands and legs. It sure is a major challenge of portrait work, and I’m about to start yours. There is so much in an expression, so much subtlety to get right so that it is what I want to say, unmistakably. And I am finding much fault with myself. It’s not flowing.

Well, I’m obviously consumed with all this. I will eventually have a breakthrough, because that’s the way it happens. If I can let it all sort of play out by itself it will paint itself.

The central flowers were initially on stalks, a very crowded base of leaves and stalks, and late today I set them all free as if they’d taken off in the wind. Some metaphor.

I’m sorry to be so preoccupied. Bless your heart for listening. And how I love thinking of you with the straightforward, wholesome work with feral creatures and big open skies.

(4)

I suddenly began to re-work a portrait of Trevor I started in 1996 and it was not good then. I have had the past two days of fluent emotional peaking and am finally getting into it in unexpected ways. It’s very different from the way I normally paint.

Trevor was born February 27th, 1972 and died January 27th, 1996.

I will say this for being a parent which I can only guess at with my own or other parents but I have the feeling it’s universal, which is that there is never a day that goes by that you don’t think about your child. This may be very good for me, the portrait is evolving into something remarkable. And I am trying not to burden it with, and in the process free myself from, all the weighty memories.

And two hours later, okay. I’m okay. I didn’t go nuts or die. I started something likely very important, or it drew me in.

(5)

The painting of Trevor is getting fascinating. A great challenge, and very good to see. The act of painting is taking over. I’m inventing a face I don’t think I ever saw, with a slight beard, JH inspired likely. Trevor and the royal Princes could all be kin, he looked like a skinnier version of Harry. I’m working on your portrait too and the one of me and the cats.  Good painting going on.

(6)

I am having some fine metamorphosis with painting. I’ve tried a great many things in my life, and there is always a point where I understand and accomplish to a certain level and then it gets boring and I turn from it, on to the next. I note that painting is a singular experience. I am staying with it, a lifetime, and it continues to open new doors. Amazing to me. And my increased facility is actually making the experience more inviting, not less.

I spent several hours again on Trevor’s portrait today. Very pleased with the results. I still can’t stay beyond a certain point

I’m painting Trevor looking very alive and happy. It’s a good painting. Wait til you see.

Trevor Paul Sparhawk

I used to be scared of experimenting. I’d think, What if I throw some blue in there? I’d been meticulously building in one direction and was afraid I’d irreparably spoil what I’d been working on. Now I’m all gung-ho doing, and it’s incredible freedom. Turns out nothing is sacred in that insight and challenge are more important than the illusion of success by repetition.

Painting, any art, has always been like a laboratory to me when I’m doing it best. Which is why I never could bear commercial art for long, beyond earning a living and learning something new, briefly. It’s all style in preference to substance.

(7)

[Yours] . . .  is such a solid, valid observation. I’m going through exactly this with Trevor’s portrait, asking him about the things I don’t know, that I want his time on earth to be incredibly full.  He’s maybe older in my portrait of him than an age he ever reached, maybe not.  He had a beautiful little body as a child, and grown up.  I’m working on his neck and collar bone, face, eyes, background.  I was about five hours painting today, and it’s getting very good. I want no tension in his face, a laugh that’s pure joy in the presence of good company, abandoned to a near guffaw.  It presents challenges to paint, several of which I have not dealt with before. And this memorializing, it extends a life I feel. That and all the lefts unsaid. A friend told me once of his best friend who’d committed suicide, Oh God! He would have loved it now! He would have loved this decade!! which seems so true of so many.

I think of that all the time.

(8)

Painted on Trevor’s portrait about four hours or so. I’m trying to get the expression just right, the mouth.  I’ve gotten both eyes in very good shape, very pleased. More work on nose and beard. Teary of course, oh Lord. It’s impossible and wrong that he died, John. It’s so wrong.

(9)

I spent hours, all day, in the gallery working on Trevor’s portrait, and took some pictures, not sure if I got it right. Or if it’s actually finished.  I’ve become involved in the side and backgrounds, lots of flowers and vines, I am always so desperately trying to give the child bouquets.

******

Well, it has not been an easy go but I’m at the finish, in the vicinity. I want him immortal, John.  Then back fulsome to your portrait.  I never fail to learn so much with any painting but more especially portraits, and I will be adding that to yours.

******

Well, despite poverty at every turn I am buoyed by the fine work on the painting of my only child and that I will make him immortal which he was destined for and this close of reaching on his own. My little boy.

******

I suppose by divine purpose the portrait of Trevor will be completed tomorrow, his birthday. I spent many hours today, and had gotten the left eye as good as the right, and the rest has fallen into place and there’s not much left to go.

It has been spurts of conversation and despair and hope.

Part 3 of 4 to be posted consecutively

[NOTE: A Google search yields no mention of Trevor Paul Sparhawk, nor can I find any record of his traffic fatality in NYC archives – although I may need to dig a bit deeper. If anyone reading this knew or knows of or has any information about Trevor, his life and/or death, PLEASE email me at oops.john@gmail.com]

 

Magnolias


I’m working on the painting of the Magnolias in the Blue Bucket and this morning added a cat napping alongside.  It’s an interesting challenge, calculating the light reflected and filtered, the shadows and angles. It’s a very pretty painting, a kind of wonderful painting, and different from paintings I normally do I think. 

Well, who knows; I’m no longer sure.  I still have so much to learn and want to get close as I may perfecting, well no mastering, knowing my trade.

Magnolias in Blue Bucket & Cat, End of Day

Lovely Magnolias blossoms and their leaves crowding into a sweet old tin bucket in a big open room. The sleepy eye of a wily cat watching your every move as you enter the room.

The Jardine Ranch (III)


I DO indeed appreciate magnificent surroundings.  Although I wonder if I don’t just light up at anything shiny, and it all looks shiny to me. 

Al said once, following some lengthy poetic exuberance on my part over a glade or glen or blossom: “I suppose it’s a total waste to rent the place to anyone but someone like you.”

I think he liked hearing it, and felt, himself, the same way about Big Sur, and (how stunning!) not everyone did.

WILBUR THE PIG

Wilbur was such a hoot. To me he was always cuddlesome. Well, almost. Pigs have a particular, er, way, about them. They’re actually insane. Although I say that with great affection. He tried to kill me more than once when, following joyful pasture picnics the very day before, he couldn’t remember who I was coming into his stall with breakfast, and was sure I was interloping enemy writ large. One is always smart to approach a piggy with food. It distracts. And of course they’re all nearly blind. Don’t ever get knocked over by a pig, they’ll stomp you to death given the chance.

All that aside, I saw Wilbur as an incredibly smart pig with a delightful sense of humor. He liked a good time. He would always do some surprising move, you can’t predict much about a pig, turn on a dime. And he was incredibly stubborn. If you said Go Left, just because you said it he’d either Go Right, or try to run you down out of spite. Pigs are fast but don’t leap well, there is that.

One day Wilbur just vanished. Gone. Spottings on Highway One near Fernwood. Was that Wilbur heading over the bridge to Clear Ridge? Wilbur was in my backyard an hour ago, I’m sure it was him. ETC ETC ETC. Well the bingo call was from a friend high up, two miles! up the next road, nobody knows how he got in the front gate unless he waited for a car to pass and open the security lock, and two miles up is Wilbur and it’s getting dark. The idiot Mrs Jardine actually instructed me, the swineherd, to walk up there (Wilbur newly spotted at three miles up and counting) and guide the impossible pig back home, with, errr, use a stick. He’ll walk in front of you. Really, he will.

Now it’s dark of night, except there’s a full moon. And the impossible sons are recruited to drive their pick-up truck and rescue Wilbur. Well it’s an even longer story, but they did, all of us did, pig in a blanket (too hysterical and also scary) screaming and hooting and attacking finally into the back of the truck and home. Getting him into the barn and paddock again was real tricky. Wilbur wasn’t talking to anybody politely for a good two weeks after that and refused to remember that I loved him so, once.

The best part of the whole story is that in the aftermath I am entirely convinced that Wilbur went up to the top of that mountain in order to see the full moon on Pfeiffer Beach below. It was a night brilliantly clear, filled with stars, a stunning night. Pigs are really poets at heart, with extraordinary sensitivities, wrapped in exteriors that border on the offensive. Too odd. What a planet.

