Writing about your own writing is problematic.
So I won't. If you have time grab a coffee, and have a read.
Great Ocean Quarterly
Alone with The Sea. The Life and Art of Ran Ortner
Born the son of an itinerant preacher father and an artist mother, New Yorker Ran Ortner lived an unconventional, rural Alaskan childhood punctuated by frequent trips to South America in his father’s late forties canvas-winged Cessna. In Ecuador he learned to surf, and from his mother came his love of art, but the vocation to it came later.
In his youth Ran was a gifted motorcycle racer, living the extended peak experience of the flow of the track, of thought without thought, when instinct and reaction time leaves no time at all to think, giving you, paradoxically, all the time in the world. But when a series of accidents ended that career in his early twenties, he began to paint.
To decide on just painting waves though, and not fall into a recognisable convention or rebellion, to just paint waves, singularly, diligently and his way, came as a phase shift after the best part of thirty years where his work had evolved to “a soulful minimalism”.
There was a theme running through these decades, suggestive of horizons and the gaze that comes with years of looking, as surfers do, out… that triggered the idea of returning to painting the sea. It had been a youthful dalliance, painting the sea, but this return was dismissed until, as part of a long habit of reading and research for its own sake, Ran came across a quote by American Catholic mystic Thomas Merton that freed him from feeling the need to constantly invent, and helped him realise that the most meaningful form of new is the most ancient, as it is always in the process of becoming. It was an epiphany of sorts to realise that this was how he saw the sea. Being able to convey this constant ‘becoming’ that is the sea would create a powerful and ongoing experience.
The sea Ran paints now is a readable sea.
With each canvas comes a story of wind, tide, bottom contour and weather. Frequent hints at what might be in the un-real realities of pigment, oil and canvas.
Of course this ability to read the sea sits in direct proportion to your experience of it, and what kind of experience that was.
A lifelong surfer, Ran paints his familiar near-shore, a tossed celadon green sea, often post-storm, local winds chopping the surface, the froth of broken waves forming a whitewater lacing, muted stained glass windows casting milky light to the shoaling not-so-deeps below.
In a Brooklyn studio big enough to work with paintings ten metres or more in width he sits, ponders, and occasionally takes time to dance.
Brush in hand he will connect with these seas, teasing out the complex rhythms of tone, value and colour, conducting search after search for myriad subtle truths.
Thirty years later he believes he has finally found moments of the race track flow state in his art. When he is in front of the canvas, he is.
This journey has not come without cost.
He decided many years ago that this was his life’s work. He has no children, his life is spare and has until very recently been one of making do, and finding a way to create his art.
It’s a curious thing, meeting an artist from half a world away.
A skype conversation becomes a discovery that his prime motivation, his dream, has always been to show beauty.
And this is the key. To show beauty means to show, not just create or discover it. Devoting a life to your dreams and yours alone requires an egocentricity that could be conceived as arrogance. Another way to look at it, though, is through a window of aesthetic altruism, a sharing of what might have been a beautiful secret, or the drawing of attention to an unseen wonder right in front of your eyes.
These storm-tossed near-shore seas are a perfect case in point.
This is the sea of the wandering beachcomber, the family going for a walk, the sea of the out-looker with moments to spare.
But in the cathedral-like surrounds best served to display works of this scale, it becomes a way to imprison the eye for far longer than a glance, and by that indiscreet capture, force the viewer to really look.
A random search on the internet found this quote:
“I have never been so instantly moved by a painting before. Overwhelming. I want to cry”.
This, to an online image, a picture of a picture of a picture if you will.
One wonders what the real thing would do.
Great Ocean Quarterly - The Fall
There is a romance to falling off a surfboard.
Beyond the subtleties of the perfectly executed cutback, bottom turn or launch into space, is the simple fascination of watching someone fail spectacularly.
Just losing contact with that sculptured sled is given moment by the arena, a moment proportionate to the size of the waves, the shallowness of the water, or both.
Most surfers begin their waveriding lives flopping into the foamy mush of a beachbreak, often at a surf school, with soft boards and gentle waves, or being pushed into a green lump by Dad or Mum, hoping their young grommet might get the bug. With luck, they may have that special gene that means becoming a surfer happened at birth, with the sniff and splash of the sea the only catalyst needed to begin a lifetime road to ruin or wonder, depending on whether the wind is blowing from the right direction.
If this is the case you are not being taken to the sea, as much as taken by it. A glorious kidnapping by sunlight, swell and water.
For all who start, though, there will be baby steps. These steps become bigger as the progression from standing up, to turning, to seeing, finds an end as a seasoned surfer with salt-hardened eyes becomes one with the horizon, reading dark lines far beyond the break, waiting to launch into thirty seconds of (hopefully) balletic instinct before paddling back out and doing it all again.
Years before this comes, though, will be the endless youthful calls to anyone watching of “Did you see that wave?” (or cutback, or re-entry) but more often than all is “Did you see that wipeout?” Did you see me fall off my board, did you see me fail?
This is the wonderful thing about failing, in anything you might do.
You must try, you must risk, you must, as Tim Winton puts it, paddle out onto that blank page of potential, pick up a pencil, and see that thought through.
Begin. Create. Live.
On these pages, three great photographers have given us some views of what it is like to fail gloriously.
Their subjects have chosen to place themselves in what seems like the threat of certain death.
