“Recurring” series by Pete Hocking at Four Eleven Gallery, Provincetown

“From one tide to the next, and from one year to the next, what do I find here?” ~ prose poem by Mary Oliver, “At Herring Cove”

There’s a writerly narrative in Pete Hocking’s visually evocative paintings, and in the current (and evolving) groupings of varied sizes his work explores emotionally potent terrain, focusing our view towards the edges and reexamined places of many, many miles of walking and witnessing in the stunning Provincetown landscapes. Having followed Pete’s painting work and photo documentation practice throughout the last decade, it is exciting to see these new works and new directions from his deepening roots in Provincetown. From the wilder edges of the Herring Cove series with its powerful waves and eroding remains of the parking lot and road, to the recent pieces which offer playful side-glances of the town’s sites of intimate human-activity in the isolation at off-hours, there’s a poetic repetition of imagery and place that brings his work into conversation with great Provincetown writers and painters of generations.

This was my very first trip to Provincetown, and it began and ended with unplanned sightings of Pete Hocking heading down Commercial Street, timely appearances bookending an inspiring visit. His solo show, “Broken by Wind and Tide,” opened at Four Eleven Gallery at the end of our week’s visit, and the days in Provincetown provided a wonderful opportunity to see his paintings and process as the final days before the reception unfolded. And, of course, there was walking.

Years ago, Pete Hocking’s work was filled with people, more specifically, embodied visions of his own body in a time-bending relational exploration of past, present, and future selves. These figures occupied settings like actors within the scenic design of a play, and their captured moments of relationship and interaction were like pages from a graphic novel. In the Provincetown work, Hocking finds a great opening of spaces, gone are the bodies as figures within the frame, and instead the viewer is guided along the pathways and journeys walked over and over again, edges and glimpses of twists and turns, captured corners of dwellings (homes not his own), intersections and vulnerable grids of power lines, shadows, crosswalks met with the stillness and calm emotional center found in the miles of wandering.


“At Love’s Frayed Edge, no. 28” by Pete Hocking at Four Eleven Gallery, Provincetown

The “At Love’s Frayed Edge” series brings us the edges of an eroding evidence of human “civilization” met by the forces of nature and impermanence. The powerful waves consume the attempts to maintain the constructed surfaces, and shatter their lines and boundaries into tumbled shapes and remixed patterns. Hocking brings the viewer into the swell and impact of the storm winds, and the inner turmoil of washed away landmarks of normalcy and structure. These are the images of a Hermit at the edges of the known terrain, meeting the wildness in himself and the landscape.


“Path to Impermanence no. 1 + 2” by Pete Hocking at Four Eleven Gallery, Provincetown

Spring finds the painter considering the fragile beauties of the blooming trees, pink with falling petals just as they’ve done alongside these roads and pathways for generations. Though the storms of the Herring Cove series are quieted, Hocking marks the no less transitional and ephemeral landscape with thick painted surfaces of color that hold movement and light, warmly evoking the afternoons of this particular moment, moody but vividly alive and present.


One of the 6″ x 6″ “Recurring” series by Pete Hocking at Four Eleven Gallery, Provincetown

One of the great strengths of this exhibition is the inclusion of the smallest pieces, most of which are hung together in a tight group. These small canvases show Hocking at his freest hand, experience and technical skill worked with no preciousness, the scale of the actual landscapes now shared within a small frame, his expressive brushstrokes speak in their simplicity of maturing, direct knowledge of these places.  This particular piece (shared above) is one of 6″ x 6″ “Recurring” series, a painting of a specific location during a walk we took together mid-week. As we approached the start of the dune shack terrain, on a walk filled with conversations about mid-life, queerness, art practice and academic careers, he paused to photograph the specific liminal spaces of the returning woods, the fragility of the green-covered dunes, and the dip leading into the cranberry bog that held enough water and organic material to anchor the new growth of trees. For many decades the dunes were more barren, hard places altered by the impact of the original colonialists, now slowly regaining the diversity of the plants and animals previously lost, supported with the protections of environmental initiatives and long-term efforts. In a time of such uncertainty, the pressing woes of the political era and climate change, the renewed call to art and activism, alongside the more intimate challenges of aging bodies, of community-building and questions of home, the queer ecology themes of Hocking’s Provincetown landscapes arise through his repeated visits, keen eyes and insightful discoveries along the repeated miles of walking, listening, and being present amidst all the great and small changes. And what a wonderful guide he is, whether found at the corner of Commercial Street, in the gallery or studio, along the great stretches of beach and dunes of this historic and contemporary setting.

A second opening reception on Friday, July 7, includes an additional series of small works, “Buildings and Byways,” with a distinctly psychogeographic view of Provincetown in the empty hours of early morning and evening, the streets passageways without the cluttered movement of pedestrians and bicycles. If you are in Provincetown before July 20, make sure to see Pete Hocking’s paintings at Four Eleven Gallery, 411 Commercial Street, Provincetown.


My flight landed in the Ft. Lauderdale airport shortly after the shooter was in custody. The impact of the violence continued.

The Descent: The pilot announced beginning the plane’s descent, and the woman diagonally across the aisle asked the flight attendant about “the shooting.” The flight attendant answered, “I don’t know what you are talking about,” and on her laptop she showed him the live footage of a local news station reporting there was a shooter at the airport. I could read the scrolling text, and soon other passengers called out the unfolding news as they read from their phones the texts from family and friends alerting them of the violence erupting on the ground. There was a short cycle of cacophony as voices and devices repeated the announcements about an active shooter, followed by a dampened silence with the first reports of casualties. The cockpit confirmed our arrival, due to proximity and fuel levels, and informed us that we would remain in the plane until the situation was resolved. In the airport itself, chaos erupted and hundreds of people fled unto the runways and out of the terminals.

