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And the Sky Cracked

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I am a being of Heaven and Earth, of thunder and lightning, of rain and wind, of the galaxies.

–eden ahbez

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The painting shown above is a new piece, a smallish 6″ by 12″ canvas, that will be going to the Principle Gallery on Saturday for my Gallery Talk there. Its title is And the Sky Cracked and is part of a small recent series that features my interpretations of lightning strikes. How accurate they are in a realistic or scientific way, I can’t say. That doesn’t really hold much sway for me, at least not as much as capturing how the lightning feels to me.

Lightning is an amazing thing, a natural wonder that inspires awe and fear like it was some sort of god. No wonder so many religions give their main gods the power to wield lightning. It can destroy yet can also illuminate, bringing clarity to a course of action. Being struck by lightning is how we often describe moments of the revelation of great truths, of moments of self-discovery that alter the lives of those who experience these moments.

Like the finger of a god pointing the way and giving light to the path forward.

Powerful stuff.

Walking through my woods I often see the traces of past lightning strikes etched in the bark of the trees. Some have splits that run from their tops all the way to the way to the ground, blackened by the heat of the electricity that surged through them. In the case of some recent strikes, the ground at the base of the tree is burnt where the cracked bark of the trunk runs into the soil.

We had one strike several years back that was like a multitude of shotgun blasts going off outside our door, so close there was not thunder to give us warning. The next morning I saw that an old, large white pine down our driveway had been hit by the lightning. A deep crack ran down one of its thick upper branches down into the main trunk.

About forty feet away I noticed a chunk of pine the size of a large brick laying in the grass. Looking back at the trunk I immediately saw the spot where it had been blown away from the tree, no doubt the boiling sap of the pine finding a weak spot there in which to explode.

About a year later, that large branch, the size of a mature tree in itself, came down in another storm. The power to destroy.

Here is another in this lightning series that will also be with me on Saturday. It is called Real Power and is an 18″ by 18″ canvas.

The quote at the top is from eden ahbez, perhaps one of the earliest hippies back in the 1940’s and the man who wrote the song Nature Boy, most famously recorded by Nat King Cole. I wrote about ahbez here back in 2009 and Nature Boy remains a favorite of mine. Below is the Nat King Cole version.

Hope you can make it to the Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria on Saturday. It starts at 1 PM and there is at least one painting to be given away along with some other goodies. Oh, and some good conversation. See you there!

 

 

 

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Gallery Talk Preview

Here’s a short video preview of most of the new work that will be coming with me for my Gallery Talk this coming Saturday, September 22, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. It begins at 1 PM.

This is my 16th year doing this Talk which began with the first King Street Arts Festival in Alexandria, which has grown into a pretty large outdoor art show. I view these talks as a chance to get to really talk with folks who are interested in art and what I might be doing with my own work. It allows me to go into a little more depth about some things, giving background details and telling some stories.

The feedback that comes from these talks is invaluable to me. Outside of this blog, my shows and talks are my only chance to get out of the secure bubble of my studio and really see how people interact with my work. It is normally very motivating for me when I get back in the studio.

Plus, these talks give me a chance to express my gratitude to the people who have followed and supported my work over the years. Part of that comes for me in giving away a painting (or two— you’ll have to come to see what the actual number is) such as the painting shown here, Deep Focus. And there are some other goodies that will be given away that I think are pretty neat.

So, if you’re interested, come for the Gallery Talk on Saturday. There will be new paintings, a drawing for a painting, some giveaways, some refreshments, good conversation, a few stories and generally some good laughs.

Hope you can make it.

Echo

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Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.

–Carl Sandburg

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I like this line from poet Carl Sandburg. I think any artform acts in that way, as an echo of the person who formed it trying to bring that created remembrance forever to life. I often write about trying to see that sense of life in my work, that quality where the work has a feeling of movement–life— and seems to speak with its own voice.

What it is saying is an echo of what I was feeling in the moment it was created. And if I have done my job well, it sets these echos, these shadows, dancing. A reverberation from the past, the creators own echo sent into the future. A voice that will continue to speak, to echo, long after its creator has gone.

Or as Victor Hugo similarly stated: What is history? An echo of the past in the future; a reflex from the future on the past.

Maybe it’s too early on a Sunday morning to try to work on logic that is somewhat circular. I think I’ve said what I want to say here but the better part of it might still be in my head. Alas, that’s the way it will have to stay.

For this Sunday morning music here’s a fittingly titled song, Echo, from the celebrated British folk trio, Talisk. It has a building intensity that I very much like. Give a listen.

The painting at the top is a new piece  whose title is A World of Mystery, an 18″ by 24″ on canvas. It is headed to Alexandria with me next Saturday, September 22 for my annual Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery. The talk, which starts at 1 PM, features a drawing for a painting of mine as well as several other goodies. Hope to see you there.

A Seuss-y Morning

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Nonsense wakes up the brain cells. And it helps develop a sense of humor, which is awfully important in this day and age. Humor has a tremendous place in this sordid world. It’s more than just a matter of laughing. If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.

–Dr. Seuss
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Feeling a little Dr. Seuss-y this morning. It has been my experience– a lifelong one, at that– that when I am flummoxed by this world, a little Dr. Seuss often provides a positive way forward. After reading an article about the influence of the late economist James Buchanan on current events, I needed a pick me up.
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I am not going to go into detail here about his theories and how they have been behind many of the economic and political moves that have brought us the vast economic inequality and burgeoning corporate oligarchy present today.  I will say that it definitely made me see things as  being out of whack and I had a real need for some Dr. Seuss style humor and nonsense.
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I believe he is correct in saying that nonsense wakes up the brain cells. Just the imagining of absurdity causes one to take different perspectives, to try to see things in different lights. That is the basis for empathy and altruism, things that are in short supply in world that seems to be more and more running according to Buchanan’s theories.
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Give me The Lorax or  Green Eggs and Ham any day. Then maybe I can see the world back in whack.

