Sunday, October 9, 2011

Edward L. Loper, Sr. April 7, 1916-October 9, 2011: Mysticism in Art

This is not the post I expected to write or the one you expected to read.

I woke up at 5 a.m. this morning not at all happy about it.  I did not go to bed until 1 a.m., and I anticipated sleeping in. 

I knew why I woke up when my phone rang at 8 a.m.

Janet Loper told me Ed had died.

His spirit, as it passed, woke me up to say goodbye.

Sound crazy?  I think so too, but I believe it. 

That’s mystical.

Last night I heard Herbie Hancock play acoustic and electronic jazz at the Kimmel Center.

At one point, he told the audience he called Chic Corea to ask him to listen to a piece he had composed.  Herbie told us, “When I wrote it, I said to myself, 'Chic could have written this.'  I had to be sure I had not heard it before.”

Chic said he had not written it.  “It’s one that must have gotten away from me,” he told Herbie.

Herbie channeled Chic’s musical ideas as well as others.  Miles Davis said in his autobiography, “Herbie was the step after Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, and I haven’t heard anybody yet who has come after him.”

Dr. Barnes says, “Mysticism is a sense of union with something not ourselves.  It is felt to be intensely real even though any one lacking the mystic’s sensibility cannot be compelled to share it.”

I have argued repeatedly in these posts artists channel ideas, musical ideas if they are composers, and visual ideas if they are painters.

Ordinary experience offers clues to the mystical experience.  In my case, I enrolled in Ed Loper’s class at the Delaware Art Museum more than 40 years ago because his was the only one that had a space left.  I wanted to continue my painting “hobby.”  Despite his telling me I did not know anything about art, how to paint, or what I was doing, I stayed.  Despite his badgering, his insistent criticism, his relentless demands, I stayed.  I wanted to “see” what he said was possible to see even though I thought he was crazy and/or I was blind to it. 

When I saw color for the first time, it was a revelation.  I felt “born again.”  He made the invisible visible.

That’s mystical.

The world of art Ed Loper opened to me is a world of concentrated, informed vision.  When I paint, I see what I need and want to see.  Everything else disappears, becomes invisible.  Herbie channels Chic.  I channel Renoir, Delaunay, and Matisse.

In my head, despite the fact I have not studied with Ed for more than 25 years, I still hear him hollering: “how light is that?” “put color next to color; you’re skipping”; “you’re not seeing color; you’re making mud.”  His words continue to challenge me to see more, not so I paint pictures that are like his, because they are not, but to paint pictures that, as he has said, “may be rotten, but not ordinary.” 

When I study his pictures, I understand his achievement:  his adaptation of Venetian luminosity with Cézanne’s power and, in his late work, with Renoir’s warmth.  He talks to me through his work.

When I remember his early struggles and persistence to be taken seriously in a society hostile to black people, to keep at it despite everything stacked against him, to insist his students stop complaining, or as he eloquently put it, to just “shut up and paint,” I feel a connection to something meaningful and profoundly motivating—“a seeing beneath appearances to the reality underlying them,” Barnes calls it. 

That’s mystical.

Here’s the summary: (1) An accident: I enrolled in the one class at the Delaware Art Museum that had a space left; (2) I survived a torturous apprenticeship; (3) I received a gift: a vision that intrigued me and I wanted, and needed, to pursue; (4) My teacher demonstrated through his own struggle that ordinary people could live an extraordinary life by making art. 

That’s mystical.

At the end of The Velveteen Rabbit, the Skin Horse tells the Rabbit, "The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

Ed Loper made me Real.  He created an extended family of Real.  We, as the Dan Fogelberg song “Leader of the Band” goes, have his blood running through our instruments and his song in our soul.

Some of us continue to teach others, to pass on what Ed taught us.  Others do it through their paintings. 

My 12-year-old grandson Josh just completed a pastel of a stuffed animal, a sloth, he purchased from the gift shop at the zoo.  Ed would have given him hell for not “seeing” more color, but Josh, intrigued by the process, happily joins me each week to make pictures.  And I don’t give him hell for anything.
Josh and Ed a Few Months Ago

Mary Oliver writes In Blackwater Woods:

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.

At 5 a.m. this  morning, I let Ed go.


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