From the Miami Herald: “The police were already tallying the afternoon’s human damage. All five of the fatalities – 69-year-old Mary Louise Amzibel of Dover, Del.; 70-year-old Shirley Wells Timmons of Senecaville, Ohio; 57-year-old Michael John Oehme of Council Bluffs, Iowa; 84-year-old Olga M. Woltering of Marietta, Ga., and 62-year-old Terry Michael Andres of Virginia Beach, Va. – were tourists who had come to Fort Lauderdale for cruises.” I sought your names amidst the national scandals and controversies of the week that followed, and I offer my condolences to your families facing unimagined loss and grief. How quickly this latest gun violence vanished from our news.

On the Plane: After a smooth landing on the sunny tarmac, I managed to text my boyfriend’s mother about the situation. I was relieved to make contact, grateful that we’d arranged to text when I arrived in the airport, and aware that a different plan would have placed her in the terminal. I’d almost booked a slightly earlier flight, which would have placed both of us in the airport as the crisis broke. My cell phone signal was spotty, and my battery low, but I felt reasonably protected in the plane. Through the windows, the airport was eerily still and empty. The plane passengers exhibited a combination of chatting, listening to devices (now out loud and not on headphones), and every once and a while a nearby passenger would answer his or her phone, sometimes with a weepy edge in their voice as loved ones connected from afar. For the most part, we remained in our seats, with only occasional updates from the pilot.

As the sun set, maybe four hours after we arrived, with rumors of a second shooter and news mostly from a friend sharing what she could find on Twitter, the plane cabin lit up with the flashing red lights of the police cars parked as a barrier. A fellow passenger, blond wavy hair pulled up in a loose knot, took over the hospitality area and distributed the remaining snacks and water. Her calm demeanor helped reduce the complaints as she took care of a flight full of concerned people. Later, a service vehicle came and emptied the contents of the lavatories. An ambulance arrived and the boarding door was open to let in EMT’s to care for two diabetic passengers affected by the hours and lack of food. One returned shortly after, wanting to be returned to her family, and the other was taken away. Mostly, we waited.

Leaving the Airport: Six hours after the plane landed, we disembarked the plane and into the terminal; the area was filled with belongings scattered across the spaces where others fled for their lives. Laptops left on tables, suitcases knocked over in the fearful escape, meals left unfinished on café tables, coats and phones and purses strewn across the floor and overturned furniture. Military officers lined the hallways calling out, “Do not take photos! This is a crime scene.”

Down in the baggage claim, not the one where the shooting took place, hundreds of passengers wandered without real instruction surrounded by officers with assault rifles. I knew this was only a transitory passage, and so I asked the officer behind a “help desk” what was the next step. “Where do we go?” I asked. Redirected upstairs, I stepped out into the humid Florida night, where more than a thousand others waited for the evacuation buses. With a phone battery nearly dead, I feared being lost without any way of contacting my boyfriend. I wrote his phone number in my journal so that even without access to my contact list I could still reach him whenever access to a phone might be provided. I tried to think clearly about the steps ahead.

Alongside those of us released from planes, most dragging luggage besides them, were hundreds of others without their belongings. The airport announcements repeated that no one could return to the terminals to retrieve lost belongings, the abandoned items left in the chaos of the afternoon, the personal items discarded as they fled out onto the tarmac, and into the fields; you watched the footage of their escapes throughout the day, and we did, too, from the relative safety of the grounded planes, as the long afternoon stretched forward. Late into the evening the announcements claimed that instructions would be provided later regarding the procedures to regain suitcases and personal items left behind. Apparently it was more than 20,000 pieces of baggage and personal items left in the airport during the crisis.

I felt tears rising as I gazed out across the crowd, the reality of being alone, and fearing the potential for further conflict or panicked evacuees and armed officers shouting orders. I felt vulnerable, especially as a queer person, and yet also aware of the privilege of my body and gender. I knew I was slipping into a dazed shock, so despite my nearly drained phone battery, I wrote an update on my Facebook page, and the act of naming and witnessing the unfolding situation helped anchor me in the uncertain transition. I took pictures of what looked like a scene from a dystopian science fiction movie. I saw in that brief moment that my friends knew I was alright, and it helped me stay focused amidst the insanity of the circumstances.

When the busses arrive, the crowd surged forward, anxious to get away from being hostage to the violence. There was immediate relief that my bus included USB ports, and so with phones charging, we headed towards the cruise ship port near the airport. Later I would read that 10,000 passengers were bused from the airport in the aftermath of the shooting. There were no further instructions; no official explanations of where we were going, how to meet up with our family members, or how to get transportation to hotels or other arrival destinations. Almost an hour later, the buses stalled amidst the shut down highways, trapped in the gridlock of arriving cars and shuttles trying to pick-up rerouted passengers. The majority of the bus passengers got off the buses, and so I did as well, and joined hundreds of evacuees walking along the edges of the cruise ship docks uncertain of where to go.

Found: I found my boyfriend on the other side of a long fence. He was standing by the car looking for me in the crowd, and I took his hand through the chain link fence, so relieved to be found, to be together. I wanted to just be held and cry, to release the fear and the holding myself together over the hours of the challenging day. Twelve hours after my plane left Baltimore, I made my way around the fence that separated us, and reunited with my loved one. Together we headed away from the confusion and fear, the streets still filled with others seeking their delayed arrivals. I felt exhausted and grateful, both lost and found.

