Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Wham | Modern Hanging Art Mobile in France by Mark Leary

Mobile: The Big Wham (42” x 22”) in Paris hanging with Rothko
On the scientific method
“Is hope a hypothesis or a fact?” asked red fox.
“There’s only one way to find out,” replied bear.
And the experiment began.

Thoughts while making
Celery. Water. Red dye. 

Yep, the almighty celery experiment. Just about all of us have done it. Dunk that celery stick in colored water and watch what happens.

Depending on the teacher and your age, you’re learning about osmosis and selectively permeable membranes or transpiration and xylems or capillary action and the circulatory system.

Often the experiment is used to introduce the scientific method. You know, the process by which we come up with an idea of what’s going to happen in a certain situation; where we form, test, and tweak our theories – systematically observing and measuring, assessing outcomes and making conclusions about what we’ve seen.

I was in kindergarten when I first saw it. Celery leaves turning a tie-dyed red. I remember being totally unimpressed, thinking “Of course, if you plunge anything into a glass of water with dye and let it soak for days, it’s going to change colors.”

The scientific nuances were lost on me. The obvious, well, seemed obvious: We soak up that which surrounds us.

When a dear client of mine sent this photo of The Wham spinning in his Paris flat, I was mesmerized by the Rothko; immediately seeing a stick of celery (sorry Mark) soaking up red dye.

It got me thinking about the times in life when we are celery, and the times we are dye.

It got me thinking about hypotheses + conclusions.

It got me thinking about the choices we have as to where we dunk ourselves, what we soak up, what we sprout, as well as how the colors of our thoughts and words and actions dye those around us.

What would you like to soak up this week? For me, it’s silence and quiet and stillness.

On Limits | Perspect Midcentury Modern Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: Perspect

On limits
“Yes, dust *does* settle,” explained bear. “But you don’t have to.”

Thoughts while making
I see cobwebs. It’s a curse, I think. I walk into someone’s house and I see cobwebs. And I wonder if they see them, too. And if they do, why don’t they get rid of them.

Today, as I was taking photos for my daily Home Art Walkabout in my IG stories, I picked up my Haniwa Boar. I commissioned it years ago from a superb Oregon artist, Wataru Sugiyama. I love it. And it brings me joy every single day.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered it was covered in cobwebs.

I immediately got out a brush and went to work cleaning it. I was amazed at how much dust and gunk came off it. However, as I thought about it, there was no reason why I should’ve been surprised.

See, although I admire it every day, I’ve never thoroughly cleaned it.

From a distance, it looks the very same as it did on the day it arrived 15+ years ago. Even when I sit at my table – which is just a couple feet away from it – it still looks fine.

But when I got up close. Really inspected it. Put my hands on it. Got out the brush and got into it, that’s when the illusion disappeared. Cobwebs and dust in the ears. The eyes. Across the mouth. Tied up in the tail. Everywhere.

And so it with our thoughts, our beliefs, and our relationships, isn’t it?

If you don’t get up close to what you take for granted, a lot of gunk can build up without you ever realizing it. Dust in the eyes that blinds. Cobwebs in the ears to deafen.

At a time when we’re asking the tough and necessary questions of society, I’d invite you to ask them of the people and things you take for granted in your life. Especially the ones you know are a little dusty, but you ignore because you “don’t want to have to get into it.”

I recently did this and discovered I have a racist in my own family. While the discovery is uncomfortable to say the least, the ability to see it for what it is – hiding under all that dust – offers me great perspective and clarity on the path forward.

What’s one thing or relation you could “pick up” today to inspect a little more closely?

On Pausing | Swan + Black Beauty Modern Mobiles by Mark Leary Designs


Mobiles: Black Beauty + Swan

On pausing
“But if I hit the brakes,” asked bear, “won’t I slow down?”
Crow smiled, knowing bear would figure it out if he set with it for a while.

Thoughts while making
He flew right into my mouth. I saw him coming. But it felt like there was nothing I could do. He stung me on the way in, slapped me twice, and bit me once again before I pulled him out. I think I heard him swearing, too.

South Fork is fast descent. The trail drops 1100 feet in just about 3 miles. Gnarly root bombs, hairpin turns, and rocks for days, it’s a super fun singletrack trail that follows – go figure – the South Fork of Tumalo Creek just outside of Bend.

I knew I was going too fast, but my new Trek bikes Fuel EX was eating up the terrain like cotton candy and I was literally saying, “This is amazzzzziinnnggggg” right before it happened.

