December 06, 2012

Who by Fire, a novel: What if no one reads it?

I've written a novel entitled Who by Fire, ten years in the making, and I'm pretty sure not many folks will ever hear of it or read it. Should I be discouraged? Should I give up? My answer I hope will encourage you to choose the path that leads to the work that gives you breath and life. Choose the light!

 Joseph Conrad said, “In art, as in no other form of endeavor, there is meaning apart from success.”

Who by Fire is published by a small, independent publisher, Outer Banks Publishing and is distributed by the non-profit, devoted-to-the-arts distributor Small Press Distribution.

Tillie Olsen said in her wise book Silences: ‘Who will read me, who will care?’ It does not help the work to be done that work already completed is surrounded by silence and indifference—if it is published at all. Few books ever have the attention of a review—good or bad. Fewer stay longer than a few weeks on bookstore shelves, if they get there at all. … ‘Works of art’ (or at least books, stories, poems, meriting life) ‘disappear before our very eyes because of the absence of responsible attention,’ Chekhov wrote nearly ninety years ago.

This week, journalist Michael Johnson reviewed Who by Fire. (I must admit I did pray. Who knows, perhaps someone heard?)

Read, if you will, Michael Johnson's review. 

To all of you who may have come here, I thank you and I offer this encouragement: Creativity operates in all endeavors. But creativity in the arts operates against all odds. Do not give up because the odds are not in your favor. Believe this: The process of the creation of something “other” gives life a fullness that I think only the attempt to create art can do. Be encouraged. Speak. Write. I'll be listening.

Here is the first chapter of Who by Fire:


 would have told Lena about the fire I saw in Iowa, but it is regret that writes this, that longs for said things unsaid.

This fire would have amazed her. The heat was so incredibly hot it reminded me of something I learned in physics: the fact that the air around a lightning bolt is hotter than the surface of the sun. It was a barn burning—not with any political or racial overtones, but a necessary burn of an old wooden grain bin in the center of town in Whiting, Iowa, where I grew up. She was a Baltimore-grown city girl who wouldn’t be able to imagine this story of the burning though I suppose it’s a common enough event in rural parts of our country.
That I know something Lena couldn’t imagine amazes me.
I go home to Iowa—rarely—and, as it turns out, after Lena died, fortuitously: the controlled fire.
I grew up in Whiting, the son of a farmer—three hundred and thirty acres of soy beans and corn. When the burn took place, I watched it with my father. It scored me like a knife on wood. It hit me like the Schubert in G Flat, like that score, the staffs of music that I can hear by looking.
Leonard Bernstein said about music, “It doesn’t have to pass through the censor of the brain before it can reach the heart … An F-sharp doesn’t have to be considered in the mind; it is a direct hit.” The fire was like that for me. It made me see how few times in my life I’ve experienced that: a direct hit, the strike to the heart—despite my perfect pitch.
My father and I watched the burn from beginning to end.
The firemen were mostly older and younger men I knew, had grown up with—perhaps a few out-of-towners, sure—but mostly guys I could tilt a howdy finger off the steering wheel of my father’s pick-up—the old blue one I like to drive around when I’m in town, rare as that is now.
My father didn’t see fight-fire in the War, the second big war when he flight tested P-51 Mustangs, the fighter plane, but didn’t shoot its guns.
These guys, the firemen, let me get closer to the fire than most other onlookers—although I was surprised by how they trusted the oglers. They trust their neighbors to have good judgment. That too amazes me because I now live in downtown Washington—the center of politics and corruption.
My mother didn’t come to watch the fire.
My mother’s mouth turns down at the corners. She says she doesn’t smile because there are gaps between her teeth, and indeed there are, but she doesn’t smile because she has accepted what she views as her lot: That my father will rise early and make coffee, that he’ll scramble an egg in the microwave while she sleeps, that she will always make him his peanut butter sandwich for lunch, that she’ll eat her Hershey bar alone in the kitchen while he listens to the evening news, that these will be the things they’ll do and that each time they occur, the daily moments of her life with him, they remind her that she doesn’t love him.
She had nothing to learn from the fire.
I had much to learn. In the danger that the fire comprised and the safety of its control, I began to understand “heroism.” My father did not win the word hero—not in combat, by definition not a hero, no medal of honor, no wound—no purple heart.
“Heroism” is a big word often used loosely. It is a word that is central to this story. I am sure of it the way I am sure that Lena would have wanted to know about the fire. She would not have thought “obsession,” as perhaps you do. She would have understood what I meant when I called the fire “a direct hit.”
I keep a list of heroes, of people who save others, who receive awards for these acts: A man in Nova Scotia saved a man and his seven-year-old son from a fiery auto accident. A sixty-two-year-old man in San Diego pulled his eighty-four-year-old neighbor from a fire. A twenty-seven-year-old man of Centralia, Illinois, rescued a man from a burning house. A twenty-seven-year-old of Dalles, Oregon, rescued two eleven-year-old girls from an apartment fire. A twenty-five-year-old man of Syracuse, New York, a twenty-four-year-old man of Oswego, New York, and a thirty-five-year-old of Webster, New York, together saved a woman from electrocution when a 300-ton crane at a construction site overturned and pulled electrical wires onto her car.
But I am like the woman who, when her house was on fire, rescued her fire tongs.

