Coyotes and Canoes

Neal Crosbie's Message

Neal Crosbie

When I asked Neal Crosbie which came first in his show, Message, at Art Resources-the paintings or the poetry-his eyes twinkled. “They came together,” he said, which makes sense when you’re a poet who paints, draws, writes music, and sings, all with a magician’s mind that moves so fast it’s hard to keep up. “So what’s the message?” I wondered. Then I slowed down and read the words on a painting:

  • I’m here
  • You’re there
  • Deal with it.
  • So I did.

Message is comprised of 46 paintings and 23 poems/songs, and I began by exploring his images, many of which feature a black stick figure with the head of a canoe, the face of a coyote, and a miniature teepee for a hat. My first reaction was, “It’s like cave art!” Crosbie’s paintings incorporate splashes of wild color and various Native American symbols, among them a floating arrow pointing toward mountaintops and rivers, representative of his Zen practice. A small, wandering coyote figure appears in several pieces. The largest painting in the show is titled:


I was a little unsure of the intended meaning, so he led me to this poem:

  • Saying wild things
  • the Canoe Master falls upon his canoe
  • They have been lost three months
  • They are getting to know each other
  • this must mean something
  • otherwise why take the time to
  • mention it.

The message, it seemed, was a riddle a lot like life itself; the minute you think you have it, everything changes and the search continues.

“I’m simply furthering an old idea of East meeting West to express my avid interest in morphing the wisdom of Japan and China into our southwestern culture, blending the iconography,” Crosbie explained. His muse and spokesperson, Coyote Old Man, aka CanoeMaster/Coyote-guy, inhabits “some psychic landscape between Joshua Tree and Mt. Fuji,” and his poems read like koans. “It’s all about eliciting a smile or laugh,” Crosbie said, “not knowing anything in this great unknowable universe.” It’s also about the alchemy of bringing it all together, as only Crosbie can.

Born and raised in San Francisco, he has been practicing Soto Zen since 1971, and it is reflected in all of his work. Ever since he was a little boy, he’s been drawing coyote figures, and he has preserved that youthful playfulness, as evidenced in his current show and in his book of poems, Everything Be OK (Little Dry Creek Press, 2006), which is formatted in comic-book style frames. One of the poems reads:

  • we interrupt this silence
  • for a message about this silence

Crosbie speaks proudly of going to Paris last year to exhibit some of his favorite work of Sumi ink drawings and poems on brown aged paper. Three of these pieces appear in Message, among them this one:

  • So if man’s mind is
  • a canyon wren
  • then the wind is everything
  • else
  • and I’m off to the precincts
  • of glory
  • seventeen miles
  • ahead.

The poems and paintings of Message are up at Art Resources through June 21. Crosbie’s band, Zen Horse Repair, will play on Friday, June 13, at the gallery (512 E. Haley St.) at 7 p.m., performing songs from their new CD that echo the exhibited paintings and poetry.


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