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I. The Magician

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I. The Magician

Rider-Waite tarot card

Rider-Waite tarot card

 Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.

(Helaman 10:7)

Mormon Tarot (mormontarot.com) 

Mormon Tarot (mormontarot.com) 

As Above, So Below.

What once was Above—here—was 2500 feet of water. We are at the bottom of the Western Interior Seaway. It’s no wonder that a lot of people don’t have quite enough oxygen to breathe.

When you stand on the valley floor you can see that it’s the ocean. Sagebrush now, instead of seaweed, but it’s the same idea. Rustling wind instead of rushing currents. Flocks of wheeling birds, instead of schools of reeling fish.

(In the stars, I swear I saw the form of a giant, ghostly plesiosaur.)

“Time, and how she moves” by Ryan Perkins

“Time, and how she moves” by Ryan Perkins

As Above, So Below. God gave us gifts and I, for one, am determined to use them. It’s a form of consecration to render art to the service of God. I never thought I’d be the one to do something like this, but I’m the Desert Prophet now, I suppose, and almost all prophets are reluctant.

It’s the Magician’s job to make the desert blossom as the rose, and we’re doing it. Of course, I wouldn’t call new developments a “blossom”, per se, but above our heads is the Infinity Sign of the Land of Milk and Honey, and below our feet is swiftly blooming, failing flowers, and around our waists is a rattlesnake devouring its own tail, and thus unable to hear its own warning.

The Desert Prophet Somewhere in the Great Basin

The Desert Prophet Somewhere in the Great Basin

by me. 

by me. 

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0. The Fool

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0. The Fool

by Amrit Brar (amritbrarillustration.com)

by Amrit Brar (amritbrarillustration.com)


“I lived better when I was ignorant of the sun, tucked away in your chest.”


I am no knowledgeable authority concerning tarot. But one thing I do know about is the Fool.

The Fool is not the first card. The Fool is the card numbered zero. The Fool is the querent, before they even begin their journey towards knowledge. 

by The Mormon Tarot (mormontarot.com) 

by The Mormon Tarot (mormontarot.com) 

The Fool is unformed clay. The Fool is the Hero before the Journey. The Fool is Adam & Eve in the garden.

The Fool is me, at age 15, for the first time in my life struck with problems that were my own for solving.

The Fool is Icarus, flying, before his fall. No—the Fool is Icarus with two feet planted on the ground, and no wings to catch the air.


Before, and After.

 

Today I rode my bike past a place I used to live. What a strange feeling that is. And I couldn’t help it, I scoffed—“Oh, you thought that was a good life, didn’t you?” I scoffed at my past self, and in so doing, made myself a Fool.

But if I was a Fool then, that must mean I am a Fool now. How can it be, when my life seems so wonderful, that when it changes I will look back and think, “Oh, you thought that was a good life, didn’t you?”

To love makes one a Fool. Or at least, it makes me feel to be. How can I know if the affections of my heart are properly placed? When I look back it so often seems to be Wrong.

I do not like to be Wrong.

Maybe only the Fool can love without knowledge, without reservation. Naïveté will get you hurt but it allows for a pure love that can never truly return. Once the Fool has danced off the precipice.

But I am loyal to my core.

by me.  

by me.  

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Salt

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Salt

Sing me a song of your vast salty spaces, of your sagebrush, sand, and stars. 

God is always sending people into the wilderness. To the tops of mountains or into the desert for 40 years, to the great salty steppes of the Great Salt Lake valley. To learn what can be learned only in a wilderness, under blasted earth and blasted sky.

The sky tonight is no less than J. Alfred's evening painted and spread across a table. It hangs over the flats and the water in a periwinkle haze—is that the right word?—cavernous space, now that's the only word, space, with so much sky, so much salt, so much water, and as the water is a reflection of the sky the world is suddenly fractured and doubled—!

The ring of mountains holds it in. But only tenuously, just on the edges, blue bumps on the horizon, and if they weren't there the sky would fall into the water. 

