Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter

Lyricism From the Book of Synonyms
October 27, 2014, 7:54 PM
Filed under: Al Need, art, Confessions, Paintings -Inspiration

Lyricism From The Book of Synonyms

Enthusiasm, over-enthusiasm, gushiness, effusiveness, emotionalism, lack of restraint, demonstrativeness, lack of reserve; eagerness, keenness, intentness, intensity, excitement; fervor, ardor, fervency, warmth, glow, fire; spirit, abandon, liveliness, vivacity; emotion, animation, exuberance, ebullience; vitality, life, buoyancy, zest, verve, vigor, force, energy, vehemence; elation, rapture, ecstasy. Musicality, musicalness, song-like quality, subjectivity, expressiveness, directness, earnestness warmness, passion, fervidness, rhapsody

When I was in grad school I put a lot of text in my watercolor paintings. It added a new dimension of visual and tactile surface texture plus gave the work some context and content…generally. During that time many of my watercolors incorporated gesso and other media that made the images more visually complex. But we had to be careful to not just do gratuitous  marks. That was one of the evils in the minds of our professors. Gratuitous marks? Oh no, god forbid. So we made up some kind of story about what the marks were for, giving them purpose beyond the simple gratuitous mark.

I am experimenting again like when I was in school. It builds motivation for painting, also it regenerates some enthusiasm for the process of making art. I start a painting and can’t wait to finish it. I’m excited. Sometimes I paint over old paintings. It is all valid.

I had a painting that was an old idea on a fresh new canvas but I didn’t like it very much. Left me feeling empty. I was still being influenced by my art school education. This painting didn’t say anything to me, so I let it rest for a while during which time I finished Roadtrees.

As I began to cover up the empty painting to ready it for another landscape, I noticed I was making a grid with my brush strokes, using a smallish 1/2 inch brush. Up and down, then across, back and forth, all over the canvas. It occurred to me I could fill in the spaces in the grid with blocks of color. So I began dabbing color marks all over, going for the concept that the famous art critic, Clement Greenberg, dubbed the “all-over painting” – every inch of the canvas covered with marks of some sort. Like Jackson Pollack’s splatter of house paint all over his very large canvases. Layers and layers of dribbles and splatter.

I layered on a soft thin grey tone over the bright colors. When dry, I began again the all-over technique with the little blocks, building layers of all-over blocks.

I stopped. Time to figure out what to do next.

The concept and the process was fun, but it was still empty.  The colors and emotional feeling of this painting were lyrical.  I recalled a correspondence with my father  about the lyrical in painting, poetry and music, the flowers, the birds, the sky, in all life, etc.. In one of his letters, I found a short quote about always being aware of the lyrical in life. Here he was writing about his experience in a writing class:

And through it I have experienced periods of the kind of lyrical consciousness that I like to live with, and that I think is essential to live with, if, individually, we are to take an actual part in creation itself.

I hand-wrote this quote on the painting. In addition, I  looked up lyricism in the book of synonyms. Surprised by the number of words I discovered that are synonyms, I also felt dismay.  Some of those words, having been used by my father and applied to my behavior, were not perceived by me as lyrical. Such as, he often told me I wore my emotions on my sleeve, I was too open,  too emotional, too forceful in my passion for certain things, lacking reserve or restraint, etc., and all of that would be followed by his admission that he was not that way, but he admired me for being able to talk about and deal with difficult things, to get my feelings expressed, etc.

As a young person, always embarrassed, I didn’t see any of those characteristics as positive attributes. But I do now. I embrace them now, for if we don’t talk about silent things, if we don’t cry over them, if we stay silent, they hover as huge dark secrets and make us feel a perpetual shame. I don’t want to feel shame anymore. I’ve also learned that what I have to say has merit in that very openness for it makes people feel less alone with their own shame. It starts a conversation!

With stick-on letters I placed most of the words on the dark rectangle in the upper left corner. I had to economize my Es and Ss and Ns, all those letters used in just about every word, so some of the words were left out. It took almost two days! Once laid out, I painted the rectangle a darker reddish color, over-painting the lettering. The painful process of removing the letters came when the area was dry, exposing the multicolored blocks underneath.

To integrate the red text-rectangle with the rest of the over-all painting, I stuck a few letters in the open space to look as if letters were tumbling outside of the box. Tumbling out and falling down. Unused.

