Breath.

A day in May that starts with sun. The writers, long gone, who wrote stories on a day like today for future readers, for readers forever. The artists, who made something every day—on paper and walls, confined to their beds with illness, or out scavenging the fields and streets for beauty. The poets, who tried on the moon, who fell in love with all their hearts, who were beyond consolation and then found again. The singers, who consider the evening trees, the blackness and beauty in the human heart. The scientists, who watch and are struck with awe at their own method.

To this day in May and to all the things that give us hope and breath.

View up close in the gallery.

Cherry blossoms fly...

Cherry blossoms fly,
clouds moving fast overhead,
endless beginnings.

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This haiku and painting conveys the revived energy and reanimation of the earth in spring. The green that emerges almost overnight, buds breaking, flowers blossoming, bulbs popping out of the sodden earth, birds returning, and the sky changing. Clouds moving fast in the sky this time of year is something that has always been exciting to me—the spring winds.

Growing up, my mom called it the chinook, the winds that carried the scent of sweet, loamy earth—a sure sign that spring has settled in and winter is behind us. I still look forward to the day I smell it in the air each spring—a bellwether of the beauty to come.

The butterfly.

One thing becomes another. This is the story of the butterfly. It is also the story of people. Every day—every moment—changes us. Sometimes it is as dramatic as the metamorphosis of the butterfly, sometimes it is only when we stop to look back that we realize how much we have changed, and what made it happen.

It can also be the not changing, the not becoming another thing that is startling. I appreciate the chance every day to decide what to do—the blank piece of paper—the impulse to put down marks and then change them to see what else they can become.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.”

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Permanence and Change

Exhibiting my work is a new experience for me. It means a lot to have people see and consider my paintings and the writing that goes with them. At the moment, I have two paintings hanging in an exhibit around the theme of Permanence and Change at Concordia University here in Ann Arbor. The exhibit started on April 3 with an artist reception and will be up until May 8, 2019. Please go and check it out if you can, the Kreft Center Gallery is a beautiful space and there is a lot of interesting art in the show. Concordia also has a nice campus situated on the Huron River—and spring is really bursting here in Ann Arbor—it’s a great time to visit.

Just about all of my work is about the theme of Permanence and Change. The two paintings that were selected for the show specifically address the longing for personal connection—and the attempt to understand that connection in spite of the inherent ambiguities of the human heart.

Concordia University Ann Arbor
4090 Geddes Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

2019 Kreft National Juried Exhibition
April 3 – May 8
The gallery is open to the public, free of charge.
Tuesday – Friday | 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Saturday and Sunday | 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm.

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The morning bird.

The morning bird—
his call repeated
in the heart of the forest.
Darkness, black branches,
colorless April leaves.

Like a heartbeat,
like a heartbeat,
like a heartbeat,
he calls.

He is a cardinal.

First to sing in the morning,
last to sing at night—
he wills the light,
he calls to the dark.

View up close in the gallery.

Jennifer FarinaComment
The stars floating down.

The lost echo
on a moonless night,
the slim silhouettes of trees,
enough to hide the animals.

Animals that look like you and me
in their wandering.
Tentative steps along a path
in the woods.
Unaware of their age or home.
They are just here,
moving from place to place,
finding warmth at the base of a tree in May,
winds coming in from the west.

Noises overhead
and underground.
Waking to a darkness
that becomes light
one way or another.

The stars floating down
into your hands and then gone,
most times, you don’t even know.

View up close in the gallery.

The treeline near my studio where I envision the animals moving at night.

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Jennifer FarinaComment
Luck and beauty.

Looking up from the bottom
to where the tops of trees
meet and reach for each other
against the sky—one crow
crosses over, looking.

Tiny moss is starting to grow
and sprout despite the
April cold.

It says:

I am no forlorn angel,
I am luck,
I am beauty,
and I grow
without knowing the end.

View up close in the gallery.

Moss sprouting leaves on the floor of my favorite forest.

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Now on exhibit!
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Permanence and change. This is the theme of Concordia University’s 2019 Kreft National Juried Exhibition and I’m so pleased to have had two paintings selected to appear in this show. I think I can easily say that most of my work relates to this theme in one way or another.

It is up now through May 8 with an artist’s reception on Friday, April 5, from 7 - 9pm. Please come and see it and say hello this Friday at the Ann Arbor campus if you can.

Concordia University Ann Arbor
4090 Geddes Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

2019 Kreft National Juried Exhibition
April 3 – May 8
The gallery is open to the public, free of charge.
Tuesday – Friday | 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Saturday and Sunday | 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm.

Reception for the Artists: April 5, 7-9 pm
Kreft Center Gallery
Free and Open to the Public

Learn more about the Kreft Center Gallery here.

The Mind Bloom bloomed.

Thank you to all who came to see The Mind Bloom exhibit at the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens, purchased paintings, and showed support. All of it means a great deal to me. The experience of sharing 40 paintings—each with their corresponding poems and writing—was like taking a leap. I knew what it all meant to me, but had no idea how it would be understood or received. Well, I couldn't have asked for a better experience. Hearing people's comments and thoughts and questions enriched the work even more.

One friend in particular, knowing how important it all is to me, congratulated me on the first day of the show, and said that one of the things she liked most was that all of the work was so 'uncynical', which is one of the best comments I could have asked for. My temperament has always skewed a bit towards the melancholy, which is not a bad thing, but I would want my work to ultimately represent the experience of being alive and awake—despite the darkness that everyone faces at times.

This cycle of making and sharing is one that I plan to continue for the rest of my life. Looking ahead to more experiences and exhibits...and leaps.

View all paintings in the gallery.

Jennifer FarinaComment
The river.

View up close in the gallery.

The vernal equinox. This year the day also brings with it a full moon: sap moon, sugar moon, worm moon, crow moon—all signifying movement—awakening. This is one of the things this painting represents, the movement of the river and the life above and below its surface. The Huron River flows through the city I live in. It originates from the Huron Swamp and flows 130 miles to Lake Erie. It is a caretaker of many living things. I’ve seen exhausted migrating birds taking a rest on it, purple swallows criss-crossing to catch bugs above it, a baby kingbird singing an evening song perched on its bank. I’ve seen sunlight caught on its current, the blue evening shadows diving below, silhouettes of trees rising above it—my own reflection. The river is a caretaker of me, too.

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I have an old photo of my father next to this river. He is kneeling, clean and angular, with a shiny watch on his wrist. The colors behind him are violet and cream, blue and green, and shadows, shadows, everywhere. He died young, and I have tried ever since to understand why.

I think of Norman Maclean writing in A River Runs Through It, “It is those we live with and should know, who elude us, but we can still love them, we can love completely without complete understanding.”

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All that a promise can hope to mend.

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Sometimes the words come for a painting and they are just right. Here, I am thinking of the word 'promise' in the sense of what can be—what is possible—the mystery that remains, no matter what.

It is the possibility of learning new things, making new things, seeing new things that maintains momentum—in mind and body. And this is where the mending comes in.

These black lines feel powerful and here they are protecting the thing full of promise—the emerging spring—the life under the ice sending up bubbles in the forest creek—the possibility.

Blue herons, blue night...

Blue herons, blue night,
silhouettes on their way home,
the sun, already set.

View up close in the gallery.

Maybe more so than other forms of poetry, the haiku lets you be in the moment with the poet who wrote it. You are with Basho looking at the moon and feeling lonely, with Shiki seeing a trout in the river that is the color of the river, with Jack Kerouac at the sea contemplating nothingness… It is comforting—the shadows that fall, the birds that move with the seasons, the questions and longing that persist for centuries. 

In small living things...

In small living things
weight is carried like air,
in sky and water.

