Tuesday, January 13, 2015

OR MAYBE THEY'RE JUST SOAP BUBBLES....

 

SERENITY oil on canvas by Barry Howard SOLD

For many years, these bubble-like spheres have shown up in some of my paintings and people often ask what they represent....I try to have an answer because I want to be helpful but in reality I wish they wouldn't ask. To me, one of the best things about art is that it means different things to different people. Each person brings their own perception to it and gives it a meaning that is personal to them. At times I have painted, say, a landscape of the town of Mendocino, for example, and someone will see it and say, " oh look, that looks just like that place we went to in Cape Cod..." or wherever, and they buy it because it represents something meaningful to them....doesn't matter that it wasn't Cape Cod that I painted...and if I insist that it isn't Cape Cod it simply steals the significance of the image from them. So I would rather just leave the meaning of those bubble-like spheres open to interpretation.

Having said that though, they do have a significance to me. They represent other worlds that exist within this world...because there are such worlds going on...we just don't know it because we don't have the receptors to percieve them. We tend to think of reality as a very definite, fixed thing....it's not. We humans only come equipped with a limited abiltity to recieve information. Take, for example, the electro-magnetic spectrum...we only detect, with our limited senses, a small range known as the visible light spectrum, when in reality there is infrared, ultra-violet, micro-waves, all kinds of stuff going on but we don't know it, because we can't see it....so to us, it's not part of our reality. Other creatures have different receptors...butterflies and hummingbirds see a whole world of color that we don't....dogs hear sounds that we can't hear and dolphins and whales percieve sonar and can pick up on the blood flowing through our bodies. Reality looks much different to them....IS much different to them. Our own reality is only a partial picture constructed from limited and incomplete information....like putting together a jig-saw puzzle with half the pieces missing...you still get a picture, just not an accurate one. All you get is a partial representation of reality. But we humans are very insistent that reality is what we can see and hear. We say, "Seeing is believing..." we tell people to "face reality." All of our senses tell us that this boulder we are sitting on is solid and unmoving, when actually we know it is in constant motion and is made up of mostly empty space. It looks the way it does because of where we are sitting...our point of view...if we could pull back far enough to look at our own galaxy it would look solid and unmoving too. We would be completely unaware of all the stars burning and exploding, planets zooming around them, people sitting down to tea on those planets as they zoom around, and discussing things like our limited abiltiy to percieve reality. From our hypothetical distant vantage point we would swear that we were looking at a fixed, lifeless solid lump of rock. From our distant vantage point we wouldn't exist. The farther away we get from things the more they slow down and appear fixed in time and space. If you have ever looked down at a line of breaking waves from the window of an airplane you will notice that they don't seem to be moving. Like telephone poles whizzing by the window of your car ten feet away...put those telephone poles a mile away and they seem to move by very slowly. It's all a matter of perspective. Perspective changes both time and space. Reality conforms to our perspective. Reality is very fluid and malleable. Reality is what we believe it is...and we're mostly wrong. So those bubble-like spheres help remind me not to take my own interpretation of reality too seriously.

