02 May 2021

Songs of Our Past

 Untitled
2021, oil on canvas
36" x 48"
 
(aspects 1 & 2)
 
 
Somewhere in this broken and disconnected world is a fellow human who is lost and searching for answers.  One who is in need of assurance, encouragement, and strength: assurance that his life holds meaning; encouragement to carve his own path; strength to break free from society's mold.

This is for you.

May you know life deeply.
 

-OH


A Search for


"More and more he will be governed by what others want him to do, thus increasingly falling prey to conformism."  -Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
 
* * *
 
Is permanence possible, and can it take form, in a transitory existence?  Most will argue no.  I am convinced otherwise.  While elusive, permanence does exist, but it is only present in the deepest recess of the human experience: the state of assured meaning——that is, purpose.  
 
To know our purpose in life——to pursue meaningful work in spite of its hardships and suffering——is to have permanence in an ever changing landscape.  It is what courses through our finite bodies to move us beyond ourselves.  With this knowledge, we are bound to a higher something.  As a result, our fleeting condition is given a permanence that transcends time and space.
 
I met my purpose many autumns ago.  Yet, I spent the greater portion of the last two years attempting to trade in its very truth for a life of practicality, for that which is considered conventional and socially acceptable for a thirty-something-year-old.  

There is an insidious nature to conformity.  As someone who is much too stubborn and headstrong, it seemed my purpose and values were safe from the impact of external noise.  It was not until my desire for meaning over financial security was being challenged consistently that I found myself confronted with doubts——doubts that started off inconspicuously small, but gradually grew to an obstructive size.  Critics purported my work as a painter was impractical and short of prestige.  Instead, they insisted on the importance of what I had long deemed empty and vapid: monetary accrual, socioeconomic status, and running in the "right" circles.
 
Unfortunately, over time, I——as well as my work——became affected by the unsolicited advice.
 
This wolf, a stealthy predator, had found its way into the sheep pen. 
 
 * * *

Society's ill-fitted, one-size-for-all ideology pressures us to renounce dissenting behavior and harms the outliers who swim against the current——the individuals who consciously choose meaning over a life of material stature.  At birth, we are handed a timeline for the milestones that must be reached at each age.  To stray from it is to subject oneself to continual scrutiny and shame.
 
For the past two years, I have struggled to drown out the voices of the naysayers, of those determined to kill the better part of me——the only part of me I have ever known to be true.  I lost several battles in the process and suffered a high degree of debilitation.  However, as I learned from Viktor E. Frankl, meaning is found in suffering, too.
 
* * *

It was a Friday in early October.  The year was 2010.  I was twenty-six, and it was my birthday.  The highly anticipated exhibition, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay, which I waited well over a year to see, was finally open to the public.  I spent that afternoon with Vincent at the de Young.  
 
Seven of Vincent's paintings were on display.  I must have stood in front of Bedroom at Arles (1889) for an hour.  Seeing his actual brushstrokes from 120 years ago in person was an experience I would not soon forget.  I was intent on taking in every minute detail.  What were you feeling when you painted your bedroom, Vincent?  I imagined him sitting on his bed, turning his head towards the window and peering out into the world.  I thought about him suffering for his purpose, for the very thing of which he was so certain, but which many mistook for far less.  And I remember standing there, a mere few feet from his painting, sharing an internal conversation with a man who lived and died a century before I was even born——the full impact of its resonance bringing me to tears. 
 
* * *
 
How can anything be permanent when we are living in a constant state of impermanence?  How do I reconcile practicality and expectations with meaning and the responsibility of fulfilling a purpose so few understand?  I am not sure.  Answers come and go for me.  Yet, amid the uncertainty, I do know this much: poorer my life would be without art and its enriching experiences, and poorer this world would be had Vincent ignored his life's calling——had he listened to his critics, taken the practical path, and done what was easier. 

There is a reason painting cuts me as deep as it does and why the need to continue painting is unrelenting: it is both the means and the end to my existence.  Painting is the vehicle by which I can reach and serve others——those who are yearning for resonance and connection, those who are searching for the greater meaning in their own lives.  Sharing hope, even the smallest grain of it, with my fellow humans has been the driving force behind this impractical journey from the very beginning.  It is what gives my days meaning, and it is what provides a sense of permanence in a world that is ever fleeting.


