Saturday, March 9, 2019

A Writer's Artistic Explosion

Painting No. 55 by Michael Hooper, titled, Joe Mettenbrink Artist Poet Musician, Oil on canvas 11 by 14 in. 

By Michael Hooper

Creativity is the highest form of living. To be engaged in a creative work of art is to use multiple levels of imagination, skill, knowledge, technique and dexterity. Such creativity can be explosive in color, form and beauty. Fall in love with creativity and you will be its keeper, with a desire to create bigger and better and greater works of art.

On December 25th, 2018, I painted my first oil painting. I like the feel of oil paint going on canvas. Since that day, I have painted about 60 paintings, most of them are oil on canvas. About 15 are worthy of keeping, the rest were good practice, a way to learn from my mistakes. I committed myself to painting a painting every day just like Vincent van Gogh did. I also have watched about 100 hours of art shows, most of them instructional videos on YouTube. I  also take instruction from Rosemary Menninger, an accomplished painter and longtime art teacher in Topeka.

I paint like I write, fast and furious. I learned that most of the work goes into the drawing. Whatever the subject, it likely needs a great drawing before it can be painted.

I started painting because I could not find the art that I wanted to see. I had even asked artists to paint me portraits of people but they never did. So I began my study of portrait painting, which is a very difficult subject with many tiny details in the eyes, nose and mouth. A false line will damage or destroy a painting. The wrong line and the subject becomes somebody else.

Over the years I observed three types of painters, accident art or intentional art or a combination of accident and intentional. The accident artist lets the work speak to him and guide him where to go with the painting. I am not that kind of artist. I go with 100% intention. I draw out exactly what I want to see on the canvas. Then I begin to apply paint. Drawing is painting. And painting is drawing. I use tiny brushes to draw lines and impressions. I'm not waiting for the beautiful accident although sometimes it happens. I'm inclined to think such beautiful accidents will happen while working furiously.

It takes courage to be an artist because the risk of failure is so high. I can see why some people stare at a blank canvas and can't get anywhere, afraid the first line will be a mistake. Draw it anyway. I could not learn without doing, and most of my works are mistakes and learning lessons. Ansel Adams took thousands of photos per year with the hope that he would get at least 10 good pictures.

Color fields are nice but mostly color puffed up. I need a human form in my art, I need a body, I need some connection to humanity. I want art to be full of life, with an epic story behind the look on my subject's face. The best works of art by the Masters have a soul looking back at you.

Woman Of Many Colors, Oil on canvas, 11 by 14 in. By Michael Hooper

For years I worked as a journalist documenting people's lives. I always looked for the people impacted by a story. There is no history, only biography, Emerson said. Perhaps that is why I'm so interested in portrait painting.

Hermann Hesse, the great German author, took up painting at age 40. Initially it was a therapeutic pastime, but art helped him to see better.

I worked seven years in restaurants, 20 years in newspapers as a reporter and editor, four years in banking and Investments and five years as a freelance writer and self-employed businessman. I have kept a diary for 35 years. Now I am 100% devoted to becoming a painter. 

Inspiration comes from three  sources: my daughter Hannah Hooper, an artist using pour techniques to create works of art. Another source of inspiration was an art salon with several artists, poets, friends, who shared their works of art. One of the participants, Carrie Riordan, talked about a piece of art that meant so much to her. It was a landscape with a river. She said the piece reminded her of the drives with her husband through the country, seeing the big sky, the open spaces and quiet country roads.

For me her connection to the painting, the evocative story behind it, was just as powerful as the painting itself.

The third source of inspiration was my lifelong fascination and examination of art locally, nationally and internationally, including the NOTO Arts District in Topeka, the Cider Gallery in Lawrence, the Vincent van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. I'm in awe of Pablo Picasso's 50,000 works of art left behind, his ability to draw with a paintbrush and create a work of art in minutes. He did 800 sketches and studies for his famous work of art of prostitutes in the brothel, Les Demoiselles d'avignon, in 1907.

When preparation and hard work come together sometimes you have genius.

