Imagination Is Everything – It Is The Preview Of Life’s Coming Attractions.

What is that a picture of on his back?

I was cooling down with my 6 year old son son Jordan, at Raging Waters Water Park in San Jose, California on a hot summer afternoon, bobbing in a 350,000 gallon wave pool, when where a young Latino man walked by above us on the deck. He had an enormous full body tattoo of Jesus surrounded by God and angels covering his back and chest. 

Normally you have no idea what is hidden under someone’s shirt, but at a water park all that was usually hidden was now revealed. He also had several jail tears tattooed on each side of his eyes, one for each year that he had been incarcerated, as did many of the patrons we saw on that hot August day.

L’il Wayne

Raging Waters

The baptizing preacher didn’t want to get wet!

I was looking at a pair of chest high, rubber fisherman’s waders hanging from a hook on Carol Law’s living room wall. Carol was an art professor and artist and was hosting a critique for myself and the rest of her students in the house she shared with her husband, the composer and musician Charles Amirkhanian. Their house in the East Bay hills had been a Baptist church before they converted it into a home. There was a large 4’ x 6’  turquoise and white concrete tub at the end of the living room which had been a baptismal dunking pool for the newly converted.  There was a pair of chest high, rubber fishing waders hanging on a hook next to the pool which the minister used so he wouldn’t get wet in the baptismal process – It seemed like cheating to me. John the Baptist would not have approved. Their dowsing conversion methods appeared to have been spiritually unsound.


We’ll be introducing our new fabric lines today for all of America!

Fabric designed by Renate Weisz • Photo by MMB

I was in Bodega Bay, California, in 1995, staying at my friend Marcia’s home on the edge of a golf course on the far western shores of America. My friend David was the sales manager and showroom director for all 16 of Zimmer+Rhode’s U.S. and Canadian fabric showrooms. Zimmer+Rhode was and is a very high end German fabric design and production corporation and Renate Weisz, who was also staying with us, was their fabric designer and creative director and was there to introduce the new Fall and Winter lines at the nearby Bodega Bay Resort, where all of their North American sales force was gathered for the weekend for the unveiling of the new fabric lines. Renate gave us a wonderful short unveiling of some of the beautiful fabrics in Marcia’s living room before the main event at the resort.

In a previous product unveiling in New York City, fabrics designed by Renete with a jungle motif had been used to create beautiful dresses, pants, gowns, pants and capes worn by the models, as a Brazilian pop-jazz band played on the side of the stage and the new lines were introduced with music, a beat, tropical foods and stylish attitudes. 

I inscribed a poem on a bar of soap, and in the act of washing my hands many times, the poem was made to disappear.

This unlikely commentary on the transitory nature of art and life was presented to me in my cousin Sydney Waller’s gallery, The Art Garage, in Cooperstown New York in 2016. If Cleanliness is next to Godliness, poetry can arise and slowly disappear in the smallest, simplest acts of everyday life, especially now, in the midst of a global viral pandemic, when personal hygiene can literally be a life saving daily practice. With a little poetry thrown in for good measure, hand washing can become a beautiful and necessary art form in life’s ongoing disappearing acts.

They are making furniture for a future race of giants.

I overheard a browsing customer say this in the Z Gallery furniture show room in Berkeley, where every chair, couch, sofa, davenport and divan were enormous and over stuffed, large enough to easily accommodate the lounging needs of a future race of humans that averaged at least eight feet in height and several hundred pounds in weight.

God Damn it! I’m out of here. Take whatever you want – There’s no inventory!

Silicon Valley

I had been working for a year at Media 4, a design studio and advertising agency in the heart of “The Golden Triangle” at the center of the high tech world of Silicon Valley in 1985. It was my first design job after having being trained at the University of California in what were then cutting edge graphic design techniques using X-Acto knives, large acrylic drafting triangles, Radiograph inking pens, Haber Rulers and gallons of rubber cement, all guided with precise hand-eye coordination. 

Media 4 was funded by Ben Yates, the despotic CEO of Stanford Applied Engineering Corporation. After overextending his corporate finances on a multi million dollar hard disc plating sputtering line, Ben was running out of money. Media 4 had its’ one year birthday party on a Friday afternoon. When all 15 employees reported for work the following Monday morning, Dane Hendricksen, the president of the company, informed all of us that we no longer had jobs and that everyone had to pack up their personal belongings and go home as Ben Yates had dissolved the company over the weekend.

The creative director was a woman with a strangely square head who had insisted that all of the male designers wear ties and that if we were going to talk to each other at all we had to whisper very quietly. She sometimes walked through the cubicles pushing a quacking duck toy on the end of a long stick for questionable comic relief. Upon being informed of the fate of the company that morning she ran out of the building, shouting “God Damn it! I’m out of here. Take whatever you want – There’s no inventory!” 

Some people took her exhortation very seriously and the office was stripped and looted of much of value. I was one of the only people not immediately terminated, as I had the lowest salary of any one in the office and Ben Yates still needed a designer to help market his computer parts and widgets. I met with Ben later in the week and told him I would need a $10,000 raise to continue working for him which he declined, firing me on the spot. A week later he called me and apologized, offering me the position of Creative Director with the $10,000 raise I had requested.

