Inspiration – Norleen Nosri

Norleen Nosri is a talented ceramist from Malaysia who is earning her MFA here at the University of Missouri. I’m privileged to work with her and to own several of her beautiful pieces. Her work is, to me, almost above comment. The compositions she creates are gentle and evocative. She says they are an attempt to “elicit harmony in duality.”

Above: Two images I took when I met with Norleen in her studio this past week. These groups of objects were there awaiting their placement in larger compositional arrangements and I was struck by the incidental beauty of their color, interrelated shapes, and intimate space. There was an amazing northern light coming in through a bank of windows; it produced a wonderful glow on the exquisite surfaces of Norleen’s porcelain vessels…

Here are two cups my wife and I have that were made by Norleen.

This last image is an example of Norleen’s awesome maker’s mark. The Nosri name is of tremendous importance to her, and is a connection to her family, her country, her heritage, and the meaning she understands of life. Having discussed this name with her many times, I always make it a point – whenever I hold one of her creations – to turn it over and look upon this honorable name.

We Need Tears

“Tears streamed down Guston’s cheeks as he spoke about the painting.” – David Reed, Soul-Beating

This is where I live, where I want to live, where I wish I was all of the time, where I hope to be when I’m not there, the place I seek when I’m distracted by maintenance and administration and logistics. The place of hopeful devastation. The place of eucaristic, sacramental meaning. The place of alchemical negotiation. When Guston wept over Piero della Francesca’s painting, he knew the work more truly than any of our theories or proliferating words could hope for. Those manifestos and ideologies and conceits so often deaden us to the transformative power of good work, so often distract us from sensing the potency there.

This week I’ve been weeping over Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. In particular, his Great Gate of Kiev is so full and so amazing that it transcends analysis. I could go on and on with words – context, philosophy, history, theory – but the reality is that the wrenching torque created by that string of notes is MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE than any of that! My face is contorted and tears stream because of an intense inner hope/fear/joy/sadness brought to the fore by Mussorgsky’s music.

I don’t know why I’m writing this other than to say that this paradoxical emotional state is why I am an artist. The razor edge between enforced humility and exultant pride, between tragic fear and triumphant happiness, between deep sadness and rich, confident hope – these are the things great art gives us. The paradox is the liminal zone, the threshold between true feeling and mere conjecture.

We need tears in the face of these things, not jokes or theory or attempts at certainty.

Above: Viktor Hartmann’s design for the Great Gate of Kiev. Click the image to listen to a great performance of the piece.

The Greatest Mix Tape/CD/USB/Playlist I’ve Ever Received

Back in 2009 or so one of my students, Tina, gave me a collection of songs. I knew of her audiophile tendencies. I knew she had good taste. I knew she was an artist and a scholar and a writer and a thinker and an all-around quality individual. So it was with great anticipation that I began to play this mix. Little did I know that years later it would still be a staple of my iTunes, a cornerstone of my sonic environment, a touchstone to contemplation and significance.

So here it is, in all of its glory. Where I can find a link to a song, I’ll place a link. If I were you I’d load this beast up and let it play. And when you do, thank Tina’s good taste.

1) “Pistol of Fire” – Kings of Leon

2) “Cocaine Habit” – Old Crow Medicine Show

3) “Down to the Well” – Pixies (Tina actually gave me a rare version of the song that I can’t link to… but this is awesome anyway)

4) “Proven Lands” – Johnny Greenwood

5) “Traveling Man” – Miwa Gemini (this is a live version, different from what Tina gave me, but still awesome)

6) “That Can be Arranged” – Tom Vek

7) “Bring it on Home to Me” – Spoon (A great Sam Cooke cover)

8) “Celia of the Seals” – Donovan (One of my all time favorite songs now…)

9) “KKK” – Serge Franklin

10) “Paint the Town Red” – IMA Robot (Super intense track)

11) “Fonklogi” – Sigur Ros (Sorry, no link…)

12) “Day of the Deadringers” – McLusky

13) “List of Demands” – Saul Williams (CLASSIC)

14) “Till I Get My Way” – The Black Keys

15) “Black River Killer” – Blitzen Trapper (Like listening to a Cormac Mccarthy novel…)

16) “Pablo Picasso” – Modern Lovers (Jonathan Richman deserves rock immortality for this track, especially when you take THIS track [which is one of the greatest songs of all time] into account…)

17) Out Of Time – Blur

18) 2080 – Yeasayer

It’s a strange mix, this mix is. It’s a conflagration of narrative and imagery, of poem and scream, of hysterical missive and crafted mission. I’m thankful to Tina for giving me this particular grouping, this particular constructed meaning.

