Thursday, May 31, 2007


Last week, a frequent French visitor to this blog traveled to Montana, including the region where I still maintain a home. I thought I'd send this note out to her.

Elaine and Kodiak in Cut Bank, Montana


I’m glad you enjoyed your time in Cut Bank, if you had visited later in the summer, my home would have been empty and an available place for you to stay. After only a couple years, I left my quiet little Montana hideaway for greener deserts. During my time in Santa Fe, I learned something immensely important. Commercialized exotic locales are often rarely relevant in the lives of anyone other than tourists on a ten-day holiday. What you did in Cut Bank, is what I continually attempt to do wherever I reside. I meet ordinary people in everyday environments and walk away with extraordinary experiences, ideas, and insight to personal philosophies. It is the heart of my painting and the only reason I can give when asked how I can paint on a daily basis without a loss for ideas.

I spent last weekend in the Ozark Mountains of southwestern Missouri and northern Arkansas. A few months ago, my parents acquired a cabin in the region overlooking Bull Shoals Lake and I found myself lost in the land’s topography and residents for nearly three days. The southern mountains are not nearly as high as my adored Rockies; but the canyons run deep and the area is rife with caves, springs and well-hidden black bears and cougars. I shall always love the American west, but for now these short mountains and deep valleys might be enough.

Whilst dreaming of Montana, I often think more in terms of routine moments than specific places or vacations. Just yesterday, I sat in a local Dexter restaurant… but my mind was 2,000 miles across southern Alberta, in the pattern of traveling home after a long summer day spent in Calgary or Lethbridge. Driving my Land Rover down a north-south highway that separates the rolling fields of ridiculously yellow canola in east-by-west plots. I’ve traveled here at least a couple dozen times before. The Canadian equivalent of NPR sends out a folksy tune in the speakers. The sun makes a downward descent outside my passenger window. I approach the American border as the last bit of light disappears and I get that exciting shiver up my spine when I consider the Cubans in the glove box. I cross without incident and speed-up a bit to drift the final forty-six miles home. There is something special about living as a native in a foreign land, but what am I saying… you know this better than most. – DN

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

To Build a Painting

Samuel and Dylan Thomas help out.

The next and final step is the addition of the black Sumi ink... check-out the final image on a previous post (elephant rocks). - DN

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

En Plein Air

My young son, Dylan Thomas, gives a bit of reference to the size of the canvas that is to become the "Elephant Rocks" painting.

Here, you can see that I utilize the heavy southern heat to speed-up drying times on my work. I may be one of the few abstract trompe-l'œil realists that paint "en plein air"... then again, I'm not sure there are that many abstract trompe-l'œil realists to begin with.....

More pictures to come tomorrow. I have produced roughly a dozen and a half paintings since moving from Santa Fe to southern Missouri; all of the works have been created outdoors. I've eliminated the paper stage of the painting (I primarily used it to speed-up drying time) and am once again working directly on canvas. The en plein air technique allows this elimination without sacrificing any of my printmaking/painting infusion processes. Although I am stretching the pictures of the process over a couple days, I started and finished this entire painting in a single day - a rather common occurrence in my action painting method. – DN

Monday, May 28, 2007

Elephant Rocks Painting

Click the above picture to see the full-size image.

I will post images from the process of creation over the next 2-3 days. - DN

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Stage Three

I'll try again next week, showing all the images in one day. - DN

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Process Stage Two

Yesterday, I was gone for most of the day, so when I returned home to post photo updates… it only made sense that my Internet provider was down for the evening.

The painting is done and I’m really pleased with it… I’m an action painter, there was never really much of a chance that I would be able to slow down my process to make it last the course of a full week for only one work. Just the same, I’m dragging this photo spread out till tomorrow. – DN

Monday, May 21, 2007

In Process: Stage One

The next few days will document the creation of a painting. The hardest aspect of recording the stages of an action painter is the interruption of the work for utilizing the camera.

Probably the most poignant guise of my process is the manner in which it builds a realist life from chaotic beginnings. As can be seen from the two pictures, I started the base of this painting with a combination of blue tones. The canvas is roughly 28”x40”, with an estimated finish size of 24”x36”, after stretching over 2” deep stretchers. – DN

Friday, May 18, 2007

Blending Modernist Abstraction with Trompe L'oeil

This week, I installed a “yard sale” air conditioner and some additional lighting in my new studio. Until now, I’ve been too busy these last two months stretching canvas, mounting paintings and framing to actually get anything else done.