P.S.  As I was writing this piece about my artistic process I received my bi-weekly art newsletter from Painter’s Keys, originated by the late Robert Genn. Uncannily, the subject of this particular newsletter was about artistic process! At the end of each letter, he quotes various artists from all creative fields and all times. This one is by Martha Graham.

Both receiving the Newsletter last night, after I had uploaded my piece, and reading her words about art process are excellent lyrical occurrences  in my life and I take notice.

I am including it here:

PS: “There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.” (Martha Graham)

1972 Letter to Editor by Alvin W. Need
Letter to the editor of the Mendocino Beacon, 1972

Letter to the editor of the Mendocino Beacon, 1972 by Alvin W. Need

Also in the old brown portfolio of photos that I mentioned in last week’s Post, I discovered this 1972 letter written by my father Alvin W. Need. It is to the editor of the Mendocino Beacon, the local newspaper. It surprised me when I read it. I didn’t know him as well as I thought I did. I laughed out loud!

Click on this image to be able to read full-sized printed material.

 It wasn’t until I was a young adult, after we began to write letters to each other, when I realized that he was spiritual, but not religious. He was a constant seeker of peace, non-violence, and serenity. Although a student of all shapes and forms of spiritual beliefs, he never used the word God when speaking of his spiritual life (except for when he was near the end of his life).  He referred to god as the a priori, an invisible force, or the universal consciousness. He talked about synchronistic events as palpable representations or communications of the greater force around and within us.

As a kid, I never knew him to be political. He seemed more concerned about his reputation than anything else. I never thought of him as an activist until he decided to join me in the San Francisco Peace March in the mid 1960’s with thousands of people marching along Market Street. He loved the experience. He went home an excited and different person. He became more tolerant and less negative and critical about people of difference. He became aggravated by things like the Point Arena Nuclear Power Plant proposal in the early 1970’s or the Vietnam War or other political events, but for most of my adult life I didn’t see that side of him. I was married, too self-absorbed, narcissistic, and immersed in my own neurotic fears and struggles to be concerned about anything else.

Thus my amazement when I read this 1972 letter to the editor of the Beacon. His writing was funny, at times downright silly, at other times, sarcastic and self-deprecating, but all the while referring to his spiritual beliefs and his search for inner peace through personal reflections and his creative relationship with the ocean and forests on the northern California coast. For him that was the clear answer—the most important thing.  I’d seen that in him before, but had not understood it fully.

I loved reading this letter. It made him more real and more human for me. It gives me a greater perspective on who he was, all that he was.

© 1972 All Rights Reserved. Alvin W. Need. 1972 Letter to the Editor, Mendocino Beacon.

© 2013 All Rights Reserved. Susan Canavarro.

Thanks For The Oranges ~ a short story by Alvin W. Need

Often, I’ve a need to revisit my father’s writings. Yesterday I found a short story he wrote which I remember enjoying when he first sent it to me. The oddest thing about it is that for my whole life, I never knew he believed in “God.” I knew he believed in a force, the a priori, universal consciousness, harmony, synchronicity, but he never called it God.  This story fills out the picture.

THANKS FOR THE ORANGES ~ © Thanks For The Oranges by Alvin W. Need

He had a feeling that it was the house that was changing around him, growing emptier and being invaded by a dingy solitude that was absorbing all space and all things. The symptoms were no stranger to him and he met them head on. But he met them by telling himself the time-worn things, and just the telling did not affect the growing emptiness around him.

Solitude was not really solitude, he reminded himself. He had always depended upon that “other” aspect of things—that “other reality”—to keep him from feeling alone. Aloneness was a myth, or better, aloneness was all there was, depending on how you related to the other reality.

And what of his isolation? Isolation was not really isolation when it was by choice. By choice he had remained at the cabin in the clearing deep in the Mendocino woods. By choice he could not leave the redwoods, the ferns, the trilliums in the spring, the deer, and the raccoons. By choice he needed the pervading sound of the storm winds rushing through the top of the forest. He could not do without the distant thumping roar of the surf against the coast, or the faint moan of faraway foghorns.

 He was not “cut off” from people, anyway. His files were full of “fan” letters from admirers of his paintings. Many of these letters were truly perceptive, and startling in their sensitivity to the ambiance and latent meaning he always managed to put into light and color and atmosphere. His work had worth in the lives of people. His own quality of love fulfilled a human need, whatever the nature of his personal seclusion.

 “Then, by Allah, why the emptiness now?” His mood was petulant as he addressed himself to the silent room—rather, to that other reality which he assured himself was always there, with him. “Father, Father, do not take thy presence from me…!”

He swept a pained glance around the familiar room which served as his studio and bedroom. No, it was not that it was really any more empty than usual. The mahogany spinet still stood patiently against the redwood paneling of the east wall. The dust on its top was a little more obvious this morning. Cat prints made a dainty trail along the closed keyboard cover. That Buddha-boy! When did he ever walk on the floor? And the bookshelves which formed most of the south wall still sagged under the weight of a jam of hard and soft cover religious and philosophical books, parapsychology reports, magazines, music, and the Encyclopedia Britannica, not to mention a small library of art books. His bed still reposed in the corner, neatly made. He scowled at it. “Should rumple it all to hell, walk on it, jump on it. “Change my luck, Lord, no?” he should have been, rather, a Varda, lounging royally on a fantasy sailing craft on San Francisco Bay, waited on by a colorful covey of nubile young maidens. [Varda also lived on the infamous ferryboat the Vallejo docked in Sausalito.}

Clothing was strewn over his beloved director’s chair which he had liberated from the Mirisch Bros., when they had come to town to shoot “the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming.” He hung up the clothes, shoved his boots under the bed. “Make your bed, put your clothes away, wash the dishes, sweep the floor—but don’t dust the piano, old man.” Leave a slate for the Great spirit to write on.

His painting things, too, were filmed with dust. The sheet of glass he used for a palette shone pristine enough, but old paint-stained brushes and painting knives lay scattered on his painting table, mingled with bits of pencils, charcoal, matches, golf tees, grains of tobacco, squashed tubes of color, DiGel tablets, bottles and cans of turps, linseed oil, and spray varnish. His favorite painting tools were clean, though, and lay gleaming in the gray radiance from the north skylight.

His palette, his tools, the white canvas on the easel were ready. Ready for loving, as of old. Inwardly he grimaced and lowered himself wearily on to his painting stool. He stared all unseeing out at the vista beyond the glass wall. “Divine One, my love,” he sighed, “deliver me! Let me feel thine ambiance…!”

A mystical fog-shrouded corridor of trees and manzanita brush stretched endlessly down to the far-hidden sea. Ponderous-limbed ancient firs, moss-draped and vine-tangled, merged like shadows into the drifting mist, coming and going in changing planes, dreaming of primeval mystery…


There was the key! The French spelling of a word that dictionaries define as the “environment or pervading atmosphere” of a place, object, situation, etc. It was not that the room was growing smaller, emptier, closing in. It was that somehow energy had drained out of the world. The “pervading atmosphere” was gone and what was left was a dry, shriveled bag of bones, without flesh, without vitality and without glow. Without ambiance…

He clutched his graying head in his hands. “Dear god,” he moaned, “Enlightened One, by all the Prophets…how can I live without thee? Bride of the Lamb, how could you fail me…?”

He crouched on the stool for a long moment, his shoulders silently heaving. Outside, blue jays screeched. The fog drifted in veils across the corridor, tapestry in motion. A lone raven cawed, high over the primeval shadows.

Presently he lifted his head, his eyes suffering, and stretched out a listless hand to flip on the stereo. “I know,” he whispered more calmly. “it’s me! O master, lift me up…come to me…”

Soft, faint, three-dimensional music floated down from the ceiling beams and he knew that the girl was singing with haunting nostalgia about the sun streaming through a window in late afternoon. With the sound, he was suddenly smitten with a deep flooding hunger for value, for significance, for communication, to be at the center of the meaning of life.

He shot from the stool, rigid. “Now look, dammit, Holy one…”

A loud knock shook the kitchen door and shattered the spell of his mood. He stalked into the adjoining room and flung the door open.

Two young men stood frozen, startled by the violence of his sudden appearance. “Uh…sir…” The taller of the two wore faded blue denims and a tentative bearded grin. “Would you like to buy some oranges?” he held up a mesh bag bulging with large oranges.

His darker, younger companion proffered the cut half of an orange, holding it out in his hand. The fruit glistened juicily in the gray light. “Sunkist,” he said, his eyes crinkling.

There was just the right inflection of confidence, welcome, and deference in his voice. “Try one?”

He stared in amazement at the two young apparitions. One tall, sandy-haired and heavily but pleasantly built, the other in jeans and a sweater, dark-eyed. He felt a tide welling up in his chest and exploded in sudden, releasing laughter.

Surprised again, they looked at each other, grinning.


“I…” and another roar of laughter burst from him. “I can’t believe it!’ he gasped, tears running into his beard. “Wh…what are you fellows up to?” he lost himself in laughter again.

The blond one made a deprecating motion, the bag of oranges swinging from his other hand. “Just oranges,” he said. “Just selling oranges. Look, they’re good! Try one!”

“I’m sure,” he chortled. “But – out here” Man, houses out here are at least a mile apart, and all of them hidden in the forest. The only people I get here are Jehovah’s Witnesses. About once a month,” he added. He accepted the sample orange and sucked noisily at it.  “How much?”       


A side note: An interesting site for an anecdotal history of Jean Varda and the Sausalito houseboat “beats” and artists – There is a page of Jean Varda’s beautiful collage work, pictures of him on his sail boat in the San Francisco Bay, stories from people who knew him.  Wonderful site.  – Susan

More Al Need Paintings
December 8, 2010, 8:13 PM
Filed under: Al Need, art, fragments, seascapes
In March of 1986 Dad and I had a show together at the Rogue Valley Country Club in Southern Oregon, near Medford and Ashland. I was about 39 years old, living on Orcas Island. I drove down with my husband for the reception. Dad and Lois drove up from Paradise, California. Needless to say, having a show with my artist father tickled and thrilled my skinny bones. It meant I had finally grown up as an artist. It meant that he was proud of me. It meant that he loved me. And even though as a young teenager and young adult, I always showed my work in his Mendocino galleries and always participated in our family art shows, there was nothing like this event with him. Just me and him. It meant that he respected me as an artist. What more could a girl ask for?
Unfortunately it was  our last showing together, because he died that April, shortly after our show was over. I’ll always treasure the memories of that event in my life. In this photo we stand together at our reception, a glass of wine in hand, in front of a few of his smaller works from the early 1980’s.
Dad and Me
Big River Beach, Mendocino


This blue painting below of the view from our house on Orcas Island, done shortly after he lived with us for six months is typical of our living room window view, looking straight down the Sound. The water, so glassy and calm especially in the mornings, reflected sky, clouds, islands and fascinated every artist on the island.  During those six months, Dad helped me run my gallery, he helped my husband build our house, and he created a wood wall mosaic by our front entrance and carved a mushroom out of a tree stump by our back door.

Eastsound View

Mosaic front entrance wall.


Where the Sea Meets the Land

The Workbench – 1963
December 5, 2010, 11:39 AM
Filed under: Al Need, art, fragments, Galleries, seascapes | Tags: , , , , ,

“Color, form, and texture, bathed in many qualities of light, are the basic tools by which nature identifies itself. Nature uses these tools creatively to communicate symbolic information about its own reality. The artist, probing color, light, form, and texture to express their best potential, thus becomes one of nature’s “high priests,” bearing witness, as does nature, to the same ultimate truths. If he is successful, he reassuringly demonstrates that man himself, like nature, is not separate from but is very much a part of the creative forces so beautifully manifest in the universe around us.” – Al Need (1911-1986)

One of Al Need's blue period

The black and white photo above is my father in his very first Mendocino gallery, The Workbench. The Workbench was his painting studio and gallery. It occupied the cubbyhole office space off the side of a garage/gas station at the entrance to Mendocino.  A large view window faced the highway. From the highway as you drove into town, if you looked to your left, you saw this tall handsome greying man standing at his easel, painting, smoking a pipe.  At this time in his career, many of his paintings, large and small, sold right off the easel unfinished, before they were dry. People came into the gallery to look at his work as they waited for their gasoline to be pumped. They stood in awe in front of his seascapes.

Before I met Tony, the man who became my husband, he was one of those people. He stopped in the gallery and spent time chatting with Dad. He had been on a hitch-hiking sojourn in 1963-1964. Our paths crossed very close that year but we never met until 1968.  Miles away from Mendocino, Antonio Canavarro and I finally met, meeting in a Psychology/Encounter group at the Monterey Peninsula Community College. I guess we were doomed…

Clouds off the Mendocino Coast 1970's

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