Tag Archives: Art

Because the Processes of Both Art and Living Are Filled with a Multitude of Disturbances and Other Possibilities

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes, like during the past few months when I’ve had plenty of paying work, I wonder how things would be if I just focused on that. If I tried to take on as much of the web work and editing as I can, and stopped writing all these poems, essays, and stories that don’t pay right away and much of time don’t ever pay anything, at least as far as money goes.

Soon after we moved to Front Royal, I began doing at least several hours of my own work every day. That doesn’t mean I’m at my desk or on the computer the entire time. Doing my own writing involves getting up to make a snack, going to the grocery store, taking the kids to school, picking them up from school, listening to my daughter Maggie play a Thelonious Monk song on the piano, building some Frank Lloyd Wright style house with my son Julien using stray Lego blocks, watching the evening news with my wife Heather when she gets home from the office. It’s a process that’s full of interruptions and for me, without the interruptions, there would be no process.

I recently read an essay by the poet Mary Oliver in which she maintained that she is “heedless of social obligations” and that her “loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late.” That’s all fine, I suppose. I’m oblivious in my own ways, too, socially awkward in even more ways, and unable to focus on things and people who don’t intrigue me. Again, that’s all fine but then she says, “There is no other way work of artistic worth can be done.” To which my reaction is a big Fuck You.

Frankly, any artist who tells you there’s only one way to make art is an asshole. This isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of great artists who are assholes—as well as some lesser ones. I know that I’m an asshole in my own way, just not that way. If your way of making art requires you shut out the world, fine. If going off to a writers colony will help you get that novel or book of poems done, fine. Me, I’d go crazy being in a place surrounded by nothing but other dedicated writers and artists. But that’s just my process. That’s why I’ve never considered going to a writers colony or retreat to get more work done, because I know that my process would mess with other people’s processes. And that peace and quiet would be no help whatsoever in getting my work done.

I’ve been keeping up this process of interruptions for nearly ten years now. Before this period though, the interruption went on for a rather long time, because in the eight years before we moved to Front Royal I didn’t write much of anything. Lately, too, there have been days when I haven’t written a damn thing—and, as with those eight years—I felt fine. Which had me wondering.

Then today, with Maggie and Julien back home after school, Julien was playing in the living room when he noticed a book on the table next to the sofa. “Can I look at this?” he asked.

“Sure,” I told him, and he picked it up. What he was now holding was Puñeta: Political Pilipinx Poetry, a small anthology edited by the formidable poet Eileen Tabios that included two of my poems, “Headhunters” and “Seven and Seven Is.”

Julien looked at it for a minute, then looked at me and said, “Great writing, Dad!” He hadn’t really read the poems, of course, but even so, it was the best compliment of the day. And, somehow, he remembered that I was in it—or at any rate, what he was able to read was my name on the cover and inside the book.

“Thanks, Julien!” I said. That’s when I remembered that we are kickers of stupid things, which comes from the punk song Julien improvised on New Year’s Eve last year. It goes, “I’m the kicker of stupid things, I’m the kicker of stupid things…” And on and on like that. It’s plain, simple, and to the point—and what it means is that he, Heather, Maggie, and I do not quit. It means Heather will keep working on her next book while attempting to make change in the physical world, Maggie will learn to play Chopin like Yuja Wang or to paint like Frida Kahlo before moving on to do work that is entirely her own, Julien will continue to be a creator of fierce ideas and wild progressions, and I will continue with my process, welcoming all interruptions, whether long, short, or somewhere in-between.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