On the Ground: Over the short weekend, we walked on the beach with a stormy sky and the wind providing a deep cleansing from the challenging journey. I stood in the warm waters of the ocean lapping at my feet. The beauty of the varied landscapes provided an easy engagement and intimate reminders of the present joys. The time together with my boyfriend and his family, as well as a visit with a mutual friend from the retreat at which we’d met during the summer, all took on additional weight and importance in the undertow of waves from the crisis I only narrowly encountered. I was grateful for the strong winds and the walks we shared out in the beauty of the water edges, some wild and some more human-maintained, but there was definitely some residual inner processing at work behind my eyes.

The Way Home: Two nights after the attack, I was back in the incredibly overpacked terminal. The airport was tense, but surprisingly not as militarized as I feared. Security was extra slow and thorough, yet we’d been reminded steadily that the shooter had “done nothing illegal until he started firing.”

The kind words and care expressed throughout my hard arrival into, and my return from, the Fort Lauderdale airport on that tragic day touched the aching places revealed. To be so close to the violence and loss and fear a strong lesson in the impermanence and uncertainty we all face. Held tightly in love’s embrace, a salve, but also in the knowledge that others did not return with their loved ones from the Fort Lauderdale airport as I did, a potent reminder.


Labyrinth, work-in-progress, Michael Sylvan Robinson (2016)

Each morning and before I go to bed, for the last two weeks or so, I’ve brought myself to the yoga mat.  Beginning in child’s pose, I whisper into the floor, “Letting go. Letting go. Letting go. Letting go.” There is breath and silence within, releasing and opening; my body stretches gently and carefully. Though it is certainly not the power yoga sculpt classes I went to before the accident, there is a daily practice and discipline I’d never before achieved at any point in my life.  I am grateful and humbled in this body knowledge. Rising up into downward dog, I look carefully to make sure my heels are even, the right heel which soon could go back to touch the mat again, and the left heel that might never again be able to touch the floor. I try to not be critical or fearful, letting the progress of just being on the mat again be enough, bringing myself twice a day to be present in my body as it is, right now.

The landscape of today is really different than the intense winter in which I began a daily walking practice as part of rebuilding strength and flexibility, and the inner landscape is also greatly changed. I am still healing, still figuring out what happened to me over this transformative year.  The dramatic injury and long recovery process forced me to reexamine the unsustainable pace of a life I’d built in the confidence of vision.  Being injured was a life-changing, traumatic, unexpected upheaval of how I managed, or thought I managed, relationships, work, art-making, self-care, health and house. Now, 135 walking days later (and 620 miles), I honor the movement and stillness which helped me open to the present and release old stories and patterns of the past. I am healing and remember that I’m-Not-Broken.

I am not broken, but I am also not the same.  My life is not the same. Not everything survived the accident, the surgeries, the days on crutches and the too-soon return to work, the additional stresses and pressures revealed other broken places in my life, but in the losses that followed, there are also places that deepened and strengthened. Feeling vulnerable and frightened, I stepped into greater self-care, into the quiet of the walking meditation and sitting practices, into the acceptance of what is, rather than what I wanted it to be.  There is gratitude in my life again. Thank you for the friendships that, despite all the challenges, stood close to me. I am also thankful for the new people arriving in my life as I step back into community service and return to activities of interest and passion. With more mindfulness, I strive to bring the values I hold to all the circumstances of my life: Caring. Gentleness. Listening. Being honest. I’m not always the best me, but it’s a very human me, not an inflated superhero-me, that I bring to my regular life today.

On a mid-morning walk, a great big red fox crosses the road in front of me, the bright sunlight through the tall trees a spotlight on his beautiful, graceful dance as he bounds about in the gardens of a neighboring house near campus; the birds in the trees above call out their warnings. At the end of that first mile, I watch a young hawk circling directly above me, tawny below the outstretched wings and keening to her kin, a moving beauty on the absolute blue canvas of the sky.  Daily, I greet the tremendous blossoming where once I walked carefully amidst frozen ground and biting winds. In the green canopy of new leaves, the gathering of crows calls to me. I am Here. Here. More present than I have been in years, striding forward in greater liberty.

I’m almost finished a simple adult jazz dance class taught as part of a professional development program by one of my amazing colleagues. I went into the first sessions worried that I might not be able to do much, and that the old “dancer” me would be hypercritical and judging.  I was a dance/drama major during my undergraduate years (a long time ago). There was a little of that voice in my head, but mostly I chose to have fun, to laugh, to enjoy the movement I could do, and catching sight of my white-bearded and older body moving across the mirror in a simple dance combination, I felt glad to be at such a moment just fifteen months after breaking my ankle. I’m learning to allow and accept the limits of my ankle’s current flexibility and strength, that prevents much jumping or turns, but I bring a calm determination to my return to dance and yoga. There’s a part of me, deep inside, that still identifies as Dancer, and I’m tending that self with these first steps back into the studio.

“We must also open ourselves to the hope that comes with understanding the one thing we can do… Being present is a radical act. It allows us to soften the impact of trauma, interrupt the forces of oppression, and set the stage for healing and transformation. Best of all, our quality of presence is something we can cultivate, moment by moment. It permits us to greet what arises in our lives with the our most enlightened selves, thereby allowing us to have the best chance of truly repairing the world.” ~ Laura van Dernoot Lipsky and Connie Burke’s Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others

Autumn Butterfly

Autumn Butterfly

Today, exactly seven months after the injury, almost to the hour, I drive myself to a follow-up appointment with the surgeon. It’s my first solo trip, as I couldn’t walk the distance between parking and the foot and ankle center office until now.  The new school year is just starting to establish a more regular routine, and on this beautiful autumn morning, at the very start of the season, I park my vehicle and walk carefully up the sidewalk of a short, but very steep hill. I’m clearly still injured, visibly limping, though no longer wearing a brace or needing crutches.  I know I look older, aged by the pain still showing in the wincing muscles of my face; I’m trying to be patient with my progress, so differently vulnerable in ways I could never have predicted before the fall.  There’s a weariness etched in my spirit, but also a wisdom earned from the many months of recovery from trauma and a long healing process still ahead.