November 27, 2012

Poet Ravi Shankar: The interview

Poet Ravi Shankar joined me at 4:30 PM ET on November 29, 2012 on Rare Bird Radio to discuss his poetry, the process of creating art and his extraordinary support of the arts. Listen here.

Join the Goodreads book club to leave a comment or question for Ravi and to hear all the interviews I’ve done with the famous, the fascinating and the emerging: risk takers all—and be encouraged, find your next read, join the conversation.

Ravi Shankar is the author of Instrumentality, Seamless Matter Thirty Stills, and most recently Deepening Groove.

He supports the work of others in extraordinary ways that we will discuss.

You gotta listen in!

November 18, 2012

Pre-Thanksgiving: FILM! The Third Man and Déjà Vu: A love story

On my radio show, 11/21/12, 4 pm ET: I discussed the critically acclaimed films The Third Man, starring Orson Welles with superb screenplay by Graham Greene along with the film Déjà Vu: A Love Story, written and directed by Henry Jaglom. It may seem like an odd pairing, but listen in to my show on Rare Bird Radio and find out why the pairing is not so odd.

Amateur actor, professional journalist and PhD psychologist Harvey Black joined me to discuss these two critically acclaimed films. This time I didn't do an interview, my usual preference, but instead exchanged views about the films and about the creative process with Mr. Black.

Find the links to all my radio interviews and the books I have discussed, including the screenplay Greene collaborated on with the director Carol Reed, Pauline Kael’s review in 5001 Nights at the Movies and more at my click and join Goodreads Book Club.

November 17, 2012

Save the date: The Third Man and Déjà Vu: A Love Story

Discuss the critically acclaimed films The Third Man, starring Orson Wells and based on Graham Greene’s novel, and the film Déjà Vu: A Love Story, written and directed by Henry Jaglom.

Amateur actor, professional journalist and PhD psychologist Harvey Black will join me to discuss these two critically acclaimed films.

Save the date: Wednesday November 21 at 4 p.m. eastern time for a live, call-in radio show on Rare Bird Radio.

Find the links to all my radio interviews and the books we will be discussing, including the Graham Greene novel and the screenplay Greene collaborated on with the director Carol Reed, Pauline Kael’s review in 5001 Nights at the Movies and more at my click and join Goodreads Book Club.

November 13, 2012

Dana Gioia: The Interview

Photo by Lynda Koolish
Gioia in person: I had the pleasure of interviewing Dana Gioia, poet and literary force. He was a delight. Our conversation covered his extraordinary career that ain't over yet, by any means, and moved into questions about his new job as the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California, Dana's candid discussion of self-actualization and Maslow's Pyramid, his views on American culture, his love of film and the poems that appear in films both high-brow and low and all the in-between.

