African Experience & Motivation

Inspired by A Muslim cleric I met in Eritrea

There are very few working artists in the US. As the culture in this country does does not, as a general rule, promote art or creative endeavours, it is a twisted and challenging path for an individual to pursue. So, what drives an artist to paint or draw? I would suppose that motivation differs somewhat from person to person. For some it is simply their best route to expressing themselves. For others it may be their way to communicate indirectly in a country where direct and honest communication can be dangerous. For others, maybe it is just a way to create a pleasant or joyful experience - for themselves and the viewer. There must be dozens of motivations for the working artist.

While "money" may be a popular motivation for some "professions", it most likely is not for the working artist. Motivation to be an artist must be something more important than finanicial reward. It could be to expose history, to provide explanations, or simply self-exploratory. Whatever the motivation, a working artist is a rare phenomenon, particularly in the United States. To that end, I thought I would provide some insite into my art and what drives me to create.

In 1967 I travelled to Asmara, Eritrea. It was a mind-bending experience for a 19-year-old raised in Canada and the US. I had walked the plains of Saskatchewan and seen how the natives were treated there; I had lived in West Virginia and witnessed how a community of former mining families, now fifth-generation welfare dependents, survived their mountain existence. But I had never seen poverty-not real poverty. Living in Asmara, I learned what real poverty might mean. While I saw it first hand and even interacted on a very limited basis with some of the poor, I was also exposed to true luxury, power and unlimited wealth. I worked at the summer palace of Haile Selassie, His Imperial Majesty. At the palace, I taught tennis to Italians, Americans, and a few Eritreans. I met people from around the world and became friends with some of them. I also listened to conversations and reported any "terrorist links" that I might have overheard to my bosses at Kagnew Station, the NSA listening post where I was officially assigned. 
Tennis Club in Haile Selassie's Summer Palace in Asmara

In the photo to the right, I am surrounded by the young Eritrean lads who served as ball balls at the clay courts on the Palace grounds. The boy in front of me, not smiling, is Haifti, who was a good friend and stuck to me like glue while I was working there. When I first arrived, he taught me to string a racket, using two awls rather than a stringing machine as we did in the US. It was only one small lesson in how a person can survive with "much less" than we take for granted here in North America.

My time in Eritrea was too short. I spent time working at Kagnew, at the Palace and, on weekends, did volunteer work with the Peace Corps. We did things like install generators, set up wells & running water, show films, play athletics, and work on various projects where help was appreciated. One of my most memorable experiences was entering and painting the interior walls at a Mosque in a tiny village north of Asmara. The Imam only allowed two of us "non-believers" to go inside and told us that we were the first to ever enter his mosque. But he needed help with the painting and he "felt we were good people". The picture at the top of this Newsletter is my recollection of what he looked like.

It has been much too long since I have been to Eritrea. I went to a "Reunion" of sorts this last summer in Chico. There was a interesting group there - ex-military, ex-Peace Corps, an Ethiopian woman, and some NGO support people. The photos and discussions brought back vivid and enjoyable memories of Africa. We all had one thing in common, none of us would ever forget Africa or the people we had met there. Both the culture and the people had become a part of our molecular structure. You can leave Africa, but it never leaves you.

For a time I shared a house near downtown Asmara. Susie just showed up at the main gate at Kagnew one day, out of the blue. She asked me to share her house. She wanted some stability in her life and she wanted to use the PX. But most important to her, as I would soon learn, she wanted someone who read to her the letters from the love of her life, a US Marine had been with her the last six years. He wrote long letters and sent pictures of his wife and children in Alabama. Susie dictated letters back to him and I wrote them. It was an educational arrangement.
Mr. Moto, black cat in Asmara

There was a black cat who came with Susie's house. I called him Mr. Moto. I often wished he could speak. I would have liked to have heard his version of the history of the city. Years later I was studying the work of Hans Hoffman and I was inspired to paint a picture of Mr. Moto. The painting below is influenced by Hans Hoffman's work and philosophy. It is a picture of Mr. Moto sitting under the palm in front of the house. When I look at it, I can taste the spices of Eritrea, smell roasting coffee, and feel the heat of the sun. More than anything, I can still feel the warmth of the people I met there, see their smiles, and hear their voices and beautiful languages. I miss Haifti, Tesfai (the tennis Pro at the Palace) and Susie and think of them often. Each of them taught me much and they have remained with me the entirety of my life and been a part of my daily meditations.

