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Poet to painter, my twin: Jan Valentin Saether

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Jan Valentin Saether, requiescat in pacem ]
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Jan Valentin Saether, priest and painter extraordinaire

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Hanne Elisabeth Storm Ofteland wrote, bless her:

I am devastated! On the 11th of January at 11:45 pm my beautiful partner-in-insanity, Jan Valentin Saether, left this planet. Safe journey back to the Andromeda Galaxy, my sweet, precious, wonderful husband. I love you so much

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Jan Valentin Saether was — it is hard to claim such kinship in the midst of so many others with their own griefs — my twin, poet to painter. We both regarded our respective arts as gifts to be given onwards, and emphasized creative innovation within continuing tradition.

I am so sad.

This runs deep — and meanwhile I am doing fine, writing other unrelated things and allowing my grief to well up from time to time, between paragraphs, between breaths.

**

Such lovely artwork — two pieces here featuring the vesica piscis, among the most elegant of mathematical and significant of archetypal forms. My first example comes from his book, The Viloshin Letters, which I helped him with in the early days. Here the vesica shows the bursting forth of the radiance into ordinary life — key to all of Jan’s work:

The second, perhaps subtler work, was indeed first called Vesica and now Epiphany. Here the breakthrough is shown in shadow-and-light — chiaroscuro — of which Jan was such a master:

The actual work is wall-sized — depending on your wall.

I am in awe of this painting.

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Today another dear friend, Mitch Ditkoff, beauttifully and powerfully told the story of his father’s death on FB, and wrote in conclusion:

If you are reading this, there’s a good chance that someone close to you has died: your mother, father, grandparents, child, or best friend. And there’s also a good chance you have witnessed something profound in their passing, whether you were physically with them at the time or not. Be willing to share that story with others! It is not ego to tell this story. On the contrary, it’s the dissolution of ego – your opportunity to remind another person, without preaching, just how sacred each and every breath is.

I would like to tell my story of Jan Valentin Saether, to say how much I loved him, learned from him, and felt when I heard of his passing. And to mention the sacredness of breath.

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I must have met Jan sometime in the earlyn 1980s. He was teaching in Malibu, I was living in Malibu in a friend’s house, and saw some paintings of his in a folio, one of a naked woman reaching towards the viewer — and I thought he was a rock-n-roll-star type, not only not interesting but downright unpleasant.

Next thing, I was over at his place for an evening, and discovered a fellow artist, a fellow admirer of CG Jung and the mundus imaginalis, a fellow lover of the sacred in every moment. We were still talking when his then wife brought the pair of us breakfast.

Our parallel views on the sacred gifts of the arts, and the need to combine traditional and contemporary means of expression in service to the sacred — it forged a friendship, a kinship, a twinning between us.

Later, Jan asked me to take over his Sunday lecture series while he went to Oslo for a month or so. A few Sundays later, I was in mid sentence in a lecture on poetry when Jan came into the room. I got up out of the chair and offered it him, and he sat down and continued my own half-formed sentence seamlessly, turning the metaphor from sacred poetry to sacred art.

Later still, he invited me to teach creativity at Bruchion — the school of the sacred his studio in Culver City had become, named for the area in ancient Alexandria that housed its celebrated library. It was during one of my talks on creativity there that I began to play around — on the table-tennis table — with the elements that would decades later become my HipBone Games.

Jan Valentin Saether was the priest — of the Ecclesia Gnostica — who celebrated my marriage to Annie, mother of my sons.

Jan was my last and best fellow artist and friend — my twin.

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Years ago I wrote a paragraph about his paintings:

Jan Isak Saether’s work bears little resemblance to current fashions in the world of art. At first glance perhaps, it reminds us of the works of the old masters. But as we peer deeper, we sense a curious quality: Saether’s work does not bring us the easy, settled feel that we associate with the old, but a disturbing hint of drama, of the unexpected. It is as though one of the old masters had rejoined us in this latter part of the twentieth century, and after studying and absorbing all that the great moderns from Kandinsky to Francis Bacon had to offer, has turned his mind and heart to the stormy times in which we live, and out of that thunderous darkness has generated lightning. Recent currents and fashions in art have brought us visions of what it is to be human that are by turns bleak, comic, deranged, and superficial. In Saether’s work, by contrast, we find a portrayal of our humanity that contains both glory and shadow. Saether is no throwback to the past. He is a Velasquez who has learned from Bacon, a true student of both modern and ancient masters who now turns his hand to the great synthesis. It is often said that we can recognize the true artists because they give us new eyes with which to see the world, and create new worlds for us to see. Jan Saether’s work faces the future as only a work rooted in the past can, and we are the richer for his courage in bringing his deep dreams into our lives.

That captures my admiration, but not my love.

My love for Jan Valentin Saether can only be told by the loss, the grief I shall feel in my remaining days.

Each breath we have is sacred.