Here's a footnote on our discussion of poetry in film and, do expect an essay on this subject from Gioia in the near future: I saw the record breaking James Bond film Skyfall this past weekend, when it broke a few records, I suspect. And guess what? Judi Dench as the marvelous "M" quoted Tennyson:

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. —the closing lines of Tennyson's "Ulysses"

On the show, Gioia hypnotized us with his reading of "Pity the Beautiful" from his new book by that title.

Listen to the live interview by clicking on Rare Bird Radio, my show that I do weekly and where I talk with the famous, the emerging and the fascinating and where literature, narrative, the stories of our lives and culture are my focus. The topic on the table is creativity. Do join the conversation.

I hope that all who visit here will join my Goodreads Book Club where all the interviews can be heard and where the book shelf is filled with the author's books. You will find there Dana's new book of poems and his groundbreaking essays Can Poetry Matter?  

More on Dana can be found on his richly linked website.

My thanks to the incredible, joyful and whip-smart Gioia!

November 06, 2012

Save the date: Live Call-in Radio with Dana Gioia

Dear Readers, I am reposting this because the message went out garbled to those who subscribe. Do forgive the duplication and save the date:

November 7 at 4 p.m. ET/ 1 pm PT, Dana Gioia, renowned poet, former head of the National Endowment of the Arts, author of Pity the Beautiful, his long awaited new collection of poems and author of the controversial essays Can Poetry Matter? will be my guest on Rare Bird Radio.

Listen live or later by clicking on the link. If you listen live, we will take calls at 626-414-3413.

Post a question ahead of time for Dana Gioia or me on Goodreads.

Check out Gioia’s extraordinary literary career and lifelong support for the arts on his website.

Join the Goodreads book club where you'll find links to all the books I've discussed with the authors and links to all the interviews with the famed, the emerging and the fascinating. Add your thoughts on the authors, the books and the continuing conversation on creativity.

Let us cast light on the arts!

November 05, 2012

Save the Date: Live Call-in Radio With Dana Gioia

Dana Gioia
November 7 at 4 p.m. ET/ 1 pm PT, Dana Gioia, renowned poet, former head of the National Endowment of the Arts, author of Pity the Beautiful, his long awaited new collection of poems and author of the controversial essays Can Poetry Matter? will be my guest on Rare Bird Radio.

Listen live or later by clicking on the link. If you listen live, we will take calls at 626-414-3413.

Post a question ahead of time for Dana Gioia or me on Goodreads.

Check out Gioia’s extraordinary literary career and lifelong support for the arts on his website.

Join the Goodreads book club where you'll find links to all the books I've discussed with the authors and links to all the interviews with the famed, the emerging and the fascinating. Add your thoughts on the authors, the books and the continuing conversation on creativity.

Let us cast light on the arts!

November 03, 2012

Eduardo Santiago: The Interview

Eduardo Santiago is the author of the much-loved novel Tomorrow They Will Kiss. Santiago tells the story of three Cuban women who immigrated to New Jersey USA in the 60s. Each is remaking her life, recalling and dreaming of love while struggling to make ends meet.

Santiago’s short stories have appeared in Zyzzyva among other notable literary magazines and he’s been named a PEN Emerging Voices Rosenthal Fellow.

Santiago is the force behind the Idyllwild Author Series at INK Bookstore in Idyllwild, California. Visit his website for more info.

Click on Rare Bird Radio to hear the interview.

Santiago was born in Cuba.

I had the good fortune to visit that beleaguered land in December 2003. 

Some of my photos from that trip augment the interview and Eduardo's comments on the land, its folk and Fidel Castro.
Cuba aerial view
Cubans outside the airport, awaiting arrivals
Wedding in Sancti Spiritus
A land of paradoxes.
Dancers in the street

Inhabited apartment building in Havana
School childen
Cigar box

October 30, 2012

Save the Date: October 31: Live Call-in with Eduardo Santiago

October 31 at 4 p.m. EDT/ 1 pm PT, Eduardo Santiago, born in Cuba, author of the novel Tomorrow They Will Kiss and the force behind the Idyllwild Author Series at I.N.K. Bookstore in Idyllwild, California, will be my guest on Rare Bird Radio.

Listen live by clicking on the link. We will take calls at 626-414-3413.

