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Bluemner Recalled

“When you feel colors, you will understand the why of their forms.”–Oscar Bluemner

I’ve written several times about Oscar Bluemner, an early and relatively obscure Modernist painter. Since stumbling across him a decade or so ago, I have an affinity to his work and much of his outlook on it. He worked mainly with color and shape but didn’t work in pure abstraction, believing that the subject must be based on the real world in order to fully communicate with the viewer. And the subject itself not nearly so important as the color and forms employed and the emotions they depicted. Those are things that ring with me.

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I look at the work of a lot of artists and usually see something I can relate to in much of it.  It might be the way a color sings or the way the painting is put together or in the expressiveness of a line.  Or just in simple emotion.  But very seldom do I stumble upon the work of an artist who I immediately feel as though I am sharing the same perspective.

Such is the case with Oscar Bluemner.

I came across his work a few years back.  I saw an ad for a piece of his in an art mag and was captivated.  There was something very familiar to me in it which made me want to know more.  But I could find little about Bluemner.  This was strange because he was in the right circles where one would think he would get some attention even if only by association.  The German-born painter, who was born in 1867 and moved to the US in 1893, was part of the Modernist painters group of the early 20th century represented by Alfred Stieglitz , famed photographer/gallerist and husband of Georgia O’Keefe.   His work hung in solo shows at Stieglitz’s famed NYC gallery and in the fabled Armory Show of 1913.  You would think there would be no shortage of material on him or that his name would raise the image of some piece of his work.

But Oscar Bluemner had a knack for failing.  He was trained as an architect and designed the Bronx Borough Courthouse.  However, he was not paid for his services and the seven year court battle that ensued drove him away from  architecture and into the world of art,  where his paintings never garnered the attention or lasting reputation of his contemporaries.  He sold little and lived in abject poverty, which is said to have attributed to his wife’s early death and ultimately to his suicide in 1938.

But there is something in his work that I immediately identify with when I see it.  It’s as though I am seeing his subjects in exactly the same way as he did and would be making the same decision he made when he was paainting them.  His trees feel like my trees is the way they expressively curve and his colors are bold and bright.  His building are often windowless with a feeling of anonymity.  His suns and moons are solid presences in the sky, the focal points of many of his pieces.   In this piece to the right, Death,  he uses the alternating abnds of color to denote rows in the field as I often do and has his twisted tree rising from a small knoll in the forefront of the picture.

I find myself saying to myself that I could very easily have painted these same pictures.  It’s odd because it’s not a feeling that I’ve experienced before even with the artists whose work I think has most influenced me and with which I feel a real connection.  And it feels even odder because I didn’t become aware of Bluemner’s work until long after I had established my own vocabulary of imagery.

There are finally a few things out there online about Oscar Bluemener.  You can see more of his images now than you could even a few years back.  The Whitney in NYC had a retrospective of his work in 2005 (here’s a review) and that seemed to raise awareness of his work.  So maybe a few more people, a new generation, will finally see what I see in Bluemer’s work.
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I wrote about Lotte Reiniger on this blog several years ago.  In this world that is filled now with fantastic computer generated  animations, her work still has the power to amaze me. The idea that this person armed with little more than a pair of sharp scissors and some paper could create these worlds of wonder is thrilling to me, an incredible manifestation of the creative vision. I thought I’d rerun the post from back in 2010 and add another of her films, Daumelinchen, from a bit later in her life. Made in 1955, it tells the story of Thumbelina. Take a look and try to remember that these are just papercut silhouettes.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

I first saw a film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed,  from Lotte Reiniger several years ago in a series about early silent films.  It was made in 1926 Germany and was one of the first animated films made.  It’s a form of animation that Reiniger pioneered and mastered, based on Eastern shadow theatre.   Using silhouette figures, each is painstakingly cut and hinged then  filmed in small movements with time lapse photography to produce motion in the film.  This film took three years to complete.

Lotte Reiniger At Work

In this telling of the Arabian Nights stories, I was immediately struck by the beauty and movement of the colors in the film.  Each cell was tinted by hand to produce intense bursts of color that gave the film a gorgeous surreal quality.  The movements of the figures in the film are smooth and natural,  very subtle.  I found myself so taken with watching the movements and changes that I found myself not following the story.  But I didn’t care.  It was beautiful to see and sparked the imagination.

Lotte Reiniger (1899-1981), born in Germany and living most of her post-WW II life in Britain,  left quite a body of work from a career that spanned over 50 years, including one of the first film versions of Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle. She’s pretty much unknown in popular culture which is a great shame.  Her work is marvelous and deserves to be seen.

Here’s a small clip of Prince Achmed:

And here is Daumelinchen or Thumbelina.

Workshop Reminder

The Studio Barn at Sunny Point

As had been mentioned here in the recent past, I will be leading a workshop next week at Sunny Point on the shores of beautiful Keuka Lake here in the Finger Lakes of New York. Sponsored by the Arts Center of Yates County, this is a two day workshop that runs from about 9 AM until 4 PM on September 28 and 29, Thursday and Friday of next week.

This is my third workshop here and in the first two years we focused on my watercolor based method which is what I call a reductive process. You put paint on then take much of it off, creating the edges and transparency that define this style. It was a lot of fun and a little messy.

This year we are going to be working on what I call an additive process which starts with a dark surface, in this case a textured canvas with a layer of black paint. Layers of paint are added, each layer defining form and creating light. The piece at the bottom is an example of the kind of work we’ll be doing. It’s typically a bit slower process with a little more control, more meditative in approach. But we are going to be moving along at a pretty good pace which should make for some interesting work.

It should be a good couple of days in a great environment with the lake just paces away and the glorious fall foliage ablaze on the surrounding hills. All that with some hard work, good fun and a few surprises along the way. I don’t know how many more times I will be doing this type of event so if you would like to share some time painting with me, come on up.

More info can be had by clicking here.

House of the Rising Sun

I am kind of at ease this morning. It’s nice to not have any big obligations directly ahead of me after finishing yesterday’s Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery. It lets me unwind from the anxiety that those kind of events create, the kind that is always there even though I try to appear at ease when speaking in front of groups of people. Fortunately, the folks who come to my talks are really good people who make it as easy as possible.

I want to thank everyone who came out on such a gorgeous day with so many other things going on to spend a little time with me at the talk. It was wonderful speaking with so many friends that I only get to see once in a great while and to meet so many new people. It was a good day all the way around and I hope everyone there felt that the time was spent well. I’ve said this before but their willingness to open themselves to me makes it easy to open myself up to them.

And that is a gift to me.

Speaking of gifts, of course, the highlight of the talk came at the end when I get to share a gift or two with them. I can’t explain how much pleasure I get out of this part of the talk. I’m sure other artists think I am crazy for giving away my work but the way I look at it is that it’s just a small pay back for all they have given me. Without their support, without their encouragement and interest through the decades, there is no telling where I would be or what I might be doing. Of if I would even be at all.

So, in my eyes I am playing with house money and just sharing a bit with my friends. Thank you so much to everyone at the talk yesterday and thanks to my good friends at the Principle Gallery– Michele, Clint, Pam, Taylor and Pierre– for allowing me to be a part of their wonderful gallery. I am so grateful–thank you.

Now for this Sunday’s musical selection I was looking at the new painting above, Back in Time, and wanted an old song. While shuffling through older music I settled on the old folk tune, House of the Rising Sun. This version from the great Odetta came late in her life and delivers to the song great weight and grace. Just a great performance.

Enjoy and have a great day.

And thank you…

This Painting Could Be Yours Today!

Okay, this is the last time I will mention this, I promise.

As I have mentioned just a couple of times before, I am giving a Gallery Talk today at the Principle Gallery in lovely Old Town Alexandria starting at 1 PM.  There will be a group of new paintings with me as well as a handful of my Orphans (see yesterday’s blog post, Selling Orphans, for info) at very special prices. I will hold a conversation with everyone for a short bit, answering any and all questions there might be.

Then I do some birdcalls.

Then after the talk and the birdcalls, there will be a drawing for the painting of mine above, The Warmth of Breath, a 16″ by 20″ canvas.

Everyone in attendance has a chance to win.

Plus, there may be a few other surprises, the first being that I don’t really do birdcalls though I had a friend in high school who did a hell of a warbler. But there will be some other things, I promise.

Plus, I can guarantee a relatively good time. I was going to say a great time but I’m trying to cut down on hyperbole.

Ah, what the heck–it will definitely be a good time.

I am hoping you can make it into the Principle Gallery today.

 

Selling Orphans

Four Front -2003

Yeah, you read that right, I’m willing to sell off some orphans.

Don’t worry, I’m not really a heartless bastard. I’m talking about a handful of my paintings that have shuffled around the country over the years and somehow found their way back to the studio. I consider these paintings my orphans.

A Time For Reflection-2002

There is a special small group of paintings that are accompanying me tomorrow when I head down to Alexandria for my Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery. They are primarily older pieces that, while I like having them around here in the studio, I would like to have a home where they can get the attention that I feel they deserve from fresh and appreciative eyes that look at them on a regular basis.

A home where they can do the job they were meant to do, to fulfill their purpose

Some of these paintings in their first trips through the galleries were saddled by framing that didn’t suit the work. