Unexpected Awe

Advances in travel and comunication may make the world seem small. However, every once in a while one is in awe of a place larger than one could imagine. I had this experience as a child when I saw the swimming pool at the Flanders Hotel in Ocean City, New Jersey. The pool was so impressive that I found it both facinating and a bit frightening. In my child’s mind I thought, who would build their own ocean and how could someone get to the middle without drowning.

It was hard to imagine being struck by such a similar feeling as an adult. However, while on a train from the Polish city of Gdańsk to the town of Sopot, I saw building larger than my conception could accept. I later read online that such a building may have up to 6000 people living it. To be living in the middle of it seems simultaneously intruiging and overwhelming.

Image of the building found on google maps.

Along with the fleeting feeling of being impressed by the enormity of the building, there was an experience of being on a train and on a trip to the sea. I created a drawing in an attempt to document this memory. In the drawing below the autumn day, the building, and the journey to sea become locked together.

En route to Sopot, Watercolor & Ink, 41cm x 13cm (15″ x 5″)

It is easy to realize that the two places described, the pool and the building, are small compared to oceans, planets, and the wider universe. However, size is relational and our thoughts are expansive. With reflection the cracks and corners of our existance may yield wider vistas. Description and a creative perspective provides ways to unfold an endless stream of details and reinvent a sense of wonder.

En route to Sopot (Detail)

The Known Unknown

When we say a name we associate it with a person and accept it. The name fits the person and the person fits the name. However, when I investigated the namesake of my son Simon, I found surprising details. I knew there was an apostle named Simon. However, little is known about him. Additionally, the apostle Peter is referred to as Simon Peter and I also found a reference to Jesus having a brother Simon. When I began to see depictions of Saint Simon (also referred to as Simeon) it was not often the apostle, rather it was a Simon born later. This Simon, presumably named after the apostle, was an ascetic that spent much of his time on a pillar. I also found there were two Saint Simons who inhabited a pillar (Saint Simeon Stylites the Elder and the Younger). In paintings and illustrations sometimes the pillar appears as a column and other times as a tower. In Aleppo, Syria Simon’s stone ‘pillar’ is a site to see, and a round stone has been placed on top of it. However, what originally inspired my investigation was a calendar image depicting Saint Simeon Stylites.

Above is an image of the calendar where I found Saint Simon. Below is the page where Simon can be seen depicted on top of his pillar.

Św. Szymon Słupnik (en. Saint Simeon Stylites),
Belarussian icon, end 18th century, tempera on board,
Orthodox church in Milejczyce, Poland.

Upon translating the text on the calendar, I found that the image was originally published in a book of 300 icon images titled Ikony w Polsce. Od średniowiecza do współczesności by Micha ła Janochy. All the icons were found in Poland. Although I learned more about Saint Simon, my investigation is just beginning.

Threshold

When I was an art student, I was taught about color threshold. While exploring color mixtures there is a point where one color becomes another. This point could be a debateable. For example, a color can appear yellow but depending on its proximity to another color, the same color can appear to be green. A precise measured chroma does not guarantee a precise definition.

The artist Richard Cramer, was one of my mentors at University. For many years he focused on making abstract paintings that explored color thresholds. While he later continued the same maticulous approach, his subject changed. First he introduced abstract characters and later narrative scenes emerged.

Richard Cramer, Redbank (detail on the left side) 1975, Acrylic on canvas, 96 x 127 inches.

How Cramer moved from geometric abstraction to a focus on imagery involved a change in thought, a tiping point, or threshold where one type of work led to another. A more recent example of his work can be found below.

Drawing by Richard Cramer, Circa 2000’s

While I am reminded of many other thresholds, even a record titled On the Threshold of a Dream, the birth of my child this summer highlighted another transitional state. Before he was born preparation involved gathering clothes and new furniture. When I saw his new clothes washed and hanging to dry, it felt like a moment on the threshold of birth. However, when the baby arrived under emergency circumstances, I also came to realize that certain thresholds do not have forgone conclusions.

While the outcomes of events can be uncertain, change is a constant and faith can be a source of stability. Fortunately the little boy crossed the threshold, though I know each day is a challenge of its own kind.

East Polska

Recently I took a trip to the eastern part of Poland near Białowieża National Park. This area of Poland is known for Eastern Orthodox Churches and the European Bison (in Polish “żubr”). I learned that there are few żubr left in Europe and they are related American bison. While I was able to see churches in their natural habitat, it proved more difficult to see żubr. In the end I had to pay to see captive bison.

This Orthodox church was striking to me because of its blue color and strong relationship with the sky.

Metal Cross in the yard around the church.

Much of the remainder of my time in this area was spent walking through small villages. It seems that many old wooden houses are being renovated and there are at times striking signs of new architecture.

While I do not completely understand this, there are nests set up to aid storks in most areas of the countryside it Poland.

I also often see a kind of folk sculpture that is carved in wood. I particularly enjoyed this carving of an old man. He seems a bit stiff and strait like the beam of wood. It felt like the wood was made for him or he was made perfect for the wood.

For three nights I stayed in a wooden building built for guests. The owner explained that it was build from the materials of two barns. The food was vegetarian and very good and the other guests were great to be with. Here is a view of the front and back of the house.

Pets were are also allowed at the guesthouse. I counted four dogs and a cat. Humans and animals all had a good time.

Room For Let

The drawing/painting below was started from a scrap of paper found in a puddle on the way to work. The paper appearing at the top of the drawing was a hand written solicitation that became unreadable. I imagined it being about a lost cat or a room for rent. Using the cut marks on this paper, lines were extended and a new territory was added. Within the larger image, a view of interior and exterior space gets combined. Occupants of the building appear and for certain there is at least ‘one room for let’.

Room For Let, Media: Watercolor, ink, and, collage, Size: 16″ x 7 1/4″

Elsewhere, in the detail of the drawing, one sees signs of activity and life on the balcony. Personality almost gets lost when quickly viewing window after window on a tenement building. However, on closer inspection, ultimately a more idiosyncratic identity emerges.

Detail