 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

THE MOONSTONE

Thanksgiving Day

I followed the winding dirt path that wound it's way down the steep cliff face to the ocean. Many of the paths along these ridges of land are precarious....a misstep can lead to a quick trip to the bottom. The sun had spilled over the ridges hours earlier, warming the rocks, transmuting the cold of the night that was stored in them, into the warmth of the day. I finally reached the beach, removed my shoes, left them by a large boulder and began to walk the empty strand. It wasn't a sandy beach, but one made up of small grey pebbles warmed now by the sun and smoothed round by endless cycles of wind and waves.
As I walked i relished the feel of my bare feet sinking into them. The pebbles felt like some exotic accupressure treatment to my soles. I walked on, and the crashing waves washing up on the beach provided a musical score to my footsteps. White water running up the steep beach, grabbing hold of the small grey pebbles in its fingers and tumbling them back down, continuing the process of smoothing, sorting, refining the stones, turning them slowly into sand. The uniform greyness of the pebbles was somehow comforting in it's sameness...like a subdued backdrop for whatever anyone would like to add to it.
Up ahead something caught my eye. A bright flash of light in the field of grey. A piece of glass maybe? As I approached the small object it seemed to dance as it caught the sunlight. Bursts of light in reds and blues and yellows sparkled and drew me in. I leaned down and picked up the object...seeing that it wasn't a piece of glass at all, but a perfect, beautiful Moonstone lying there among these ordinary pebbles. I held it in my hand, feeling the smooth velvety surface and marveling at its clarity. The small round stone seemed to hold within it an entire world of light and color and beauty. It was a beauty that was never static but always changing and moving. As I turned it in the sunlight, different facets that I hadn't seen before would become illuminated, capturing my attention. It was much like watching the waves break on the beach, or the flames of a fire...I felt as though I could gaze at it forever and never see the exact same thing twice. There was always something new there, always another perspective that I hadn't noticed before. I had truly never seen anything like it. It was exquisitely beautiful. I looked back down at the beach to see if there were any more like it...there must be, I thought....so I walked along, scouring the entire landscape of small grey stones looking for another....I never found one. This one Moonstone was entirely unique...a gift in it's singularity. I thought about taking it home, putting it on the windowsill where it would catch the morning sunlight...but somehow it didn't seem right. It belonged here in the open, warmed by the sun and washed in the sea...and left so that some other fortunate wanderer might discover this jewel and delight in its magic.




Sunday, December 28, 2014

PAINTING BIG SUR....

I have obviously taken a long break from writing...I have needed time to shift gears into a new lifestyle after selling the micro-gypsy caravan. It has a wonderful new home with two delighful people who love her. She has been spruced up and redecorated to be even more gypsy-like, and is a happy caravan. I cherished every moment I lived in her, knowing it wasn't forever and appreciating it all the more. She is in very good hands.

The redecorated micro-gypsy caravan

In the time since then there have been many changes and events in my life. I've spent most of the time on a beautiful piece of property in Big Sur. I met a wonderful new friend, Annie Mahoney, who passed away shortly after we met. My friend Rose and I took her to the emergency room late one night. She never came back. Annie was one of the most delightful people I have ever met. I knew, from the first day that I had made a friend for life. Her passing was completely unexpected an knocked the wind out of all of us here who loved her.

My studio on the cliffs

Plans for my own life have changed since I've been here. I've wanted nothing so much as to paint the dramatic scenes that are Big Sur...the place that has been more home to me than anywhere. So I have decided to settle in here in this place that keeps pulling me back. I bought a small van, outfitted it for camping and painting and have just gotten my easel and oil paints out again. Through Thanksgiving and Christmas there have been some of the most perfect days here on the cliffs that I've ever seen. Painting here has been pure bliss.

I'm very excited about this next chapter of life. I'm looking forward to seeing what transpires on my easel and also to living in this awesome landscape that lies along coast route one....and I'm happy to get back to writing about the things that inspire me. I hope, dear reader, that you will continue to follow along as I explore with my paintbox, this unique landscape.

New Morning 12x24 oil on canvas

Thank you for being here.

 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

FOR SALE!!! MICRO-GYPSY CARAVAN AND BICYCLE

As I mentioned in a previous post, my time in the Gypsy Caravan is coming to a close. It's been over a year that l have been living, working and traveling in this tiny nomadic home. I have dearly loved it and will remember these times with great fondness. Now, I have made the decision to sell the caravan to finance my next chapter, my move to Bisbee. So, anyone interested please read the ad, or pass it along to anyone you think may be interested.