LOOKING BACK

Jesus it was a perilous emotional delicacy that place. But honestly, I got so much out of being there. Apparently my 1-1/2 years was a local record. I absolutely loved the cabin, I had the gallery going within a year, 2010, I was in about the best place on the planet, in a garden paradise five minutes from one of the most beautiful beaches in existence, and taking care of four fantastic horses and cats and dogs, Dusty the parrot, and a pig named Wilbur, something I’d never done in my life. So I figured early on I’d make it work and get what I wanted for me out of it, and I did. 

One of the things that really made my heart sing was the complexity of managing all the land, 80 acres, and thinking about what was there and how to make it better and make sure nothing got neglected.  It was far and away not what I was there for paying a premium rent knocked down a bit to feed the horses and Wilbur, and when they were touring, the house animals.

Everything was actually under control only I hadn’t noticed.  There were tree surgeons who cut worrisome limbs, roofers being lined up, builders arranged for this and that, gardeners who were beyond superb, ferriers and vets and groomers, and eventually I got to see them all in play there.

But initially I sort of had a joy at feeling I was the glue that held an otherwise negligent rock and roll family together.  Imagine how my arrogance irked!  They’d been living fine without me before that, and none of them shared my perpetual sense of emergency.  Mostly because I didn’t know beans about any of it and had so much to learn about what does take care of itself without meddling and that everything had been pretty much planned for. I’m not a scold type and am generally so happy that we managed to get along mostly.

In my own defense, it was an easy mistake on my part.  The twin sons had gone off to Monterey to go to college before I got there, and I wasn’t there but a week before Al and Mary Ann headed out on tour for a month leaving me with phone numbers and lists of instructions.  Boy I was in high adrenalin for sure the whole time. 

Big Sur can be overwhelming enough just for its exquisite self, and that alone near blinded me. All the additional business of where I was and for whom, well I don’t know how I wasn’t prostrate in the high grass panting and delirious.  Come to think of it, some of the time I was.  It’s an unbelievably stimulating environment. 

When I told them I was moving on it was met with absolute shock. I don’t think anyone ever left them before.  By the time I’d left every family member had shouted at me at least once, Wilbur had charged me, each horse bitten me, the parrot had attacked, and the dogs snapped, the cats scratched. 

What a time I had!

The Jardine Ranch (II)


Rock and roll people are not necessarily easy to get along with (is that an understatement?) and more so the extended family. But we became friends, and talked a lot, and I like him. He’s a bright, thoughtful, articulate guy who gave up dentist school for the band. There’d be rushes of his being too important but it never lasted. He loves that ranch, the original Pfeiffer family homestead of 80 acres he was smart enough to get in the ’70’s when he was reeling it in. He’s got a converted barn for a top flight recording studio, the Red Hot Chili Peppers cut their last album there, the bizarre and famous were in and out but I’ll always love Wilbur most.

THE CABIN

It was the original Pfeiffer cabin, all redwood, absolutely covered with pink roses in the spring, the meadow all flower, the orchard; Al bought it in the ’70s, all 80 acres right at the beach. Smart. The big house on the hill is their place.

There was a kind of living room/bedroom with the woodstove. The big bed was set up inside a bay window, facing the front, about thirty feet or less from the pond. The river was behind the cabin.

There was a huge kitchen with massive glass windows on all sides, I loved it so. And a wonderfully big studio. Outside next to the cabin a few feet was a little sauna house. The sauna never worked but there was a great shower inside.

I miss it. Easily one of the best places I’ve ever lived in. Magical. Isn’t it pretty.

THE JARDINES

I gave Al and Mary Ann Jardine two paintings when I was there, one small oil of a dusky Pfeiffer Beach which he said had captured it exactly, and I said, Well then, here! And another for Christmas, Angels Dancing In The Treetops. I hope both have survived. They’re good paintings. I offered the Portrait of Xena to them at some point, or to Al and he wasn’t sure so I didn’t push it. He had a strong traditional sense of art but was also very fond of whimsy. Mary Ann liked primitive things with a touch of intellect.