That bug was big and a metallic greenish black. Even though I only had a split second to make a decision, I knew I didn’t choose well. Because once I’d taken my hand off the brake (poor decision No. 1) to pull that guy out of my mouth (poor decision No. 2), it didn’t feel like I was left with many good options: either hit the tree in front of me with my body or my brand new bike.

I chose my body … which eventually landed about 10 feet from my bike. After I checked to make sure everything was attached, I started laughing. I’d hit my head pretty hard, but that’s not why.

It only occurred to me then that I could’ve kept my hands on the handlebars and use those magical things called “brakes.”

That happened years ago, but earlier this week I was riding my bike when I had unfortunate run-in with a trashcan. After flipping over my handlebars and getting intimately familiar with the street, I started laughing again as the word “BRAKES” flashed in my concussed head.

Sometimes when life is moving fast, the first or even second options that present themselves aren’t the best. If only we could learn to apply the brakes, to slow down just enough, to get a better lay of the land, a better sense of how to make our way ahead. Alas!

Where’s one place you can slow down, in thought or action, this week to look around before moving forward?


Sunday, June 7, 2020

On Revelation | Modern Hanging Art Mobiles by Mark Leary Designs

Mobiles: The Juggler + Blue Moon Rising (alt colors)

On revelation
“But how can I see,” asked sparrow, “when all around me is dark?”
“Sometimes,” explained fox, “darkness *is* the light.”
Thoughts while making
Monster. Robbers. Demons. On a nightly basis, these and a whole host of other unseemly characters kept me up at night.

Tiptoeing through the house. Looking in through my bedroom window. Appearing out of thin air.

To taunt. To tease. To wreak havoc on my 7-year-old self.

In the dark, they’d lay in wait. Under the covers. In the closet. Hanging from the ceiling.

In the dark, they’d grow. Uglier. Scarier. More menacing.

I would lie in bed, paralyzed by fear. Heart pounding so loud, I couldn’t hear myself think. Unable to speak. To call out. To ask for help.

When I could actually make my way to the switch by the door and flip on the light, there would – of course – be nothing there. I’d check down the hallway, look behind clothes in the closet, dip under the bed. Nothing.
But the SECOND I turned that light off, BOOM, they all crowded me again; pushing in twice as hard.
The funny thing about lights is that it’s easy to (think you) see when they’re on. As a kid, however, I learned it’s a mistake to confuse light for sight. Because what you see, what you feel, what you think – and how you act – when the light is off, well, that’s another story altogether, isn’t it? That’s where the monsters, demons, and bad guys live.
My hope is, at a time when the collective switch is flipped on, that we’re each figuring out what’s needed – and, importantly, what unique gifts you already have and are using – to create light to illuminate the dark places when that switch is turned off again.
What’s the first image that comes to mind when you close your eyes right now?

Monday, June 1, 2020

On Inequality

On inequality
“I’m sad,” said bear.
“Me too,” said fox.

Thoughts while making

I was living in Oakland when the Rodney King riots / uprising erupted in May 1992. One night, I went down to the protests in Berkeley, right along Telegraph Avenue. “No justice, no peace” was the refrain as it is now. Then, as we see again and again, glass shatters, fires burn.

I remember standing there watching these drunk frat guys from Cal throw a rock through the window of the Gap store, casually stroll in, and grab handfuls of jeans. What did this have to do with a man getting beaten to an inch of his life? What did this have to do with justice? With racism? With systemic inequality?

I yelled at this cop as those guys came out of the Gap, “Aren’t you going to do anything?” And he just stared at me, another dumb white kid who didn’t understand. Or maybe I did on some level, but just didn’t have the term “white privilege” to make sense of why these guys were walking down a street loaded with cops with no repercussion ... or why I could yell at a police officer in full riot gear without fear.

I wonder what has changed in the nearly three decades that has attained between now and then? What had changed from the years before in Miami, Detroit, Watts, Newark, and on and on.

I’m heartened to see my nieces active and vocal about inequality, and I’m hopeful that this collective upswelling of voices is more than just some social media-induced virtue signaling from those with privilege, and that the conversations and actions of today will shift on cellular-to-institutional levels. What happens next matters.

In a “one person, one vote” democracy, we each still have this tool available to us. It’s just one tool, but it can be powerful; to cut out cancers in our system from the top down and remove those whose agenda against people of color, gender, women – civil and human rights – is not something we are willing to accept any longer.