Join my Book Club on Goodreads to post a question ahead of time for Eduardo or me.

Check out the fab, the fascinating, the unforgettable Eduardo Santiago on his website.

And here's a pre-show flower for Eduardo and you!

October 28, 2012

Molly Peacock: The interview

"Some things take living long enough to do."

With this line Molly Peacock evokes the spirit, inspiration and breath of this beautiful book The Paper Garden about the artist Mary Delany who created nine hundred eighty-five mosaics, the first completed in her seventy-third year. 

I have read and re-read this book to savor every word, the phrasing, the hope. This is a book of hope. I carry Molly and Mary inside me. To read this book is to live the lives revealed here. The bounty is boundless. 

Photo: Andrew Tolson
When I first read the book in 2011, I posted a review of The Paper Garden on Amazon, wrote an essay on this website about the book and hoped in my heart of hearts that some day I would get to interview Molly Peacock. 

Life gives gifts and on October 24, 2012 Molly and I connected. Listen to the interview on: Rare Bird Radio. 

 Here is one of Mary Delany’s exquisite paper mosaics:
To say that this is a book about the art of Mary Delany, which this book is, replete with incredible reproductions, much better than the one above, is to understate its power, its aim. 

The poet Molly Peacock has taken Mary Delany in her sights and locked onto her life to reveal not only Mary’s story, but Molly’s, and to reveal the breath of life that drives the creative impulse.

Her words speak better than mine: “… [Y]ou must have technical skill to accomplish anything, but you also must have passion, which in an odd way is technique forgotten.” “The state of not-knowing … recaptures youth’s novel excitements.” “Mere self expression is not art. Nor is excellent technique on its own. … Both passion and virtuosity are required for this leap.”

Peacock writes about the artist’s solitude, the need to say “no,” on “the incivility of the artist at work (what others call selfishness),” on the need for applause and how the encouragement of others increases the productivity of the artist and is not to be underestimated. Mary had her friend and cheerleader Margaret.

Molly speaks of her longtime friendship with the poet Phyllis Levin: “Neither Phyllis nor I can conceive of how a person can process the material of a life, and by that I mean love and death and every insect bite in between, without practicing an art.” She also speaks of the encouragement that publication provides, of how this book began as an essay “Passion Flowers in Winter” and was published in the small journal—the importance of the literary magazine for all writers and readers I talk about in Literary Magazines: Why Bother?" on this website. Molly’s essay was published first in PoemMemoirStory  no. 6 by the editor Linda Frost and then chosen by David Foster Wallace for Best American Essays 2007. The writer, the artist produces with the help of her admirers. 

Peacock informs and inspires as she uncovers the life and work of Mary Delany, how she formed a deep and abiding friendship with Ruth Hayden, Mary’s great, great, great, great, great, great niece, who in her own later years wrote a book about her aunt. Molly—and now I may refer to the writer by her first name as we have met via the interview, and she has wended her way into my heart. Molly says of being in Ruth’s home, of being with Ruth, “I was in a magic place though it was quite real. … Just as real as the robin from which I’d felt a scratch of the past. Not just memory or metaphor but a scratch—the way a fact can scratch, palpable, undeniable, inflexibly pertinent.” Here Molly seamlessly informs the creative process—and that is only one of the gifts of this book.

Perhaps more profoundly, she cuts to the bone of her own anxieties about life and death and love. Molly Peacock’s marriage to Mike Groden is part and parcel of this book. Here are words to live by, placed in an unmistakable parentheses in the book: “The secret of marriage is thinking that your partner is better than yourself.” I say unmistakable because do not be fooled. You will discover more in The Paper Garden than promised, another gift.

I have been profoundly affected by Molly Peacock and her paper garden. I have been encouraged with no sentimentality, with no easy phrase, with no how-to glibness. I have been moved.

Look at this book for its gorgeous reproductions of Mary Delany’s work. Read this book for the intertwined history of Mary Delany’s remarkable life and Molly Peacock’s tender memoir. Keep this book, as I do, for its insights on art and life, on living well and on the gift of “direct observation that leads to indirect epiphany.”