God's always sending people into the wilderness and maybe Robert Smithson is no different. "Go," He said, "Go out into the desert and create thy work." Which is why we've got a spiral out into the middle of nowhere, a black spiral in the pink and white sand, in the algae and salt lie volcanic rocks (to my untrained eye volcanic), a spiral on the flats on the water. 

To walk the spiral is a meditation. A religious experience if you're so inclined, to worship at the altars of God or Art or Nature or maybe at some mix of the three. Like those labyrinths in churchyards whose journey is more important than the destination—pick your way across the white sand and black stones, there's nothing at the center but if you were looking for something maybe you should go back and start again. 

The sand's filling in the spaces between the black stones, scattering, burying. Process and decay are implicit, Andy Goldsworthy said—but this is a Smithson, not a Goldsworthy, and I don't know how he'd feel about his creation sinking into the salt desert. 

But he meant to sink his creation underwater anyway. He built it during a dry year—it spent the next 20 underwater. Now the salt sea is kept mostly at bay, held off by the slightest incline at 30 feet back—a choppy mirror mixing the teal and pink and orange colors of the sky into a dull lavender. 

The moon's pasted on the horizon like a child's transfer sticker, full and orange, transparent and wan.

And the only thing left to do is to walk into the great salt sea that's named this region. The water in this half of the lake is pink from algae, the same temperature as your body, and so shallow you can walk out 100 feet before it starts to go up your calves. Only later will it start to sting and cake salt on your legs—for now, to walk into this water is to walk into infinity. 

God always send people into the wilderness, into vast salty spaces where they can lose their minds. 

But the thing about space—spare, sandy, salty space—is that it does such a good job of existing that when you're there you have no choice but to exist too. Because, well—there is nowhere to hide under that much sky. There is nowhere to hide on that barren ground.

And as the land is what it is, so must you be too.

God is always sending people into the wilderness. Because—well, as they say—because he who loses his life shall find it, now isn't that something....?

All photos by my perfect sister Julia, who doesn't have a website or even an instagram to link to. What a shame.

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Art Paris

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Art Paris

You know I wanted to die on the ground in front of Le Sacre de Napoleon.

Art is everything, I cannot explain it, my life is art, the world is art, why do you think I spent all that time in those four great museums and went to the Pompidou twice?

Everything I have ever learned I remembered when I saw those paintings and sculptures and the names and titles on the placards. Some part of my brain had been storing up all those lights and forms and colors, and I can’t tell you for my life how to multiply a matrix but I can recognize a François Rude from across the courtyard when I’ve only ever seen three of his works in my life.

I personify everything, you know that? I talk to paintings and statues and dead artists that aren’t there, how else are you supposed to take what’s on the wall and put it in your heart and your head?

That’s why I came to see you first, Winged Victory. You’re my friend, you know that? Lighting on your prow at the top of the stairs. I’ve cared about you every since I saw that documentary with Angela George in French class in high school when they told us that story of how the Nazis were coming and in those dark empty halls of that museum they didn’t dare to breathe as they carried your body down those stairs, praying you would hold together (because you know at that time you weren’t really held together).

And then I learned about your technical mastery in that art history class, the counterbalance of your leaning and your robes and your wings, how you once had a head, how you used to be painted, but you know Winged Victory, you’re my friend, you’re my favorite statue, I like you how you are now, you’re more charismatic without a head, you know how I feel about anything with wings.

And I came to see you next, David—

David! Jacques-Louis David—!

Peintre du roi, peintre de la Révolution, peintre de Napoléon—

Your painting is the biggest painting that I could have imagined, chéri! How did you paint it the size of the wall, all alone, no one but you?

I even cried aloud, you know that, when I saw your self-portrait on the other side, when I saw the Oath of the Horatii—it was strange, I knew it already, it was so familiar—

It was like my surprise at my woodshop project turning out just like my plans and my CAD model. It's strange to see it exactly the same, but bigger, real—

It's softer somehow, in real life—the edges are softened, there is less contrast in the skin tones, the shadows—

But your autoportrait, chéri—your light curly hair, you painted it so lightly—your face, chéri, it's crooked, your left eye turns to the side, your nose, your mouth is twisted, it's off center. I couldn't see these things until I was standing right in front of you!

