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In the Eye of Grace

“I feel I change my mind all the time. And I sort of feel that’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being – to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don’t contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you’re not thinking.” 

― Malcolm Gladwell

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I am using these words from Malcolm Gladwell today because it fits well with my feelings on the painting I am showing here. By that I mean that this is a piece on which my mind has changed over the years, from feeling it was okay at first to loathing to grudging acceptance to now actually liking it quite a bit.

It’s a small painting, something like 7″ by 8″ on paper,  from 2006 that is titled In the Eye of Grace. When I first finished this piece it felt pretty good and evoked an emotion that hit a mark for me. It wasn’t blessed with that initial giddy excitement that often comes when finishing a painting but it felt right. It was good and I felt confident in showing it in the galleries.

So it was framed and sent out. It never found a home and came back to me a year or two later where it has been ever since. After being with it for a while, I began to actually dislike this painting. It bugged the hell out of me and I could never determine why that was the case.

I finally decided that it might be the way it was framed, set in a very wide mat and an extra heavy wide frame. It was a cumbersome setting for a small piece and I began to realize that I didn’t like– actually, I hated– the grandiose feeling of the frame for such a quiet small painting. It was like having a small simple gem placed in the middle of an overly large and ornate setting. Overwhelmed and eclipsed.

So I began to accept that I was letting my judgement be swayed by its setting. I no longer cringed when I came across it in the studio. It felt okay enough.

But in the past several months I placed this painting, still in its fat frame, in a place where I saw it while doing my morning workout. I began to really look at it and my doubts and distaste faded away. It was like I had disregarded the title I had given the painting years ago, In the Eye of Grace. It did have a simple grace that was easy to overlook.

It became a favorite in my morning ritual. I determined that I would change the frame to one that would let its grace shine through a little more easily. It’s funny how things sometime change, how even my own perception of a piece of myself can transform in several directions through the years even while that piece of self remains the same.

We are sometimes strange creatures living with moments of grace that we fail to see…

 

Arcimboldo (Again)

I am busy this morning and thought I would replay a post from several years ago. No reason except that I came across it yesterday and it really caught my eye again. The work of Arcimboldo always does.  But I did add a video that shows more of his work so it’s really a replay plus. Take a look– I think you’ll like it.

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You don’t often think of work of art from an Italian Renaissance painter as being whimsical. Generally, they seem to focus on themes of religion and myth or on portraiture of wealthy patrons of the time, most beautifully painted.  Then there is the work of Guiseppe Arcimboldo, who was born in Milan in 1527 and died there in 1593, although much of life was spent in the service of  the Hapsburg courts of Vienna and Prague.

Arcimboldo was trained as stained glass designer and painter and initially worked in these fields in a traditional manner.  Much of the work from this time has faded into oblivion, although there are examples of his windows and a fresco or two.  However, it was his other work that gained him fame in his time and which has came through the ages as a constant source of fascination.

Arcimboldo-Winter 1573

Arcimboldo- Winter 1573

The other work was creating portraits, sometimes of his patrons such as the portrait at the top of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor from 1576 until 1612 , that are composed using all sorts of objects to create the figure and features of the subject.  He used fruits, vegetables, birds, books, fish and many other objects in creating these unusual figures.  The final result was always striking, colorful and whimsically imaginative.  And sometimes grotesque, even a bit spooky– I’m thinking here of a series of pieces that Arcimboldo created portraying the Winter season as a person, such as this example on the right, painted in 1573.

Arcimboldo’s work always brings a smile to my face while also stirring my interest in how he must have worked at the time and how he was perceived in that era.  I am sure he was both admired and disliked for his unique work.  Whatever the case, the work remains a fascination.  I am showing several example here but you can go  a site– Guiseppe Arcimboldo: The Complete Works— that features a broader view of his work.  Very interesting.

Arcimboldo-TierraArcimboldo-The WaiterArcimboldo-AirArcimboldo- The LibrarianArcimboldo- The Admiralarcimboldo-winter_1563

Blinded By the Light

Well, Eclipse Day is finally here in the USA after about a 99 year hiatus since one last crossed the entire nation. There is a possibility of some cloud coverage in my home area which will only experience about 75% coverage of the sun by the moon. But I am holding out hope that the weather holds out for everyone who has traveled distances to be in the range of totality. If you’re in that range, enjoy that bit of history but be careful. I’m sure your mother warned you about staring at the sun and it turns out she was right, you can do some serious damage. So grab your eclipse glasses ( don’t confuse them with your 3-D glasses) or your pinhole projector and take a look.