-OH
 
 

31 December 2020

The Search for 2020



 
 
Photos from a year I had mistaken to be lost, but eventually found in the simple, unconfounded tones of everyday life.

Sending infinite love and light to all . . . 

-OH


22 December 2020

The Fifth Piece

An Unfamiliar Autumn
2020, oil on canvas
40" x 60"

 
In 2013, I decided to close my series, Autumn Soliloquies, after the fourth painting.  Having labored greatly over the existing body of work, there grew a unique desire to protect it and its integrity.  Somewhere between the start and finish points of October's End, I became convinced it was necessary to divert my focus elsewhere in order to avoid a stalemate. 

Seven years later, in July 2020, I began working on the second coming of Autumn Soliloquies.

. . .
 
An Unfamiliar Autumn, in its current state, is the culmination of many months' work.
 
It is a portrait of days marked by uncertainty and masked in anxiety.  A portrait of fears and the attempts to assuage and overcome them.  An expressive study of humanity's regression in values and the excision of meaningful purpose.  It is a look at the overflow of thoughts, as well as the delicate threads by which individuals are desperately hanging.  A look at the dichotomy between External and Internal.  
 
It is a poem for abandoned truths and virtues, for forgotten places and people.  A poem for the natural world, for the scintillating celestial bodies that grace the deep ebony skies and the comfort they provide for those of us who are searching.  

And there are so many of us who are searching.
 
Multiple layers comprise the foundation to this piece and I consider each layer to hold individual value and significance.  Though I spent the last few years experimenting with different visual elements, I gladly returned to my trademark palette of earth tones for this painting.  Unsurprisingly, I also reemployed an amorphous composition, which is joined by floating, indiscernible parts and scattered lines.  These physical details were brought together in an effort to create a sense of harmonious union between the frenetic and fluid sensations occurring throughout the work.
  
. . .
 
The objective of An Unfamiliar Autumn is to convey the unfamiliarity of a period that feels both short and long, graceful yet embattled.  An unfamiliarity that extends far beyond one season and into an entire year that has been held captive by endless unknowns. 

May we work together to move past the unknowns.

-OH


15 October 2020

An Exchange

Sutro (San Francisco, CA - October 13, 2020)


Yesterday.

I made my way through the ruinous baths on an unusually warm October morning.  As my feet fell in line with the familiarities of the dirt trail, my eyes fell upon a man and a woman perched on the remains of a west-facing wall.  The sight stirred me and I gave pause.

In a year that has uncovered deep-seated contentions and the divisive, obliterating nature of humankind, the scene of two individuals engaged in a doting exchange while sitting among century-old ruins marked a stark contrast.  A composition of opposing elements.  A lifeline found amid physical devastation.  
 
As the mist of the grand Pacific gently kissed the pair's rosy faces and waves crashed against jutted rock formations a short distance from their feet, I found myself bearing witness to a candid embrace of human affection.  And I thought, How wonderful it must be to find safety in another being, to know its presence in a collapsing world.
 

-OH


07 October 2020

35

 A Morning Named October 7th (San Francisco, CA)

 
One last morning as 35
One part hollow mixed with two parts regret
One deep yearning for a year unspent.
 

22 September 2020

Forever, Autumn.

(Double-exposure edit; background photograph taken in Catskills, October 2018)

 
An unassuming note. 🍁

The client an elderly gentleman who penned this sentiment on the back of an envelope three autumns ago could not have known his simple mention of fall would leave him forever stamped in this painter’s history (and his note tucked away in a little treasure trove).  Surely I have a strange, unconventional relationship with Autumn, but I suppose he may have one, too.  And perhaps this is evidence of how deciduous trees; hot apple cider; shorter days imbued with warm, aromatic spices; crisp air; crackling fires and toasty socks have a way of connecting humans knowingly and unknowingly.

Autumn, I say this to you each September, but for good reason: it is so wonderful to have you back again.
 
-OH

 

07 July 2020

The Colors of Silence


Markings, No. IV
oil on canvas, 2020
22" x 28"


Swim in an ocean of internal dialogue.
Speak only when spoken words are of true necessity.  
Write candidly. 
Make meaningful marks.
Yield to purpose.  Refuse to supplant purpose with practicality.
Allow lessons to become teachers of light, 
the colors of silence.

