A lot of us probably don’t think too much about Oklahoma and when we do, it’s probably as a result of the latest blow dealt to it by Mother Nature. This past week’s tornado devastation in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore is the latest such natural disaster to bring our eyes back to Oklahoma, near the very center of our country. As we do whenever a disaster anywhere occurs, we as a nation come together and give the full benefit of our gathered strength in aid and support. We are doing this now for the folks in Moore, Oklaoma and if you can, donate a bit to the Red Cross or one of the other relief organizations that will be helping them back on their feet.
Oklahoma has always had a special appeal in the American psyche . It lives in our minds with Curly riding the plains in that idealized burgeoning new frontier in the musical from Rodgers and Hammerstein. John Steinbeck set his fictional Everyman Tom Joad, the plain-spoken hero and seeker of fairness from The Grapes of Wrath, in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma. He remains oone of my heroes and I think of Tom Joad as the epitomized conscience of America.
I have a lot of other heroes from Oklahoma. Growing up, whenever I heard mention of that state I immediately thought of Mickey Mantle and Johnny Bench, both OK natives. And you can’t forget that perhaps the greatest athlete of his time, Jim Thorpe, was also from OK. Or hero astronaut Gordon Cooper. Oklahoma also gave us the sharp stick of humor that Will Rogers wielded as the greatest observer of our country in his time and another observer in the form of Woody Guthrie whose songs are filled with the American soul. His This Land Is Your Land is a tribute to our unity as a nation.
Even in these divided partisan times, Oklahoma sits near the heart of this country, both geographically and figuratively. Like I said, give them a hand make it OK again for them. Here is a take from one of my favorites , the Kinks, on the American vision of Oklahoma as seen through British eyes.
Posted in Current Events, Influences, Video | Tagged Gordon Cooper, Jim Thorpe, Mickey Mantle, Moore OK, Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, Tornado, Will Rogers, Woody Guthrie | 1 Comment »
Back in early April I showed a painting , Geometry of the Heart, on this blog. It was an overhead scene of a baseball diamond being crowded in by a mass of red-roofed houses, one in which I found a lot of personal meaning. It represented the way the game embeds itself in the minds of those who love it, how it creates a connection to tradition and memories of youth. Perhaps more than anything in my life, baseball makes me feel connected to my country and its history.
Putting this feeling on canvas was long overdue and I was so pleased with how both the finished painting as well as the feeling I experienced as I painted that I felt that I would do a small group for the my upcoming Principle Gallery show in June. The result was trio of three small paintings, all on paper, that show three ball fields. The first is shown here on the left and is approximately 6″ by 12″ and titled Foundation. I see the diamond serving as a base or foundation for the buildings beyond the outfield fence which seem to be sprouting from it. Maybe the thought here is that the diamond serves as a classroom for the life lessons needed to survive in the world beyond the fence. I’ve written before how baseball is a game that is very humbling, that the best hitters in the game fail 7 out of 10 times at bat and that the greatest pitchers ever have had many losses. It rewards individual effort but only in a limited way in that winning is based on a total team effort, dependent on each member of the team performing their job with their best effort.
The next is titled simply Diamond, and is 6″ by 8″. This is the most reminiscent of Geometry of the Heat and has a simplicity that brings to mind the innocence of the first days of playing the game, that first foray onto a real field. For me, it brings back memories of the Little League field in Waverly, NY and the thrill of being on that diamond. It was a beautiful park with bleachers along both foul lines, a well manicured infield and a wooden outfield fence emblazoned with local merchants ads. To hear your name announced on the PA was a big thrill, a rite of passage from throwing the ball safely in your own yard to performing before strangers. Daunting, yes, but it all seemed familiar because the game was the same, the diamond the same.
The third piece in this group is called Night Game and is 7″ by 9″. The thing I get fro this piece is that feeling when the daylight is fading and kids are still playing the game, not wanting to stop even as the ball becomes more and more difficult to see, until finally they must stop. The empty field is still ringing with possibility and potential plays. It seems as though there are always ghosts on ballfields, phantoms from the past throwing the ball and running the bases. This piece brings to mind a memory from my Little League days when I was put into pitch one game. I had lousy mechanics and was never meant to pitch but I was game. One of the first batters I faced hit a rocket that easily cleared the left center field fence. The whoops of the other team seemed to fade into the background as I watched the ball sail in the sky.
The ump came out to give me a new ball as the other kid victoriously rounded the bases and the cheers from the other bench became loud again in my ears. I smiled and said, “Wow, he really crushed that one, huh?”
“He sure did.” He gave me the ball and I went back to it for a short while until I was mercifully pulled. You give it a try and learn what you are and what you’re not. Lessons learned.
Posted in Favorite Things, Influences, Painting, Personal Mythology, Recent Paintings | Tagged Alexandria VA, baseball, Little League, Principle Gallery, Waverly NY | 10 Comments »
This week I have a couple of things happening in the media concerning my work. First, is the release of the June issue of American Art Collector magazine which has a preview of my upcoming show, Observers, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA, which opens on June 7 and runs until July 5.
