The Witnesses

In 1817, in a letter to a friend, John Keats wrote, ” I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination.” Two hundred and two years later, in this afflicted world–our world–his two affirmations continue to offer insight, and hope.

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Padre Nuestro

“Here I come the invisible man, perhaps in the employ

of some huge Memory that wants to live at this moment

from December Evening, ’72, by Tomas Tranströmer

Like many artists, I’ve sometimes wondered why I choose to paint one subject rather than another. What makes a particular street corner or a certain flower attractive, but not a different one? Some years ago in Madrid, on a rainy November afternoon, a surprising answer presented itself. I was walking in the Botanical Gardens, admiring the falling leaves. There was no one else around and the hum of city traffic gradually fell silent. What triggered the epiphany I don’t remember; perhaps it was only rainfall and the colors of trees. But I suddenly realized that, with most paintings, I didn’t choose the subject at all; the subject chose me.

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Ghosts of Columbus

Sometimes people ask the oddest questions. For example: “Do you draw and paint every day, or only when you are inspired?” What, I wonder, is the assumption underlying the question? That artists laze around, waiting for Inspiration to arrive like a package in the mail from Amazon? My answer is: “I work in the studio five or six days a week. I draw nearly every day and paint as often as possible. If Inspiration happens to visit, I consider myself fortunate.”

But this answer avoids a more interesting implication of the question. What in the world is Inspiration, anyway? I’d like an answer, but I don’t have one; Inspiration is a mystery. However, I have some thoughts about it, but first, let’s have a story.

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