It has always been pleasurable to share with others the work of artists who particularly move me. And that means pointing to something that another person creates or “envisions” that touches my soul. I do not claim to be making any sort of taste-judgements: I connect with artists who speak to the fact of the Great Question of life and death. That’s at least who and what I connect with, like enjoying Kafka and Mahler and Rilke and Beethoven and Wallace Stevens and Schopenhauer and Philip Glass and so many others.
So, among other purposes, I am attempting to use this blog-space to spread the visionary powers of those whose works truly move me. It’s not certain I will make many posts about this subject, since I do not hold myself out to be a purveyor or well-informed judge of any one’s aesthetic. But these just seem to be people who I feel guilty about enjoying by myself. And maybe this is some small way to support their work: I will definitely be happy if some reader of this blog reaches out and supports these artists, in their own way. For ourselves, the Zen Center Regensburg has commissioned some of these artists to use their works for spreading the Dharma.
- Matt Semke
One cannot say enough about the mind of Matt Semke. He is a sort of relative-unknown genius, in my view, with a vast universal vision expressed in the most disarming, unassuming manner.
I first came across his work two years ago on Facebook, and the pleasure and raw insight I have derived from his work is something I cite all the time as perhaps one of the main reasons compelling me not to delete the account forever. (I’m lazy, and strive to at least a modicum of non-attachment: it is easier to have things passed under one’s nose than to habitually seek out his website to see updated productions.) After Facebook’s algorithms somehow shot a few of his pieces across my homepage, I was drawn to his website www.catswilleatyou.com. I return to it again and again. He is active on Instagram and Tumblr, too.
There is something highly familiar about his work, and yet also somewhat alienating (not in the sense that the work “alienates,” but that his work has this uncanny ability to touch and speak to the latent sense of alienation lurking in all of us). His super-pithy vision spoke to me the way the great poets and musicians do. I hear both Philip Glass and Kraftwerk in his graphics, even Beethoven’s late String Quartets and the lean sardonicism of Aristophanes:
“How many are the things that vex my heart!
Pleasures are few, so very few — just four —
But stressful things are manysandthousandsandheaps!
Semke is a super-prolific force of nature who has produced a graphic or drawing or painting or animation, every single day, for something like 14 years. Unbroken creativity. He says it so simply on his website: “I am Matt Semke, a real living artist. Every day I update this website with new art. I’ve done this since 2006 and will continue to do this for the rest of my life.” A monk-like vow-sounding determination to see and express. Once, I even wrote him some messages on FB to express admiration for his work (I haven’t written a fan letter to anyone since sending a few to Rusty Staub and Dave Kingman of the New York Mets in the 1970s). He comes across as every bit the monkish auteur that that sort of public vow seems to suggest: “I have produced a piece of art every day and put it on this website, where anyone can enjoy it for free, and I will continue to do this — every day — for the rest of my life.” Deepest respect. But his vision is NOT about quantity: the quality is consistent, and consistently understated.
Semke’s visions are, to me, what Franz Kafka would have drawn were he to have lived in our times, with Semke’s computer graphics power to express the bland terror and also meditative potential of our distracted, alienating age.
From the first moment I saw one of Semke’s graphics, these classic images by Kafka came straight to mind:
I think of these jots by Kafka in so much of what Semke expresses. The super-spare mood, the vast openness, the looming unspoken “something” slouching through his consciousness to be born, the purity and simplicity of his child-like laser expression about our existential predicament: We are born (we don’t know why), and then we die forever. But there is this vast, borderless silence and depth without end that comes with this reflection on “What am I?” Both artists express the Great Question, whether they call it that or not.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, in “Self-Reliance,” “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts. They come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” One feels this while receiving Semke’s singular genius: My own rejected insights, returning with a certain alienated majesty.
It would be impossible to catalogue even the best of Semke’s stuff I have seen. Every graphic or short-animation just spins me differently than the last, and it is so hard to collect even a small basket of go-to favorites. There is such remarkable consistency in the quality of his expression, from graphic to graphic, from sketch to GIF to animated video. He feels nearly seamless. He never takes an easy, snarky route. Every single line counts. I never feel anything extraneous in his eye-and-hand. His view is very sophisticated, and yet there is not one single jot of anything pretentious or cute or catty in his tone. The commentary is radically understated, spare to an arousing super-minimum.
(Full disclosure: Zen Center Regensburg has benefitted from his help in lending us the design of one of his most telling .gifs.)
But I just want to put a few of them out there, and trust that you will get yourself over to his website at http://www.catswilleastyou.com. I will leave off commentary, where possible, to let these jewels speak for themselves. (But in one or two cases, I cannot resist.)
For purchases/commissions/exhibitions/interviews/press contact Matt Semke directly at [email protected]
It would be possible to go on and on about this visionary. But 10,000 words would not suffice to express the depth and power — and utterly disarming simplicity — of his vision. In fact, it would despoil the stripped-down clarity of Semke’s enlightenment.
Let Emerson have the last word, connecting how the insight obtainable through Semke is merely the alienated (though not truly alienated) insight of our own inner voice — about the human condition, about the solitary nature of this life lived among people and their social nets, about our place in a faceless modern age — returning with an alienated majesty:
“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all … That is genius,” he writes. “Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost.”