Jeremy Joseph: The Shared Experience

Within a month of knowing Jeremy Joseph, we were almost struck by lightning in the storm that felled the Wye Oak. He and I sat next to each other at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum the spring and summer before he became an art teacher. In a brief span, we talked fishing, art, Tom Robbins novels, music, literature, you name it. And then he rolled on to do what he should have been doing.

Jeremy taught both my daughters art in school, and over the years we circled back into each other. He has been a ceaseless inspiration for me to be creative. At one point when I caught up with him, he and a friend had put out a music album, he was painting every day and had his work in a local art gallery, along with a full-time job, his wife, also a teacher, was equally busy, and their two daughters in school, sports, etc. His motivation to make time to be creative pushed me to do the same.  We have had similar takes on art, life, family, fatherhood, books, writing, and sports. Jeremy and his wife Tiffany are among the best people and kinds of friends you can encounter.

I’ve been a fan of Jeremy’s saltwater-based still life paintings for some time. And then this fall, a funny thing happened: he opened a solo exhibit of 30 paintings that were nothing like the work he had been doing. The new paintings were imaginative, primitive, celebratory, seemingly whimsical, communal. I wanted to see what was going on.

Jeremy has been serious about, and dedicated to painting for 22 years. He decided against going for a master’s degree in fine art, so instead set to making his own studio time and creating his own art history studies. From 1994 to 2003, he painted in a narrative style, telling stories with his art. And then he started looking more closely, observing more deeply, and in his meditative observations, the mundane became elevated. Still life painting became the medium.

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“I had a lot to learn. If you are going to spend the time study and paint a striped bass or a mullet, it better look like one.”

Salt-water still life became Jeremy’s hallmark. His paintings sell reasonably well in the local galleries, he gets requests and commissions. He developed a nice niche. And then a new direction emerged.

Painting still lifes made Jeremy learn color in depth and develop his mark making. Teaching elementary school students, and seeing their unbridled imagination on a daily basis kept inspiring him. Add to that the fact that realist and impressionistic landscapes are all you will find within a few hours’ drive.

“I’d always wanted to do this imaginative work,” he said. “Maybe it’s punk rock vs Joe Satriani; maybe it gets back to Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea,’ just working very simple.”

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At first his idea was to convey the “first people,” or earliest people. Fishermen were going to be his transition. Then he started studying Meso-American figurines, Buddhist sculptures, and African masks. He saw stick figures and moved toward complete simplification. He started to notice some commonalities.

“People (artists and cultures) have been making the same eye shapes to represent contentment forever.”

Contentment, happiness became a current. Both conveying happiness, but also experiencing it in the moment.

In March of this year, Jeremy put up a studio in their back yard. It opens from the end and the side, and in the warm weather, hummingbirds flew into the studio while he was working. Birds and animals became a current.

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“I get so much from the birds, the wings of birds, the flight of birds, that’s where my blood pressure goes down and where I go,” he said. “And I wanted to get across this universal happiness, we break bread, we share a moment, the thing I am after is just this little bit of happiness. And thinking about having a conversation with a merganser or a fox made me happy.”

Four months of painting every day, Jeremy created each of the 30 works in his studio. And had the full support of his gallery, the Grafton Galleries in Easton, to show the new works, even with them being a departure from what his work had been for the past 13 years.

“There were times when I thought that doing this type of work was a kind of career suicide for the still like work that I do. I wondered if I could make paintings that through the use of form and simplification, could dare someone not to smile, not to like it? I really wanted it to be about a mood, a shared moment or experience. Matisse said he painted for the tired businessman, the guy (or girl) who is tired at the end of the day.”

Part of that shared experience is captured in the painting, and part of it is shared with the person looking at the painting.

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Breaking new ground after more than 20 years developing a style: I dig the creative courage that is behind a move like that. But what I get in talking to Jeremy, in spending time in his studio, is that it’s not about the painter, or the painting specifically; it’s more about the process.

What is it that gets you out to the studio, after teaching all day, after coaching sports, or family time, what is it that gets you to pick up the brush?

“You know it’s there, you know there could be a reward, you just have to get yourself out there. It’s the happy accident, the resolution of something, experiencing the unexpected. Honestly, it’s the smell, the sound, the feel of coming outside, you put yourself in the place where something can happen.”

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Jeremy’s solo exhibit, “The Shared Experience” is on display at the Grafton Galleries, 32 E. Dover Rd., in Easton through the end of November. Some of his new works will remain on display after that.

Making Us New

Each day is full of the expected and the unexpected. There are things I see coming and plenty I don’t. There are things I recognize and those I know are new. And that goes for myself as well; there are parts of me I recognize and parts I have to do a double take to catch (some I like, some I need to work on).

We can say the same thing for each of our paths through life: there is familiar ground and new ground every day. The thing about it is to keep going.

By your endurance you will gain your souls. – Luke 21:19. That was the Gospel from this morning’s worship service at Christ Church Easton. Over the last couple months, I have been reading the Books of Luke and John, and I underlined that passage a week or so ago. As a distance runner it speaks to me of lessons learned through perseverance. As someone whose life doesn’t generally seem to move in straight or discernible lines, it’s also about endurance in the face of the unknown. We might call that faith. Faith helps us endure.

Jesus talks about the destruction of the temple, the impermanence of the earthly life, the trials and tribulations and hardships that lie ahead, and the need to stay on the path, have faith, “by endurance you will gain your souls.” There are a very few things we can control, life happens all around us, what are we to do, what are we called to do as followers of Christ in the face of it all?

