Sunday, 26 May 2013

Get a Grip Eh!

Getting a Grip!

How many swords are there on a "Throne of Swords"? Hundreds. This week I spent hours not getting a grip but giving a grip, to each sword handle! 

I could not help but think about how any soldier would make sure he would have a sword that fit his hand well. That he would be able to have a good solid grasp of the sword. For, in the middle of the action loosing a grip on your sword could cost you your life. A good grasp of your weapon would be vital.

Even athletes today work hard at making sure they have a good grip on their tools of the trade. Hockey players, especially now in the playoffs, will wind tape onto their sticks each in a special unique way to prevent losing their grasp in an important moment. Wight lifters put special powder on their hands to increase their grip. 

Often, having observed someone not doing well, we have heard the comment, "get a grip." Meaning do whatever it takes to get your act together so next time you will not fail, stumble or be so ineffective.

But, the term "get a grip" also has to do with lack of performance, confusion or just lack luster results. It means we need to back off and change our approach. We may need to get some sleep, do our homework and study, practice or whatever it takes to up our game. 

I remember when my chance came to prepare for my first art show. It became clear in June that the date the art gallery would become  available was in February of the next year. That meant I had seven months to prepare for my first art show. The problem was I had only one piece ready and a second one half ready! I had just moved into my studio and had no idea how many pieces I'd have ready or even could have ready by that date. 

When the call came, I said "yes", I would take the opportunity.  Then, I went back to my studio and realized I had a difficult task ahead of me, especially as I'd never done this before. I had to have at least 10 pieces. Did I even have 10 ideas? I realized I had guessed it... "Get a grip", bear down, do what I had to do, focus and get the job done. To my relief, it all turned out, way beyond my expectation.

While I'm writing this the Rangers have just "got a grip" and scored in overtime, surprising everyone, winning the game. This is the game where the Boston goalie Rask, tripped and had to watch helplessly as a slow dribbler went right by him into the goal! Get a grip eh! You could say the "bounces" went the Rangers way!

"Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years. "     Judges 6;1


Saturday, 25 May 2013

Lessons About Life and the "F" Word on the Farm - 2

"The -F-Word"

"70 X 7"
Installation Art of Tears by Odia Derksen

I was telling someone about the new subject matter I had begun on the long weekend. When I mentioned the title he looked at me kind of quizzically and asked, "...the -F- word?"

Immediately, I realized I'd overlooked explaining that little detail with my first blog. So I would bet that 90 percent of you went straight to the "F" bomb word! Wouldn't blame you if you did. Those of you who know me, know I don't use that word. For you it would become a question, what word could it be? Farm, friend, family, funny, fox...what?

Our daughter Odia's art tells it all. In an instillation 7 feet square she's crocheted and hung 490 tears representing Christ's teaching that we must (here it is...) "forgive", not once, twice or three times but 70 X 7 times. Which means it is to be a lifestyle. An ongoing stream of conscious and unconscious forgiving going on all the time. This is the culture I grew up in as a Mennonite. 

My parents and community were "people of the Book". Believing in a Christ centered life, committed to non-violence, forgiveness and peacemaking. As a child I was taught to love my enemies and respond with positive creative action if at all possible. I was taught that evil could be, and would be, defeated with sacrificial and unconditional love. 

My ancestors were severely persecuted, tortured and even killed for their faith and beliefs. They tried to respond in love, peace, forgiveness and nonviolence. There are many stories, even a book called "The Martyrs Mirror" recalling many sad incidents of torture and death. An iconic story most widely known is of a Mennonite, Dirk Willems, who was fleeing from his would be torturers in the middle of winter. In his attempt to lose them Dirk began crossing a frozen lake. One of the men chasing him decided to followed him across the ice. As Dirk continued his flight, he suddenly heard the ice give way and cries for help. Turning, he noticed the his antagonist had broken through the ice and was floundering in the water, drowning. Dirk stopped running. He knew going back to help the man was signing his death warrant. Yet, to let the man, any man die when he could have saved him was unthinkable. He knew he had to do the Christ-like thing. Dirk made a choice, went back, assisted his attacker out of the water saving his life. He was of course subsequently arrested, and later burned at the stake. He willingly sacrificed himself to save another.