This blog and website are in search of meaning, and this blogger, a believer in the power of the willed word that helps us make sense of all the ways that life betrays the living and still gives hope. 

Molly Peacock defines art and life and hope, in her being and in her work.

October 24, 2012

Live Call-In Radio: interview with author Molly Peacock, October 24

Photo: Andrew Tolson

I will interview author Molly Peacock, today Wednesday, October 24 at 4:30 EDT/ 1:30 PT on Rare Bird Radio. Click here to listen. Call into the live show to listen and perhaps ask a question. Here’s the call-in number for Wednesday at 4:30 EDT: (626) 414-3413.

Have you read Molly's fab book The Paper Garden? You gotta read it! 

If you are a member of Goodreads, join my book club because you can post a question there right now for Molly or me and I'll try to make sure it gets answered on the show.

If you can't make it today, I will tell you what I've learned  from the interview in my next post and will include a link to the show so that you can listen after it's run.

But, really, don't you want to hear Molly live? 

Be sure to check out Molly's Website

Here's a lovely flower, but nothing like what Mary Delany created out of "whole cloth," or to be more accurate, from her soul.

October 22, 2012

Save the date: October 24, live call-in with Author, Poet Molly Peacock

Save the date: Join me, Wednesday October 24 at 4:30 EDT on Rare Bird Radio when I interview author Molly Peacock. Have you read her fab book The Paper Garden? You gotta read it! 

Molly has written a moving book about the artist Mary Delany whose mosaics are too beautiful for me to even attempt to describe, but virtually all of them are in Molly's book, along with a telling that will make you think again about the nature of creativity.

Call into the live show to listen and perhaps ask a question. Here’s the call-in number for Wednesday at 4:30 EDT: (626) 414-3413

If you are a member of Goodreads, join my book club because you can post a question there right now for Molly or me and I'll try to make sure it gets answered on the show.

photo: Andrew Tolson
Find out more about Molly Peacock at  Molly's Website

October 16, 2012

Live Call-in: Rare Bird Lit Radio

Join me: 4 p.m., EDT October 17: Live call-in radio interview on Rare Bird Radio with journalist, bon vivant Michael Johnson. Call with questions, comments for Michael Johnson or me: 

(626) 414-3413. Click on Rare Bird Radio to listen live!

Michael Johnson, who lives in France, writes for The International Herald Tribune, American Spectator, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, Where will he appear next? Call in and find out.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

June 26, 2012

Ardell Louis Persinger, Sr., 1921-2012

Ardell (center), Doris (right) at the WWII Memorial

In the War, the second big war, he flight tested P-51 Mustangs, the fighter plane.

When the war was over, he returned to Iowa, where distance is shortened by the past. He planted his land a farmer-stone’s throw from Lum Hollow where he grew up, where I like to think he hung the tire swing from the cottonwood tree for his younger brothers and sisters, for the grandchildren, where he watched his mother’s narrow back and wide hands on a wooden board on dough.

Dessert first, I can hear him say.

With the gift of the rising sun, he survived the all-too-common small farmer’s demise because he ran the farm with a businessman’s head. His land like all the land around the town opens up in one long field of alfalfa and corn and soy beans, squares of green patched up against pale gold, stretching so far you’d think the world was flat.

He took me, a Baltimore girl, inside the waving wheat, inside the fields he’d plowed and planted.

Hard work, blisters on the hands, aches in the back of his legs, the smell of sweat and dirt reverberate in the sight of his neck, wrinkled with years and sun. And in the story:

The caper during the second World War when he flew repaired planes to see if they were safe. He and his buddies were pilots who could fly larger planes and did: Planes filled with officers they took down from Kastl, Germany, where he was stationed, to the French Riviera to give the heroes R&R.

He and his buddies didn’t get that R&R but they did get time off and the P-51s were theirs. The Doris Lea, the one he named for his love, I think of as glory. Here’s what he and a buddy did on a whim. Got into his P-51 and flew to Paris with the glory of the Eiffel Tower in their heads: Its arch, its height, its span and the span of their wings and their own foolhardiness. They flew to the arch of the tower that looked smaller and smaller as they approached, when there was no turning back, when through it they would go or die. Only those on the ground who saw would ever know. Those on the ground and we who’ve heard the story told over and over and over again.