I watch my steps with focused attention, and I acknowledge that even a month ago this incline would have been impossible. The pain would have been too great, the steep hill too challenging, but today there is a greater strength in my stride. The movement of walking is more fluid, less wobbly, and with significantly less of the rocking side to side motion which I referred to as my  “Ar2D2” walk. Despite the uneven surfaces below my feet, I make decent progress across the short few blocks, passing the medical staff in the shadow of the underpass where they gather to smoke at the outer boundary of the hospital grounds. I walk through the front door of the main lobby, and as I pass this familiar gate, I remember the complicated arrangements it took to get me to my past check-ups and surgeries here; the adjustments my boyfriend and close friends and family made to their own schedules to bring me to appointments. Sometimes, I coordinated shifts of support, one loved one dropping me off at the front door, helping me get on my way with crutches under my arms, and later someone else meeting me after the appointment to bring me home or back to work. For weeks after the accident my car sat in my work parking spot where I parked it the morning of my fall on that icy campus path; there it remained a visible marker of my absence until it could be brought back to finish winter in front of my house. Finally, there was a day, now months ago, when I was able again to drive myself short distances, parking in the handicapped spaces on campus while struggling with the crutches and a series of therapeutic boots. Those previous appointments with the surgeon brought anxiety, cresting in the days just before the return, fearful of being scolded for making slow progress, despite my active efforts in physical therapy, and worrying about the boundaries of the next steps.  On my own with the surgeon, a cheerful but concise man younger than me, I often forgot to ask questions about needed information, or couldn’t remember the answers provided amidst the overwhelming emotional and physical realities of surgeries and pain and recovery. It was a learning process of advocacy and self-care while navigating the tangles of doctors and insurance, workers compensation, medical leave and then a return to work, relationships and personal needs, while trying to prioritize healing.  My body continues to heal…

Today, returning for what might be my last appointment with the surgeon, I feel more agency. Through regular physical therapy and diligently doing my exercises, I’ve regained activities that would have been impossible not too long ago. During my recent physical therapy session, at a fast walk on the treadmill, the very edge before a light jog would be required, I took that push up at the start of jogging, and stepped down into an immediate sharp pain that shot all the way up my leg from the ankle. The pain cried,  “Hell, no! No yet, no way!”  The leg didn’t buckle under me, as it surely would have earlier in the recovery process. After the initial shock, I resumed the fast walk pace with the “usual” pain levels. I described my progress to the physical therapist as, “same pain level but doing more.”

Today, the surgeon is basically finished his work with me. We talk about my ongoing pain levels and the clear progress in flexibility following the second surgery. I ask about the activities I did before the accident: yoga, running, and work-related choreography and stage blocking. I’m to be my own judge of what I can do now, monitoring the pain and working with the physical therapist to regain activity, retrain my body to walk correctly, and resume my “normal” life. He reminds me, again, that pain and swelling is to be expected through a year following the injury and initial surgery. With the permanent addition of the plate and screws in my ankle, he predicts about a 95% return to normal activity, but it’s going to take more time to get there. On my walk back to the car, I feel both relief and hope, but also grief and anger and sadness.

Set from Owl Gate Theatre's production of

Set from Owl Gate Theatre’s production of “Mr. Paradise” by Tennessee Williams

I just started my twenty-sixth teaching year. Directing educational theater, with the exception of a short few years when I went back to grad school, is a consistent, anchoring component of my adult life.  Thinking back on theater as both a student and teacher, I realized that since the third grade, when I took part in a Bicentennial performance piece at my elementary school, I’ve been in some kind of rehearsal process for a large portion of almost every year since I eight years old.

I remember a lot of really great teachers.  My experience as an older student back in grad school was one of the best gifts I ever gave myself as an artist and educator, providing a degree that I needed professionally, but more than that, a revitalization of my art practices.  Not too long ago, a large gathering of peers from my undergraduate college days came together to hold a scholarship fundraising event in memory of a beloved theater director and teacher.  I never had the opportunity to study or work with him in the ways that many of my closest friends and artistic collaborators did, but the event was certainly a tribute to his legacy and the institution itself, a very progressive Vermont arts college, which greatly shaped our experience as theater artists and produced an exceptionally strong caliber of professional artists, writers, performers in many, many competitive arts professions, especially for such a small student population.

I wasn’t always a great student; in my younger days, I was an interesting, creative, but undisciplined student.  I loved being in theater, initially it was a place where the misfit-me found a sense of belonging. I loved performing, but the path to the stage wasn’t always easy for me.  Though the theater itself felt like a home, it was also one of the places I felt most negatively judged by some of my theater teachers.  In my teens and twenties, I was a rather flamboyant gay actor (during the mid to late ‘80’s), and sometimes the least nurturing of my teachers were other gay men, older men I wanted to be mentors and allies. Comments were made to me by drama teachers/directors that I would never, never, never imagine saying to my own students. I was told I was uncastable, despite finding professional experiences out of school, and I steered myself towards performance art, dance, directing, and costume design when the criticism and lack of opportunities seemed insurmountable.