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It is March—finally nearing spring—though it still feels like the middle of winter in Michigan with snow, ice, and bitter winds most every day lately. One day this past week though I had a mourning dove just outside my window at dusk making his call. It was so loud it startled me—I heard him before I saw him. He kept at it for a few minutes, eyeing me as I peeked through the blinds. The next morning he was out there again (or, had been out there all night sleeping), balanced on a rail. This time at least the rising sun was just starting to shine on him. His soft grayish brown body looked like velvet, his chest puffed out against the cold. Watching me again as I peeked out at him he made a small step sideways.

I’ve read about mourning doves and know they can fly incredibly fast and straight, but that morning he was still and silent as the sun rose, his instincts telling him things will change soon. My thought was to write a poem for him: the tiny bones of his ribcage that create the space for air to pass through as he practices his call to find the mate that hasn’t arrived yet and has no awareness that he is on this balcony, calling to the setting sun.

To me, every small living thing represents this kind of mystery and majesty. A whole complex life that we can observe and document but really only guess as to what it feels like to live it.

Photos taken from inside the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. My exhibit there continues until March 24, 2019.

All-sky map maker.

A seemingly impossible task…

This painting came together over a few weeks. It started with the black line, kind of an automatic painting just for the sake of a putting down a nice line to see where it goes. Then I set it aside for a while. Next came that deep ultramarine in the center with a wash of lighter blue emanating from it. Again, I set it aside for a bit, not even sure which orientation felt right.

Then one day I laid the gold down in the same way—quickly and enjoying how the swirls fell together. It suddenly felt like an aerial view of a pond, land meeting water, caverns and canyons—and also suddenly a face. A surprise, but once I saw it, the orientation was decided. I set it aside again for a while longer, until a snowy Sunday and like a meditation I hand-dotted all of those specks with a white pen, then the light blue wash, then the white pen carving out that blue, then black pen finishing off the outer waves—like lapping water, or atmosphere, or sound. All of the sudden it was an otherworldly figure made out of an otherworld.

The name came to me thinking of a beautiful thin hardcover book I bought in the fall at the library used book sale for 50 cents: The Cambridge Star Atlas, by Wil Tirion. It has a table of contents that is deceptively simple: The Moon, The Monthly Sky Maps, The Star Charts, and The All-Sky Maps. Pages of bright blue maps of the stars, shown as dots, connected by lines forming constellations. Keys that identify single and double stars, open clusters, globular clusters, planetary nebulae, galaxies.. Like poetry.

I loved that someone mapped all of this and put it in this book…and that person is the All-Sky Map Maker.

View up close in the gallery.

The belief.

When I was younger
I had the belief
that there would be 
one who I will love
and one who 
I know loves me—
almost that love 
is a fixed place.

And yes, there can be walks in 
the April woods that
feel full of infinity—every leaf a universe
and the thawing stream a bounty. 

The unspoken amazement at 
a crush of trout lilies,
pushing their way up through
last year’s leaves.

The imagining of this path
as seen from above—
two people on their way through 
the woods, as if it’s the cosmos.

With atoms visible and all 
ideas entertained—the sheerness
of it all—so immediate 
and available. 

But this love between you two
is not a place. It floats
just above as you pass by
the maidenhair fern.

Growing, living, and dying, 
in spite of 
the belief.

View up close in the gallery.

The fresh blue meandering shape of this painting with its complications of winding lines and dashes made it a good match for the walk that this poem takes. I wrote it last spring thinking of the literal feeling of taking my favorite forest walk—but the writing of the poem brought out a deeper, more metaphysical and personal meaning. I saw that curved perimeter of the painting and knew that poem would complete it.

Looking at it today, it reminds me of the photographer Duane Michals’ photograph called ‘This Photograph is My Proof’, which shows a couple sitting on the edge of a bed, a man in a suit, smiling, the woman giving him a warm embrace with her head resting on his back, also looking at the camera smiling. The title and words that follow it are handwritten: “There was that afternoon, when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were so happy. It did happen, she did love me. Look see for yourself!”