I usually end my posts with a question for you. I don’t know the right question to ask, so that’s my question: What is the question you’re asking yourself or others right now?

Blue Viola for the Milwaukee Museum Art Shop by Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Blue Viola, one of a series of mobiles commissioned by the Milwaukee Art Museum shop for their 2014 Kandinsky exhibition

On self-acceptance
“It doesn’t matter how hard you try,” said crow. “You can’t improve what you don’t first accept.”

Thoughts while making
When I was a kid, I had a yellow Schwinn bike. It had cereal box stickers stuck all over it, and heavy steel tires. Literally, they were just rubber wrapped around metal. No tubes. No air.

When you went off the sidewalk, you’d land with a jarring thump on the asphalt. But those tires were bombproof, and rolled true for years.

Every day when I rode it, I would attempt to pedal right along the edge of the sidewalk. And no matter how hard I tried, I would always fall off the curb and thump down onto the street. If I went slow, I’d thump. If I went fast, I’d thump.

I remember focusing so intently on that edge. “Don’t go over it,” I’d repeat to myself, my handlebars nervously twitching. Then, almost as if pulled by a magnet, I’d thump down. Defeated by those 6 inches of concrete. And I would feel like I failed. Again.

I was thinking about this yesterday as I was pedaling up Rocky Butte here in Portland. A white painted line winds its way up the hill. It’s a sorry excuse for a shoulder as there’s no space between it and the traffic.

I heard a car coming up fast behind me. So I focused on keeping my wheel on that line. “Don’t go over it,” I repeated to myself. But wouldn’t you know it: the closer the car came, the more difficult it was. Right as it passed, my handlebars twitched and I nearly ran myself into the car.

Interesting, isn’t it? how when we focus on what we don’t want to happen, it often does? Or when our field of vision is so narrowed – on the sidewalk in front of us, for example – how easy it is to run into things. Hard things. Tough things. Things that land with a jarring thump.

Can you imagine what might unfold if you looked up from that which you were trying to avoid and just rolled with it and appreciated what was?

You might still go off that curb. But how different would it feel?

What was your favorite way to get around as a kid (e.g., bike, skates, Big Wheel, pogo stick)?

The Caldairemeiro Modern Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Variations on a theme

On sight
“But when I look *that* closely,” explained bird, “I feel everything.”
“That’s good,” replied wolf, “feeling lets you see things as they really are.”

Thoughts while making
Not many years ago, I remember laughing as I watched my mom attempt to thread a sewing needle. I didn’t want to laugh. But I couldn’t help myself.

Her hand steady, the needle firmly between her fingers and lifted to the light. One eye squinted closed, as she lined up thread and needle … and proceeded to miss. By football fields. By oceans and eons. By light years and galaxies. Again and again.

I remember thinking that if she couldn’t see something that was – literally – right in front of her face, how could she see anything?

Fast forward to today and now I’m the guy pushing his glasses down the tip of his nose to see what that recipe calls for, grumbling about needing better light, moving the cookbook back and forth … and finally (reluctantly) grabbing the magnifying glass to see.

Sight is a funny thing, isn’t it? I know that when I take the time to put my glasses on or pull out that magnifying glass, I see things in a way I never would’ve before. Yes, practical things like 1/2 cup of sugar versus 12; but also subtle things like the font used, the saturation of ink, the kerning between letters.

And so it is in life, isn’t it? Where when we take the time to focus on the details, shining a light on the kerning that connects this and that, we realize how many of the stories we’ve been telling ourselves – the narratives upon which we build our truths – are constructed from blurry bits and shadowy pieces we simply have come to accept over time, even when they don’t serve us well, and often without much thought … although they are – literally – right in front of our faces.

My mom always finds a way to thread that needle. It may take a bit of time, greater attention, and a willingness to try and try again, but she gets it threaded; giving her what she needs to stitch together memories and moments in her beautiful patchwork quilts.

Where can you apply your focus this week? Where can you shine a light to better understand how you’ve stitched your story together?

Pivot II Hanging Art Mobile from Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Pivot II

On kapow
“I’m me.” said fox. “That’s my superpower.”
And although bear wanted to laugh, she knew fox was on to something big.

Thoughts while making
 I didn’t see a cape. But I’m pretty sure it was there. He was definitely wearing a mask. And although he drove a Prius, I think it’s safe to assume he was no ordinary man.

