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By Jupiter!

The power of imagination makes us infinite.

John Muir

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The image above was taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft of the tops of the clouds surrounding Jupiter. I find myself constantly staring into it this morning with a mix of awe and dejection.

Awe at the sheer beauty and power of it. It is spectacular on a visual level in so many ways, at least to my eyes. The force of its rhythm is immense and the enhanced colors capture an emotional tone that rivals the work of the greatest painters. Looking at it, I see the ghosts of Van Gogh– I mean, this image is Starry Night taken up to the next several levels— Picasso, Goya, Chagall, Bosch and so many more.  With my last glimpse I saw Munch and Dali and an image of the Minotaur. And Thomas Hart Benton. I think any of these painters would look at this and find inspiration, would see that intangible force in it that begs to be painted.

I know that I feel that way but that is where the dejection enters the picture. It inspires but in a way that seems far beyond my meager talents and my simple mind. It’s like being a Golden Retriever watching his master, let’s say it’s Einstein, pondering the Theory of Relativity at his chalkboard. I know there’s something there because it seems so important to my master and I want to help but all I can do is bark and wonder what the hell I am looking at.

I am like a frustrated dog trying to describe the power of the universe.

But it’s early. I’ve only been looking at this for forty minutes or so. Maybe the dejection will pass and the longer I look, the more I will move myself into those swirls of cloud and color to find a rhythm, or even a trace of one, that aligns itself with the simpler ones that run within myself.

And maybe something will come of it. You can never tell what the end product, if any, will be from any point of inspiration. Maybe it will set off a series of thoughts and ideas that takes you galaxies away from the original inspiration. But an image like this has an effect in some way, even if it does show up right away.

I feel the need to look a little more. Take a deeper look for yourself.

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I pulled a book from the shelf the other day that I hadn’t looked at in some time. It’s a gorgeous book with incredible images and thought provoking allegories. Going through the images was like looking at it for the first time. I thought I’d share a blog entry I wrote about the couple who produce these fabulous photos. I’ve added a few more images to go along with the slideshow. Take a look.

I wrote a week or two ago, after seeing the film Hugo, about the work of early film pioneer George Melies and how wildly inventive it was at the advent of modern cinema.  Melies built elaborate sets and magical illusions to create images that were like scenes torn from a dream.

The same might be said for the work of Robert and Shana Parkeharrison, contemporary photographers who create magnificent allegorical landscapes on elaborate painted sets then photograph them.

Old school.

There is no computer generation here.  In their best known series which is captured in a book of the same title from 2000, The Architect’s Brother, they create a monochromatic, sepia tinged world that is both filled with foreboding  and trepidation as well as sheer beauty.  Each image is poetic and thought provoking on some level.

And powerful.

I’m sure I’m not giving as much detail about this couple and their work as you may desire.  I just wanted to pass along their imagery and let you do what you may with that.  Besides, if I write much more, that means I have less time for exploring these photos further.

Here’s a slideshow of the images from the Parkeharrisons’ book, The Architect’s Brother.

[You can visit their website by going to parkeharrison.com.]

 

Shana and Robert ParkeHarrison- Edison’s Light

Shana and Robert ParkeHarrison- Suspension

Shana and Robert ParkeHarrison- The Sower

Shana and Robert ParkeHarrison- Kingdom

Crimson Tide

Decency wins.

It’s been about a year now and a great part of the American people is finally recognizing that the country has been led directly into a deeper and darker swamp than they had thought possible.

We once believed that this country held the moral high ground with promises of equality, justice and opportunity for all. But that high ground has sunk into an ugly filth that has all but obliterated the line between decency and indecency, between the ethical and the unethical, between what is normal and abnormal and between what is true and what is false.

It’s seems so filthy that we can no longer tell right from wrong.

Yesterday’s election in Alabama was a small step out of that mire.

There is fresh air and a renewed energy. Hope. But we are still waist deep in it and there is a feeling that we are still in peril of being forever immersed in the muck unless we keep trudging out of this mess– together.

This is perhaps the most important moment for the future of our country and we cannot afford to relax and assume that others will watch out for our common good. Involve yourself, involve others and do the right things.

Because if we do that, decency will continue to win.

That being said, I had the chorus from Deacon Blues from Steely Dan running through my head as I walked to the studio in the dark this morning: They got a name for the winners in the world/I want a name when I lose/They call Alabama the Crimson Tide/Call me Deacon Blues

It has nothing to do with the election but I feel a little better about things because of those folks in Alabama. Thanks, Crimson Tiders. Here’s the song:

George Ault’s Nights

I recently came across yet another artist, George Ault who was new to me but whose work really sparked my imagination. Like many of the other under-recognized artists, he led a fairly tragic life, achieving bits of recognition yet struggling to ever find footing. His life was consumed by alcoholism and personal demons that led to his death at the age of 57.

Here’s a brief bio from a 1988 catalog from an exhibit of his work at the Whitney Museum of American Art:

George Copeland Ault (1891–1948) was an American painter loosely grouped with the Precisionist movement and, though influenced by Cubism and Surrealism, his most lasting work is of a realist nature.

Ault was born in Cleveland into a wealthy family and spent his youth in London where he studied at the Slade School of Art and St John’s Wood School of Art. Returning to the United States in 1911, he spent the rest of his life in New York and New Jersey. His personal life henceforth was troubled. He became alcoholic during the 1920s, after the death of his mother in a mental institution. Each of his three brothers committed suicide, two after the loss of the family fortune in the 1929 stock market crash.

Although he had exhibited his works with some success, by the early 1930’s his neurotic behavior and reclusiveness had alienated him from the gallery world. In 1937, Ault moved to Woodstock, New York with Louise Jonas, who would become his second wife, and tried to put his difficulties in the past. In Woodstock the couple lived a penurious existence in a small rented cottage that had no electricity or indoor plumbing. Depending on Louise for income, Ault created some of his finest paintings during this time, but had difficulty selling them. In 1948, Ault was discovered dead five days after drowning in the Sawkill Brook on December 30, when he had taken a solitary walk in stormy and dark weather. The death was deemed a suicide by the coroner. In his lifetime, his works were displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Addison Gallery of American Art (in Andover, Massachusetts), among others.

Though I like much of his other work, the work that interests me most are a handful of night scenes. One series of four depicts the same intersection in an area of  Woodstock, Russell’s Corners. Below are the four along with the same scene painted in daylight. You can see how the darkness of night transforms the scene, adding emotional weight and a deepened sense of mystery. I find them to be powerful images, filled with the same ominous darkness that seemed to haunt Ault.

I don’t know if his personal problems contributed to the strength of this work but it seems a shame that he never found peace in his life or in his work, although on that point I am making an assumption. Ault left a fine body of work, one that deserves a look and I am glad to have come across it.


Otis/ Just One More Day

I completely overlooked that yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the death of the great soul singer Otis Redding. He died in a plane crash on that date in 1967 as he made his way to a show in Wisconsin, only a short time after recording his iconic (Sittin’ on)The Dock of the Bay. He was only 26 years old.

I hear that voice and it’s not the voice of a 26 year old. It’s ageless. To me, that voice is the definition of soul music. Every time I hear it is a new experience, even on those tracks I’ve heard a thousand times before. What a gift we were given in the short time he lived in this world.

Here are two of his songs from so many that I call favorites, Just One More Day and You Don’t Miss Your Water. Give a good listen– it’ll do your soul some good.

Down By the River

Some days reveal their moods pretty quickly. Today is one of those days– bone cold with a slate gray sky, the first dusting of this winter’s snow on the ground. Feels somber and a little sad, even mournful, just to look out the studio window. There is a group of deer milling around out there, moving with a slowness that makes me think they feel that same somberness, sensing that the good times of summer and fall are past and that ice and snow will soon be a constant for them.

One of the first songs I clicked on this morning fell right into this mode of feeling. It’s Down By the River from Neil Young. Released in 1969, it’s a song that has been covered by a lot of people and I was close to using a live performance of it by Norah Jones and Young but the original just has the right amount of anguished beauty for this morning.

The paintings I am including here are from back in 2009 and doesn’t really adhere exactly to the mode of this post or the song but something about it seems to fit. It’s   a small group of work that dealt with tightly clusters of red roofed structures hugging a a river or canal, often with no sky visible, just a jumble of roofs and buildings. It was work that I really liked and looking at it this morning while listening to this song brought forward a whole slew of concepts that I would like to soon pursue in this same vein, perhaps on a larger scale.

Anyway, give a listen and have a good day…

Bad Bailey/ A Replay

I recently came across the blog entry below from back in 2008 when I had just started writing this thing. It’s about the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, and how the darker elements in it– George’s angry frustration for example– could make it a much different film than the one we perceive it to be. I’ve watched this film umpteen times but it has been absent from my playlist for awhile now. Seeing this old entry, especially with the short video at the bottom, makes me want to watch it again soon.

From December of 2008:

It’s that time of the year when you hunker down on a cold, snowy night and watch a holiday classic. One of the most beloved is It’s a Wonderful Life from director Frank Capra. It has long been one of my favorites and it would be easy to go on and on about its message and how the final scene with the redemption of George Bailey makes me tear up just thinking about it.

But yesterday a friend wrote in his great blog about how he secretly preferred Potterville, George Bailey’s bizarro world version of his hometown, to the original Bedford Falls. Potterville was a rockin’ town. Strip clubs. Hot music. Bedford Falls was, by contrast, a real snore.

George Bailey Close-upHe cited an article by Wendell  Jamieson in the NY Times that made his case for the same thought. Jamieson even goes so far as to state that George Bailey would be facing prison time for the loss of the 8000 dollars, regardless of restitution.

Just before I had read these two articles I had come across a video entitled Bad Bailey. It’s put together as a movie trailer and using eerie music and a drastic realignment of the movie’s actual scenes make for pretty disturbing viewing, especially for lovers of the movie. It made me realize how much darkness there was in the film which I think may have made it even more powerful. Just shows what a little editing and music can achieve…

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