I have often shown early work here, stuff from when I was still trying to find a path forward. Most of it is from before I ever thought that showing my work in public was a possibility. As I have pointed out, I still revisit this early work on a regular basis in an effort to stay connected with that time in which the need to create was the only motivation needed. There’s also an element of backtracking in this as well, trying to put together how this work somehow led to what I do now.
Sometimes it is hard to see the connections as the work is so singular and never followed up on, then or now. I think those are the pieces from that time that intrigue me the most, making me wonder how my journey forward from that time would have been different had I chosen and stayed on that path.
For example, here are three pieces from around the same time, all painted within a month or so of each other back in 1994. None really lead directly forward but I really always enjoy seeing these three pieces, wondering what my motivation was at the time. The first , shown above, is an interior scene that just formed on the paper. I had no idea what was going to be there, outside of the checkered tablecloth. I remember that the cross on the wall was a last minute addition, one that changed the whole feel of the piece. I can understand why I didn’t follow this path but it still makes me wonder.
The next was this still life, here on the left. I remember this piece well, having ambivalent feelings about it as a whole. I liked the clear graphic look of it but it was almost too clean, too sharp. It had really good eye appeal but it seemed all surface to me. I see things from this piece that I did bring forward, such as some of the clearness of the colors which I like in some instances. The thing that always strikes me is that I see a face in profile, looking to the right. Faces subconsciously built into the composition are something I often look for in my work, feeling a curious satisfaction when I find them. I wish I knew why. Maybe that’s what draws me back to these early pieces.
The last was one that had a title, Doug’s First Day on the Job. I remember this as a piece that I viewed as an exercise even as I started, experimenting with forms and color. The resulting scrum of arms and fists with the strange authoritarian figure in the foreground, hooded and pointing ominously out of frame reminded me of the chaos and confusion of a kid’s first day on a new job. A strange environment with strange new people who struggle with each other and boss the new guy around. I knew even as I painted this that this was not my path but I enjoyed this piece anyway. It had a cleansing effect and was a wonderful lesson in color and form .
Plus it made me chuckle.
I don’t know that there is any great connection between these pieces or to my future and current work. I always wonder though at how these disparate pieces formed in such a short time, wondering if I have that same burst of energy within me still. Maybe that is the reason for this backtracking, looking for that energy source, that fount of inspiration.
I don’t know…
Posted in Early Paintings, Influences | Tagged Early Paintings, Early Work, Inspiration | 2 Comments »
Put this one in the “Even the great ones screw up every once in a while” file.
This is a painting from Norman Rockwell titled People Reading Stock Exchange for one of his many Saturday Evening Post covers. There appears to be nothing unique about it at first glance, just a group of folks hunched around a wall chart that they all find completely absorbing. They all seem perfectly normal until you take a closer look and notice that the young man in the red shirt seems different. You look a bit closer, maybe squint a little until you realize you don’t need to do that to see his abnormality.
Yes, he has three legs.
Rockwell apparently didn’t notice this until it was pointed out years later and it proved to be a embarrassing episode for him, especially given his reputation for capturing detail in his work. Some people have tried to explain it away as some sort of subconscious phallic representation which seems like a stretch to me. I think it was merely an oversight although an unusual one. As a casual viewer, it it something that is easy to overlook but I am more amazed that in the process that it simply didn’t register for him that he was creating a most unusual young man.
As an artist, it’s reassuring to see someone so meticulous make such an error. Most artists have at least a handful of such things in their background, pieces with shadows that make no sense in nature or arms that are much too long for any living human. Most go unnoticed. The unfortunate thing is that once they are identified, they become the focal point of that painting forever– something once seen cannot be unseen. I know that I have several paintings with such mistakes, pieces that without them being pointed out are strong and full works. Most people, if any, notice these flaws but for me they are the first things my eyes rest upon in the picture.
They don’t bother me as I am sure this bothered Rockwell. I see them as symbols of our humanity, our inherent flawed nature. We don’t need to point out our flaws. They’re there for all to see. We can only hope people accept us, three legs or two or one. And the three-legged young man here is a refreshing reminder of Rockwell’s humanity.
Posted in Influences, Neat Stuff | Tagged Norman Rockwell, Saturday Evening Post | 4 Comments »
For Father’s Day-
My dad gave me one dollar bill
‘Cause I’m his smartest son,
And I swapped it for two shiny quarters
‘Cause two is more than one!
