The Mask of Haphaestus in the Flowers

He’s takin’ it easy today. Who doesn’t like a little nap in the flower bed?

The Rigor of Making, Asleep in the Blossoms.

Tired of all that hammering away at thinking and cranking the iron well-wheel; the buzz of bees, the soft breezes, a Spring day, it’s May. You’d think he could take the day off, but the balance of the dead against the living is groaning to one side, fiddling the tune of “stick to it, before it’s too late.”

Another one gone, and another one gone, and another too. They were all alive in their making life. All makers. All inspiration. Models of great behavior, all of those who put their shoulder to the wheel. That was the great behavior. The ones you knew, who changed the world of Art. The ones you talked to and shared ideas. The ones you admired. The ones who caused YOU grief with petty grievance and narcissism, but draggged you a little further across the floor, that one who could paint as though breath itself were coming off the brush and vampired your ideas. The one from India who said, “You western kids leaning out to go to the ashram to give up your ego! Try cutting off your arm! Just get to work.” The one who said, “One should forgive Artists and Poets and Wild Animals, all things.” The one who had faced a fascistic government of iron spikes, the same one who laughed the loudest at the dinner table, and painted the faces of pure mercy. The one who had magic hands with material, who could turn a problem into a wonder, but we better wait, “Mercury is in Retrograde.” The one who said, “Yep, pictures are a funny business, and that’s YOUR business, may as well get busy. And, by the way, Art is the biggest joke humans ever came up with.” The one choking on broken cigarette lungs as he wheezed out the next laugh, stubborn and fastidious, and at it every day, in spite, still laughing.

The Japanese wünderkind who came over here to take a lump of glistening, spinning clay and in one move turn it into something so symmetrical, you didn’t know if it was concave or convex. He was the one who came over here “because a nail that sticks up, gets pounded down”. He was the one who tried in vain to pound me down, which reminds me of another errant nail from Japan, who could take a murdered piece of paper and breathe life into it, married to another miracle of making, who could take a woodblock print and unfold it for you into the map of the universe, a map of words. The Scotsman who rustled up a bunch of Jews and made welded phantasms to decorate their homes and graveyards and made them laugh while he worked, the one who showed me the black arts, and a clean shop is a loving shop. The Alabama bad-boy, who went from cracker to a wise-cracker at the conceptual work bench, making mere ideas take substance. And then the one, another idea man, and who, BTW would spend seven years on one painting? That was no idea, that was showing and never telling. The one who revealed to me the wonder of pigment in a water puddle settling all on its own to dry into palpable form. Then the one who said, “I believe there is a great rain-snake alive in that fat tree branch,” and make it writhe into life. The one who showed me a green triangle could stand for everything.

That Mask of Haphaestus came to me as a gift of vision as I sat on the shore of Jenny Lake, Wyoming, seeing the shape of mountains reflected and in a Flash! that image became the moment of 2 dogs snarling in battle, finaly meeting face-to-face in a repose of everlasting equanimity as their mouths met. Mountain peaks reflected, their bared teeth. Then, I saw it again in the silly novelty of the black and white magnetic scotty dogs called “Trickey Dogs” as they smacked together face-to-face.

The Space Between Things, 27″ x 13″ 1969, clay.

This clay piece, a kind of marker for the first thought of that space between things, showing my Japanese Master that I could make a narrative and not the just the purity of form that was his dedication. I learned I had story telling on my mind, though the thing blew up in the kiln.

This image was a long-lasting re-occurance as I moved through my own making life, as I return to the gift of the original image. That horizon line delimiting above and below, inside and outside, the thinnest space where the water of inspiration flows. That ineffable space you cannot feel, between wake and sleep and dream. And now, here comes more crowding at the gate, as I spin out the yarn of how I learned to be a maker, how I made visible my thoughts. Here come more of the gone-away makers of my tribe, the ones who touched me and let me “in the know”, now bunching up in the antechamber to oblivion…

Lazarus Study, redwood, pine, 42″x48″

Now here come the ones who took themselves off the board. The one who had perfection on his mind, who threw 1000 perfect pots on the wheel, all smashed before he would allow one to exist. A perfectionist who threw himself off a bridge with a (hand sewn) bag of rocks tied around his neck. Then the one with music on his mind, the one who unloaded a shotgun shell into his heart. Then the one, murdered, who could make a room fit for a Queen, everything in a harmony of colors and flufy-stuff, who took a windfall fortune to remodel a ruined Frank Llyod house and polished it up into a monument of that great one. This great acolyte to Haphaestus, this one was murdered, buried in a box and left to die. There’s hardly a day when I don’t think of him in that E. A. Poe horror. Any room decorated by him made you feel like a larger person.

Porch railing decoration, who’s a good dog? Steel, 2013
Double dogs Guarding the Propane Tank, plywood, paint, mirror, 2016

Then even more…obscured by time, the Architect designing a Mid-Century Masterwork for us to live in, for a while, my Father’s showcase of power. We lived inside a work of art. I learned Art could be a power in this world. Great overhanging eves, orchestrating a symphony of materials, bluestone, cedar, walnut—Mr. Milton Schwarz, who was just starting out, who took me aside to show how he made trees with a just a few scribbles and gave me his “pro” pencils to do it, the pigment soft and ready, giving me a taste, at 10, for premium-grade art supplies. I spent a happy afternoon making a forest on a piece of paper, and learned the happiness of drawing. How can I not think of him every time I pick up a pencil? This links to an exhibit at Chicago’s Art Institute retrospecting his work. He designed the Dunes in Las Vegas. A model of maker-dom.

To grow up inside a work of art meant respect for the maker people. A couple was hired on to do the interior, the first male couple I knew. Maker people! Getting things to look right. Not exactly Haphaestus at the forge with red-hot iron, but bent to the task of rightness. They became real family friends and softened any Homo-angst a teenage boy has. They were truely gay, and I mean fun. There’s another brand of making, the making of gaiety.

What privelege, what a rich smorgassbord, how can I do anything but lift our maker-god out of the flower bed today and g…gg…get back to it… and I can now g…get back to the living and let the dead Rest In Peace. Can I accept all these gifts and make them useful? As Lewis Hyde, writing way, way back in the 1980’s,The Gift talked about how the gift was a thing to be passed along, how not acting on the gift clogs up the psyche, because if you are a German speaker, you know Das Gift means poison. How the native people here were confused by the colonizers sticky-fingers idea of possession. “Indian Giving” means the stuff of the world needs to flow. Isn’t everything in this world alive, precious to the well-being of the very Planet? This is not some hippie, crunchy-granola clap-trap. We’re poised to find out. Are we scared toward action yet? Sure hope so. So wakie-wakie, pick up that hammer while the iron is still red and sparking, lets move along.

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