Let Us Not Forget

My name is John Hayes, and I recently received the following sad news which I would like to post for those who have noticed Barbara’s absence from these pages:

“Alas, your fears are justified. Barbara died in early September (2018) from complications of surgery. . . She had survived radiation for tumors behind her eyes, and her sight had improved. She was in the middle of chemotherapy. Evidently, however, her cognition and balance led to a fall and immediate hip surgery for the break. She aspirated during surgery.”

I “met” Barbara online in 2012 while reading her book, The Gandy Dancer & Other Short Stories. We shared a love of art and writing, and over the next half-dozen years our email correspondence would grow to ¾’s of a million words.

From the beginning it was obvious that Barbara was special. Her observations and insights, her paintings and drawings, her bohemian life as an artist – in so many ways Barbara defied the norm and approached greatness.

In 2013 I described Barbara’s life in a blog as:

  • A life lived on the edge where the risks are greater but the rewards are priceless
  • A life spent saying ‘no’ to compromise and ‘yes’ to distant horizons
  • A life bristling with the ‘courage to be’ and practiced in the art of joyful engagement

If ever there were a biography as yet unwritten I would love to read,” I noted in that same blog, “it would be Barbara’s.” And toward that end I urged her many times to sketch her life in words, as well as to let me photograph and document her canvases. An artist of her caliber should not be forgotten.

“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.” 

– Barbara Sparhawk

And yet, two months after Barbara died her body still lay unclaimed in a morgue in Carmel, California. I do not know if the situation has since been resolved.

If anyone has more information or thoughts they would like to share, please do.


“So we shall have at it and write for the sake of, and see where it leadeth and be happy and full in our souls from the splendours of the language, shall we not.”

– Barbara Sparhawk


Heron-Otter on Wind, Night Sky Pfeiffer Beach

Heron-Otter on Wind, Night Sky Pfeiffer Beach

Oil on Canvas.
Bear with me here.
It was 2 years after I moved to Big Sur and was living there that I had one of those fabulous spiritual recollections of the first impact of that, my first night sky on Pfieffer Beach, the presence literally and imaginatively of everything in and out of sight, the overwhelming sense of plenty. No, of TOO MUCH and thanks to that revival, two years later when I could actually assimilate all that it meant to me, I painted this.
As near as I can tell, the flying oblong thing is part sea otter and part King Heron. The flying poppies are, sort of, self-explanatory, and if not, well you wouldn’t like this.
Starry starry sea otter flying bird flower garden in the sky kind of night.
It’s out there.
Some lovely fellow bought this just before Christmas.
Mwah, world.

Steve Jobs & What Genius Inspires

I cannot let the passing of an American who blossomed in my lifetime with such drama and originality go unmentioned here.

I am no part of the computer savvy community, don’t own a thing he made and never knew the man personally but I loved everything about him. Steve Jobs was the essence of American dreamer and doer, expanding like some wondrous and ever-changing bright new planet in our solar system. He made his own rules and made it work. Not just for him but the thousands he brought along for the ride from whom he also demanded the best, because he knew they had it in them. Nice work, Mr Jobs. Thank you for being here, for setting such high standards. That this man worked up until his last breath is not a vision of desperation. It is the personification of the unquenchable thrill of hard work on something he loved with all his being. I don’t see how he could do otherwise.

When I first saw DaVinci’s work I was a youngster intrigued by art. I still remember the hit, the gasping jolt his ink drawings produced in my very soul. And then I looked and looked and looked some more, and the thrill never has ended. At some point, still a child, I made words for myself out of the feeling I got from Leonardo Da Vinci, along these lines: Here is what a human being can do. This is the kind of work humans are capable of. I can reach this, too. I had a similar reaction to Rembrandt, whose stunning ability to portray life with deep emotion made me love him. What stands our heroes apart is that they are doing the most, the best they have got it in them to do. Steve Jobs is in that class.

It is nothing unattainable. It demands a willingness to risk everything, to stand by your own vision, to deny compromise. And be ready to die for any of it.

From what I’ve read, Steve Jobs was not devoted to his illness, but did what he had to so he could keep going. It was his work that drove him, the illness must have been incredibly annoying.

I believe that we have, among the really big choices, the opportunity to spend ourselves literally on what we love despite any hardship. And that is the best. Otherwise, reach for the nauseating countless modern examples of indulgences that just leave you wondering what those people are thinking with a lust for showy lives based on minor talent.

For most of his 56 years Steve Jobs made possible his doing what he loved to do. Michael Jackson did that for his adulthood. Countless others. Not all the world. The limitations produced by choosing to sacrifice what boils inside the human spirit are enormous. To exchange that for ease, for the illusion of job protection, for physical comfort, is choosing death.

The greatest legacy from the greatest among us is not that they lined up breadcrumbs through the forest to guide us to safety. There is no formula to follow. These are the ones who strode into the dark unknown, hearts on fire with the incredible impossibility of all they imagined; that they won and lost, that they hurt and laughed and loved. And most of all that they met the challenge of living a life fully. The legacy of genius well spent is simply this:  we have it in us, one and all, to do exactly the same if we but dare. Do it today. Do the impossible.

Johnny Depp & Hunter S Thompson in Big Sur

Johnny Depp in Big Sur, buying paintings at the Hawks Perch Gallery. Anything’s possible as Lord Whimsy said.  And Depp is making The Rum Diaries, a Hunter S. Thompson book becomes film. And Thompson was a wild and violent eccentric in these parts. Big Sur remembers him with fear and loathing. 

