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White Bird

I was thinking of something in a Halloween theme for today’s Sunday Morning Music.  But I changed my mind when I realized that after the last year in this country it had become an ironic holiday. Or at least overkill because every day feels like Halloween and at some point on most days I find myself screaming at the sky in horror.

All tricks and no treats.

Why the hell do I want to celebrate that?

So, I’m gonna go in a different direction (note the Chagall print at the top– not scary, right?) and play a song, White Bird, from 1968 from the San Francisco based group, It’s  a Beautiful Day. They never achieved the same kind of fame as the other bands– Jefferson Airplane, Santana and the Grateful Dead–who came out of SF’s 1967 Summer of Love. but this song is pretty captivating in tone with it’s soaring violin from David LaFlamme, who re-released a version of the song a decade later under his name. That’s where I first heard the song.

Give a listen and have a good day. And if you hear a blood-curdling scream in the woods around my studio, don’t worry– it’s just another day in Halloween Land.

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Horace Pippin

Horace Pippin- Amish Letter Writer

 

 

 

Not surprisingly, I have a real affinity for self-taught and naive painters. Among my favorites is American Horace Pippin who lived from 1888 until 1946.  He only produced about 140 paintings in his relatively short life but they are real gems, displaying a wonderfully sophisticated and more mature form of naivete. He achieved a pretty high level of recognition in his short career, being championed by a number of critics as well as artist N.C. Wyeth. The bulk of his work is now held in museums.

Though born in West Chester, PA, Pippin grew up in Goshen, NY, which interests me because I have three grand-nephews living there.  Goshen was where he began his artistic journey after winning art supplies in a newspaper contest, using them to make drawings of the jockeys and horses at the famed Goshen racetrack. He was wounded in World War I, serving in the famed Harlem Hell Fighters, and turned to art in a more serious manner to strengthen his damaged right arm.

He married and moved back to West Chester and his work began to draw notice, appearing in numerous exhibits in museums and galleries alongside some of the giants of the art world. In 1946, he suffered a stroke and passed away.

As I said, he produced a fairly small number of paintings, many depicting the African American experience of the time along with a number of biblical and historical paintings, John Brown and Abe Lincoln being favorite subjects. They are a rich American treasure.

Here’s a nice video of much of his work with Ella Fitzgerald’s great Cry Me a River backing it.

Horace Pippin- Milk Man of Goshen

Horace Pippin- Domino Players

Horace Pippin- Abe Lincoln Good Samaritan

Horace Pippin- The Trial of John Brown

Horace Pippin- Sunday Morning Breakfast

Horace Pippin- John Brown Going to His Hanging

 

Mystery of the Unseen

“How fathomless the mystery of the Unseen is! We cannot plumb its depths with our feeble senses – with eyes which cannot see the infinitely small or the infinitely great, nor anything too close or too distant, such as the beings who live on a star or the creatures which live in a drop of water… with ears that deceive us by converting vibrations of the air into tones that we can hear, for they are sprites which miraculously change movement into sound, a metamorphosis which gives birth to harmonies which turn the silent agitation of nature into song… with our sense of smell, which is poorer than any dog’s… with our sense of taste, which is barely capable of detecting the age of a wine!

Ah! If we had other senses which would work other miracles for us, how many more things would we not discover around us!”

Guy de Maupassant, The Horla

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Yesterday I finished the painting above, a 12″ square canvas that is scheduled to head to the Kada Gallery in Erie for my show, Sensing the Unseen, that opens there on December 1. It’s a piece that feels faithful to the theme of the Kada show– that there are energies and forces swirling around us that are imperceptible to our senses. I’ve often felt that one of the purposes of art is to give these forces shape and form.

To make the unseen visible.

And I think this painting is a good example of that thought. Its simple forms, lack of detail and sparse narrative elements might seem an unlikely setting for the unveiling of  hidden forces.

Or maybe these things make it the perfect setting for doing such a thing. Distraction is stripped away. The whiteness of the moon at the horizon becomes a central point of focus. The lightness of the landscape (is that snow?) and the path push the eye further inward, past the windowless houses that seem to act as boundary markers between the known and the unknown. There is a created sense of depth and space that belies the tight dimensions of the picture plane. It all makes you feel as though there is something ponderous, something that begs to be known in that space.

Even the color creates a mysterious paradox. It feels cold with the whiteness of the snow and the moon (or is it a sun?) yet the underlying magenta makes it feel warm. It seems perilous and cold yet still feels warm and inviting. It pushes away and pulls in.

Or it’s just a simple little snowy landscape.

I chose its title, Mystery of the Unseen, from the paragraph at the top taken from a short story, The Horla, from the French master of the short story, Guy de Maupassant. It’s a horror story describing how an unseen alien force– an extraterrestrial– inhabits a man, controlling his mind with the intent of conquering humanity. It was the last story he wrote before being committed to a sanitarium, where he died.

I guess that’s the dark side of the unseen.

Hardly the feeling I experience in this painting.

 

Big Country Blues

Have a lot on my plate this morning, a lot of things needing to be done. But I came across this video by one of my favorite singer/songwriters, the late Townes Van Zandt, and thought I would share it. It’s called Big Country Blues and the video features the photos of primarily working class Americans from the great Richard Avedon.

It’s a compelling video, given this time in this country. I watched it twice this morning just to fully take in the imagery and Townes’ music never lets me down. I wish he were around just to hear his take on these times. He could write some sad songs, after all.

Give it a look and a listen.

 

Mesmerized

I was looking for an image to pair with the music I want to share today  and thought this old piece might work since I’ve been showing a lot of older unseen work lately. It’s a watercolor piece from 1995 or 1996 that I never felt secure enough about to show, one with a guitar dominating the front of the picture plane and a dark character propped in the doorway.

There are a few things wrong with this piece, most notably the way the fretboard  just ends at the body of the guitar. And the dark character is just, well… a little strange. He’s either smoking a cigarette or has been recently on fire–which might explain his charred appearance– and is still smoldering.

But even with these obvious flaws, for some reason I still find myself looking fondly at this piece and liking it. Still not sure about showing it to anybody but liking it, nonetheless.

The music I wanted this to accompany is from Australian fingerstyle guitarist Alan Gogoll who is being hailed for his technique that creates bell-like harmonic tones. I came across a couple of his videos and was drawn in by the way the filming focused on his hands. I am fascinated by watching the hands of musicians when they play and his technique has a grace and poetry in the movement of his hands.

He also has a series of short Instagram videos and one very long Youtube video in which the camera is inside the guitar facing out through the sound hole. You see his fingers picking and the vibration patterns of the strings as each string is plucked. Called Stringscapes, they are pretty mesmerizing.

I am showing a short song called Mulberry Mouse first, followed by the Stringscapes video. As I said, this video is long, coming in at 28 minutes. But it is worth at least taking a look for a minute or two. Or longer. Actually, while I was writing this I took a look and about four minutes passed. I said they were mesmerizing.

You can see more on Alan Gogoll’s website by clicking here.


The Book of Hours

Several years ago I wrote about a spectacular illuminated book called Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. It was a Book of Hours created for a French Duke in the 15th century filled with prayers, calendars, timetables and the like. It also included some of the most extraordinary paintings that illustrated the text, including twelve pages that showed each month in proper seasonal context. I came across the film below that focuses on these beautiful pages, showing them in some detail.

After hitting the start arrow on the video below, you have to click on the link to go to YouTube to watch the video at the request of its creator.  But it’s well worth a look to start out your week on such a calm and lovely note.

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Limbourg Brothers- Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry FebruaryOne of the great pleasures in being fairly ignorant is the thrill that comes from stumbling across something that is absolutely spectacular without any knowledge of its existence beforehand.  Of course, the flip side of this experience is the depressing realization that sets in when you realize how little you really know.  I know this from experience.

The other day,  while searching for images of medieval snow scenes for the previous post, I also came across a beautiful image taken from a 15th century illuminated manuscript called the Tres Riches Heures.  It was a gorgeous winter scene, very Dutch looking, with a astronomical chart with beautiful blue lapis bands arching across the top of the page.   I was immediately taken in by the image.

Limbourg Brothers- Anatomical Man- Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry FebruaryDoing some quick research I discovered that this image was but one of over 130 painted images in the Tres Riches Heures, many of which were done by a trio of Dutch siblings, the Limbourg Brothers, between 1412 and 1416 for the French Duke du Berry.  The Tres Riches Heures is a book of hours which consists of prayers and devotional exercises along with  timetables for specific prayers and calendars for feast days and other days of note in the liturgical year, along with some customized additions.  This particular book of hours was the most spectacular ever produced.

Of course, something this incredible never comes easily.  The Limbourg Brothers, unfortunately, all died within the year of 1416, most likely from the plague, leaving the Tres Riches Heures incomplete.  It was worked on for many years by an unknown intermediate painter, most likely a court painter for French king Charles VII, who had attained the unfinished group work in the years after the Limbourgs died.  Finally, between 1485 and 1490, the work was completed by artist Jean Colombe.

Limbourg Brothers- Hell- Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry FebruaryToday, this considered arguably the most valuable book in the world– a book filled with 130 beautiful Dutch paintings, a book that took nearly eighty years to complete.

As I say, I was thrilled to come across it, having no prior knowledge of it or the magnificent work of the Limbourg Brothers or Jean Colombe.  But then I was a bit taken aback by the realization that I had such a gap in my knowledge, especially of a work of such grandeur.  But, that’s the way it goes.  You trudge forward, a blind squirrel periodically stumbling across a nut.

Now I know…

I’ve been revisiting a lot of very old work lately here in the studio, taking little walk down memory lane. Some of the memories  are pleasant enough with “oh, yeah, I remember that” coming up periodically in my mind. Some are  cringeworthy, making me glad I moved past that time. Some please me greatly and some make me smile. Such is the case with this  little piece done in 1994.

Called Rockin’ Billy, it was done quickly in crayons. It’s rough-edged and kind of crude but has movement. I think I was listening to a bunch of old rockabilly at the time. Johnny Burnette, Warren Smith, Jerry Lee Lewis, that kind of stuff– rough-edged and a little crude with some real movement.

But I am pretty sure that this piece was a direct result of Billy Lee Riley and his distinct guitar playing, especially in a couple of my faves from that time, Flying Saucer Rock and Roll and Red Hot. Every time I stumble across this piece I have to break out the rockabilly for at least a few songs and that’s how it is on this Sunday morning. Here are those two songs from Billy Lee Riley.

Oh, what the hell, let me throw in Johnny Burnette’s Rock Billy Boogie. I can see Rockin’ Billy dancing across the stage now. Hope this helps you have your own rockin’ good time today.


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