As an Australian living in the United States, I’m so far around the globe from my birthplace, Melbourne, the night sky seems more than a little strange. I grew up with the Southern Cross as my after dark companion, and I guess that conditioning still runs deep.
Years before I learned art had a definition, it was already an integral part of my life. Drawing filled all my childhood days and, in my late teens, segued naturally into a formal art education. For decades I painted in oils, egg tempera, and acrylics, but now I paint digitally.
I was born in Melbourne, Australia early one November morning in 1951. As November in Australia is late spring, summer vacations are often taken at the end of December. At least that's the way my family did it.
The timing of my birth meant that at the age of 7 weeks, I was out in the bush living under canvas. Of course I don't remember a thing about that particular camping trip. Years later my Mum would tell me I was an easy baby to have out in the bush. All she had to do was put my bassinet under a gum tree and I'd lay there for hours, contentedly gazing up at the swaying leaves.
That early resonance with nature has sustained itself throughout my entire life. Although I was born into a working-class family and raised in a large city, Mother Earth (Gaia) managed to repeatedly find ways to sidestep my urban conditioning and remind me of the more important things in life.
The early years
Complex make-believe games, invented in the moment and acted out with whatever props were handy, filled large chunks of my childhood. So did building things. I just loved to tinker.
I discovered early on that reading in a moving car made me feel nauseous. After that, I'd just sit back for the length of the car trip and give my imagination free reign. I became very good at constructing complex 3D images inside my head. I'd continually add and subtract bits and pieces as I molded them to my desire, much like a sculptor working with clay. Years later I was surprised to learn that this wasn't something everyone did.
Like so many kids, my imagination ran wild whenever I picked up pencils and paper. Unlike many kids, my pencil and paper obsession never faded with the onset of my teens. Although I cannot remember a time when I wasn't drawing, little in my early life encouraged artistic expression. Throughout childhood and early teens, I sketched and painted in what I would now describe as a cultural wasteland.
Regular school held little appeal. No surprise there. For a shy, creative type, those early years were at best mind-numbing, at worse brutish and terrifying.
My first six years of schooling were spent attending a local State Primary School. It was in walking distance of my home, and it's those walks to and from school that fill most of my memories. The best I took away from the actual schooling was that I was "dumb".
My secondary education took place at a local all-boys Technical School. What a shock! What a horror! I handled the classroom boredom by drawing in the margins of textbooks, secretly reading fantasy stories, or simply daydreaming. I coped with the schoolyard bullying by perfecting the art of "invisibility".
Teens and a miracle of sorts
I began a long and passionate affair with guitar shortly after turning 16. My obsession continued, and remained second only to painting, until I reached 30.
At 17 years of age a miracle of sorts occurred, and events conspired to catapult me headlong into college life. No, that wasn't the miracle, although from my parent's perspective going to college was certainly breaking new ground. The real magic was that through no personal effort that I can recall, I became a full time student of painting!
Simply put, art school turned my life on its head! Suddenly I was amidst peers of like mind and temperament where creative expression was celebrated as next to godliness. At that tender age it was the closest thing to sustained bliss I'd ever experienced.
While my formal studies inspired me to experiment with many styles of painting and many types of subject matter, by final year I had returned to painting that which could not be readily seen. The fanciful worlds and creatures of my childhood again filled my canvases, and the look and feel of my art took on a romantic/narrative/illustrative style. My path had become clear.
After four paint-fume-filled years I graduated from the Fine Art department of the Preston Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.
Surviving to paint
To a large extent the years immediately following graduation were spent in a rambling, undisciplined exploration of life at large. As I continued to pursue what many saw as a totally pointless lifestyle, the years stretched out into decades.
Although there were times when I was sorely pressed to rationalize why I was doing what I was doing, despair rarely darkened my vision. My guiding light remained an irrepressible urge to create coupled with a burning desire to plumb the depths of mysteries I could feel in my bones, but could not articulate.
To support my creative endeavors, I worked at mostly part time jobs. For varying periods I was a factory worker, a student teacher, an airlines reservation clerk, a truck driver, a stage hand, a guitar teacher, an illustrator, a laborer, a taichi and qigong teacher, a librarian, and many other diverse but now poorly remembered occupations. Their common trait I do remember, though. They paid the rent, put food on the table, and left me time to paint and contemplate.
On several occasions I moved out of the city and lived in the bush. I didn't go that far from Melbourne, but it was far enough to have kangaroos in the side paddocks, water fetched in buckets, and on one particular bush adventure, a house without electricity.
Those were the days of surviving at a very basic level and growing lots of my own food. My painting studio consisted of what I could pack into a medium size bag. During that time the paintings and drawings I created were tiny, the largest measuring no more than about 5 x 7 inches.