I shall miss him, in my quiet way, furiously.

Sabrina Tavernise – A Story with heart

Sunday, August 27th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — a story with heart — what other kind is there? — beautifully written, too ]
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Sabrina Tavernise has a wonderful, heart-felt story in the NYT today, titled The Two Americans: Abraham never fit in. Hisham finally felt at home. Then their worlds collided in western Arkansas. I’d have pointed you to it anyway — it’s deeply moving — but this parallelism observed really struck me:

The mosque’s phone started ringing, and didn’t stop. Churches called. A synagogue called. Buddhists called. So did residents who had seen the news or simply driven by. One man called, crying. His daughter had seen the graffiti on her way to work and told him about it. He said the vandals could not have been Christians. No true Christian would have done it.

Anas Bensalah, a mosque member who had taken the day off to help with the cleanup, told the man that he understood completely: That was exactly how he felt every time there was an attack by the Islamic State.

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I’m collecting tales of forgiveness — not exactly miraculous forgiveness, but forgiveness where one might not necessarily expect it. Mandela-style forgiveness.

In its mild way, this is one such tale. Recommended: The Two Americans

When one fantasy-come-true is proof of all the rest

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — sheer gossamer speculation about the trump effect ]
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There’s a sort of weird logic to it. Trump, the fantasist extraordinaire has indeed had one of his fantasies come true, and it’s a big one — “most powerful man on earth” — akin to being heavyweight champion of the world, but moreso. POTUS says it by implication: MPMOE makes it explicit.

Give the man credit for that, and then watch as he tosses out other fantasies — like a gambler scattering coins in a fountain after a successful night at a Vegas hotel casino — and declares them all true by extension —

biggest crowd?

  • if he’s the MPMOE, must be.
  • et cetera, et cetera

  • if he’s the MPMOE, must be.
  • ad infinitum

  • if he’s the MPMOE, must be.
  • never before seen

  • if he’s the MPMOE, must be.
  • last trump?

  • **

    This really has to do with magical thinking, or poetry as it veers towards prophecy perhaps, as in “and of his kingdom there shall be no end”.

    Or so I suppose.

    **

    Footnote:

    Russian President Vladimir Putin is the most powerful person in the world right now, according to the latest ranking from Forbes. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

    Putin has other fantasies, too..

    On humility: Clinton, Bush — and Trump

    Sunday, July 16th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — another “life imitates art” and a Trumpian ouroboros ]
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    In my view, humility shaves ckoser than Occam’s Razor — Occam tends not to shave our assumptions, while humility invites us to consider even our thoughts, even our certainties, as uncertain, as open to question.

    Did I mention I’m the proud owner of the domain name, Church of the Open Question?

    **

    Life imitates art:

    Upper panel: George W Bush and Bill Clinton on humility:

    Lower panel: from Madam Secretary, season 3..

    Trumpian Ouroboros:

    That’s actually brilliant, IMO. And Trump relishes and repeats it:

    Hey, Pope Francis is a close second..

    And then there’s this — delicious — from a WaPo piece titled Donald Trump’s Secret Service code name is less humble, more mogul:

    During a lightning round of a debate, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump picked a potential Secret Service code name that was truly coded: HUMBLE. When the braggadocious billionaire starts to receive actual Secret Service protection Wednesday morning, agents plan to call him something a bit more fitting: MOGUL.

    Okay. Mebbe that’s a bit more modest.

    Hm. MOGUL as in magnate, tycoon? Or MOGUL as in speed-bump on the ski slopes?

    Footnoted readings 02 – Acts of corporal mercy

    Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — a note at the intersection of material with spiritual ]
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    left to right: Emmanuel Levinas, Gershom Gorenberg, Elliott Horowitz

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    Gershom Gorenberg in March 28th’s Washington Post tells three stories from his own life of what I believe Catholicism would call “acts of corporal mercy” — feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, visiting the sick, harboring strangers, and burying the dead (Matthew 25. 34-40). He concludes, honoring his mentor, Israeli historian Elliott Horowitz:

    He said, without pride or embarrassment, that he acted out of religious conviction. In Israel, the political stereotype of Orthodox Jews is of people concerned exclusively with settling the occupied territories. In the world, commitment to the most traditional forms of faith — Jewish, Christian, Muslim or other — is often confused with building walls between people.

    Elliott believed that faith demanded breaking down barriers between human beings created in God’s image. I believed that, too, but he pushed me to act.

    **

    It’s a story by and about a friend, and about human goodness. Apart from those two sterling but not uncommon facts, why should I care?

    I care because the story illustrates the Jewish proverb of which Emmanuel Levinas reminds us:

    the other’s material needs are my spiritual needs

    It’s not easy to bridge the gap between subjective experience and objective, physical reality, which is why the hard problem in consciousness is called the hard problem in consciousness — but this quote bridges the gap effortlessly, and in a manner that instructs us.


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