I’m playing a fun song from Bruce Springsteen, his wordy Blinded By the Light. I thought it was appropriate for the day, given it’s lines: Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun/Oh, but Mama, that’s where the fun is. This is a version from a European tour from back in 2012. Before many of his shows, particularly his European dates, he would often perform a loose solo acoustic set of songs for those in the audience who arrived 3 or 4 hours early. This performance is from such an impromptu set in Helsinki.

Enjoy the day and remember: the darkness that will be covering the country is only temporary.

Stand!

It was heartening to see the huge turnouts yesterday in  protests against the recent upsurge in white supremacists, neo-nazis and other hate groups. In Boston, a crowd estimated in the range of 40,000 hit the streets in response to a Free Speech Rally organized by an alt-right group whose own crowd ended up being counted in the dozens, not thousands, with estimates ranging from 20 to 100.

The organizers of the event claimed that they were against white supremacy, bigotry and neo-naziism and that they were there to simply exercise their First Amendment rights. The problem is that they have consistently aligned their cause and their political power with the groups that espouse these very things. You can’t build your coalition with these people then simply say they aren’t part of what you are as a group. You willingly let them in the tent knowing who they were– they are part of your circus.

The other part of the free speech argument is that everybody forgets that free speech is susceptible to reaction. You are free to say whatever you want but you must know that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Your expression has cause and effect.

That was shown this past week with the public unmasking of the white supremacists from the events in Charlottesville. Many lost their jobs and faced public ostracization and shaming when they returned home. I am sure there are some out there who see this as being unfair but that is part of the bargain– their freedom to express their views doesn’t not take away the right of anyone else from reacting to it. Reaction is expression and is, so long as it remains non-violent, a First Amendment right.

I go through this on daily basis as an artist which means I am also a small business owner. I have the right and freedom to say or paint whatever I want. But I understand that by doing so I risk alienating potential collectors. It’s not a problem for the most part but I am sure there have been instances when I have expressed political opinions here that have rankled those who lean more to the right. And maybe they won’t buy my work or even like it anymore. That is their right and I accept that risk because I think being fully honest as to who and what I am is a big part of my work.

So, for this Sunday morning music I chose  a song that really fits the subject. It’s Stand! from Sly and the Family Stone. You can’t go wrong with Sly. I urge everyone to stand and express themselves fully. Just leave the guns and clubs at home. If you need them to express yourself, you should ask yourself what you’re really standing for as a human being.

Have a good and peaceful Sunday.

“Stand!”

Stand 
In the end you’ll still be you 
One that’s done all the things you set out to do 
Stand 
There’s a cross for you to bear 
Things to go through if you’re going anywhere 
Stand 
For the things you know are right 
It’s the truth that the truth makes them so uptight 
Stand 
All the things you want are real 
You have you to complete and there is no deal 
Stand. stand, stand 
Stand. stand, stand 
Stand 
You’ve been sitting much too long 

There’s a permanent crease in your right and wrong 
Stand 
There’s a midget standing tall 
And the giant beside him about to fall 
Stand. stand, stand 
Stand. stand, stand 
Stand 
They will try to make you crawl 
And they know what you’re saying makes sense and all 
Stand 
Don’t you know that you are free 
Well at least in your mind if you want to be 

Everybody 
Stand, stand, stand

Maudie

Took a break from the outside world yesterday and finally got to see the film Maudie which is about the late Canadian folk artist and national treasure, Maud Lewis.  Sally Hawkins lovingly portrays the artist and Ethan Hawke  serves as her rough and surly husband. It is an absolutely charming and moving film, one that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in the creative drive.

Or in the human spirit.

It captures that compulsive drive that so many self taught artists, particularly folk artists, possess. It is an inherent need and desire to have a means of expression using whatever is at their disposal. Looking around my studio now, I feel spoiled beyond belief by the materials I have on hand. Or by the fact that I am relatively healthy and can hold a brush easily in my hands. Thinking about Maud makes me feel a little guilty for not using all my advantages and painting even more.

It is, simply put, a lovely film. In these dark days filled with stupidity and hatred, it is a breath of fresh air — cool Nova Scotian air!— to focus on that image of a arthritis-wracked little woman sitting in front of her humble window in her tiny remote cabin, happily painting the world as she saw it and as she wanted it to be.

Here’s a little video that gives a brief history of Maud Lewis.

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Exiles--QuartetWe all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes, and our ravages. But our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to fight them in ourselves and in others.

Albert Camus

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I have written about and showed a number of the pieces from my early Exiles series here on this blog. It was a very important group of work for me in that it was the first real break towards forming my own voice, creating and displaying work that was emotional for myself. It was also the work that spawned my first solo show in early 1997.

The inspiration for this work was mainly drawn from the experience of watching my mother suffer and die from lung cancer over a short five or six month period in 1995. Her short and awful struggle was hard to witness, leaving me with a deep sense of helplessness as I could only wish that there was a way in which I could somehow alleviate her pain. Most of the work deals with figures who are in some form of retrospection or prayer, wishing for an end to their own suffering.

But another part of this work was drawn from my own feelings of emotional exile, a feeling of estrangement in almost every situation. I had spent the better part of my life to that point  as though I didn’t belong anywhere, always on the outside viewing the world around me as stranger in a strange land, to borrow the words of that most famous biblical exile, Moses. These figures were manifestations of that sense of inner exile that I carried with me.

Little did I know that these very figures would help me find a way out of this exile. With their creation came a sense of confidence and trust in the power of my self-revelation. I could now see that the path from the hinterlands of my exile was not in drawing my emotions more and more inward, allowing no one to see. No, the path to a reunion with the world was through pouring this emotion onto the surface of paper or canvas for all to see.

This is hard to write and I am struggling with it as I sit here this morning. I started writing this because I had been reconsidering revisiting this series, creating a new generation of Exiles. But in pondering this idea I realized that the biggest obstacle was in the fact that I no longer felt so much a stranger in a strange land. I no longer felt like the Exile, no longer lived every moment with these figures. It turned out that they were guides for me, leading me back to the world to which I now feel somewhat connected, thanks to my work.

If there is to be a new series, they will most likely not be Exiles.

The piece shown here, Quartet,  is one of my favorites, a grouping of four figures.  You may not see it in these figures but the visual influence for this work were the carvings found on Mayan ruins of Mexico and Central America.  I myself see this mainly in the figure at the bottom right.

White Supremacists surrounding Counter-Protesters at Statue of Thomas Jefferson- UVA

“Less well known is the paradox of toleranceUnlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”

Karl Popper, “The Open Societies and Its Enemies,” 1945

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I would like to be here this morning talking about cooperation and tolerance, about extending a hand of peace and understanding to those whose ideals and beliefs veer far afield from my own, which happens to be based on the equality and betterment of all people.

Well, that ain’t gonna happen today.

That was all blown to hell yesterday by a surreal press conference where the pOTUS* basically defended and sanctioned the behavior of  white nationalist/supremacist groups. To be blunt, he provided comfort and cover for Nazis.

In the time since I have heard moral outrage from the left and right as well as some who try to create an equivalency between the white supremacists and those who came to shout them down. One group came brandishing symbols of hatred and bigotry along with helmets, riot shields, masks, body armor, clubs, mace and guns– all supposedly to peacefully protest the removal of a Confederate statue. All the time chanting racial epithets and Nazi-era slogans.

On the other side were counter-protesters who were basically unarmed. True, there were a few sticks and pepper sprays but if you really watch the skirmishes, the neo-Nazis are overwhelmingly more armed and aggressive. And I didn’t see a gun on any of the counter group. Can you imagine the outrage on the right if a group of black men in camo carrying assault rifles had showed up like the white militia groups that acted as security on one side of the white supremacists flank?

But I have also seen many people argue for the legality of the white supremacists right to free speech, as much as we may dislike that.  We basically allow and tolerate hate speech in this country. While I understand and accept the legality of it, there is a counter-argument to that in the form of the Paradox of Tolerance–if you don’t stand up to intolerance at some point, if you allow those who would harm or take away the liberties and rights of other citizens, then you risk being destroyed by your tolerance by the intolerant.

We have been brought to an extremely dark place by a small, weak minded man who would willingly provide aid and comfort to the very people who stand against most of the basic tenets that we as a nation hold dear– equality, liberty and justice for all. We are at  a point where we must decide if we are willing to risk the existence of this  country as the land of liberty by turning a blind eye, thinking that it won’t affect us, and allowing these groups of hatred to flourish and grow or if we will make a united stand now.

Do we want to stop this before it becomes stronger and even more dangerous?

There is no turning away, as tempting as that seems. That is, in itself, a tacit endorsement of their brand of hatred. We have an administration and a pOTUS* that has lost all moral standing, having shown us yesterday who and what they really are.  So it is now upon us as citizens to protect the future of this nation. It is a responsibility and a duty. Make no mistake, there is no gray area here, no place for equivocation. You have to pick a side.

If we don’t stand up, don’t take action, the ugliness and the violence will grow. You will not dissuade these people with rational argument nor will they simply get bored and move on. A quick examination of history and of these groups’ beliefs and goals should provide proof of that. It will take the force and power of the collected citizens of this country to suppress this hatred.

My question to you today is: What side are you on?

 

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