You painted yourself with your brushes, chéri, your paints. What you were, it's an artist.

I saw your portrait, chéri. I recognized it by its colors—it’s rusty, and orange, and brown—it's my favorite color of green.

I recognized your curly hair. I saw it across the hall and I gasped and the breath was knocked out of me and I think I almost screamed.

But let's talk about this painting, this painting where I for months have been planning to die.

It's as big as a wall, you know. Mr. Kipp taught me that in high school.

I saw other paintings here that one could call as big as a wall. I thought that I might be disappointed.

I was not disappointed, you know. I was not disappointed. This is the biggest painting I have ever seen.

But oh, the tâches on Josephine's robe—the way you represented golden thread reflecting the light—

I don't know how you made this canvas, the spaces, the light, the color.

Oh, but you, you, Raft of the Medusa—

Je t'ai vu en ombre, tu vois?

I gasped aloud when I saw you. Pyramidal composition, pile of pale green bodies.

You were the size of the wall. They told me you would be. But I saw you in shadow, and I gasped aloud.

Almost all the paintings in the room are paintings I know. Delacroix, Géricault, Gros, Ingres. Did you know that Romanticism is my favorite art and literary movement of the 19th century?

So I wandered around, mouth agape, blinded by wonder. How could I not?

How is Mr. Kipp doing? Where is he now? He was the one who taught me about all these paintings in the room.

Oh, but then I crossed the garden and I saw you, Monet, master of colors—

Maître de l'aube, l'ombre, le crepuscule—

How did you decide which water lilies to bring forward and which to reduce to an irreplaceable scribble? How did you decide which colors to put in the waters or the trees?

How did you decide which view to paint, which time of day? How did you make a canvas that big? How did you paint with it outside?

Did you know that the canvases would be displayed in this place, chéri? Or was the space made for you?

Toi, Claude, Monet, thank you for showing me these things the way you see. Without you, I don't know if I would be allowed to see at all.

And then I went to this old train station on the other side of the Seine, where I spent too much time in the halls downstairs and had to rush through the upstairs impressionism like a madwoman when they announced on the intercom that the museum was about to close, but to be honest I think my eyes had been glazed over already.

But you ever just see something that knocks you backward like a flat plane of cool air?

Your deep eyes and straight stand in the blue. Of course I had to sit down and draw you. You know that I spent the morning talking about religion.

And you know, Sainte Geneviève, white and blue and holy holy holy, I didn't expect to see you because I had never heard of this piece before, and aren't the unexpected sometimes the most important things that you will ever get to see?

(Don't tell me, you're the one having the vision.)

Oh, but then I crossed the river again. My head had been full of the cushy art from the 19th century, until I crossed to that that building where they took all the parts that were supposed to be on the inside and put them on the outside in full technicolor.

It's not fair that this art is exhausting, because all of the art in this museum is good. It's just...infinitely heavy.

I don't like solemn themes when they're compounded like this. I don't like to see alienation and tragedy from the Middle East, of losing identity and globalization, of disquieting juxtapositions and forms. It's the stuff I don't want to be relevant, so it hurts. Why can't we go back to the existential crises of the worldview of Romanticism?

But it’s important, it’s important, that’s why it fills up my head with a fire and my body with sand.

I went to see the world’s most famous urinal, and on my way back I glanced up above the entry, and—

Duchamp, you sly dog, you've done it again.

The best and biggest surprise of the day was suddenly seeing your shovel, your ready-made, In Advance of a Broken Arm, hanging above the lines of the entrance to this floor, which nobody noticed because nobody looks up.

Someone else is playing your game...is anybody noticing? I think it’s better that way, a sign to the enlightened, for the people who look up.

But even so, you know I walked all the way through this floor, and I was disappointed when I didn't see the work of Joseph Beuys, my favorite Fluxus artist, who even knows what Fluxus is, not me—

But then I saw him all of a sudden in a sound installation downstairs, rolls and rolls and rolls of felt, a chalkboard and thermometer on a silent piano.

