Tuesday, March 07, 2006

My Evolution

I have slowly begun to wrap my Midwestern mind around the concept of evolution. I guess one could say I have evolved to the idea.

I was raised to believe that dinosaurs were make-believe and those that promoted them were liars that wasted their college-years studying something that never existed, but were “in too deep” once they graduated, so they kept the story going in order to have gainful employment. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well just remember that the next time you vote for a religious right-wing conservative.

George Dubya doesn’t believe in evolution, yet in his speeches to stir public fear of the Avian”Bird” Flu he promotes the fact that it can evolve into a strain that jumps species into humans and could ‘become’ resistant to drugs. Sounds like evolution to me, George.

… but this post isn’t really about the biological evolution of the planet. This is about evolution as a general concept.

Recently, I was thinking back, trying to figure out where my ‘asian-influenced’ style started. In 2000, I began teaching art at an inner-city St. Louis school. My students ranged in ages from five to fifteen. Across the board, they were quite talented artistically, but the majority of them could not read (it was actually worse for the older students). This faced me with two major problems:

1. I worship knowledge and reading is one of the best ways I have found to introduce myself to foreign concepts (as well as how I encourage students to grasp new ideas).

2. I was required by my school administration to encourage reading/writing skills in my art lessons.

After a few months of beating my head against the wall, I resolved these problems by teaching the students Chinese calligraphy. They learned how to form words, then stories. It was drawing, not ‘writing’ – in the conventional sense. They took to it immediately. They loved the ink and wanted to illustrate their stories – hence, we began intensive lessons on Japanese Sumi-e painting.

Three years later, I found myself living in Montana, at the doorstep of Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountains. I was trained as a photo-realist painter and had spent the last few years breaking the barriers that presented. I instantly hated the ‘traditional Western Art’ of the region. I appreciated and understood the heritage of the style – but I could not tolerate the legions of followers that continued to try and ‘make a buck’ off 100-year-old-ideas. The mountains and rivers encouraged me to reread the ancient Taoist and Zen poets. Suddenly the land around me was within the same universe as the mountains and alpine lakes described by Li Po, Po Chu-I and Cold Mountain. I left my pencils in the drawer, picked-up ink and brush and went to work amidst the mountains and prairies. The first eighteen months were a mesh of hundreds of ‘black & white-only’ works. I experimented with handmade papers and discarded every semblance of preliminary sketches. After I felt a re-mastery of my skills under the tutelage of sky and brush, I ventured back into an exploration of monochromatic color.

The first of my small scrolls soon followed as a succession of intensity developed from my increasing interaction with land and people. Symbols were created as stand-in representations for my children and the places I wanted to protect for their love. After two years I was ready to move south and explore the cultures of societies further down the face of the Rocky Mountains. Although still under the shadow of the Rockies’ influence, I have found the people of New Mexico to be an open and unrestrictive citizenry - joyful and comfortable with the sharing of their culture. My scrolls quickly grew larger in direct relation to my growing love for the region. Beyond just size, my work here has equally flourished in response to the amazing high desert light. It flows like blood across the sky with each setting of the evening sun and the commitment of the ever-present night constellations is the world’s lone miracle to a man that has trouble with faith. - DN


marja-leena said...

I love what you have written here!

Nicholas Wineman said...

Well, North, I must again say that while I can't understand the point behind the idea of blogs, this is quite a beautiful entry. Personally, while your colors and scrolls are getting more and more beautiful, I still prefer most of your paintings of Glacier park (my personal favorite is still your Going to the Sun Road, I believe I saw you making that one in class but I could definitely be wrong). Maybe it's because it was a refreshing view of the world rather than the processed renditions I am forced to see everday on the walls of town.

One last thing North: I don't understand why you do this blogging for the most part. While usually your entries are very well done, if they were put to paper and sold them to the public in published books. It might me being slightly biased, but I know I'd be the first to buy a copy, and I know there's a few here in Cut Bank that would jump at the oppurtunity. But I do trust your judgement.

Nick Wineman (a previous student of the Mr.North)

danielnorth.com said...

As a response to Nick let me pass on some words by Edward Abbey:

"In the years from 1957 until 1965 I wrote three novels, two of which were spurned by the New York city publishers. That was discouraging. One editor suggested that I try my hand at shoe repair or the mechanical arts."

But he kept writing, anyway. To me writing is like painting - just another medium for expressing my ideas. I enjoy the narrative qualities of both; but particularly I enjoy the air-of-mystery and discovery associated with symbols and hidden tales in painting. Sure they exist in writing, as well. At this time I'm just more obsessed with the process of expressing concepts with paint.

Tim Sikes said...

i dont understand this whole blog thing but i figure this is a way to talk to North, so i went for it I like the recent work.. and yeah i like whatcha wrote

Tim Sikes ( also a former student of mr. North

greg said...

Ah, I think they see the point of blogging now ... discussion of many many interesting subjects, all open to the huge www market place! Of course just venting is cool too! ;)

Your tale of teaching calligraphy is wonderful, as is the adaptation of style.

I spent some summers in Amarillo Tx, and while an alien culture to be sure, the skies were incredible. I saw a nearly quadruple rainbow! The high country has an allure, but I prefer the coastal regions and the ocean. Dont think I could evolve that way.

Speaking of evolution, it's important to separate the notions of micro vs macro evolution in understanding the arguement. Even the conservative religous types concede there is micro change and adaptation, like dog breeds and flu viruses, and both side await proof that actual species transform to new ones. It's facinating really!