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Jacob Lawrence

Jacob Lawrence- This Is Harlem 1943

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My belief is that it is most important for an artist to develop an approach and philosophy about life – if he has developed this philosophy, he does not put paint on canvas, he puts himself on canvas.

Jacob Lawrence
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Exactly right.
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I often echo the advice in these words from the great Jacob Lawrence when speaking to students. Having all the talent and skill in the world doesn’t matter if one doesn’t have a viewpoint or don’t have something to say to the world.
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Having a philosophy about life and a need to express their viewpoint guides the artist, allowing them to make the most of whatever talents and skills they do possess.
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Being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you.

–Eckhart Tolle
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This new painting has been sitting within my sight for several days now. I can only speak for myself but I find it really easy piece in which to withdraw, imagining myself in that place, in that moment under that sky. There’s a sense of ease and comfort in it for me.

It just feels right.

Yet there is something enigmatic about it. While there is an air of easiness and acceptance in the painting, there is also a feeling that there is some sort of questioning taking place.

Perhaps a wondering of the why’s and what’s and how’s of this universe and our place in it?

Or the existence of a god or gods? Or the nature of good and evil?

Or perhaps something less weighty.

But even with this questioning there is still a great calmness and ease, as though the Red Tree in this time and place knows that having those answers would not make this particular moment any better.

And perhaps in that moment when a question does not require a response, an answer shows itself.

Perhaps…

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This painting is 18″ by 36″ on canvas and is titled, not surprisingly, The Ease of Not Knowing. It is going to the Principle Gallery as part of my show, Haven, that opens there on June 1.

 

Hey Joe, Gotta Go

Running around this morning, trying to get some things tied up but thought I’d share an interesting version of the Jimi Hendrix classic Hey Joe as performed the Joscho Stephan Trio. Stephan is a German guitarist who primarily plays in the gypsy jazz style, as you might deduce from the beautiful guitar he plays. This is a fun and energetic twist on the song, a shot of ear caffeine to get the week off on and running.

I thought I’d throw in this old doodle, an oddity from twenty years or so back.  Done very quickly with a Sharpie and embellished with a little watercolor,  the figure is a simplified and stylized representation of the way in which the figures from my early Exiles series were painted, composed from blocks of color.  It was never meant to be seen outside my studio but I like this for some reason. He looks like he could be playing Hey Joe.

Give a listen and get your motor running.

Earth Day…

Today, April 22,  is Earth Day. It’s an annual event to show support for strong environmental protections and actions to help keep this planet a clean and healthy place in which to live. It was first observed on this date back in 1970 and as it nears 50 years of age, it has never been more needed.

We are in the midst of a deep and vast cleansing but it is not taking place in the environment. No, it is happening in the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, where decades of of regulations enacting environmental protections are being flushed down the toilet, all for the benefit of large industries and energy companies.

I am old enough to remember the pollution of the 60’s and 70’s. The thick smog that hovered like a brown blanket above and on the cities. The many rivers so polluted that they were awash with dead fish and the others that were simply on fire. The acid rain that formed from the factories of the midwest and blew east, devastating the Adirondack forests and lakes. Love Canal and so many other Superfund cleanups– paid for by tax-payer dollars– of contaminated sites left by negligent industries. Masses of inefficient cars belching gray smoke and so many other things that contributed to a world that seemed to be built on trash and pollution.

Environmental protections have made huge strides in the past 48 years. If you ever drove through Cleveland in the 60’s and you see it now, you understand what I am saying. These regulations have made great strides toward cleaner skies and waters– outside of the giant Texas-sized islands of plastics that sludge along in our oceans and seas. But this administration has sold the country a bill of goods that says, simply put, that all regulation is bad and unnecessary.

And the gullible among us buy it, as though requiring businesses to operate in a safe and responsible manner somehow impinges on their own personal freedoms, even though there is huge truckload of evidence to the contrary.

There may be some regulations here and there that are not needed or are outdated. But for the most part, each of these arose from a need to stem specific practices that were detrimental to the public good. Are any of us worse off for having cleaner air to breathe, purer water to drink, better cars that get higher gas mileage and spew less smoke, or healthier forests and parks to in which to walk? What citizen benefits by allowing coal sludge to be dumped into waterways?

And as for the argument that these regulations cost businesses more? So what? It is the social responsibility of businesses to operate within our laws and regulations, especially when it concerns the health and welfare of our citizens. It is always passed on to us, the consumer, on a cost-plus basis that actually benefits the businesses. But this added cost passed on to us to avoid pollution and contamination is minimal compared to the bill that that comes due to us when we, the taxpayers, have to clean up things afterwards.

Not only do we have to live with an environment with dirtier air and water, we have to pay for the irresponsible screw-ups that gave it to us.

Okay, I am going to stop now even though I could rant for quite a bit more, especially about the cost analysis of renewable energy versus fossil fuels. I will end by saying that the EPA is doing damage to our regulatory framework and the environment it was designed to protect that may take decades to reverse.

This damage can only be halted by the actions of citizens. Get active. Speak up. For god’s sake, vote for clean air and water and renewable energy. If you can’t vote fot that, then we are in for grimy future.

Here’s this week’s Sunday morning music. It is, of course, the classic plea for the environment from Marvin Gaye, Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology).

Have a good Earth Day.

 

 

Making Do

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How often have I found that wanting to use blue,

I didn’t have it so I used a red instead of the blue.

 

–Pablo Picasso

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This year’s edition of the Genius series begins this coming Tuesday on the National Geographic Channel. This well done series premiered last year with a season dramatizing the life of Albert Einstein. This year it focuses on the life of Pablo Picasso, with Antonio Banderas portraying the artist. Given Picasso’s knack for pushing boundaries and stirring the pot, it could be an entertaining series.

He is probably the most quoted of artists, though many things are mistakenly attributed to him. It’s a case that if it sounds interesting and you’re not sure who might have said it, you credit him or Shakespeare or Lincoln or some other iconic figure.

But I have a feeling that the quote I chose here today is actually his. I can’t see Lincoln saying it.

I certainly know the circumstance to which he refers.

Been there, done that.

In a pinch, you just make do with what you have because you can’t always wait until you have perfect conditions, all the materials you desire and a moment of inspiration are in complete alignment. Sometimes inspiration is there and you don’t have what you would ideally want to use but you still want to make that mark.

A number of years back, I was having some real back problems. I had to that point always painted in a standing position but the pain forced me to sit. I found that there were points where I would reach for a color that I would normally use in certain instances and find it out of reach, across the room. Instead of straining out of my seat and limping to get it, I would take whatever was within my reach and try to either replicate the color or completely substitute another color.

In many ways, it was a good experience. Where I had used reds before, there were blues or greens. Turquoise tended to turn to purples and maroons.

Because my work doesn’t depend on accuracy in depicting natural color, it actually stretched the work a bit more and reinforced that idea that one must make do with what one has at hand. It’s something I have often tried to impress on young artists, that they should never use not having everything they think they need to start as an excuse to not start.

If they have a real creative urge, then they will make do, they will find a way.

The results may exceed what their mind had imagined.

 

This morning, I am taking the advice below from Ray Bradbury and simply doing things.I can tell you from my own experience that his words ring true. All too may times I have started a painting based on an idea, some novel concept that was I believed to be well thought out. Those paintings are usually the ones that die on the easel. The best work, the stuff that seems to have its life force, comes outside of thought. So, my thinking goes on a hiatus starting now. Here’s a replay of a post from several years back on the subject.
ray-bradbury-on-creativity-famous-quotes

I came across this quote from famed sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury on a post on the  TwistedSifter site that featured quotes on creativity. This struck close to the bone for me as I have proudly not thought for years now. I have long maintained that thinking usually inhibits my work, making it less fluid and rhythmic.

It’s a hard thing to get across because just in the process of doing anything there is a certain amount of thought required, with preliminary ideas and decisions to be made. I think that the lack of thought I am talking about, as I also believe Bradbury refers, is once the process of creating begins. At that point you have to try to free yourself of the conscious and let intuition and reaction take over, those qualities that operate on an instantaneous emotional level.

I can tell instantly when I have let my conscious push its way into my work and have over-thought the whole thing. There’s a clunkiness and dullness in every aspect of it. No flow. No rhythm. No brightness or lightness. Emotionally vacant and awkward. Bradbury’s  choice in using the term self-conscious is perfect because I have often been self-conscious in my life and that same uncomfortable awkwardness that comes in those instances translates well to what I see in this over-thought work.

So what’s the answer? How do you let go of thought, to be less self-conscious?

I think Bradbury hits the nail on the head– you must simply do things. This means trusting your subconscious to find a way through, to give the controls over to instinct.

And how do you do that? I can’t speak for others but for myself it’s a matter of staying in my routine. Painting every day even when it feels like a struggle. Loading a brush with paint and making a mark even when I have no idea at hand. Just doing things and not waiting for inspiration.

You don’t wait for inspiration– you create it.

So, stop thinking right  now and just start doing things.

Cezanne- Isolation

If isolation tempers the strong, it is the stumbling-block of the uncertain.

–Paul Cezanne
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I spend a lot of time alone in the isolation of my studio. Fortunately for me, it is the place in the world where I am most comfortable and feel completely myself.

It is the place where I can feel unrestrained to free the mind and go wherever it takes me. The place where I can shed the uncertainty I find in the outer world and feel free to daydream. The place where I can summon up pictures that exist only inside myself. A place to study. To listen. To see.

It is my my university, my library, my theatre, my monastery and my place of refuge.

My haven.

When I am out of the studio, I am all the while trying to get back to it.

When others come into my studio, the dynamic of that place changes and I feel myself suddenly self-conscious and a bit uncomfortable, like I am standing in someone else’s home.

The visitors’ eyes become my eyes and I notice things I never see on a day to day basis. The cat hair on the floor that needs to be swept up. The paint splatters on the wall or a fingerprint in paint on the wall switchplate. The windows that need cleaning. The piles of papers that I have been meaning to go through for too many months.  The paintbrushes soaking in murky water scattered throughout the place or the start of a not-too-good painting that will most likely never see the outer world.

In that moment, my perfect castle of isolation becomes a hovel of uncertainty.

But the castle remarkably reappears once I am alone again. The uncertainty recedes and I begin to feel myself once more.

My isolation is my default state of being.

I understand exactly what Cezanne is saying at the top. I have been more comfortable alone than in the company of others since I was a child. I don’t know if that is a strength or just a neurotic peccadillo. But I know that if I ever find uncertainty in my isolation, I will have lost my footing in this world.

But, thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet…

 

 

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