January 15th, 2004
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ode to Ross Mendes…that crazy bastard

Today I spent some time looking through journals from the last few years. I found myself making little outbursts like “oh, that is good”, and “I forgot about that one.” Which is ironic because I put things in there so I can remember them. A strange collection of things. We may be able to tell many important things about someone by looking at what they collect. In perusing these more recent volumes it occured to me that the moments in which I am clinging to an outcome, the ones that I am trying to push and shape into some form do not flow nearly as well as the ones that I allow to happen. You can even see it with the drawings and collages. If I am going for something good, or something cool it just looks forced and contrived. But there are moments when I just let it happen on it’s own, and those are the most beautiful.
The above exercise was inspired by an lesson from my teacher in art school Ross Mendes. (I mention it in the book under the heading “100 uses for a pencil”) Ross loved to do anything possible to push the mind out of it’s habitual way of thinking. He lived for it. I thought he was insane.
On many days he infuriated me, by calling me by the name of a famous figurative illustrator (whose name is escaping me now). This was an insult coming from him, he felt this painter to be unthinking and void of any real meaning. My anger pushed me to experiment more. I would show him that I was able to think. Over time his ideas seeped into my psyche like an ink stain. (Ross was a big fan of ink and encouraged me to use it regularly.) By the end of my first year my need to understand everything he had taught seemed to overshadow many of my other classes. What was he trying to teach? What do I need to know to be a good artist? What do I need to say? He was careful not to give me too many answers, and left me most days with a knowing grin. I almost burst with frustration and confusion, but saved that energy for the library which he encouraged me to visit. One day he gave me a dog eared copy of “Structuralism” by John Sturrock. It was FULL of underlined sentences, diagrams, concepts sketched out on the pages by the man himself. Aha, finally some insight into the workings of his mind. This would give me the answers. But as I sat down with it over and over it looked more and more like a foreign language. I persisted.
I approached him one evening at the local pub asking if he could explain the meaning of the concepts, and how it related to painting. His head tipped back and he gave me one of his all too famous Woody Woodpecker laughs. “I cannot tell you what you want to know. You must figure it out for yourself.” I loved him but wanted to dump my beer on his head.
It is only now that I understand what Ross was trying to show me and what he gave to me. He was not saying that to be a good painter I had to be incredibly intelligent or that I was supposed to ‘say’ anthing at all. His love of learning was so infectious that it made me run to the closest bookstore as soon as class was over, sucking in as much of the world as I could. I remember being completely perplexed in class one day as he showed us a Bugs Bunny cartoon that explained basic math history and concepts in layperson’s terms. He got so excited at the part about the “golden mean” and how it was used by great architects and painters. His excitement made me want to read more. This man pulled more out of me than anyone ever had, and I loved him for it. He accessed the part of me that was infinite and childlike, that wanted to play and challenge the world. And yet he “told” me nothing. That is how it is with good teachers. They do not tell you what you want to hear, they give you the gift of yourself, the thing that is already there.
Sadly Ross died just before my book was published. I had so wanted to share it with him as a way of saying “Ross, I finally get it. The answer is me.”
In other news…
Some more Rilke, found on the March 20th, 2002 entry:
“One composes within oneself one’s true place of origin.”
The icicles here hang off buildings like giant, knife-like teeth just waiting for an unseeing victim. Some are five inches in diameter. Every time I walk by one that has fallen I look up and say, “Ha, not this time sharpie, not this time!”

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