It’s a funny thing about rock stars and celebrities, they are gifted so often and so remarkably it’s commonplace. They also have a lot of people wanting things from them. I tried to be aware of both when I lived there. There was a back and forth of distancing and close friendship, and I never knew which was the soup du jour until I was in it. Probably due to some generalized paranoia. There was rarely an equality, everyone outside the family was servant level unless they were also extremely wealthy or a celebrity. That was incredibly annoying. Though Al did think of me as a professional in my work and loved my writing, which I’d read chapters of to him and Mary Ann that first summer. We liked each other mostly. Although he could be very generous, Al never liked to pay for anything unless backed into a corner, not easy, because there was this sense of what all was due them.

THE POND

I always pictured myself ultimately with a lot of land and several buildings where friends could drop in and out, houses that needed work, gardens to build, inventing stuff, and horses and cows and goats and lots of cats and dogs, and I kind of despair of it for my own, though I was amazed that, holding that fantasy, I found it in Big Sur which had about all that and more. But it wasn’t mine. And taking care of someone else’s animals the decisions for whom are out of your hands, can be painful. They were a sometimes neglectful bunch, and everything had consequences. 

The pond that beautiful pond, for instance, had a huge lot of trout, and some catfish I think. Well big fish anyway. And frogs, which the herons adored. You’d hear these powerful throaty bull frogs, sometimes two, barking at the moon, oh heavenly! but only for a night or two then silence. Then in a bit a new one, then silence. I guess they migrated from the river and thought, wow, look at that pond! Lily pads and reeds and shade and sun and fishies, that’s for me! And I admit to being grateful for the draw because I swooned at the sight of king herons taking off and landing within twenty feet of me, or perched high, stark white and sharp edged against the green black cypress trees.

Turns out ponds are high maintenance at best and moderate maintenance at least, and can become the kind of thing that just paralyzes the soul and in and of itself is the culmination of every mental disorder personified.  Such was the pond to Al, who is a perfectionist of the first order.

Although all the water in the world was available through good wells, Al’s panic (one of a handful) was using it. It couldn’t have been easier to fill the pond, a slim hydrant, pipes and controls at its edge.

Like the bull frogs my first connect was oh my God! A pond! What a pond! I can’t believe I finally live next to a pond! (one of my long-time fantasies) and I went on about my business, sure that ponds knew how to take care of themselves or some other human there did.

Well one day in my first couple of days I actually notice the thing called water level and it’s dangerously low.  That is, the big fish are all trying to crowd in what’s left of the deep end and some of them are belly up in the shallows panting! I’m still basically from Brooklyn and never rescued anything more than an overturned goldfish bowl in my life but I figure something has to be done and have not a clue.

So I call Al, which he really hated for anything. I’d gone wading in and picking up the flopping fish in a bucket filled with water and they’re coming back to life but I don’t know what to do! Then Al meets me at the pond and he paces the pond and is looking and shaking his head and doesn’t want to do anything. Well, it’ll be okay, and he leaves, to think about music.

Then Mary Ann storms down the hill and turns on the water and shows me how then storms back home with hell about to be paid. You just never knew when you were about to introduce yourself into some raw ancient horrendous thing that upset the balance of nature like that.

The thing was, the PROBLEM was that the pond really needs cleaning out every five years or so and it was way overdue, which on another happier day weeks later, Al enlightened me about. 

You catch all the fish, maybe there’s a neighbor who takes them in their pond. Then you take out all the plants, like Mary Ann’s gorgeous reeds and eight foot high yellow iris, and water lilies, and drain the pond. Then you pull out the lining and call the guy with the back hoe and scoop out and cart away stinky black sludge in trucks which in the process covers everything for twenty feet around it including the banks filled with indescribably beautiful flowers, and start from scratch.  So it’s no small job and a costly messy deal.  That was the other part, the consumption of time and money, employees to deal with, huge uproar in the home’s heart, I mean yes, I could feel sympathy about that, but there it was.

So I think every now and then if the stupid pond just dried up, according to his thoughts on the subject, he’d get at stage two accidentally and it would force him to further action. But, if every time he just filled the mess again he’d be reminded how far he was from the solution.  I think he’d done this twice in thirty years, maybe once, and it made him very unhappy. And it made him very unhappy that interloping me had gone and poked him with it.

So I had to take it upon myself and when they were away, if it hadn’t rained hard, I’d turn on the hydrant and fill the damn thing so the fish could breathe. It was never easy.  It was about a six hour run to get the level back up.  You could hear it in progress. If they arrived home I’d have to sneak to the shutoff hoping not to get caught at saving the fish. And more than once I forgot about it and it got WAY high before I shut it down and just prayed they’d go on tour and nobody would notice.

