This past weekend Charlotte and I drove to the coast and spent the day visiting the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, MS. A warm sunny day highlighted our Saturday adventure.
The museum was designed by famed architect Frank O. Gehry and stands out in a fantastic way among the live oaks in the small beach town. To me, the museum is like getting a glimpse of some sort of future civilization.
Learning about and seeing the work of the mad potter George Ohr was amazing. It was fun to wonder about his process for making pottery since every piece he shaped was different.
Ohr once said, “I am the apostle of individuality, the brother of the human race, but I must be myself and I want every vase of mine to be itself.”
The museum (or campus) property contains the Pleasant Reed House, which was closed when we went, but we were happy to see work by Mississippi artist Dusti Bonge. We were unaware of her work so it was fun to discover her story and amazing style. We spent most of our time there talking with the curator of the show and flipping through art books by Dusti and her family.
Two other current shows at the museum are George Rodrigue (Rodrigue’s Blue Dog: Discovering Late Works on Canvas and Metal) and Clifton Webb (Icons: The Sacred Muse by Clifton Webb). We were happy to discover that the campus also contains a studio for classes and workshops.
On our way out we stopped on the beach to enjoy the sand, water, evening breeze and sunset. It was nice to spend the day enjoying pottery, sculptor, paintings and nature art!
I felt like a light had turned on in the vast universe that is my brain. A lot of existential woe and worry melted away as I learned about and developed a deep appreciation for our natural world and the universe we exist in.
My curiosity was sparked and that light has grown brighter over the years. I’m thankful for Carl and all that he did to help so many people learn that “we’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”
I can’t recall the first time seeing a Rothko painting. I’m pretty sure I didn’t like it whichever one it was. I just didn’t get Rothko’s work at all. I had different opinions about art back then, but I’ll get into that later.
It wasn’t until Charlotte and I went to Jackson, MS for the When Modern Was Contemporary exhibit at The Mississippi Museum of Art that I drastically changed my mind about Rothko’s work.
My main goal was to see the Jackson Pollock painting on display, since Pollock was the first painter that inspired me to paint. That was an amazing painting to see and I felt grateful seeing it. In Pollock’s work I can see all of time being laid out in front of us and everything is happening at once.
The show also had a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, which Charlotte really loved. There were paintings by Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Jacob Lawrence, Forrest Bess and each one had its own universe within it. Through our wonder and joy we were granted a small glimpse into the magic of the muse. I didn’t realize this magic for a long time, but later came to believe that art is magic and I saw it first hand.
We had a fun time imagining what the artists were thinking about when they painted such works. Or what it takes to wrangle enough focus and have enough talent to paint reality, the way that they saw it.
It was one amazing painting after another. I felt like I was in another world. We spent hours in there just soaking up the vibes, visiting almost all the paintings more than once.
In the past I tended to categorize art in my mind. The categories were basic: Good, bad, I like that, and hmm interesting was about all I had. After that show my categories broke away and I saw not just style and color, but emotional depth within the universe of a painting or drawing. I began to see into paintings. My mind was stretched out like a canvas and new visions, dreams and ideas covered it like a warm wave.
The Rothko painting we saw in Jackson (Old Gold Over White, 1956), was in the last room of the exhibit so it was one of the last paintings we saw. Charlotte and I had been through a whirlwind of joy discovering all this art for ourselves, so our minds were open and we could appreciate any and every painting.
Looking at the Rothko painting I could somehow see into his mind and soul. He wasn’t just squaring three colors in an obsessed, absurd way, oh no, he was painting entire scenes that encapsulate human emotions. In his work I see sunsets, desolate landscapes, mountain vistas. He stuck to his vision and I have to give him credit for that.
Rothko was born Marcus Rothkowitz in Dvinsk, Russia in 1903 and was one of the leading Abstract Expressionists of his day. I came to appreciate Rothko’s art even more once I looked into his methods and thought process.
He said, “A painting is not a picture of an experience, but is the experience” and that “if you are only moved by color relationships, you are missing the point. I am interested in expressing the big emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom.”
Thinking like this helped me realize that a painting isn’t just a painting, but contains all of life. If we try to put our ideas and beliefs onto paintings then nothing is original and becomes stale. Art is more enjoyable if we remove our notions and know there is another universe where art exists and we’re blessed enough to experience it.
There are times when I feel angry. Not just aggravated or a little pissed off, but full on angry. In the past I couldn’t distinguish the difference between myself and the anger monster.
Everything would make me feel anger. I discovered that my anger was wound up in past choices, family troubles, relationship woes, job/ money worries, and pure existential drama. I identified with my “problems” so much that I became them.
Over the years I’ve developed a few strategies to deal with anger. Deep breaths, walking, yoga, art and music help to make the angry, self-loathing thoughts shrink down to nothing.
Now with all that being said there are still days that “the monster” comes back. My mood shifts quick like a switch and I’m drowning in my head from an upsurge of boiling anger.
Not long ago, my anger boiled up in me so much that I snatched one of my wood paintings from its storage crate and stormed outside with it.
I looked around in a quick, frustrated motion. Then I remembered the very heavy stone that helps block the drain from getting clogged.
I propped the painting up across the small drain then I grappled with the heavy stone, lifting like my life depended on it. I had both arms around the stone, lifted with my legs, then dropped the stone onto the wood painting.
With a very loud bang the painting broke and shattered into multiple pieces. I looked at the multi-color wood splintered by madness. I stared for a few seconds when I realized that the neighbors might have seen me and that my anger was now on full display, which can cause a guilty feeling. Then I suddenly didn’t care, took some deep breaths and got back to center.
Somehow the destruction of my own art was a huge release. I’ve thought about smashing my art before. Sometimes when anger rises I think about crashing rooms ‘Citizen Kane’ style, but I know that is not good or helpful. Smashing art might not be good or helpful either, but that day it seemed to help in a quick fix sort of way.
I’d much rather make art than destroy it, but both processes are strongly connected. Destruction holds creation whether we smash guitars or plant flowers. Learning to respect it all is important to me. Being able to balance and regulate emotions is the key to controlling anger.