Budapest: Day Seven: Cosmos in the Chaos

Today is day seven of my residency here in Budapest. I have just finished lunch ( a Hungarian potato and bean soup with a fresh baguette, a nectarine and sparkling water) and am sitting in my apartment listening to Agnes Obel. I haven't really wanted to write for the last few days, I haven't slept great yet, so that may be a little of the no writing angst. It also could be the stories of the local people and the generations who suffered under the hands of German Fascism and the Russian Communism. I have experienced both sides in other countries and lived in a communist country for a while. I do feel a new confidence amongst the youth, but also feel the years of suffering and worry of the elder generations.

I took these two pictures in the dome of Buda Castle.

I took these two pictures in the dome of Buda Castle.

For the first 5 days I explored the city with the other residents, from Canada and San Antonio. I could probably write about all the museums, streets, architecture, and beauty that this magnificent city holds. But I am here for art. To grow as an artist, in another culture. Taking everything that I feel and observe and transform it all into artistic growth. This can be easy and difficult as an artist. For me, creating art is often times more a time of prayer than a subject. As an abstract expressionist I often need to empty myself to experience as much of the divine that I can come close to grasping. 

Madeline L’Lengle writes, “It is a frightening thing to open oneself to the strange and dark side of the divine; it means letting go our sane self-control, that control which gives us the illusion of safety. But safety is only an illusion, and letting go of it is part of listening to the silence, and to the Spirit.”

Taking some time to enjoy some literature and Hungarian wine.

Taking some time to enjoy some literature and Hungarian wine.

This may be why I have refused to write over the first few days. I have felt emotional “heavy”, I have experience magnificent art, art that was created in forms that is longer practiced. Stood before Mogdiliani and Picasso exhibits. Two artists who have influenced generations and that will continue to do the same, long after they have died. As I paraphrase L’Engle and add my own words, “Each of these men, whose paintings I stand before and admire in a great fashion. They are just that, all men, and all dead, Their distance from us in chronology seems to give them an overwhelming authority. But they were not dead when they painted, and they were as human as the rest of us.”

I moved from powerful exhibitions of the created and spent a day in the Terror House Museum, that walked you through the history of German Nazi rule and Russian Communist rule. The power of death, betrayal, hatred, and ugliness has virtually left a small stain on my heart as I moved through relics of Nazi Germany, the torture chambers connected to tunnels under the city from Russian Communist rule. I needed to experience a visual representation of people that overcame these cruel moments in history. I have heard the stories from our Residency Director of her family suffering at the hands of both Nazi Germany and Russia. Family in camps, bombings, raising chickens in the house, hiding in the basement, moments from books and film. I am changed, again. My eyes have observed many peoples and my ears have heard similar stories first had, all over this world. “Leonard Berstien says that for him music is cosmos in chaos. And it is not true only of music; all art is cosmos, cosmos found within the chaos.” (page 17) I have truly found cosmos, here in Budapest, cosmos that is resting amongst the chaos of history and story. And this has led me to create. The reason I my journey has led me here to this specific moment in time.

Yesterday, I set up my tools of the trade in my momentary studio. This is were the cosmos met my soul and my hands. My working space is in our Director Beata’s studio basement. This space holds stories from Hungary’s history, from her families history. The house was built by her grandfather, and during German occupation the house was bombed. There were multiple families seeking refuge here in the house. They kept chickens upstairs, for eggs and food. One evening her grandfather was upstairs checking the chickens and he was spotted from the Palace moving around in the window. Orders were given to bomb any house where people were seen moving. The house was bombed. The families were able to survive by taking refuge in the basement. Where I now sit, amongst their memories of fear, joy, tears, laughter, love and chaos. As my hands reach for pencils or pastels, I think about children playing amongst these stone walls and bricks, not knowing the chaos that existed above. 

 Processed with VSCO with a8 preset
 Processed with VSCO with a8 preset

I knew coming into this residency that there would be challenges for me as an artist. Challenges that I knew if embraced fully would only help me grow in my craft. The first is working small. For the last two years I have primarily worked no smaller that 4 feet in scale, with multiple paintings in the 9 and 10 foot range. The second is the theme. Since I have been working in bodies of work from my personal writings and literary classics, having a theme outside of my current idea sphere would be a challenge. Our theme is environment. Not something that has been in my working map before. The challenge for any artist is creating a piece that truly speaks, that allows the audience/observer fresh eyes to see. 

I began processing what this could look like a few months back and my thoughts led me to begin working on a thesis based upon the harmony of matter and spirit, asking questions based upon the relationship between creation and the created, nature and humanity. 

How does life outside of humanity react and live alongside of us? 