There is a 24-hour cycle to my painting process. I spend several hours looking for the next image to create. I do some sketches. I meditate on the idea before I go to bed with the hope that I will dream about the idea in my sleep. Sometimes I wake up and know immediately what to do. I draw the subject very carefully and won't begin painting until the drawing looks like my subject. Usually the painting process goes fast except for the tiny details around the eyes, nose and mouth.  

Knowing the end in my physical life is eminent, I asked myself, what is meaningful to me? The answer is what I love. With art I want to celebrate what I hold dear and admire, my children, my wife, my dog, myself in the Walt Whitman way, the Song of Myself. I want to see art of my artist friends whom I dearly love. I wish to have a hundred portraits of the beautiful people I know. Now the ideas are pouring out 10 times faster than I can produce. I like the idea of combining figurative art with expressionism and abstraction. A sweeping line of colors may illustrate the complexities inside the mind of the subject. The right combination of form, color and texture will produce lifelike energy.

The study of art is an endless journey of exhilaration, illumination and joy.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Beautiful Nothingness

Beautiful Nothingness
At the end of the dock
With the breeze on my face
I hear water lap on the rocks
The South Bay mirrors pinks and blues.
Ponto Lake is far from
the world’s workplace
It evokes desires of having water,
Clear and cool,
On my skin. Tenderly
Floating and diving,
I’m suspended
in beautiful nothingness
children laugh, explore
and discover colored rocks
hidden in the sandy shore
They jump, splash and crash
In the water, pulling me under
Into beautiful nothingness

Dripping wet, I lay in the Sun
Heated and toasted
dried and baked
I close my eyes

My ego has disappeared
I'm suspended in animated waves
Every desire has left me
Nirvana is in my soul

Friends at the table give
Thanks and share
Phil’s spicy hamburgers
Lettuce, tomatoes and oranges
And watermelons
Fish and sweet corn
Talk of distant loved ones
Brings us closer together
Ending in contented silence
Tired bodies rest in hallowed peace
Broken only by
crying loons under stars
Calling me to go to sleep,
In this holy and treasured place:
where Nirvana and Beauty Merge
into Beautiful Nothingness. 

--Michael Hooper, July 2002

This poem is dedicated to Phil Anderson who, on vacation, said, “I’m going to do as much of nothing as I possibly can. How do you quantify nothing? Just you watch.”

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

How To Live A Serendipitous Life

Paul Porter and Michael Hooper meet at Gage Park to examine tree loss.

By Michael Hooper

It is possible to live a life filled with charming encounters that come together like magic. 

The seekers of serendipity may experience a new insight, a new way of thinking, or develop an entirely new direction in life.

Serendipity is defined as the occurrence and development of events that are happy or beneficial. I believe serendipity happens more often to certain kinds of people who have an awareness and willingness to experience something new. People stuck in a rut are out of luck.

The serendipitous lifestyle is achievable if a person sets a goal upon meeting likes of a similar kind.

Two exploratory minds may expand their universe as they generate larger, more complex, detailed and even mystic dimensions of thought. This occurs more profoundly as the conversationalists enter deeper levels of understanding and trust. They carry conversations to new places and sometimes have a bender in their brain as a never-before-thought-of concept becomes clear. This mind-bender is actually kind of a scary place to go but has rewards.

Probably my most profound serendipity was a night when I was lost in Barcelona. I was looking for a Gaudi-designed park. I was wandering on a darkened hillside. A lady came up to me, she suddenly appeared. I looked to my right at her. Her head was covered. She asked me if I was lost. Yes I said. She said Gaudi Park is closed but there's a small park up there. She showed me the way and disappeared. 

I went to the park and met some young men from the Czech Republic, they were art students who had just spent their days in museums like The Prado. We shared our images and postcards of all these famous works of art on whiteboard held up in the night sky.

We drew pictures in each other's Diaries. I still have a picture by Pavel Noga. There are cats roaming around and people eating pizza, in this little plaza, where we seem to enjoy the ambiance of art and the night together in Barcelona. Our conversations were so intense. We seemed to float into the Stars, excited by the expanding possibilities of art in our lives, as if contemplating Goya and Picasso and Rubens were going to change the way we think.

We found an abandoned mattress in the trash. Pavel  and  I slept on it with our sleeping bags and woke up in the morning and ate breakfast together and shared hot tea. The moment was so magical we knew we would cherish it forever. We bid each other farewell. 