Last week I mentioned some reasons why I appreciated growing up on the farm. But to grow up in a family and community that introduced me to "forgiveness" in all it's many aspects is what I am most grateful for. Forgiveness is the greatest gift to mankind. It can break us free from our messed up past, and give us "life" for the future, here and in the here-after. I know all this because I am a satisfied customer. Every day I thank God for this amazing gift that many have had the good fortune to discover. And to think that through no choice of my own I grew up immersed in a community that lived it and breathed it. I had hit the jackpot! Simply, totally astounding. What a gift!

What may surprise you is that, in spite of it's gift and value, there are many who will not understand it, appreciate it or accept it as part of their lives. Life, even in this environment was not always paradise and I did have a few opportunities in my growing up years to make the decision to actually make it personal and put it into practice. When you are immersed in it, it's not always appreciated for the value it has. I did have to learn that and make it my own.

Because, I too am a "person of the Book" here are some thoughts I can share with you for I know these by heart....

"Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them...Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, as it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord."    Romans 12: 14, 19.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

A Sword in the Hand....

This was a very busy week. I negotiated a new contract and even spent some time out of town accompanying Wilma on a speaking engagement. It was nice to get away for a bit.

In spite of all this, I did get into the studio for a few hours and continued work on the figure that will some day sit on the throne of swords. 

Not only did I continue working of muscle tone and texture but as you can see I placed a sword in his left hand. The blade goes alongside and is attached to the right hand. Then it continues on to the right knee where again it is attached. My hope is that this will be a stabilizing factor for the two legs and the two hands hanging down between the knees. Also, this way the thin sword blade itself is also supported. 

This is one of those occasions where the sword looks rather casual. Anyone viewing the piece will not be conscious of the swords many roles in the sculpture, except that the king is just holding a sword. Meaning, for the viewer that it is simply making him "one" with the throne of swords he's already sitting in. You could call it a win-win kind of situation.

The next item is the head. I have finally decided what to do with that so check in next week regarding that aspect of this project.

"When I said, "My foot is slipping," your unfailing love, Lord supported me."     Psalm 94:18

Lessons About Life and the "F" Word From the Farm

"Animal Farm" Book Cover: Pen and Ink
Published in 1945!
A study of political revolutions using talking animals on a farm.

Today, on this long weekend, I am beginning something new. As you can see from the title of this blog, I am going to delve into my past, my life from the very beginning. Which happened, I'm glad to say on a farm. I know it may be hard to believe but I do appreciate the fact that I began my life on a small mixed farm in Saskatchewan. I'm am very grateful that I had the "ambiance" of a farm to grow up in. There is nothing better for ones health, for the joy of life, and for the wonder of growing up in nature. It was a fantastic natural classroom learning about the intricacies of life.

Also, my kids have no connection or real understanding of my farming experience, listening aghast at my stories, wondering how I survived despite for example, "eating dirt" as a kid.  I'm aware that this was a unique experience, one that cannot be replicated and that is gone today. So right now, I feel like the "old guy" in the room. But, I also feel humbled and privileged to share some of it with you. I hope that it will be as fun and therapeutic for you the reader as I know it will be for me. 

Before I begin, I must explain a few things. This will be life from my experience, my feelings and my vantage point as a young kid. It will be largely, on purpose may I say, told from my right brain. You see, I have become convinced that we in the "enlightened west", live way too much in our left brains. By ignoring the right brain we actually destroy the joy, fulfillment, creativity and meaning of life as it should be experienced and enjoyed. Our whole educational system and culture honors the left brain, putting down the wonder of the right, castigating those who by nature operate more than usual from the right side of the brain. 