Part 2 of 3 to be posted consecutively.

The Jardine Ranch (I)     


‘Al’ is Al Jardine, the shorter blond of The Beach Boys who looks a bit like Richard Widmark. I lived on their family ranch on Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, took care of their animals including Wilbur the pig, the horses, cats, dogs, parrots; was the family chef, too.

THE BACKSTORY

My getting to Big Sur is a lesson in making dreams come true. When I was 14, new in California on a drive with my mother and brother up to SF from south, Rancho Santa Fe, we stopped and I stood on a cliff there somewhere drinking it in, stunned, and never forgot it. I left the coast at 17. I came back at 51. I ended up in my car with my animals in Big Sur forests for 2 years, lost in every way.

Meanwhile looking for any job, going to construction sites and asking for house painting work. Got hired, a good one on a house in Carmel, three weeks and good pay. A carpenter fell in love with me and took me to see Pfeiffer Beach for the first time to show me the purple sand.

I’m going to live here some day, I said,

Impossible. Nothing for rent, only for millionaires.

YES, I will.

THE INTERVIEW

 Ten years went by, and during that time, Holman Ranch, Yosemite, Grass Valley, Pebble Beach, Cachagua, constantly  asking everyone about Big Sur, visiting, walking, smelling the place, getting the IMPOSSIBLE response. Very unhappy at Carmel Valley ‘Lower Circle’ down by the river. If I’d known that’s what it was called I wouldn’t have moved in. But I had my first gardening experience there and last suburbia, and kept asking about Big Sur. 

I was at a vineyard Christmas in Carmel Valley talking to a woman. She lived in Big Sur. She said she knew a place maybe coming up but couldn’t say who it belonged to because they were famous. I can do famous, I said, I almost am myself. And I knew it was the Jardines, everybody knew where they lived. She said call her in a week. She never returned my calls. I looked constantly on Craig’s list. 

I was producing a radio show making $650 a week. Big Sur rentals started at $2500. I emailed a realtor. I wrote, I’ve seen your ads for six months now and these beautiful places stay empty. If anyone needs a responsible, fully employed tenant let me know. I can manage $1500 He wrote back, sorry, never less than $2000. Sigh.

Then the next day, he wrote again, There is a place, a small cabin on Pfeiffer Beach, $1850. I talked to Al, he’s expecting your call.

I nearly passed out. I looked up Jardine on the internet, there are photos on a website because of the recording studio, called Red Barn. I decided I couldn’t miss the opportunity no how even if it was a high-priced shed, and called. He was annoyed and coolish and I ignored it and we made an appointment for early Sunday afternoon next. I went bearing gifts, brought a copy of The Gandy Dancer and a bouquet of purple Iris for Al and colorful Ranunculus for Mary Ann and drove there trembling, so excited, willing to take on anything, sure it wouldn’t work. But the sun was shining, it was December and 80 degrees.

Al was on the roof of one of the little buildings when I got there, and met his wife Mary Ann, who shouted up, Al…get off the roof! It’s okay, come down and meet Barbara. I gave the Ranunculus to Mary Ann. Her favorite flower. I gave Al the Iris. His favorite flower. He loved the book, no slothful Sparhawk. She’d shown me the place. I looked at all the little buildings and sheds we approached and thought, well no, that’s their house, it must be the goat shack over there . . . then it WAS that cabin.

This? This is the house for rent? Yes. (Oh my God, every square inch was charm. When I got home I had no idea of what it really looked like and couldn’t remember the size or layout of anything except I was in love with it.)

Al and I got on very well. The first thing I said to him, shook his hand, I want you to know that your fabulous music has been an important part of my life since I was in my teens. Thank you for all you’ve done. We all hugged when I left.

I knew some people he knew, I sang a song about something, I talked about myself, I loved all the animals who came over, I was in some kind of cloud of transport to another life.

And every sentence I anticipated a reply of, Oh well, then you won’t do at all.

It never happened.

I said, Look, Al. I smoke. He turned away and held his head and thought a minute and turned back and said, I hate smoking. I take it you love tobacco. Yes. Okay, you can smoke inside the house. (unheard of).

