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My originality consists in putting the logic of the visible to the service of the invisible.

Odilon Redon

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This is a bit of a continuation of yesterday’s post where Magritte spoke of poetry and mystery in his work. The above quote from Odilon Redon (1840-1916) describes very much that same sentiment.

A work of art should have a sense of logic to it even if it might go against all that we know of the natural world. This created logic allows us to accept what we see before us, permits us to fully absorb the poetry and mystery–the invisible elements to which Redon alludes–without question.

This acceptance allows us to move beyond the visible, allows us to perceive our reality in a different manner, perhaps in an enhanced way.

As a viewer, I know the works of art that move me most of all fall into this category. They may not seem unusual at first look. Their subject might even seem mundane. They seem outwardly logical but there is something that moves them into that area of mystery and poetry, that gives them an sense of the indefinable.

As an artist, it is something you hope to achieve but don’t really know how to explain how you do it because you don’t really know for sure. It sometimes either happens or it doesn’t.

And that is its own mystery.

It’s a mystery that keeps the artist wanting to always move ahead with the hope that it will all someday be revealed.

Will it one day be revealed? Who knows? It’s a mystery.

 

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People who look for symbolic meaning fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the images.

Rene Magritte

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I absolutely love this painting, The Banquet, from Rene Magritte in 1958. It has the effect where I don’t question anything about it. I just accept it as it is presented. I am not looking for symbolism in it at all, not looking for a reason why the red ball of sun is hovering low in front of the trees. The colors, the contrast, the composition– they create a whole sensation doesn’t need a why or what or how.

As Magritte points out, it contains poetry and mystery.

And that is something to try to understand. I know I often feel the need to try to explain my work, to point out where I find an emotional base in a piece. Sometimes that is easy, almost jumping out at you. But sometimes it is not so obvious and it is simply the mystery of the created feel, a great intangible pulse, that makes a particular painting work.

You see it, feel it, accept its reality yet you don’t fully understand the why and how.

And maybe that is just as it should be. Not all we behold can or should be explained. Sometimes, maybe we simply need to experience poetry and mystery.

A blog post that ran here a couple of years back with some advice from poet e e cummings is consistently one of my most popular, always getting a number of hits. For example, there was quite a pop in its numbers yesterday. I don’t know what brought it on but it made me want to revisit the post. Reading it again made me appreciate even more the words. Even though it was aimed at potential poets it rang equally true for me as a painter, especially when I substituted the word painter for poet, paint for words, and painting for poetry.

I thought I’d replay it today doing just that. Where there is a word like [thiswith brackets, I have substituted an equivalent word. And if you’re not a painter, feel free to use any word that describes what it is you do to express yourself.

I think you might find it inspiring.

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Whenever I am asked to speak with students I usually tell them to try to find their own voice, to try to find that thing that expresses who they really are. I normally add that this is not something that comes easily, that it takes real effort and sacrifice. It is a never-ending struggle.

The great poet e e cummings (you most likely know him for his unusual punctuation) offered up a beautiful piece of similar advice for aspiring poets that I think can be applied to most any discipline.

Or to anyone who simply desires to feel deeply in this world.

I particularly like the line: To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. That line alone speaks volumes.

Take a moment to read this short bit of advice and see what you think– or feel.

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A [Painter’s] Advice To Students

Borrowed from (e e cummings)

A [painter] is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through [paint].

This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And [painting] is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in [paint], that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a [painter] can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using [paint] like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not [painters].

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve [painted one part of one real painting], you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become [painters] is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

Christmas in Prison

Came across this old piece, an early attempt from 1994 before I was showing my work in public. It’s painted in way, a direction I never followed much further but it is a piece that always makes me stop.  Don’t know where it came from or why I painted it. Don’t know why I gave him some sort of seaman’s cap and striped shirt. I loosely refer to this as the Sea Dog.

I don’t think there was a narrative at all. It just came. But after 24 years or so, it has developed a story, of a sort, for me. I see him as sailor in an exotic South Seas port city on a misty and mysterious night. A scuffle, a knife fight and a man falls down dead on the dark, wet streets. He flees the port and begins on building a new life with a new identity.