Do our actions/spirit/emotions/relationships affect our natural surroundings? 

What is at work in the air, in molecules, in the environment that we cannot see?

When we feel happiness, sorrow, anger, joy, hope, distrust, love, hate…does nature feel the spirit of these feelings as they come out from our souls, mentality, attitudes, actions and reactions? 

Does tension, reconciliation, discrimination, judgment, hate, mercy, in our communities/cultures seep into to the air and disrupt nature’s harmony- having an affect on climate change or environmental deconstruction? 

Could these things add to nature’s disruption? 

These thoughts are all built upon the theory that the Creator of the Universe is in a love relationship with all things created. All things created continue to create themselves towards the image of the Creator.

 Processed with VSCO with a2 preset

I am only beginning to write, read, study, think and paint through these thoughts. I will write more as they develop. Here is a video from my first day in the basement painting. Please leave comments, thoughts, ideas that you have. I would love to talk through these ideas and this world with you all! Here is a short 1:00 video from my first day working through a few studies.

i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday, this is the birth

day of life and love and wings; and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth…

now the ears of my ears are awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened. 

e.e cummings

Budapest: Day One

Sitting in the business lounge in Munich, getting ready to board my last flight to Budapest. I am about to start an Artist residency program in Hungary. This is something I have dreamed about accomplishing for a long time, possibly 20+ years, finally I have the ability to achieve this dream. Artist residencies are one of the most competitive programs in visual arts. I applied to over 100 programs in the US and abroad, I was accepted to three programs. One in France, one in China and the residency in Budapest that I chose. I am currently 3 hours from setting my feet in Hungary, a country that is right next door to a place I love, Romania. I played basketball in Romania for a little while after college and I loved every moment I shared with the people in Eastern Europe. I guess it is a small piece of a homecoming, in a little way. 

I started my journey reading "Open Heart" by the beautiful Elie Wiesel, a book my brother in law bought me for Christmas. In chapter 3 as Elie heads in for heart surgery he shares, 

"I steal another glance at the woman with whom I have shared my life for more than forty-two years. So many events, so many discoveries and projects, unite us. All we have done in life we have accomplished together." 

Wow. Powerful. My heart echoes those words so strongly. Without my wife Mande, who has always supported my dreams, ambitions and crazy artist mind has been on this journey to now with me. I wonder what I would be without her. That's a story for another day. As she is back in Austin and catching up with me in 3 weeks, she is constantly on my mind, so I needed to write about her. 

 Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

I am also re-reading my favorite book of all time by Madeline L'Engle (I read it every year, if not a few times a year), she writes "When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening." I hope that I will simply "be" while in Budapest, so that I can simply "listen" as I create, learn and experience. "The questioning of being, and dying and being, is behind the telling of stories around tribal fires at night; behind the drawing of animals on the walls of caves; the singing of melodies of love in spring, and the death of green in Autumn. It is part of the deepest longing of the human psyche, a recurrent ache in the hearts of all God's creatures."

I arrived to Budapest in the evening and got acquainted with my host Beata who has been running the Hungarian Multicultural Center Residency for over 20 years. We got me settled in my apartment, that is connected to her home. It reminds me almost exactly of the home I lived in while in Romania. I met the other two residents from Canada, one more arrives from San Antonio today, we spent the evening over dinner and conversation about our stories and creating art. We all called it a night around 9:00.

I woke up at least 12 times in the night to pee, I pounded so much water on my flights and travel that I must of had a few gallons backed up. Finally decided to arise at about 6am to my first Hungarian morning. Took my time getting ready, made some coffee, read forms Streams in the Desert and Open Heart while eating some Justin's Honey/Peanut butter and finally decided to go for a little walk to the local market. The streets were already busy with life. Something I love about cultures outside of America. People depend on public transportation and walk everywhere as well. It just adds to life and community. I will see the same faces tomorrow if I go for a walk at the same time in the morning. 

There was a farmers market on the corner next to the grocery store, I chose the easy option and went to the store. Even though I have done farmers markets all over the world, I got nervous and went the easy "marked" price route! Shame on me for not supporting the local farmers. Next time. I bought a few necessities, eggs, milk, bananas, cheese, salami, yogurt, sparkling water, and some beans. Now I have an egg carton, so I can buy eggs at the farmers market next trip!

 Processed with VSCO with c8 preset

I am back in my apartment listening to the new Hammok album, "Everything and Nothing" while writing and thinking through the day and life, and tearfully making through another deep and emotional chapter from Elie Wiesel. Today we set out for the city. I am excited. Another world, another time, another chapter of culture and life will collide with mine in an instant. Time to be.