Maurice Steps Into an Ecology of Mind.

Maurice Steps into the Tuning Fork
collage of litho, mono print, marker pen, 43″ x 31″ 1992-2022

“OK, Maurice, I get it…No more boring pictures! No more duality!”

Maurice is at the end of EITHER…OR….He leaves his quiet village to take his place, living between the tines of the tuning fork…floating on the surface tension…living inside the Cambium Layer…

I have been working on this piece for 30 years, the various cut-outs of images sifting through the piles stored up in my studio, until they have arrived at a kind of Ecology of Mind. Using images fashioned with different art-making modalities feels like accessing different states of feeling and thinking. For example, when drawing the bird head on a litho plate with a finely pointed crayon over a period of hours (the various tones arrived at pretty much like the tones of well-handled bow-work on, say, a cello), I am in a particular state of mind, different from the wet gush of bravura to make Maurice’s robe, different from the scribbly markers to make the rendering of the hill-town of Bonnieux, France. The cut-out pieces float around on tables, ending up magneted to the sheet metal covering the walls of my studio. They are placed because they look “right”, not and never because I am trying to tell a story. Never. Once the arrrangements achieve their “rightness”, spindling around simply what looks good to me, I begin to parse the story. I would count Edward Degas’ and Mary Cassat’s compositional mastery, the woodblocks of the Edo Period in Japan (1800’s being prime-time for me), and Edward Weston’s photography as important influences for this sense of “rightness.” The picture, once settled on, becomes an ecosystem, just like the ecosystems we see in nature where everything is cruising along in a harmony. It’s then, I can let the image in to tell its story. This art work, Maurice Steps into the Tuning Fork, is an Ecology of Mind.

I have Gregory Bateson, E. O. Wilson and Steven Jay Gould to thank for these notions of Ecology of Mind. Bateson says, “the economics of flexibility has a logical structure—each successive demand upon flexibility fractioning the set of available possibilities.” This is cybernetics in a nutshell, Bateson’s main field of interest along with mental health. E.O. Wilson’s entomological studies of ant behavior led to the field of socio-biology and his many books are great read. The standout is Consilience, Wilson’s nobel effort to bring the Sciences into the same pot as the Humanities. He’s a very clear writer. Bateson can be a puzzle to figg’er, but we like him anyway. Gould’s The Fox, the Hedgehog and the Magister’s Pox, are filing our walks as Judith reads, trudging along the old cart paths of the now defunct San Geronimo Valley Golf Course. That book is another trying to make sense of the divide between the rational mind of Science and the imaginal works of the creative spirit. Steven Jay Gould is gone, but left us with a treasure box of writing on Evolutionary Biology. Erudite? Gould is the Fig. A picture in the encyclopedia illustrating erudition. Discursive? That too, as he writes with parentheses inside of parentheses.Follow along with him as he winds and winds and unwinds stuff that makes you go…hummmm?

I have to also thank Dr. Sterling Bunnell, Jr., who took me on his falconry adventures in the Central Valley, where he let loose his falcon to take down ducks. Eating a duck from this way of hunting is as close to sacrament as I expect I’ll get in this lifetime. The semiotics (a term from linguistics: the study of signs and symbols) of hunting is fraught—leave the innocent critters alone! But to watch a Falcon stoop on a Mallard in flight is an excercise in being inside the tuning fork; between the cruelty of the hunt and the privileged view of a magnifcent bird demonstrating 10 million years of evolution. There lies that sacred space of sheer wonder, as well as a delicious meal nudging you inside the tuning fork.

Judith reading S J Gould on the 14th fairway (formerly).
Imagine smacking a little ball so it winds up on that distant spot 210 yards away. Judith is reading from the Tee-box.

