Monday, November 30, 2009

Hang Day and Chairman Mao

Busy busy busy day! Tomorrow is hang day for my upcoming exhibit - remember? It's opening on Thursday. I wish y'all could see my house - No, I don't wish y'all could see my house. It's an assembly line of sawdust and regular dust, of frames and clamps, of sand paper and spray paint, of nails and screws, of wires and glues, of touchups and decisions, and of more decisions... There are over thirty paintings, with smallest ones measuring 10"x10", largest 30"x40". We're taking them to town tomorrow!

By the way, have y'all been following this "climategate" thing? I've always said that fifty, or a hundred years down in the future, we'll all look back at this and say to ourselves, incredulously,"How did we get duped so badly?" That's what people my parents's generation say to one another now when they look back at their revolutionary zeal to follow and adore Dear Leader Chairman Mao (Oh, yes, adoration. They thanked him, bowed, sometimes danced, before his portrait prior to taking meals in their own house).

Methinks the saddest thing can happen to "nice people" is gulibility.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sermon by Fr. George Rutler

I'm a huge fan of Fr. George Rutler, Pastor of Our Savior Church in New York City. I try not to miss any episode of his show on EWTN on Tuesday night, Christ in the City. From time to time I'd "sneak" in to the Pastor's Corner on the website of his church, to read his homilies, like the one from Nov.15. It touches on the art of Iconography. Fr. Rutler had an Icon of Christ the Pantocrator (meaning Ruler of the Cosmos, image below), one of my all time favorites, painted (or "written" as preferred by iconographers) in the sanctuary of his church. The same sermon also touched on Communism, the "religion" I was fed as a child and youngster. I quote a few paragraphs -

The iconography in the sanctuary is now completed with figures of Moses and Elijah and two angels worshipping our Saviour. Ken Jan Woo devoted four months to “writing” these images, which are based on the Transfiguration icon of Theophanes the Greek (ca.1330–ca.1410) for a church in Novgorod. Theophanes was a colleague and tutor of Andrei Rublev (1370–1430). The Novgorod icon, which now is in the Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow, suits the transitional Romanesque architecture of our church, and is one of the images particularly admired by Pope Benedict XVI. The angels are of the Sienese school, also representative of the Italian transition from Mediaeval to Renaissance art, just as is our church. Using our local talent, we have been able to glorify God’s House at practically no cost while budgeting more than we ever have for the church’s charitable works.

Our church was dedicated at the most intense time of the Cold War. Parishioners then would have been gratified that those involved in these recent installations are young people who survived Communism. Ken Woo’s family endured the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and families of the workers who braved high scaffolding for these installations lived in Poland in its last years of Marxist control.

I am writing on the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. We in the West, with no experience of the Church’s heroic suffering, may be tempted to take freedom for granted and to be seduced by contemporary dilettantes who disdain Christian culture and even praise figures like Mao and his heirs.

The political philosopher, Leszek Kolakowski, died this summer in Oxford. His father had been killed by the Gestapo during the German occupation of Poland, and he secretly taught himself to read. Having hoped Marxism would change things, he eventually saw through it and was expunged from the Party. He wrote: “Communism was not the crazy fantasy of a few fanatics, nor the result of human stupidity and baseness; it was a real, very real part of the history of the twentieth century, and we cannot understand this history of ours without understanding communism. We cannot get rid of this specter by saying it was just ‘human stupidity,’ or ‘human corruptibility.’ The specter is stronger than the spells we cast on it. It might come back to life.” (emphasis mine)

Just Another Picture

Apple & Pear, oil on canvas, 11x14, 2009

Little Gems No.2

This is a follow-up post to Little Gems No.1. I will skip over the Ten Commandments and the Eight Beatitudes, for obvious reasons. I wish the RCIA would teach this stuff. You can never over-emphasize the basics. Some of us bookish converts, in the rush for all the nuanced teaching delicacies offered by this magnificent Church, we sometimes neglect the bread and butter. I find myself reaching for this little book time and again whenver I feel distressed or lost.
All italics are mine.

