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Eye to Eye

 “People like you and I, though mortal of course like everyone else, do not grow old no matter how long we live. What I mean is we never cease to stand like curious children before the great Mystery into which we were born.”

Albert Einstein, Letter to Otto Juliusburger, September 29, 1942 

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This is a new painting, at 30″ by 10″ on canvas, that is part of my current West End Gallery show, The Rising. I have titled this painting Eye to Eye and was considering at one point adding to Eye to Eye to Eye to Eye, et cetera.

In my mind, the idea of looking out at the stars in the night sky feels sometimes like looking into a multitude of eyes looking back at us, the flash of the whites of their eyes creating the starlight that we see. It is a benign feeling, not tinged with animosity or congeniality.

They are just there, dispassionately looking back at us. Perhaps they are seeing the flash of the light from our sun that reflects on our moon as being our eyes looking out at them. Who knows?

The sense I get from this painting is one of having this connection with the universe even in those times when we might feel absolutely alone in this world. Maybe the connection is in understanding that the Great Mystery, as Einstein calls it, may very well be the same throughout the cosmos. Whether here on Earth or a billion light years away, the night presents us with tangible evidence of this Great Mystery and our desire to know our place in it creates the curiosity that Einstein mentions.

And maybe that curiosity, that feeling that there is always more to learn from this Mystery, is the key in maintaining a youthful mind.

Who knows?

I used the words from Einstein above as they originally appeared in a letter to a colleague. The gist of his words were later paraphrased by others as this popularly quoted piece of advice:

Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.

I like it better in its original form, not as advice but as simply an observation between friends.

 

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Charles Burchfield- Sun and Rocks- Albright-Know Art GalleryAn artist must paint not what he sees in nature, but what is there. To do so he must invent symbols, which, if properly used, make his work seem even more real than what is in front of him.

–Charles Burchfield

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I am a big fan of the work of Charles Burchfield (1893-1967), a western  New York painter who lived and painted in the Buffalo area for most of his life. His work was decidedly visionary in its scope, taking the environment that he knew around western New York and embellishing it with a life force and energy that he sensed beneath the surface. That’s what he was referring to in the quote above– taking what you see around you and not simply recording it but painting how it moves you emotionally. To me, his work is as emotionally charged in the same way as that of Van Gogh.

Charles Burchfield- An April Mood- Whitney Museum of American ArtCreating symbols, as Burchfield refers to in the quote, has been a big part of my work. I have long emulated his use of creating a visual vocabulary that moved through a body of work. It becomes a sort of language of its own  that people who take it in and understand it find easy to read and absorb as they move from picture to picture. Those who can’t read it find less in the images and feel less drawn into them. In an earlier post featuring Burchfield, I wrote about an artist friend who just didn’t get Burchfield’s work in any sense.  He just one of those people who couldn’t read the language clearly written in the work.

I also have been influenced by the way Burchfield would constantly go back to earlier work and use it as a new starting point, as though the added knowledge gained through the years would take this work in a new direction. I often do the same thing, constantly revisiting images and motifs from years ago looking for a thread or path to follow anew.

Even this post is a revisitation, going back and looking at an influence, trying to pull that original inspiration from it. With Charles Burchfield, that’s always an easy thing to accomplish.

Charles Burchfield- Childhood's Garden

Puppet

For some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I have been humming this tune since sometime yesterday afternoon. Maybe if I look closer at the lyrics, I can figure it out.

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Pull the string and I’ll wink at you, I’m your puppet
I’ll do funny things if you want me to, I’m your puppet
I’m yours to have and to hold
Darling you’ve got full control of your puppet
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Pull another string and I’ll kiss your lips, I’m your puppet
Snap your finger and I’ll turn you some flips, I’m your puppet
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Listen, your every wish is my command
All you gotta do is wiggle your little hand
I’m your puppet, I’m your puppet
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I’m just a toy, just a funny boy
That makes you laugh when you’re blue
I’ll be wonderful, do just what I’m told
I’ll do anything for you
I’m your puppet, I’m your puppet
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Pull them little strings and I’ll sing you a song, I’m your puppet
Make me do right or make me do wrong, I’m your puppet
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Treat me good and I’ll do anything
I’m just a puppet and you hold my string, I’m your puppet
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Darling, darling, pull the strings, let me sing you a song any day
I’m your puppet baby, you can sing for me all night long
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Yeah, that kind of reminds me of something I saw recently.
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Of course, I am having a little fun. It’s all I can do to not go into a rage after watching yesterday’s press conference in Helsinki. It was one of those events that will resonate forward through history and not in a good way. As presidential historian Jon Meacham said this morning, we are in the middle of this now, not at the start nor the end, and there is another shoe yet to drop. Yesterday shows that we have long passed a tipping point and it the only thing protecting our future now is our own action.
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Be a real citizen and don’t just take up space– pay attention. Ask your congressmen and senators questions and let them know how you feel. Make sure you are registered to vote and hit the polls hard. Encourage others to do the same.
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Speak up at every opportunity because it may be your last chance. I seriously mean that.
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The song, of course, is I’m Your Puppet from James and Bobby Purify back in 1966 , written by Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn.

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We would rather be ruined than changed

We would rather die in our dread

Than climb the cross of the moment

And let our illusions die.

 

–W.H. Auden

Epilogue, The Age of Anxiety

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These words were written by poet W.H. Auden in the aftermath of World War II in his Pulitzer Prize winning poem The Age of Anxiety, a work that later was translated into music in the form of a symphony by Leonard Bernstein  and ballet by Jerome Robbins. I didn’t know much about this work when I stumbled across this short passage and I don’t suppose that its acclaim or history have much to do with the the thought it provokes.

Reading these four lines immediately brought to mind the transitional phase we’re moving through. It is a time fraught with fast moving change and many of the ideals and beliefs that we held onto as absolutes seem fragile and illusory now, if not completely destroyed. It probably felt much like this to many of those who lived through the war years of the 30’s and 40’s. It must feel as though you were attached, with no control at all, to the back of an angry beast who is rampaging. Beliefs are shattered and all you have to hold onto is your fear.

It seems like many of the groups vying to gain power over the direction of the rampaging beast that is this nation lend credence to the words above. They fear and despise the idea of change, even inevitable change, and would rather see the whole shooting match go up in smoke rather than alter their illusions of what we once were or what we could be in the future.

I know this sound somewhat cryptic and I don’t want to blurt out the obvious here right now. Just a thought that rose from the four simple lines above.

Thank You…

I just wanted to issue a heartfelt Thank You to those of you who were able to make it out to the West End Gallery for the opening of The Rising exhibit on Friday evening. It was a sticky hot evening so I am deeply appreciative of anyone who chose to spend some time with us. It was a good time and it was great to see a lot of old friends and many new ones.

The response to the work has been wonderful thus far which is gratifying. Hope you can make it out in the near future to see the show or maybe join us on for a Gallery Talk on Saturday, August 4, starting at 1 PM. The Gallery Talk is generally a lot of fun and there will be some pertinent details coming in the next few weeks.

In the spirit of gratitude, this Sunday’s musical selection is a throwback in time to the funk classic Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) from Sly and the Family Stone. Give a listen and again, thank you to everyone from the show–falettinme be mice elf agin.

Tonight is the opening reception for The Rising, this year’s edition of my annual solo show at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY. The reception begins at 5 PM and runs until 7:30 PM.

My history at the West End Gallery is well documented here. I would not be sitting here this morning, writing this blog about my work and this show, if not for a meeting back in January of 1995 where Tom and Linda Gardner saw something of value in the milk crate that served as my portfolio, with pieces of cardboard and paper jutting out from it. From that first glimpse, they gave me my first opportunity and followed it up with the encouragement that allowed me to grow as an artist.

You have to understand that this came at a time not too far removed from what I will describe without hesitation as being the lowest point in my life. Their acceptance and embrace of my work was a lifesaver thrown out to a drowning man.

So when I tell you that I try with all my heart to create work for these shows that is meaningful and at the highest level at which I am capable, those are not just words.

It describes an act of gratitude. a Thank You for a life saved and reshaped.  A Thank You for the opportunity to grow and evolve as an artist, to live a life I never could have imagined all those many years ago.

I hope that the work in The Rising displays that sense of gratitude as well as the growth that came with it.

Hope you can make it out to the gallery tonight. I’ll be there.

The Belonging

A few weeks back, we had the pleasure of seeing a series of three one-man shows at the Shaw Festival in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. They were written and performed by writer/actor/comedian Stephen Fry who you may better recognize from his longtime partnership with Hugh Laurie (House) in the comedy team Fry and Laurie.

The performances were based on Fry’s recent book Mythos which contains his droll retelling of the classical Greek myths. The shows were divided into different segments: God, Heroes, and Men. God dealt with the stories of Zeus and the other surrounding gods. Heroes dealt with the epic tales of Odysseus, Heracles and Theseus. The final show, Men, told the stories of men and their interactions with the gods. All were highly entertaining.

I was pleasantly surprised that during Men, Fry chose to tell the tale of Baucis and Philemon, a story that I have retold here a number of times and one which I also have used as the basis of a series of paintings over the last several years, including not too long ago with a favorite of mine, Nuptiae. It is the story of an old couple in a poor town who share their hospitality with Zeus and Hermes who have been treated poorly by all the other townspeople.

Fry’s retelling had a bit of a different ending than the version I knew, one that I believe is based more on that from Ovid and his Metamorphoses. In the version I know, the ending is a bit happier with the couple living out their lives together as priests in the temple of Zeus and together in death as two separate trees– a linden and an oak– growing from a single trunk.

Fry’s is a bit harsher, related in many ways to the biblical story of Lot and his wife. In Fry’s retelling, Zeus tells Baucis and Philemon that they shall be spared from the terrible wrath he is setting loose upon the other townsfolk. He instructs them to walk up the hill and not turn back. But hearing the great storm and the horrible sounds coming from the village, they agree to turn back to look together, whereupon they are transformed into linden and oak trees, much as Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt.

I still prefer the version I first knew but it was great to hear a variation on this story. That is the beauty of storytelling and art– it takes what we believe we know and reflects it back at us in a different and sometimes revelatory manner.

The painting at the top is a new painting from my West End Gallery show that opens tomorrow, Friday, July 13. Titled The Belonging, it is a 36″ by 24″ painting on canvas that is my most recent interpretation of the Baucis and Philemon myth– the version I knew before the Mythos shows.

These pieces may be my favorite to paint. The intent to paint them, that beginning point in their creation, has a certain feeling that pleases me and sets the tone for the whole piece. The paintings that spring from this starting point seldom disappoint me or fall short of what I hope to see. This piece very much lived up to the story for me and is one that never failed to stop and make me look when it was with me in the studio. The combination of the story and the colors, shapes and textures of the painting come together, for me at least.

Hope you can come out and see for yourself at the West End.

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