The first section of the so-called “inner chapters” of the Chuang Tzu is a long description of scale, magnitude and the boundaries of understanding that are part of these categories. Thomas Cleary translates the title of this section as “Freedom” and like other translations it begins with the description of an enormous bird and its epic journey carrying it over a vast distance at an equally unimaginable altitude. This mythical animal and the tales of others reviewed in this section all feel like we have been given a kind of boundless telescope and are free to look through either end with the caveat that we may not be able to comprehend the visions that we encounter.
Another essay on time, these new paintings were inspired by a wall piece that I constructed in Oakland in the mid 1990’s called “My Telescoping Years”. They also continue some of the ideas from the most recent work, “The Sun is a Migrating Eye Floating Across the Skies of Time” completed in late June 2020.
They are both part of a preoccupation with lifespan that is probably a too common subject among artists and writers who have turned 60+. But often, the kinds of meditations these works inspire are less solipsistic than perhaps a ‘universal’ – to use the much-maligned word – human experience being considered.
Where we live now, southeast of Santa Fe, atop a slight grade that overlooks a wide arroyo, there are numerous ravens. They travel back and forth, up, and down the arroyo often returning from some congregation at a distant food source to spend the night scattered in trees nearby. The scale of their journey isn’t as unfathomable as it is hidden from us. Theirs is a daily ritual that in many ways resembles our own days close to home. Much farther from home and even more of a mystery, we hear coyotes sing, and even further still, imagine in the distant Atlantic waters schools of sardines that travel hundreds of miles without traceable tracks, reasons, or destinations. Eventually the ravens, the coyotes, even the schools of sardines return and make an appearance before us. Like the workings of our memory, what was returns and what will be is anticipated with the understanding of experiences past.
To reconnect to the idea of ‘freedom’, it is freedom of motion and the accompanying agility empowering life forms here on earth that might be considered the wellspring of existence. When we are born, we move into the world, stopping completely only when death overtakes us. My late father had a favorite expression as he aged: “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” The tone of this rather moribund truism has a plainspokenness that is difficult to contest. On the other hand, thinking about the scale of years in our lifespans and the subtle shadings that make up our physical constitution, we continue to find a pace, moving more deliberately perhaps but still with a connection to our own past and to the surroundings we find ourselves in now. We travel back and forth – the length of the telescoping years – with a moving cognition of our memory and our conceptions about time. Awareness of, and appreciation for the scale of a lifetime gives us the flexibility and whatever degree of mental strength and acuity we can muster to focus the telescope of our years and even turn it towards the distances that are beyond its range, and free of today.