EAH MEANS place and Kahnie God in the language spoken by the Tillamook Indians: The Place of God. Though the Tillamook chose to live along the Nehalem River below the mountain dwelling of the chief of their gods (and the natural boundary between the sometimes warring Tillamook and Clatsop tribes), young Tillamook braves had to spend a night alone on the sacred and scary mountain as a part of the rites of initiation into manhood; alone in a night filled with the moon riding over the Sitka spruce, the beat of waves against the sand--that sound amplified by night--and legends of spirits and Spanish treasure and spellbinding properties.
Peculiar things still happen on the mountain, a 1,000-foot-high Miocene basaltic magma sill, and pilots of light aircraft report that over the mountain their instruments go beserk. A "vortex of energy" is what one non-scientist called Neahkahnie Mountain, possibly thinking of the famous "Oregon vortex" near Gold Hill.
This is where painter Fred Kline has built his fabulous house.
From their first nights on the mountain, both Fred and Amy Kline have sensed presences and seen ghostly patches of light at the periphery of vision, the kind of formless emanations the scientific mind would explain as something caused by "atmospheric conditions." These feelings and visions persist, and Amy even claims that she sometimes feels like an agent of the mountain, as though the mountain were trying to express itself through her.
The most tangible sighting on the mountain was a white "thing" that Fred saw glide by the picture window in the north wall of the house, cross the French doors opening onto the balcony on the south, and then disappear. Was it the poet friend staying in the Klines' "T" house, a petite 10x10 one-room structure with an Oriental feel about it which is now used by Amy for meditation and by Fred for reading and as a guest room (more often occupied than not)? The poet said he had been reading in the "T" house at the time Fred saw the "thing," and he assured the Klines that he had not played a trick on them.
Besides, Fred could put no real form to the thing he saw, and, anyway, the north window that the thing crossed is 30 feet up sheer cedar siding! Poets soar, but 30 feet?
That night a dinner guest out for a pre-dinner stroll saw a "white thing go past on the road." It was twilight. The shadows of the alder and spruce were deepening and that special evening magic was coming on.
"Oh," Fred Kline said matter-of-factly to the guest when she returned to the house, "that's just the ghost of Neahkahnie Mountain. He's very friendly. He likes people. I saw him just this afternoon."
The Kline house hugs the seaward side of this vortex of energy at about the 500-foot level. You can't see the house from Highway 101, or from the gravel road that cuts back toward the sea; in fact, you can hardly see the house from the driveway that cuts back from the gravel road. One of the two giant Sitka spruces flanking the house pretty well screens off all but the front decking, which stands out on stilts from the first floor. The Sitka spruce at the head of the driveway is more than 125 feet tall and 200 years old.
The house itself is built entirely of hemlock, cedar and fir, none of it painted, since Kline learned that painted wood does not breathe, and if water gets behind the paint - a strong possibility at the coast, or anywhere else west of the Cascades - the water will be trapped and the wood will rot from within. The wood tones of the house have mellowed and weathered into a soft medley of gray and brown - like a graying beard - and the house seems to belong where it is, fitted into the texture of the mountain, an almost natural outcropping.
During warm summer nights, the Klines like to sleep on the cedar deck, by the rusty pipe easel Fred uses when he paints on the deck, among the potted flowers and sculptures by friends.
The natural look continues on the inside. The floors downstairs and upstairs are made of untreated hemlock, and Kline finished some of the interior walls with old barn siding. The post and beam construction of the house means that the ceiling support beams are exposed. It is 16 feet from the upstairs floor to the highest point under the roof. The upstairs is 20x26, the downstairs 16x20.
The entire house is only 1,000 square feet.
This natural look. which the Klines wanted, created a problem, the solution of which brought about one of the most felicitous effects in the house. The problem was that the house lacked suitable wall surfaces on which Kline could hang those paintings he wanted to live with for awhile before he decided they were finished. The solution was that Kline paneled three sections of wall from floor to ceiling with plaster board painted white. One section is at the head of the stairs to the second floor on a partition jutting two or three feet into the living room area and forming a division between the living room and dining room; another is on the north wall of the living room between two picture windows, and another is on the rear wall of the dining room, the east wall up against the mountain.
The white panels themselves areexciting as design innovations, but with Kline's large and vibrant paintings on them, they come alive with an elegance that reminds one of the Frick mansion in New York, which is now a museum. The attractive early 1900s' Victorian/eclectic American furniture Amy inherited and the objects d'art from her gallery in Cannon Beach, The Rainbow Gallery, add an ornate quality which sets well with the natural materials and functional architectural principles of the house. Frank Lloyd Wright might have approved.
Actually, the house is not a house; it is a studio, a luxurious one at that. The Klines will call it home until they get around to building the real" "house," which will be down the slope and to the left. Like so many who decide to build, the Klines progressed in stages. After buying the property, they lived in a tent, then in the tiny "T" house, and now in the studio-house.
So the first floor is crowded with the materials a painter uses: Crumpled tubes of Liquitex and Hyplar paints, venerable jars coated with colors like candle wax and stuffed with brushes, a large wooden easel. Then there are tools of all sorts and a table saw which was powered by a gasoline engine donated by Fred's father before electricity came to the house. And pictures on the wall - including the famous one of John and Yoko in their natural. There is also a sleeping area, an adjoining bath which defies description (for one thing, the door is one of those old carriage house doors, and only the lower half slides shut; Kline is looking for appropriate stained glass for the upper part), and superb stained glass panels in the entrance door.
The highlight upstairs stands in the southwest corner, its back to the sea: A wood stove made by sculptor Kieth Jellum. If you can imagine a sea-weedy horse with an enormous mane, or Neptune himself riding a 30-gallon drum standing on spindly legs, you have it. Kline believes it was an abandoned sculpture turned upside down, but Jellum denies this.
Tucked under the sloping ceiling in the southeast corner of the house is the charming sleeping loft used by the Klines' oldest daughter, Laura. Grace, their 1-year-old, sleeps in a cradle near the Klines' bed. Kline built everything himself with hand tools (he even mixed his own cement) over a three-year period at the incredible cost of $4,000. He scrounged for barn siding, stained glass windows and old doors, and he built many of the doors and windows himself. The house is on a solid L-shaped footing and wedged against the mountain, well-anchored and sturdy. During its first season, when it was not yet finished, it withstood three pounding storms, one sending the Klines' windometer needle off the meter, another registering winds of 110 a little farther north on the coast. One of Kline's projects is to build a windmill and install his own electricity generating system. He will have wind to spare.
We walked to the "T" house, hardly disturbing the uncommonly large field mice that are constantly running about, gliding softly in the matted grass. "Cute little rascals," Kline said as we walked. He is about six feet tall, slightly stooped, and getting somewhat thick around the middle and shoulders. He has just crossed his 52nd birthday - Scorpio, he says right away when you ask him how old he is. His untrimmed mustache is streaked with gray, as is his black hair. His face is outdoorsy and gentle, and he gives people his full attention when they are saying something.
Growing around the house and the "T" house are wild cucumber (the worst thing you have ever tasted); salmonberry, which is a washed-out orange member of the raspberry family; thimbleberry, which resembles a compact raspberry; an unknown but bitter berry, and native holly.
The walls of the "T" house are white and the wood trim stained dark. Standing on a Japanesque table that Kline built is a seven-holder candelabra. On the wall at one end of the foam rubber mat on the floor are two of Kline's paintings, both showing heads projecting into the cosmos, as though the heads contained, indeed were, the cosmos. On the opposite wall is a chart of the chakras, from Muldhara to Sahasrara, and, somewhat incongruously, next to the chart which records the stages of enlightenment as the Kundalini is released is a set of Encyclopedia Britannica. But there is no real contradiction here. A romantic, almost mystical painter who can build his own house, who is a good enough mechanic to keep his Pinto tuned and running (he tunes by ear, not by tachometer), who has a "church key" hanging on the wall of his sanctuary, who can make finished furniture and who delivered his own child according to the Lamaze and Leboyer techniques - such a person must have a mind that can organize and measure and feel comfortable in the rational world. Shades of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Fred Kline is the man Robert Pirsag was looking for. In the "T" house he took off the roofing belt he was wearing. You never know what you'll find him doing when you pull into the driveway; he could be roofing or nailing up some newly acquired barn siding or hacking down the weed-like alder that cover the slower growing spruce; or just playing with his children
We were talking about the method of painting he began in Ohio when he took the first tentative steps away from representational art. He said, after I asked him if he too meditated in the "T" house, "I meditate when I paint." He actually uses techniques that induce a state similar to one of self-hypnosis. It's like being in a trance, he says. His concentration and awareness are very high, his mind relaxed, and the entire process is joyous. "I feel I'm operating that much more efficiently," he added. He can now fall into and out of this state so easily that he sometimes pops into his painting trance while he is demonstrating to students in his classes at Portland State University.
When he paints in a trance he feels he reaches the subconscious mind and that he "works with it."
Only after this deepest source of expression has yielded something will he pause and evaluate the canvas and "go into it" with his imagination and conscious intelligence, asking, "What do I want to do with this painting, if anything?" Only at this stage will he make value judgments.
If he finds that his conscious mind cannot grasp the whole, then he'll work on part of the canvas, small parts at a time. And if in reworking a canvas he does not get that "complete" feel, he'll discard the piece and start again. Usually, however, if the painting feels complete as it wells up from the subconscious, he has no trouble finishing it with the conscious mind.
When Kline goes outdoors to paint, he goes not to "see," but to "feel." "Feeling" is a romantic value often linked with "seeing" metaphysically and thinking viscerally, as, for example, in Wordsworth's "I have felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts." So when Kline is "feeling," he is "seeing" in the romantic and even Emersonian sense of "seeing." He is perceiving the deep connections between inner and outer worlds, a kind of unity, a harmony.
Timothy Leary would say he is "tuned in."
Down on the north end of Nehalem beach, under the brow of Neahkahnie mountain, he will lay a canvas flat on the wet sand, and then, as he concentrates and synchronizes with the littoral rhythms of nature, he will splay sand onto the canvas and perhaps work it around with sea water or let the wind blow it into tidal striations. This he calls using gravity, or "tapping the forces of nature." He has even embedded rock rubbings into his paintings.
When this preliminary work feels right, he will fix the sand to the canvas with an acrylic medium, a binder something like Elmer's glue, and then he will begin to paint with his brush. The effects are astonishingly alive and deep after he has worked color onto and around the ridges of brown, tan or black sand. After a day of painting in this manner, Kline feels good, relaxed, a part of nature. He regards the experience as a religious one. And since he does not begin a painting with a preconceived idea of where it will go, he does not become frustrated with his work.
This is the very heart of his work and his lifestyle: Not to get frustrated. "See," he says as we walk back to the house, his voice high-pitched but steady, "it's interesting that painting has taught me about my living. There was a time that I lived like a lot of people I had known and still know.
This is a very common thing with western man. That is, that he keeps setting goals and he lives at the time that he reaches a goal. The only time that he really enjoys life is that momentary time when he has achieved something he wants, and he never enjoys life in between.
Well, my painting is the opposite. I enjoy the act of painting. As I reach a goal I end up with an end product which I hope other people can enjoy with some of the feeling I had while I was doing it. And so, I've learned to live my life that way. Oh yes, I've set goals for myself, but if I find that a goal is causing me any unhappiness in my everyday living, then I always stop and re-evaluate those goals. Because I want to enjoy life everyday. I want to enjoy getting there; enjoying the trip, in other words. I'm not just buzzing off on a vacation, forgetting everything in between to get to a place so that I can enjoy myself. I'm enjoying myself as I'm going. And that's the thing I've learned the thing I've learned from my painting."
What can one add to that? We were back in the house, talking about "Galactic Vision," a truly superb painting and one of Kline's "space series," paintings a "planetary feel" about them. We were discussing the frequent horizon line and sloped line (Neahkahnie Mountain) in Kline's paintings and his fascination with the circle and the square. We both expressed a fondness for Ralph Waldo Emerson's great essay "Circles," in which Emerson develops the mystical connection between the circle of the eye, the head, the horizon, the welkin, the universe, the cosmos: God, nature and man all connected. Kline was saying that he doesn't work as much with the circle as he used to, but that he is still fascinated with the circle-square relationship. It then occurred to him to measure that portion of "Galactic Vision" which was above the horizon line, in which the three or four celestial circles are placed. It measured a perfect square within the rectangle of the canvas! He was delighted and amazed.
We opened two bottles of beer. Beethoven's Sixth Symphony rolled encouragingly from the Scott Stereomaster 344 and AR manual turntable and Wharfedale 60 speakers. Kline was still impressed by the perfect square in "Galactic Vision." Well, one has to admire this talented man who has managed to blend art, work, lifestyle, play--indeed, every facet of his and his family's life--together into a meaningful experience; this ex-Navy Corpsman who delivered his own child and tunes his car by ear, this very special painter who insists that nature is the real painter.
He'll live his life his way, even if it means going two years without selling a painting, and this despite more than 20 one-man shows from coast to coast and growing critical recognition. He has admirers who encourage him even as they learn from him.
Let others paint those monotonous views of Haystack Rock and other such scenes that decorate our checks. Fred Kline is busy living, laying back on Neahkahnie Mountain, that vortex of energy.
© PROMETHEUS 143/2009
PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin - News, Politics, Art and Science. Nr. 143, May 2009