This is an obvious progression of events. The movie’s done, Depp wasn’t around picking up local flavor except it’s all about Puerto Rico but what the hell. Maybe in pirate gear but we’d have noticed. Maybe. And of course Hunter S. Thompson isn’t around either. A lot of people are not saddened by that. I ran into a fairly young guy who caretook the writer’s property here and gardened for him. His first dramatic encounter with a drunk to the tits Thompson bearing and aiming a loaded shotgun, and insisting the intruder he’d hired and given housing explain himself. The kid quit. Prudent move. Thompson liked killing things.

Okay, back to Depp in my gallery (The Hawk’s Perch right off Highway One), a little bit of pradisical geography that’s drawn the likes of Steve McQueen (just finishing his portrait, come have a look) and Orson Welles (next in line) in the past so why not. I’d tell him I hadn’t seen every movie,  but I loved the Scissorhands one and the Don Juan with Marlon Brando, the Chocolate thing disappointed because it was such a blatant bad steal of Babette’s Feast. And Ed Woods is probably my favorite movie ever. Generally, I like how strange Depp is. Wouldn’t he like to commission me to paint his portrait. I’m good at reaching character in my painting, great with eyes. With actors it’s not easy to find that, the appeal of the stage and screen being the chameleon effect, so it’d take some long hard looking to find the brilliant machinery behind the flesh. But wouldn’t it be fine cool fun. Then too, art for art’s sake is okay, but life is more than sunshine, romance, Jack Daniels, and pigment. I’d want to get paid.

Surprise visit. Depp and his posse buy up every fabulous painting I’ve ever done that hangs (minus the sold ones) on my gallery walls. I spring for coffee. Dinner of salmon fish and chips at the Maiden Pub next door and their best Arrogant Bastard Ale. Or maybe cook them up some terrific Chateau Briand with Portobello mushrooms, garlic & fried onions. Wild rice. Mashed yams with coconut milk. Some green stuff. Pernod. Nice glass of port, Cointreau, Key Lime for a taste of the Caribbean, that sort of thing. Ready when you are, Depp and Thompson’s ghost. Welcome home. Turn a little more this way, that’s good, light’s good like that. Stop posing and sit still a sec. Expressionist painter paints Expressionist Actor.

Big Sur & Movie Stars

A traveler came through my gallery this morning and stayed to talk a spell. His first trip here was in the 60’s. His last trip was three years ago when he volunteered to fight the fires.

In the 60’s he’d stopped in front of a Big Sur bulletin board posted with local events. DANCE TONIGHT AT THE GRANGE was on the top with comments scribbled below. Rain expected? and an answer. Will there be food? And an answer. Who’s playing? And an answer. Then, in possibly the best description of this small, proud of itself community, the question Where does Elizabeth Taylor live. Followed by, Who’s Elizabeth Taylor?

Morning stirrings outside the gallery from July 4th revelers, Wanna get a beer and donut?

I love my town.

Happy Birthday America

The Hawks Perch, Big Sur

HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA     We’re 235 years old today. The spirit of revolution is never far from our hearts. Nor should the men who were the first American politicians be who pledged their “lives, their liberty, and their sacred honor” on that declaration of independence from European tyrants. We need a long hard look for a single politician today with any honor much less sacred. Americans are good in a crisis and excellent at accomplishing the impossible. In due course we’ll throw the scoundrels out, drain the DC swamp, and continue changing the world for the better by example. The past decade has been an educational intro to cultures which need getting up to speed, discovering the enlightenment of human potential, individualism, and independence. We’re still a beacon. Happy Birthday sweet land of liberty, shine on.

BIG SUR SUMMER      We really are in the most spectacular Big Sur summer, enveloped in gorgeous sunny blue-skied air. The recent short rain set all the aromas loose again, the potent bay, sweet fern and jasmine, sharp acacia, and dark rich riverbank earth. There’s a waft of salt mixed in from the ocean.

Big Sur is in a sweet pocket of sun with fog and cloud banks just to the north and the south of us.

Bearded Iris, Big Sur Hillside

Sold a large painting yesterday,  “Wild Bearded Iris by Riverbank”, (shown), it’s headed north above San Francisco with a wonderful couple. They didn’t say a word for a good ten minutes, walking around the gallery, looking, looking in silence, then the woman stopped in front of a painting she’d kept returning to and out of dead quiet said, “It’s beautiful! It’s so beautiful!” and I swear I saw her heart leap.

There are more pleasures with my gallery than I can sometimes count and sometimes am barely aware of. One is the joy of connecting work I’ve done with a stranger. Good day. Business coming back, roads open, campers and thrilled travelers, and the air rife with the happiness of being alive.

The Economy

I opened The Hawks Perch in Big Sur a year ago. Still here. There’s a lot of hysterical chatter about America tanking but, as always, I recommend flying in the face of conventional wisdom. I started selling paintings on day one and still haven’t stopped. I’m selling cheap, and not every day, but hot damn I’m still afloat. The human heart needs art in hard times as well as good, or that all the doom and gloom only applies if you stick on preordained paths without looking for your own. John Muir, in his triumphant campaign for America’s first national parks, said: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread. A place to play in.” Paintings are like that.