The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Sub Terra Vita #47—Art as Instructor of Life Lessons: Some Thoughts on Paintings by Dan Osborne

Sub Terra Vita #47—Art as Instructor of Life Lessons: Some Thoughts on Paintings by Dan Osborne

For: NormalcyMag, Vol. 1, No. 2, July 2017
By Tim Krenz

This spring, in early sunny May, when warmth began thawing down the hibernating soil, I attended a stoked occasion that heated a learning from art. My great friend of many years, Dan Osborne, hosted his opening of newer paintings on display at a chateau winery, just north of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. In those paintings, I witnessed a new era for my friend's work as a servant to a higher and better form of human understanding.

Where this new body of works stands, so must I as a participant in life. In the theme of the paintings, Dan Osborne shows that people must own their passions for the broader visions they see, while learning to live fused as part of the world and not the sole actors in it. This comes, in my view, from Dan's newer work, in his challenge as an honest, relative spectator of the subjects he paints.

In the solarium in the southeast wing of the gray stone brick chateau, the room's white walls and glass windows and doors illuminated Dan's paintings by reflective sunlight. The perspective of some paintings immediately enticed me to the company of my own self, viewing them with a feeling now lighted on my inner morning after an immense winter slumber.

Before I saw them fully, I could view most of the exhibit satisfied with my own wandering thoughts, viewing this entire scene as part of the audience, separate from the picture. I absorbed them as an involved observer behind the painter. I shortly became a participant of the mini-panoramas, but not an obtrusive clutter like a person blocking the majesty of natural creation in a selfie photo. I do not want to see me. I want to see the scene.

Knowing Dan for well over a decade now, and in discussing the fine art of painting over those years, I see more and more of his method as artist within his work, without him never needing to tell the story he can show so well. Nonetheless, I later asked Dan to give me some verbal insights on his work over a cup of coffee weeks after the opening party.

In the late-night burst of his painting frenzies, 5 or 6 hours on occasion, that come in unsustainable spurts of time, Dan said that he does not see the result beforehand, “but I can see the direction. I never see the finished piece. . . . I don't know what that point is.” Some pieces take years, and some take hours, he told me. He added that no one would ever know it by looking at the paintings.

In painting, he never uses a photograph to paint simple replicas, and when he goes through with the need to embellish a color, or a form, or shape, he admits to a lot of trial and error in his work. “They [the paintings] will let me know what they need.” According to him, it becomes more than just a mechanism for healing an individual, himself included. “I feel like I'm healing the painting to make it right. It helps me, calming anxiety.” In that pointed statement of empathy, Dan concluded the thought: “It's the closest I get to joy.”

“Like a good meal,” Dan called the act of painting; satisfying, art form, creation—sustenance.

The “Obsession with silhouette, pink, and backgrounds,” as Dan described the exhibit that day, clearly marked some spectacular scenic impressions. Not just a droll landscape or a wildlife art print, the merit of the selections on display captured in the indirect use of color and black the new inner vistas of old scenes for me while I looked at them. I still now think of them months later.

The names of the paintings can and always should carry weight, for each of the pieces individually. “Sunrise on the Dalles,” a moment-in-time view of our venerable St. Croix River valley. “Violet Dusk.” “Trillium #1.” “Moonlight Savannah.” “Stained Glass Moonshine.” “Strawberry Moon.” All of these come with high marks as both pieces of fine art and the personal era for the artist.

“Trillium #2—Isn't She Pretty In Pink?” as Dan subtitled it (appropriately) I saw immediately upon entering the solarium. Rightfully so I noticed it first, for its quality, not only because I saw it centered directly opposite the entrance. Indescribable, beyond pinkish on a green field, it almost seemed as though blue bubbles of the flower painting floated on the flat large face of the canvas, in extra-dimensional texture. It said to me, “Hell Yeah!” A flower suspended, yet moving with bubbles coming from the wall.