I stayed-up late the last two nights painting and smoking camels in my newly organized studio (only took me two weeks to get around to sorting existing portfolios with the newly built shelves). I am working on a new method of painting. Creating on loose canvas rolled-out on the floor and leaving the stretching for afterwards. I’m not the first to work this way. Pollock painted on the floor and stretched after completion. Since I also mix my own paint formulas, the biggest issue is to test the paint tension after the stretch. Experimentation continues to be the most important element in my work. I find the opportunity for evolution in technique a welcoming companion to my quest for patterning a new style.

To what degree does a new art movement demand a specific reference to subject? When is it purely about technical style? My newest series of paintings continue to rely on the aspect of travel as they take-on the look and feel of a topographical map influence. However, my ever-evolving style demands recognition as it blends modernist abstraction with the traditional trompe l'oeil techniques. The last two years have seen my paintings slowly move away from intricate brushwork for the equally detailed utilization of brayers and rollers, sticks and etching tools as drawing utensils. I pour paint where I previously used a fan-brush. I print with hand-carved balsa wood plates where drawings once would have gone. I scratch paint into marks illuminating movement across a fictionalized reality with sticks, medicine-droppers and brayers. Ironically, as I find myself moving further from my traditional realist oil painting roots, the images become more photo-realistic (with a bit of surrealism), once again. The most common statement I heard from the gallery audience at my last opening of map paintings was “I can’t believe that the surface is actually (physically) flat”.

Next week, I will post a series of pictures tracking the creation of a painting in progress. – DN

Saturday, May 12, 2007

As I see it....

"The role of the artist, of course, has always been that of image-maker. Different times require different images. Today when our aspirations have been reduced to a desperate attempt to escape from evil, and times are out of joint, our obsessive, subterranean and pictographic images are the expression of the neurosis which is our reality. To my mind certain so-called abstraction is not abstraction at all. On the contrary, it is the realism of our time. " - Mark Rothko (1903-1970)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Don't Mess with a Lama

So I ran across this online, while searching for keywords like zen and lama and west. Funny insight.- DN

Lama in the Hood:

An Interview with Pema Jones Rinpoche

By Chris Helm

We're in a grimy McDonald’s in Wyoming, eating Quarter Pounders with Cheese. Rinpoche, "precious one" in Tibetan, is sipping his chocolate shake. Pema’s his name, actually it’s Pema Jones, and he wears baggy jeans, an untucked red lumberjack shirt and funky high top tennis shoes with a built in pump, flashing lights (currently in the off position), and for all I know, a microwave oven for high-fat junk food snacks. Somewhere in all those baggy clothes is a thirteen year old Tibetan boy, born in India to his Tibetan mother and American father, raised until he was seven in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and transplanted here in red neck central.

At thirteen, Rinpoche is the youngest Buddhist teacher in the country. He’s a well kept secret for several reasons, some of which have to do with his unorthodox style but mostly because his protective mother wants it that way. There also isn’t much need for teachers of Tibetan Buddhism in Wyoming.

His sister Trudy is also here with us. She’s a strikingly beautiful and extremely intelligent nineteen year old with an interest in American history and concert piano. Trudy will be attending Stanford next fall, but now she’s performing the job she’s had for the last five years, attendant to Pema. She takes his phone calls, schedules his appointments with students and acts as his chaperon and personal secretary. She also keeps score at his Little League games.

Rinpoche has a .435 batting average - not bad for a short kid, incredible for a pitcher and probably a record for an incarnate lama. My mind strains at the thought of his next incarnation trying to pick the correct Louisville Slugger along with prayer beads and robes. Would the little tyke choose the wood or the aluminum? Would past life knowledge include Earned Run Average stats and the ability to throw a knuckle ball? I flip on the tape recorder, ease into some small talk about the upcoming Super Bowl (he’s a Stealers fan) and drift into the first question.

CyberSangha: It must be hard enough to be a thirteen year old boy in American, not to mention a Tibetan lama. How do your friends and family treat your connection with the Dharma?

Pema: It’s kind of weird. My brothers, I have two older ones, tease me about it. They call me shrimpoche. My sister is nice and even helps me by taking my phone calls when I’m at school and scheduling interviews with my students. The kids at school don’t know I’m a lama, I would never tell them.

