Nicholas Baxter

Blog posts tagged “energy”

Endgame IV: Epilogue

My previous post ended with a question, which, unknowingly, had already been answered by the time I’d committed it to words.

Two days prior ecological disaster struck the Gulf region again, this time in Arkansas. I saw the news in my Twitter feed as I prepared to make my morning juice and first my heart sank, then my rage boiled over. I stood in my kitchen with clenched jaw, squinting through unexpectedly tear-blurred eyes. Momentarily overcome with grief as I realized the unwanted tragic correlation between real life and my post the night before, I pounded those veggies extra hard into the uncompromising Vitamix blade of progress. Slightly amusing in retrospect, though it begged the question as I filled my mason jar with liquid: if not returned in kind on the perpetrators of the Death Of All Life, where does the great anger of our age find release?

Green blood of the Earth, received gratefully. Gulp it down, steel resolve, and onward. Raise awareness through this microscopic voice in the online cyberia, and continue the mission no matter how discouraging: to create art and life of meaning here in the belly of the beast, with whatever broken pieces of heart remain. “We do what we fucking can.”

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Exxon’s gift to Mayflower, AR (Photograph: Tar Sands Blockade)

Reflecting further on all of this, I’m reminded of a poster I designed based on some recent graphic experimentation. To be unveiled soon as a promotional item for my other website,  it incorporates a poem I wrote to help dispel the monumental postmodern malaise most of us who care find ourselves mired in:

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Endgame IV

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began contaminating the Gulf of Mexico, and resisted containment for an agonizing and appalling 87 days. By the time its crude flow was contained on July 15, 2010 it was considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. Its effects on the Gulf ecosystem–already compromised by ruthless industry–are still felt today.

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Photograph: U.S. Coast Guard

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Photograph: Charlie Riedel/AP

Likewise, I still feel the knot in my stomach and the lump in my throat whenever I revisit those infamous photos of oil-slicked turtles and birds, and the brown stain spreading across crystal blue waters. With no small amount of internal conflict I revel at the heartbreakingly beautiful shots of fluffy smoke plumes ascending from a smooth field of blue that recedes forever in all directions, melting into a milky white ozone haze…the artistic serenity of the scenes always belied the senseless threat to life that I couldn’t help but know was unfolding.

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Photograph: Charlie Riedel/AP

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Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP

Equally inspired by both fragile beauty and tragic destruction, I recently painted  another in my emerging series of vessels and catastrophe, with a working title of Endgame IV:

Endgame 4

Endgame IV, oil on panel, 12 x 24in, 2013

Endgame 4 detail

Endgame IV (detail)

Meanwhile, lessons that could have been learned by the ultra-powerful, the elites, the vanguards of corporate capitalism have fallen by the wayside. Right now in my current home of Texas, a foreign corporation, TransCanada, is using the supposed 5th Amendment right of eminent domain to confiscate private land belonging to Americans in order to build a massive oil pipeline called the Keystone XL. This new profit artery will enable TransCanada to transport oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, in order to sell it to countries around the world. This is, not surprisingly, what got me thinking about and eventually revisiting those Deepwater Horizon photos again during my continued search for reference material for this developing series.

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As the status quo marches on, Our world, like the pristine and fragile vessel poised on the verge of ruin, is left to wonder: is the next deepwater disaster on the horizon?

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Death & Rebirth

I’ve noticed throughout the various efforts of my life that the completion of any large, time consuming project ushers forth what I’d like to call an energy vacuum.  In this cosmic void is where, given the abrupt surplus of “free time” and mental energy, I suddenly grapple with all manner of restless limbs, anxious neuroses and existential crises which had no life in the formerly airtight seal of goal-oriented focus I’m capable of (for better and, clearly, for worse).

I’d compare this phenomenon with what many historians and political scientists refer to as a “power vacuum.”  This comparison, to me, seems obvious, as I believe the phenomenon follows the fundamental metaphysical principles of the universe–and of all matter, for that matter.  Life, or energy, rushes in to fill all voids; the kind of energy involved is irrelevant, as is whether it’s great or it sucks for nearby humans.

Anyway, this time around, trying to avoid the free-fall after a steady climb up to that cliff called “achievement,” I seized the opportunity to run off the fumes of my recently finished painting series and finished some older abandoned pieces, a few random and experimental “lesser works.”  One of which was the topic of a recent blog entry.

Here’s the end result of that experiment:

Rebirth

"Rebirth" Oil on Canvas, 18 x 36 in, 2011-12

Which segued perfectly into remembering I had a tiny 5 x 7 inch half-assed underpainting laying around the studio, mocking me for the past 3 years.  So I silenced its unconsummated, jeering voice and finished that sucker, thus reversing the Bad Artistic Karma I’d accumulated from that former abandonment. (Note: Artistic Karma is a concept I explain in my painting book that I put out in 2010.  Look for a future post on that. But for now, how’s this for some more good Artistic Karma: my previous post featuring a reference to Leonardo Da Vinci was written and made live–unbeknownst to me at the time–exactly on Da Vinci’s birthday.)

Endgame 1

"Endgame 1", Oil on Canvas, 5 x 7 in, 2009-12

A barren, scorched landscape dominated by a central phallic symbol, imposing and rough.  The aftermath of mankind’s masculine aggression against Mother Earth. The finish line of industrial civilization’s race to oblivion. Totally Fucked.  Still unsure of what to call it… “Endgame 1”?  I like the sound of that for now. A little nod in the direction of one of the more important contemporary writers on this topic.

Nothing too impressive, but nonetheless, a satisfying little exploration of atmospheric effects on a small scale.

I can see some more experiments with this theme and subject matter in my future…I really want to tackle some realistic landscapes–with a twist. But for now, here’s to beating ennui and apathy and Living Without Dead Time.

 

All Play and No Work…

…Makes Jack a dull vibrant boy.  I just discovered this near-perfect quote by filmmaker Jane Campion last night:

“Build up your enthusiasm so that it’s higher than your fear. Have fun.
Playing in your work is the way to find your energy.
You can’t do this work if you don’t have a lot of energy because it requires everything.
It shouldn’t feel like work. You’ve got to find a way to make what you’re doing feel like play.”

For most of my life I’ve found that my work–my life’s work, my art–is indistinguishable from the enjoyment of leisure or “play.”  This results in an instinctual and dramatic departure from one of the most pervasive beliefs of our society: that so-called “work” and so-called “play” are sharply delineated, incompatible areas of our lives, in perpetual competition and conflict with one another.  The results of such an outlook, and the resulting actions one takes in life while under this defeating spell, are disastrous.  They divide life into misery and enjoyment, fracturing the human spirit in the process and falsely placing responsibility for one’s own happiness into the hands of employers and entertainers.

Divide And Conquer

More false dichotomies.

Make no mistake, to be truly dedicated to one’s art, to put your heart and soul into it, is exhausting.  Finding success in a chaotic, fast-paced and fickle world takes as much as you can muster and then demands more. But when ultimate reward is synonymous with ultimate sacrifice, work and play lose their traditional meaning, and the exhaustion and overwhelmedness become peculiarly enjoyable–or at least, deeply satisfying–elements of the game. Giving one’s all to a larger mission is a particularly fulfilling state of being for us humans. The quote above is clearly spoken by someone who knows this firsthand.

And just for the sake of thought and critique, I have two minor criticisms of the outlook expressed in this quote:

1. The finality of the word “can’t.”  You can actually do this work without a lot of energy–plenty do. But their experience and their success ultimately will be limited as a result of this limited input.  Perhaps merely just a matter of semantics, but an important concept worth pondering: “you get out of it what you put in.”

And furthermore, one may find that periods of rest or relaxation are a necessary or desirable stage within a lifelong context of hard work.  We should be in this for the long haul, unless we’re not planning on living very long.

2. The limitation of the word “shouldn’t.”  It presupposes that the feeling of “work” can’t actually be subverted, expanded, and redefined on a personal level as needed, in order to find enjoyment or satisfaction within it.  In other words, to lose its distinction from “play” altogether.  This alone has a revolutionary potential that could transform the scope of human happiness.  Find work that you love, find aspects to love within the work that you do.

For a beautifully expressed, in-depth critique of this concept that’s had a profound impact on my attitude over the years, check out this essay.