The room was supposed to be hot and full of silence. It smelled full and dusty like Aunt Barbara's house and that felt blanket that changed color from green to gray that night as the sun rose, or maybe it was the other way around.

But the room wasn't hot, it was polluted by the annoying sound exposition with those teenagers behind me, and we were only confined to a square meter of space, we could not walk around at all.

Mais quand même, c'était Joseph Beuys, Joseph Beuys, Joseph Beuys, I loved him since I read his story in manic silence one night, and ever since then I kept seeing his little sleds and packets sent out to send help.

But this museum isn’t gentle, I knew that already.

Contemporary performances and installations have eaten me alive, Le Courbusier's Utopia screened with communism and fell flat in those dirty streets like the one where I live. Cubism and Picasso felt far away and muffled, and the room with Dada broke my spirit so I hadn't felt as much as I should when I saw Duchamp's Fountain.

I feel hollow inside and my head is stuffed with cotton. There's a weakness radiating from my center into my limbs and the skin beneath my left eye hurts like a contusion, my retinas feel fried from wild-eyed wonder.

But here I am with my one true love, and surprisingly that love is abstract expressionism.

And here I am in this room, my soul might stop beating in front of these Pollucks. One of them is called The Deep, and with that chasm, that white and black and red and chartreuse, I can tell you that it's deep.

Sam Francis did a piece called Other White, a canvas of off-white in grays and blues. He said that it's the color of the space between things—

(Then someone else can see the color of the space between things. It's the color of the interior space in the Pantheon.)

And then Rothko, Rothko, those unimaginably deep colors in unimaginably deep layers of paint. The absurd feathery softness of the edges of his forms. I could stand there forever transfixed. Did you know that he slit his wrists and died in a painting of his own blood?

I only make pilgrimages for artists I like, but when I see an artist I like, it's a pilgrimage.

There is something about abstract expressionism that makes me want to be devotional. Jackson Polluck's The Deep. Mark Rothko's Untitled (Black, Red over Black on Red). I see it afar and I came into this room and my first instinct was to stand there and and stand there and worship.

But even then you know it's not quite the same feeling, you know that I saw that painting of Saint Geneviève, white and blue and holy, holy, holy, that light filled my soul and tears jumped my eyes, which is why I am sitting on this floor, holy holy holy, anything that touches you is from God.

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Paris Colors

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Paris Colors

How do I even write about this—

From my first moment here all I could see was the colors. The heavy, personified orange in the air of the night sky. The gold and blue in the light when the sun set on my first day. You know that even the air smelled pink, and it still does sometimes when it doesn't smell like cigarettes and gray?

Last week I went to Montmartre. Partially because I had to, you can't go to Paris and not see Sacre Coeur. Partially because ever since I saw those terra cotta portraits in my bishop's house in Colorado Springs, I knew I wanted to go to Montmartre and sit on those steps and get drawn.

We left at 9:45 in the morning. We were supposed to leave at 9:30, but I was late because I am always late, and because I was looking up online information about Montmartre portraits.

They said that there are some artists that have an assigned place on the square. There’s a waiting list a mile long. They’re the good ones, that charge $75 to $200 for a portrait. Choose a style you like. Watch them drawing someone to see how good they really are, because you don't know how long they spent on their displayed examples. If you want, you can play portrait roulette with the unauthorized artists who walk around and accost you for a portrait, because some of them will be good and some of them will be awful. Talk down the price if you want, if you can.

We took the 6 (turquoise), and the 4 (magenta), and the 12 (green), and we came out of the metro by a carrousel.

We walked up the streets and went to Sacre Coeur, we said we all wanted to live here, this was one of our favorite neighborhoods in Paris. That was what this blog post was supposed to be about, until I started to write about colors. Sometimes the streets looked like San Francisco. This is the only place I've seen with hills.

I thought that portrait artists would be there to draw you on the steps, or perhaps at the bottom of the hill, but they were no where to be found.

Luckily, we had Caitlin's phone that can still connect to the 3G network, so we wandered up the hill, found a funky lamp store, ate some macarons, and ended up at the square at last.

