Wednesday, January 18, 2012


When the winter light of the San Francisco Bay Area is at its most heartbreakingly beautiful the atmosphere has been scoured by wind and rain the day before (as it was the day before I took this photograph). The scouring gives a stop sign, side of a warehouse or distant tanker the same exacting definition scissors give to fresh cut hair. The low sunlight mutes these same objects, softening them as if everything is covered in a microscopically thin layer of silk. Colors powder, harmonize and evoke the iconic promise that California is, a sense of well-being one notch shy of stupendous.

On New Year's day (the day after I took this photograph) I walked with my friend  Christine into the view we had from her window: Bayview-Hunter's Point, San Francisco (the view of the photograph). To be exact, our walk took us  to a derelict patch of bayside near a decommissioned coal plant and the tankers anchored beyond it. We saw seagulls, plovers and even a kingfisher hunt the low-tide shoreline, thick with exposed mussels, seaweed, slabs of shattered concrete, rotting tires, chunks of old marble, bottle caps and broken glass. In this hunting ground of rust and detritus we met an artist of infinite sadness, a thirty-eight year old man from Guanajuato Mexico wearing an Oakland Raider's baseball cap.

Porfirio Vasquez spoke to us in very broken English and explained, with the help of newspaper articles about him, the works of art he had created and stood amidst. A working stonemason since he was thirteen, Vasquez had created yards and yards of sculptures from the stones and detritus of this semi-wasteland and bird sanctuary. Iguanas, herons, skeletons made of stones and driftwood. Automobiles made of wire and glass. Abstract stacks of stones. It was the work of a child, of a skilled mason, of an attenuated and lonely semi-genius. Porfirio Vasquez: obsessed, haunted, bringing forth a patch of his own visions; a homeless, Mexican William Blake with an injured left arm. Working perhaps in the service or at the mercy of the dralas.

To say anything more about Porfirio Vasquez or his art would be to speculate. These few paragraphs are a tribute to him - nothing more than a stone tossed into a pond, and the wave it creates no more significant than an echo. But what makes an echo, and what is on the other side of it? These questions are significant. It is the discovery of our own poetry and the imprint it makes on the world that counts a great deal in this sad, lovely and infinitely meaningful cosmos. In this way, Porfirio Vasquez serves as our mirror and walks beside us.

In this journal I am introducing another artist, in this case a website, and the principle person behind it. Dharma Arte is published from Brazil. It is inspired by the dharma art teachings of Chögyam Trungpa. It is published in Portuguese though most articles are also translated into English. It is a bilingual, cross-hemisphere, cross-cultural pollination system and experiment. It is an archive or abode for writings from or information about not only Chögyam Trungpa, but other essential ancestors - some living, some no longer - of the particular post-modern terrain that dharma art is: John Cage, Meredith Monk, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Laurie Anderson. It is a canvas and publication of current practitioners of this terrain, from the well or semi-well known to the anonymous, including the anonymous of the favela.

The prime mover of Dharma Arte is Carlos Inada of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Carlos has worked tireless to launch and keep afloat this bi-lingual and elegant contraption. I will provide occasional links to Dharma Arte in the future, but please check it out for yourself, especially their blog. It is an expression of the creative vastness of the drala principle, as well as a site many readers might like to participate in. This is also the last week of Dharma Arte's annual fundraising drive, and if any of you are inspired to support them in this way, it would of course be welcome.

From George Steiner: Language and Silence, printed in Dharma Arte: In my view, [literature and philosophy] are under threat today. Literature has chosen the domain of small scale personal relationships, and no longer deals with great metaphysical themes. We no longer have writers like Balzac and Zola, geniuses of human comedy who could explore every domain. Proust also created an inexhaustible world, and Joyce’s Ulysses is still very close to Homer… Joyce is the bridge between the two great worlds of classicism and chaos. In the past, philosophy could also claim to be universal. The entire world was open to the thought of a philosopher like Spinoza. Today an immense part of the universe is closed to us... (read more)