Mike Lyon, Kansas City, MO USA

'The Bird is the Word'

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Artist's comments ...

    Paper: Rives BFK
    Ink: water borne red, blue and Sumi Ink

    There's a song called "Surfin' Bird", 1963, by the Trashmen Its lyrics go:

    Don't you know about the bird?
    Well, everybody's heard that the bird is the word!

    My wife asked me how in the world this image was supposed to relate to "War and Peace", the Leo Tolstoy title we borrowed for the theme of this print exchange? That reminded me of some years ago when my daughter asked during a long car ride how many people die each minute? She was old enough to do the math, so together we figured it out in round numbers:

    • Number of people living: 6,307,281,688 (almost a billion more than when my daughter and I calculated this).
    • Average life expectancy: 64 years (77 in the US which is ranked about 44th among nations)

    So (and this isn't quite accurate because it doesn't take into account the continuing rapid growth in world population):

    • People alive today who are going to die: every single one of us!
    • People die each year = 6,307,281,688 / 64 = 98,551,276
    • People die each day = 98,551,276 / 365 = 270,003
    • People die each hour = 11,250
    • People die each minute = 188
    • People die each second = 3

    No matter what the rate: Everybody dies! This is natural. The dead do not suffer, I don't imagine. The dead are at peace. Suffering is for the living. When we accelerate the process through war (and other means), waves of suffering ripple through so many... suffering from injury, from grief, from illness, from starvation, from loss. It is the quality of life that is so important. That is what we must pass to future generations.

    I recall another story, of the Zen Master asked to speak at the dedication of a new building. The priest was known to be severe and he was implored to make a "happy speech." So, on the day of the ceremony, the Master approached the microphone and announced in a loud voice, "A Happy Speech... Grandparent: dead... Parent: dead... Child: dead... Thank you very much." And that was the end of his "happy speech." When asked to explain what was so happy, the Master replied, "Consider another order..."

    My original concept for the War and Peace print was to be a soldier's skull in a green field, grass sprouting through the eyes. But I saw a dead baby bird, drowned in a fountain, floating waterlogged. So that baby bird became the image of war and death and peace for my print.

    I also wanted to experiment with a technique I discovered a year or so ago printing into paper with a film of water (which went nicely with my drowned baby birdie) so that the ink bleeds. I experimented with a number of colors and a number of papers, finally printing with red, blue, and sumi for the wet wash, then resting the paper and re-printing in strong sumi. Two blocks were carved, one with the words, "WAR" and "peace" and the other a somewhat abstracted baby bird. Both blocks were first printed onto very wet Rives BFK paper (washi works well for this technique, too), then the bird block was reprinted after the paper had dried a bit.

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