And so , there you have some of the motivation behind my work! More of the African inspired work can be found at: http://www.phildynan.com/birdtoe.htm

Most of the work on that page are from my book, The Legend of Birdtoe, which I wrote as an original re-telling of an African folk story. You can get a copy of this "artists book" at: http://www.phildynan.com/art_books.htm

If you would like a free postcard of the Mr. Moto painting, just email me (see contact page). Prints are also available for $20.

I hope you enjoyed this Blog and I hope you will consider buying some of my work - as notecards, or prints, an original commission or one of the paintings I am currently working on. As a "working artist" I rely on your patronage. I do not have health insurance, a pension plan, or a "steady income". I don't wait tables or sell used cars "to make ends meet", I live with and by my art and I honestly need your support. Thank You! 


The Sacred Right to Bear Arms

“The right to bear arms”. This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard of. Some jackass2 says it is in the constitution. It isn’t in mine.
Since when was ANYTHING that stupid included in a government document. Did Bush write this in? Is this some kind of “signing statement” he added after the fact?
Well, maybe Bush DID write it in. When did ANYTHING he does start to make sense? Last week in Iowa, he made a 13-year-old cry. They were playing that game – “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” Bush wasn’t. But since he is President, he decided it was OK to ridicule his “opponent”, a little girl who, it turns out, knew more about his immigration policy than he did!
The correct answer, if you are dumb as dirt, is to “build a big fence for a trillion dollars” and give the no-bid contract to Cheney’s retirement fund, Halliburton.
Now, THAT is immigration policy! The Chinese did it, Berlin had one and it will damn sure keep Canadians out of North Dakota. But I digress.
This is about the “right to bear arms”. And again, I have to say THIS IS THE DUMBEST IDEA I HAVE EVER HEARD OF. And anyone who doesn’t think so IS as dumb as dirt. A great big bag of it. Where did anyone get that right? Oh, maybe if there is a “season” and you have a “license”, and it is in some remote, god-forsaken part of Wyoming or the Northwest Territories.
Let’s be fair. Maybe American Natives have the “right to bear arms”. I don’t know if it something they want, but if they did, it would be OK with me. I guess. In a sort of really backwards, primitive and dumbass way. Or lets say they needed them for some sort of ancient ceremony – like the “dance with wolves” or “eating custard”. I really don’t know much about their ceremonies. I just live on their land and eat their buffalo burgers.
Or maybe the Chinese – who DO NOT make buffalo burgers, but build pretty good railroads. Maybe they have the right to bear arms. Or need it for fertility purposes. Couldn’t they just get Viagra? Do they really need bear arms and pelican testicles to reproduce?
Enough ranting, I suppose. But the next time you see an armless bear or even one with prosthetic arms – THINK ABOUT IT. Nobody has the right to bear arms, except bears. And the next time you see one of those Chinese pelicans, well, don’t even think about it.


Disappearing Bees?

Yesterday I read an editorial in the NY Times about the sudden and alarming disappearance of bees, worldwide. The author linked this to the Apocalypse - the end of our Great Civilisation. They talked about the irony, in the face of nuclear war possibilites, of something as small as a Bee being the actual harbinger of the bad news.
Another friend in the garden - photo by Ana

Well, I've got some good news. Bees are here - and APLENTY. As I walked past the dog run this morning, taking the path that goes thru Ana's maze of vegetables and flowers planted in odd places, I could hear the Bees, then see them, thousands of them. They like the Hollyhocks, the poppies, the lupines, the Iris, and the plentiful artichokes. They are everywhere.

Then I walked up the hill to my Peace & Harmony Garden - mostly succulents, sage, lavender, marigolds, cactus & lemon grass. Again, hundreds, if not thousands, of bees.

So I sat on the bench in my garden and felt the great disapointment of realising that the Apocalyse is not really nigh.

Damn, I'll have to go back to work afterall...


Marla Ruzicka

All Things Are ConnectedIt is the anniversary of the death of Marla Ruzicka, who died in Iraq giving hope and help to the victims of the war. She was a shining example of how a person can take effective action to promote peace, love and understanding.

She inspired me to run for political office, and to become a fund raiser for the Peace Alliance. She inspired me to write a book about the Iraq war and how it affects the civilian population.

I wonder how many other lives she changed, this 28 year old bundle of positive energy?

I did a painting in memory of Marla. You can have a free print of the painting by visiting this page: http://www.loveisallyouneed.net/MarlaRuzicka.htm

My hope is that the art will be a beautiful reminder and an inspiration for others to take action.