Let me explain something I have learned. You see, children do not employ the left brain at all until they begin to speak.  All that time during their non-verbal months/years of growing up they are operating (non-verbal) out of the right brain. This then is the time where feelings of safety and trust are established. This becomes the foundation of how this person will respond to life later through their left brain as an adult! I know, it is scary as usually we think nothing is happening during those early months and that we can be loving, angry or even violent in front of them or towards them and it won't make a difference. Big mistake. Guess what, it makes a very big difference. For rest of their lives their responses to stress or love are based on what feelings they experienced in their right brains as children! We don't of course think of that when we as adults are in the now, responding to life as it comes our way. But is explains why we often wonder why we cannot beat issues like, this anger thing, when it all began as a child. That is where the foundations for life are laid. In the right brain. So scary. What have I done to my kids when they were young?

Once the child begins to speak they begin to move slowly into the left brain. Then, in grade one, our educational system takes over and rips us totally into the left as quickly as possible! And, they want to be sure that we stay there for good.

So, please be aware I will not be getting a map from the "Great Deer" district office in Borden, Sk. to get a map of my farming neighborhood confirming the distances between farms, or from our house to the school or church. From the house to the neighbors dugout I swam in, or from the barn to the manure pile where I dumped shit every weekend! In those days everything was measured by the mile, and I was a kid, so a mile felt a certain way. Now we are into "kilometers", so, there's no way I can get a read on that when I was a kid growing up with "miles"!

Also, know that memory plays tricks, even for us as adults. Two witnesses in court can see the same thing, yet their stories are different, often very different. Over time the memories of an experience work in the brain like your image in the ripples of the water trough. Some things are out of focus, and some not. In a moment it changes and now what was fuzzy is clear. Many things affect our memories. First, memories of instances change and morf as the years pass. Secondly they also change with whatever it is that  evokes the memories. If it's a smell, it will look different than if it's a face that brings the memory to the fore. So if you were there when I tell a story of my experience in school for example, it will probably be my truth, and will be remembered differently by my friends who where there. So, if you were there, tell me your angle and we can talk about the differences and the lessons we learned. 

Regardless, all of our past experiences taught us something. Even if the facts my not be perfect, the feelings and lessons are very real and are instrumental in what we believe, how we think, and subsequently how we live even to this very day. 

So, it's a real joy at this late stage of my life to pass on some things that I experienced and learned in a very unique but rich situation. We cannot chose where we will be born nor the environment we are born in. I am very thankful for how God set me on a small mixed farm in Saskatchewan, with Ernest and Mary, my parents, me being the oldest of one sister and two brothers, in a small Mennonite community in central Canada.

Therefore, let me begin at the beginning. I will now reveal the most difficult thing about my life, my age. When was I born? It was the marker year for a new season in Canada and the world. I was born in 1945, the year WW2 ended!

I never realized till now what a turning point that year was. It was tough economically as everyone had suffered helping the war effort, but it was over and life was going to be different. And, we all know, it was different from then on, socioeconomically and politically. 

But it was also a year of note "artistically", a very unusual and creative book '"Animal Farm" was published that year. Here I'm going to share "farm stories" with you and now discover that in the year of my birth, a best seller was published with a story based on the farm! How weird is that?

George Orwell used talking farm animals and farm life as a metaphor of the revolution of 1917 in Russia and later with Stalin  It was and is an amazing idea and book. Very controversial at the time. He had a hard time getting it published but once it was published, it was a huge success. 

Here's a quote from Wikipedia  "In his essay "Why I Write" (1946) he wrote that Animal Farm was the first book in which he had tried, with full consciousness of what he was doing, "to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.""

I liked that phrase  and it occurred to me that my art is similar. It's not necessarily political but it is trying to fuse other, different worlds. I like to take a Biblical story and mix it with today, like "Foxy David" sitting on the roof with a modern spyglass ogling Bathsheba. If I transferred that phrase into my art experience I would say it something like this; "I think my art is an attempt to fuse Biblical and present day culture/spirituality plus a feeble attempt to include artistic purpose, all into one whole!" 

Wow! Now that sounds rather pompous  I've never heard myself say that before and I think I have to think about that a little more! I don't think it's actually quite right.

Warning! Move over, lightning could strike anytime

But I do really like the book cover pen and ink drawing. Look at that face, dictators are very unforgiving! And, the shocking  red color, indication of blood and the sinister side (injustices and deaths) of any dictatorship and revolutions in general.

"Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the Lord's wrath did not come on them during the days of Hezekiah."         2 Chron. 32:26

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Starting Again.

I'm sure many of you have built a campfire, a fire in your backyard for an evening of conversation with friends, come in and found out your clothing smell like smoke. Not good if the next place  you are going is a restaurant, or your office etc. People will be telling you you smell like smoke and will be asking where did that come from?

Studies have shown that, "many people become introverted in their personalities as a coping mechanism resulting from the relational assaults of childhood." (T.D. Jakes pg. 7)

We are not necessarily talking about abuse, it can simply be a sensitive child picking up on the troubled emotions around them. The emotional load becomes too much for them and they go inside to secure themselves within their own thoughts, ideas and emotions. They simply cannot process the emotional load they experience around them. 

As we grow up we realize relating to others is risky business, resulting in hurt feelings, painful misunderstandings and unexpected disappointments. We become cynical, skeptical and even bitter, often without even realizing it. Slowly we back away from interacting with people. We begin sending messages with our body language, "stay away". One lady told me she talked a lot to avoid people asking her about herself, not wanting to share herself or her life with others. It was a coping method to keep people away.

So all this stuff sticks to us like a layer of smelly smoke and affects everything we say and do. We are not even aware that we are pushing people away. Relationships go astray and we have no idea why, we can't seem to perform at 100% and we get more confused and angry, often blaming everyone else!

Saul had this kind of a problem. He had picked up so much smoke that everything he said, did and touched was affected by it. He was not aware that his smell was self destructive! Because be was so conditioned to deal with things as he'd done as a child he could not change. So he got frustrated with his failures and lack of success, growing in anger, bitterness, and envy. He was actually killing himself, as a person, a leader and as a man.  

Frankly, he just could not let things go. He could not wipe off the smoke, the smell and the clutter and start with a clean slate. He could not go back, become "like a little child", go back to his roots and make a fresh start. 

Now, I must say, that to start again like that is not easy. We have collected bad habits and ways of doing things which must be overcome and changed. We have to be intentional about it. Determined, even desperate to change.  

But, it can be done and it is worth it. I have a friend who was known not so long ago, as "The Ice-man". He decided to go for it, go back to his roots, clear the slate and start again. He grabbed onto his healing journey like a bulldog, never letting go and today he is a very different person. He went back and broke the chains of bondage that un-forgiveness brought into his life. He "let go" and  forgave, clearing out many years worth of the clutter, smoke and smell.

To bad Saul never took up that challenge.

Today, the former "Ice-Man" is a mentor to me and I am proud to say, he is one of my very best friends.

"I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."      John 15:15

What's He Hiding?

I have been spending time on this figure, slowly reworking and detailing the the surface of his body. 

It is interesting how I work on him for a few hours in the morning lets say, go for lunch and when I return I see something new that needs to be worked on or corrected. I then ask myself, why did I not see that before? Why is it that when I remove myself for a period of time and when I return see more clearly the affect of my work? Is it that I'm more objective suddenly? Is it that as I work, I get to comfortable with what is, allowing my brains judgment is negatively affected? 

It seems that I am more aware of my mistakes, absurdities etc. if I can remove myself for a period of time. Like my minds meters of distances, lengths and sense of proportions re-adjusts, correcting itself during my absence. Then when I return, I'm surprised at what I've done, the errors I see and wonder just how I did not see those before.

So, I've learned to be patient with myself, and when I do return, to take care to re-asses the whole piece for I know it is then that I am most able to see what seems to out of order.

Syras our clinical psychologist son, is presenting a series of workshops he calls "Ministry of Listening." In his first session he made clear to us that when we are relating/listening to someone, we do not really know the person we are listening too. Our knowledge of them is like seeing an ice-berg, in that only a small portion of their person-hood is visible to us, while the larger part of them (like any iceberg) is under the water, which we and even the person we are listening to is not aware of. We will have to come back again and again, listen and learn and even then, will never fully discover all the aspects of the unseen things about their personality. 

