Saturday, January 16, 2016

Linda Waltersdorf Cobourn, Ed.D.
            Serenity. It is an elusive ideal, highly prized, difficult to identify, and seldom obtained. John Keaton’s latest collection of 55 mixed media work, Serenity, asks the reader to define just how and where serenity can be found. It is not a question easily answered. John’s interpretations take us from peaceful gardens of pastels to vibrant colors of snakes and pumas, through the surreal world of Salvador Dali, and into the dreams of Picasso. We look into the eyes of proud Native Americans and grinning gorillas, movie stars, famous statesmen, and dementia. It is within the diversity of John’s work that somehow, with John’s narratives and thoughtfully selected quotes, we move ever closer not only to the definition of but the attainment of our own serenity.
            For the cover of Serenity, John has chosen a harmonious garden, painted in a style similar to Monet’s , which reflects the very image of tranquility and peace. Among the flowers—one of John’s favorite painting subjects—we are given a glimpse into a Utopian life with gently muted tones and images, glints of golden sunshine, and softly rustling wind, reminding us that Nature can be soothing. Yet few of us can forever live in the peacefulness of such a perfect place. We must, instead, take comfort from Lao Tazo—the quote below the painting—that reminds us to “do your work. Then step back.”

            It is in this act of stepping back, of taking time to stop and savor, that leads us to find serenity in all that John reveals. Some of the images are the very ideal of serenity. Along with the cover painting, John brings us into a Day in Tuscany, where we experience the peace of white clouds and rolling hills, and across the bronze tones of September Bridge. We hear the roar of Thunder Bay and float into the far reaches of Galaxy 3. While Walt Whitman reminds us that “peace is always beautiful”, we realize, as we continue our journey through John’s work, that much of life is not serene. Or peaceful. Or tranquil.
            Instead, there are moments of confusion as a man struggles with his wife’s clouded mind, moments of terror as the stalking cougar snarls from the pages, moments of sorrow in the eyes of a holy man and Indian chief, and moments of beauty in the blooming White Orchid. We see the love of the Madonna and Child, even knowing the pain of the Crown of Thorns will follow.
            We are forced to admit the truth: serenity is not to be found in place or circumstance. Serenity, as The Lord is My Shepherd reminds us, is about the spiritual, not the physical. Despite grief and loss, we can teach our souls to be joyful. We can find beauty in the most simplistic of objects, or the most sublime of subjects. Despite pain and misfortune, we can teach our hearts to be glad. We can even, as John’s illustration of my own book demonstrates, Tap Dance in Church.
            Our journey through John’s paintings and drawings is not meant to provide us with an answer to the question, “How can we attain serenity?” The works present to us possibilities and an invitation to look—really look—at the world around us, to embrace that which brings us joy, and to find a way to reconcile our souls to that which does not. In this latest collection of John’s thought-provoking work we see--as he reminds us in the last painting, Infinity-- a vast array of possibilities. We must each find our own path to what is serene, listening to the mysterious calls of that which is greater than ourselves.

            As John’s colleague and friend, I invite you to journey through Serenity, seeking for yourself the tranquility we all desire and finding it in the most unlikely of places.
John's book is now available from Amazon!