I turned 60 last month and posted ’60 at 60′, a sort of list of things I want to do this year. One on the list was ‘visit 6 new places’ and I am at #1 on that list this week.
I am in Punta Mita, Mexico. It’s north of Puerto Vallarta by about 45 minutes. I was raised in San Diego, California as a young boy but surprisingly never went farther into Mexico than Tijuana. So this is my first time beyond the border.
I am here with my wife, her brother and sister, and their spouses. The 6 of us have wanted to do something like this for a while and two of us turning 60 was enough of an excuse to make it happen.
It’s an all-inclusive resort, Iberostar. I was a bit worried about that since my preference would be to experience Mexico more directly than through this filter. But it’s turned out to be better than expected and very easy, something a few our party really wanted.
The key for me so far has been to choose as authentic a direction among my choices as I can. This means that while the restaurants and buffets do have ‘American’ food they also have pretty amazing Mexican food choices as well. I continue to choose those.
We’ve been on one excursion so far, to Islas Mariettas, two islands off the coast of Punta Mita. One has a hidden beach you have to swim through a cave to get to. It really isn’t hidden, a lot of tourists go to it, but that’s ok, it was a cool experience and not that crowded in the morning.
So, Here’s an example of ‘authentic’. When we got off the boat I had to go to the bathroom and didn’t want to wait until after the bouncy drive back to the hotel. The little spot filled with fisherman and others, music, smells, carts, dogs, fishing nets and beer bottles. The bathroom was not going to be the sterilized American style, I knew that much. But it was the best smelling urinal I had been in in a long time due to their life hack of throwing their used limes into it to compensate for the smell. It’s been my favorite part of the trip so far.
This quote brings to mind one of my favorite lines in a song lyric: “Sometimes you are blinded by the very thing you need to see.” It’s from a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter, one of my favorite singer songwriters ever. What I like about it is how it continually teaches me to see things as clearly as possible, even those things so bright and shiny, so ‘perfect’ that they blind me. They might be the very thing I need to see.
And this quote is about the same thing. Am I aware of my blind spots in life? My attitudes, that are so ingrained as to be unseen? My behaviors that I have rationalized for so long that they are now completely legitimatized and seldom questioned?
In a car, the blind spots are those areas that are blocked by the car itself. The frame of the car holding up the roof, the hood bulging out in front, covering the engine. Visors, mirrors, seats, decals, and more also add to the visibility problem.
And how are we trained to compensate for those things? We are taught to be slow and deliberate, to be methodical. We are told to move our head and body to see around the obstructions.
This can be applied to our attitudes and behaviors as well. Stop and think. In my words am I perpetuating something I have not evaluated and considered in a long time?
The other way we do this is by seeing only the surface of something. We deem something as being without value in its current state and so we overlook it. How we see the elderly is a perfect example of that.
I remember way back when I lived in San Jose, California. The pastor of our church had been fired and we had an interim pastor. He was very old, retired as a full time pastor and now just filling in as an interim when needed. On one occasion he complimented me on my suit, which included a short waisted Eisenhower style jacket. He pointed it out and said he thought I looked sharp. After that I started to look at him more closely. He wore well tailored and stylish clothes that were appropriate for his age and position. He dressed better than 90% of the men in the congregation, that was for sure. That led me to imagine him as a younger man. I saw him romancing his wife on the dance floor, looking sharp in a military uniform, and any number of other activities he might have done back in the day, all done with panache and style and a twinkle in his eye, which he still had.
We became ‘shake hands at the steps’ friends, talking about the sermon, complimenting hats, jackets, vestments, etc. He turned out to be one cool dude.
What are you missing in your blind spots?
Drawing and commentary by Marty Coleman
Quote by George Herbert, 1593-1633, English poet
This and many other of the napkins are for sale. Please inquire at email@example.com to find out more.
Inspired by a true event.
Heather played her horn for 3 hours, the entire length of the gallery opening. Her legs were cold the entire time.
When she got home and undressed she realized she had forgotten to put on her pants that morning. Heather was relieved because she had been worried she might be getting bad circulation issues in her legs like her father had.
Drawing and story by Marty Coleman
When I graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1978 I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Within 3 months of my arrival the Mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone, and City Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated by former Supervisor Dan White.
Three years later a bust honoring Mayor Moscone, created by the artist I am highlighting today, was unveiled. Here it is.
The artist is Robert Arneson. Take a close look at the detail picture. Can you see the ‘Twinkie’ and the ‘bang, bang, bang, bang,; on the pedestal? Those referred directly to the assassination, along with the imprint of a gun on the backside. As a result, the bust was rejected by the City Council and not put in City Hall as expected. The other result was Robert Arneson and his art became known throughout California and the nation.
I was at the start of graduate school at San Jose State University and learning about the fantastic artists that practiced in Northern California. There are already two of them in this series, Wayne Thiebaud and Richard Diebenkorn. And another was Robert Arneson.
Robert Arneson, 1930 – 1992
Arneson was a co-founder of the california ‘Funk Art’ movement of the 60s and 70s. He was not a painter but a sculptor using ceramics combined with non-traditional objects. He was breaking the mold of what ceramics should be by moving away from functionality and creating political, social, artistic and personal statements driven by his personality, aesthetics and beliefs.
I thought about not putting a photograph of him in the article because, well, here… take a look at who his subject matter most often is.