Culmination

This is a new painting that I am calling Culmination. It is 36″ by 12″ on canvas and is headed to the Principle Gallery in Alexandria next Saturday, September 22, where I will be giving my annual Gallery Talk.

This painting satisfies me on many levels. First, there is a density in its color and composition that I find very appealing. Now, density is not always a quality I seek. Sometimes, I am looking for a lightness or an airiness. But here there is a denseness and weight that gives the piece its presence. I believe this comes from the deep red color ( that perhaps symbolizes the blood that has flowed through us since time immemorial?) and the compacted composition that dominates most of the picture plane.

I also am drawn to the meandering path that wends its way to the top to the top of the hill. The  shorter paths that branch off on either side give it the feeling of a tree making its way toward the sky or an artery going up through one’s body.

The tree analogy is important for me. I see this painting as being about how each of us is a culmination, an end result of all our ancestors who have come before us. I often think about that when I am looking over genealogy charts that show the generations spreading out behind the present generation. It makes me think how amazing each of our lives really is when you consider how many obstacles had to be overcome for us to be here in this moment.

Looking at those charts, I think about treacherous childhoods of earlier times when families often lost multiple children to illness. My own grandmother had three siblings who died before she was born. Or the many long and treacherous trips and voyages, over land and sea, that it took to place us in our present locales. Or I think about the many great-grandfathers and great-uncles in my line who fought in the many wars of this country or in those of their original homelands many generations before, many who died far from their native soil. Or the many who worked in dangerous conditions. Doing my wife’s and my own genealogy, I am struck by how many relatives were killed by logging accidents.

These are just a few examples but the fact that a life force somehow wound its way through the pitfalls of life through hundreds of generations to create us is, in many ways, a miracle. Each of us is the result, the culmination, of a journey from the beginning of time. I think we sometimes take this life for granted– both our own and the lives of others– and don’t see the sheer beauty in the miracle of our mere existence.

And that is what I see in this painting. The Red Tree at the top is at the terminus of its journey, standing at the convergence of the past, present and future. It owes a great debt to those who persevered to bring this miracle, a debt that will be hopefully paid through living a life of honor and respect.

I could go on but I think you get the point.

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As I said, this will be at my Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery next Saturday, September 22. The Talk begins at 1 PM and there will a painting, Deep Focus, given away along with some other neat things. It has all the earmarks of being a good time. Hope you can make it!

Baziotes

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.Each painting has its own way of evolving. When the painting is finished, the subject reveals itself.

–William Baziotes
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William Baziotes is another painter you probably don’t know. He had a relatively short life, dying at age 51 in 1963 from lung cancer. His work has garnered a following over the years with some of his work approaching the million dollar pricetag at auction yet his name most likely is not known to but a few.
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He was born in Pittsburgh and worked throughout his career in NYC. He started as an abstract expressionist but transitioned into primitivism and automatism, which is attempting to paint completely detached from conscious thought. I like that idea but don’t think one can ever fully separate the mind and the work.
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There’s a lot I like in his work, especially the quality and complexity of his color. As for the quote above, it’s a thought that I firmly believe. Sometimes, even when starting with a goal in mind, you have no idea what a painting is truly about until the final stroke has been placed and you step back. Only then does it reveal what it has to say. Sometimes it is quite different than you thought it might be while working on it.
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And that is sometimes a welcome revelation.
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“Heade’s calm is unsteady, storm-stirred; we respond in our era to its hint of the nervous and the fearful. His weather is interior weather, in a sense, and he perhaps was, if far from the first to portray a modern mood, an ambivalent mood tinged with dread and yet imbued with a certain lightness.The mood could even be said to be religious: not an aggressive preachment of God’s grandeur but a kind of Zen poise and acceptance, represented by the small sedentary or plodding foreground figures that appear uncannily at peace as the clouds blacken and the lightning flashes.”

― John Updike, Still Looking: Essays on American Art

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I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned Martin Johnson Heade here. This is really an oversight on my part as some of his work was really influential on the direction of my work early on, even though to the casual observer it may not seem apparent. After all, our styles and methods of painting were wildly different. The intensity of the color and contrast in his paintings of the floral subjects and tropical birds that he completed during his long and prolific career (born 1819 and died in 1904) really made me want to push my own color ahead. There is a site, Martin Johnson Heade- The Complete Works, that has his complete works online where you can see the great quality of his color and use of contrast.

But the painting shown at the top, Approaching Thunderstorm, from the Metropolitan Museum is my favorite Heade painting. The forms of the  black water of the lake set against the vibrant color of the shoreline is striking and  a most ominous storm cloud churns toward the boaters who have not yet fully heeded the signs of the oncoming storm.

It was painted in 1859, in the years before our country exploded in civil war. This painting was part of a cultural movement of the time that depicted the tension gripping our nation in metaphorical terms. The metaphor is strong and obvious in this painting with the dark band of the river symbolizing the division between the pro-slavery/states rights factions and the abolitonist/republican side. Several prominent abolitionist preachers of the era owned versions of this painting, many often referring to this coming storm in their sermons.

Knowing this makes me appreciate the painting on a different level. But it is still about the sheer emotional impact of the color and forms that hit me long before I knew its history. There is a tension and that feeling of stillness that occurs in the moment just before action occurs, something I have tried to capture in my own work at times. I still find this piece brilliant and inspiring.

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