And then I took the quarters
And traded them to Lou
For three dimes-i guess he don’t know
that three is more than two!
Just then, along came old blind Bates
And just ’cause he can’t see
He gave me four nickels for my three dimes,
And four is more than three!
And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs
Down at the seed-feed store,
and the fool gave me five pennies for them,
And five is more than four!
And then I went and showed my dad,
and he got red in the cheeks
And closed his eyes and shook his head-
Too proud of me to speak!
I ran this several years ago for Father’s Day but decided to run it again because I think my Dad appreciates the humor more than the mush of most Father’s Day sentiments. It was either this or A Boy Named Sue, a song I remember my Dad liking which is also written by Shel Silverstein. If you want the rundown on the happy family above, just click on the picture. Have a Happy Father’s Day…
Posted in Favorite Things, Influences | Tagged Father's Day, Shel Silverstein | 3 Comments »
I had not heard until just this morning that one of my favorite pieces of public art had been removed from the walls of a NYC lobby and donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I am talking about Thomas Hart Benton‘s incredible 10 panel mural America Today which hung for nearly 30 years in the lobby of the AXA Equitable Building on 6th Avenue– the Avenue of the Americas, officially– in midtown NYC.
It’s a magnificent sweeping representation of the American epic, painted in 1930-31 for the boardroom of NY’s New School, just as the nation was entering the Great Depression. The color is deep and bold and Benton’s rhythmic linework and forms run through the various scenes of the nation at work and at play, binding it all into a piece of art that has the impact of a symphony at full crescendo. Just a great piece of work that reaches out and grabs you.
At least that’s how it came across to Cheri and I many years ago, long before I had dreams of painting for myself, as we were wandering around Midtown one evening. We found ourselves strolling up 6th Ave. in the evening darkness and through the windows of one of the large office buildings we suddenly both caught a glimpse of bold colors that appeared to be some sort of mural running around three sides of the groundfloor lobby. We scooted through the doors and stood in absolute awe. It was long after the office workers had left the building so it was dead still except for a quiet conversation between the security detail at the front desk. We stayed there for quite some time, amazed that this magnus opus was here for all to take in and see.
It seemed appropriate. Over the years we always made a point when we were in NYC to make a stop and gawk with mouths open at Benton’s beautiful work. It was always magical.
I am a bit torn about its removal to the Met although I know it is for the best, from a preservation standpoint, and that probably more people will actually really appreciate it there. But the idea of having it out in a public space where anyone can stumble from the street and take in its wonder really appealed to me and spoke to the democratic spirit of the work. But it will be well cared for and hopefully always on view for those who wish to see Benton’s vision.
Below is a view of the mural installed in the Met. This is not in HD so its not a fantastic view but it gives you the idea of how well the work hangs together.
Posted in Favorite Things, Influences | Tagged America Today, AXA Equitable, Metropolitan Museum of Art NYC, Thomas Hart Benton | 2 Comments »
I don’t know why this caught my eye this morning. If you are of a certain age you will immediately recognize this ad that ran regularly in magazines for decades, touting the benefits of following the fitness regimen of Charles Atlas. It was one of the longest running ad campaigns of all time and made the term 97-pound weakling a regular part of our language.
I am instantly taken back in time by this ad, one that I read dozens– maybe hundreds of times– over the years, each time feeling Mac’s pain and anger at being pushed around and reveling in his revenge over the Bully of the Beach as a result of his simply following the way of “Dynamic Tension,” Atlas’ method of using opposing forces to create strength.
Never ordered the course, never acquired the sculpted body of Atlas or mastered Dynamic Tension, although that term has always stuck with me. There is something in it that rings true and speaks to the polarity that I often describe when talking about my work, that energy created by contrasting forces. For instance, the area of contrast between light and dark is often the strongest part in a picture .
Perhaps there is something to this idea of tension and the creation of energy. Charles Atlas was trying to tell me that all those many years ago but I didn’t realize it could apply to things other than biceps, pecs or abs. Funny how seeing something like this innocuous ad brings back memories and associations…
Posted in Biographical, Favorite Things, Influences | Tagged Charles Atlas, Contrast, Dynamic Tension | Leave a Comment »
This is sort a continuation of yesterday’s post where I was going back through images of my older work in the aftermath of a show, something I often find necessary in order to find some balance and assurance that I am still connected to my true self . I think the idea of connection is probably the important part here as sometimes I often feel a bit disconnected after a show, which I know sounds counter-intuitive. You would think the feeling of connection would be at its highest degree.
Besides scanning my old work, another thing I do to find connection is to go through other images as well, either of other artist’s work or the artists themselves and their environments. In their work I am looking for a voice or expression in their work that is similar to my own, as though finding this common ground will somehow bind me to the greater continuum of artists. The same holds true for seeing artists in their studios or at work. The common experience of creating provides a connection that makes me feel less out of the loop.
In doing so, I often come across interesting images that provoke thought and,occasionally, new directions. For example, one image that caught my eye is the one above of Belgian painter Charles Felu, who was born without arms and painted with his feet, working in the last half of the 19th century. Seeing this connects me to that need to express oneself, that driving force that has kept me pushing ahead for most of my life. So many people have overcome great obstacles to have their voices heard that it makes me grateful that my own obstacles are relatively small and easily overcome.
Sometimes, there is inspiration for new work in these photos. For instance, when I saw this photo of Georges Braques, the Cubist innovator whose quote– There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain– was a rallying cry in my first efforts as a painter, I was taken not so much by the man or his studio but by the smaller framed piece to the left of his feet and the shield-like piece on the wall to his right. Just a glimpse at both had my wheels instantly turning, the shapes and flow of these pieces translating into my own vocabulary. Instant inspiration.
Another was this colorized image of a Japanese artist at work in the early part of the last century. There is a great serenity in the space, in his pose and even in the elegant manner in which his work tools and materials are arranged. The beautiful cooper pot of water feels like a meditative pool here instead of merely a place to clean your brush. It has an immediate calming effect on me, something that is often needed in the days after a show as I struggle to regain my footing.
Even as I am writing this, I am feeling the effects of these images, beginning to feel a connection once again. I feel a bit of inspiration and calm, both greatly needed for me to create. This is already turning into a good morning.
Got to go…
Posted in Favorite Things, Influences, Photography | Tagged Artist, Charles Felu, Cubist, Georges Braques, Inspiration, Studio | 2 Comments »
As I’ve pointed out in the past, I almost always feel a bit out of sorts in the aftermath of a show. It doesn’t matter how the show itself fared. There is always an awkward, nervous lull that takes place in the days afterward, a feeling of uncertainty marked by a questioning of my direction and my purpose. The certainty and confidence that builds in the weeks leading up to a show fades quickly away as the “What next?” questions jump to the forefront. The relative emptiness of the studio which felt so liberating and filled with potential after the show was delivered now seems like a cold void and sends me scurrying, looking for something familiar that will fill this void.
If I were to make an analogy, it would be that I am driving along and have suddenly knocked the gearshift into the neutral position. The engine races and the momentum going forward begins to decrease quickly. Or maybe I have even knocked the shifter into reverse because at these points I often turn to going through my old files, taking in images of older work, much of it done before I was showing publicly.
A lot of it is rough but some shows the hints of possibility that I know fed my appetite at the time. I find it very comforting to revisit this work, marveling at both how far and how I little I have come in the years since. The things that excited me in the work then do the same for me now. We evolve but basically remain the same at the core.
The piece at the top always catches my eye and makes me pause over it. I remember the struggle at that time to find a voice and the searching that went with it. I thought that this might be the direction of my work at the time. It was liquid and loose and the face emerged from a puddle of pigments almost on its own. It was one of the first times I felt as though I were divining rather than painting, letting the paint dictate the direction. I felt like I was only along for the ride, helping facilitate the whole thing. It’s a difficult thing to describe but it was a vivid moment, one that is right there when I look at this image now.
Maybe that is why I revisit these piece at these times, trying to recapture that sense of wonder that was always at the surface in that early work. The excitement I feel in the studio now is as powerful but it is a different type of excitement. Those early moments were giddy with the possibility of entering an unknown realm whereas now I am simply excited to be tapped into a vein that I realize is there.
As I say, it’s hard to describe. But it has become part of my process, a way of moving from stage to stage.
Okay, back to my therapy. I can’t move on until I go back a little more…
Posted in Early Paintings, Influences | Tagged Early Work, Show | 6 Comments »