The image and words work together perfectly to reveal the ambiguity and mystery of memory, love, and life itself. How is our experience of the world—of the people in our lives—defined? Is it only our perception? Can an image be ‘proof’? It is frozen in time, and does that truth last beyond that moment? Aren’t images and words and the combination of them constructions that exist somewhere on their own, outside of time?

To me, this is the work of words and images—constantly asking questions about what it means to be human, what it means to love others, and the world itself.

Underneath the bloom...

Underneath the bloom,
me and my melancholy
are separated.

View up close in the gallery.

This is one of a number of my paintings that use this strong black line to express an organic form. I learned to do calligraphy when I was very young and have always been drawn to this type of line. There is a lot of poignancy and beauty to be found in how it changes in one stroke: thick to thin, loud to quiet, bold to just a wisp.

I see these kinds of lines everywhere in nature, too. The elegance of leafless, black-barked trees in winter, the intricate patterns of lichen that encrust those trees like jewels—even the crosshatch pattern of the fur on my black and white dog's chest, growing in a swirl as he steps into the frame as I try to photograph that lichen...

The painter Ben Shahn created lines that were distinctly his own and I have admired them for as long as I can remember. He said, "How do you paint yellow wheat against a yellow sky? You paint it jet black."

Lady in the moon...

Lady in the moon
rises above the treeline
like a loose, round pearl.

View up close in the gallery.

A lot of my paintings carry my haiku poems on them.

I like the economy and revelation of them. About ten years ago I challenged myself to write a haiku a day at the start of the new year. After a year of doing it, I found it hard to stop. I've kept it up pretty consistently since then and now have hundreds of them.

I'll pull from old ones for a new painting, or sometimes a new painting requires a new haiku. In this case, it was a haiku written last year that got a new life as part of this painting. As the painting got going, I could see that moon from the haiku hanging up there and the idea was complete.

Our endless lives.

Wild things grow in
the woods that we walk.

Bracket fungi, like wooden
rainbows, protrude
with stiff ruffled blooms
out of fallen trees
now disintegrating every day—
turning red from decay.

Once the home of songbirds and
their nests filled with babies;
and insects, and leaping squirrels,
and knocking woodpeckers.
Once the tall lookout
of the horned owls who live here.
Once with leaves that made a sound
like music before a spring storm.
Once with bark that was fresh
grey, or brown, and patterned in
some way that distinguished
it as a particular kind of tree.
Once sending out seedpods
or sap or a leaf in the shape of a hand.
Once with branches that looked
like fine black lines in winter,
stretching out towards the
ether blue of the sky.

Some still have
distinguishable
knots that feel like
eyes that watch us as we
walk and foolishly think
of our endless lives.

View up close in the gallery.

Deep into the night...

Deep into the night,
orbits and ideas spin,
ending with a yes.

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The gesture of this painting is declarative and sincere. It’s why the title ends with the word ‘yes’. It was made on new year’s day, which was cloudy and cold but I was thinking about the year ahead of making things. Today it reminds me of the writer E.B. White. I imagine him reserved and thoughtful. There is a photo of him sitting at a typewriter in his weathered wood writing shack in Maine with a screenless window framing a view of the water.

He said, ”All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world." I believe we need as many people as possible who think this way, who would say this, and who would make things in the service of this idea. I don’t see it as positivity for positivity’s sake, it is a hard belief to hold on to, but more powerful than anything when it is wholeheartedly felt.

Taking in May light...

Taking in May light,
trees raining flower blossoms,
flowers blossoming.

View up close in the gallery.

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This painting was obviously named with a haiku written for the beauty of the magnolias and apple blossom trees that bloom in a sudden burst in early spring here in Michigan. It’s nice to think of them now in the deep of winter.

The painting is also one in a series of ‘bloom’ paintings that I have done (and like to do): The mind bloom, The companion, The dandelion… I use the black calligraphic lines to signify growth, movement, and blooms of all kinds: ideas, flowerheads, lichen, an expression, a growing understanding that leads to some kind of revelation. To me, they are thriving and mysterious things that feel organic and automatic and lay on the paper just right with a presence all their own.