A tiny home, studio, or craft kiosk that can be pulled by a bicycle, this beautiful little vardo was designed and built by artist/craftsman Barry Howard. It is the culmination of a lifetime of experience designing and building little nomadic homes. It is easy to tow behind a bicycle and very stable. It features a bed that is approximately 26" wide by 5' 10" long. The mat folds in sections and below is a storage area that is 22" wide by the length of the caravan and 10 inches high. The storage beneath the bed keeps the center of gravity low providing stability. The small windows in the roof provide light and a sense of space above. Aft is a galley area with a propane stove. There is a small removable table which can be used for meals or computer work. It also attaches outside at the rear of the caravan to make a work surface for craftwork or for an easel for painting. A folding stool hangs on the front as seating for the outdoor work area. The caravan features an awning that rolls up when not in use. It provides shade and directs rain away from the caravan. Also included is a large shade umbrella which attaches to the caravan, for the outdoor work area. Other features include:

CANDLE LANTERN

LED LIGHTS INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR

HAND-PRESSURIZED PORTABLE SHOWER

STORAGE NET

RETRACTABLE STABILIZER LEGS

STAINED GLASS WINDOW

FABRIC WALL COVERING

NEW PAINT, TOP OF THE LINE SIGN-PAINTERS ENAMEL

20" WHEELS

QUICK RELEASE HITCH

COPPER PIPE ROOF RACK

ROLL DOWN SHADES

LIGHTWEIGHT WOOD CONSTRUCTION

REINFORCED ALUMINUM TUBING FOR THE CHASSIS FRAME

DESIGNED TO FOLD DOWN TO BED-LEVEL IF DESIRED

VINTAGE COCA-COLA BOTTLE OPENER

 

COMES WITH:

ONE SIX PACK OF PACIFICO BEER

TWO SHOT GLASSES

ONE BOTTLE OF EL JIMADOR 100% AGAVE REPOSADO TEQUILA

ONE BAG OF FRESH LIMES

ONE SHAKER OF SALT

ONE LIGHTWEIGHT TRAVEL HAMMOCK WITH STUFF BAG

INCLUDES : 26" VINTAGE GARY FISHER 21 SPEED MOUNTAIN BIKE WITH HYPER LOW GEAR, NEW REAR CLUSTER, CABLES, AND CHAIN. OLD, SIMPLE, SOLID BIKE. POWDER-COATED CROMOLY STEEL

TWO CABLE LOCKS

TIRE PUMP

 

WATER BOTTLE AND CAGE

 

MIRROR

 

LED HEADLIGHT & TAIL LIGHT

CENTER STAND

TOOL KIT: SCREW DRIVERS, WRENCHES, SOCKET AND RATCHET, PLIERS, ADJUSTABLE WRENCH, TIRE PATCH KIT, CHAIN LUBE

 

The price for this little human-powered home-studio is $5000. If interested please contact Barry at 530-355-1319 or barryhowardstudio@yahoo.com

 

 

OUTDOOR PAINTING STUDIO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

LIFE ON THE FRINGES

I have lived most of my adult life as a fringe dweller. I wasn't really aquainted with the term or really aware that that was what I was doing until I was well into my 30's. I knew the life I was living was different than most, but my awareness of the fact that I was living on the fringes of society was something that came along gradually. At some point, I embraced it. I realized that I was most happy there. There are many reasons for choosing to live this way. In one way, it's a tool for dealing with a world that doesn't make much sense.

SOLITUDE by Barry Howard

When I think about Human kind, the Crown of Creation, and the potential world that could have been created, and compare that with the real world that we live in...with buildings that sit empty while people live on the street...food that gets thrown away as people go hungry...more people on the planet than it can comfortably support while people live their lives in loneliness...unimaginable technological abilities that get turned toward destroying one another and our own environment as well...then living on the fringe is a way to move through life with a sense of perspective. Maybe I'm just too sensitive. Some can dive in up to their elbows and get involved in trying to fix things, unravel the madness, make it all make sense, but when I've dipped my toes into being an activist I find that it tends to make me an angry person. Whatever strength of character one needs to try to bring about change, I don't seem to have it. The best I can do is to use my energy to try to bring some beauty into the world. To spotlight the part of the world that is good and clean and inspiring. It's all I can do and still maintain my own inner peace and happiness. So I paint my paintings and build my little Nomadic dwellings and feel grateful that these things seem to make people smile.

 

As I look back, I lived on the fringe even as a kid. I always felt like I was watching things from the edges, not really as a participant. It's how I made it through school too. In a way, I feel like I am indeed, only a visitor on this planet. It's an interesting planet, but the inhabitants are batshit crazy for the most part. Especially the ones who seem to be in charge. Living on the fringe seems very compatible to being somewhat of a loner as well. I do like people. I like them quite a lot....but in limited doses. I spend about 90 percent of my time alone. I am not suggesting that this is necessarily good. I really kind of envy people who are outgoing and gregarious, who have tons of friends. But time alone is somehow necessary for me to feel I am in balance. When I am with people, I usually enjoy it, but it's a very outward experience. I have designed a life where most of it is lived from a very inner experience. When I am just with myself, not involved in conversation, there is a natural process that goes on in my head. I am more aware of my thoughts and I spend more time looking at the life I am living and thinking about where I want to go from here. I spend a lot of time thinking about art and how I want to evolve my work. I spend a lot of time thinking about my micro-dwellings and doing a sort of ongoing design process that I keep filed away in my head. Living so much in my head has strengthened certain parts of my brain, especially the part that thinks visually. Lots of people have asked me if they could get plans for my micro gypsy caravan and I have to tell them that , alas, there are no plans. I visualized the caravan in my head, then visualized each design detail in my head as I went along. I've always built this way. It's harder for me to draw plans first. In a few instances I've had to, in order to show them to a client, but it's something I would just as soon skip.


There are whole libraries of places in my head with drawings and plans and expanded detail drawings and they are always there, waiting for me when I need them. I don't know how many other people work this way, but I assume most people don't. People often seemed surprised when I say I don't draw any plans for my work and I think maybe I don't need to because I have spent so much of my time alone with my thoughts. I have a studio in my head...it's a very comfortable and interesting place to hang out. It's a place where I can work on my projects, examine my life, and explore things that intrigue me. When I go out and spend time with friends, (which is pretty rare,) as much as I might enjoy the interaction, there is always a part of me that is impatient to get back to my quiet inner sanctum.