CyberSangha: Why wouldn’t you tell them you’re a lama?

Pema: I get dissed enough as it is just being Asian. They call me names like nip and gook. It’s not like when I was growing up in India. Everyone here in Wyoming is white. I consider it a good day when some goof in a pickup truck doesn’t try to run me over. Is my mom going to read this?

CyberSangha: Yes, we need to show her the interview when we’re finished. Is that a problem?

Pema: No, but there’s stuff I won’t talk about - I don’t want my mom to get mad. She’s cool but she’s not too happy with me teaching. My dad convinced her, so I want to keep things cool.

CyberSangha: That’s fine. Does your mom disapprove of your teaching?

Pema: No, not really. I don’t think she cares much about Buddhism any more. When she was in Tibet she made offerings to the protection gods, but it never stopped the Chinese. So she stopped making offerings. Then she put all her faith in Buddhism, but her friends and relatives were killed anyway and everyone kept suffering. So now she doesn’t really have much faith in religion. That’s just what I figured out. My dad's an American. He teaches chemistry at a junior college.

CyberSangha: What’s your position on that? How would you deal with people trying to hurt you?

Pema: That’s the way it is around here! It’s pretty safe, but us Asians need to stick together. Some of my best friends in our gang are Chinese. It’s strange to have Chinese friends when your family has been treated so badly by the Chinese, but this is America, I gotta live here with my own karma. Some skinhead doesn’t care whether I’m Tibetan or Chinese. He just wants to stomp my head.

CyberSangha: You’re in a gang!?

Pema: It’s just for protection. We need to stick together. It’s like if a guy threatens one of us, there’s nothing we can do by ourselves, but by getting a bunch of us together, we can defend ourselves. We don’t have guns or nothing, and we don’t do drugs or rob people.

CyberSangha: Have you ever gotten into trouble?

Pema: No, but my brother got picked up by the cops for beating up this kid who dissed my sister. Can we talk about something else?

CyberSangha: Sure. Do you like your students?

Pema: Yeah, they’re alright. kind of funny.

CyberSangha: In what way?

Pema: Well, it’s like they say they come for the teachings, but when they get into the interview room, they talk about other stuff.

CyberSangha: What other stuff?

Pema: They mainly talk about the opposite sex. Men talk about problems with their wives and women talk about their husbands and boyfriends. I don’t get it. It’s like I have little enough time as it is with school and little league and my chores and they want me to be a shrink or something. And I’m only 13! I mean, I’ve got girlfriends and all, but what do I know about relationships?

CyberSangha: So what do you tell them?

Pema: I talked to my dad about it and he gave me a stack of business cards from one of his friends, a psychologist. I just hand them one of the cards and ask them about their practice. I put my name on the back of the card and whenever he gets a new client he takes me and my brothers and sister to Dairy Queen. It’s cool. Buddhism is no big deal; it]s like being a doctor. There’s suffering, you diagnose it, give someone a prescription and hope they go to the drug store. No one in America wants to go to the store though. They all want to be pharmacists and sit around discussing different types of medicine. What’s with that? Take some medicine and come back next week. I mean don’t get me wrong, Buddhism is choice.

CyberSangha: So you’re a fully qualified to teach?

Pema: Sure. I mostly teach Tonglen, giving and receiving. It’s what I think works best at times when people are trying to kill you or too many changes are happening at once, which seems to be the case in this country. You’re basically a giant filter, like on an air conditioner. You suck in the bad air and breathe out the pure air. I see myself like an air conditioning repair dude. I teach people how to filter and cool things down.

CyberSangha: So if you can cool things down, why do you need to be in a gang?

Pema: Is this like one of those Zen riddles? It/s a samsara and nirvana thing. Yeah, some guy just dissed me and I tell myself that he really doesn’t exist separate from me. You know? It’s like he’s dissing himself. That works fine. But what happens when he stops talking and starts beating on me? You need to be able to take care of yourself so you don’t get killed. We live in samsara and spacing out about nirvana doesn’t help anyone. It’s like Kane in Kung-Fu. You take a Dharma master like Kane and you put him in the Old West. The result is predictable. He tries to be nonviolent and everyone wants his ass. That’s how I see myself. I’m nonviolent all the way, sometimes people just need to be reminded that they’re actually hitting themselves.