After I graduated from college, I arrived in New York City in an era when so many gay men were dying of AIDS. I remember the awe of seeing queer characters on stage in Broadway productions of Angels in America, Rent, Love! Valour! Compassion. I found community in activism, and we took to the streets to fight for our lives and the lives of our loved ones. I applied my theater skills to giant props for street actions, and making costumes/painting scenery for original or reworked plays for the small, ultra-progressive school and summer camps at which I was first hired to teach. Teaching theater was an anchor in the midst of great changes including gentrification of New York pushing the artists, unable to withstand the rising rents, further and further away from the city itself. Eventually, I moved to Baltimore, where I could still buy a home on a regular school teacher salary.  In the peak of my New York years, I directed more than ten school productions a year, designed costumes professionally, and ran successful theater programs during summers and after school programs.  My own progressive education instilled a belief in theater that is inclusive, diverse, and participatory; these qualities are at the heart of my work all these years later.  

Now an educator and administrator at an all-girls school, my background in gender and feminist studies is a central, core foundation for my leadership in the arts.  I am deeply committed to supporting the work of women playwrights and an advocate for more inclusive diversity in theater.  These values inform actions, such as an ongoing search for the right plays so that my students are empowered, as well as challenged as performers and thinkers. I am mindful of the importance of making visible the stories too seldom told.  I work diligently at discovering age-appropriate material for a wide range of grade levels, and we’ve added a community theater program that provides students an opportunity to work with local performers.  Many of my former students are accomplished performers way beyond my own professional performance career, and others are also teachers, or in professions where their art backgrounds are a vital part of their jobs.

At the start of my twenty-sixth teaching year, I share these thoughts from a life of learning, both on and off the stage. I am grateful to have shared many wonderful theaters with thousands of students and many amazing colleagues over the past twenty-five years, and next week, rehearsals start for the first musical of the new school year.


Greg Minah’s exhibition at Goucher College beautifully showcases the development of his work and artistic process from a pivotal residency at Joshua Tree Highlands Artist Residency in 2008 through the present, most recent work.  Doreen Bolger, Director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, writes in the catalog for this exhibition, “To fully appreciate the beautiful works that follow from his time at Joshua Tree National Park, you need to understand exactly how they are created. His work emerges from a fascinating working process – it borders on performance – and from his active and intentional exploitation of the possibilities of his materials, specifically acrylic paint, which is water soluble but becomes water resistant when dry… Minah works on two or three paintings at a time, creating images that can stand singly, in pairs, or in series… As he progresses in his work on these stretched canvases, they stand side-by-side on a narrow wooden shelf (a self-created easel), above a 10-foot-long gutter that catches the dripping paint or water he later uses to wash away areas of color.  Each surface is built up in layers, with reiterative pours.”

Detail image of Greg Minah's "the scaffolding to remain" (2011) exhibited at Goucher College

Detail image of Greg Minah’s “the scaffolding to remain” (2011) exhibited at Goucher College

Greg Minah's "the scaffolding to remain" (2011) in Shifting Ground exhibition at Goucher College

Greg Minah’s “the scaffolding to remain” (2011) in Shifting Ground exhibition at Goucher College

Circular lace-like shapes layered on top of each other blend in vibrant hues of blue, lavender, pink, and red.  Just below the surface darker shadows tangle together, deepening the pool of colors.  In the earlier 2010 series, the thicker lacing of darker and lighter layers push the central shapes forward in a “slow-motion film” effect.  There’s a sense of flowing movement that evokes an imaginary sea-creature as the flow of water creates movement in the tendrils of color.

Greg Minah's Shifting Ground exhibition at Goucher College.  "almost axiomatic" (2010) on the left.

Greg Minah’s Shifting Ground exhibition at Goucher College. “almost axiomatic” (2010) on the left.

The earliest works in the exhibition show canvas surfaces with less textured spaces with central lattice-like areas of dripped paint and spherical and circular shapes and curves of washed, muted color.  In “similar prejudices” (2008), the grid-like effect of the green dripped paint lines also includes scratched black lines that connect downwards into the shadowed spheres gathering at the bottom of the canvas.

Greg Minah's Shifting Ground exhibition at Goucher College. Works from 2008.

Greg Minah’s Shifting Ground exhibition at Goucher College. Works from 2008.


Detail image of Greg Minah's "similar prejudices" (2008) exhibited at Goucher College

Detail image of Greg Minah’s “similar prejudices” (2008) exhibited at Goucher College

If you know my own crazy use of color in my fiber art work, it should be no surprise that I love the saturated vibrant colors of Minah’s 2012 series.  The scale of these canvases is also a factor in my appreciation for the depth and intricate details across such a wide surface.  I especially liked the “traditional factors” (2012) which is 70″ x 70″ with exquisite pools of lavender, greens, and blues that are surrounded by these thread-like curls of electric orange and fiery pink-red hues that make the entire piece glow.

Detail image Greg Minah's "traditional factors" (2012) exhibited at Goucher College

Detail image Greg Minah’s “traditional factors” (2012) exhibited at Goucher College

Greg Minah's Shifting Ground exhibition at Goucher College's Rosenberg Gallery

Greg Minah’s Shifting Ground exhibition at Goucher College’s Rosenberg Gallery

There’s a lightness in the most recent work that is achieved by the multiple layers and delicate lines.  The dripping pathways now outlines of absent color, removed in the process, and overall textural details are now like catching glimpses of specific patterns in enormity of a snowstorm or in the movement of leaves.  The individual details move together in the greater patterns of swirling shapes and waves of motion.