 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

THE STORY OF GUS

Some years ago I was living in New Mexico in the little artist colony town of Taos, where Easy Rider was filmed and where Dennis Hopper called home for a while. I rented a tiny art studio, upstairs among 8 or so other artist studios.
Corner of Taos Plaza, artist studios upstairs
A few of us lived in our studios, covertly, outfitting them with dorm-sized refridgerators and sleeping on the floor. There was myself, and a former Russian ballerina who defected, joined the San Francisco Ballet, retired from dancing and became a still-life painter, and a gay dude named Rodney who was an impressionist .  Next door to my studio lived a crusty, hygienically-challenged old drunk with no front teeth, named Gus who also happened to be the best painter I ever met. He was my next-studio neighbor. It always seemed odd to me that he was an artist...he seemed more like he would have been a tow-truck driver or a rancher. There was a very open, friendly vibe to the place. We were always dropping over, visiting one another, borrowing paint when one of us was low, sharing a beer or a tequila shot and commenting on each other's current work. It was very honest...especially Gus. He was old-school and didn't offer any empty compliments. If he liked something, you knew you had something good, and if he didn't he had no problem telling you it was lousy. Gus had been some hot shot illustrator in Chicago years before and made the big bucks. Use to fly to Alcapulco to play golf. Illustrated for some major magazines back in the day. He had a wife and family and big house and cars and one day he just walked away from everything. Said he couldn't take the pressure anymore. He ended up in Taos and rented the studio next to mine. Built an easel out of old two-by-fours with a bare light bulb over head. Had a ratty old blanket and an even rattier old foam pad that he slept on. There was an old TV in the corner that only the bottom half of the picture worked, that was always on. He had one of those dorm-sized refridgerators but didn't use it and warned people not to open it. To add to the general ambiance, he had randomly distributed old, half-empty cans of Spam with plastic forks stuck into...whatever the contents had evolved into.
There were piles of Beer cans everywhere....really cheap beer...the kind that is $1. 89 a six pack. The floor was covered in cigarette butts and ashes. Gus would would start his day with a styrofoam cup of coffee he got from McDonald's and a cigarette and a six pack of the cheap beer. Then he would sit in his folding metal chair and pick up a canvas that he had already painted over 15 or 20 times and begin to work. Gus didn't have much of a social life...just us, mostly and he was always happy when someone dropped over. He would tell you to shove the books off the other folding chair and have a seat...offer you a beer and talk to you while he painted. His brushes were mostly shit...he bought them at the grocery store and they came 6 to a pack, variety of sizes, with brightly colored all plastic handles for $1. 69 a pack. They were made by Crayola. Didn't matter. Gus could paint with a stick if that was all that was available. I would sit, talk with him, drink one of his crappy beers and watch him paint. He had no method...employed no tricks...he began by what he called "hacking". "Hacking" involved taking paint and just sort of sticking it on the canvas in what seemed to be a random approach. No drawing there yet...just sort of finding his way into something. Then, gradually, the most amazing image would begin to appear. He would use very rough brushwork, put down light, shadow, shape it, move it, and something absolutely beautiful would emerge from this non-teqhnique. At some point, he would put in a rough drawing with his brush and continue to bring the painting to life.


He painted old missions, horses, a young girl holding a bucket, a clipper ship, indians, a still life, a portrait. By noon there was always something exceptional on the canvas. He would chat, smoke, drink his beer...beer cans piling up on the floor. Around noon he would have finished the six-pack and would walk over to Ralph's to buy the second one for the afternoon session. Come back and keep working...open another beer, light another camel, and keep working. Once into his second six-pack, things would begin to go downhill. He got a little more careless, his colors becoming muddy, convinced that it didn't matter because he was getting to something. We, who were watching, would silently watch something exquisite turn into a grey, sloppy piece of crap. Gus, by then well into his second six-pack, was convinced he had a masterpiece. He loved the thing. Next morning he would be starting all over, having painted the whole previous day's work out. "What happened Gus? I thought you loved it?"

"I did," he would reply, "but I was fucking drunk"...so he would start again, undaunted. We use to joke that he should sell his paintings by the pound, they got so thick. I was amazed that this whole process, which was pretty much repeated every day, didn't discourage him...but it didn't. Gus just loved to paint...the outcome didn't seem to matter to him all that much. It was more painful for the rest of us to watch than it seemed to be for him. Countless masterpieces came and went, lost forever in a haze of cheap beer. We use to say, if you could get one of his paintings off the easel before noon you would have something exceptional. Occassionally, someone would do it...just grab the thing away as he began to get too drunk and put a new canvas up on his easel before he could protest too much. In general though, his paintings usually didn't get finished...they just kept changing into something else. There was one gallery that would periodically have a show of his work...and somehow, he would manage to actually finish a dozen or so of the canvasses leaning up against the walls in his studio. The show would always sell out right away because people who knew art, knew how good he was. But that was rare. It always seemed like a miracle that he was able to actually complete enough for a show. Gus was a true friend...he was intelligent, had a heart of gold and would give you the shirt off his back...(you wouldn't want it, but still, he would give it to you if you did.) He was a no-bullshit, straight up, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy. He was the most loyal friend a person could have. He had no phone or address and when I moved away from Taos I lost track of him. I think of him often and over the years I realized how much I learned from watching him paint. His approach was absolute honesty...no flashy tricks or techniques...nothing intelletual or conceptual...just incredibly good painting from someone who knew what he was doing and wanted nothing more than to keep doing it. I really miss him sometimes.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

BARRY HOWARD: PROFESSIONAL BEACH BUM...