“Luna in Bettula” gave the soft show, in the primary color of the oils. Balanced with the dark black outline and shapes of trees, the depth of night's sky composed in a reverse “sight-cology;” We see a moon in an everyday normal sky that hardly moves when constantly watching it, but when looking at the painting, the purple moon dangles over the earth, comfortably. The brush strokes move the moon forward in the ellipse on the large canvas, creating the movement and not just motion—free, balanced; dancing. That whole piece expands the mind of the possible on such a restricted, human-limiting medium of cloth and oil paint.

While “Luna in Bettula” made my favorite and personal rank as “best in show,” Dan's painting “Sunset on Boundary Waters” gave me a recall and direct connection with the artist's original viewpoint and his inspiration.

A long while ago, I took a paddling trip to that same Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). Dan mocked his own painting to me, as a piece of “orange crayon on the dashboard” of an old car, as he said that day. It still, however, arrives at a common experience he and I must have shared, on occasions separated by long time but only little in distance.

The Boundary Waters painting also teaches me a lesson, as I now found my own theme for Dan's works on display that day. It may give me some truth to the power of some worthy passion, in how I view things in my life. Stated thus: I can not add or subtract from nature itself, from any natural form, of any kind. I can observe, I can interpret, and I can enjoy and bask in that natural moment. I must stand better, like some, without imposing a preconceived will upon it. I do take it according to my delights and whims—as it exist. Beauty has its own value, which we all get to share, as we see it. Pray we see it in the equal truth of that inspiring light.

In that Boundary Waters picture, of northern Minnesota, Dan and I saw the same thing, which my own words failed to capture as well as the painting. In my camping journal I noted the sunset during my trip that day in late June 2010:

“In the water, the tree line on the opposite shore is reflected [of] its top. And in the water, pink on the closer end of the [dark] green mirroring the lake combines the soft red, and to my right (east), I see the gold visoring over the treeline on land to the north. And five minutes ago, I could see peachy pink on the east as bright as if the sun wanted to dawn like premature morning.” (“Field Book” entry).

Dan's “Sunset on Boundary Waters” captured that rapture, letting me recall it. Comparing notes, he and I saw a similar sight, almost exact in extent, on different lakes in BWCA, in different years. The same mystical sunsets of a Boundary Waters Canoe Area separated in time? As a witness, Dan did not put himself in the painting. Why would he? Anyone in that pristine scene would only make it less universal, and an obstruction to the nature of it. Dan's entire show left the images untainted, unobstructed with the clutter, but full of image that evoke impression and interpretation. The artist giving it uniform objectivity. The paintings—nearly all of them—successfully give themselves objective meaning. Dan let the paintings know what they wanted to heal, to complete them, as he said. The subject views of the show wanted only to know themselves.

In that, Dan's gifts made the art and the audience, separately, each complete.

Part 2: The First and Uncertain Trip of The Low Adventures: Trekking Superior Hiking Trail

The Low Adventures: Trekking Superior Hiking Trail
Part 2: The First and Uncertain Trip
By Tim Krenz
July 18, 2017

After convincing me on the “day of the Pinto” in November to trek the entire Superior Hiking Trail from Two Harbors, MN to the Canadian border, Craig made various ideas of planning over the course of that winter, 2001-2002.Time available, our age, and our physical conditions would mean we could do it by stages, in short trips, and take leisurely lollygagging time on the actual trail.

We would start in June, but I feared for my mortality and several very irrational things in the whole ordeal to come—heart attack, primary among them; bears, equally worrisome; and everything from UFO abductions to getting eaten by Big Foot, both of those last surprisingly notable in my list. I had no idea what to expect. I knew I could not deal with bears, so I tried to ignore that potential problem. Aliens and Big Foot, I pushed out of my mind, with some remarkable difficulty for a paranoid and imaginative guy like me. To avoid the heart attack, I had some solutions.

Beginning that Thanksgiving, I decided to train physically for the trip. A heavy smoker, and never too enthusiastic about exercise, I started my regimen small. Over the next several months, I walked all over my hometown of Osceola, Wisconsin—up the hill on County Highway M, around the circuit of the village, and down and up the massive and steep stair cases to the Cascade Falls. Even with a back pack full of heavy crap to accustom myself to the weight, I trudged those steps to the falls immediately below my apartment above the main street gift shop.