And Al, I said next, it’s worth every cent but for me the rent’s too high.

And Al said, Hmm. Well, how much can you pay?

So we negotiated. It went from $1850 to $1550 and I’d do the feeding of the animals twice a day.

Then I said, That’s fantastic. Thank you!  But I need a month. The place where I am expects 30 day’s notice and they’ve been good to me.

Okay.

And Mary Ann said That’s good, we’re still painting the bedroom, what color would you like?

I met the housepainters inside, they were the Dali Lama’s documentary film crew. True. Really.

I wrote a check for the first month. More unbelievable: Nah, we don’t need a deposit, forget it.

I’m not sure how I was still breathing after all that or able to drive but I did and got home and started packing and called the people where I lived and gave notice.

I’d gotten a call from Al at midnight a week later. He was nervous about smoking. Did I smoke in bed? Not since the ’60’s I said. Okay. I liked how peculiar they were.

CHEF BARBARA

The day of the move was enormous tribulation, sorting, endless boxes and too small moving van, Jeep falling apart, borrowing money for every part of it, and engineered during the worst first storm of the season in gale force winds, torrential rain and floods. Sycamore Canyon Road is the old, one lane, curving road to the beach, and unpaved and rutted. The Jardine Ranch is the last house before the beach. The woodstove had four inches of water in it.

Al and Mary Ann left on tour almost immediately, and there I was alone on 80 wild acres with one storm coming in after the other (and you really feel it there), with a dozen animals to care for, this completely incompetent Brooklynite on the horse/pig front. It was fantastic.

About a month went by. I’d gotten up to Whole Foods in Monterey and stocked the pantry. They drove in that night around midnight. Al called. I said everybody was fine, welcome home. He sounded exhausted. He said it was a great tour but he was knocked out. Mary Ann had a broken arm that wasn’t healing right. I asked if they had any food in the house.

Not really.

Then I said I had Chateaubriand in fried onion and Portobello mushrooms, fresh asparagus, mashed potatoes, Cheshire cheese, lemon meringue pie, ginger chocolate, a nice bottle of old Port, and after every thing he gasped and sighed, and I said give me fifteen minutes I’m bringing you dinner. I put dinner for two in a white wicker basket swaddled in red and white checked cloth and trotted it up to the Big House. After which I became their chef, they both said they never tasted anything so delish. In less than a year I quit the radio job and opened my gallery.

I happily consider myself an opportunist, or at least someone not adverse to turning down chance when it appears unexpectedly and wanting to have a life of joy. There were, as you note, a lot of maneuverings around very strong personalities required, and this breathless sense of not wanting to do wrong on my part. But there was so much for me to gain, and grow I did. Life altering, every bit of it.

And stimulating beyond belief, I never painted so much or so fast or so well in my life.

Part 1 of 3 to be posted consecutively.

What a Task!


“I had so much me churning in me”

Working for other people 9-5 never ever helped me. Though so many I knew were satisfied with the putting in of a day then leaving it behind for the life.

My intensity never changed at five. I don’t understand time off work and never have. I liked learning things I didn’t know but it always migrated into being a support system for someone else’s life, and nothing ever depressed me more because I had so much me churning in me.

Now here I am with all that expression possible at last, almost, and wonder if I’ve gotten it right.

And what is that anyway?

Being happy, pleased with a day. Setting our own standards for achievement. Learning ourselves.

What a task!

Cats & Dogs


“In the next life I will be a cat.”

I wondered about how much cats sleep and asked Tommy in his sleepy reverie full of purring what he was up to with more naps than awakes. 

He said: 

When cats sleep, they hold up the universe.  They travel vastly among the stars making sure the planets are in alignment and stars keep twinkling to please humans and inspire all life, and making sure that the moon and sun are tending to business. 

So now I know.  It’s a fine mission.  In the next life I will be a cat. 

I’m sure Tzuri does some of the same, though I suspect the canine mission has much more to do with organizing life on earth, all in the present, requiring enormous energy.  Dogs always look so concerned for their humans lest they go astray.  I am convinced their sleep is respite from duty, and their playfulness a respite from the enormous tasks at hand, so much teaching to do. 

So there you are, two professors, united.

 

A Day at the Beach


Barbara described herself as an ‘Expressionist’ painter, harking back to the international art movement known for bold colors and exaggerated forms that flourished in the early 1900s.