For a minute this morning, I saw him as a young Santa.

Maybe that’s Santa’s backstory? A murderous sailor redeemed?

I don’t know about that. But, hey, you never know.

That brings me to a Christmas song. Well, kind of a Christmas song, one that’s keeping in the spirit of a Killer Kringle. It’s from  John Prine, and it’s Christmas in Prison. It’s been a favorite of mine for decades so I was surprised that I haven’t played it here yet, after ten years of this blog.

Well, today’s the day. Give a listen and don’t mind the subject or title too much. It’s actually a beautiful song. It could be Santa singing, in different circumstances.

Van Gogh’s Mementos

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“The world concerns me only in so far as I owe it a certain debt and duty, so to speak, because I have walked this earth for 30 years, and out of gratitude would like to leave some memento in the form of drawings and paintings—not made to please this school or that, but to express a genuine human feeling.”

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

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Thought a good way to kick off this week might be to share a few paintings from Vincent van Gogh along with a quote from one of his letters that speaks very much to my own feelings about my own reasons for doing what I do. These are not his better known paintings, though some of you may well know these pieces. They’re pieces that speak to my own personal inclinations. You might notice that most of these paintings have his ball sun/moon.

The idea of feeling a need to leave a memento behind that expresses one’s gratitude and one’s expression of self is one that is not foreign to me. I often think about how my work will speak for me after I am gone. Actually, if it will speak into the future at all and if so, will it be an honest reflection, a true representation of my voice.

I know that an artist, for all of the ways they try to guide the narrative about their work and life, have little control on the future.

What will be, will be.

Their voice might echo but it is always just that, an echo, a one-sided conversation from the past. Hopefully, what is said in that echo reverberates and speaks to someone of that future time so that they can fully understand and connect to the feeling behind it. And if so, with the hope that they might respond to that voice in some small way that continues to give life to it.

As I said, an artist has little control over this outside of doing their work with honest efforts and emotions. It’s obvious this was the case in the work of van Gogh and we continue to have a conversation with his echoes from the past, his mementos of gratitude.

Running a little late this Sunday morning, so I am just going to share a little music without too much talk. Let the music talk for itself,

The song is The World (Is Going Up in Flames) from Charles Bradley, a latter day soul singer who passed away in 2017 at the age of 68. Bradley had a classic soul delivery, full-throated and with a wail that mixed pain and joy in equal measures, in the tradition of Otis Redding and others.

The song could definitely speak to the condition of the world these days, here and abroad. Here, we are approaching an endgame that many of us saw in the cards two years ago. Back in December of 2016, I wrote about how  the word kompromat would become more and more significant and little by little, revealed detail by detail, that is becoming an evident truth.

We still have the chance to quell the fire that has been raging here. Let’s hope it doesn’t all burn down before it happens.

Give a listen and have a good Sunday.

Dream Memory

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All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.

― Edgar Allan Poe

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Last night I had a kind of odd dream. In it, I found myself remembering many previous dreams, some from many years gone by, in great detail. I should say that it was the details of places, of houses and landscapes, that existed in previous dreams that I remembered.  With each dream place there was also a clear memory of the emotion contained in the dream in which it originally existed.

I knew that I was dreaming and that these places I was remembering in this dream were from my dreams and that they didn’t exist in the real waking world. At least in the waking world that I know. In a way it was like I was inventorying these places, trying to put them in order in way in which they would make sense to me when I woke up.

I don’t think that worked. At least, not yet.

The memory of each of these prior places came with such clarity. It was as though they somehow had some meaning, some importance, that made them deserving of remaining stored deep in the recesses of my brain and not washed away as so many dreams seem to be upon waking.

It was puzzling but there was also a sense of reassurance in the recall of these dream memories. I wondered in the dream if it was somehow connected to my work, to the sense of place that I believe is vital to my painting, one that I often connect with some deeper emotion or memory. The dream made me feel that there was a connection.

I don’t know if I am conveying anything here. I am still processing that odd dream, that strange feeling of clear memory of dreamed places within another hazy dream.

If nothing else, it gave me something to think about on my walk to the studio.

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