More or Less

The other day I found an old piece of paper with a scribbled note on it. It said, “Which is more tragic? Not Having or Not knowing what you already have?”


Unfortunately I fall into the latter category on a daily basis.  It’s truly a shame how often I allow comparison to become the “thief of joy”, as they say.  Then again, I use comparison in the reverse sense to remind myself how much more I have than others.  In that regard, comparison ostensibly becomes the creator of joy, which is also sad.

In an effort to determine one’s own state of joy or sorrow, why do comparisons need to happen at all?  Last fall I listened to an audiobook by Jeff Shinabarger called “More or Less”.  Among other things, the book asks the reader to regard several aspects of life and answer the simple question, “Do you have more or less than enough?”  Enough shoes…enough money…enough social interaction?

Jeff’s question allowed me to answer it without need for comparisons, although he offered many in order to give examples of what some people live with (and without).  While Shinabarger’s comparisons helped me understand the primary point of the book (that most of us owning anything such as a computer indeed have more than enough), I found his general “More or Less” question to be simple and fruitful. It doesn’t require comparisons.

In every aspect of life, I indeed have more than I need.  May I not fall prey to the tragic mentality of being stuck on what I do not have.

Artist of the Week | Jaume Plensa

Pictured below at Madison Square Park | May 5 – Sep 11: “ECHO”, 2011, polyester resin, white pigment and marble dust, 44ft.

I had the pleasure of seeing this piece in person and, I must say, it was shockingly generous in its beauty. I came upon it from a distance and was quiet-yet-imposing, perhaps more than any figurative sculpture I’ve seen.  If it is true that great art is art which, when removed from the world, leaves a kind of cavity or hole… then this piece attained such greatness. The elongated nature of the head offered an otherworldliness that felt pitch-perfect for the middle of New York City. The piece absorbed the attention of the entire city block, yet not in a bombastic or aggrandizing way.  One might say it was generous, and in that sense it accomplished the goal of the artist, as stated in his interview below.

Jaume Plensa Echo Madison Square Park Gino Leslie 3

“Many times we talk and talk,” he said, “but we are not sure if we are talking with our own words or repeating just messages that are in the air. My intention is to offer something so beautiful that people have an immediate reaction, so that they think, ‘What’s happening?’ And then maybe they can listen a little bit to themselves.”

-Plensa discussing “ECHO” • Kino, Carol. “Monuments: The Poetry of Dreams.” New York Times, 29 May 5, 2011. Web.

From Madison Square Park website:

“‘Echo’, Plensa’s commission for Madison Square Park, depicts a nine-year old girl from Plensa’s Barcelona neighborhood, lost in a state of thoughts and dreams. Standing forty-four feet tall at the center of the park’s expansive Oval Lawn, Echo’s towering stature and white marble-dusted surface harmoniously reflect the historic limestone buildings that surround the park. Both monumental in size and inviting in subject, the peaceful visage of Echo creates a tranquil and introspective atmosphere amid the cacophony of central Manhattan.

Plensa’s sculpture also refers to an episode in Greek mythology in which the loquacious nymph Echo is forced as punishment to repeat only the thoughts of others.”

But his inspiration for “Echo,” his first public artwork in New York, was the nymph of Greek myth, condemned by Zeus to repeat the words of others. Mr. Plensa hopes that it will jolt busy New Yorkers into an awareness of their own voices.

Benjamin Norman for The New York Times




All-Encompassing Spectacle


  •  a visually striking performance or display.

Spectacles in nature are often all-encompassing.  An example I have come to appreciate is the way snow might fall all around you while a blanket of white crunches beneath your feet. It is experienced from every direction, and in that sense it is all-encompassing.

By contrast, spectacles in culture and the arts are often experienced from one direction: a discreet object, a film screening, the rectangle of a painting or wall, or a performance on a stage.  It seems that it is simply more human to produce a work of art that engages with you from one primary angle of perception, if we set aside architecture and music.  Sonic experiences and architectural experiences continue to be some of the most powerful and emotive moments I can recall, so why do I make art?

I realize I’m more and more interested in the immersive, all-encompassing experience that one gets from an artist like James Turrell. I went with Haley today to see his retrospective at LACMA, and I can’t say that it falls in line with “installation” art. It is more elemental than what I’ve come to know as installation, although obviously powerful installations and earthworks have changed the landscape of contemporary art with every passing decade.

At the Turrell show, one of the best moments occurred when we indeed found ourselves inside of an all-encompassing spectacle, having been called over by a kind staff member who had two spots left in her second-to-last showing of the day. We removed our shoes and waited our turn. Soon, from our head to our feet, we were engulfed in one of his otherworldly color-changing visions.