What we are called upon to be in this world is a force for good, for hope, for reconciliation, and righteousness… we can be better vessels of grace in this (community). – Fr. Bill

Life happens in ways we can’t understand. What we are called upon is to be a force for good, for hope, for faith. To focus on those things we can do something about, how we treat others, how we serve, what we can do for ourselves, our families, our communities.

Our walk may require different shoes than we expected (I had to grab the photo above, which shows what happens when a priest has to go from two morning worship services to volunteering at the Waterfowl Festival). It may take us down different roads, put us in different places, and run us into different people than we expected or than we would have chosen on our own. Though we’d like to, we can’t control what or who we encounter, but we can control who we are, how we act, and how we see things and people.

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Sometimes I think we adapt to the path we are on. We are made new by how we respond. Sometimes, I think we adapt to the path we see coming. We are made new to prepare for what’s ahead. In both cases, it is our response to God, what He’s put in front of us, and how we respond to His calling that makes us new.

Endurance, enduring doesn’t just have to be work and suffering. Those things are there, but so are happiness, joy, celebration, inspiration, and love. All things by which God makes us new, renew us. Along our path, we are able to become new again, invent, and improve ourselves. We can look to God for inspiration and we can surround ourselves with people who inspire us.

I’ve had the great fortune over the past couple weeks, to be inspired by two friends, in their mid-40s, doing amazing things that they have taken upon themselves to do.

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Jeremy Joseph is an elementary school art teacher, father of two girls, his wife is also a teacher. He is an artist with a cool style. Recently he decided to take his painting in a new direction and opened a solo exhibit of 30 new works. More on that another time, but Jeremy has long been an inspiration for me and writing, the way he makes time for creativity, for his passion, when it would be easier just to work, to be a dad, live life. Instead he chooses to have creativity, art, and newness be a part of his life.

A.K. Leight is a marine biologist. He decided a number of years ago that he was going to get his PhD in environmental science (Biological Oceanography) knowing he and his wife work full-time, have two girls, and that it was going to be a long, slow process. This past week he successfully defended his thesis, bringing the culmination of so much time, effort, and study. It’s not something most people do 20-some years into a career. As I am entering a new life adventure where continuing education and/or graduate study are a part of a calling, I am inspired by what A.K. has done and how he has gone about it. I am blessed to have friends who inspire me by their example.

Every day there is something new for us. Every day we can bring new eyes and renewed heart to what we are doing and how we live our lives. Every day God makes us new.

A Writer Writes: The Gameplan

At any given point you can look back at your life. Hopefully you see things that make you proud: the kind of person you are, how you treat people, maybe you have kids and see who they are becoming, personal accomplishments, relationships, etc. But, if when you look back, you continue to not see something you thought you would see; meaning you haven’t done something you wanted to try; it might be worth taking a closer look at it.

For the past 18 years or so, I have had jobs that required me to write. And that’s great, I enjoy it. But only sometimes did those jobs send me after the kind of writing that I would choose to do on my own. I’ve been able to find chances here and there to pursue writing on the fringes, but never a sustained attempt. I’m trying to change that.

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Steven Pressfield sees what gets in the way of me, or people in general, going after those things that make up our dreams. He wrote “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” which became a movie, and you’ll recognize a number of his other books. But it’s “The War of Art,” that has my attention at the moment. Pressfield calls it “Resistance,” that thing that stands in the way of people trying to achieve their dreams:

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

He points out Resistance as that force that stops us from doing something–from starting to workout or diet, to trying something new, to going to church, starting a business, painting, writing, from the simple to the profound. It takes the form of procrastination, excuses, it can be inviting or intimidating or rational. But it stops us, by whatever means. Until it doesn’t. And hopefully it doesn’t take a near death experience, or a mid-life crisis, or something of the sort to make us want to get past it.

When I looked around at myself, at how I spend my time away from work, my mornings, my evenings, I saw some things I liked. Spending time with the girls, running, trying to make the most of the mornings. And I saw some things I didn’t: like week day happy hours in the evenings after work sapping momentum, creativity, motivation. And not much writing. It seemed time to make some changes.

2016 Aug TT cover

The August issue of Tidewater Times is out now. You can pick up a pocket-sized copy of the coolest, carry-with-you magazine on the Eastern Shore from a number of different places. Or you can read it online here. On page 177 in the online version, is the first of an ongoing series of articles and book reviews I’ll be writing there. It helps to have friends like Jim Brighton, who are doing remarkable things like the Maryland Biodiversity Project. If you are the Facebook type, they have more than 5,700 folks following awesome photographs and natural history posts. Regular articles in Tidewater Times is one part.

Getting this site rolling is another. I’ve got others in mind. Stay tuned. It’s also about surrounding myself with other like-minded folks, a creative community of people exploring life and their passions, and making the most out of each day. Some of it will be interviewing and writing about those folks, with Jim being one of them. People have different passions and talents. It could be giving up an office job and opening up a restaurant; it could be starting your own landscaping company and happily spending your days surrounded by nature. When someone’s passion becomes their story, that’s a pretty cool thing to see happen and to share with others.

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There are writers out there whose lives and books inspire me daily. Peter Matthiessen and his environmentalism and spirituality. Tony Horwitz and his ways of tying history to the present in ways no one seems to have looked at. Thomas Merton and Frederick Buechner and their callings by God to follow Him and write about it. Gary Snyder and his seamless synthesis of words, nature, the Cosmos.

It’s a big world out there, full of remarkable people doing stuff that no one else can do in just the way that they are. My sense is that each of us has something of that in us.

The writer Will Durant summarized Aristotle by saying, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” That’s a habit I’d like to make. It will make for much better happy hour conversations on the weekends.