As we mark our time, reading and walking on the old golf course (now become the People’s Park), I have vivid memories of playing the game there. Played not as a demonstration of personal power as it is in tournaments, business “meetings” and wagering; golf is a unique game of psycological dimension as one attempts to limn the landscape with an arching little ball. It is downright topological, a geometrical study, sending out an effort of extreme moment; the nowness of the swing can be interrupted by 1000 little quirks of the mind in that 2 second moment. Zen possibilities are ever present as you play a round. All the squibbed shots, the topped ball, the divot gouged, the hook and the slice, the rattling ball finding a copse of trees, are all forgotten as I recall that perfect 5-Wood to the green on the heartbreakingly beautiful 15th hole. It left me 4 feet from the cup for a birdie, or as my sometime golfing companion, Harold Jones (jazz drummer of considerable skill and fame and the most fun golf partner ever) called it—a Charlie Parker—of course you know Parker’s nickame was “Bird.”

I took up the game as a way of re-constituting a relationship with my father, who loved gourmet golfing; finding a way to play on legendary courses. The semiotics of golf include incredible swings of mind, from wasted valuable farm land, to a game reserved for the ruling class, rampant racism (golf clubs restricted by ethnicity and religion, mostly though, it’s class layered, sifted by who’s got the bucks) And on one day’s wild swing, testing of the limits of my range, I recall, when in the morning, my Pop, Leon and I played the Spyglass course at Pebble Beach (often cited as the most gorgeous), and after our round I drove up to San Francisco as an invited guest at a Salon which included the above mentioned Dr. Bunnell, Michael McClure (progenitor of the Beat Movement), and Louis Baptista, ornithologist of bird song as a developed language, who could say with authority, “that white-crowned sparrow had a Canadian father and a Californian mother. It has half an Alberta accent and half a Monterey accent. The parents probably met at the Tioga Pass near Yosemite”—this, sadly, from his obit June 2000. Louis had an uncanny ear for accents, and those acccents humans demonstrate can be fun to explore. For example, at a car rental desk in Springfield, Mo, as the clerk spoke, I said, “I’d put you about 40 miles from Champaign, Illinois.” “That’s funny, I grew up in Kankakee, Illinois (my home town). My phone’s robot speaks with an Indian accent—kindness mixed with authority, I think.

We met to discuss the Icelandic Njal’s Saga. We tossed around ideas about the origins of the narrative, and Baptista, I recall, had a lot to say about tone in story telling. In bird life, tone and voice are everything, as it is with humans. McClure had had his play Minnie Mouse and the Tap Dancing Buddha staged at the Magic Theatre. A fabu-rama-drama of a thing, the actors splashing around in 6″ of water, Buddha, a huge guy, swathed in gold lamé, toted on his shoulders a little juggler, a string quartet played. The dramatic fulcrum being that Mickey had run off with Daisy Duck. Poor Minnie. Mickey appeared as a sillouette inside a gigantic white feather-covered duck ass. “It was sooo dark in there, Minnie” Mickey returns, but the whole marriage was in a new state. I feel sorry for anyone who didn’t get to see that production. For my contribution, I brought in Maurice, just his body and head on a blue background using different ways of picture-making to create what I was calling my Ecologies, reading at the time, Gregory Bateson’s Steps Toward an Ecology of Mind.

Spyglass at Pebble Beach, beauteous or troubling land use?

That one day truly altered my course. I began the work I continue with today. So, Maurice steps into the tuning fork? This day I describe was a step into a kind of neither-nor, either-or, this thinnest of places where a real Ecology of Mind can flourish. Going from a super-glamorous golf course made for the super-privileged to a round-table of people who take the subtlties of Art and Biology as serious business and crucial, pried open something lurking in me. The drawing of the hill-top Village of Bonnieux, France was made in the early 2000’s after a trip there. It has a different flavor from Maurice himself, but still fits to tell the story. When I began writing this post I had no idea I would drop into that “tuning fork” space, but I have, and feel lucky to have lived to see that day back in 1992. Maurice knows, this is an Ecology of Mind. So exactly what is that “tuning fork” space again? It’s inside the vibrating tines where objective and subjective opinions don’t count, where it’s not this or that, where plus & minus don’t exist and maybe as my old dearly departed pal William T. Wiley would say, it is only the ampersand. As he would say, “& so…..”

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