This was a chocolate-covered caramel macaron and I can't even begin to express how good it was.

This was a chocolate-covered caramel macaron and I can't even begin to express how good it was.

It was smaller than I thought, more closed in, and with fewer artists. And it was packed with people. 

I decided to walk around first, see who the artists were and what their style was like. I wanted something lighter, sketchy, a croquis, not something I could easily do on my own. Why would I pay for something that I didn’t need to be done for me?

I saw lots of tight charcoal portrait artists. Most had someone sitting for them, most of the subjects were women. The drawings were all good, none quite a perfect likeness...but I guess we can't expect them to be. 

Some of the people near the front of the row had a bit of a looser style...I liked that...I kept that in mind and kept walking. 

Then I saw a guy sitting at his little stand all alone, white shirt and gray hair, with a bright and colorful portrait standing on his easel, lines and colors, bright, abstracted. And I thought...oh, that might be the one. 

So I walked past the rest of the artists, past the café and the painters selling their works on the other side, lost my friends in the sea of people, got called out by some other artists, I want to draw you, but I circled back to the only man in the square who used color. 

He was still alone, wasn't drawing anybody. Lucky me. 

I walked up to him. "Bonjour Monsieur, est-ce que vous avez d'autres exemples de vos portraits?" I said. ("Hello, sir, do you have any other examples of your portraits?")

Without a word, he pulled some out, on a little card behind his easel, four portraits in blue. All of them were a three-quarter view, facing the same direction, of course he used a formula. It’s true that on some of them the angles of the head didn’t look right, the proportions. But he was the only one painting with color, and I liked the possibility.

I tapped my chin, probably. "J'aime bien votre style," I said. ("I really like your style.")

"Mais vous ne m'aimez pas," he said, look up, solid, steady, straight. ("But you don't like me.")

"C'est parce que je vous connais pas," I said, but even in English joking makes me uncomfortable. ("That's because I don't know you.")

"Ça va," he said, "j'ai déjà une femme." ("It's okay. I already have a wife.")

I laughed for a moment, because that was the right thing to do. “Alors, je vais regarder les autres artistes—“ I started, lifting my arms, but he cut me off— ("All right, I'm going to go look at the other artists—")

“Je suis minimaliste,” he said. “J'essai de representer avec le plus peu de lignes que possible." ("I'm a minimalist. I try to work with the fewest amount of lines possible.")

I could see that, and certainly respect that.

“Vous avez des jolies cheveux,” he said, gesturing curls by his head. “On peut faire quelque chose avec." ("You have beautiful hair. We could do something with it.")

Des jolies cheveux. I smiled, for real this time.

“Mais je vous dessine sans lunettes,” he continued. ("But I will draw you without glasses.")

“Ah bon?” I said. “Pourquoi?” You know that my glasses are a part of me. ("Oh yeah? Why?.")

“Dans un an, deux ans, vous allez changer vos lunettes,” he said. “Alors je vous dessine sans." ("In a year, two years, you are going to change your glasses. So I'll draw you without.")

“Ahhh, vous avez raison,” I said. Of course he had to think about this type of thing, drawing people all day. I did not mention that in a month I am going to cut off all my “jolies cheveux” too. ("Ahhh, you're right.")

“Ça coute combien?” I asked, expecting something high, because I had brought €120 and I was willing to drop almost anything. ("How much does it cost?")

“€40 pour les jolies filles, €60 pour les moins belles." ("€40 the pretty girls, €60 for the less pretty.")

“Et je suis dans quelle catégorie?" ("And which category am I in?")

“Jolie, bien sûr." ("Pretty, of course..")

I smiled. Of course he had to be a charmer, but €40 and two compliments, I smiled, I was sold.

“Un instant, je suis ici avec deux amies. Je vais les trouver. Je reviendrai." ("One minute, I'm here with two friends. I'm going to go find them. I'll come back.")

I pulled out my phone and pulled back into the crowd of people, looking over their heads for Caitlin and Elizabeth, trying to call them, when they appeared out of the crowd and I told them that this was the one.

And so I went over to the chair, took off my glasses, gave them and my bag to Elizabeth. He sat me down, pulled out his paints. Told me where to sit, in that little leather chair. “Regardez là-bas,” I turned my head to the side, I looked up, I looked at the sky. ("Look over there.")

Another artist set up his stand and umbrella next to me and I tried to unfocus my eyes and stay still. I could see in my peripheral that a crowd gathered around him working and I wondered if this would be a masterpiece. I looked up to the sky, everything fuzzy because I had taken off my glasses, I wondered if I had moved my head too much, I wondered if he would paint the sense of wonder in my eyes, the glint of sunlight in my hair.

I sat there for what felt like a long time but not too astronomically long. It actually surprised me when he pulled the painting off the stand, fuzzy for me because I couldn’t see, and held it up—and at first I didn’t like it, from my myopic point of view it looked like my nose was painted huge and grotesque, and to be honest it didn’t really look like me, so I stalled for a minute, saying I couldn’t see, and I called and called for Elizabeth until she finally heard and got me my glasses, so I could see that he hadn’t painted my nose like that after all, that it was a trick from the negative space, and to be fair it didn’t quite look like me, but—he painted the colors in my hair.

And to be honest, the more I looked at it, the more I liked. The confidence of his pencil strokes beneath the paint. The delicate way he painted my eyes, and at least he got them blue, even though I wasn’t looking up into the sky—more of his formula than my eyes in actuality. The swath of rose on my cheek, the roundness of my chin, that benign neck lump of mine immortalized into eternity. He even did a piece representing my shoulder, the black of my shirt, the roses.

And the colors, the colors in my hair, brown and black and red and purple.

And it wasn’t perfect, of course it wasn’t, more of his language of symbols than a perfect likeness, but isn’t that what I came here for, isn’t that his project, isn’t that what I wanted? He painted the essence, not necessarily what was really there.

“Merci, monsieur,” I said, and I slipped him €50 instead of forty, because why not, I liked it, I’m an artist, it’s my precious gem. If he saw it, he didn’t say a thing, but I imagine he did.

An Asian lady hopped into the chair to be painted after me, she interrupted him while he was working on my portrait to ask if she could be next. “En fait, je suis artiste aussi, parfois je dessine des portraits,” I said, holding my fingers in the places of my sketches in my notebook. “Est-ce que je peux vous montrer?" ("In fact, I'm an artist too, sometimes I draw portraits. Can I show them to you?")

“J’ai du travail,” he said, gesturing at the Asian lady, but if I could just show him real quick... ("I've got work.")

“Ça sera vite,” I said, and I flipped through and showed him, he nodded, he said affirming things. ("I'll be quick.")

“Merci, monsieur,” I said again, and I sat at the curb and stared at my portrait for a while. My lips don’t curve like that, the head is too long for the width, but what does it matter? I liked it more and more the closer I got, the blue in my eyes, the purple above my eyelid. When he looks at these people, what does he see?

Paris is made of colors for me, Paris has always been made of colors.

Didn’t I smell the pink in the air on the first day? The pale stone of the Haussmanization, the Seine is a deep green grayish blue, it looks like all those photos that are so 2015. The light was so pale in the Pantheon, on my first night the sky was orange, and every night ever since.

Today I went to the gardens of Versailles and saw for the tenth or fifteenth time the translation of the clouds and the trees into those flat and delicate forms painted by Watteau and the landscape artists, could see where they found those types of trees that never felt real to me. I would paint them as larger swatches of color, personally, but I’ve also lived to see Cezanne and impressionism.

My clothes have repeatedly matched the museum walls, everything seems to be the dark earthy tone of the Pantone 2015 Color of the Year, I can’t stop buying creamy light cotton shirts.

Paris is made of color because everything is made of color. Annie Dillard talked about the cataract patients who could see for the first time in their lives, how everything was made up of colors and patches of light and shadow, when I took of my glasses in the Promenade Plantée to read Baudelaire, I looked up at the swatches of dark and light that made up the trees and asked myself if this was what Monet could see. 

Paris is made of colors because everything is made of colors. Remind me to tell you about the colors on the salt flats some time.


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