Expressionist artists were not interested in how the world looks, but how it felt. Toward that end, Expressionism stylistically employed:

  • intense colour
  • agitated brushstrokes
  • disjointed space
  • primitivism & fantasy

Expressionism, which came to prominence in Germany & Austria in the years leading up to (and during) WWI, tended toward darker moods, mimicking the widespread cultural anxieties of their era, but Barbara typically exploited expressionist technique to celebrate the joy of life.

AUGUST – The Woman, The Horse, The Dog, The Birds, The Sand, The Ocean, The Sky

Although, by contrast, note a beach scene portrayed less enthusiastically, more cautiously.

Life is Dangerous

______________

The Mystery of Plants


“Now I am becoming a gardener and every day is a revelation.”

 I had another splendid garden day. I’m in a place that has risen and fallen via occupant, and they have been legion. What’s stayed are some brilliantly designed for the place fifty years ago, very old established plants. The huge Pride of Madeira, the very old gnarled lavender which were trimmed into trees, huge patches of tall reedy African Lilies, dozens of plants I’ve never seen. And every couple of days, something brand new rises out of the ground, stirred to life, introduced long ago by some former planter and which lay dormant. Now here is me, clearing out the underbrush, ridding old bushes of dead branches, exposing the soil to light and air and water that was held captive, and everything in sight starting to cry in a unisonous voice of exuberant joy.

The Mexican Aztec destroyer gardeners have done a nasty job of such severe pruning it’s heartbreaking. I mean, you see the base of things like a jade plant that is so huge it has to be maybe fifty years old and only allowed to grow three feet high! The cherry tree with a ten inch plus trunk was maybe seven feet when I got here. I’ve forbidden the gardeners to come back down here (very sweetly, “Oh, I’ll Do That!”) and the cherry tree, like the others, is now reaching for the sky, some shoots up to eighteen feet, waving deliriously in the sun and wind.

The hedges which are all flowering were reduced to short boxes. And now it’s all hoopla and blooms. The gardeners must be very annoyed when they look down here.

And John, I look around me now and it’s only been a few months, less than a season, and I say aha, that’s me. There I am, in greens and reds and yellows and blues. Time to start painting it.

I’ve landed somewhere I didn’t intentionally head for. It’s taken me more than a decade to begin to unravel the mysteries of plants. I had one garden experience as an eleven- or twelve-year-old somewhere. My mother introduced me to flower seed packets and I dug up a patch of land and grew fabulous zinnias and somethings. But never picked up on it in Brooklyn, except for house bound geraniums I loved, some spider plants and ferns, and nasturtiums I had growing year-round in my studio window, street-level, that used to stop passersby in their tracks routinely.

Now I am becoming a gardener and every day is a revelation. So there’s something more than I knew in being led here, to this place, where gallery is important, house too miniscule to consider much, and garden is critical to life. I never know where the hell I’m going or why but learning to trust myself that there’s an attached purpose in it.

 

The Pig Who Loved Plums


“It was so tragically romantic . . . wild pig all poet. I was training myself to think, ‘Bad wild animal, dangerous wild animal!’ so I wouldn’t care . . . and it turned out he was in love with the plums.”

There are coyote packs out here who howl to each other at late night, moon nights. It’s not scary. There can’t be much other than the occasional mountain lion in the way of predators here – [The Holman Ranch] – 400 acres of a lot of wild land, canyons and hills, beyond the modest cultivated places and few houses and stables and the horse pastures.

Before I had the studio/apartment in the barn on the hill I lived in the peasant housing, the Bunkhouses, a row of about eight on the last stretch of road before the big house. Lousy housing, about 12X12 feet, everything leaked, the walls, half underground in front, seeped, a long communal porch facing west and hills, but oh my God the property was free range and spectacular. The big house had a pool nobody used but me, set off in a mountainside, blue/green tile, condor and hawks overhead, sun-heated.

Opposite the bunkhouses was a little house with the washers and dryers. A fence below that and a big sloping lot of land into a canyon. And Patty and Chris who lived in the one full house next to the laundry. They had a fantastic garden filled with extraordinary plants, flowering vines, fruit trees in flower, a pond, chickens and roosters, cats and a really old cocker spaniel, and they did underwater landscaping for ponds, including for Monterey Aquarium, and pretty much took care of the ranch.

