One time in class he told us something that scared the shit out of me
yet felt familiar - " Everything is made of wavelengths, different
combinations, different speeds - There is nothing there - no color no
form when we aren't looking at it." -Sam Gray
He always knew when I was lying in my art, when it wasnt totally honest. He knew when it was bullshit even before i did. Looking into my eyes he said, "Work from here." He touched my stomach. "Paint from here and it will always be honest."
Oil Paintings and drawings by Robert Brawley
1. "Portal: Threshold to Within and Without"
2. "Two States of Being" (graphite on paper)
3. "Sacred Geometry: Merkaba"
4. "Realm of Iron"
5. "Murmurs of Deep Time"
6. "Discreet Serenity of the Ordinary"
7. "Mineral Kingdom"
8. "Mezza Notte" (graphite on paper)
9. "The Visitor"
This morning I woke up and finished a drawing I made for a cancer research charity auction I have to mail out on monday. I could hear my old Professor Robert Brawley’s voice telling me to not half-ass technical drawings. "One thing that you are going to be working with is learning to slow the fuck down. Slow down and have the patience to get it right." But even when he reminded me that drawing is not suppost to just be pleasuable but was often hard work, boring, and tedius, he also reminded me that art was first and foremost an exploration of your own limits and stubbornness to let go. “It's actually a spiritual path.” He’d say, “If you have the guts to take it all the way.”
I sprayed the finished drawing with fixative, put on my suit, opened my umbrella and walked to the “life-long learning center” by city hall where I was scheduled to give a speech about my thoughts to a dozen old Japanese ladies. I had a translator. My speech was about my favorite Japanese saying “Junintoiro.” Ten people, ten colors. The entire speech is available upon request.
The ladies, who could all speak English very well, then took me out to lunch and we talked about some of the issues I brought up in my speech; the power of art to transform the states of our minds, similarities between buddhism and catholicism, the importance of forgiveness, and more.
Later in the day, I got home, changed, finished ‘Speaker for the dead” the sequel to ender’s game, which was one of the best books I have ever read in my life, and heard the doorbell ring. It was a deliveryman with a heavy box. My postcards arrived! I had been looking forward to the day my art show announcements would finaly come. The first person I think to send one to is my painting professor, Robert Brawly. I can't wait till he sees my new work.
I check my email. First letter is from an art school friend, “Sad News” in the topic box. I immediately know what it is. I open the mail anyway, slouch over my computer, and cry harder than I ever have. My beloved professor died early Friday from cancer.
Professor Brawley was the only teacher to openly tell me he was going to help destroy my ego. “You need that more than postmodernism.” He singled me out in his Postmodernism class once; told the whole class that "because David here is a meditator and he is probobly the only student that can fully understand this deconstruction stuff, his ego has swelled well over a healthy size and one purpose of this semester is to help him deflate it.” He laughed so hard I thought he was going to cry. I felt humiliated and loved.
He was the only professor I’ve known who had not only practiced Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, TM, Yoga, as well as every other spiritual discipline you can imagine, but whose hobby was reading about modern science, the Holographic theory, Jungian psychology, quantum physics, comparative religions, mystical experiences, postmodernism, and books by Ken Wilber. He read about everyting it seemed. And he always pulled it into his lectures about art. He was my independent studies teacher and talked to me about anything I wanted to talk about, always blowing my mind with his intellegence, humor, honesty, and ability to illuminate. We even talked about integral practice, spiral dynamics, sex, God, UFO’s, psychedelics, pride, death. During a life drawing class once he had the entire class practice “bare seeing” which were moments that lasted only a few seconds where we softened our gaze, focused on the entire room as one whole object, which made everything go a little fuzzy, resulting in a fleeting experince of naked perception, free from any thought. We did this so we could see how our minds, before labeling or defining objects in the room, just take in the bare visual information as a reflection of our conciousness. "Being totally in the now," he called it, used as a way to dissolve the boundary between subject and object. "You must become the image that you draw. Know it subjectively so that you can draw it accurately; by feeling it, not just by seeing it." Then he'd casually add, "you see, in reality you are the image seeing itself through human eyes."
Sometimes he would have us actually touch a human skeleton he brought in, feel the inside of the ribs, run our fingers over the pelvis bone, the hips, and then he'd tell us to feel our own pelvis, ribs, knee caps and elbows and leg muscles, and THEN look at the model. Sometimes we spent hours just scribbling on large sheets of paper, trying not to make a pattern, in order to "build new neuropathways between the two hemispheres in the brain." He told me once that the artist is like a shaman, who must go into places within the human psyche normal people dont want to go, and then come back, become an outcast forced to live outside the society that now fears him, but the society that, nevertheless, visits him whenver they need his honesty, his insights, and his magic.
And his laugh always reminded me a baby being tickled, or like Bert from Sesami Street.
I have a thousand stories to tell about him. I took extensive notes every time he spoke; he was the most fascinating person to listen to. I guess I knew I would write a book one day, and have him be one of the main characters.
but in the mean time, I cried. The world, my world, lost one of its most beloved teachers. I put on the album he gave me, “Healing Music of Zimbabwe," the music he liked to listen to while he worked, and cried some more. I have never felt sorrow like this in my whole life. Brawley often told us that we had to become as fully human as we can, feel life! shy away from nothing, in order to really understand what was going on here and be able to express our experinces with total honesty. "Why the hell would anyone want to hear what you have to say if you have never actually experinced anything?"
I guess this is another lesson, then, this powerful, consuming sadness. He is still teaching me. he is still here, that old pirate. i can still hear him laugh like a baby being tickled. I put on my coat, grab my umbrella, and leave to take a walk in the rain. The whole sky can cry with me this time.
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