Detail image of Greg Minah's "a priori unities" (2014) exhibited in Shifting Ground at Goucher College

Detail image of Greg Minah’s “a priori unities” (2014) exhibited in Shifting Ground at Goucher College



Cautionary Tale: Targeting Artists

I was recently the victim of a fraud/scam specifically targeting artists.  It began at the end of January when I was contacted via my website from a potential “buyer” interested in two specific pieces of art.  Unknowingly, I was the target of a very elaborate fraud and having my first encounter with the very well-crafted persona, “Sofia Parker,” of a con artist.  We exchanged a series of emails, and “Sofia” selected a medium-priced work of mine to “purchase.” I’ve sold work online before, cautiously, and I thought I’d been doing pretty well handling the professional growth of my art practice including the business aspects of my art.

A week or so passed, after I responded with more details about the piece including cost and shipping options.  “Sofia” replied with an apology and claimed she’d just returned from her sister’s wedding. Her emails were designed to deepen the fictional story while building trust. Additional explanations she shared would later mask important components of the scam; she claimed to be was moving into a new condo while her husband remained in their previous home.  They could arrange to have the work delivered.  Her husband would have his assistant take care of the details and send payment.

In hindsight, her writing showed syntax errors and contradictions in narrative.  But the persona actually covered and excused some of these irregularities; the character I was responding to behaved in ways that made “sense.”  Here was a kooky art buyer, maybe an international woman, decorating the second home while her husband paid for her art purchases.  Multiple emails exchanged with the odd “Sofia” seemed very real. Of course, she was working my own belief against me:  I wanted to believe my work was being purchased because of the work I had done to increase my visibility as an artist.  I realize now that if she’d selected a more expensive work I would have required phone conversations and done additional fact-checking.  

There was another delay, followed by a very polite check-in to see whether the check had arrived, and more apologies for the confusion “the move was causing.” Almost a month of exchanges reached the turning point in the scam with well-prepared ground.  The check arrived from a “business” with a rather significant overpayment..  I wrote immediately and asked how to proceed. My instinct was to rip up the check and ask for another sent with the appropriate price.  “Sofia” blamed the error on her husband, suggested I deposit the check, deduct the cost of the shipping to the condo in Saratoga Springs, New York, and refund the overpayment.

It was a crazy week at work, and in the intense midst of “too many things” I thought, “At least I can get this work shipped and make an important sale.”  I deposited the check, and the next day called my bank to verify that the check had cleared. I took the piece to fed ex and shipped it to the address she’d provided.  “Sofia” then asked me to refund the overpayment to her husband’s assistant and provided an address in Minneapolis.  “Sofia” recommended several Western Union options in my area.  In hindsight, clear fraud techniques were being utilized in these key steps: 1. Overpayment to get the target to “refund” what is actually personal finances 2. Payment from one person and address different from the person the communication.

I believed I was being careful, I’d called the bank, and the money was in my account.  Despite the hassles, and my unease, I transferred the money via Western Union.  I called and left a voice mail message on “Sofia’s” number, realizing we’d never actually spoken on the phone, and she responded with the following email: “Thanks for taking care of everything. I’ll make sure I send photos of the art piece as soon as I have it installed on my wall.”

The next day, my bank withdrew the deposit.  The check had a valid routing number but was not a real account.  I called, confused, and the nice person from the bank clarified that checks clear as a courtesy, on the assumption that it is a valid check, but the actual money can take several more days to be verified. I knew immediately what had happened, and fortunately, the money transfer had not been picked up in Minneapolis. Western Union was incredibly helpful, and my money was returned to me.  I don’t know went wrong in their operation, but a clear twenty-four window was missed, fortunately for me. Next, I tried to track down my art, which Fed Ex delivered two days ahead of schedule. The Saratoga Springs police were able to connect me with the apartment manager of the building.  In addition to my art, a painting from an artist in Arizona had also recently arrived, and another by an artist from Boston, too. The police officer explained that over the last two years, this empty apartment address was given to multiple artists all being scammed with the same story.  Details like “sister’s wedding” and the overpayment from the “husband” were details used in each fraud.  Though the gmail addresses and names differ with each target, the narrative is a variation of the story I was told.

I learned an incredibly important lesson, and I am relieved that it wasn’t more costly.  I share my experience here in hopes that other artists won’t fall victim to criminals using similar techniques.  And there is some very specific criminal targeting artists across the country with quite a successful, professional operation.  I don’t understand the cruelty of such behavior, and I don’t want to dwell on the culprits involved.  I want to end this narrative with gratitude – for the bank and Western Union employees, the Saratoga Springs police officer, and the kind building manager who protected my work.  All these individuals shared concern for my well-being and helped me to prioritize each of the action steps after I realized I was the victim of a crime.  Though there were plenty of places I made mistakes, these helpful individuals never made any judgmental comments, but they did teach me what I needed to learn to be more prepared and protected.

The Sacred Pause: Working with Time as Ally and Muse (Part Two)

Grandmother Spiderwoman Mask by Michael Sylvan Robinson (2004)

Grandmother Spiderwoman Mask by Michael Sylvan Robinson (2004)

Through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience.  We begin to trust in our natural intelligence, in our naturally wise heart, in our capacity to open to whatever arises.” ~ Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance

“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date… No time to say ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!” Though I’ve always been more of a Mad Hatter, the iconic White Rabbit would be an excellent reminder about being too busy to really be living in the moment. My mother says that I have always been this way, this desire to do too many things for the amount of time in the schedule. She claims that as a child I would say something to the effect of: “If I skip soccer this week I can go to band practice, and the auditions for the play aren’t until next week – so there will only be a two or three week overlap in soccer and rehearsals.” Several decades later, my grownup life sounds a lot like that younger me: “If I go to the gym today than tomorrow night could be dinner with a friend followed by an hour or so of time in the studio, and the next night I’ve got rehearsal at school, but if I try to get to the chiropractor between the end of the teaching day, and the start of rehearsals I might be able to…”

