I’ve been off the grid for the past ten days or so. A week in Tucson with my only grandchild so far, Leah, who is three going on forty three. Sunny days and mild temperatures just reset your groove. Playing with a three year old will do it too. I also got to help redecorate a 20 x 20 foot playroom for my daughter and son-in-law, smearing drywall compound and paint until ugly gave way to beauty, just before my arms and back fell apart. It’s scary how little endurance I have for real physical work anymore. There was a time when I could work all day at a project and be ready to get back to it the next day. Those days are over. Now exhaustion sets in around four hours into steady labor, followed by ibuprofen and sleep. Sixty years old in the body but twenty five in the mind equals a deficit of 35 somethings.
It’s very satisfying to see indisputable progress appear at your fingertips. In a way, painting and redecorating yield a similar satisfaction to blogging. Something is there at the end of a session that was not present earlier. I am nothing if not creative. Likewise, if I’m not creating something, then I am nothing. I love color and music and shape and rhythm. I never grow weary of art. How can you tire of saffron/cinnamon paint called Moroccan Sky as it floods across sterile white primer? Like watching blood flow through a pale, transplanted heart as it beats in the new living patient. Okay, I’m overly dramatic, but I do get excited when I see transformation flow out of a two and a half inch paintbrush. Light and mood follow color. They have no choice. Bedouins may clomp across the baseboard in a camel train, and it’s all right.
God’s art is all over Tucson. He has done some amazing work in Arizona, let me say. We visited Sabino Canyon and Ventana Canyon on two separate days. I posted about Sabino last year. Ventana is quite different since you have to go through a chic resort to get to the 80 foot waterfall that is the crown jewel of this canyon. Despite the commercial development of Ventana Canyon, God’s beauty still pulses in the hills and the stream that runs through them. Not as quiet and untouched as Sabino, still it is lush with cactus and agave and palo verde and mesquites and flowers of all sorts. Man’s hands are much more obvious in Ventana, but it’s all good. Done with respect for God’s gifts.
That’s one of the many things I love about Tucson is the reverence for the landscape and the overall Sonoran Desert environment. Whereas Phoenix paved and watered the desert, creating an artificial metropolis, Tucson grew symbiotically with the fragile landscape, never overwhelming it as is the blistering case in Phoenix.
On our last day in Tucson we visited the Degrazia Gallery of The Sun Museum again. He was an amazing guy and the museum is his creation, filled with his creativity. Primarily paintings, but also sculpture and ceramics, wood, furniture, and glass, as well as whimsical arrangements of old rusty metal objects in the courtyard. You get the sense of a man who loved deeply– the land, the people, his art, his God, his friends. He is buried there between the museum and the chapel he built for the Indians. A simple pile of blue tinted rocks with a wooden headpiece, a dog tag hangs with Degrazia engraved on it, and a heavy bronze wreath at his feet. Simple and simply amazing. Everywhere you turn you see his handiwork. The man was a creative dynamo and a free spirit.The kind of guy I would feel comfortable hanging with, drinking his Chivas Regal… and I don’t even like scotch.
Standing there at his grave, I thanked him for being true, not pretentious or aloof. A real guy who inspired me. Part of me wants to go back to the 1930’s and build an adobe house on a bluff above Tucson. Drill a well. Plant slow growing vegetation that will take decades to come to fullness. Watch as a mesquite tree spreads and builds a pocket of shade beneath it. And just create left and right, above and below. Paint the stars at night and sunrise in the morning. Sculpt anything that stands still. Stack rocks in zen formations. Cast bronze figures. Fire clay and make glass. Pound out sheets of copper. Just stay on the wavelength of making art I believed in.
One other delightful site to visit nearby Degrazia’s place is the Hacienda del Sol, a fabulous resort built out of a former girls boarding school that was constructed in the 1920’s. Desert spirits are in every nook and cranny of the place. Hand made furniture and beams, doors and tiles just seduce you; calling you to linger and get outside of time. Beauty so palpable it can bring you to tears of awe. Dali’s melted watches and clocks make sense when you transcend the bully of industrialized TIME and its command, “Go, go, do, do.” Uhhh, no, not for me. I say, “Screw you, time naggers.” Drop it!! Just be, feel the moment that you are in. Cherish the past and hope for your future, but fully inhabit the moment you are in. Life artists do this very thing when they create.
When we came back to PA, I knew what I was going to do. If I can’t stay in Arizona, I reasoned, I can certainly put Arizona on my office walls. I pictured the work involved on the long flight back. I’d follow my favorite phone photograph taken from my daughter’s back deck, a sunset over the western ridge of mountains. Gloriously simple. I calculated the effort and imagined the colors. Strategized the parts involved. And smiled in pleasant anticipation of the outcome. “Hey, Ted DeGrazia, I’m comin’ to getcha.” Classic rock songs played on a loop in my brain as I entertained this project… Hendrix, “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire”, “Purple Haze”, “All Along the Watchtower”. I think deeply creative folks can see a song or hear a painting, smell a sculpture or feel an abstraction. Don’t expect me to prove or explain that statement. It’s a stick built hunch leaning over a vortex of faith. Okay? So, with just a few hours of sleep after a three a.m. arrival, I went to my office and began to DeGraziate it. Pictures will follow as I finish the Sonoran Desert Mural.
In the moment
from God’s fingers
across my little Desertine Chapel
And time stands still
Suffused with peace