-OH


18 June 2020

Amelioration


Markings, No. III
oil on canvas, 2020
36" x 48"



Every man has his secret sorrows, which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.  -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


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15 May 2020

Flow


Markings, No. II (Week 6-8)
oil on canvas, 2020
22" x 28"



The words flowed right out of me in the form of paint.

-OH

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The Making of Marks


Markings, No. I (Week 2-6, Reworked)
oil on canvas, 2020
22" x 28"


There is nothing I cannot paint over.
-Richard Diebenkorn

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The unsettling feeling of dissatisfaction coupled with a curiosity surrounding a life unknown to the present one, I set to the task of risking what was for what could be.  In so doing, I am able to give the painting its full meaning, and myself the courage to trust in what I do not see, but know to exist.  

Each mark I make develops a memory within the work and my process, regardless of whether or not I layer over it.  The mark is forever a part of the whole--merging with the new and engaging with it, holding both permanence and impermanence.

-OH

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28 April 2020

Markings


Markings, Week No. 2-6
oil on canvas, 2020
22" x 28"


What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson


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22 April 2020

The High Sierra (Happy Earth Day)









 The High Sierra, October/November 2019 (35mm film)



In honor of Earth Day and its 50th Anniversary, I thought to share some photographs I took while camping in and through the High Sierra last year . . .

An autumn ago.
Solitude and stillness. 

---

Allow us to be better stewards of our planet--for each other, for our children, for our children's children, and for their children's children.  For our magnificent wildlife, our vast marine life, our invaluable plant life.  For the whole of nature.

We have one Earth.  Be kind to her.

In no lesser degree, may we also remember to show kindness to our fellow humans during this time of global crisis.

Our Earth and world are hurting collectively.
Be the antidote, not the poison.


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15 March 2020

North Star


December 15, 2018 - A Brief, Quiet Respite  
(art installation: Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, 2013)

---

To be uninhibited by language, by the obstacle of stringing together words and phrases in order to achieve a satisfying degree of expression . . .

Painting had erased the tension I too often felt marred my flow of expression--the tension between the initial moment of feeling and the goal of articulating it.  There seemed to be these unidentifiable words murmuring just below the surface, waiting to be delivered in writing.  As a result, my external attempts to translate the internal in its most unadulterated form met a great deal of challenges and seemed overreaching on most days.

However, painting was the process that allowed for unobstructed first strokes and fluidity.  It allowed for immediate expression without the immediate need for words.  Painting transformed the poems of my soul into raw, honest, physical entities that could be shared with an audience.  They were my wildlands.   

Painting provided more than just a means to organic expression; it gave me purpose, made me resolute.  It set a path that I believed I could follow until dust to dust.

But somewhere in the recesses of 2018 and 2019, my compass stopped working.  Eventually, I let it slip between my fingers.  Maybe I abandoned it.  Regardless of what exactly, everything came to a grinding halt last spring.

You see, trauma holds the power to change everything, including the parts of us we work to sustain and keep engaged through all the years that matter.  When the trauma is deep enough within the psyche and pierces the spirit we once believed to be indomitable, it is only a matter of time before the small crack becomes a loud shatter.

I do not know a lot at the moment other than I have lost my strongest sense of self, truth, trust, and purpose.  I do not recognize the person who now greets me at each reflection: withdrawn, uninspired, burdened with experiences and trauma she wishes she could erase.  To be left meaningless and questioning God is a heaviness I have had to carry quietly. 

Yet, even as I am feeling the brunt of a fractured existence, I cannot deny there is a speck of brilliance present--a still, small voice that continues to encourage me to defy the odds.  Like the very stars that dot the night sky, the very bodies that bring respite in chaos, it tells me a story of profound beauty in the seemingly endless darkness. 

“In spite of everything, I shall rise again; I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.” - Vincent van Gogh

---

 

02 January 2020

See Cy, Part II





Museum Brandhorst - München, Germany (October 2019)


At every corner, at every turn, there he lived in all his glorious mark-making.

And at every corner, at every turn, there I had the pleasure of experiencing the pure magic of those very marks.

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