So in honor and thanks, I present here the first drawing Tina made for me. It was a drawing that told me she had some serious ability. In spite of its humble scope, this drawing really has some serious understanding behind it. Tina went on to make great drawings in subsequent classes, but I know her life path will be much more expansive and contain much more amazing visions. I’m glad I got to witness a bit of it. Here’s to you, Tina! Thanks for the music!

Bottle It!

Homebrew #2 is in the bottles!

Here she is in the secondary just before bottling… mmm, hoppy goodness! Love that green color!

Data on this one:

Type: Double IPA via Northern Brewer.

Declared Timeframe: 3 months.

Brew Day: July 6, 2012

Racked to Secondary: July 11, 2012

Dry-Hopped: September 7, 2012

Bottled: September 13, 2012

Yield: 46 bottles (just under 5 gallons)

First open: projected for October 6, 2012

We’ll see about that… I’ll probably sample it after a week or so in the bottles. I’ll report back on the glory, for sure.

Here’s a shot of the 46th bottle – I’ve indicated the final bottle of this session with a daub of black paint. I charged this last bottle – and the last bottle from my previous brew – with a bit of the gunk from the dregs of the carboy. Gotta bite those hops!


The Coat

When I turned 18 in 1994, my mother gave me a Swiss Army Trench coat, also called a Greatcoat. If you poke around on eBay or other vintage and/or Army+Navy stores you can often find these high quality coats for $75 or $80; mom got this one for something like $10. They’re all fairly old – mine is around 45 or 50 years old. It’s definitely been the most enduring body-covering item I’ve had, robustly surviving throughout the years with only some minor modifications. Gotta love those official Swiss cross buttons!

Here’s my coat hanging on the door of the Alaskan Oil Konvenience store where I worked for several years before and during my undergraduate time. This shot is from 1997, just a few years after first getting the coat, taken with my father’s ancient Minolta SLR.

Above: Self Portrait with Halo, acrylic on canvas, 8 by 10 inches, 2000. There’s that coat again – obviously I’ve built some sort of persona around it. Forgive my self-aggrandizement. I can still remember the day in my dorm room at SAIC when I began this piece. It was the last in a line of undergraduate self portraits featuring the coat.

Here I am at Salmon River Falls in upstate New York, in a photo taken by my cousin Chris. This image is from 2002.

Jumping forward a few years here – This photo was taken in the winter of 2007/2008 just after I moved to Missouri to start teaching at Mizzou.

And now today in my studio with a dodecahedron below it.

This coat has been a great companion for me. I’m going to celebrate it by following in the footsteps of Diebenkorn, who famously created a series of etchings based on his own old coat for a special volume of W. B. Yeats poems (If you’ve got a few grand, you can purchase an edition – there’s one left – here). I want to dwell on that coat and where it has been with me. Keep an eye open for some paintings and/or drawings to appear soon.


The Blanket

This is a baby blanket made for me by a neighbor (Mrs Kinney!) when I was born. I don’t have a sentimental connection to other blankets from my childhood, and I don’t even know how much I actually used this as a baby, but this one has always has a presence in my mind. I turn 36 this Friday, so I’ve been thinking about things I’ve had for a long time and what it’s like to have things connected to our existence. I love how John Dewey described this effect. He called it “funding” – that is, the way we create significance and meaning via the experiences we have, then associate those meanings with the objects and spaces around us. There’s something about the color, the shapes, and the idea of the bicentennial of the United States all coming together in this blanket that’s always been interesting to me. Now I’ve got the piece hanging in my studio; who knows what other meanings and resonances it will gather as time continues.