Tuesday, October 3, 2017

LAS VEGAS

A Buddhist Incantation

Mourning the loss of 59 innocent lives, and the wounding of over 500 more, I send thoughts of goodwill and compassion to the families and loved ones of all those who died.

I send thoughts of goodwill and compassion to the family and loved ones of the perpetrator, who died.

I send thoughts of goodwill and compassion to all those who were wounded in the attack. May they be spared pain and suffering, and may they rapidly be healed.

I send thoughts of goodwill and compassion to the families and loved ones of all those wounded by the gunman’s bullets.

I send thoughts of goodwill and compassion to all those who came to their aid, the police and the paramedics and other law enforcement and medical officials.

I send thoughts of goodwill and compassion to those who continue to work tirelessly in the hospitals to save lives.

I send thoughts of goodwill and compassion to all those who suffer from the misuse of deadly weapons. May they know the power of peace and forgiveness.

I send thoughts of goodwill and compassion to all those who own firearms and agitate for the protection of their rights. May they be enlightened by the wisdom of Right View.

I send thoughts of goodwill and compassion to those who advocate for the rights of gun owners and users in our political system. May they be enlightened by the wisdom of Right Speech.

I send thoughts of goodwill to all those who work for the reasonable regulation of firearms, their possession and use.

I send thoughts of goodwill and compassion to those who manufacture and market the weapons that are used to kill and maim so many of our countrymen and women. May they be enlightened by the wisdom of Right Livelihood.

I send thoughts of goodwill and compassion to those empowered to legislate on the possession and use of such weapons. May they be enlightened by the wisdom of Right Action.


May we all come to eschew violence in our lives. May we all find the path to true happiness.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

THREE MEN

... well, four, counting myself.

It has been a special pleasure to reconnect with men these past few days. There is something about being in touch with members of one's own gender--and this has nothing to do with sexuality--that is important and different from contact with the other. Women definitely know about this, and act on it, much more than do we men. They tend to have more intimate friendships, sharing more of their inner lives, particularly matters of the heart. Men tend to skate across the surface of experience, avoiding the risk of showing too much about themselves to other men. We learn from an early age that there are things that are better kept hidden, especially emotions: it can be dangerous, in the school yard, to show fear or anger; worse still, to show affection. Safer to keep it all bottled up inside.

So, yes, then, a special pleasure. Sunday my friend Brian stopped by, to enjoy a cigar in the sunlight, out on our back patio. (I allow myself one a week; for years I was addicted to cigarettes and, though I quit more than thirty years ago, I'm much aware of the power of that addiction. But I do enjoy my once-a-week cigar.) With Brian I share the experience of having a grown daughter, and we talked at length about the kind of responsibilities we incur and the kind of father-protectiveness we find it hard to let go. It did not come out, perhaps, in so many words, but that lay at the heart of our long, easy conversation. Brian is well-informed about real estate, too, and I was able to pick his brains about some current concerns about property and financing. Thank you, Brian!

Then my friend Ben had suggested a walk together, and we finally made it happen this past Monday. No dogs--though we both have one; that would have been a distraction. Ben introduced me to one of his favorite walks, up behind the local Catholic church, through a nicely tended meditation garden from which you can look out over the church roof and past the tower to a great vista of the Pacific Ocean, with Catalina Island far off in the distance. It was approaching sunset time and though we did not stay for long enough to witness the event, we could enjoy the waning hour of sunlight. We found a bench, where we sat and talked for a good long while, about age, and the approach of death, and the need to be prepared for it--not in any lugubrious or depressing way. To the contrary, we laughed a lot, mostly at ourselves. Ben has had a long-standing interest, too, in Buddhism, so we have that in common. We talked about the need to be living in the present, though also about the need to understand those reactive patterns from the past--the ones that can control our lives without our knowing it. So, thank you, Ben!

And then last night, Wednesday, we agreed to get together with our friend Dan for a long-promised glass of wine and dinner. Our daughter, Sarah, called as we were about to leave, so I walked down early, leaving Ellie to catch up a little later. Which allowed Dan and me the opportunity for a little man-to-man, and he asked about the progress of my "Boyhood Memories" project. With led to a deep conversation in which Dan shared some of the painful experience of his own childhood. We all have our childhood wounds, of course, and it does the soul good to revisit them once in a while, if only to bring them back to the surface where they can do less harm than down inside, where we tend to bury them. Down there, they fester, and resurface only in unwanted ways--bad relationships, bursts of anger, hidden fears... Not that most of us don't "get over them." We learn to live our adult lives, despite what may have happened in our childhood. But now and then, at least, it's good to get those memories out into the open. So, thank you, Dan!

Amazing, really, that all three of these men live within a block of our Laguna Beach cottage. Each of us is very different, and each interesting, evolved as a man, and powerful in his own way. So, yes, this week was a special pleasure. And a reminder of the value and importance of these relationships. They too often get neglected in the busy-ness of life.

Friday, September 22, 2017

HEALTH CARE: THIS JUST IN...

John McCain JUST announced his opposition to Graham-Cassidy, the latest Republican effort to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act. Good for him.

But what is astounding is that almost every other Republican senator is falling in line behind this deplorable attempt to deprive vast numbers of Americans of affordable health insurance. And why? Health providers, professional associations, and a huge majority of voters are opposed to it. Republican politicians are virtually alone in their eagerness and haste to undo even this minimal program that Obama managed to get through. The only possible reason I can see is precisely that: it was Obama's program. It's an act of hatefulness and spite, not of leadership.

My hope--along with that of the millions who want and in many cases desperately need the ACA--is that at least one other "no" vote will be forthcoming to save it. Susan Collins? Lisa Murkowski? Your country needs you now.

It has come to this? Really? That the fate of America's health is now in the hands of a single United States senator? Where are the men and women of conscience and compassion, the ones we need in our two legislative houses? Is party allegiance the only thing that counts--even when what the party proposes flies in the face of reason and good sense?

Shame on Mitch McConnell and his knee-jerk Republicans, for bringing us to this deplorable point in our national history! Shame on them for eight years of mindless, ruthless, senseless opposition to a president who still fought the good fight for the American people! Shame on them for their petty partisanship!

Thank you, John McCain. But what about the rest of you, Republican senators? It's time to grow up, act like adults, put party behind country, give personal attention to the needs of your constituents and vote your conscience--assuming that you have one!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A LATIN INVASION!

What a wealth of Latin talent currently on display at the Bergamot Station galleries! There were Carlos & Elsa & Gilbert & Dora and Javier & Gustavo and Jaime. I might have missed others—my time in the galleries there was regrettably limited.

Carlos & Elsa & Gilbert & Dora are at CraigKrull Gallery. Carlos is the late Carlos Almaraz, whose work is also prominently exhibited in Playing with Fire, a current retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He was married, during his all-too-brief life span, to Elsa Flores. Gilbert is (the also, sadly late) Gilbert “Magu” Lujan, who was working with and alongside Carlos and Elsa back in the 1970s and 80s and who, with them, was a prime mover in the “Chicanismo” movement—which they all managed to transcend with the strength of their individual vision as artists. Magu also has an important current retrospective, Atzlan to Magulandia, at the UC Irvine gallery, which I have not yet seen. Dora is the ceramic artist Dora De Larios, whose longevity happily persists until this day. The gallery’s exhibition is a powerful and moving tribute to these artists, whose work was essential to the long-delayed elevation of Latin art and culture to a rightful place in their California home.

Carlos and Elsa—may I presume to call them by the names with which I am so familiar?—are shown side by side in a gallery dedicated to their work. Of the two, to judge by what is on display, Carlos was the more profoundly engaged in the history of Latin culture, beginning in ancient Mesoamerica and continuing to thrive in the contemporary world...

Carlos Almaraz, Baby Face, 1986, pastel on paper, 24 x 30”
His paintings are frequently playful, fantastic, always infectiously energetic and vivid, working with iconography that ranges from the landscape of dream to fiery freeway crashes. They explore and expose both the artist’s inner consciousness and the social realities of the outside world.

Elsa’s paintings are more purely lyrical, in my view. She works mostly with landscape and figure in thickly, seductively applied layers of paint...

Elsa Almaraz, Maya’s Chair, 1985, oil and encaustic on linen, 12 x 9”
... as much an exploration of her medium as her subjects. Echoes of van Gogh in the above! A pink chair, rather than a yellow one. Am I fantasizing to see a hint of feminist protest here?

Magu has two rooms at the gallery. One is almost entirely devoted to his iconic and often hilariously exaggerated images of lowrider cars...

Gilbert “Magu” Luján, 52 Custom Chevy Fleetline, 1992, acrylic and ink on paper, 18.375 x 23.125”
... some seemingly throwaway items on scraps of paper, but always drawn with masterful ease and fluency. He is well known for the letters he would send to friends (I am fortunate to have a couple myself!), their envelopes wildly decorated with these fantasy cars. But Magu was also obsessively concerned with other icons of Latin culture, and for a long while a leading activist in the promotion of Mexican American ideas and values. The available selection of his work in this show represents much of what he was about in mostly small scale, but leaves a great deal untold about his more expansive work as an artist.

I was delighted to be introduced to Dora De Larios’s work, which I have seen in parks and other public spaces without even knowing they were hers (there is, in particular, one striking, massive wall-sized installation at the Montage hotel in Laguna Beach). Her smaller works include both beautiful ceramic vases and bowls with intricate incised or raised decoration...

Dora De Larios, Untitled, 2017, stoneware, 5.5 x 12 x 12”

... and ritualistic, animalistic objects...

Dora De Larios, Amazon Goddess, 2017, slab built unglazed stoneware with iron oxide, 27 x 11 x 9”
... that hark back to the centuries old traditions of pre-Columbian art—but with an indisputably contemporary flair. All are delightful to the eye. And, whether utilitarian or sculptural in reference, these are the kind of objects that seem to demand the touch of your hands, to get the full “feel” for their magical presence.

There’s a similar quality to the work of Jaime Guerrero at Skidmore Contemporary Art. Guerrero is also inspired by Mesoamerican culture and ritual, and creates figures that are, in some cases, copies of actual relics and, in others, creatures of his own imagination...


The kicker is that he makes them not in clay, but in glass. Having learned the basic craft of glass blowing at the feet of a Murano master, he has adapted it to his own vision and purpose, teaching himself the means to almost perfectly simulate in his glass sculptures the appearance of clay and other stone surfaces. The exhibition, appropriately titled “Contemporary Relics: A Tribute to the Makers,” is stunningly installed (the design work of the artist’s wife), with a variety of figures and masks, ranging from the quite tiny to the quite large. They are a tribute to an aesthetic value that has become rare in the contemporary world: hand-craftsmanship.

William Turner Gallery hosts exhibitions by two painters, Gustavo Ramos Rivera and Javier Pelaez. Ramos Rivera’s large-scale, largely abstract paintings play with expansive fields of brilliant color interspersed with bold line drawings and floating abstract forms that have the feel of a personal, esoteric iconography.

Ramos Rivera, Al Mal Tiempo Buena Cara (A Good Face for Bad Times), 2015, oil on canvas, 84 x 84 inches
They inherit from the tradition of painters like Joan Miro, and at times share something of the ferocious,  impulsive spontaneity of a Jean-Michel Basquiat. We sense in his paintings a sturdy commitment to an individual vision, along with a passion for medium and process.

A newcomer to the Los Angeles art scene, Pelaez comes to the William Turner Gallery from Mexico City, where the artist has an established reputation. Coming from an initially realistic tradition, he experimented at length with images in which natural objects (such as flowers) were distorted into glittering, fluid abstractions of pure color, in which the process of their making became the focus of attention. In this first Los Angeles exhibition, Pelaez shows a remarkable series of paintings in which evocatively painted floating rocks...

Javier Peláez, PRGB4, 2017, oil on canvas, 35 x 42 inches
... reminiscent of those irregular moons of satellites we see in images from outer space, hover in spaces ambiguously defined by severely divided monochrome backgrounds. The Baconesque effect of figure and ground is accentuated in a recent small diptych (the snapshot image below was kindly provided by the gallery, awaiting a more precise one) where the image we see in one panel shatters in its neighbor into smears and fragments of exploding paint...

Javier Peláez, MATERIA I, 2017, oil on mdf board, 15.7 x 11.8 inches
... as the illusion of the rock’s physical presence dissipates (as the flowers, above) into a display of pure color and paint.

With important exhibitions throughout the area (see also, especially, the current show at the Hammer Museum, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985), Latin art is certainly making its presence felt this fall, and with a welcome, passionate embrace of life and social conscience.  Perhaps we are becoming a “sanctuary city” in more ways than one!

(Addendum: See also Martin Ramirez: His Life in Pictures, Another Interpretation at ICA LA; Alfredo Ramos Martinez and Latin American Modernism at Louis Stern Gallery; and I’m sure others that have not yet come to my attention).

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

IN MYANMAR... AND ELSEWHERE

Being Buddhist--in name at least--tragically offers no immunity from the kind of atrocity for which we too often blame other religions. I watched a report on the situation in Myanmar on the BBC news last night and was appalled by the savage cruelty and inhumanity with which the Rohingya people are being treated in the country in which they have lived for centuries as a Muslim minority. And it seems that "Buddhist monks" are among the loudest voices in the strident call for oppression. It's not my kind of Buddhism.

It seems that, following a brief insurrection on the part of Rohingya militants, the entire population is now being subject to merciless persecution. Whole villages are being burned. Innocent civilians, fleeing the violence to find refuge in Bangladesh, are being pursued and mowed down with bullets even as they flee. Land mines are being laid along the border to kill and maim the refugees as they attempt to leave. I saw images of young children with legs and arms blown off. Of hospitals ill-equipped to even ease their pain. Of mothers who have lost their families in the chaos, and fathers powerless to protect them. It was a heart-wrenching spectacle.

It was also all too familiar--the dreadful spectacle of the "ethnic cleansing" that seems to infect our human species. America has done its share. Europe, too, over the centuries--and more recently than the Nazis. Africa, India... No matter how often we say "never again," we seem unable to put an end to it. Too often, the prejudice and hatred has religion at its core. Christians have practiced it. Muslims... and sadly, despite the wisdom of their original great teacher, Buddhists, too.

It's not the religions, of course, that are to blame. It's the human beings who embrace them, using religion as the pretext for their hatred--a hatred that originates part in aggressive territoriality and part in fear of otherness and others.  In the brave new world of the 21st century, our planet is no longer big enough to contain our quarreling species. Whole populations are on the move, in desperation, or are engaged in hideous acts of mutual mass slaughter.

Unless we find some way to access the fundamental goodness and compassion in men's hearts (I use the gender here advisedly) rather than the fear and greed that generate our hatred, the future for humanity is bleak indeed. If the terrible wars of the last century were unable to do it, what unimaginable, unbearable atrocity will suffice to make us change out hearts and minds? What great natural disaster, what global upheaval, what planetary shift?

Some days, the small, personal action seems inadequate to the suffering of the world. But the small, personal action is all that I can do.