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Monday, December 19, 2016

LOST IN VENICE


lost in Venice
Getting lost in Venice.
Is not difficult.
It's happened to me in Florence too.
And Reggio del' Emilia
It's a sort of amnesia.
And I'm getting used to it.
And it's not easy to let go and say to yourself 'OK, I'm lost and I give up'
In Reggio Emilia I had to be at a Tai Chi class absolutely on time. Absolutely.
I was staying with friends and insisted I didn't need their help to find the class.
But could I?
No, I couldn't.
Just drove around for half an hour, spiraling around the inner city ring road where every road looked the same. And then I thought 'I've blown this' turned down a side road, turned off the engine, made an huge deep sigh, looked out of the car window and guess what?
There it was, the Tai Chi centre down a little road and just in view of where I'd parked.
Same this time in Venice.
Fearing the amnesia coming on when I arrived, (late because my train from Civitanova was 30 minutes behind time and I missed the Bologna connection) I turned on my super smart phone satnav;
and what a foolish thing to do. It told me 6 mins from the railway station and when it said zero minutes, I remember thinking 'How can there be such a thing as zero minutes?', when ZACK!,
my telephone battery ran out of juice. Couldn't call friend, couldn't locate house. Began to ask folks passing by and nobody had heard of either her or her house.
Amnesia sets in and I find myself twenty minutes later in the beautiful piazza Campo Santa Margherita. Quite an amazing place, and it's dark and moody and full of people spilling out of bars and shops; Christmas lighting the way only Italians know how to do.
And I thought this is good. And I let go.
I was coming to my senses now (if I dare say that) and saw clearly the road I had entered the Piazza through, retraced my steps, and found myself in familiar territory. As I turned a corner there was a lady and her daughter about to enter a house and I asked if she had heard of la Ca della Corte and she said 'Yes it's right there' and pointed to this iron gate, one which I had passed a dozen times.

If you are still awake, you might have got the gist of the story, so I won't bother to tell you about how I got lost again the day after and nearly missed my train back to Marche. And I won't even mention the near death experience in a Gondola.

Got back home quite late and had a shower and dived into bed, clutching for my nightly dose of Krishnamurti (The Book of Life). where he writes for the day of December 18.....

'The seeking out of something beyond the inventions and tricks of the mind, which means having a feeling for that something,living in it, being it,--that is true religion. But you can do that only when you leave the pool you have dug for yourself and go out into the river of life. Then life has an astonishing way of taking care of you, because then there is no taking care on your part. Life carries you where it will because you are part of itself; then there is no problem of security, of what people say or don't say, and that is the beauty of life'

So, that more or less sums up what my photographic workshops are about, being absorbed in the rhythms of life, instead of trying to control it (in this case Venice).

p.s. still a few places left on my 'Black and White in Venice' workshop February 2017


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Creativity and evolution


                                                                          Painting Michael Eldridge 'Adriatic' series

 Leonard Cohen was asked in an interview in the seventies where creativity comes from, and he replied 'If I knew, I'd go there more often' A good question and an even better answer. But I wonder if it really matters what we call this seemingly inexhaustible source; some refer to the Universe or the Cosmic Creative Pool but you could just as easily call it The Cosmic Fridge (I do suppose) for all it matters. We just know that it's there, somewhere between us and outside of us, some space that is continually energised and which usually arrives when it chooses; ready or not. I like to think though, that it also leaves a glimmer of itself inside us, if we were but to know it, some sort of residual memory of its splendour, in passing. Like a glowing ember waiting for us to breath and blow it back to flame and keep it alive should it fade.That it is, if you will, a symbiotic relationship, that we cannot live without each other. Our lives without creativity, whatever form this might take, would become shallow and arid. And creativity without us?
When the first earthquake struck us a few weeks back (here in Italy) there was a roaring which travelled at the speed of a Eurostar beneath our house, and I often think that Creativity is just like this, that it comes roaring past us, maybe always, maybe just when it feels like it, I don't know. But the sure thing is that we have to keep ourselves in a receptive state to be able to catch it like a leaf in a gale and hold it close and accept it as a gift.
You might not be surprised to know that our workshops in Italy are about this fascinating phenomenon; this merger between something which resides within us and something outside of us
which we could call another realm.
Sure, we paint, we take photographs, make music, poetry; but what we produce is incidental.
What?
Yes, incidental.
Read this.....

Who says my poems are poems?
My poems are not poems
After you know my poems are not poems
                                  Then we can begin to discuss poetry
                                                                   Zen Poet Ryokan

That sort of thing.......
So this seeming act of indifference to our work, in fact gives it tremendous freedom and this is when
quite marvellous things begin to happen. It is this that I call creating beyond ourselves; entering this
realm of timelessness, where what we might refer to as our normal selves simply dissolve and
something greater appears.
This is the arena we play in at Starstone.
And we choose places in Italy of great power and beauty, Venice and Assisi, which fuel our adventures with colour and energy, away from la vita abituata, the daily grind.


Workshops in Italy...

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Creating beyond oneself

         
                 'Photography and The Creative Mind', Venice February 3 to 6


painting by Michael Eldridge


I just love these words below from Mary Oliver. where she considers the central commitment of the creative life — that of making uncertainty and the unknown the raw material of art: and which she explores in a wonderful piece titled “Of Power and Time“; that.........
'Intellectual work sometimes, spiritual work certainly, artistic work always — these are forces that fall within its grasp, forces that must travel beyond the realm of the hour and the restraint of the habit. Nor can the actual work be well separated from the entire life. Like the knights of the Middle Ages, there is little the creatively inclined person can do but to prepare himself, body and spirit, for the labor to come — for his adventures are all unknown. In truth, the work itself is the adventure. And no artist could go about this work, or would want to, with less than extraordinary energy and concentration. The extraordinary is what art is about.'

And that...“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time”

I love these sentiments because they are the very philosophy which I have been drawn to all my creative life, and on which our workshops at Starstone have been based. And Oliver articulates it so well; that realm which exists in parallel with the ordinary world we half exist in, where creativity resides and awaits us when we have the courage to lose ourselves in its electric embrace. The extraordinary is what she calls it.
And this is Van Gogh writing to his brother Theo on October 2, 1884......
'If one wants to be active, one mustn’t be afraid to do something wrong sometimes, not afraid to lapse into some mistakes. To be good — many people think that they’ll achieve it by doing no harm — and that’s a lie… That leads to stagnation, to mediocrity. Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.
You don’t know how paralysing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves'
One hundred and forty years ago, for goodness sake; a man born way before his time. And maybe that's what artists are, time travelers, never truly content with the age they are living in, but, as Oliver says, driven by forces that must travel beyond the realm of the hour and seeking refuge in the timelessness of creativity.
Oliver goes on to say that certainly there is within each of us a self that is neither a child, nor a servant of the hours. It is a third self, occasional in some of us, tyrant in others. This self is out of love with the ordinary; it is out of love with time. It has a hunger for eternity.
And this reminds me of Krishnarmurti's concept of the young mind (he differentiates between this and the old mind, which is thoroughly conditioned by culture, upbringing and education); .........the young mind which is free, immensely creative and beyond time.
And it is what I call creating beyond oneself, where in the very act of creating, whether it is in painting, photography, ceramics, cooking, gardening et alia, that we transcend the ordinary and inhabit the extraordinary, that magical realm of creativity. And it is here that we understand what it is to be free.
Michael
 Next Starstone workshop 'Photography and The Creative Mind', Venice February 3 to 6


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Brighton Rock

                     Brighton Beach July 23

 When I was a boy, it was our summer treat to be taken to Brighton for the day. We were forced fed Brighton Rock and Wall's ice cream and plonked in a deck chair and told to paddle in the water and brave the wind. (both exceeding good for us)
I remember thinking 'So, this is life?'
Last time I was to go there was when I was eighteen, on the back of a friend's motorbike but was equally unimpressed.
But here I was again in late July running a workshop entitled 'Photography and the Creative Mind'
I arrived a day early to get the feel of the place, wandered along the beach in a southerly direction looking for my B&B and walked into a beach monstrosity. A sort of giant pole without a giant pole dancer with an equally huge metal doughnut on top
And in the Guardian a few days after I get back I see it again. Look at this 
It's that tower! It is!
Now, living as I do in Italy, where this would be a giant chicken perch or a Fire Dept observation tower on top of a mountain, I couldn't help but condemn this as a visual aberration and in no way did I think that it could be anything other than basic functional, like something to do with radio, electricity or gas or sewage. These were my first thoughts.
But it turns out to be a costly work of art.
And this is where we did our morning exercises on the my workshop, right beneath the monstrosity. We did Ci Kung and played a few mind emptying games and turned our bodies into sounding boards, under the ugliest object imaginable. So that set the theme for the weekend; ugliness and beauty. To these add weird.
What is he talking about? I hear you mumble.
And what has all this nonsense got to do with Photography?
Wrong question, I reply. But I'm glad you asked.
(Mind you, you would have to have been there to fully understand but I shall attempt to explain, if inadequately).
Here goes
And it's this, that.......

 'The object isn't to make art, it's to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable'  ......Robert Henri


That photography isn't just about the eye, or the brain, or indeed the mind, it is about the total absorption of our entire being from head to toe, in the very actuality of the moment. So when Robert Henri writes above, about 'that wonderful state', this is what he means.

And the weekend was about that, turning our entire beings into sounding boards, tightly drawn drums, alert and within every nuance of shifting time.

And the participants were wonderful. They were game for every twist and turn and trick I played on them and, incidentally, produced some excellent imagery. But that is quite beside the point. Because they were the products on which I was focused; cameras are mere machines and three years olds are photographers nowadays

And I sent them away with a survival kit and much to ponder on, much more.

I hope they don't forget.



Look out for more photography and the creative mind workshops on the Starstone site and watch out for more in UK in 2017 and one in Venice planned for winter when the city is dark and moody and haunted and tourist free



www.starstone.org

Monday, May 2, 2016

About Creativity, Passion and Jack the dog

                                       CREATIVITY, PASSION AND JACK


I am often asked 'What do you mean by human beings creating beyond themselves?'
(This refers particularly to my last blog where I postulated such a notion).
The easy answer is that I read it somewhere years back and liked it and adopted it into my personal useful philosophy phrase box, along with similar phrases like 'You teach best what you most want to know' That sort of useful buzzybrain stuff.
But I feel it does need explaining, (if only to myself).
So let's start with animals.
Jack, for instance, our neighbours' dog.
 Jack is an escape artist, a canine Houdini. He is also a wanderer and Casanova, dog version.
In Italy, where I live, dogs have to be either chained, kept within a fenced garden or on a lead if out with their owner. None of these options appeal to Jack who burrows under deeply dug fences (or climbs over them) bites through chains and leads and consequently is the nicest and brightest dog I have ever met. We are best buddies.
Birds build nests, squirrels, bears, badgers, make winter homes in which to hibernate and cuckoos commit genocide, bird version, by laying there eggs in nest of small birds.
But you know all this stuff
You get what I'm going on this though, don't you?
Animals, and yes human animals, are born with certain instinctive behaviour patterns. but we have that something extra, beyond the basics of territorial imperatives, survival and hunting etc.
And it is this added instinct, or desire if you will.... to create things which have never existed before, this is what I mean by creating beyond ourselves, be it what we call art, a garden, a poem, a tune, and entering what I choose to call the creative garden of now; that realm of total absorption and abandonment where we are alive to our passion. A passion which has no end in view except the act of creation itself
So you've guessed it, this is what our workshops are about, finding out how to enter this state of receptive mind. Not a conditioned mind or a repetitive mind but one which is open to that enriching flow of creative beyondness which is waiting for us all if we had the good sense to step back and recognise it.
Michael and Michelle Rumney are running a workshop May 26 weekend in Assisi 'Time and Space to be Creative' a beautiful place, a sumptuous Italian weekend.
For info you can call Michael or leave a message on WHATSAPP +39 3283535358, SKYPE spiker39
Or email him on michael@starstone.org

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A message to my friends


Dear friends,
Firstly, please forgive me if I have already bombarded you with messages from Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram, forums, all that stuff that I grope around in; that dark forest of my aimless wanderings and treacle swamps.
This is just to remind you of the workshop which Michelle Rumney and I are hosting in Assisi May 26 to 30. It's about re-awakening creativity.
Stop! I know some of you are thinking 'I haven't got a creative bone in my body', or some such nonsense you were lead to believe in childhood.
 

Truth is, every adult retains within them this wonderful instinct which humans have to create beyond themselves
And what we do in our workshops is quite simply (and as if by magic) turn the key of that old solid creaky oak door and let you back in to the creative garden which has been waiting patiently for your return.
And as if this were not enough in itself, There is Assisi, just 8k down the road; that wonder shining like a diamond perched on the mountains of St Francis. And then there is Casa Faustina itself, with it's wonderful environment and simply delicious Italian vegetarian food.
More on our website www.starstone.org
And email Michael at michael@starstone.org

Much love to you all,

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Birds, life and death and Prince

This morning the first cuckoo. And I feel excited as I always do when I hear that sound.
Life affirming and real. But ten minutes later.....Aia!.......Minu, our youngest cat, drops a bird at my feet. It's a gift of course so there is no point in getting angry, she wouldn't understand. This little bird is still alive and I nestle her in my hands for warmth and take her to my studio and wrap her in an old T shirt to keep her temperature constant. And leave her there to recover. And sure enough she does and I find her 30 mins later fluttering at the window and as I go to gently catch her and liberate her, ...... Zak! Minu's mother leaps past me and catches her in her mouth. She had somehow secreted herself into my studio and had been waiting for her moment to strike. This time, though, I am angry and shout at her and she drops the bird. So then again I wrap it up again in my T shirt and place her on a table to recover.
Fast forward three hours. We are back from lunch and I head straightaway to my studio but she isn't anywhere to be seen. So what can I do, I make sure no cats have got back in and close the door to check again in an hour...Which is right now!
Phew! You can put your kleenex away because she is alive and perched on one of my paintings, which may be a good omen for us both. And I've just checked on Google and will do as instructed and release her in the morning because it is currently raining and the sky is darkening. Just keep her warm and give her time to recover, that's what I have to do
So, there you are, two bird stories to start your day.
Update tomorrow after breakfast.

Next morning... Poor little bird died over night.
Cats are domestic sharks and now I am angry with them, although it serves no purpose to be so.
Worse still, I then find her mate dead outside our front door. They were Orphean Warblers, the first we have seen in our garden. They spent the days swooping and diving after each other, no doubt creating a nest in the trees nearby.
Such a wanton waste and a desecration of beauty and sheer goodness. An untimely and unnecessary loss of life

Lenny Henry writes this about Prince in this morning's Guardian
'Prince was about high stakes, love, hate, life and death - he was into extremes. In the song Sometimes it snows in April, from the Album 'Parade', he said
'Sometimes I wish life was never ending, but all good things, they say, never last'
He was the ultimate in good things. His creative legacy will last'
I've read, too, that in this last year Prince was working with incredible intensity, almost as if he was trying to beat the clock. One interviewer asked him what he felt about getting older and he said something like 'It's great as I am getting close to the source, my maker'
And when Guardian reporter visited him last year, he described spending the previous night just playing to himself for three hours without pause.
“I just couldn’t stop. That’s what you want. Transcendence. When that happens … Oh, boy.”
And they say the music was flowing out of him in an unstoppable torrent, 

Ah, such mixed thoughts this rainy morning. But the sky is clearing from the North and I will go and buy some flowers and bushes at a festival of flowers by the sea in Civitanova. And plant them in our garden

Michael and Michelle Rumney are running a workshop 'Time and Space to be Creative' in Assisi, Italy May 26 weekend.
Contact Michael for information





Monday, April 4, 2016

The tree and the sea

The tree and the sea.
I am often asked why, if my passion is for painting, did I choose to teach photography. It's a good question and the simple answer is that it was more fun. Photographers are gregarious, share stuff, move more quickly and have a wider spectrum of activity and are not so scared of messing up.
Another reason was that I wanted to instill in photography students the slower and often deeper instincts of a painter.
Sounds somewhat elite this doesn't it?
But that is not the case at all.
Let me explain by giving a simple example from this past week of how this is still relevant in my life, a life which has me floating in the space between these two expressive forms of creativity, respecting both for their differences and power to affect our lives in incredible ways.
The Tree

This I pass half a dozen times a day walking to my garden studio. I posted a photo of it to our Facebook page 'Mindful Photography'
I added an explanation, describing it as a City, probably three times my age, which is the home of a colony of 10,000 ants, spiders, beetles and a myriad of micro creatures as well as black squirrels occasionally, and of course birds; a living organism in itself and a host to other living creatures.
Not an unusual thing to do you might say, but for me this is so. Unusual because I have always taught that a photograph must, if it is meaningful photograph, say all of these things by the singular power of its image alone.
So I would impress on students that making a photo is easy, but to fully absorb oneself in the subject of interest, absolutely so, this is what one must do, even before even thinking about picking up a camera.
The Sea
And this below is a painting I made at the same time.


I live by the Adriatic sea in Italy and this is one of a series of the influences this area is having on me, feelings and thoughts and mindsnaps which are bouncing into me, of the wind, the colours of the sea and the adjacent land, the boats and the stark boatyards, the smells even of the fishing boats and the continuous movement of birds and people around its shores.
But can you see how different these processes are?
There were times in which I forbade students from taking more than one photo a month; all the time slowing them down, becoming what we now refer to as mindful (although I prefer mind empty, except it sounds a bit odd)
So, there you are. Memories which surface from time to time which serve as teachers.
Historically of course, I am referring to a time at Bournemouth Art College in the 80s and 90s (when it was nicknamed the Zen School of Photography); a time when there was time, and with only a small number of students too. But to me, these principles of course still apply; that any form of creative expression must involve complete absorption into the arena in which we choose to express ourselves.
And you get there by going there.

Michael Eldridge and Naga Dipa are running a workshop in Brighton in July entitled 'Mindful Photography' for details write to michael@starstone.org

And Michelle Rumney and Michael are running a workshop in Italy in May entitled 'Time and Space to be Creative' Click here for more info or write to michael@starstone.org

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Michael is interviewed on the subject of Creativity


Michelle Rumney and I have been putting the final touches to our retreat this early summer in Assisi and she reminded me of when she had interviewed me back in 2010 about Creativity for one of her Room on the Edge interviews. I hadn't listened to it for years, so I played it back to myself yesterday evening. I know what you are thinking, that I was riveted with boredom and fell off my chair. Not so. She has put it up on the Starstone Creativity Retreats Facebook page but here it is for you bloggers http://artistsadventur.es/michael-eldridge-interview/
It is interesting for me to contrast this with an interview in November with Anthony Rogers, director of The Foundation for Recovery and Wellness and to hear how the questioner got different stuff out of me; squeezed out more recent memories. Here it is http://www.irwcconference.com/michael-eldridge-creativity-and-wellbeing/
These should go down well with a nice cup of tea and a cake, in the evening
However maybe they are both too wordy and give the impression that creativity is somehow difficult to rediscover in ourselves, should we ever imagine that we have lost it somewhere in our lives (which in truth we haven't)
But words apart, (and these can be inspiring but are never enough)...what I was struggling to express was the simplicity of living creatively; contrasting this with the mind's seeming objection to this state of being.
And so, our workshops are about the pure physicality of being immersed in this realm. To experience what it is to act with the absorption of a child, to be fully attentive to the actual, where past and future thoughts just peel away and we can watch them past by as if they were fish in a stream which we have no wish to catch or engage with. To be absorbed in the realm of creativity by the very act of creating where we and the flow and the act become one.
There! That is what I wished I'd said.

Michael 3/3/16


Friday, February 12, 2016

Time and Space to be creative

I wrote in a previous blog about the Seminars Tony Maestri and I attended at Brockwood Park with Krishnamurti; the many books we read and how we based an entire Photography Course at the then Bournemouth College of Art, (now Arts University Bournemouth) on his teachings (a secret course which ran parallel with the official one we pretended to follow)
And this is the very heart of the teaching I have followed ever since. He wrote something which particularly inspired me..
'that the state of creative emptiness is not a thing to be cultivated- it is there, it comes darkly, without any invitation, and only in that state is there a possibility of renewal, newness, revolution':
'....to die to everything of yesterday, so that your mind is always fresh, always young, innocent, full of vigour and passion. and that it is only in that state that one learns and observes'
In short, that is what our workshops and retreats are all about. They are where the adventure starts.
No need to tell you any more right now, simply because there is no written formula to follow in being creative. Can you remember when you first learned to swim or ride a bike? Of course you can. And it's like that, we just do it. painting, poetry, photography, making, doing and of course walking, eating, laughing; inhabiting this beautiful space where our creativity is released, it is suddenly there.
Our next Time and Space workshop/retreat is May 26 weekend in Assisi, with Michael Eldridge and Michelle Rumney
Time
Where past and future are brushed aside and our minds are fresh young and innocent once more
Space 
 














                      The studio at Casa Faustina

A beautiful studio on the hill beneath the swaying pine trees at Casa Faustina















































You can find out more on this link  
And you can hear Michelle interviewing Michael on this link
And should you wish to write to Michael, here is his email
michael@starstone.org
Or call him whatsapp +39 3283535358
Best wishes
Michael 




Saturday, January 16, 2016

Talking about Bowie

Every fortnight I connect with my photography buddies on SKYPE and we chat about the state of the medium, about philosophy and art in general. There is never any exact theme or subject matter to discuss but somehow the conversation flows and there arrives a point where one of us touches upon something significant and it as if a light flashes on and we do a sort of Spock mind lock. And so it transpired this morning, when suddenly we were talking about the malaise of contemporary photography and I am thinking, what malaise?

REWIND
It is just a day after David Bowie's death and the truth is that we are each of us fuzzed up emotionally, not knowing quite what to say or how to react in any clear way to the news. He has disturbed our tranquil fortnightly chat.
We have no choice but to talk about what he represented; creativity, innovation, change, and above all, a continual smashing of that vessel we call normality. And what is he doing to us now? Confusing us, that's what. Because our adventurous inner selves really hate normality too. Lazarus, Jesus Christ, resurrection, death (but eternal life too remember). He is making death a theatrical event but didn't Jesus do just that too?
For the most part, I guess he lived in a realm he created for himself and is/was offering this as a gift to us others through his music and by making himself into an art form, one in which now he has even incorporated into his own death. For us to learn something? But what exactly? I'm thinking seriously about this, there's a lot to think about in what he has left behind.
So much has already has been said and written about Bowie in just these last 24 hours and I would bet that there is so very much yet to come which will surprise us all. 
Who knows? Maybe his death is just another beautifully choreographed beginning (but this is just my fanciful thinking;  because his life, and now his death, naturally foment such thoughts).
But he is gone (is he?), and we are alive (are we?). And our talking about him took us to the awareness of how damn lucky we are to have time left to add to this world. To add ourselves, our work, our creativity and our art in whatever form that might take, as a gift to life, a gift to our planet.

CONCLUSION
So our conversation tailed off as less of a conclusion but more of a dawning reaffirmation that creativity is a doing verb. That the very act of doing, making, manifesting in any medium, opens the door to that creative realm, a sacred place which is available not just to the few, but to us all.
We must thank him for that.
Michael
Next 'Photography and Awareness' workshop in September, in Italy