Braver than me

first green stuff
first green through the oak leaves
After just a couple of inches of rain over two days stuff is already starting to sprout. I admire their optimism but with the Santa Anas blowing it’s hard to believe they will survive.

This time of year is normally what we call false spring (of course winter is when everything grows), we get a little rain, just enough to get the wildflowers started then not enough to wet your whistle for another six weeks and by then the grass takes over, sigh.

I just can’t share their optimism.

It’s Official NWS says “El Nino coming”

Last fall we had a huge fall of acorns. Now (end of summer another, light so far,  fall of acorns that started about 4 weeks ago (middle of summer). I called Max to gloat that this confirmed my theory about a coming El Nino event this winter. Now NWS has jumped on my bandwagon (non peer reviewed) that Quercus agrifolia predicts future weather events more than a year in the future.

here is an abstract of a paper by Steinberg, Peter D. 2002

He thinks that from the studies he’s seen that there is probably no direct correlation between future (or even past) rainfall and acorn production. I believe that if it was correlated to future El Nino or future drought there might be a connection.  And a convenient predictor 18+ months in advance of El Nino events. At least that’s what I’ve observed here over the last 3 El ninos in Topanga.

Also in a paper by W. Koenig et al;  the researchers were unable to reach a conclusion on a definitive correlation between rainfall and acorn production in subsequent years.

Of course acorn production is a more complicated mechanism than prior years precipitation and depends also on more than just future rainfall projections. It also depends on trailing indicators like insect predation, and possibly subtle temperature and humidity variations during spring pollination. Of course those variations could also be predictors of future high rainfall seasons.

Acorn crops usually fall in November, this year 2009 we are having a large fall now, Aug Sept.

Q. agrifolia crop Sept 09
Q. agrifolia crop Sept 09

But I haven’t seen at least posted on the web a link between acorn production and future El Nino events up to 18 months away.

Need to find acorn crop production chart.

I say mild El Nino 09-10

In some places the oak seedlings are so thick that it looks like six inch high ground cover. The quercus agrifolia last winter dropped a pretty big crop of acorns. Not as many as they dropped in winter 03-04 that preceded the 04-05 El Nino but still quite a lot.

oak seedlings spring-summer 09
oak seedlings spring-summer 09

Since I believe the Quercus agrifolia anticipate the climate and don’t just react to it, the indication of them setting out seedlings in advance of the El Nino shows that they (know?) anticipate a large rain event is coming. They drop a lot of acorns in a relatively dry year to get seedlings established. Over the summer those seedlings will be thinned out and by the time the rains come in the late fall those that survive will be positioned to take advantage of an abundant rain season.

Of course the oaks exist on a different time scale than humans. To them season to season is like another day to us. The last time the El Nino came it seemed like they looked out and (“said”)  “it looks like it’s going to rain tomorrow, we better get these plants started.” And they shook off a bunch of acorns to get the process going. It just so happens that that was in the winter that preceeded the El Nino.  These oaks don’t so much react as adapt to and anticipate  coming weather events. That’s why the statistics of acorn production  may look  like they don’t have any relationship to climate events. Thats because if we would look for the oaks to be a trailing indicator the statistics wouldn’t make sense.

exempt from public haunt

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
– William Shakespeare

This time of economic turbulence and cultural apathy mirrors what Shakespeare presented as a duality between the realities of urban life and the romanticized vision of the Forest of Ardenne.

In this era of cynicism, I know I risk sounding insincere when I propose that some artists must play the role of shepherd, shaman, guide. Not because I have innate intuition, or heightened knowledge of the people – but because as a practitioner, and seeker of meaningful existence – I believe it is the artist’s duty to make the “good in everything” available for those who seek it.

It would be easy to allow my art to take a dramatically cynical, political turn. Instead I risk the obscure, the detailed and slow which results in a gradual revelation requiring collectors to do the work to have their gazes answered with a rich experience – leaving them with some recognition and understanding of our place in the world.

Red Cliffs

eagle rock
eagle rock

Red Cliffs came about from noticing that landscape features: rock outcroppings, buttes, mountains and even grand trees are often named for whatever figures they evoke. In the red rock areas of the Four Corners states every landscape feature has a name: ships, cathedrals, lions, elephants, sleeping indians, maidens and takes on the status of great or minor landmark. These features are constructed, grown, evolved, eroded by a system of natural forces: entropy, water, wind, gravity and chance. these forces create the figures that people are most capaple of recognizing and most apt to name. often they take on secondary figures from other angles or lighting conditions that are rarely named. These are aften more complex and are left to the viewers imagination.

A study by Jennifer Whitson has shown that our ability [or possibly our receptivity] to see these kind of things is depndant on our feeling of being in control of our lives. “In short, people who felt that the world was beyond their control became so hungry for patterns and connections that their minds started just making them up.” That sounds like they are a little crazy and that’s partly right. From reading the article on NPR about her study it sounds more like the ability to correctly perceive these kind of features requires that they are able to surrender and be open to their ability to recognize these features. This is a practice that is as old as man: the desire to anthropomorphize our environment from cave paintings and constellations to landmarks on the terrain. Whitson contends that a short counseling session to reassure the subject of their self worth drains them of their ability or need to recognize unfamiliar figures and obscure patterns. It could be that personal feelings of control, powerfullness, a certain level of grandiosity may disconnect us from this awareness but make us able to quickly recognize the familiar. This may make us oblivious to what is really there and decouple our awareness from some of the richness of our visual experience. Surrender and humble openness to our visual environment allows us to be aware of these complex patterns and figures. Powerlessness and insecurity are just aspects of surrender that rather than allowing us to see things that aren’t there they help us aprehend what is really there.


To experience the sublime nature and the random and inexplicable density of visual experience, requires surrender, suspension of judgement, ability to gaze at the work -object- without preconceptions and without allowing our own corny ideas or ideals to be imprinted on it. Gaze without judgement, this is a meditation, an opportunity for a personal invention-safari, concrete may have been poured but not set. Still in flux you can see it but not see it -the images appear to be instinctual. Going back to Turner this is partly what one branch of painting has been about. Practiced recently by Francis, Still, Frankenthaller, Louis, Hoffman, Poons, Pollock, Steir, Altoon, and of course Chinese calligraphers, etc.

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What Does Splattobscurro look like

This is what it looks like;

splatto detail 6

Notice how there are brushed lines, like the flicked on looking red boomerang shape and the baby blue circles. Notice how they have small flecks of obscurro from color that was applied by a rapidly moving brush that was expelling color as it moved. That is a characteristic of the of classic Splattobscurro. According to Aull, “Splattobscurro requires first brushed then splatto.” Not as some would have it a combination of the two or the other way around.

So according to Aull the technique requires a base of brushed figureation covered by splattered obscurration to be authentic.

This is Splattobcsurro

Splattobscurro was invented by Robert Aull (who coined the name and was the primary practitioner) in the early 1980’s. he continues to paint using the Splattobscurro technique as part of his oeuvre and is justifiably gratified as more and more artists reach the pinnacles of their careers with wide ranging attention because of their use of Splattobscurro.