I thought I took big steps to strengthen my body, and dispose the irrational thoughts like ET and Sasquatch from my mind. I did push ups, sit ups, ate healthier, lost weight, gained self-respect, and all that jazz. I did it on my own, without paying a trainer, but I imagined I looked pretty vagrant walking through a normal semi-suburban idyllic town wearing cheap hiking boots and carrying my gear. All the while, Craig had made me one promise when he convinced me to do the trail: No matter what happened to me, he would get me out of the woods, even if it took several trips, and I came out in pieces (HA!). By mid-spring, armed with a poorly outdated Superior Hiking Trail guide book, Craig had the trip mapped out and we set the date, June 18, 2002, to mark our beginning.

I had a work commitment the day before, so we could not leave before the appointed morning. I packed heavy stuff—too heavy, like a novice would. I had a good, a very good back pack, but old, rotting, war surplus gear I inherited and collected at sales from several wars back (though all still made in the Twentieth Century). I slept well. That morning, Craig picked me up in his mini-truck around half past seven o'clock. I felt ready, but disguised a dose of trepidation. What to expect? Would I even enjoy it? I did not know. I had to go find out. We headed into Minnesota, and we turned north for a three hour ride.

After a quick breakfast in Hinckley, MN, we made it just past Two Harbors, MN, which sat on the big lake, Superior, before 11 AM. At that point in time, the trail started north from there, although years later it extended southward to Duluth. We parked at a parking lot on some lake country road, a place ominously called Castle Danger. We unloaded our packs, and stripping heavy crap out of them, we then threw out more crap. Finally, still heavy, we put the packs on and headed north on the Superior Hiking Trail (S.H.i.T). Right away, we encountered a tall and rugged hill, straight up and steep, called Wolf's Rock.

The hill trail went up, and up; up; up. Way up. Just starting this trekking, this low, spirit-crushing adventure that first half mile, really, really discouraged me. At the top of Wolf's Rock, before the leg-shortening, crunching walk down the other side, we did see the nice but distant view of the lake. In fact, my journal calls it a “breath-taking view.” I think “breathtaking” might have referred to the fact that my smoker lungs raged in pain. Either way, after only one-half of a mile, I really, really wanted to quit this entire adventure. Done, finished. Puss out. But we had not really started, and Craig encouraged, and might have threatened, me to go on to the campsite. We still had over three-quarters of a million steps to go to finish the trail. (We estimated the total steps years later). Those first steps, on the other hand, made me painfully aware that I needed a lot of training, some inspiration, and lighter gear.

At three miles into the hike we ate lunch, a simple and heavy-to-carry mix of food Craig packed—summer sausage, cheese, PB sandwiches, crackers, and apples. We moved out from our lingering lunch rest at 2 pm, and encountered another “S.O.B. Hill,” called Mike's Rock. Again, we saw the spectacular, panoramic, hazy summer view of Lake Superior off to our east, closer now, but still over the horizon of a green, thick forest.

At 3:15, we reached West Gooseberry Campsite, on the creek of the same name, but only after we had walked right through some type of wood tick nest. Craig and I each found over a dozen ticks on us, on our clothes, on our skin—everywhere. Before we set up his four-man blue tent, we spent fifteen minutes picking the little fuckers off of us. Eww! We thought the tent worms all over the roads and trees, and in webs across the trail bad enough. To deal with these ticks proved more intrusive, personal, and tricky.

Five miles into a rather quiet forest, but with the calming sound of the creek trickling below our site, we pitched our camp and drank coffee for two hours. I smoked cigarettes, to catch up on that “breathtaking” view ahead of time. Like I discovered camping with Craig before he left for the Peace Corps in 1997, he had a lot of stories. Of course, I would hear many of the same ones several times over the next six years. I brought a book to read, too, on this trip. I could read and ignore his stories for years, it turned out. As I noted in my journal before supper that first night, “I couldn't believe it. I made it.” We settled into camp, and I enjoyed every minute.