Serendipity is being open to the idea of connecting with other people. These people could be family, friends, strangers, even people who may appear as angels like the woman who guided me in the dark of the night through Barcelona. 

Serendipity is when you are thinking of someone and they are also thinking of you at the same time. You might actually contact each other at exactly the same time, either by phone or text or something. And you may suggest doing something together that you both were thinking about doing. Let's go out for coffee. Or let's climb Electric Peak at Yellowstone National Park. Or let's look at the trees that were cut down at Gage Park as Paul Porter and I spontaneously agreed to do recently.

Serendipity is when your soul connects with another soul. 

A soulful connection takes vulnerability, trust and generosity.

Trust is hard to come by in a world of violence and abuse. Trust until given a reason not to. Pay attention to red flags. Maybe hitchhiking is not a good idea at this time. Better call an Uber.

Serendipity is the opportunity to learn something new, with someone you admire. To do something unique, inspiring and meaningful.

Serendipity is an inner phenomena that works in the mind and soul of humankind. Out of this, we may see huge numbers of paintings, books, the start-up of businesses, the investment in real estate, art studios, music, enterprise. When two like-minded souls get together they can do phenomenal things, and alter the direction of their lives.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Attributes of a Hyper-Conscious Mind & Enlightened Soul

By Michael Hooper

I have been striving for hyper-consciousness for years. I was most awakened by reading “The Philosopher’s Stone” by Colin Wilson when I was 18 years old. I was in awe of the breadth of knowledge known by the author and the great philosophers in history.

My personal quest in achieving hyper-consciousness has involved participation in multiple religions and philosophies, solitude, reading, travel, careers, marriage and raising children. This article discusses my spiritual awakening and evolution. I list 20 attributes of the hyper-conscious mind and enlightened soul.
To read more, click here

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Flight To The Stars

A friend of mine is calling
Sometimes he is haunted
by toxic fears and sorrows

He visits the graveyard of regret
I should have done this
I should have done that

He digs up bones 
and old photographs
the fragments of a lost life
He finds no peace

I say don't go there
I'm all about creating for today
Not the graveyard of regret 
Let the dead bury the dead

The anxiety of
paralyzes you 
And decimates your will

If you want freedom,
Free your mind
focus on the living
the hyper truth 
the magnificence of this moment

Tired and in pain
the hiker still climbs higher
To achieve a greater view
Top of the mountain
The valley below

I would rather be
Hunting and gathering
For music that moves me
Poetry that lifts me
Art that inspires me

I'm about the Awakening
the rapture, 
the ecstasy 
the flight to the Stars

There is no limit
to our height
and depth
because I know we are
part of infinity

I am the transcendentalist
the idealist, the mystic
manner of delight

My spaceship is gathering speed
I'm going to a planet 11 million
light years away. 
In my mind,
the travel is but an instant

Transportation is transcendence
I'm the transcendentalist
My flight is to the stars.
Won't you come with me dear friend

There is no one living in the 
graveyard of regret.

-Michael Hooper
Dec. 8, 2018

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Loss of Trees Reduces Shade at Gage Park

By Michael Hooper

Perhaps the saddest fact that I heard yesterday at a public meeting was Gage Park recently lost 30 trees in the widening of 6th Street and 10th Street.

Now the Topeka Zoo is planning to cut another 30 trees as part of a stormwater drainage system through Gage Park and the Topeka Zoo. The loss of a total of 60 trees will remove 50 acres of cooling shade from the park. The reduction in shade will make the park hotter, especially in the summer months, resulting in our own microcosm of global warming.

I know new trees have been planted and I'm grateful to see those planted. But old growth trees are precious. They have a "cooling effect" to the park, offering zones where there is plenty of shade, making it sometimes 5 to 10 degrees cooler.

The zoo director says this is a water quality issue to have storm water drain through bio-filters and a retention pond, but there's no test of existing stormwater whether it's polluted before going into the Kansas River.

The City of Lawrence has complained loudly about Topeka sewage being dumped in the Kansas River over the years. But I've never heard any complaints about pollution coming from Gage Park. And the park has been around since 1899. Wiley said the park has never had a storm drainage plan. Why is one needed now?