Slow to start, but with increased passion each night one summer, one of the pigs in a wild pack began trying to break through that back fence. Chris, a well-armed Texan, would charge out at 1 or 2 am and fire in the direction of the pig and scare it off.  But the insistent pig returned, every night, making more need-to-repair holes in the wood fence, not getting through but upsetting the Holman Ranch balance of nature, our natures anyway.

These things run about 3-400 lbs, and are all muscle, near blind, and aggravate easy. They charge at whatever appears to be a target.  And they are dangerous. So there was general worry and specific annoyance and between the crashing wood and Chris firing nobody was sleeping any more.

Except me now up on the hill in the barn. The ruckus woke me around 2 am one morning, a lot more shots fired than usual, and voices shouting and screaming and I threw on clothes and ran down the hill.

Chris (and of course it’s the dead dark of night except for some badly placed electric lights) had heard the wild pig break through the fence and he’d gone out with a rifle and shotgun and handgun. Seven or eight or ten shots fired. As the pig charged him! The flashlights from all the woken tenants honed in on the dead pig’s body, still heaving its end of life, Chris panting not more than five feet away, it had come right at him. It was pretty sad along with a relief that the enemy was stilled, Chris unscathed.

But the story, the real story, lay in the aftermath. Here was this grizzled huge thing, they are enormous, and they do attack, bad eyesight and generally peeved at the world, and it lay dead now on the path, and of course I’m in the wild west and everyone here grew up with doing this so they cooked it later that day.

So all this is going on and I’m trying to adjust to the thinking. I’m in a different country, five years out of Brooklyn, one year out of Virginia (where they cooked and ate everything with great fanfare on complex homemade equipment, and often) and I’m talking to the Texan and his wife about the rampaging wild pig and it turns out that the pig kept breaking into the back yard in order to get at the very full post-blossom fruit-filled plum trees that bordered Chris and Patty’s yard. 

My God. The succulent plums. Here was wild pig all poet. He had risked his life for the sweet plums just out of reach and I could not get over it.  No other pig before or after him had thought the plum something he would not live without. No other. It was so tragically romantic, too much to stand. It had never occurred to me. I was training myself to think, ‘Bad wild animal, dangerous wild animal!’ so I wouldn’t care about the rest that followed and it turned out he was in love with the plums.

This was some special creature whose heart must have been filled with exceptional poetry and the stuff dreams are made of.  All the pig wanted was something beautiful and wonderful with that alluring perfume to it. I tell you, it so affected and crushed me, I cried and cried, and for months, and still.  And no I couldn’t bring myself to be part of the feast that followed. And it gave me a new respect for the souls of what is called wild.

Which of course you’ve seen, you’ve known, from among others, your wolves.

 

What did I want?


“As far as I could see a checkered career was about the best thing on earth. I could live my life as I saw fit to live it and the more checkers the better!”

Many years ago I presented myself with choices about conducting my life. I was in NY and witness to, friend of, working with a lot of driven, influential people. I could see caution at certain turns with them, thinking of the big picture, the future stardom, the decision not to be careless about . . . something. I could watch it take place; fascinated me. It played out in ways like, I’ll get you a cab vs come upstairs. Or carefully, pointedly, leaving a room when discussions were headed a particular way. That’s most especially political. Sometimes a candidate has to be directed. Sometimes they get it on their own but there are conversations inappropriate to hear because of what might come up later if events go south.

Well, as I’ve said I grew up in an emotional desert, and when I started finally allowing emotional content to my life I couldn’t bear the thought of not letting it all hang out.

So that decision, choosing how to conduct my life . . . it was very simple and very fast.

I asked myself if I ever wanted to run for political office. No, I did not. I had no interest in power, or governing, or sticking to one job more than two years tops.

What did I want?

Writing. Painting and Art. Endless Experience. As far as I could see a checkered career was about the best thing on earth. I could live my life as I saw fit to live it and the more checkers the better! Launching into any creative field provides enormous license to behave well or badly, then write a novel or screenplay about the process! I didn’t want so much to behave badly as to not prevent myself from heading around just about any corner that looked good. How I looked in the doing did not matter a whit.