“But much of our driven pace and habitual controlling in daily life does not serve surviving, and certainly not thriving. It arises from a free-floating anxiety about something being wrong or not enough.  Even when our fear arises in the face of actual failure, loss or …death, our instinctual tensing and striving are often ineffectual and unwise.” ~ Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance

A friend once recommended that nothing should be added into the schedule unless something else was removed. I find that balance of addition and subtraction very hard to hold to when the work sphere trends to more and more events, and then the only place to subtract falls into the areas I most want to prioritize: home, community/friendships, art. I’m in the midst of tech week for a production at school, and the final rehearsals and production tasks are complicated by the seasonal winter weather (that hasn’t been so seasonal the last several years until this one!); underneath the long hours, the challenges of self-care become more apparent, and old patterns reveal themselves like fault lines.  I found myself suddenly reawakened by anger, then fear, and finally, to varying degrees, a kind of letting go, a more detached perspective that helped me ease back into the rollercoaster of the weather, the work, my own projections, and in the space I took away from being reactive, to accept what was really in front of me.  The winter weather was one of the challenges reminding me that I couldn’t be in control of the circumstances, only my own reactions.

“Taking our hands off the controls and pausing is an opportunity to clearly see the wants and fears that are driving us. During the moments of a pause, we become conscious of how the feeling that something is missing or wrong keeps us leaning into the future, on our way somewhere else.  This gives us a fundamental choice in how we respond: We can continue our futile attempts at managing our experience, or we can meet our vulnerability with the wisdom of Radical Acceptance… Often the moment we most need to pause is exactly when it feels most intolerable to do so.  Pausing in the fit of anger, or when overwhelmed by sorrow or filled with desire, may be the last thing we want to do…” ~ Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance

Many years ago, when I began my MFA in Interdisciplinary Art at Goddard College, one of my first advisors described my art practice as scattered.  This, of course, was a real trigger word for me, one that reminded me of the comments of high school teachers, my parents, but her challenge helped me see the interdisciplinary nature of my art-making.  It took longer to achieve mastery in certain discipline areas because I aimed to acquire so many practices: performance, dance, costume design, playwriting, critical and creative writing, sculpture, and fiber art. I saw that all these investigations blended together into my artwork beyond the limits of disciplines, and that my commitment to research included extensive queer and gender studies; these realizations anchored my art, and influence what I chose to make, exhibit, and invest my time. Scattered was a surface layer assessment, but examined with a wider view, it is clear that I manifest an impressive amount of artistry every year.  It is true that a lot of it is job specific, and I need to remember to be grateful for a job that provides me so much creative work!  I do a reasonably good job making my own personal art, and I am also grateful for the opportunities to exhibit and learn better the business skills of being a professional artist.

My artwork is a practice of time, and I don’t mean for that to be confused with time-based art, which is a topic for another entry, perhaps.  My fiber work is based in hand-stitching and beading, covering the entire surface of a large piece of patterned fabric with intricate details.  My larger pieces are up to 5’, and I also work on life-sized sculptural work, and these pieces can take more than a year to complete.  At times, there can be the feeling that the piece will never finish, that no matter how many layers of work I’ve completed, there are still so many places left to pay attention to, to bring my unique embellishment skills, and so I try to remain in the “doing.” Just put an hour into the background beading of the black beads and buttons.  Put an hour or so of attaching anything that still has pins in it… That kind of targeted goal setting helps build consistency for the physical act of showing up for my art, for the embodied movement that brings the threaded needle in and out of the fabric hung from my studio wall, it brings a stillness to my life.  There is a patience that I enact with this practice.  Prior to tech week, I’d reconnected in greater consistency to my sitting practice, and I know that I’ll get back into being more connected to my body, being better about what foods I eat, at the same time that I stop being “so busy,” which is, of course, one of the ways I am distracted from my own authentic presence. When I listen to the many stories of Grandmother Spiderwoman, I hear the challenges of her advice: leave space in the center of the weaving, like the open spaces of the spider’s web.  The breathing into the center, opening space around the old stories and patterns, is key to the increased freedom and wellness.

Through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience.  We begin to trust in our natural intelligence, in our naturally wise heart, in our capacity to open to whatever arises.” ~ Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance

"Eye of Time (Peacock God Feather)" - fiber art / mixed media by Michael Sylvan Robinson (2010)

“Eye of Time (Peacock God Feather)” – fiber art / mixed media by Michael Sylvan Robinson (2010)

The Hourglass Collection: Working with Time as an Ally and a Muse (Part One)

I will admit to binge-watching new Dr. Who episodes as a reward for handling the pressures of schedule and commitments. It might be a bit of stretch to refer to those viewing sessions as “working with Time as an ally,” but I don’t actually do enough restorative activities, often turning my spiritual and artistic practices into the same kind of pressured tasks as my job responsibilities.  So I’m experimenting with time at home, time with others, and time that is unstructured, and though I don’t own a television, mixing in some viewing sessions of favorite shows, can add an ingredient of being more at ease, when done carefully.  But like many “distracting” activities, even too much Dr. Who leaves me feeling lethargic and not refreshed as I’d hoped.  Time objects hold meaning for me in this practice of mindfulness. I keep a collection of hour glasses on the desk in my office.  When I feel the pressures of too-many-deadlines, I turn one of the hourglasses over and whisper, “There is plenty of time.” Reminding myself to slow down, to put the brakes on the instinct to rush, to not succumb to the “I have to do more, get it all done, take on more…”

But, of course, on the other hand, there isn’t “plenty of time,” in that way that is always true, that as a living being there will be a point in time when I am no longer living, and prior to that, some trauma or illness that will bring this particular body (and life) to a finish.  I am a gay man of a generation that feared we would all die before we even saw our thirties, and when I lived in New York City during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, there was plenty of evidence all around me that this fear was not unwarranted.  AIDS was killing young men around me, and it felt like a war zone marked by the losses of friends and lovers.  For many of us, grief fueled activism and changed the way queerness would be lived.  Society seemed only too willing to let us die, and we learned to care for each other, advocate for our lives, in ways that could never really have predicted the actual acceptance that many homosexuals feel today.