Yesterday at the public meeting at the zoo I appreciated hearing from the people involved in the project. I'm grateful to zoo director Brendan Wiley for holding the project meeting in the public space. 

A proposed retention cell is going to replace a grouping of old growth trees, where visitors like to park their cars during hot days. That location is directly west and south of Helen Hocker Theatre. The contractors for the project recently marked the entire location for the retention pond. The trees near the proposed pond are marked for death.

Wiley told me last week that the natural location for a retention cell is where the Helen Hocker Theatre is located. On Monday, Wiley said moving the Helen Hocker Theatre was not really an option they want to consider. Walking around the theatre, I can tell it is the low point of the area, and can understand why it floods during a rainstorm. The natural hydrology of the park suggests that the location for the pond should be where the theater is located or where the zoo's parking lot is located. So in essence, the zoo is putting a retention pond where it doesn't belong. This makes me think the entire project is flawed. I think a better location for a retention pond is the zoo parking lot. The zoo parking lot used to be the location of the swimming pool, so it's a natural place for a retention pond. Then they wouldn't have to cut down so many trees.

I don't want to see any change to the Helen Hocker Theatre or the trees. Build your Kay's Garden but don't take away our trees for an unnecessary trench and retention pond that will generate mosquitoes and reduce shade in the park.

I favor a public review of all of the options before any tree is cut down. I would like to see this go through the city council.

I think the stormwater drainage system is a waste of $1.5 million taxpayer dollars. When I look at the pros and cons of this, I just don't see that a dugout trench is going to be more valuable than 30 trees. Many of these trees have 20, 30, 40 years left in them, some of them are at the end of their life cycle and I understand that, but I still believe all these trees have provided so much life every single day of their lives. They're making a contribution to our world every day. The trees are striving to live. They have a survival instinct just like we do.

A couple of the marked trees have suffered from lightning strikes, where bark has been burned through the tree but somehow these trees are still alive. Among the trees scheduled to die is an evergreen tree of sorts that has taken many hits over the years but still somehow survives. This tree is a metaphor for the human body and life in general. We each have taken hits but somehow we continue to press on.

If it is true we lost already 30 trees to roadways and we are going to lose another 30 trees, that is 60 trees gone. The environmental impact of this is an increase in global warming right here, locally. I predict that the park will be hotter. When you remove 60 trees, the temperature goes up on hot days, you remove the cooling effect of the trees' shade. Literally 20 or 30 acres of land is now un-shaded.

When you go through the park on a hot summer day you want to park by a tree. The shade provides a cooling effect for your car.  This helps you tolerate the heat. A vital tree-lined parking area near an old red oak is being removed by this project.

There will be less habitat for birds, squirrels and bats and owls and Sparrow Hawks. I know there will be new tree plantings, but I think we should preserve what we have. Trees that are 80 years old are rare. I can hear the owls at night. As I live near Gage Park I can hear the Lion's roar from the zoo. The owls are the guardian of the night and the hawk is the guardian of the day. And they live in the trees at Gage Park.

A sparrow hawk that lives in the park visits my yard and eats the rabbits and mice. All of these animals and trees are very much a part of the ecosystem around here.

I see the old red oak scheduled for cutting. I've walked by this tree a hundred times at least. She is lovely in the fall with her red splendor. I once met a man from California sitting under this tree. He told me about a journey riding his bicycle up and down Highway 1 and how hilly it was. We rode for a while and shared a good time. The shade under the tree made it a spectacularly special and intimate setting for this encounter.

There are people who want this stormwater project and most of them work for the zoo and engineering firms and contractors who are getting paid to do this. Your blood is on this. You and the City -- and this includes the city council -- are responsible for the deaths of these trees. Don't blame anybody but yourselves for the demise of these trees. You can't blame the EPA.

Today Paul Porter and I walked and talked among the trees. I hugged the old red oak and we said prayers for the trees.

Save the trees, save the trees, save the trees.

If we can't save our trees and our wildlife what are we?

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Mystic Realities, Achievable Dreams

By Michael Hooper

Mystics and scientists wrestle with life in different ways.

The scientist relies on evidence to support a theory or hypothesis.