He said his name was Floyd. And who was I to argue? He wore a dark blue cardigan sweater and carried a black briefcase. When he began to unzip it, I took a quick step back. Because, you know: kryptonite. But it ended up just having papers inside.

A notary. That’s what the title on his business card said. And he *was* here for me to sign my home loan refi papers. But I was sure there was some other reason for his visit. Something nefarious? I needed to stay on my guard.

But he laughed a lot, and – although I couldn’t see his mouth – he had such warm, smiling eyes. They literally twinkled. He praised me for small things over which I had little control, like locking in such a good rate, yet he sounded so genuine. He also used my name often, and each time he did my heart felt hugged in the softest way.

As time passed, I found it difficult to keep my defenses up. Soon I was laughing with him. Feeling the tension leaving my body. His superpowers working their comforting magic on me.

Floyd is 67. He’d been a child therapist in Santa Barbara for 23 years before becoming a notary. He said he loved his job because of people like me. And the money.

Whether it was because he was the very first human I’ve had any in person contact with since the beginning of March or because he truly was a superhero, I’m not sure. All I do know is that for a few minutes on a Thursday night in May, I laughed with a stranger and I went to sleep with a smile.

Thinking back over these past months, who would you say has been your biggest hero?

Black Beauty Modern Hanging Art Mobile from Mark Leary Designs

Mobiles: Black Beauty and The Classic
On (in)sight
“It’s true,” said bear, “some things must be seen to be believed.”
“But other things, my dear, must be believed if you ever hope to see them.”

Thoughts while making
“Your eyes will never adjust.” That’s what the guide said. So I waved my hands in front of my face. I squinted. I opened and closed them. But all was black.

Black like night, like pain, like endless space. Black like ash after fire, and fear. Black like ink, like curiosity, like possibility.

It took my breath, and held it; an uneasy feeling it is to so completely lose one’s orientation, to be unable to tell what is and is not, where one begins, and ends.

I found myself there quite by accident, pulling off the side of the road the night before, and camping next to an airfield. I woke at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains of southeast New Mexico, my bare feet digging into the already-warm sands of the Chihuahuan Desert.

I remember lying there in that early morning, watching two crows, Corvus brachyrhynchos, lifting and dipping just above me on unseen currents of air. They were circling one another endlessly, painting the sky ancient and happy on whispered feathers black and sun sparked.

The Carlsbad Caverns are a magnificent testament to time and persistence; the power of great tectonic upheavals as well as the might of small, yet consistent actions over the millennia – no matter what was happening on the surface.

When the guide turned off the lights, he told us that – since we were in belly of a cave where no light could penetrate – our eyes would never adjust. “With even the hint of light, you can eventually see; but here where there is total darkness never.”

Being in the dark can be disorienting. And sometimes we wonder if there will ever be light. Yet as I stood there uneasy, those two black birds flew gently into my thoughts. And I could see them as clearly as I saw the sun rise that morning. And I felt light and giddy as they lifted me on their wings, my body left behind, soaring on golden currents.

Light is a funny thing, isn’t it? Often found by quieting ourselves in the dark. Where will you allow even a hint of it to penetrate today?

Monday, May 25, 2020

Ironwood Road | Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: Ironwood Road

On asking for help
“Would it make it easier if you knew I’d always say yes?”
Fox smiled because crow always knew what she needed to hear.

Thoughts while making
I was seven. The asphalt wasn’t much older. But it was harder than me. Most things were.

It was also hot. Heat waves taunting like the laughter I heard as I ran up the street, head down, knees bloodied.

My neighbor’s dad, Ben, was the lead cameraman at Channel 8 News in San Diego. He was also Vietnam vet, and he made me nervous. I don’t think the two were connected.

The neighborhood kids often got pulled into local news stories. There was footage of us playing in the pool. Spinning on the tire swing. Watching a laserdisc movie.

And then there was that kite-flying competition. Right around the corner from my house on Ironwood Road.

Ben was there with the whole news crew. The street was all decked out. Picnic tables. Streamers. It was the real deal.

One by one, the neighborhood kids and their parents set their kites in flight. Triangles + diamonds, reds + golds, a light breeze tugging invisible threads, stitching clouds in an endless blue sky.

Then, there was me. By myself. And my pink puffer kite. With its slogan, “A puff of breeze is all it needs.” Which was, of course, bullshit.

I needed more than a puff of breeze. I needed someone to help me. I know I should’ve asked. But I didn’t like to.