A friend died a little more than ninety days ago, a man younger than I am.  The time I spent with him in the final weeks of his life humbled me.  A practioner of Buddhism, he was so deeply present for himself during many, many months of fighting, and when it was time to let go, he did so surrounded by loved ones.  It had been a very long time since I’d sat at the bedside of a dying man younger than me, and now, in my middle age, the realities of life’s uncertain length were once more immediately clear.

In Comfortable with Uncertainty, Pema Chödrön writes, “We know that all is impermanent; we know that everything wears out.  Although we can buy this truth intellectually, emotionally we have deep-rooted aversion to it.  We want permanence; we expect permanence. Our natural tendency is to seek security; we believe we can find it.  We experience impermanence at the everyday level as frustration.  We use our daily activity as a shield against the fundamental ambiguity of our situation, expending tremendous energy trying to ward off impermanence and death.”  There have been a number of deaths, some prolonged and some shockingly sudden, in the web of friendships around me over the past several months.  Death is a real teacher, reminding us that our time together is not a measurable commodity.  In the days that I sat by my friend’s side, the seasons changed; summer became autumn, and once he was moved to hospice, he was able to experience the beauty of the gardens after many months of watching the days through the windows of the hospital.  Each day was so important and fleeting.  I still light a candle for my friend, thanking him for sharing his life with me, and I remember the lessons I learned by showing up, in being present, being a witness for a loved one’s passing.

Chödrön continues, “The Buddhist teachings aspire to set us free from this limited way of relating to impermanence.  They encourage us to relax gradually and wholeheartedly into the ordinary and obvious truth of change.  Acknowledging this truth doesn’t mean that we’re looking at the dark side.  What it means is that we begin to understand that we’re not the only one who can’t keep it all together.  We no longer believe that there are people who have managed to avoid uncertainty.”

Work in Progress: Michael Sylvan Robinson's "Guardian in the Garden of Delight"

Work in Progress: Michael Sylvan Robinson’s “Guardian in the Garden of Delight”

Starting here, and as I thought of what to title this new writing space, I turned to Walt Whitman, to lines I’ve read and reread over so many years:

“A noiseless patient spider, / I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated, / Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding, / It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself, / Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them. // And you O my soul where you stand, / Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space, / Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them, / Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold, / Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.”

Whitman’s two stanzas directly compare the seeking of his soul to the work of the spider he observes.  “Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold, / Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.” I’m opening this new space, standing here in this present, musing on art and spiritual practice, the times in which we live, and the circles of community; I am asking the questions of patience, opening a place for deeper contemplation, developing and sharing the tools of communication.

I’ve drawn inspiration from myths and stories working with spider as an ally, as a symbol, as well as observing the beautiful weavers as I encounter them (and their webs). I’ve heard stories of Grandmother Spiderwoman in which she counsels that sanity must be found by leaving an opening in the center of the web, a place for breath to expand.  I know the cautionary tale of Arachne’s competition with Athena, but I’ve also been fascinated by the Arachne-Transformed, her spider skills an inheritance for all her little eight-legged sisters.

In Starhawk’s The Empowerment Manual she describes “spidering” as a role in group dynamics, “Spiders sit in the center of their webs, and from that position they can feel any movement in any part of the pattern.  In groups, Spiders are the central connectors who watch the group’s communications.” This role of the Spider as the organizer-presence who gathers the ideas of different voices, as well as being the one whose hands touch all the various components, is one role I often find myself.  And yet, as we know, the actual spider’s web is built by one solitary spider (there are some spiders that share their webs) to feed.  When I find myself surrounded by a web filled with too many community needs and responsibilities, this awakening challenges me to define better what my own sustainable practices must be, and in doing so, I learn better to ask what nourishes my own life and wellness in this work.  I hear the challenge of patience in the anchored presence of Whitman’s spider, though I note that I don’t claim the “noiseless” in this title, the practice of silence is certainly part of the journey. I’ve been reading a lot of Pema Chödrön and Tara Brach; I’ve been immersed in their teachings of Buddhism and find their wisdom on the practice of letting go, opening to the present, really calls to me from some deep inner place within my busy life.  In Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, Pema Chödrön writes, “Awakening is not a process of building ourselves up but a process of letting go. It’s a process of relaxing in the middle – the paradoxical, ambiguous middle, full of potential, full of new ways of thinking and seeing – with absolutely no money-back guarantee of what will happen next.”

As a fiber artist, my work is built from the countless repeated movements of hand stitching and beading; my larger pieces can take more than a year to complete.  There is a patience within such a process of craft. My handwork is as distinctive as fingerprints, the stitches so clearly mine. The interweaving of patterns, color, textures a specific voice.  My work brings together all these small components in an intricate surface detail that is also part of a larger conceptual structure.  Listening to the play of the materials brings my hands and eyes together in the realization of new techniques and ongoing investigations of imagery and stories.

And so I spin my words here, anchored in my home, sending out these threads of curiosity and mindfulness, seeking connections in a wider web that we share.

%d bloggers like this: