Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, Letter 1 and an Upcoming Exhibit at Smith and Vallee Gallery

I received a lovely invitation to exhibit some of my atmospheric landscape paintings for a March group exhibit.  The invitation came in January–which leaves me about 6 weeks to put together a group of new works.  This is a tight deadline for my process of layering paint.  Each painting is typically a 4 week endeavor–from conception to final and then there’s varnishing and framing… I was in a bit of a pickle on how to approach this and not get panicked.

I’d been reexamining Rilke’s first letter in his Letters to a Young Poet because I’d become increasingly irritated by studio interruptions and the voices of people who shouldn’t be commenting on my work.  Rilke’s letter talks about the importance of solitude, of shutting out the critics and of not having to offer a damn explanation to anyone about your art.  Since the words were so important and relevant, I determined a shutting in–locking my studio door–and immersion into these words and my practice might be a wonderful way of looking inward and being quiet and producing some new works.  So, that’s what I’ve been up to.

I started with a few words to direct the sensibilities of these paintings.  Luminous.  Minimalist.  Elegant.  Richness of color.  Contemplative. Depth.  A glimpse of something.  A suggestion of something.

I’m using what my every day gives to me in regard to imagery and taking it from there.

I’ve locked my studio door.  No one is admitted.

I’m refraining from talking too much about the individual paintings on social media.  And will begin to publish finished works closer to the exhibit.  I do have one sample here of a work completed in the past three weeks.

And, I’m continuing to ponder the words below.

The exhibit with Tyree Callahan, Todd Horton and others opens at Smith | Vallee Gallery in Edison WA on March 1st.  I’m excited to share my paintings in this space.


Paris February 17, 1903 Dear Sir,      Your letter arrived just a few days ago. I want to thank you for the great confidence you have placed in me. That is all I can do. I cannot discuss your verses; for any attempt at criticism would be foreign to me. Nothing touches a work of art so little as words of criticism: they always result in more or less fortunate misunderstandings. Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsay able than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.      With this note as a preface, may I just tell you that your verses have no style of their own, although they do have silent and hidden beginnings of something personal. I feel this most clearly in the last poem, “My Soul.” There, some thing of your own is trying to become word and melody. And in the lovely poem “To Leopardi” a kind of kinship with that great, solitary figure does perhaps appear. Nevertheless, the poems are not yet anything in themselves, not yet any thing independent, even the last one and the one to Leopardi. Your kind letter, which accompanied them managed to make clear to me various faults that I felt in reading your verses, though I am not able to name them specifically.      You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: they are the hardest to work with, and it takes a great, fully ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty Desc