what lies beneath and within

Its been pretty quiet here at Brook Hollow the last few weeks. The raccoons have carried off the last of the bird seed from the deck and I’ve had some seriously quiet time to make some things and pay more attention to things that are less obvious.

I was thinking back on an early October morning at the bonfire memorial here at Texas A&M. The sun was just breaking over the horizon, and the ground fog neatly filled the memorial grounds. All I could see were the topmost parts of the portals memorializing each student that died that early morning, the fog filled the rest of the bowl, it was a space, but the fog had given it a visible form. That form had been there since the memorial was constructed, and though I had visited it a number of times, I never could see the form of that space.

This shouldn’t be much of a surprise as just a month or two later, a friend here sat with two students in my studio and rapidly diagnosed a missing design element that I hadn’t been able to put my finger on. He figured out that the physical hints, sometimes boundary walls, sometimes a lower portion of the ceiling, sometimes a pool of light, were describing a space that had very little form, and the design suffered from that lack of cohesion in the “invisible” part of the building design. I say this shouldn’t be a surprise because back in the Spring of 1987, when I interviewed for a teaching position, a senior faculty member, upon seeing a drawing I had done of the Pantheon in Rome, asked me if I saw myself as the black lines that defined the circular space of the floorplan, or of the whitespace defined within the lines. Without thinking I replied “the black.”

Some years later I chose to share half of my administrative position with a colleague I didn’t really know very well, but had an instinct that he would bring to the position, what I didn’t have. It turned out he had been asked a similar question by the same faculty member and had replied “the white.”

I’ve spent years, maybe decades learning about the visible things that make buildings, cars, organisms, streets and cities, how they work, why they don’t, and the visible signs of distress they exhibit before not working anymore.

As it turns out, what’s inside the things, be it wall, diesel, or street-front are evidence of an attitude, set of values, even beliefs. Its just harder to learn than the external appearances and components. The “way” of Volkswagen and Kia are different. They value different things, though both make similar four-wheeled contraptions. You only get a sense for the values when you actually look, maybe start to take apart whats under the skin. You find bolts that are inaccessible in one, and a sense the car was designed to be maintained in the other. Plastic bits that break and require replacement, and metal screws to remove and repair…all kinds of little differences that you can’t know with a first look at the appearance.

So the quiet weeks here have provoked some actions I wouldn’t have predicted months earlier. I’m painting, not anything a person would recognize, but enjoying the freedom of not having an appearance to imitate, seeing the form that results from the paint and brush, the weight or tremor in my hand, the stillness or energy inside me. I have no clue what it means, but instincts say to keep painting so I’ll listen to them.

When moving to Texas, I threw in some bits of materials that were the subject of skeptical comments back in Virginia. A great chunk of pine, some blocks of cedar, wire, a piece of 5/4 fir from the trim ornaments I carved over Erin and Maggie’s windows on Lee Street. I didn’t know why I kept them, or why I moved them, just that they were potentially something.

I’ve been combining those bits with some plaster cast in dollar store glass vases. I had chosen the glassware for some aspect of their external appearance, but upon removing the plaster (cook overnight and drip cold water on the glass…pop!) one can see some nuances resulting from the glass blowing or casting process that were invisible when just looking at the outside. Subtle peaks and smooth edge transitions that are inside the glass, are never really visible when we use these vases for their functional purpose. When filled with water and flowers, the vase surrenders any beauty it may have inside to the flash and attention lavished on the flowers.

So inside, there can be a complexity and nuance that might not be apparent from a first look…. I’m learning that, slowly, seeing what’s in the mirror may not be all there is to it.

Take a look at what’s inside of people and things around. I’m learning that what I thought I knew, I didn’t. And what I thought I didn’t know, some part of my inner form or instinct, kind of knew but somehow i kept looking at the flowers and so never saw.

These things make less sense the more one types so I’ll stop now.

Be good to each other, maybe a bit more tolerance will allow an insight the first look doesn’t afford.

Take Care

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