If they hadn’t gone through that lifetime of baby steps it would certainly be more likely, but apart from the sudden
stop of reef, coral or fibreglass rocket ship, or just being down way too long, it is quite likely you’ll just... come up.
By staying calm and seeing it through, by not letting panic lead to despair and chaos, all should be well.
These surfers know this.
Inside them is often a silent joy.
They are leaping out into the familiar, knowing that with this they become just that little bit stronger.
And, to be sure, they are out there having fun.
The following piece was written on the spur of the moment as a reaction to a short story, The Sea Guinanes, penned by renowned author Gregory Day for Great Ocean Quarterly's Launch Issue. The idea of a man who's job it was to count shells, but fell in love instead, had me wondering what if someone else took up his vocation, or took to shell counting as a vocation, and saw it to its end. I am in awe of Gregory Day by the way. Search his work out.
On The Importance Of The Mundane, Or...
...The Collection Of Aloysious Porridge, Shell Counter.
These shells from the collected work of Aloysius Porridge represent arbitrary moments from many years gathering proof that a particular beach in a particular shire possessed the distinction of having more shells than any other beach in the world.
This is of course difficult to prove, but the fact the act has been done gives rise to the challenge to prove otherwise. An unkind soul might say the numbers attached to the random selection shown are simply arbitrary assignments of count that are complete falsehoods. This might be but for the tireless efforts of Mr Porridge which included noting conditions of weather and ocean, all corroborated by dates and cross referencing with meteorological records over a period of many years.
The shells below are further proof of Porridge’s diligence, as he made sure to include every shell and shell fragment on this beach, drawing the line only when the difference between shell and sand had become indiscernible to his increasingly expert eye. He kept random samples through his count, numbered them with india ink in accordance with his method, and returned the rest to the beach.
Shell No 1. January 23 1933
Wind from the land. Hot. A small swell and waves barely breaking. I collected this tiny shell from the shore nearest the water, just after a wave washed up the beach.
Shell No 2. January 23 1933
This shell was next to the tiny shell that was Shell No: 1. Number 2 was bigger, and I noticed it next. I’ve often wondered since why I didn’t count it first.
Shell number 3682. January 31 1933
A day of strong winds from the South, with a massive broken swell belting the beach. The tide was high and the surge so great I had to give up my count after only 539 shells, the last nearly losing me my neck as I was near washed into the long rock channel near the Elliot River mouth. The water was bloody cold for mid summer.
Shell number 46,228. July 3 1948
Columbellidae. I’m getting the hang of the Latin names, and hope the spelling is right. NNW wind, eastern end of the beach near a large jutting of rock exposed by the recent swell. Calm, unseasonal sea.
Shell number 1,995,982. March 27 1972
I used to call them limpets but now I know they are Patellidae. My mates won’t shut up, them that’s left. They think I’m a Latin spouting knob, but sometimes they bring a shell in and ask me its true name. Warm autumn day, the Monday before Easter. I’m hoping this week I might just crack the two million mark.
Shell number 2,000,000. April 2 1972
This un-numbered shell was randomly selected from the uncounted pile found next to Aloysius on the day he died. Easter Sunday was an odd day to pass for a man who was not of a religious persuasion, but it was a beautiful one, if the smile on his quiet, stilled face is anything to go by.
This entry was made by his friends from the beach.
Humour - From the blog Safetosea
Another week and this one a little more significant as I had another birthday.
Waves wise I was gifted with delightful weather and gutless crap, but managed to get wet, keeping the hounds at bay for another week.
As is the case with birthdays, though, I had the odd visitor to help me celebrate.
My mate Mo dropped by, and over a coffee we were having a bit of a laugh, me griping and sounding very much like my Dad as I moaned about the kids need to low ride... the belt of their jeans sitting two thirds of the way down their bum crack. I was being laughed down, the conversation lurched into our fashion disasters, with Mo confessing to glitter and eye makeup during his "Sly and the Family Stone' period. Mo's big, and black, and the mental picture had me cracking up until he fixed me with a bemused glance and said...
"The dressing gown... that's all I'll say."
Nearly twenty years ago Sue and I had a very rough patch, and in that twilight zone before I actually moved out for a bit of a break, we were tolerating each other, but I was still 'around'.
On the day in question she'd come home and said she'd bumped into an old boyfriend, an actor, who she hadn't seen for ages, and was it cool by me if she had a catch up dinner with him.
No problem says I...a quiet night at home, watch a vid, all that.
So off goes Sue, I see the vid, it's winter, I'll hop into bed and read a book. Can't be bothered with that, start reading a surf mag, then pick up one of Sue's Women's Weekly's just because it's there. By this time it's a bit chilly so I've popped on Sue's Japanese print dressing gown as I don't have one and what the heck I'm by myself and yikes that some fart coming on so I let her rip and boy is it a paint peeler when I hear the door open and Sue saying..
"Come on in and meet Mick, he'd love to say hello' and I'm going "No, no, noooooo ' inside and in walks this guy I've never met, who steps into the bedroom with me in an effing Kimono for God's sake, and reading a Women's Weekly, and smelling like the Port-a-loo at a Hell's Angels Convention.
We shook hands, he smiled weakly and backed out, right out... the door, and the house.
Never saw him again.
I was back with Sue six months later and Joey turned up about 10 months after that.
God I'm a smooth bastard.