I saw tears in his eyes only once when my husband and I took him to The Smithsonian’s outpost of the Air and Space Museum way out by Dulles airport, not where the Apollo 11 command module sits, not where the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Flyer hangs or the Spirit of St. Louis, not where the McDonnell FH-1 Phantom holds court inside the museum that sits on the National Mall. His P-51 requires a long drive out to Chantilly, Virginia, where he stood and saw his Doris Lea.

He risked.

Every pilot who flew and shot and saved and won Congressional medals and Purple Hearts owes him. The second big war that was won in part with some five hundred enemy aircraft shot down by P-51s, the lives that were saved, the lives that were lost owe him.

I see him inside the church in town, a simple wooden structure with stained glass windows on two sides. I see his gait down the center aisle, the collection plate in his rough hewn hands that speak of the one who gets things done and can’t be bothered with those who don’t.

He filled the bird feeders that hang from the wide strong maple that stands in his yard the way he stands: lofty and longstanding.
His son in the Persinger cornfield

May 25, 2012

Nick Winkworth: Artist Photographer on how art enlarges the consciousness

Ruby Slippers
I introduce you today to the photographer/artist Nick Winkworth. The chapter “Bedtrick” in my memoir (Re)Making Love was inspired in part by Nick's photograph entitled  “Ruby Slippers.” I am in his debt.

He honors me here today with his essay and more of his work.

William Gass in Fiction and the Figures of Life, a fabulous book on art and life, says ...[A]rt enlarges consciousness like space in a cathedral, ribboned with light, and though a new work of art may consume our souls completely for a while, almost as a jingle might, if consumption were all that mattered, we are never, afterward, the same; we cannot consciously go on in the old way; there is, as in Rilke’s poem ‘Torso of an Archaic Apollo,’ no place that does not see us, and we must change our life.

Nick gives credence to William Gass’s words.

Nick Winkworth

It was inevitable, I suppose, that someone born into a family of painters and sculptors would find an outlet for artistic expression one way or another.
Born and brought up in England, I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, in California, for over 20 years, brought here by a career in high technology which could hardly be further from the world of paint and clay in which I grew up.

At times I imagined the vehicle for my artistic output might have been music (I play bass and guitar), but photography has always been my first love, as well as a more constant and reliable companion.

From the moment I first picked up my first camera as a child, my choice of subject matter has been a cause for comment, but I simply reflect the world as I see it – the subtle interplay of composition, color and form is often more interesting to me than what the subject may be. That doesn’t mean my photographs are sterile exercises in geometry, however. My goal with every image is to achieve a balance between aesthetic appeal and that elusive emotional quality which hints at a mystery, an untold story, or a forgotten memory.

After many years of sharing my work only with family and friends, my photography has now become a serious artistic endeavor.  An initial online presence led to a solo show, which was followed by selection into a number of juried exhibitions and events. Encouraged and inspired by participation in recent portfolio reviews, I now have a long list of projects which will allow me to continue to grow as a photographer and artist …and keep me busy in the coming months!

I am also a regular participant in the web project “SPARK”, which pairs visual artists with writers, encouraging each to create new work inspired by the other. (

Crying over Colors – Emotion in the Abstract
By Nick Winkworth

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld famously described his hit TV series as “a show about nothing.”

White on White
Of course, he didn’t mean that nothing happened in the show, or that it had nothing to say (as you may remember, it tapped into the psyche of its time and was hugely successful).  What he meant was that the stories in the show were grounded in the mundane – in the ordinary life we take for granted and which passes us by before we realize it’s actually “something”.  We go to work or school. We buy groceries and we interact with our friends. But when asked, “what happened today?” we reply “oh, nothing.”

Jurassic Shore
By removing the distraction of a dramatic plot or an exotic setting, the writers cleverly made us look inward. We laughed because we recognized ourselves and our lives (hopefully only certain aspects!), and by exposing the stuff that normally goes unexamined, it took us beyond humor to (perhaps) some deeper truths. If we cared to notice. 