“Maybe,” I nervously thought, “if I just run I’ll be able to get it up.” And so I did. Nothing. “Maybe,” getting more nervous, “if I just run faster.”

And so I ran as fast I could down that street. My puffer kite giving me the middle finger as it bounced off the asphalt behind me. And that’s when it happened. That’s when I tripped. At full speed. A cartoon cartwheel of a kid, blonde hair and arms and legs akimbo, as I rolled to a slow stop. I should have asked for help.

I ran home, bloodied + embarrassed, tears held back as that night’s news ended with “this little feller had a little trouble getting his kite up,” the newscasters laughing.

How many times do we go akimbo in life just because we don’t ask for help? What can you ask for today to make your world a little easier or better?

New North | Modern Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: New North

On grief
“I’m sorry,” cried fox.
“Please don’t ever apologize,” replied bear, “for how you really feel.”

Thoughts while making
A single tear. My mom said that’s all she saw. Her little boy in the emergency room with another broken arm. “Does this hurt,” the doctor asked, moving my wrist. A single tear.

To say I was accident prone as a kid would be an understatement. Bruises, broken bones, stitches, and too many pokey things – usually rusty and jagged – finding their way into my little body.

But I didn’t cry.

My grampa who lived a hundred lives and cried heavy tears when my gramma died, read Louis L’Amour westerns. He kept them in the trunk of his yellow Cadillac, right next to a stack of Playboys. They smelled like smoke, and I’ve loved them for decades.

I’ve retreated into those yellowed pages more times than I can remember. In good times + bad times, to hide + to find.

His are simple fairy tales of a west that never was, but that make me want to believe. The same story told 100 different ways, good always triumphing over evil despite impossible odds.

This past week, I was tucked into one of those tales, at home in my safe place somewhere between his high desert + the sun. I was sitting in the backyard, turning pages, when I unexpectedly started crying, thick tears, this deep grief washing over me.

And I couldn’t stop.

This past week, I kept hearing people apologize for “having a hard time,” a litany of “I’m sorrys” and “really I’m fines” and “I have no reason to complains” while simultaneously being shot full of a thousand pokey things – rusty + jagged.

The heroes of Louis L’Amour’s books, men and women, often find themselves shot full of lead. I find it interesting that they always acknowledge when they’ve been “hard hit” – even when they’re not sure how badly – and that they know what they need is to rest, to recover, to allow themselves to be cared for, and to regain their strength, before continuing on.

Imagine that: even just acknowledging – honoring – that you’ve been hard hit. Not apologizing for it. Not pushing it away. Not belittling it. Just acknowledging it.

Can you do that for yourself or help make it easier for another do

The Classic | Midcentury Modern Kinetic Art by Mark Leary

Mobile: The Classic in blues and browns

On secrets
“Distance begins,” said rabbit, “when these are kept.” 

Thoughts while making
Many years ago, I stayed in the small town of Fawnskin, CA. Once home to miners, loggers, and hunters, it’s nestled quietly on the shores of Big Bear Lake. At 6,827 feet, the air is clear, the water blue, trees brown and thick of trunk.

Ponderosa, Jeffrey, sugar, and lodgepole. Pinyon, knobcone, and Coulter. It’s no wonder the Serrano knew this land as "Yuhaviat," or "Pine Place," or that their relationship with the grizzly would one day name it so.

The cabin was a mishmash d├ęcor of thrift store finds, knickknacks, and mismatcheds. But there was one thing.

A black and white photo. Maybe 12” x 16”. Framed and hanging a little askew. It featured a stand of darkened trees, super saturated, pointing skyward, a tease of light, omens of something that was or was to come.

I don’t recall why, but on the morning I left I found a bit of stationery, sat down, and wrote a message. I also don’t remember the specifics, just that the note contained two things: 1) my hopes for the future, and 2) truths that I knew about myself right then, right there, that I couldn’t admit to myself.

I folded the paper in fourths, took the back off to the frame, tucked the note behind the photo, closed it up, and rehung it on the wall.

As I was packing up this mobile of blues and browns like the water and trees of Big Bear, I wondered about the secrets we hold from ourselves, from others? Secrets we know, secrets that if brought into the light, said out loud, could set you free? Who you really are, who you really want to be, what you really feel, your fears, and doubts, and places of shame. Secrets that have become substance, rails on a life guarded.

What’s one secret you can whisper to yourself today, unburdening yourself, freeing light to shine in dark places?