Manolo – Pencil, watercolor – 8.5 x 11 inches.

Manolo – Pencil, watercolor – 8.5 x 11 inches.

Even if you are not a fan of baseball, it might be a good idea to pay attention to the thoughts of two philosophers who happened to play the game. For example, Yogi Berra, legendary catcher for the New York Yankees, joined a pantheon of Zen masters when he advised the following: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Satchel Paige, legendary pitcher for several teams, also offered good insights: “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” I accepted this sage-Paige advice with little question until a few days ago, when by chance, I found a drawing of a friend in an old sketchbook.

Looking over the shoulder: During my forty years of adventures on other sides of the world, Spain has gifted me with many guides. Manolo was the first to offer insights into the grammatical pitfalls of irregular verbs and the subjunctive voice, as well as my guide into the customs and culture of his country, and Valencia, his city: food, films, the history of wars and politics, street life, more wars, music, more politics, wine, weekends on Mediterranean beaches, and the companionship of being a fellow artist. We have spent many happy hours drawing and paining landscapes together. Most importantly, he and his wife Toti and their daughter Elena, another fellow artist, opened the arms of their family and friends to me.

So yes, memories of Manolo have been “gaining” on me. They have caught up to me now in an autumn when an upcoming exhibition and a book launch confine me in California. He and I and our other Valencian friends and guides are entering the last chapters of our lives, so it is about time we catch up with each, other again. Even so, catching up now, in words only, doesn’t seem to be soon enough.

Sierra Selene

Sierra Selene – Acrylic on Masonite – 10 x 14 inches.

Like many people, I often have dreams of flying. They invariably induce feelings of ecstasy. I dart and swoop through the clouds, dancing with crows and hawks, sometimes even condors. One day I began to wonder if, instead of waiting for night and sleep, I could create dreams in daytime while I was still awake. With practice I was gradually able to visualize myself hovering several feet above my body. Seeing yourself in two places at the same time is unnerving at first. But gradually it feels normal. Although I was able to increase my altitude above my self, I could only hover, like a helicopter, never able to fly freely and play with other birds.

One morning I was driving from my studio in San Francisco to a temporary job in Oakland when I realized that I was not behind the steering wheel of my truck, but was several hundred feet above the freeway looking down at my pickup driving blissfully through morning traffic. Fortunately I was immediately able to return to the driver’s seat without causing any trouble for other drivers or myself.

After that incident, I became more cautious about projecting myself. I painted “Sierra Moon” from a few thousand feet while I was still in my studio. I wanted to render the scene as realistically as possible: our lovely satellite, reflecting the light of the sun, a river of clouds with the Sierra Nevada and California farmland below. No freeways, no suburbs, no strip malls.

The moon is a goddess, so I later changed the title to Selene, her name given by the Greeks. From 239,000 miles away, the power of her presence raises and lowers the immense tonnage of oceans, controls menstrual cycles, the growth of plants and other rhythms of Life.

Lately I don’t often project myself into the sky. When I do, she is always with me.

Waiting for the Doctor

Waiting for the Doctor – Watercolor, pencil, ink – 5 x 5 inches.

Tony Bennett said that every morning he sang scales, do, re, mi, fa, so la, ti, do. If he missed a day, he knew it. If he missed two days, the musicians knew it. If he missed three days, the audience knew it as well.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally finished writing a book about my paintings that I had been working on for more than a year. It’s now being printed in Hong Kong and, if all goes well, it will arrive here in the middle of October. During the months I was working on the book, my drawing practice stalled. Unlike Tony, I wasn’t singing scales every day.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in my optometrist’s office and started sketching this complex instrument that was suspended in front of me. I don’t think it’s a very good drawing and it reflects my lack of practice. But I kept drawing for a few minutes anyway, first in pencil, then in ink. (I added watercolor to the mess later in my studio.)

It’s a poor sketch, but I decided to show it to you anyway. Why? Because failed drawings are good inspirations for younger artists; they illustrate Tony’s point: without daily practice, talent doesn’t amount to much.

More interestingly, sketches are not failures because such drawings are not about finished products. The point of a drawing is not to make a product. Drawing is a process; it’s the act of looking deeply, patiently, into the world. It is about paying attention.

I’d much rather draw a flower than a mechanical tool. But if the goal of drawing is to learn to see better, then drawing an optometrist’s mechanism for making people see better carries a touch of irony, no? Still, wouldn’t it be fun to see the look on the doctor’s face when he entered his office if, instead of drawing, I was singing do, re, mi, fa, so la, ti, do?