When faced with the necessity to claim an occupation, I have always written "artist" in the space provided. As of late, however, I have realized that, perhaps, I should come out of the proverbial closet and own up to my true vocation....that of Professional Beach Bum. In truth, it is what I have always aspired to...and the responsibility for this career choice can rightfully be placed at my older sister's doorstep. When we were little, (my sister being not quite as little as I), we use to go to the drive-in movies. Mom would drive us there in the family 1956 Buick Century. It was a big treat. There was a playground underneath the big screen that we could play at before the movie started, then go to the snackbar and get Cokes and popcorn, hang the little speaker inside the car window and watch the movie. My sister seemed to be the unofficial designated movie chooser. Probably a good thing since I was too young to have any strong opinions on the subject. So, deferring to my older sibling's guidance, I saw every Elvis Presley movie made, and every Beach Party movie as well. It was the Beach Party movies with former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, that impressed upon my young, malleable mind that there was an amazing world out there made of sun and sand and surfboards being waxed to the driving beat of conga drums and Dick Dale's percussive guitar rhthyms.

 

 

Having spent my youth in the flat, hot, land-locked town of Fresno, the lifestyle portrayed on the big screen in front of our big blue Buick seemed like Shangri-la to me. I wanted nothing more than to escape the spirit-crushing boredom of my hometown and live a life of waves and woodies and girls dancing in bikinis. Alas, that would have to wait a few years, as I was too young to move out on my own...so I endured the time by reading Surfer Magazine and drawing pictures of waves and surfers and dreaming of the day I could make my escape. Fate smiled on me when the telephone company transferred my mom to Los Gatos, a mere 30 miles from the Northern California surfing capitol of Santa Cruz. I began to ditch school as much as possible and hitchhike over the hill to the beach. When I turned 17, I moved out on my own to the coast. Since then I have spent the biggest chunks of my life surfing, sailing, and walking beaches from the island of Maui to the Florida coast. I have shuffled my feet through the sand from Key West to Puerto Rico and Jamaiica. And I have lived and camped along the endless beaches of the Northern California coast.

Bohemia, my trimaran at anchor

Later on, I took up sailing and let my feet dangle off the outer hull into the water as I sailed my trimaran along the Florida coast. Miles of white sand beaches drifted slowly by while I layed in the nets between the hulls and sipped on a cold Pacifico. Of course, I found that it really wasn't very much like the Beach Party movies portrayed it to be, but that really doesn't matter in the end. Life on the beach is different than the Hollywood version but no less wonderful.

To this day, nothing makes me happier than walking barefoot on the sand, letting the tide race up around my feet and watching the waves curl and break as they end their journey across the Pacific. I evolved from drawing pictures of waves to painting them in oils. Had things been different in my childhood, perhaps I would have taken a different path...maybe I would be a corporate executive, but instead, I'm a Professional Beach Bum, and it's all my sister's fault. There is, perhaps a certain stigma of irresponsibilty associated with my chosen lifestyle, and maybe that comes from the "Bum" portion of the term...but most beach bums do some sort of work. I actually work 5 or 6 days a week....just not anything most people would call a "real job". Nobody considers being an artist a real job. Even I don't consider it a real job....but then, I never wanted a real job. All I ever really wanted was enough to pay for my simple needs and get to spend a good part of my time at the beach. Well, that's worked out pretty well, as I now work and live and sleep at the beach. My childhood dream has been made manifest.....I am a Professional Beach Bum...life is good! The moral here is, don't be afraid to reach for your goals....no matter how lofty....

 

My studio on the beach