Sunday, March 26, 2023

Somerville Artist George Teshu: A painter of sensuality and spirituality

Interview by Doug Holder

I noticed that the Somerville Media Center is to have an art exhibit in April  and George Teshu is one of the exhibitors. I caught up with Teshu recently--and we talked about his colorful and evocative paintings, and his perception of art and life.

 How has it been for you as an artist living in the Somerville/Cambridge area?

I moved to North Cambridge with my family in 1992.  We had a close friend who lived in Davis Square at that time.  I was amazed at the extent of artistic activity in Somerville-Cambridge.  It seemed like there were lots of creative people of all kinds everywhere.  I had not painted for about 18 years.  What was going on around me inspired me to pick up a paintbrush again.  I've been painting since.
You were influenced by your upbringing in the Russian Orthodox Church. This is reflected in your work. Are you a religious man--do you find that art gives you a sense of transcendence?
I am not a member of any organized religion now.  I view myself however as a spiritual person.  As far as transcendence, yes I feel that my art does lift me into a transcendent state of being.  I feel very fortunate in that way.  I have read that scientific studies have shown that something very unusual happens in the brain when one is creating art.  What I know is that it is very relaxing and therapeutic for me.  I am lifted into a serene state outside of the everyday world and outside of time.
You choose to focus on the female form, why?
I believe that in one's art one should focus on what is inspiring, which is different for every person.  That is what I do.  I have always viewed women as beautiful divine beings, angels, goddesses, that I am in awe of.  I don't know why, but I have always been that way.  That is why they are the focus of my art.  For me they are the pathway to the divine.
You wrote that at times you feel more like the paint brush, than the painter. As a poet sometimes I feel more like a pen than poet. Do you feel there is some divine inspiration going on here, or is it the sensibility/circuitry  of your brain that leads you here?
This is a question that artists have asked for thousands of years, and I don't have an answer for it, that is, "What is the source of art?"  The ancient Greeks talked about the Muses, beings who bestowed inspiring works of art upon humans.  There is and has always been a sense that art comes from somewhere outside of ourselves.  The painter becomes the paintbrush.  The writer becomes the typewriter.  The musicians hands are moved by some invisible force.  A friend tells me that I am channeling the women in my paintings.  I guess that could be true.  I don't concern myself too much with what the source of my art is.  I just accept that it is a gift which has been given to me, which I am grateful for.  And I believe that it is always best if one has been given a gift to share it.
You say you want to create a Garden of Eden with your art. What would that look like?
The Garden of Eden for me is a place of love, harmony and beauty.  And a oneness with nature.  Beyond being a physical place, it is a state of being and a state of mind which we are all able to access.  Beauty can be found anywhere.  Love can be found anywhere.  We always have that choice as humans, whoever we are or whatever our situation, to live in that state of being, to enter that Garden of Eden.
Why should we view your art?
I never insist that anyone view my work, or question whatever reaction they may have to it.  One's reaction to an artwork is always very individual and personal.  We are all different, with different tastes and interests.  I simply offer my art as a gift to be accepted or not.  I never question either response.  

I love art museums and galleries.  Some people have told me that they love my work, or that they love a specific painting that I have created.  I myself love going to museums and galleries.  On a day when I get to see an artwork that I truly love, that is a great day for me.  The times that I am able to do something like that for someone else, or even come close, that's a great feeling.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Red Letter Poem #153

 The Red Letters



In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.  To my mind, all poetry and art serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.


                                                                                                          – Steven Ratiner






Red Letter Poem #153





On March 10, 2020, the Governor of Massachusetts declared a state of emergency in response to the Covid pandemic.  Quickly, much of our country entered lockdown, and it didn’t take long for me to see the devastating effects that isolation was having on households and communities.  Fear is always magnified if you believe you’re facing trouble alone.  People were desperate to find ways of connecting with family and friends.  I decided to use my mandate as Arlington’s Poet Laureate to make a modest contribution: to try to remind us that a greater we still enveloped us all; that we’d been through terrible challenges before and would surely survive this one as well.  Isn’t that one of the essential features of any literature, a tangible continuity?  Ten days later, the first Red Letter poem arrived in several thousand inboxes, thanks to a partnership with seven area arts and community organizations.  The weekly poems were intended to provide comfort, insight and – as all art aspires to achieve – an experience of our bedrock commonality.  I was surprised and delighted by how quickly these Letters were embraced.


Since the project was rooted in Arlington, I began by seeking out writers from this community – and I had no doubt which poet I’d ask to be Red Letter #1.  Fred Marchant is not only a highly-esteemed poet – author of five award-winning collections – he is an educator, editor, translator and (most important) the sort of individual whose work is informed by a deep commitment to the spirit of a shared world.  Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay to any poet: I don’t just read Fred’s work, I re-read it.  His books do not sit attracting dust on my shelf.   I return to his poetry most often when I’m needing a clear and deeply humane voice, one that both reassures and challenges – especially important in turbulent times like these, when despair is still only a phone call or a headline away.  The Red Letters has since grown to include poets and readers from across the United States and beyond, spreading most often by electronic word-of-mouth.  Today’s installment will mark the beginning of our fourth year of publication – and I couldn’t have a better voice to mark the occasion than Fred’s, here debuting a new poem from what I sense is a new book beginning to take shape.


The literary tradition of an ars poetica involves poems attempting to examine the very definition of the art form.  I think something different is taking place in this piece: Fred has shaped a poem that explores the essential relationship between. . .well, I’m not quite certain.  When I first received “hello/stranger”, I thought it was the writer/reader bond made manifest – a sort of prayer mat we might set out before a cherished text.  On the tenth reading, I thought this might be the poet, in a Whitmanesque gesture, welcoming his own self into a new consciousness, into this ancient poetic and spiritual tradition.  I’ve certainly had many mornings when I’ve awoken, feeling a stranger to my own existence and – thank goodness – sometimes a poem was close at hand to focus my attention and help steer my way back home.  My feelings about this poem continue to deepen, though the questions abound – but one thing is always clear: I have no doubt when reading it that I’m that stranger receiving welcome – just as I have little doubt you will be equally convinced it’s you being addressed.  Making our way through the text, we take notice of that straight spine centering our attention, the lines of the sturdy ribcage we almost imagine swelling with respiration – and, perhaps most satisfying, that gentle voice assuring us that there is no need to feel estranged from this living moment.  Fred’s created here a very American version of zazen, each unscrolling breath illuminated with a bright red initial.








this is where

                 you enter

the poem, you’ll

                 need to take

your shoes off,

                 but not your

socks, sit as you

                 wish, cushion

or not, even on

                 a chair, but

keep the spine

                 and windpipe

aligned, upright

                 enough to draw

a straight path

                 from the base

of your being

                 to the place

the gods like

                 to touch,

that tangled nest

                 of neurons

where you have

                 imagined gods

exist, where you

                 believe in love’s

enduring kindness,

                 and in a decency

greater than mere

                 gratitude, and

as these are kin

                 to reading a poem,

you are welcome

                 here, the key is

under the mat

                 let yourself in



                          ––Fred Marchant




The Red Letters 3.0


* If you would like to receive these poems every Friday in your own in-box – or would like to write in with comments or submissions – send correspondence to:



To learn more about the origins of the Red Letter Project, check out an essay I wrote for Arrowsmith Magazine:


and the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene


For updates and announcements about Red Letter projects and poetry readings, please follow me on Twitter