Shawn Demarest’s plein-aire painting blog, with a bike trailer.

Image of a city bridge, by Shawn Demarest.

Adding Levity (Hawthorne)- Shawn Demarest

Just looking at a post on Shawn Demarest’s blog, from Portland, OR. An old friend from Boulder that I haven’t seen in many years, and she’s still making paintings and prints, heading out on a bike with a trailer for plein-aire painting of her urban environs. If I recall events correctly, I’m remembering now that it was partly seeing Shawn’s prints and talking that made me want to dive into etching, which I eventually did, after many fruitful diversions (I first met Stan Brakhage because I couldn’t get into an etching class, and was then immediately immersed in cinema and much else. It took several years before I finally made my first etching.) Anyway, I like Shawn’s pictures, and her brief tales of spending days out looking at the world make me want to pack up some paints and get out there on these unseasonably balmy days we’re having in January.

Secret Tunnels Under Denver & Boulder

Gestural Eric Waldemar ink drawing. Child with huge shoes & hat.

This clumsy little scrawl fell out of my brush a long time ago, about 15 years before I actually had an actual little girl shuffling around the house in my big boots, sporting huge hats and dragging bulging carpetbags full of toys.

Father and Daughter, faces against a storm drain in an alley.Today the two of us spent about a half hour crouched next to an iron storm grate in a nearby alley, listening to dropped pebbles hit the bottom of the big tunnel beneath. We then chased the echoes down the tunnel with howls, hoots, and caw-caws, mouths pressed against the metal. Cities are full of secret holes. The grate was loose, and not that heavy. Maybe I’ll have to investigate one of these days, perhaps without Oonagh. There’s no ladder – anyone have a strong rope?

Then there was that time Tucker Gurney and I were creeping around the steam tunnels under the CU Boulder campus. Caught, held by the wrist while authorities were called, and then we suddenly twisted away and ran for it, chased by approaching police on foot and in cars. We rounded a corner fast and dove under a leaf pile. Did not twitch, breathe, or move a muscle as police searchlights probed the pile at length. Some of the officers on hand thought we were in there, but none was willing to suffer the indignity of stepping over and actually kicking the pile. They debated whether we were under the pile for several minutes, yards away, before moving on and giving up. Circa 1985.

Pleasures of Textures

Close-up texture recalls intricate landscape. Eric Waldemar photo.We can look into intricate surfaces
and find nearly anything.

Leonardo advised artists to gaze into eroded wall surfaces, to explore how the mind makes images. A crystal ball twists and refracts the room’s reflections into surprising images. A trained, sensitive mind can find forms in its shifting tones, flashes, and swirls. Most human cultures other than this one have cultivated “visionary” practices of one kind or another, and the interpretation of interior vision is an ancient career, though under a lot of different names.

One makes new form, sometimes,
by projecting association and shape on found form. One finds a shape that seems to echo a shape at the back of one’s mind, like a word on the tip of the tongue. One can use images to mine one’s own mind for buried material, and most of have seen faces and forms in the clouds while lying on a summer hillside. This is dreamy play, or much more, depending on how far you choose to take it.

The Living Carry the Dead

Pen and ink by Eric WaldemarContinuing to pull one image after another from the archive, looking back at threads and continuities, and at how much has changed.

None of us have come through this all alone, and as we celebrate the present and the future, we also animate the carcass of the past. I am grateful to particular individuals that lived hundreds of years ago (Breughel, Hakuin, Rembrandt…), mentors like Stan & Harry, and friends still living, some of whom I haven’t seen in 30 years. And some who didn’t make it through. Carrying what I’ve got of you, too, Tucker.

I Turn You Into… a Sofa!

Hands merge with sofa legs in this unaltered photo by Eric WaldemarOonagh has a knack for turning one thing into another, and this lucky photograph captures the moment when a person was (temporarily) turned into a sofa. Skeptics have lost the bet and now have to eat their socks.

If the body is just a change of clothes…

Man takes off muddy clothes. Ink, brush, pencil by Eric Waldemar

"In From the Bog," ink & pencil, c.1992

Well, what if? Suppose for a moment that you’re just passing through.

The details of your personality, your quirks, tastes and preferences, what you look like – these come about from genetics and surroundings, sure, at least mostly. A lot is random. The course of your life is shaped from whatever happens to be going on as you wade into it again and again, every day.

That combination of obvious variables is often what we consider to be our “self.”  Our personal history defines us most of the time in daily life, for ourselves and others. But if you’d somehow been brought up 10,000 miles away from where you actually were raised, by different parents, in a different culture, by some fluke…  What part of you would still be the same? Any?

Whatever that ghost might be, it’s not the same thing as your “personality.” You could have come out very differently, given different circumstances. But then there’s that nagging near-insight, about some fragment of yourself that wouldn’t be altered at all by a shift in time and place. You could change the eyes or even the species, but you’re still there, looking out, going through it all.

The drawing, by the way, was done about 20 years ago, when I was living on a hay farm in Clifton, Colorado. I’d spend days up to my calves in mud, opening up creases in the field when the irrigation water was flowing. (The property’s water rights permitted only a small number of hours of water flow per month, so when the fields were flooded, there was much to be done before the water gate was shut off again. In the desert.)

I’d come in with inches-thick mud covering my whole body, and would have to dry and scrape my clothes before I could put them in the washing machine. Been a long time since then. It feels like a whole different “incarnation.” I’d like to get in touch with Kim Mariner, to get some insight into what that guy who lived on his farm was like. Who was me, actually, at the time.

The Bird Steps Up

There comes a point when the bird just has to step up to the front and begin. There’s a certain awkward charm and anxious magnetism to starting out, but it doesn’t last all that long. The question is, what to do while you’ve got the benefit of the doubt – How do you hold the crowd’s attention and point it in the direction you have in mind?

This is from a series of tiny drawings, done one after another after another on the backs of business cards from the job I had at the time (at Denver’s Capitol Hill Books). The printed text on the other side affected the way the ink was absorbed, and ghost traces of letters provide an eye for our avian friend.

Design Justified

This is from the syllabus for my 2-Dimensional Design course at UC Denver this Spring. I sat here for a while trying to make something reasonably concise, so I thought I might as well share it on the site, too, for all the trouble I put in.

Artists often work intuitively, myself included, and great works can’t be summed up in words.  Design, on the other hand, deals with aspects of image making that can be talked about and examined.  In a phrase, design deals with how images work. If you understand something about why your favorite artworks are so powerful, you’ve got a much better chance of making something great. In some ways, learning design is a process of becoming aware of the obvious. That’s because much of it is based on consistent threads and tendencies in human perception, and we’re all the same species here, so far. Read more