I have to admit that at earlier points in my career having my work featured in such a magazine, a beautifully produced national publication featuring some of the country’s finest galleries and representational artists , that I would have felt a huge level of anxiety. Most of the work in this magazine is at the highest level of traditional representation and very little that looks anything like my work is normally seen in its pages. Early in my career this idea of not being in step with the accepted norm would have had me in a tizzy. The confidence to stand alone was just not developed enough at that point and I always felt that if my work was to be judged against other work, what it was not would count more than what it was.
But time has taught me that it is actually the other way around and I have found real confidence in my voice. I now see that it is that very uniqueness, what the work is rather than what it is not, that differentiates my work. I am now pleased, not anxious or intimidated, that my work stands alone in its look among these extraordinarily talented artists. The article looks great (shown at the bottom here) and the work definitely maintains its uniqueness among a lot of beautiful work.
The June issue should be hitting the mailboxes and newsstands this week.
Also, this coming Sunday, May 26th at 5:30 PM,will be the first airing of my segment on WSKG’s Artist Cafe. I wrote earlier here about them coming to my studio for filming and it’s finally going to air. It’s a short segment, four or five minutes in length, that will be available on YouTube within a day or two after the broadcast for those of you living outside the WSKG broadcast area who want to view it. I will let you know here when it goes online.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged Alexandria VA, American Art Collector, Artist Cafe, Principle Gallery, WSKG | 3 Comments »
I wrote this past week about speaking to some local high school art classes taught by Debb VanDelinder. I wondered if her students recognized that while she was an educator at both the high school and college level, she was also an extremely talented and noted artist. Whether they understand their good fortune in being able to spend time with such a talent, gaining the benefit of her active intelligence and knowledge, is another question. I thought this would be a good opportunity to show a bit of her work and say a few words about it.
Debb works in the field of Scanography which is photography performed on a flatbed scanner. The images are basically still lifes that are arranged facing down on the bed of the scanner. The ultra-high resolution and shallow depth of field give the objects in her images an otherworldly quality, especially in the large formats in which they shown. Most of her prints are 24″ by 24″ or larger and are printed on aluminum.
I think I am drawn to her work by her use of color, texture and symbolism, elements that figure greatly in my own work. I Will Break Free, shown here on the right, is a great example of this. The deep reds of the pear’s flesh juxtapose brilliantly with the cold charcoal grayness of the barbed wire that entraps it. The hard edge of the wire contrasts against the soft flesh, scarred from prior pokes from the barbs. It is a simple image but the use of these contrasting elements changes all perception and it is instantly symbolic of the struggles between all opposing forces. Light and dark. Hard and soft. Warm and cool. Good and evil. Freedom and bondage. Sure, it’s just a pear wrapped with some old barbed wire but Debb gives it layers of meaning with her treatment that take it from mundane to monumental.
Her work is often concerned with the elemental– plants and bugs, stones and bones– which gives it a resonance with which we all can instantly connect. The use of a small animal skull, bleached white and coldly absent, set against the richness of flowers which seem so vibrant that they almost seem as though they are brimming with blood reminds of us our own mortality. But it is not morbid. It just makes us aware of our commonality, our shared experience.
I could go on. Her work does that for me, sets off torrents while it appears so simple and calm at the surface. It’s just plain good stuff. Go to her site at www.debbvandelinder.com to see more of her work and read more about her. Like I said, those kids just don’t know how lucky they are…
Posted in Favorite Things, Influences | Tagged Debb VanDelinder, Scanography | 2 Comments »
In my last entry here, I wrote about talking to a couple of art classes at a local high school. I took a number of unframed paintings, something I normally don’t do because I really prefer that my work is always shown in a finished state with frames and mats, if the piece is on paper and going under glass. I’m a big believer that the work should be shown in its best possible setting in a way that there is no distraction away from the focus of the work itself. But I wanted these kids to be able to see the work in a more basic state, closer to their own work and experience. The same way I see it in the studio.
There was one piece that was partially done, the composition completed in red oxide as was the sky, a swirl of many colors around an eye-like sun (or is it a moon?) One of the things I wanted to do with this piece was to pass it around the class and allow the kids to get a better sense of the tactile nature of it. I wanted them to be able to run their hands over it, to let the texture of the surface register on their hands. This gives you a different sense of the work, no longer feeling like a distant scene but more like an object to hold. Just looking at art from a different perspective sometimes changes our perceptions of it.
That painting, a 20″ by 24″ canvas, is shown at the top in a more complete state, now titled Hypnos. The focus of the piece is definitely, for me, in the spiral colors of the sky. It reminds me of one of those pinwheels that cliche hypnotists might use on a crummy TV show. But it doesn’t have that goofy factor and indeed has the effect of pulling in your attention in a mesmerizing manner.
This piece has changed quite a bit in the day since it went under the hands of those kids. Mainly, the colors have deepened and transformed from the flat hues of the initial layers to ones that give it added depth and form above the texture of the surface. I think there’s a nice harmony here, a quietness in the abstraction of the forms that plays well to the title. But the texture of the whole surface is the attraction for me.