This Curved Road Toward Space

Photograph by Jose Padua
The last time I was charmed
simply by someone’s good looks
it was something like 1963.
I was in my mother’s sewing room,
playing on the floor next to
one woman or another
who was dressed in just
a slip or a bra and panties
as my mother took her measurements
or else helped her try on
a dress or gown she’d just made.
The beauty of my mother’s
home-made dresses
was lost on me,
as was the threading of sequins,
the hours of meticulous work
synchronizing the intricacies
of fine white lace,
and the raising and
lowering of hemlines
depending on style or occasion.
Too young to appreciate
the greatness of my mother’s
almost late baroque artistry,
it was never the dress for me,
but the look of the woman,
the slight curve that suddenly
turned over her shoulder
then down her back,
or the bare glimpse
of sometimes plump
sometimes flat belly
that filled me with a wonder
I didn’t quite understand.
This isn’t to say that
when I got older there
weren’t days, weeks,
maybe even years when
all I wanted to do was
look and keep looking
like a fawn wandering
through wide green fields
but if the woman in a bra
and panties didn’t have
a good story to tell
or something funny to say,
I’d eventually find my way
out of the whatever room
we were in and back
downstairs to a symphony
on the stereo or a slow
epic film on TV or at
the old theater downtown.
And in all these years
between lace and landscapes,
there was nothing more beautiful
than a woman telling me the long,
complicated story of her life
and art between the lifting
of glasses, her bare lips
dragging on a cigarette
or taking short sips of coffee
at that point in the day
when the fog begins to lift
and the dull autumn sky
begins to clear; and it’s
these stories that brought me
to where I am today,
breathing in this cool blue morning
that takes me like a curve
around the shoulder,
making its way up the mountains,
then slowly back,
to this long stretch of valley
with its river all swollen and ripe
with the telling of these tales,
and the sweet and futile
measuring of the earth
and everything in the universe
that’s profound.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Prelude to a Highly Personal Confabulation of Zen and the Art of War

Photograph by Jose Padua
When I walked with my friend Oscar
to get his best dress shirt dry-cleaned
for our friend’s wedding
it was only the third time I’d ever been
to New York City.
We walked into the shop
and he showed them the shirt
but the fabric was too delicate,
too fragile to take even one more cleaning
and they refused to take it.
I walked out with Oscar
and we walked down the street
in some lower Manhattan neighborhood
the name of which I didn’t yet know
and when he spotted a fire hydrant
he stopped.
He stood silently before the hydrant,
held his best dress shirt
high toward the sky,
blocking his vision of passing traffic
on the street
and all the buildings
and all the signs
pointing back to whatever
was left of the world;
then laid the shirt down on the hydrant
and bowed with a moment of silence
as deep as the Grand Canyon
before walking away from the shirt forever.
And it was in that instant
that I learned these essential things—
one, how I could one day live in New York City
with half my mind in a flame-like state
of absolute intensity;
and two, the subtle art and fine ceremony
with which I could leave
all my useless shit behind.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Poem About UFOs Ending with a Flashback to Days Long Gone

Drawing by Maggie Padua
Whenever time passes more quickly than I think
it should, I wonder if I’ve been abducted by a UFO.
I check if all my body parts seem to be in place;
I feel for the tell-tale signs that I’ve been probed.
There have been fabulous parties, long visits with
seldom seen friends after which I’ve felt my side
to make sure my kidneys are still there, that the
palms of my hands don’t now bear the brand of
some insect-like space creature’s human meat farm.
Sometimes after what should be a long drive back
home at the end of a long vacation I check for any
devices that may have been implanted beneath my
skin, ask my wife to check behind my ears and
all the other places I can’t reach to see if she notices
anything unusual but the only thing unusual she
notices is my poorer than usual attitude and my
fear of unpacking my suitcase. There are so many
signs of having been abducted, so many ways
for space aliens to cover their tracks and traces.
The stopping of clocks, cloaks of invisibility for scars,
the giving of human faces and names to the beings
who stay behind to study us all make it difficult to
know what’s going on, what’s happening in the world
now. I want time to pass slowly, love to be a force
for change when it’s time to change, and things to stay things
the way leaves cling to the beautiful parting of branches.
But we are stardust, we are golden amidst blue stars,
black lights, and clouds of healing, fragrant mist,
and the world is alive with progress and symmetry
and all the lovely ways we wander through the universe.

-Jose Padua

Drawing by Maggie Padua

Truth, Art, and Other Immeasurable Glimmerings

Photograph by Jose Padua
Julien is becoming more aware of the camera. When it’s just the phone camera, it’s no big deal—he’s goes about doing whatever he’s doing. But this afternoon, when I took out my good camera and took off the lens cap, he came right up to me. He then started making these funny faces, widening his eyes in a way that reminded me of an early sequence of Peanuts comic strips in which Linus declared he wanted to become a “fanatic” when he grew up—in particular, “a wild-eyed fanatic.” Somehow, with me being his dad, it’s not hard to imagine Julien’s excellence at doing the wild-eyed thing. I was, of course, impressed, but what I wanted was a more natural expression that would show a combination of enthusiasm, joy, and confidence. Finally, I got him to tone down the wild-eyed expressions to get this photograph. It’s not always easy to get him to cooperate. As his first evaluation from his new school noted, he’s often impatient and has a tendency “to reject rules.” This will serve him well later in life should he choose one of several career paths, none of which will pay well. Of course, we’re not raising either him or Maggie to think in terms of money. We’re raising them to think in terms of truth and art—and, more often than not, truth and art will break some rules along the way as part of the process of coming into being. It can take some time, but eventually they emerge, surrounded by a million broken rules and the sort of beauty that—no matter how hard the corporate goons and corporate ass kissers try—can never be expressed in numbers.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Soft Focus Civil War

KunstlerPostcard2If you frequent restaurants and coffee shops in the Shenandoah Valley, you can’t avoid paintings by Mort Künstler, an artist who reminds me a lot of Thomas Kinkade, though his subject is the Civil War and not cozy little cottages.

Soon after we moved to Front Royal, Jose and I started seeing these artworks everywhere—on the walls of The Daily Grind and in gift shops, hotels, and antique stores.

Typically, they depict an historical scene from the Civil War era in a style I can only describe as romantic realist cheese—think Norman Rockwell but without the cheeky humor. They have a certain glow about them calculated to elicit nostalgia and patriotism at every viewing.

Though they are schmaltzy as all get out, people here love ‘em. What Confederate flag-waving southerner wouldn’t? How glorious were the soldiers, how noble the steeds, how dramatic the sky!

These painting give folks here something grand to grab onto, scenes that read like legend and fantasy despite their historical accuracy.

Clearly, I have a bit of a complex about these paintings. We received a postcard in the mail recently announcing a new work by Mort called The Autograph Seekers of Bel Air, which depicts General Lee visiting Front Royal on July 22, 1863. It was such big art news, I put it on our refrigerator.

It is a lovely pastel vision. All that is missing from the painting is a thatched cottage, a country lane, and a few golden highlights on the river. Maybe Mort and Thomas could collaborate on something, a new piece called “Candlelit Cottage Filled with Moaning Civil War Amputees.”

As a respected illustrator of books, magazines, and advertisements, Mr. Künstler’s work does seem to be a cut above Kinkade’s technically, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind having Mr. Künstler’s prints scattered around town, if they were his poster and books illustrations from the 1960’s and 70s instead of the Civil War fluff.

Check out this fantastic box art for this toy from the 1960s, the “Lost in Space All Plastic Assembly Kit” complete with “one-eyed monster, giant boulders, the Robinson Family and their interplanetary space vehicle.”

Or enjoy this illustration for the “Wonder Weave Loom.” It is “excitingly different… anyone can do it…”

Mort’s movie posters also rock:

And who could resist buying these paperback books with cover art by Mort:

14 Seconds to Hell

Kill Quick or Die

But my favorite has got to be this ad for a product called “Bacchus Aftershave.” It is “The Incredible Aftershave That Conquered the World.” If this were still available, I’d buy it for Jose in a heartbeat.

To be fair, Mr. Künstler seems like a nice guy and an upstanding citizen. He contributes generously to the Timber Ridge School in Winchester, which serves needy young men. He also doesn’t seem to be nearly as strange as Mr. Kinkade, whose weirder habits and business fraud you can read about on Wikipedia. Truly, he is one of the creepiest artists who has ever lived.

All in all, I think Mr. Künstler’s early illustrations just about make up for his later Civil War indulgences. I would be proud to own any one of the prints listed above—they are beautiful and surprising, full of an authentic irony.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to afford one.

-Heather Davis