Surprisingly, we shared this moderately intimate event with 8 perfect strangers.  We all stood in silence for 7 or 8 minutes, and not a word was spoken until the security guard broke into the moment to usher us back out of the specially designed, slightly sloping room.  I had seen almost this same piece before, complete with the required cloth booties over socks, at a gallery in Santa Monica in 2007 or so, and it is difficult to forget the feeling of walking into pure color. I was so glad to revisit this experience again, and I’m reminded why I want to make visual art, which is above all a privilege.

I am grateful to the guard who called us over to that final immersive spectacle. We almost missed what will surely be one of the more memorable experiences I’ve had with a work of visual art while living in Los Angeles.

Haley Turrell


(Above: photo credit: Hales R.)


Turrell, Feet

Person of the Week |  James Turrell (obviously)

This is a glimpse of Turrell’s “Skyspace”, which I’ve seen at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, Washington.  In case it’s not apparent, the blue oval is in fact the sky, cut elegantly from a sharply-rimmed feat of Turrell’s architecture and design.




Vincent Oketch

“The body we are born into is one of the single most powerful determinants of who we will be.  We may struggle against that shape of our body, or embody it with unexpected potential…I believe that when we are under extreme stress (and this can include joy as well as sorrow) we reach for internal images that help us remember who we are, to make sense of our experience, and to help stabilize our inner world when it is knocked off its axis.”

– Riva Lehrer , from her series “Totems and Familiars”

These past two weeks, my heart and mind have once again been challenged by one of the more difficult aspects of life to understand, and one of the aspects easiest to take for granted: the subject of the body. Chicago artist Riva Lehrer gave perhaps one of the most memorable lectures I’ve heard in my life at the CIVA conference in Wheaton, Illinois last year.  The theme of the conference was “Just Art”, relating to issues of justice around the world.  Her subject, Justice and the Disabled Body, provided an invaluable perspective which turned the conversation inward, addressing quite personally some of the deepest questions about human experience.

Rather than write about this subject, I wish to simply share Riva’s work and to let it speak of the countless human beings with stories too great to tell here.

Vincent Oketch, whose story I learned about by chance recently, was one which touched me greatly, having ended in 2010 while Vincent was receiving hopeful medical attention.  Vincent had not yet reached his 11th birthday.  I recognize something in the deepest part of my soul feels a particularly deep kind of love and care for Vincent, among many others.  I pray I never lose sight of him as a fellow brother–an equal–in the fabric of humanity.

Please read about him when you have some time to reflect on his life.





Person of the Week | Riva Lehrer, Visual ArtistAt 54 | Riva Lehrer

Riva Lehrer, “At 54”, mixed media on paper, 2012

Two Natures

This week I offer a simple phrase penned by an unknown author. It was also included in my MFA thesis from the University of Oregon in 2005, called “Being Made and Making”, and it has stayed with me for more than a decade. The short rhyming stanza goes like this:

“Two natures beat within my breast

the one is foul, the one is blessed

the one I love, the one I hate

The one I feed will dominate.”


The film “Tree of Life” seemingly refers to these same dual forces as the way of nature and the way of grace, where “nature” is used in the negative sense.  It’s interesting that “nature” is seen as self-serving and ungracious, and grace is by contrast unnatural.

If I am an ever-growing creature, built from an interwoven mixture of good and bad choices, I am neither one nor the other.  I am capable of both, and yet one comes more naturally than the other.  We feed ourselves one or the other, but one is easier to feast on.

I must ask myself: Am I willing to feed a nature that I deem higher than my own, and more difficult than what is natural?  What if I am asked to love someone who hates me: do I have time to feed such a way–the way of grace?  If someone has done this for me, is that the precondition for me doing so in return?  When I discard them, yet they still love me beyond what I deserved, then I have received grace.  What did it cost them to give it?

Person(s) of the Week | Gert & Uwe Tobias, Visual Artists (and twin brothers)

All works untitled.

tobias2Untitled (Installation view at Nottingham Contemporary)
Woodcut on paper on canvas, 2009, 4 panels, overall dimensions: 200 x 1,200 cm


Untitled (panel 1 detail)
Woodcut on paper on canvas, 2009, 200 x 400 cm

Below: installation views of Gert & Uwe Tobias at Nottingham Contemporary, 2010 | Woodcut prints, ceramic sculpture, typewriter drawings.

tobias 4

tobias 6tobias 5