Six Precepts of the Church: 1) To hear Mass on Sundays and all holydays of obligation. 2)To fast and abstain on the days commanded. 3)To confess our sins at least once a year. 4)*To receive the Blessed Eucharist at Easter, or within the time appointed. 5)To contribute to the support of our pastors. 6)Not to solemnize marriage at the forbidden times; not to marry persons within the forbidden degrees of kindred, or otherwise prohibited by the Church, nor clandestinely.
*Has there been change since the Vatican II?

Seven Sacraments: 1)Baptism. 2)Confirmation. 3)Eucharist. 4)Penance (or Confession). 5)Extreme Unction (or Anointing of the Sick). 6)Holy Orders. 7)Matrimony

Three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity

Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance

Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and the Fear of the Lord

Twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit: Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, *Longanimity (FORBEARANCE), Goodness, Benignity (KINDNESS), Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, Continency (SELF-RESTRAINT), and Chastity.
*I found this word in the third (Webster's Third New International) dictionary I consulted: a disposition to bear injuries patiently. - You gotta love old(er) English!

Spiritual Works of Mercy: To give counsel to the doubtful. -To instruct the ignorant. -To admonish sinners (You mean to judge??). -To comfort the afflicted. -To forgive offenses. -To bear patiently the troublesome (Give thanks for this one for the sake of you and me!). -To pray for the living and the dead.

Corporal Works of Mercy: To feed the hungry. -To give drink to the thirsty. -To clothe the naked. -To harbor the harborless. -To visit the sick. -To visit the imprisoned. -To bury the dead.

Seven Deadly Sins: Pride. -Covetousness (AVARICE, GREED). -Lust. - Anger. -Gluttony. -Envy. -Sloth.

Contrary Virtues: Humility. -Liberality. -Chastity. -Meekness. -Temperance. -Brotherly Love. -Diligence.

Sins Crying to Heaven for Vengeance: Wilful murder. -The sin of Sodom. -Oppression of the poor. - Defrauding laborers of their wages.

Nine Ways of Being Accessory to Another's Sin: By counsel. -By command. -By consent. -By provocation. -By praise or flattery. -By concealment. -By partaking. -By silence. -By defence of the ill done. (All deserving our deepest reflection. I think most of us would be surprised by our own implications. I, for one, am scared to go there.)

Three Eminently Good Works: Alms-deeds, or works of mercy. Prayer. Fasting

Three Evangelical Counsels: Voluntary Poverty. Chastity. Obedience.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

B16 to Artists

My pastor, Father T, just sent me an email with a report on Pope Benedict XVI's audience with a group of 262 artists at the Sistine Chapel, on November 21, during which the pope delivered an address. I quote the last part of it:

"Faith takes nothing away from your genius or your art: on the contrary,it exalts them and nourishes them, it encourages them to cross the threshold and to contemplate with fascination and emotion the ultimate and definitive goal, the sun that does not set, the sun that illumines this present moment and makes it beautiful".



I just got word that the professor whom I mentioned in a previous post, the one whose Seminar of Art History class I sat in, and who recommended Wings of Desire to me, accomplished novelist, Dr. Donald Harington, died earlier this month. He not only taught me history of Modern Art, but also introduced me to Vladimir Nabokov. More on that later. Here's link to the obituary in New York Times.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Little Gems No.1

KDM has several leather-bond, old fashioned prayer books which he received as Confirmation or graduation presents from his parents and relatives, some bearing inscriptions. Since I became Catholic, I've effectively appropriated this lot of his personal treasure. One of these is a little book of no bigger than 2"x3", with loose spine and missing pages, called "The Vest-Pocket Gems of Devotion: A Manual of Approved Prayers for Catholics," published in 1891, New York.

A gem it truly is. In the first ten to fifteen pages, it lays out the essential teachings of the Church in a nut shell called "An Abridgment of Christian Doctrine." *The following list should give you a taste of the no-nonsense style:

  • Ten Commandments
  • Six Precepts of the Church
  • Seven Sacraments
  • Three Theological Virtues
  • Four Cardinal Virtues
  • Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
  • Twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit
  • The Spiritual Works of Mercy
  • The Corporal Works of Mercy
  • Eight Beatitudes
  • Seven Deadly Sins and Contrary Virtues
  • Sins Against the Holy Spirit
  • Sins Crying to Heaven for Vengeance
  • Nine Ways of Being Accessory to Another's Sin
  • Three Eminently Good Works
  • Three Evangelical Counsels
*I will post the detailing following each on the list in later posts at allotted times for blogging: I'm sick of being a perennially lousy time manager, and I'm trying out a new time-management scheme. Like fasting, it won't be easy, but self-discipline is the only hope I have.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Just as I was turning in the last post, KDM came in from outside asking me for help. "Put on a heavy jacket," he said. Turned out that he had commenced putting up the Christmas lights. We got the job done in the next 20 minutes.

