Saturday, October 8, 2011


From the artist, Jef Gunn, this note in response to a phone call from my wife, Ellie Blankfort. She had called him, earlier, in response to a note from him lamenting the state of the art scene. His thoughts resonate with much of my own sense of what it means to be an artist in today's culture, and how to Persist.

Dear Ellie,

Thank you for your caring phone call today. It meant a lot to me and was very helpful.

I wanted to clarify more that what my Dharma teacher meant by (something like, I don't remember exactly) "stop being an artist," was that I can do without the extra artist identification that goes with trying to "make it" as an artist. That whole world view is fraught with expectations and neurosis. Here's a little poem from Ryokan:
Who says that my poems are poems?
My poems aren't poems at all
When you understand
That my poems aren't really poems
Then we can talk poetry together
I have a feeling inside like I want to start over, fresh and clean. I want to rinse off the stink of art. Maybe move to a small town and work there, and paint the way I want to paint, which is increasingly quiet and simple. Of course, simple is not simple; the tensions and compressions of simple shape and color interaction are complex. And how does that carry meaning? That very mystery is enough. That's all I want.

I have learned everything by teaching everything. The heart of it cannot be taught. And if you have the heart of it, nothing will stop you from learning how to make it visible. So, why worry?

The world is becoming more vulgar by the day. When I say I'd like to make an art of quiet resistance, this is what I mean. Like the literati of the Yuan Dynasty (14the c.)

Maybe there's a way to put my work in front of an audience, in another city, who might get something from it. Many people love my work here in the NW. I hear from them. And people do buy it, but not many.

First priority at the moment is finding dignified work that can pay my bills independently of art or teaching. Then, I'll start looking into showing elsewhere.

Thank you Ellie,


To which the artist attached these beautiful monotypes:

Cape Falcon

No More Struggle

Incoming Tide

Rising and Falling


kara rane said...

thank You for posting this letter + images.
dear Jef-
i understand. be free~ and live within your heart ♡

Doctor Noe said...

Aye, Peter, there's the rub, the eternal question "... finding dignified work that can pay my bills independently of art or teaching."

I remember a guy named Moondog, a 6'6" Nordic Warrior-looking guy who used to stand on 6th Avenue (now Ave. of the Americas) in NYC a block down from MoMA and sell his poems.

Don't know why that image came up for me reading your post. Moondog was nothing if not dignified.


Anonymous said...

Being an artist or poet is something you can feel successful at well while never bringing in any money. The most difficult thing is to say "that's enough, basta, I don't need to create any more paintings, poetry, sculpture, assemblage, whatever" When is it time to quit? Should of good ol' Vincent Van Gogh stopped?

CHI SPHERE said...

Jef the work is beautiful.
Right up there with Dove!
It's in you and it's got to come out!

M Madison said...

Thanks for posting this "persist" post. Although we really have no choice but to "persist" it is always nice to be reminded of the company we have on our journey.

ENjoyed the NY posts too.
Best Meg