A mystic is a person who is devoted to connecting with a deity. A self surrender of ego, an acknowledgement of a higher power, and a willingness to be loved by that higher power all play into the mystic's connection with God.

Scientists have discovered laws of the universe, from the structure of an atom, to the elements of things, to the complexity of chromosomes, genes, and human life.

A Chinese scientist recently said he edited the genes of twins. The scientist said he did the manipulation of the genes in order to prevent the children from getting the AIDS virus.

That is a laudable goal, to save a child from AIDS, but how far do we let gene editing dictate outcomes at birth?

Manipulation of the human body from conception forward is going on at all times, depending on how the mother is living and a host of environmental and nutritional and lifestyle factors. So then the question is if you could prevent a disease from happening would you do it? I probably would. We use vaccines all the time to stop the spread of disease.

The question is how valuable is human life and what can we do to improve it. I would say cut down on spending on weapons of mass destruction and spend more money on health care, let's find a way to beat the opioid crisis, our obesity epidemic, and gun violence. A leading cause of bankruptcy in America is medical debt. It seems to me we have the science and the technology and the know-how to beat these problems, but can we do it?

Collectively the human network can move mountains, we built the infrastructure of America from New York to San Francisco over the past 400 years.

These big problems like health care and gun violence need assistance from the government in order to make change.

But as my friend Chris Wright says, "the first person that needs to change is myself." I improve myself, I improve the world. If everyone said this and believed this we would change a lot of people and we would improve a lot of the world. 

Change is hard. People with habits of corrupting nature often feel powerless over their addictions. Whatever hurts them they keep doing it even though it causes pain, pain for themselves and pain for those around them. This is when the mystic inside that person might benefit from a connection to God. The divine in you wants to connect with the divine nature of God. A higher power. By surrendering our stubbornness and acknowledging our powerlessness over our addictions, it is possible for the human spirit to transcend suffering and connect to higher levels of living, above the violence and corruption, to something pure, creative and engaging with others, for the benefit of humankind and the world.

A mystic is sober, thoughtful, and alert. I met a Buddhist monk who said he remained sober, so he would be prepared for whatever trials and tribulations come his way. By being alert and strong he was able to handle the difficulties while still pursuing his mission.

I think Americans are lazy, spoiled and undisciplined, they are loud and obnoxious and greedy. It seems somebody is always grabbing something that doesn't belong to him or her -- money, sex, drugs. It's kind of like America has all these pirates and con men who do whatever they can to grab as much as they want. Many people are consumed with jealousy and envy of those who have more. This feeds into their desire for instant satisfaction, greed and entitlement. They think they deserve to become rich for doing nothing. They play the lottery. They believe they're going to win $500 million. For $2 they play the fantasy and dream about how they're going to win the prize, and how they will spend it on their friends and family. Yippee I'm rich.

That is just a fantasy. The cruel side of this gambling addiction is the loss of money, the loss of time, the loss of opportunity. I know someone who put $100,000 into lottery tickets over a 10-year period and had nothing to show for. The odds of winning the lottery never got any better with each game. The odds were always the same: Miserable. hopeless, broke.

This is where the scientist is needed to explain the mathematics of odds. If your odds are 1 in 10 million, get out. No chance of winning. At the roulette table, a decision for either black or red is a 50% odds. Still not very good odds.

If you were to take the same money that you put into lottery tickets and gambling devices and put the money into the S&P 500 you might be amazed at how much money you would have in a few years. The return of the S&P 500 historically is 10% annual return. That means your investment doubles every 7.2 years. The Rule of 72 is 72 divided by the interest rate equals the number of years to double your money. Play games where the odds are in your favor. 

Be a bad-ass. Take charge of every second of your life, be ruthless against anyone or anything trying to stop you from achieving your goal. Laser like Focus finds Fame and Fortune.

Science may save me from my failings, sometimes there is a pill for my pain, but most of the time the only person who can save me is myself. Me. 

All it takes is one good decision. A good decision will lead to another good decision. Good begets good. Love begets love. Prosperity in health, life and love is possible. We have to be willing to accept these possibilities and embrace the behaviors that lead to fulfillment of our dreams. The mystic in us will help us get there.