Entanglements and growth
Creative endeavors can rarely be pursued in a vacuum, and life set about entangling me in a number of personal relationships.
There is no denying the fact that my early introverted years had done little to prepare me for such adventures. I was an innocent, a babe in the woods, and I stumbled through the more challenging aspects of those relationships in a less than elegant manner.
The passing years saw me marry several times until, on the third try, I finally found a true love. She and I have been inseparable ever since.
Finding the way
I first became interested in meditation in my mid-teens but, try as I might, during those early years I never managed to follow through with any consistent practice. After college I practiced yoga on and off for a number of years, but it wasn't for me.
Then a friend began teaching me taijiquan. Suddenly the whole yin-yang thing made eye-popping sense, and I jumped into the daily practices with boundless enthusiasm. As my taijiquan commitment matured, an opportunity opened up to study the Daoist arts at a much deeper level.
To make a long story short, beginning in my late twenties and spanning nine years, I formally studied the soft martial arts and neigong with two Chinese teachers.
Neigong is a branch of the Daoist Internal Arts that employs qigong, meditation, and other practices to literally remake one’s being. Some of the more obvious benefits include an increase in personal energy, a stronger body, greater awareness, and access to the energies of heaven and earth.
Except for daily painting sessions and a part-time job to pay for food and rent, that was my focus for those entire nine years. Study, practice, paint, study, practice, paint.
Although I enjoyed attending the many public classes my teachers held, most of my serious study was conducted in private. That is, I studied the higher levels of these arts in classes where two students were the maximum number allowed. Often these classes would consist of only me. To pass on such profound teachings successfully, my teachers insisted such a dedicated and focused approach was necessary.
Since then neigong and all it embraces has remained a constant companion. As my last teacher took pains to emphasize, sincere and diligent practice of these arts would endow one with an exquisitely beautiful and priceless jewel.
Of course she wasn't talking about a physical gem. Instead she was referring to the culmination of all the energetic transformations the practice of these arts produce. She also emphasized that once this jewel was obtained, one would never choose to surrender it for any amount of money, even if one could.
To this day these practices have remained a daily blessing.
Across the world
In 1988 my marriage to an American inspired me to immigrate to the United States.
Since then the majority of my time in the USA has been spent in the rural backwoods of upstate New York. I did, however, live in Portland, Oregon for three years while my wife studied Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
I now make my home in a small village situated within the borders of New York's 6.1 million acre Adirondack State Park.
Challenges and changes
As the Daoists (Taoists) so poignantly point out, the infinite cosmos and our finite lives both share a predilection for balance.
Given enough time, even the most extreme behavior or event will morph into its opposite. And somewhere in the transition phase a point of balance is reached and passed, an exquisitely serene moment where everything is exactly as it should be.
For most people, swamped as they are by the emotional turmoil of the changes taking place in and around them, those moments of balance almost always pass unnoticed. Yet those pauses at the midpoint are moments precious beyond measure. For they are nothing less than doorways through which the greater reality beyond our normally contracted lives can be touched.
To stay fully aware when life swings from one extreme to another, to stay conscious of the energy emanating from the point of balance and fully relax into it, well, that is to experience a gift from the gods.
And I was lucky. A period of intense and escalating personal challenges brought me to a point where I just stopped doing what I'd always done before. Instead of continuing an endless and fruitless battle of resistance, I found myself intently watching what was going on in and around me. How strange to see and acknowledge one's neuroses in full swing and in real time.
While it wasn't giving up on life, it certainly was a "letting go". And as a result my world slowly turned on its axis.The challenges by no means immediately abated, but the formless, oppressive feeling of suffocation did.
In the following months a deepening faith gently moved me towards the truth that everything at its core is pure energy. Since childhood my life had been peppered with hints that we all live in a multidimensional world. That reality had now taken up residence in my cells.
As a creative person I've never been troubled by my interest in what many artists would call the dark side, that is, practical science. In fact my lifelong fascination with both tinkering and understanding how things work has added great breadth and depth to my artistic explorations.
For example, my artistic temperament is complemented by a sizable, unschooled geek streak. When personal computers became available, I enthusiastically embraced all they offered, not realizing where that enthusiasm would eventually lead. As it turned out, it transformed the way I paint.
After decades of painting traditionally, and with years of computer usage under my belt, in 2004 I began playing around with digital paint. Within a very short time that playing-around morphed into serious-experimentation, and I was hooked.
In the end I devoted seven years to transferring my traditional painting skills to the computer and perfecting my digital brush strokes.
I now paint only digitally.