I had to move into the main Stanford Applied Engineering office, half a mile away from our former upscale offices, where I was assigned to a drafting table in an open room sitting next to a morbidly obese woman who chain smoked Marlboro cigarettes all day long, before there were anti smoking regulations in workplaces. My new office was on the second floor of the building above a park where couples would meet at lunchtime every day and conduct heated make out sessions on the lawn, oblivious of the fact that people could clearly see their groping, amorous activities through the tinted windows.

A few months later Ben Yates laid me off after another of his financial setbacks, reinforcing the inherent instabilities of life as a graphic designer in Silicon Valley.

San Jose night skyline

I don’t play melodies any more. I just play textures.

David Bradley who was a supremely talented, avant garde jazz guitar player, stated this new musical fact to me. His eclectic, electric fusion band Noeema often practiced in the living room of our large Palo Alto Hills home during my last quarter at Stanford. He let the horn and keyboard players cover the melodies as he made aural textural assaults on top of their work, in an abstract percussive guitar style I had never heard before. 

Antonia de Bañuelos-Thorndike • The Guitar Player

What should I say? What should I do?

The Bath • Jakob von Warte.

My younger brother Tom said this after he set my mother’s dressing gown on fire with a portable propane torch while he was smoking pot in the bathroom, while taking a bath during his high school years. I was living in the house for one quarter, having returned from a sophomore year at Stanford in France, unable to find dorm accommodations on campus. I left the story up to him and he decided to tell her that he was working on molding wax models for jewelry which she believed. As a good brother, my lips were zipped.

Bathing • Edwin Wiegele

Look at the beautiful shadows my tits are making on the ceiling!

I was at a party in Sausalito when a woman who was dancing and was very drunk or high, or possibly both, took off her top, picked up a lamp, took off the lamp shade and held the bulb under her breasts until it cast enormous shadows of her chest on the walls and ceiling. Our host spent much of the event chatting amiably with his guests from the wet warmth and comfort of his bath tub. On the living room dance floor an elegantly dressed black man who was 6 1/2 feet tall was dancing with his equally elegant girlfriend who was a dwarf – It was one of the more unusual nights playing out in life’s rich pageant in Sausalito in the 1980’s!

My name is Zarko Zolo and I teach blind hemophiliacs how to read sharpened cheese graters with their fingertips.

We were at San Francisco’s comedy club, The Holy City Zoo (where Robin Williams got his start) in the early 1980’s. There were several empty seats in the front row where we sat down, thinking that we had the best seats in the house, not knowing that these are the very seats that comedians use to do creative improvisational “crowd work,“ insulting and humiliating audience members when their act is not going well. The comedian asked a couple of people what they did for a living and embarrassed and demeaned them. He then settled in on me and asked me what my name was and what I did for a living. I told him “My name is Zarko Zolo and I teach blind hemophiliacs how to read sharpened cheese graters.” He was momentarily confused and then gave three Nazi style straight armed salutes shouting “Zarko Zolo! Zarko Zolo! Zarko Zolo!” and moved on to his next crowd work comedy victims.

Learning to read Braille

That’s Bizotic!

Flying Karamazov Brothers in action

Rob Willson shouted this phrase, inventing a new word (bizarre plus exotic) while we were roller skating and watching members of the Flying Karamazov Brothers who were also roller skating while juggling bowling pins, next to the San Francisco’s Victorian era Conservatory of Flowers glass greenhouse in 1976.

Conservatory of Flowers • Golden Gate Park • San Francisco

Use something dark, something light and something bright in all of your designs.

This was advice from Janina, a design instructor at UC Santa Cruz where I was learning the fundamentals of graphic design during the early 1980’s before personal computers were available and layout was done by hand with physical tools including Haber Rules, typesetting, ink, Rapidograph pens, # 11 X-Acto knife blades, illustration board, Rubylith, Amberlith, brayers, burnishers and rubber cement.

Rapidograph pens

He taught me how to make a perfect sandwich.

My brother in law, Paul Ehara, said this during his lovely tribute to his father at his dad’s memorial service. Paul is one of the best cooks I know, and I have had the great good fortune to sample the treasures of his kitchen magic countless times over the last 4 decades.

Hoagie • Submarine • Hero • Grinder

Eat your way across the color spectrum.

I first heard this gastronomic advice from Dr. Andrew Weil, and I think about it many mornings when I eat blueberries, red raspberries, green grapes, yellow apricots, purple plums, black chia seeds, dark brown flax meal, tan cashews, snowy sun dried coconut and mix it all up in a bowl with plain white Greek yogurt, orange juice and a dash of clear almond extract.

Food, glorious colorful food!

The hands of the dead press through the stone from the other side – meeting those of the living – palm to palm and finger to finger.

I had been hiking down a remote canyon next to a stream in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, when I stopped to rest in a small bubble of a cave to seek shelter from the hot summer sun. I lay down and closed my eyes and rested in the cool shade. When I opened my eyes a few moments later I was astonished to see five red hand prints on the roof of the cave, only a few feet above where I was resting. I felt the shock of recognition and connection across centuries with these stone age artists who had made their handprints on rock using red pigments made from rocks, living a life unimaginable to me and leaving a record of their lives in the rock and waving hello to me across the millennia. As I raised my hands up to greet them it was one of the most startling and immediate experiences of art that I have ever had.

Paper! Nothing but Paper! Your Lives are Made of Paper!

Marbeled paper

A friend was given this comment on  American culture and commerce in the late 1960’s by an exasperated African high school exchange student. Even now in the digital age, paper stills plays an outsized role in our daily lives. 423 million metric tons of paper are produced every year and 85 million tons of paper waste are discarded every year. Everybody has a printer on their desk. Despite trillions of bits and bytes, our lives are still made of paper!

The first paper making process was documented in China between 25-225 CE. Papyrus, a thick paper like material made from fibrous reeds was produced in Egypt long before paper was invented, though it tended to fall apart over time and was gradually replaced by longer lasting vellum and parchment, made from the skins of animals. By the 11th century, paper making was brought to Europe. In the 13th century, paper making was refined with paper mills utilizing waterwheels in Spain. European improvements to the paper making process came in the 19th century, with the invention of wood-based papers, which made paper affordable for the first time.

I have used paper for art making since I was a child, though I often wish it was more durable and longer lasting. The many books I have created and produced would not exist without paper. I have reused discarded paper in making paper machie sculptures. Low cost paper has been essential world wide in introducing a culture of reading and the passing on of knowledge. In spite of my friend’s exasperated African colleague’s reaction to a glut of printed materials in 20th century America, our lives still depend on paper and printing in the 21st century.

Deer Me • Paper mache sculpture by MMB

19th century paper mill, France

Art is nothing if not illusion. It involves pretending – Substituting a likeness for the thing itself.

I heard the novelist Robert Stone say this in an interview. It is truest in the art of acting, where the actor is pretending to be someone else, often extremely convincingly. It is true much less in the art of music, where sounds can directly convey drama, colors, moods and emotions.  For me the purpose of art is to discover, represent, celebrate, build upon and magnify what ever magic, wonder, order or disorder we perceive to exist in nature and in ourselves. Sometimes we need to peer at life through a microscope and other times we need to try to look at life from the point of view of eternity, as difficult as that may be.  The variable lenses of art allow for either approach.

Art is a perpetually moving target of mediums, techniques, ideas, notions, clarity and illusions. All art can really do is to inspire us. Art and life are like opera: there will be high notes and low notes and sometimes an unhappy ending. While we can try to collect the scattered jewels of person epiphanies from the light and darkness inside of our worlds, inspiration can come from anywhere. As Orville Wright said when he was perfecting his first airships; “Learning the secrets of flight from a bird was like learning the secrets of magic from a magician.”

Pretending to be a ghost • Pfeiffer Beach • Big Sur • Photo by MMB

You have signed up for too many art classes next quarter. The only reason you should take an art class is for therapy.

This bad advice was given to me by my “advisor” at Stanford my freshman year, when I was attempting to register for classes for my second quarter, which he had to sign and approve. I wanted to take a drawing class, a sculpture class and an art history class, seemingly appropriate for someone who wanted to major in art. I had met with my advisor one time previously in September when I first came to Stanford so I did not know him and he really did not know me. I did not listen to his advice and took the classes, and eventually went on to make sculptures, drawings, paintings, stained glass, lithographs, etchings, screen prints, photographs, digital art and books. Sadly, my advisor committed suicide before I could meet with him again for spring quarter registration, so perhaps he was the one who was in need of therapy.

Stanford Memorial Church

You need to include a layer of invisible images in invisible ink in all of your prints.

I was having an art opening of my new, large, very colorful NightBlooms floral art at Xerox PARC in the hills above Palo Alto in 2001, when I was given this piece of unsolicited advice by one of the resident PARC geniuses, who informed me that I should always include a layer of invisible images rendered in invisible ink in all of my prints. He went on and on about this until I finally had to get away from him and wanted him to disappear and suddenly become invisible himself. As a lifelong visual artist, relying on people being able to see my efforts clearly, I could literally not see his point. 

PARC was home to the first copiers, the original mouse, early PC concepts, networking and many original w.w.w. ideas. Steve Jobs went there on a tour & stole many of their conceptual ideas for the first Mac, so I was not averse to being given new and interesting creative ideas from any of the brilliant people who worked there. Using invisible images and invisible ink to portray them were not ideas that I needed to take home with me and implement, whether stolen furtively or given away freely. although the best things in life, like love, friendship, generosity of spirit and ideas, as they are forming, are by nature invisible.

Venetian Migration • NightBlooms series by MMB

I didn’t find myself. I invented myself.

I heard Bob Dylan make this self aware and seemingly extremely accurate comment about his development as a person and as an artist in an interview a few years ago.

Bob Dylan mural in Minneapolis