This, my friend, is unprecedented (Now there's a buzz word for you ;-)). In the past, Christmas lights didn't even come out of the attic of this house until a couple of days before Christmas Eve.

We're turning those babies on as soon as the night descends on our farm.

Two People's Thanksgiving Day

Our Thanksgiving Day is traditionally quiet - I say that with a wink. KDM's children from previous marriage celebrate the day with their mother every year. We get calls. Even got one as we sat at Mass this morning. KDM had forgotten to turn off the phone: it's not Sunday, you see, and one is not used to turning off the phone on Thursdays.

After the Mass we stopped at Wal-Mart, and bought a young chicken, enough for 3-4 meals for two people. The store was peaceful and quiet, everybody saying "Happy Thanksgiving!" to everybody. We also picked up some framing supplies, and labels and postcard stock etc. for the show. KDM has three more days to get all the pictures framed. He plans on taking the steers to the big livestock market in the big city in our neighbor state for sale this Sunday. There is a brand new, shining, aluminum trailer parked in our pasture, and he has been itching to put it to use.

Quiet day, but no worry. we have stuffing mix and canned cranberry sauce in the pantry. One of our three Le Creuset dutch ovens can turn any ordinary Tyson chicken into a repository of splendid flavors! Seeing my handyman husband so diligently laboring in the workshop, turning out one elegant frame after another, ever refusing to compromise on fine craftsmanship, I resolved to bake him a made-from-scratch apple pie for desert.

For entertainment, I'm going to watch Charlotte's Web on the VHS tape the second grade teacher whose class I visited last week lent me. She was filled with compassion upon learning that I had never read the book on account of my growing up in China. (At second grade I was learning to sing Internationale and reciting Marx and Lenin by chunky paragraphs). For extra charity she threw in the video. I was delighted. I'm almost done with the book and I'm pretty confident that by the time the chicken is ready for the table, and surely before we settle on the couch for the movie, I will have finished reading it. (The story is so deliciously written by E. B. White that one feels obliged to slurp while reading it.)

KDM sometimes would give in to my plea for watching a movie together. Most of the time he would promptly check out at the 35 minute mark, or thereabouts, and I would not notice until his snoring breaks my concentration on the what's going on on the screen. But by that point I would be so engrossed in the movie I would just let him be, sometimes lending my laps for a pillow. It is a pattern we both have grown comfortable with. Is this time going to be different? We shall see.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

too many deadlines

I'm sorry for not posting.
This has been a crazy busy day.
Why does everyone want a piece of you-
all at once,
all at the end of the year,
all by the end of next week???

I'm pretty brain dead right now.
But I do have pictures :-).
I leave you this one for the night -

By spacing the text this way,
I make the post look a little longer,
and make you scroll a little harder
all just so that you would not run away, and stay away.
Because I don't want you to run away, and stay away.
All of you, and you know who you are.

Possumhaw Holly Branch, oil on canvas, 10x10

(still has wet paint on it)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Paintings for Good Cheer!

Title: Christmas Herbs in GKC Cup
Medium: oil on canvas
Size: 16"x20"

Title: Christmas Potpourri
Medium: oil on canvas
Size: 18"x24"

Busy Happily

I've been busy working with the gallery which will exhibit my recent paintings in December/January. They had some serious personnel trouble lately and I threatened to cancel the show due to what I perceived as lethargy-induced lack of preparation, a decision I regretted almost immediately afterward. That's what the last post was all about.

Without going into details, the "happy hour" I spent at the Adoration Chapel on Friday morning lifted me right out of the murky blues, and I knew what I must do when I said goodbye on my knees to Him in the monstrance, and drove off from that modest little building. I wanted to work with anyone who would listen to me about my dissatisfaction as well as my desire to reestablish the cooperation. I would rally myself and anyone who wanted to join me; I wanted to build, not to knock down. I would put aside the thought about what there was going to be in it for me, at least for the moment, and focus on how I might help turn the dismal situation into something communally uplifting. I tell you, that's not how I usually think, let alone act. I'm not much a leader in anything, I wait for others to make things happen for me.

By 9:30 Friday morning, I had cancelled the cancellation.

And wouldn't you know it, all has been well since then: phone's been ringing (not quite off the hook, yet); emails shuffling, postcards being printed, mailing lists prepared,, meetings planned, hands are being offered for the hanging...

That's why I'm busy.

The show opens on December 3, reception from 5 to 7PM, admission free, with refreshments, and if the stars line up right, maybe even wine and cheese. Everyone is invited. And I will be dressed up something artsy, and would want to see you there.

Cheers, for art, and for rallying.

p.s. I must add that over the weekend I received emails from Jan, the Famous Jan whom The Anchoress quoted recently about her meeting with the Pioneer Woman! I'm near giddy with this bit of sunny delight! Thank you Jan!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bad Fruit

I am agonizing over what I now think may have been a bad decision I made 12 hours ago. Bad decisions are often fruit of impulse, something I have been battling since I turned 18 (up until that point I didn't see anything wrong with being O-so-romantically impulsive).

My prayer life has been shoddy of late. I can't even follow up the simple, easy-to-follow, but very nerve calming Little Book of Hours which I bought from a convent gift shop a month ago. Sloth. Avoidance of going to confession. What did I expect.

I really should go to bed. I have to get up early to drive 30 miles to the adoration chapel for my 7 to 8 shift. I'm going to get some sleep, leave all the "should have," "would have"s behind, at least till I wake up. I'll have an hour to meditate on them. I will bend, twist, turn upside down, my face, in order to look the pride, vanity, anger, sloth, stinginess, straight in the eye. The bad fruit-sowing, will-stealing dark masters. I might squirm, but will not look away. I don't know if I can follow the hard exam with some corrective action. That may be asking too much right now.

Because I'm still stingy at heart.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Coincidental No. 2 and a Butterfly Dream: The Winged Things

When I was studying for my BFA, I took a course called Seminar of Art History, at the center of which was a 20+ page essay we had to write about an artist of our choice. I chose Paul Klee; my thesis was about the mythological, winged figures which populated and persisted in his work to the end: strange heroes with tree stump leg and broken wings, angels who forgot things, angels who wept, angels with breasts... These creatures appeared in different forms and sometimes morphed into each other. As a side, my professor recommended a German film about an angel who wanted to be man. I took the advice and used it as a source.

Then it happened that recently, about five years since I saw that film, some of its scenes began to reappear in my mind. I don't know why or how, or remember the thought thread which led to it. I tried to recall the name of the film, yet for the life of me couldn't no matter how hard I tried. After some forced attempts on my faulty memory, I gave up. Nevertheless the scenes kept coming back to me, like a tease and a taunt, off and on.

And then, this last Sunday, when I was sweeping the kitchen floor, it happened, it kinda just popped in: The Wings of Desire. That's it: the name of the film. . And I had no doubt. Yet I still couldn't remember the director's name.

Then it happened, again, this morning, when I was routinely going through my emails of the day, in an update from the Image magazine (on faith and arts, founded by Gregory Wolfe), a name it mentioned stopped me in my tracks: Wim Wenders. I immediately recognized that it's the name of the director of that film: The Wings of Desire.

So that's how lost memories are found: you sit on it, for a few days. Then you sweep your kitchen floor, then you check your email, coffee in hand, then, "Bingo!" It's there, right in front of your forehead, or your eyes. It's there. But try not to blink, or it'll just sly away in a twirl, like a fairy; or fade, like a firebug.

An ancient Chinese philosopher once wondered "Is it I who dreams of the butterfly, or is it the butterfly who dreams of me?"

A beautiful poem was recited at the beginning and the end of the film, something called When A Child Was a Child. I can still hear that dreamy, grave, wistful, German voice: "When the child was a child.."
Song of Childhood
By Peter Handke

When the child was a child
It walked with its arms swinging,
wanted the brook to be a river,
the river to be a torrent,
and this puddle to be the sea.

When the child was a child,
it didn’t know that it was a child,
everything was soulful, and all souls were one.

