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.

jj-still-life-nov-2016

“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.”

the-raccoon-the-pineapple-the-hummingbird

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.

jj-sil-nov-2016

“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.

fox-jay-playlist

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.”

sunlit-friends

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.

Saturday Prayer

I have not sat still well today. Solitude’s double-edged sword had me pacing, caged.

I walked Harper across town to the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry and back in the morning. I cut grass, which brings on thinking for me. I read and wrote for a book review article coming due. Changed lightbulbs. Sitting in the yard, I had to move.

I hop on my bike and cruise through town, riding down to the shoreline at the park. I pull Gary Snyder’s “Turtle Island” from my pocket, in all its underlined, written in, and dog-eared grace.

I close my eyes with my face in the sun. An evening breeze brushes my ears and hair.

The waves are sharing an embrace and a conversation with the shoreline; sitting in silence, it is all I can hear–a soundtrack no less extraordinary for being commonplace.

I bend my head in prayer to listen. Language doesn’t need words to speak. No, that’s not it. God doesn’t need words to speak to those who listen.

I leaf through Snyder, who offers a “Prayer for the Great Family:”

Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;
      holding or releasing; streaming through all
      our bodies salty seas
                          in our minds so be it

Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through
      trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
      bears and snakes sleep–he who wakes us–
                           in our minds so be it

I don’t properly write in my pocket notebook very often, opting for a bigger one where my mind stretches more. But the pocket notebook made the bike ride, and as I scrawl these thoughts together, I see words bleeding through from the next page.

2016 Ava rehab words

They are Ava’s from the rehab hospital last year. She was working on getting her words back with a therapist–she couldn’t find the right words to say, to answer, but she could write them down. Today being a year since the seizure that landed her there, it doesn’t seem a coincidence to have her words find me here.

I close now wet eyes again to listen to the river. And God.

Riding my bike through town, life goes on. People are happy eating, walking, biking. There are kids playing in the sand and ankle deep in the water at the Strand.

Almost home, I turn up Jack’s Point Rd., and an Eastern Bluebird flies across the road in front of me, into a vacant lot. I have only seen a handful of bluebirds in town and I smile. If you read birds, happiness must be nearby.

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Of Herons and Intentions

Herons are personal for me. It’s not easy to explain, but they are somehow a connection, a link to nature and the broader Universe. Mary Oliver calls a Great Blue Heron a “blue preacher.” If you’ve ever watched one–methodical, thoughtful, graceful, you can see why.

My connection to Great Blue Herons deepened when I was training for my first marathon. I could be struggling on a long, low energy run, see one sitting on Papermill Pond or some cove, and instantly feel energized, recharged. It happened often enough to be weird (in a cool way). It would make me smile as I pushed on. A heron run was a good run. And that still happens.

Great Blue Herons are flighty. They take off as soon as you get close to them. Their take offs and landings are so awkward and take enough time and effort that it makes sense for self-preservation why they would be quick to bolt. Lately my interest has been equally on watching the more versatile, cagey, and dexterous Green Herons–there is a rookery on Town Creek in Oxford and they are everywhere. On a lazy evening paddle, we watched one scamper along rip rap in step with us, looking for something to eat. I’ve been thinking about a Green Heron tattoo to keep my Great Blue company.

2016 GB and Green Heron

Peter Matthiessen traveled five continents searching for 15 species of cranes. His adventures are chronicled in the book, “The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes.” I’m not as ambitious as Petey, nor do I have the time or budget to spread such a wide net. But I dig the notion as a model.

Sometimes I find putting my intentions out there makes me more accountable and more likely to make them happen. I’m making my scope regional–whether Eastern Shore, or Maryland, or Mid-Atlantic, we’ll have to see how it comes together. There will be road tripping involved. The goal is to find and see as many types of herons as can be found in the area. Word went out yesterday morning that a Tricolored Heron had been spotted in Grasonville. That’s the kind of occurrence to take note of.

tri colored heron

I’m not a biologist, nor am I looking to make a documentary. I’m going to try for a more creative approach to whatever writing comes out of this, and take a carpe the diem, fun, road trip, and enjoy nature approach to looking for them.

We have a finite amount of time spinning around on the globe here. That’s a perfect reason for going after things that move us, connect us, ground us, inspire us. It’s time for me to expand on what it means to have or make a heron run.