CyberSangha: Don’t you see any contradictions in that? The Dalai Lama, for example, constantly teaches non-violence, despite being terribly oppressed all his life.

Pema: (laughing) Oh yeah, right. The Dalai Lama is an awesome old dude and a killer teacher. But he’s got like a dozen bodyguards around him when he’s travelling. What do you think would happen if some butthead pulls a gun on His Holiness? Do you think those dozen bodyguards will practice non-violence, or shoot the guy in the arm or bust some karate move on him? No way man, a bodyguard sees this dweeb with a gun and he’s gonna pop a cap in his ass.

CyberSangha: Do you want to continue being a teacher when you grow up?

Pema: No way, there’s too much suffering and it’s too tough to absorb it all. Tonglen and practice go only so far for a teacher. It’s really not fair what teachers have to do. It's like they have to be bodyguards for their students. They've got to take the bullet when things go down. They sacrifice their lives to help people. That’s one reason why so many teachers die of cancer. It’s too rough and I’m definitely not ready. My teacher, Uncle Norbu, says my attitude will change when I get older, but I don’t think so. I want to play pro ball. I want to be in The Show. On the field is the only place where I get respect for what I do and not for who I am. When I’m on the field, and I’m doing well, they see me as a part of their team. I want to be the first Tibetan in the major leagues. America can grow its own lamas, they don't need Tibetans.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Rory Stewart, a new breed of Travel Writer

I recently finished a fantastic “travel” book by historian Rory Stewart. The Places In Between, first came to my attention last winter in a “best of the year” retrospective by the New York Times Book Review magazine. I pulled the following off the back of the book jacket:

“Someone in Kabul told me that a crazy Scotsman had walked from Herat to Kabul right after the fall of the Taliban… I thought the story was an urban legend. I was wrong. The crazy Scotsman was called Rory Stewart, and the book he has written about his travels is wise, funny and marvelously humane.” – Michael Ignatieff

After finishing the book, I was desperate to read something more by Mr. Stewart. Click here to read the story I found; you won’t be disappointed. – DN

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

More about the Map Paintings

A few years ago, satirist Joe Queenan took a romp across America in search of high-culture. He documented his journey in the book: Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon. He was looking for the perfect cannoli, instead he found a society in love with the musical Cats; seafood ejected from molds at the local Red Lobster and entire galleries dedicated to the "Painter of Light".

My map paintings expose the natural tendency of modern-Americans to seek out suburban lives in even the most remote reaches of the American West. The maps do not show a civilization at the height of urban sprawl, but rather offer a glimpse of a post-suburbia environment with reclaimed land in this modern era of technology and industry. Evidence of past civilizations is only slightly hidden under the surface. Trails and pathways are still evident and utilized by prospective builders. How soon will the suburbs return? How long will it take for corporate America to reintroduce Red Lobster, endless stretches of identical pre-fab houses and Wal-Mart? Or will the quickly disappearing middle class find this newly formed vast acreage of land suddenly beyond economic reach?

By the way, I found the perfect cannoli at a small bakery in Kalispell, Montana. The owner and pastry-chef is a former resident of Philadelphia that made his way to northern Montana over twenty years ago and never left. He fills the tubular treats with a cream whipped from huckleberries he picks at the edge of Glacier National Park. - DN

Monday, May 07, 2007

Treasures Still to be Found

"A shepherd in a remote region of Nepal bordering Tibet has been instrumental in the discovery of an extraordinary art treasure that lay hidden for centuries: a collection of 55 exquisite cave paintings depicting the life of the Buddha." - The Guardian (UK) 05/05/07

Click here to read the entire story. - DN

Thursday, May 03, 2007

If G-d is in the details...

Interesting article about a long-lost find; though it seems very suspect that one of the researchers just happened to be a music expert... - DN

Click here to read it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Maybe I should raise my prices to compete with rocks...

Hairy stone on sale

A stone growing long white hair was given a price of 10 million yuan (£650,000) at an art exhibition.

The stone, exhibited at the 3rd China (International) Treasure Stone Exhibition, is around 30 cm long and has 15cm long white hair.

Staff of the exhibition say the hair must be the remains of a kind of fungus, which grows on the surface of the stone and makes it look like a hairy head, reports Tianfu Morning News.

I ran across this, today... that's a lot of money for a rock covered in fungus... - DN