I think I’m going to finish this up and go run my hands over it right now…
Posted in Recent Paintings, Technique/History | Tagged Hypnos, New Painting, Students, Texture | 8 Comments »
I spent several hours yesterday at a local school, Southside High School in Elmira, speaking to a couple of Drawing and Painting classes, trying to give them an idea of what it is like to be a professional artist. I was there at the invitation of their instructor, Debb VanDelinder, who is a highly accomplished artist in addition to her work as an arts educator. I am not sure if the kids in her classes realize how talented she is and how fortunate they are to have her instruction and advice. I will have a posting on her work in the near future but you can see her wonderful work at her site, debbvandelinder.com.
I’ve given a number of talks over the years, many of which I have described here. Speaking to captive high school classes is always a little more daunting than speaking before a group of adults who have made a choice to attend. There are always a number of kids who are not thrilled to have to sit and listen to an old guy talk at them for eighty minutes and most of the kids who are interested are hesitant to speak or ask questions. But both classes yesterday were pretty attentive and when questions were asked, they were insightful, based on keen observations. I left very impressed with both classes.
My main purpose in speaking with them was to show them that someone with a background very much like their own could follow their dreams, overcome obstacles and attain a degree of success by following their passion. I tried to really impress on them the need to practice excellence in everything that they attempt, that by giving a committed effort at every step of their working life, even at that first menial job, they are setting the groundwork for success at that thing that they ultimately want to accomplish. Success is usually based on small steps forward and requires consistent effort and commitment, even when the end goal seems nowhere in sight. Every effort is a rehearsal for excellence.
I pointed out the many crappy jobs that I held in my own journey but I don’t know that I impressed enough on them that I have had many failures in my life and that they are to be expected but that there is always some lesson to be learned. If they recognize that lesson they will move past the failure and move closer to that thing that really seek. I wish that I had spent more time on that as well as on plain and simple goal setting.
Setting a goal puts you on a course, if only a vague one. This was personally brought home for me when I was looking at some old journals that I had kept in high school when I was about these kids’ ages. I thought I had went through my adult life stumbling blindly until I fell into the good fortune of my life as an artist. It sure felt that way. But reading in my journal I came across an entry that laid out a couple of things that I hoped for in my later life. At that point I wanted to be living happily with Cheri ( my high school love and longtime wife) in a cabin in the woods and to be an artist of some sort. It seemed like a small goal to ask for when I had written that over 36 years before. I had long forgotten ever writing it, that’s for sure. I didn’t realize until I came across this that I had somehow lived that dream , that I had subconsciously set a course that would somehow lead me to my goals.
Just having an idea of where you’d like to eventually end up allows your mind to set the wheels in motion.
My hope is that all of these kids set their own goals and somehow attain them. They don’t have to be huge. They just have to give them a sense of happiness and accomplishment. If only one of these kids gets anything out of the words I spoke that helps them move closer to their own private dreams, then yesterday was a good day.
Thanks, Debb, for allowing me to speak with your kids. And to the kids, thank you for your attention and questions. I’m rooting for you. Work hard and be happy.
Posted in Influences | Tagged Debb VanDelinder, Elmira NY, Southside High School | 4 Comments »
This is a 24″ by 24″ canvas that I finished yesterday. I am still going back and forth on the title between Ascendant and Ascent of Man. Obviously, you could tell without seeing it that it has something to do with a hill, mountain or mound, which comes as no surprise for those of you who know my work. Using a form of the word ascend denotes a climb of some sort, either in actuality or metaphorically. Both initially come to mind for me when I look at this piece.
Maybe it’s the way the hill rises from amid the verdant forest and river that brings the title Ascent of Man to mind. While not necessarily in direct reference to Charles Darwin‘s work, I definitely see a symbol of an evolutionary nature in the way the path moves upward through a series of switchbacks, several houses perched on its edge as it rises denoting man as he evolves from the earth and water. The golden sky breaking over the edge of the treeline adds a richness, a sense of fertility, that adds flavor to this whole stew.
The Red Tree at the peak of the hill symbolizes the present, the now that is the culmination of all that has come before. Evolution, ancestry, history– whatever you choose to call it– has brought each of us to our own personal peaks. We are all the sum of all that has led each of us to the present moment.
I really enjoyed painting this piece. That’s not to say that I don’t find enjoyment of some sort in every painting. Just the sheer thrill of seeing something form before my eyes and under my hand is always enjoyable. No, it’s a different type of enjoyment that I’m talking about here. It felt complete even before it was completely laid out in the initial stage of composition as I worked on the underpainting. It felt right and balanced from the start which allowed an excitement to grow, an anticipation of how the painting would form and change with each subsequent layer of paint.
It’s that excitement that I have talked about before when I describe what motivates me in the studio. I have often said when asked about this that the most important thing for me is finding that thing that excites me in the work, that thing that makes me feel the piece is beyond me. That is usually the sign for me that the work is going to excite others and that’s what I felt here.
But, as always, we will have to see about that…
Posted in Painting, Recent Paintings | Tagged Charles Darwin, Evolution, New Paintings | 8 Comments »