‘Pic’, 1980, Lithograph. Photo courtesy of Rob Corder
‘Brick Bang, 1976
‘Head Lamp’, bronze with wood and bulb, 1992
Humor as Social Commentary
Obviously you can see he is very funny and works that humor into his art. But it’s more than just silly humor. It’s using humor as satire, and farce to make a statement about the social and moral issues of his time. He is in that long tradition in art that reaches all the way back to Honore Daumier in France, through to William Hogarth in Britain and on to Thomas Nast in America to name a few. Satirical art that pushed the powers that be by lampooning them has continued into the present day of course, with it’s most tragic manifestation being in the murders of the staff of Charlie Hebdo by Islamic terrorists in France in January, 2015.
It takes courage to make fun of people for a reason, and Arneson didn’t shy away from it. But, as with the great satirical artists before him, he often wasn’t pointing so much at a particular person as he was using that person as an example of a larger corruption, a more widespread idiocy in society or morals.
Colonel Hyena, ceramic on metal base, 1985
Nuclear Warhead, 1984
‘Primary Discharge’, 1990, earthenware and glaze
Upending the Classical
He also liked upending the aesthetics of the classical. To do this he literally just did it. He took something classical, a column. And upended it by adding a head on top, on bottom, falling off, etc. Of course the head in all these cases was his own.
Pedestals, 1992, Bronze, UC San Francisco
Big Laughs, Ceramic
Temple of Fatal Laffs – detail
Towards the end of his life Arneson started doing a series that seemed more melancholy and universal, the ‘egg head’ series. They are more of a meditation on life and death than anything else, and it makes sense that they would be as Arneson was by this time diagnosed with cancer and was struggling with these monumental issues.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil (Egghead series), 1989, UC Davis
As with any prolific artist there are a lot more pieces you won’t ever see than that you will see. Here are some others I thought worthy of your attention.
Wolf Head (Jackson Pollack), 1989, Bronze and Redwood
Sinking Brick, 1966, terracotta
Brick Bang, 1976
Golden Rod, 1969, Luster Glazed Ceramic
Benicia Bench, 1991, Bronze
Courage of the Artist
What I appreciated about Arneson more than anything else was his determination from early on to be truly himself. What I mean is he withstood pressure to be a classic ceramic artist, to be serious, to be socially active the way others had been before him. But those things weren’t him and he knew it. He stated in his life and in his work, ‘This is who I am and what I do. These are my creations done as I see fit.’ Which is, after all, the essential job description of an artist.
To learn more about Arneson and his art world, you can use these resources:
San Francisco Chronicle – Obituary
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – Interview and interactive show
UC Davis – ‘Serious Idea Behind That Humor‘
You can read about the other artists by clicking on my ‘Artists I Love‘ series at the top of the page.
Writing by Marty Coleman
Artwork by Robert Arneson
Some artwork photographed by Rob Corder. You can see a much larger collection of Arneson’s work at Corder’s flickr page as well as extensive photographs from many art museums.
A few years back I happened upon a post on Facebook. It had a request to help out a young woman in Africa named Mandy Stein. She was working at an orphanage and was hoping for some donations to help the kids get a new orphanage building.
Mandy in the middle of the construction
I followed Mandy on FB and paid attention to her. She was from Texas, was about the same age as my daughter Caitlin, and had gone to Tanzania on a volunteer program a few years before. She decided that instead of doing the tourist activities the volunteers were free to do in the afternoons she would continue to find ways to serve. One of the people suggested she spend the afternoon helping at the Tuleeni Orphanage.
It was her 20th birthday. It became the day that changed her life. You can read the full story here.
While she was in Tanzania a young boy gave her the Swahili name Neema (like Emma but with an N). It became her name and it became the name of the non-profit she set up to facilitate her efforts in helping the Tuleeni Orphanage and surrounding town.
She graduated from University of Texas and moved to Tanzania, where she is still. She lives and works full time at the Orphanage, helping the children in their schooling, leading efforts to build a community center and home, and teaching in a local school.
She is an incredible woman, profoundly dedicated to these children in every way you can imagine.
But all that is not what impresses me most about her. What impresses me most? Her happiness. She does all of this with an incredible joy, a joy that really does overflow through pictures, writing and video from over 10,000 miles away. I can only imagine how infectious and beautiful it is in person. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t have down times, I mean come on, she left everything she ever knew in her whole life and moved to Africa, of course she has times she misses things and people and can feel sad. It’s not about if she ever feels that. It’s about her being happy in spite of those things.
Mandy and Mama Faraji, founder of Tuleeni Orphanage
And why is she so happy? I have a funny feeling she probably has always been a happy person, but maybe not, I don’t know. But I do know that her happiness (as I have seen it) stems from a deep and abiding love for her new world. For the kids, the workers, the town, the country. She loves doing what she does. She loves helping. She is happy doing these things. And as a result? She does them VERY WELL. No reluctance, no hesitation, no second guessing. She is an ‘All-In’ spirit that infuses everything and everyone around her.
The Power of Happiness
When she was a young child, only 5 years old, Mandy determined she would change the world. And she is. But what she didn’t know then, but does probably know now, is that it was going to be by following her love, joy and happiness that she would do it.
What I always try to remember, and what Mandy shows me in action, is that the pursuit and fulfillment of happiness isn’t a bad thing, it can actually be the best thing, for yourself and for others.
“My Life is Pretty Great” – Mandy
If you would like to help Mandy, I encourage you to donate and follow Neema International. Pay attention to their work and continue to offer support and encouragement as often as you can. Here are the links where you can make it happen.
A View From Above
Drawing and commentary by Marty Coleman
Quote by Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1821-1881, Russian Novelist