So if “nothing” can be the subject of a successful TV sitcom, can it also be the basis for other art forms?

My introduction to this idea took place at an early age. Growing up in a family of painters and sculptors, I was reluctantly dragged around what seemed like every art gallery in London as a small child. I naturally became a big fan of the surrealists with their funny juxtapositions and brilliant ideas (“Ceci n'est pas une pipe”), but I was also strongly drawn to the work of abstract expressionists like De Kooning, Malevich, Pollock -- and especially Mark Rothko. I’m not sure I could have told you why at the time, but those fields of pure color and indefinable shapes that call to something just below the conscious were not simply compelling and attractive - they wormed their way into my brain in a way that would not become
apparent for many years.

We Never Close
The painters of that movement would have had a very clear explanation for my reaction, of course. They would no doubt have claimed that their work was a direct emotional connection between the painter and the viewer, without the intermediation of subject. “A painting about nothing” perhaps, but one which has a lot to say, and which is ecumenical in its appeal. This direct connection to emotion has been interpreted by some as “spiritual” and indeed one of the finest examples of Mark Rothko’s work is the Rothko “Chapel,” just outside Houston, Texas. This small octagonal building houses fourteen enormous, dark, almost monochromatic, panels and is a place for non-denominational and philosophical contemplation. 

The power of the work is reputed to move some visitors to tears.

Bus Stop
After my early exposure to painting, my life followed a path away from art - to science, technology and a career which eventually deposited me in my current location in Silicon Valley, California. I nevertheless always maintained a personal creative and artistic output, primarily through the medium of photography, and this is where the threads of my story converge. Photographs – as any photographer will tell you – are not made with a camera, but with an eye and a brain. My photographic subjects have always been what some may call unorthodox. Many have called them painterly. However it was only recently that I made the connection.

The fact is, abstract art is everywhere we look. It is there in the “nothing” that we pass by every day on our way to work. It is there in the “blank” wall and the “empty” space. In reality, of course, it’s in our brains, or rather, since I can only speak for myself, in my brain. Once I realized that my photography was unconsciously drawing on those early memories of abstract paintings I decided to create the body of work I later titled “Off the Wall”. 

Sharing one's personal vision may go with the territory in art, but I was nevertheless relieved to discover that I am not alone: One of my images was recently selected (from over 1,400 submissions) for an exhibition of abstract photography showing now until June 9th at the PhotoPlace gallery in Middlebury, Vermont called “Abstract Expressions” (details at My contribution, “Dividing Line”, is at once an abstract composition of shapes, colors and textures, and also a simple boarded-up window that you might drive past every day. All the exhibition images are available online for those who can't, or won't, make it to Vermont.

Dividing Line

By coincidence, a few weeks before I heard about my inclusion in this exhibition I attended a photographic event in Houston and so naturally made a pilgrimage to the Rothko Chapel. It turned out to be a fairly unassuming building surrounded by a nice little park in a residential part of town. Having passed through the lobby, filled with books from every faith, I entered the main space. Huge purple-black canvases encircle the dim, high ceilinged room and imbue the place with an atmosphere I have only experienced before in a cathedral or remote redwood grove.  A few people sat quietly on benches, or on the floor. Some with eyes closed. 

Mark Rothko Four Darks in Red © Tate / 1998 by Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko source The Guardian

Having taken a while to absorb the ambiance, I approached one of the panels, reminiscent perhaps of a cave man approaching the black monolith in “2001, A Space Odyssey” (Rothko encouraged viewers to get very close - as close as 18 inches) and as I did so, the painting seemed to reach out and pull me inside itself. The surface texture and brush strokes are visible at this distance but they seem to just add to the sense of depth, and in a moment I was both deep under the ocean and staring at the stars at the same time. The subtle variations in color and shifting light drew my attention from one place to the next, but in every direction all there was, was the painting.

After a while it became so overwhelming in its intensity that I could no longer continue to look, and I turned my head away.

Visit Nick Winkworth’s blog and website through the link in the right hand margin of this site: