Sunday, March 19, 2017

art and mind

Note: I'll no longer be posting workshop announcements here on the blog. Workshops and other events like Exhibitions will be posted in the NEWS button on my website:

Contemplating what is done, what is made, what is being

First light ;
It’s a long time I’ve been
at stones,                  at water,
         mixing colors.

Thoughts and memories,
ideas and learned notions
crowd in on the presence before me,
         and within me.

Most has been surpassed,
is only a dream,
a big shape in some other expanse.

The other day I hefted a stone
                  and thought
                                    more basic
                                    than this.

The motifs have come down to         
         rock                 &                  water
         lake                 &                  mountain
         sky                  &                  horizon
         river                and                  more rock

Life, being-of-itself, burgeons forth through all forms,
like wisps of exhalation or vapor, in effortless
waves and volutes :

Stillness                  and         radiance.

Immanence;                  not transcendence.

The vastness of landscape throws us back on our own interior vastness.
I have painted complexly, but
am drawn now to simplicity and restraint.
It’s enough that rhythms and forms
exert a little pressure on each other,
as in the paintings of old East Asia, where
landscape has always been understood metaphorically.
Besides my own experience in wilderness,
these have been my primary sources.

The motifs can be anything that pits vastness against intimacy:
coastal waters and rocks;
the sagebrush of the desert
from the Okanagan to Sonora;
sky and land of any artless, self-willing expanse.

I am ushered by enormity of wilderness
into silence and light.
My mind opens as the sky opens, resting nowhere.
The stability, the firmness, of the buttes and mesas
—and the yielding of the valleys and hollows—
are my own steadiness.
Repetitions of pattern in rock,
of biomorphic forms, even of weather,
find rhythms in my being,
as numerous as my own false and beautiful selves.

Now, I can count four ways of making art:
- by direct response to the world ‘out there’
- to mental objects ‘in here’
- to ideas, or primal intuitions
- and painting as painting: forms found in the tearing of paper, spilling of ink, carving wood, smearing tar & paint, 
ink-rubbed impressions of sidewalk cracks, of sticks and stones, coaxing chance,
                           delicate laying of gold.
So, where is mind? Is there any part of this that is not mind? How does meaning arise in relation to a thing observed, a sound heard, a touch, a shape or color? What makes form significant?

I don’t know.
It all emerges from nothing.
Every particle of the observed world,
every thought and furtive breath of intuition,
my hands, the bits of material that they
assemble into a ‘painting,’ all of it
emerges from this mind.
Where is this mind?

Monday, January 4, 2016

Workshops 2016

Workshops 2016 

from Jef's First Light Studio

The workshops this year are the same as last year, although they are always evolving as my own studio practice evolves. 

Oregon High Desert

two workshops:

June 7 – 11
October 14-19

Last year we met in October, which was beautiful and with pleasant weather. The daily schedule involved painting near the Diamond Hotel early morning (first light was around 7 AM) until about 10. Then we'd go off in search of other views until lunch back at the ranch. Then, after an afternoon break, we'd start again near the hotel until supper at 6:30. Thus, we painted for three sessions at 2-3 hours per session. There was one demo on the third day and a last day critique which was fun and helpful for all. 

I think we all did well with this format which pushed us a little past our comfort zone. As I told the group on orientation during our first scrumptious meal together, I want you to feel pleasantly exhausted, like you just achieved something worthwhile. This year, I'll probably add another demo or two.

This four-day workshop is for artists with painting experience. We will explore on-site landscape painting (en plein air) in the heart of Oregon's stunningly beautiful sagebrush desert. The workshop will focus on creating the feeling of expansive, even limitless, space through the development of subtle color relationships and the abstraction of the observed physical forms – buttes, valleys, mountains, plains and sky. The painting group will work out of Diamond in Harney County, the gateway to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Steens Mountain, Catlow Rim and the Alvord Desert. Selected painting sites include McCoy Valley, Buena Vista Overlook and Frenchglen. Lodging and meals – scrumptious meals - are available at the Diamond Hotel. 

Four day workshop. $420
If you are interested in this workshop, please make a 
reservation at the Hotel Diamond at 541-493-1898
and let me know too.

First Light Last Light

Tentative Dates: Friday, July 15 - Monday, July 18

Portland, Skyline Blvd

(Truth is, I am still working on the four paintings I started last summer during this workshop, so I'm posting this older painting Crepiscule of a place on Sauvie Island.)

This was a wonderful and challenging workshop last year. It will be this year too. Meant for experienced painters. Please contact me if you're interested.

Each of four days:
First session 6 - 9 AM
critique: 9:30 - 11 AM
Last session 6 - 9 PM

From a hill view that looks far to the East and to the West, paint with friends at the beginning and ending of the day.
First light, last light.
The distant brought near, the complex made plain.
The obscure made clear, the vastness intimate.
In a rigorous routine yet relaxed air, meant to bring out your subtlest work.
A four-day workshop
Lightly guided by Jef Gunn.

A deeply inspiring place. And exciting idea. The same locale at different times of the day – beginning and ending :
 lights and shadows from the East; lights and shadows from the West.

Not easy to do.
Light changes fast at the ends of the day.
When faced with fast-changing circumstances, you must become


and act quickly, trusting your sight, your training, your feeling.

Even your fumbles take place within a vast stillness.

When you miss that stillness, you’re laboring after something you think is real.
None of it is real.
You might get a painting.
It might not look like what you think of as a landscape painting.

This workshop is for experienced painters ready for a deep challenge.

Four Days. Eight Sessions. Total hours per day: 8

Plein Air and the Dao of Seeing

Sitka Center for Art and Ecology  

Monday, August 29 - Thursday, September 1, 2016

From Sitka catalog:

Painting from nature, out in the open, is a pleasurable challenge. It calls for a sustained effort of looking and repeated painting. The key to better painting is learning how to slow the mind in order to SEE, and then to flow with the tide of creation. This workshop on the repeated practice of looking and painting will take place between the studio and the open air. We will learn specific meditation methods, color mixing, painting wet in wet, Western and Asian composition strategies, using ebb and flow, and seeing through momentary conditions. Playful experiment and grounding in meditation will be integral to our workshop. Only expectations limit the possibilities.

Last year this was the first time I've introduced formal meditation practice into the regular routine of a four day workshop. Our focus and painting practice was enhanced by this. We also had an intensive theory-and-practice color mixing session first day. We'll do all this again this year.

Please go to for more information or to register for this workshop.

If you have suggestions for other workshop possibilities this year, please contact me through the Contact page on my website . Thank you.

– Jef

Quick review of art in 2015

June: Dreaming of One and Two at Augen Gallery, Portland

June: Inaugural Show at i.e. gallery in Edison, Washington

November: Lummi Invitational, also at i.e. gallery

Happy New Year


What's new this year from Jef at First Light Studio


A lot of exposure this January!

January 20 - February 29
Visions and Revisions: A Five-Year Conversation
Group Show at Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art

2219 NW Raleigh AvenuePortland, OR. 97210

This show will be from the Painting Club, a group of wonderful Portland artists with whom I meet every month to talk about what is always developing in our studios, other art that we see and our lives outside the studio. The other painters in the show are:

Clinton MacKenzie, Trude Parkinson, Pat Barrett, Stephanie Doyle, Claire Browne, and Andrea Schwarz-Feit

Also in January:

A couple of pieces in Augen Gallery (Portland) group showing of gallery artists
Preview First Wednesday, January 6
Opening First Thursday, January 7

Also, In January in Seattle:

meditations group exhibition
january 7 - february 27, 2016
opening thurs, jan 7, 5-8pm

William Traver Gallery
110 Union Street #200
Seattle, WA 98101
206.587.6501 phone
206.587.6502 fax

In June :
Group show at Cannon Beach Gallery

And later in the year :

a group show of encaustics in Port Townsend, Washington
curated by Martha Pfanschmidt

And a landscape show in Joseph, Oregon
curated by Bob Procter

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015 Happy New Year


year of the sheep

The Classical Chinese system of calendar dates completes a cycle every sixty years,
which is also five runs through the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac, 
the animal energies that rule the years)

This Spring I complete my fifth 12-year cycle.

Here are some of the events scheduled for this year.


January 6 – 31, 2015 


Recent Work by:
Mark Andres • Sharon Bronzan • Sally Cleveland • Arless Day
Karen Esler • Trish Grantham • Pamela Green • Jef Gunn
Chris Kelly • Jim Riswold • Sara Siestreem

Opening Reception for the Artists: 2nd Thursday, January 8 , 5–8 p.m.

June 1 - 30 2015

Dreaming of One and Two   (working show title)

Augen Gallery, Portland

Oils, encaustics, prints and photos. 
Same simple subject handled in various media and methods, 
from real-ish to profoundly simplified. 



Encaustic (intermediate)

Menucha Retreat and Conference Center 
In the Columbia Gorge
Second week of August 2015 (I think)

One full week. I've not taught at Menucha before, but they tell me it's like summer camp, with beautiful grounds, special people and great food.

Plein Air and the Dao of Seeing

Cascade Head, Oregon Coast
August 24 - 27      (Mon - Fri)
Mingle and Muse meeting with Terry Louie and me on Friday August 21 at 4:30

Terry's class on Chinese Calligraphy and Tai Chi precedes mine and would be an excellent way to ready oneself for my class, which turns to landscape painting out in the open from the place of a stilled mind. As still and open and alert as we can muster. Unpredictable paintings. Not necessarily what one might aspect from plain air painting.

Anticipated workshops, not yet scheduled

First Light Last Light 

Same class as advertised for summer of 2014 will be offered summer of this year, pending confirmation from host.

Please see the earlier bog post for more information. 

Painting the High Desert 

Four days at the Hotel Diamond in Diamond, Oregon, on the edge of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge and Steens Mountain. I miss painting out there and I think it's time to go back. 

Possible months under consideration :

Painting the Methow Valley

This would be a wonderful destination 4 - 5 day painting retreat out of the 
Methow Valley Inn in Twisp, Washington. The Methow is on the east edge of the North Cascades of Washington, and looking out to the Okanagan. It is stunning. Sunny, grand and high elevation. The hotel is geared to accommodate groups like our. 

This trip is under consideration for summer or fall.

Other News

New Website coming soon. Same URL. Similar yet expanded layout.

Also under consideration is a new website that would showcase my 
labors of deign, woodworking and finish carpentry.

Fence to keep the goats, Romeo and Juliet,
out of the circular herb garden.
(client: Toni Smith)

Stay tuned.

First Light Studio

Sheep photo courtesy of google search for Jacob Sheep, which have four horns. I first saw them in Scotland in 1979 walking the roads with a senior uncle, Geordy Dickson. If you are wondering why they are thus named, reread the book of Jacob in the Old Testament.
It has to do with how he got away with all his father in law's sheep.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

First Light, Last Light

First Light, Last Light 

This will be a 4-day workshop marking the opening and closing of the day. 
Difficult moments in which to catch the experience of changing conditions.

Fri. Aug. 8 – Mon. Aug. 11, 2014

The distant brought near, the complex made plain. 
The obscure made clear, the vastness intimate. 
In a rigorous routine yet relaxed air, 
meant to bring out your subtlest work.

 3 hours at dawn: 6 - 9am 


Arrive early enough to handle your gear before session begins

3 hours at dusk: 6 - 9pm 

Feel free to arrive early and stay late.

The workshop will be rigorous, quiet and lightly structured.
Following basic instructions, each painter will work on her or his own
with occasional personal guidance.

The site is a large, private property off of Skyline Drive with 50-mile views to East, North and Southwest.

(The paintings shown here are all from the southeast Oregon desert.)

Please email me with any questions.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Making Paintings in the Studio

This is the fourth of the three posts
presenting and developing my recent
slide talk Contemporary Art as Buddhist Practice

In the last post, I described the practice of painting the landscape
directly in the open air and how that can be brought into 
a practice not unlike the meditation called
Mindfulness of Phenomena (1)


 The other path is followed in the studio mostly,   
where I construct paintings from diverse materials. 

I employ chance operations,   some disciplined,   and  some free.  
Within the open exploration of form lies a memory (a dream) of
 sky,   water,   mountain,   wind,   desert,   rock,   and shore.

   I move the forms toward a new order that, with luck,  becomes 
something simple,  
a new wholeness, though ringing with complex relations. 

This is true whether or not the initial motif remains intelligible.

Meaning is found where mind,  subject   and material   come together.
The materials have no inherent meaning   and neither have any of my usual landscape subjects.  
But in my mind,   I find them meaningful,  and when present with an appearance of a  lake   or a hillside of trees,  I am often struck still and dumb  with a sense of significance.

   John Berger   is a special writer, sensitive and clear.  He described such a moment this way:
“At the moment of revelation   when appearance and meaning become identical,   the space of physics and the seer’s inner space coincide:  momentarily and exceptionally   the seer achieves an equality with the visible.  To lose all sense of exclusion;  to be at the centre.”

We tend to understand things metaphorically.    Art uses this tendency effectively. 
Buddhist teaching,   and Buddhist art  through the centuries,  have used metaphor effectively.

The specific landscape motifs all function metaphorically in Asian landscape painting,
which developed for close to 2,000 yrs in relation to Buddhist   and Daoist insight into the nature of mind   and the forces of the world around.

Repetitions in my work refer to
the returning again   and again   and again  to awareness.  Presence. 
I’ll use text, or the appearance of text,   as a reference to mantra or prayer,   
or to a spontaneous utterance.

Currently, I am working toward simplicity and restraint.
I suspect that  analogies are still  a layer between what I think and feel    and what just is.
the just-as-it-is-ness    carries presence 
So simple  ;  yet not so easy to pull off.
I’ll close with a stanza from the Aspiration Prayer for Mahamudra:

Look at objects and there is no object: one sees mind;

Look at mind and there is no mind: it is empty of nature;

Look at both of these and dualistic clinging subsides on its own.

May I know sheer clarity, the way mind is.

Thank You


(1) The fourth in the four Foundations of Mindfulness, the others being
Mindfulness of Body, Mindfulness of Feelings and Mindfulness of Mind.