Craig's commercial backpacking gas stove did not work properly. It never would. It spit out gas all over. I unpacked our supper, which I cooked over the small fire Craig built in the rock-lined fire ring. We ate reheated, pre-cooked chicken breast, rice, cheese, cooked baby carrots, and drank flavored powder mixed with filtered stream water. (We used the mix to make the water somewhat palatable).

I filtered more water after supper while Craig did dishes. I became highly suspect of the creek. After washing my arms in the creek once we set up camp, my arms began to get little bites and bumps. They itched horribly, so bad that I scratched them raw and red that night and the next day. I had to drink this stuff? The camping filter, with a nozzle, two hoses, and a very sticky pump took forever to fill bottles.

Did all that cross contamination of the hoses, or the clogged charcoal filter inside of the filter really take out the impurities? Novice me, I decided to ignore it, like I ignored the thought of bears attacking me, flying saucers taking me to the mother ship, and Big Foot eating me for a midnight snack. I just learned on this trip that while I could take precautions against bad water and bears, I just had to live with it by not getting too paranoid. I drank the filtered creek water, reluctantly, and scratched the hell out of my arms the rest of the trip.

The rest of the night, we sat by the dwindling little fire, feeding it what slim pickings of fire wood we managed to find around the heavily used campsite . I wrote a journal entry. Craig told stories. The sky at 9 PM still looked blue, although the sun had set. I contemplated the soon to come summer solstice two days away. I always felt a little spirit crushing remorse the days after the June solstice. It meant shorter days. I did feel, and write about, a certain reward in many ways by the past nine months and the recent turn for fortune my life took in that time. I managed, with some very hard work and honest, introspective thought brought to my existence on earth some new and enlightened understanding every day for the past nine months. Just into my thirties, I had a choice between life and early death. I chose right.

In my intemperate twenties, I always wanted to do more, act for a purpose in things, and not live aimlessly and mindlessly. I also wanted more pleasant adventures, and happier ones, too, than the decade of the 1990s brought to me. Did I have any chance? I thought I did have one, to live “as a person lives life, to feel, to breath, to experience, without negative defects. . . ,” I wrote in my journal around that fire. “. . .This is what I meant,” I continued, “. . . and to do with the rest of my time; live without fear and live doing—an active life.” So go the optimisms of a youth at age thirty-one.

After a night sweating in the tent on a warm and dark night, we packed and left for the last 5 miles of our short trip. Near Gooseberry Falls, itself a wonderful and beautiful waterfall no different than many others, we passed an old state park building near the highway before entering Gooseberry State Park proper itself. The building, one of the old Great Depression era structures built by civilians in the construction corps, still had its rather stolid, solid presence. Rock and timber built, with wood shingles, the park, however, had all the windows and doors boarded and nailed shut.

The building, while insignificant in its presence near to the modern park building a half mile away, represented something beyond: It carried a venerable presence of wisdom, natural material, and stout construction. We would return to this theme a lot on this adventure. What wisdom would I learn? With what material did I have to work in my life and on the trail? How stout did my god construct me?

At the new park building, we became worried. We expected a ride back to Craig's little truck, nine miles south. A park worker came up to us, and gave Craig a message to call home. It turned into no real emergency, nor even an inconvenience. Poor two-year old Anya, Craig's daughter, had a severe rash and Jen, his wife, could not meet us at Gooseberry State Park for the afternoon. We had no ride back to the car. We definitely needed an “Alternative Contingency Scenario Bravo,” a “Plan B.” Craig decided to leave me at the park with the gear and walk and hitch hike back to Castle Danger. I thought it sounded a little risky, but Craig and I could see no other way.

Surprisingly, he came back a half hour later, with the truck, for me and the gear. “Retired pastors are our new best friends,” he declared in beaming relief. Apparently, a retired pastor picked him up and drove him from the park gate to the truck. Lucky, we thought, at that point, after a very successful and satisfying short lollygag through the forest and hills of northern Minnesota. In a way, the retired pastor that day seemed to give us a little blessing for my existential exercise of trekking the Superior Hiking Trail with my friend Craig.

With around three-quarters-of-a-million steps to go, all the way home from Two Harbors, MN, to Osceola, WI, I wondered, “What part do we do next? And When?”