I have to go away, and come back again and again to "listen" to the sculpture I'm creating. I need to go away and come back many times to discover and learn and understand both the physical aspects and also some of what he is made of inside. It's only in coming back that I can see anew the areas that need adjusting, but also that I learn of who he really is. Only then can I really reflect that more accurately in the physical aspect of my creation. 

I need to be quiet, look and listen and then respond in adjusting the little minute aspects of his physical presentation/appearence that will then as nearly as possible reflect who he really is. 

Then, I know he will also reflect, who I truly am!

"Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and he said: "Who am I, Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?""   1 Chronicles 17:16

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Fluffy the Pocket Dog...the Strongman's Pet?

Pocket Beagle to the right
Pocket Pomeranian lower left
Pocket Pit-Bulls below.

Aren't these guys just to cute?

We used to have a dog. He was a great dog, "Sneakers" was his name. We as a family all have good memories of sneakers. He was a Heinz Ketchup mix with mostly wiener dog DNA. He loved the kids and endured practically anything including playing dress-up! The kids loved him, playing with him endlessly and when all were tired, cuddling, napping and sleeping in a pile. It was fantastic.

My character for the "Throne of Swords" has shown, by his bumbling, inconsistent leadership and lifestyle, to be somewhat of a clown. A sad clown. The consequences of his bad decisions and choices as a leader are obviously very sad, to us on the outside, so wrong. Certainly, when we begin to understand him, not funny at all. Possibly something like the twist on my "Foxy David" sculpture. Where on the surface it looks like a fun piece and then comes the realization that there is more to this, and it's not funny. It's very serious and the consequences are very real and very sad. The consequences of King Saul's arbitrary decisions were also very real and very sad, for both himself and the nation.

To make him appear "clownish" I am going to include dog. Not a huge imposing pit-bull type, which would be normal for a man of an imposing and threatening reputation. No, I'm going to give him a "pocket" dog of some kind. Something opposite from his intended message. Him choosing to have a pocket dog would be kind of funny in that it's so out of context with his obvious character of threats and danger. But makes sense when you consider the many bad and weird decisions he's making in his leadership on a consistent basis. His decision to have a pocket dog, simply adding to the clownishness of his life.

Even the kind of pocket dog I choose will make a difference in the level of his clownishness. (Not sure if that's even a word!) The image of a strong-man on his iron throne of swords with a fluffy Pomeranian on his knee, growling and bearing his teeth is just hilariousness to me.

"They help each other and say to their companions, (no matter what size) "Be strong!"
Isaiah 41:6 

PS. With the winter extending longer than usual and spring coming so late, the birds are having trouble finding food. Every morning I come to my bird feeder and find it completely empty. What excitement ensues when I refill it as you see below. 

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Becoming a Man.

This is the basic rudimentary beginning of getting the seated figures  proportions figured out. Since he is in a sitting position, it has taken some special calculations to get  him right. I had to begin with the reality that the seat of the throne is 8 inches off the floor. Therefore  the whole figure is based on and extrapolated from an 8 inch leg length from the knee to floor.

Also, I had to make the seat on which he is sitting while I form him, exactly the 8 inch height of the throne seat itself.

Here you can see the development of the shoulders and the arms. I began by forming him from solid clay from the waist down including the legs. Next, working from the waist to the shoulders I made from slabs of clay, so this section is hollow. The reason is that since he's leaning forward, the upper part would become to heavy to hold it's position. Even with this part being hollow, it was the arms that helped stabilize his upper body as the clay was to wet to stay in the correct position. Not surprising then that he needs well developed muscles in his shoulders and arms to hold himself together!

You will also notice, that I had to brace up the legs just behind the knees so they would not collapse beneath the weight of his upper body and arms. The lower leg is to thin and the clay to wet for it to support the whole upper structure. 

It is also mandatory for a real man to have distinct abs is it not? I think it is. Any man who sit's on that intimidating, confrontational and imposing "throne of swords" must be "manly" and at the height of his physical power, which includes chiseled abs!

It just feels so good molding clay again. Creating a figure, forming the contours of the body the wet clay responding to the fingers brings such joy and satisfaction...It may be snowing in May but I'm feeling good in my studio!

"God brought them out of Egypt, they have the strength of a wild ox."    Numbers 23:22