When the child was a child,
it had no opinion about anything,
had no habits,
it often sat cross-legged,
took off running,
had a cowlick in its hair,
and made no faces when photographed.

When the child was a child,
It was the time for these questions:
Why am I me, and why not you?
Why am I here, and why not there?
When did time begin, and where does space end?
Is life under the sun not just a dream?
Is what I see and hear and smell
not just an illusion of a world before the world?
Given the facts of evil and people,
does evil really exist?
How can it be that I, who I am,
didn’t exist before I came to be,
and that, someday, I, who I am,
will no longer be who I am?

When the child was a child,
It choked on spinach, on peas, on rice pudding,
and on steamed cauliflower,
and eats all of those now,
and not just because it has to.

When the child was a child,
it awoke once in a strange bed,
and now does so again and again.
Many people, then, seemed beautiful,
and now only a few do, by sheer luck.
It had visualized a
clear image of Paradise,
and now can at most guess,
could not conceive of nothingness,
and shudders today at the thought.

When the child was a child,
It played with enthusiasm,
and, now, has just as much excitement as then,
but only when it concerns its work.

When the child was a child,
It was enough for it to eat an apple, … bread,
And so it is even now.

When the child was a child,
Berries filled its hand as only berries do,
and do even now,
Fresh walnuts made its tongue raw,
and do even now,
it had, on every mountaintop,
the longing for a higher mountain yet,
and in every city,
the longing for an even greater city,
and that is still so,
It reached for cherries in topmost branches of trees
with an elation it still has today,
has a shyness in front of strangers,
and has that even now.
It awaited the first snow,
And waits that way even now.

When the child was a child,
It threw a stick like a lance against a tree,
And it quivers there still today.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Little Flower's Little Ways Summed Up

Fr. Wade Menezes on EWTN sums up Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, The Little Flower's "little ways": Do whatever NEEDS to be done, WHEN it is to be done, in the way it SHOULD be done, and you will become a great saint.

There can be no doubt that he was saying it to me.

As Sebastian Flyte said to Charles Ryder, in Brideshead Revisited, about the women lodged on Oxford campus that particular morning, following an all-night party, "Sloth has undone them." Sloth attempts to undo me, every minute, every situation. I attempt to undo sloth, repeatedly, and to redo me.

Thinking about Merton

Just read a post on Why I Am Catholic (see sidebar), where Thomas Merton and his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain are mentioned. This got me to think why I don't talk about or recommend Merton and his famous book more than I have. Does it have something to do that Merton was first recommended to me by a college professor, who incidentally was a non-practicing Catholic (I am a fairly narrow-minded person)? Not that at the time I cared a hoot either about Catholicism, or a fallen away ex-believer. I remember the writing in question included nature, a secluded cabin, more nature, and an awful lot to do with rain, and harsh indictment of evil consumerism.

About a year after I officially became Catholic, I came across the famous book at a parish spaghetti supper where a table-full of used books were for sale as part of the fundraiser. I grabbed it, took it home and immediately started reading. I read it, wept, and read it, wept, virtually non-stop, except when reaching for Kleenex to wipe the mess off my face. It was a thick book, and Merton's style tended a bit toward the meandering (and so do some other writers I love). I don't think I paid much attention to the formal things, e.g., style, phrases, imagery, witticism, etc. I read it for the "story," and cried my heart out.

I own another a little dairy book by Merton the Monk, of his Trappist days, interspersed with exquisite little drawings by him. They make you think of Zen (indeed he wrote about Zen in the journal), which ordinarily would trigger the suspicion in me (another topic. No, I don't resent any one's fascination with Zen, the problem is entirely my own. Remember, I grew up in China, where Zen - called Chan in stead, is invented; not by the Japanese, mind you. I was smitten in my teen years with the poetry of the Zen Literati ). But these little drawings are clearly exercises of contemplation and sincerity, albeit perhaps a little too charming. I respect them by not thinking too deeply about them.

I can't sincerely say Merton is one of my favorites, even though he made me cry, he did not do it like Augustine in the Confessions. Take that for what it's worth. I may meditate on the topic some more, later.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Word of Rememberance

I should have written and posted this two weeks ago.

A popular singer in China committed suicide on October 31, the eve of All Saint's day, followed by All Soul's Day, when the Church commemorates all the Faithful Departed. I learned the news from a Chinese blogger, who pointed out that the date, the birthday of her first husband, was key to understanding her final decision. She was deeply, deeply in love with him, who left her for another woman in showbiz. The bloggersphere was abuzz with speculations about the lingering hurt of the divorce, from which she apparently never recovered. She remarried in July of this year, to a fellow band member, who lent a shoulder during her depressed years. The marriage showed signs of strain just prior to her death. She was 39.

I knew virtually nothing about her. She became famous since I left China to live in the U.S. What makes the news different, even significant, is that she and I shared the same name. Our common family name puts us "in the same clan 500 years ago," as the customary, friendly jest goes in my birth country; our given name, are identical not only in sound, but in written form (or character) as well, a noteworthy occurrence, especially when one of us was famous. Some five years ago I flew back to China to visit my family. Upon entry at the Customs checkpoint in Beijing International Airport, the officer took notice of my name on my then Chinese passport, took an extra look at me, with a guessing smile asked slyly "Are you that famous singer?" Caught by surprise, I stuttered "Oh, oh, no, no, I'm not she." This sort of friendly, almost jolly, exchange at a Customs booth in China, almost never happens. In hindsight, I imagined that the officer, dutiful as he was, might have been a fan and let slip a youthful fancy.

The star singer was said to be "different," "strong-willed," "stood-apart,"and "original" in both personal style and her music. She suffered heartbreaks and depression from her divorce and the subsequent low points and hiatus in her career. She recently remarried, formed a new band, was seen performing with renewed gusto at a hip venue in the Capital city shortly before the fatal jump she took from a close friend's highrise apartment near the Olympic Parks.

My heart was dampened, even bruised by the reading of the news. The emotion surprised myself, as more and more I could hardly feel any sympathy over this kind of celebrity news. I shrugged them off as cheesy, cheap, and sensational. I find it harder and harder to work up empathy faced with all the stupidity and cruelty relentlessly dished up and piled upon our psyche in the daily news cycles, even when they are genuine events deserving our concern and outrage. Like Andy Warhol's electric chairs, repeated and recycled, absent of humanity, the shock of cruelty is replaced by numbness.

The sadness I felt for the singer went beyond narcissism due to our shared names. I've been reading The Divine Comedy, in which Dante places a suicide, Cato of Utica, in Purgatorio (Yes he DID put them in droves in Hell too, only to generate some of the most poignant dialogues between the Dead and the Living), bestowing him the high honor and dignity of a Guardian of the "antechamber" of Paradise. From the early stages of my acquaintance with Dante, I'm no stranger to, and share his susceptibility to pity, as I'm no stranger to the pit, the emptiness, and the despair of that place. As I grow in Christianity, the pity deepens by the increasingly stark contrasts with the Faith, the Hope, and the Charity on this side of things.

I indulged in fantasies that I could have helped: that I could go back in time, across the vast physical and psychological spaces, to the side of the girl; I imagined that I had just the perfect timing, the right tone, and the necessary eloquence and tenderness, to persuade her, to assure her, that life is worth living and enduring, that there are things bigger and sturdier than her love, her art, and her circumstances.

Would I have succeeded?

I said a rosary for her. Trusting that the Author of Life takes into consideration ignorance and grief overtaking reason, I prayed her peace and salvation, and bid farewell to my mourning.

I love Nell Blaine

Since the last pages in my hands before I turned the lamp off last night, were from the book on Nell Blaine (1922-1996) I'd begin with what passed my mind with them.

She's best remembered for her table-top still lifes and sun-dappled interiors and landscapes. At first glance, what you see are near violent brushstrokes, storms of colors, which simultaneously convey cheer and chaos. Yet, a calmer heartbeat on the viewer's part, aided by a bit of distance of time and space, reveals that they are everything but chaotic. As the eye surveys the work's entirety, the underlying structure emerges, almost miraculously, out of the high-keyed colors and intertwine patterns.

I like the little drawings in India ink and watercolor alongside the paintings included in this book. They tell me of an inquisitive, yet disciplined mind that's Nell Blaine. I can feel her command of the difficult media, her earnest eyes seeking out patterns and spaces, decisive, intelligent, but always spontaneous, though her paintings speak a different sort of sensibility: delight and joy in the act of seeing.

You never get a feeling that she's academic; she works outside of the mode of the shopworn and the schooled. One must know and remember that she lived in the age of Abstract Expressionism, closely followed by the onslaught of Pop. Indeed she began as an abstract painter, the career of which taught her color interaction and harmony without the distraction of recognizable objects.

I have tremendous respect for Blaine, whose name I first learned from an insert of a phone/address book themed Women Artists, which I picked up at a TJ Maxx store some six or seven years ago. The cover is a still life of daffodils by Blaine: lush, sensuous, but strangely and subtly restraint. That's right, mind you, not excessive, like some formulaic colorists', Matisse-wannabes' stuff you see in posters and calendars. That juicy, lopsided, near-deformed, artless, deep purple fruit in the foreground took possession of my psyche, and began my quest for, and cyber friendship with this gusty artist.

And since I acquired this monograph, I've been satisfied with learning her life's story as well: a remarkably strong, independent, woman who followed her art instinct into a path of adversity and devotion. She was considerate, grateful, never whiny or ugly. I find myself turning to her pictures over and again for guidance, for lessons as general as clarification of the vision, as concrete as the positive use of paint across the canvas.

She's a good and faithful teacher every time I turn to her. I love Nell Blaine.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Leave Mother Teresa Alone

Over at First Things, under the First Thoughts blog, Joseph Bottum posted about the latest attack on Mother Teresa by the oh-so-tired Christopher Hitchens, whom I never really read (o that should discredit me right there for saying anything about him, right?), but am sick of hearing his mad rant against my God and my belief. I don't hate him, I'm just annoyed at the pattern of juvenile behavior, the frothing at the mouth. Let's just say that he doesn't believe what Mother Teresa believed, why not leave her alone? After all, she's dead. Even when she was alive, all she did, from a non-believer's point of view, was to work and live with the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. Yes she gave speeches against abortion and artificial contraception, even while receiving the Nobel Peace Prize; yes she built more than 200 convents around the world, but she didn't make either her personal crusade. She didn't spent her life protesting in front of the abortion clinics, attacking the UN or the Planned Parenthood, she wasn't a social worker or a CEO of the Convent Inc.. Her critics use the standard templates they learned from their college sociology classes (Can you say "cheese"?), the hackneyed utilitarian narratives. Mother was much simpler. While they see the poor as "masses," she saw each an individual. She didn't see herself any different from the followers of Christ since the times of the Apostles. She heeded the call to love the poor, the same love she gave the rich. She was called to holiness, the crown of which is Charity. She wasn't called to eliminating poverty, certainly not to reducing population. When the poor were abandoned and dying in the streets, she took them in, helped restore their self-awareness of being human, to be with them at their last breath. She wasn't a social worker. How deaf can we be not to hear that? Of her own holiness, she said that she wouldn't have lasted a day had it not been the Holy Hour she made daily in front of the Eucharist.

Shouldn't there be better threats and dangers that Mr. Hitchens should concern himself with, than attacking a God he doesn't believe in, and a dead, old, woman in white and blue sari? I've seen others like the Hitch (as he's known among those who feel affectionate toward him even they don't agree with him, as if he's some kind of a Prodigal Son in the making), who are angry, although I'm not sure at what: God, or the non-existence of God; the annoyance that others believe that there is a God, or just at his plain self-loathing.

My real question is: What is it about Mother Teresa that's SO UNDER HIS SKIN that he can't leave her alone? Why is she a THREAT?

Note: So many seem to think, some with glee, that the recent revelation of Mother's years of Darkness has undone her holiness. I, for one, am grateful that the author of that book gave us the truth of a saint struggling with her spiritual aridity. The deeper the darkness, the poorer the soul. When the pain is too deep to bear, nothing short of Truth would do. Honestly, I'm a little annoyed at those stories which paint the saints' life, especially childhood, in Easter bunny type of pious colors. I find myself dying to ask: is this for REAL? I loved it when Mother Angelica told her biographer, Raymond Arroyo, that if he sugar-coated her story, she'd pray him 40 more years in Purgatory!

Note note: on second thought, Mother Teresa is a threat, so is every Saint, so is God.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Latest plein air Painting

Chaffee in Autumn, oil on canvas, 24"x30"