Romance of the American West Part One

This blog begins with the very beginning as to how I ended up the artist I am today. Its a tale that spans decades and continents, so buckle up. I hope you'll enjoy the ride. Let's begin at the beginning, shall we?

Part One

I began life as an artist at a very early age; perhaps 4. Let me be clear about one thing. I did not choose to be an artist. Art chose me.

At 4 years of age (or so), I was drawing like a mad fiend. I wasn’t very good, but I was prolific. I scribbled on everything. I remember hating crayons as they were so crude. I sharpened them down to nothing in no time as I could not stand a dull, blunt tip. I believe that if more children would avoid using crayons, there would be more artists. Oh, they should start with crayons of course, but don’t let them use them too long. A simple paint set can be a much better tool to use. And speaking of tools, throw those cheap brushes they giove you with the watercolor paint sets away. They are pure crap, barely should be called a brush at all. Buy a decent brush or two at an art supply store and the difference in what can be done is remarkable. Your kids will appreciate this.

As I attempted to translate the world around me into pictures as a young child, one thing always seemed to be very clear, no matter the subject matter. Everything had pattern. The world was a compilation of designs, ever more intricate. Most go through life never seeing these patterns but they are there. Once made aware of them, you will never see the world quite the same. Let me give you an example of what I refer to.

The bark of a tree, though every tree is different is a distinct pattern of lights and darks, highs and low channels and smooth and rough surfaces. Water is a myriad of patterns depending upon light and dark, movement and whether it is running over, under or through things. Water never sleeps. It is always in movement, constantly changing the patterns as it sees fit. Even the very air we breath can contain patterns though we see little of them.

As such, once the patterns of a given subject are noticed, it becomes a new experience to ‘feel’ the patterns within everything. Hot and cool are a pattern for instance depending upon light and shade. Close your eyes and run your hand upon the surface of a large stone or metal raining and you’ll feel the pattern without having to see it.

I could go on about patterns, but the point is that as in life, pattern defines what makes up the components of life as much as it talks to what life is all about. War, peace, hunger, satisfaction, strength and weakness are all patterns and shape the very lives we live. Patterns may be seen in transactions for instance and those bankers and stock traders who see them recognize the inherent power of them to use them so successfully. The rest of us just are not aware at times.

The patterns that form of movement and energy are what defined my early life as the son of a diplomat. Travel and new surroundings were the fabric of that pattern and it was ever changing. Cold, hot, clean, dirty, crowded or free, the patterns swirled about me with no apparent purpose and seeming randomness at times, but to this day, I believe it is the patterns of life’s surroundings and locale that determines many of our purposes.

I wasn’t always aware of what the patterns were trying to show me but I received and processed boxloads of experiences in every color of the rainbow, firehosed at me at times or trickled out to see how I would react. As a child, you are a clean slate. A blank canvas. Everything experienced makes a mark upon that surface and this is what you draw from as you speed thorugh life. In my case, many of those early experiences were influenced through the lenses of foreign cultures and processing the information was not always easy.

One had to deal with foreign languages, customs not readily apparent and people places and things that simply have no equivalent outside their locale. Think Back to the Future wherein a person from America is set down in a third world country where even running water from a tap is viewed as a bit of magic. How was I and my four brothers going to assimilate this culture shock and learn from it?

If you recognized for instance that the man with the donkey who appeared every day at mid morning in the sleepy little mud brick town of Maadi, and who sold metal pots was part of the pattern of any given day, you would assimilate that knowledge and know that he among others was what made the day more interesting.

We traveled repeatedly to Egypt, Iraq, and many points within the Middle East as my father, an Embassy diplomat specializing in agriculture expanded America’s interests in the various regions. The Aswan High Dam was one of his projects and as the Northeastern corner of Africa transitioned into the modern age, living ther was and truly still is magical in my mind.

By any standards at that time we must have appeared as Billionaires compared to the local economies. We were not wealthy by any means, and yet, rich was the experience beyond measure. We had a very large Arabian tent pitched near the pyramids in Giza and it was right out of Hollywood. That tent could accommodate some 50 people or more. There was horse-back riding in the desert and feasts prepared by doting servants. One weekend, a friend and I walked out into the rock-strewn desert (not completely sand by any means), and traversed a few low hills till we ran out of steam and sat down in the shade. I was kicking the sand away at my feet and uncovered a large flat stone that looked very out of place. Mark and I began brushing the sand away and within a few minutes had uncovered the surface of three stone steps; much bigger under the sand no doubt. This was really exciting! I believe I was about 8 or 9 at the time and we had undoubtedly uncovered one of the many mysteries that lay underneath the shifting sands of time in that magical place. What could it be?

We were 7 steps in and having a ball with sand flying everywhere and our excitement growing by the minute, when one of the local policemen, came riding in on horseback. With much gesticulating and angry shouting he made it clear in melodic Egyptian speech that we were not to dig there and urged us back to the tent and the crowd of us foreigners who were just getting ready for dessert. To this day, I have wondered what was there waiting for the future. Much of the area surrounding the pyramids has since been explored, but there is so much still buried there that people may never find. This pattern of events though, did trigger my interest in ancient cultures, but we’ll talk more about that later. The overwhelming visual pattern I took away from the desert is that with shifting sand, sun and shadow and the right bit of daylight, the desert can be awe inspiring, though incredibly cruel to those who do not respect its quiet strength.

The Middle East was a marvelous place to grow up and I have fond memories of many of the thing I experienced there. I went to school in a converted palace formerly the residence of some princess of other. The bathroom of our classroom was constructed of alabaster with a sunken tub and had a cupola terraced ceiling with inlaid gold leaf enhancements. Much like the palace in the Disney Sinbad movie, the windows were the same and arches and minarets were abundant. We didn’t care. We were kids and it was grand and different and weirdly normal for that area at the time.

(To be continued)