Saturday, August 27, 2005

Reichek Retrospective

I went out, today, to the Marin French Cheese Company outside of Petaluma to see the opening of Jesse Reichek's Retrospective. I had been invited by a friend, John Bertucci, and after having reviewed some of Reichek's paintings on the Retrospective web site, I wanted to see these 9' high by 6' wide acrylic paintings.

The drive out "D" Street from Petaluma towards the west took my wife and me through some of the beautiful open dairy farms of Sonoma County. We passed my favorite tree; an oak growing beside a granite menhir. We passed cow-studded rolling hills whose valleys nourish swaths of live oaks. And just past the turn that would take us south to Stafford Lake and Novato, just past the fire station, there on the right was the familiar pond and picnic area of the Cheese Company.

We arrived at 4pm. The food and band (Peter Welker) were still getting prepared. We walked over to the old warehouse that had been renovated to hold the show. It was hot and sunny outside, so for a second or two, until my eyes adjusted, all I could see was how large the space was. Looking to the left, down the side of the warehouse, the paintings seemed to go on into infinity.

Each painting, representing one of the 64 combinations of the "I Ching", looked like a giant digital scan card. The whole room, containing some 50 paintings, seemed like the memory array from a computer chip, remembering something important, something fundamental, something recognizable, yet undecipherable.

The paintings themselves seemed devoid of emotion, but full of meaning, like a giant intellectual discourse which stimulated knowledge by imagination beyond experience. I was amused at the irony of the artist's choice of the I Ching as a subject for creativity. The I Ching leads one's introspection by seeding thought with a random number, not unlike a random number generator in a computer program. I was reminded of the role of ambiguity in the creative process. As I walked around the paintings, I could only imagine what strange and exciting places I might discover in an attempt to decode these wonderful images.

After walking through the show, we sat and watched a flat-screen display of samples of Reichek's other works, all large paintings done in batches with names like Kabbalah, Creation, Death, and Song of Songs.

Outside again, we enjoyed a glass of wine, cheese, tomales, and humus. We talked with some of the people who had known the artist from Berkeley. We left soon after the artist's wife, Laure, gave a short speech about her husband (who had died earlier this year) and the people who made this exhibit possible. On our way out, we bought some brie and breakfast cheese at the cheese shop.

As I drove home, a smile crept over my face. I looked forward to the next year's worth of changing exhibits as the warehouse showcases the artist's life work of almost 3,000 paintings.

August 27, 2005

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Choosing Names for Buildings and Such

I don't like the latest trend in selling the names of places to the highest bidder. Naming buildings after people who pay for the right robs the community of an opportunity to inspire us about people whose legacy is greater than their own lifetime.

Here are my rules for using the names of people for anything that will last longer than 20 years (20 years = 1 generation, I just picked that out of a hat):

(1) The person must be dead;
(2) The person inspires us to behave the way we want "us" to behave;

So, when asked if I wanted the endowed chair I was funding at Reed College to be called the "James C. March Chair", I was indignant and disappointed. I recommended finding someone who was dead and deserved to be honored. We agreed on "Reginald F. Arragon Chair in the Humanities" to honor Professor "Rex" Arragon, founding father of the Reed humanities program.

August 11, 2005

Generation "V" for "Victim"

We are generation "V", the generation of the victim. We have let responsibility pass from the individual to the complex systems we have built to serve us. Although common in children's excuses ("it's my dog's fault), phrases like "it's the government's fault", "it's the company's fault", "it's my teachers' fault", or "it's my parents' fault" run rampant in the excuse-filled language of today's adults.

It's time to grow up! Take responsibility for your part in everything that happens around you. No matter what happens, ask yourself: "What was my part in this?" If you pay attention, take a proactive perspective, learn from your mistakes, you may find that you do have choices to make that will impact your future.

August 10, 2005

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Violin at Fifty...

I came back from Poland with a violin. I'd gone to Poland last year to visit my friend and I decided that if I went back this year, I would buy a violin. I don't know why. I just think Poland is the kind of place that inspires me to learn to play the violin.

So I came back from Poland with a violin. That was at the end of May. By early June, I had located a violin teacher and had begun taking weekly lessons. I never really thought how remarkable it is to play the violin until I tried to do it myself. After a couple of weeks making scratchy, screeching sounds, I had a new respect for concert violinists.

I mean, when I really look at a violin, when I try to get it to make that beautiful sound, I realize that here I am, trying to make a beautiful sound by rubbing a stretched wire with horse hair. Rubbing a stretched wire with horse hair! No wonder I can't make a beautiful sound! What kind of technology is that?!

I don't think it is possible to make a beautiful sound by rubbing stretched wire with horse hair, observed evidence to the contrary not withstanding. Who chose horse hair? I understand wire, it doesn't break when you stretch it, but why hair? Why horse hair? After carefully trying to play the violin for 2 months I have reached the conclusion that it is an impossible instrument to play, observed evidence to the contrary not withstanding...

I can actually play about 9 notes (using two of the stretched wires and many strands of horse hair). That is to say, I know the fingerings for 9 notes. That is to say, I have been shown that it is possible to play 9 notes if one puts one's fingers in the right spots on the right stretched wire while carefully rubbing the wire with horse hair streched on a stick.

I have even observed my violin teacher making beautiful sounds while rubbing the stretched wires on her violin with her stick of stretched horse hair (though I haven't checked to see if it is really just a speaker synchronized with her fingers making the beautiful sound).

This is different than my experience painting. When I started painting, I was able to make paintings with which I was satisfied, even though I didn't have any technique trainging. This is not the case with my violin playing, unless those scratchy, screeching sounds are the music equivalent of modern art?

But I haven't given up, yet. I will practice. I will practice. I will practice. I will know I have made progress when my wife lets me play my violin in the house instead of out in the garage...
PS: There is a fun web site for violin players at Master Class Violin. When I get discouraged, I watch the videos of the master violinists, and reaffirm that playing the violin is impossible, observed evidence to the contrary not withstanding...

August 3, 2005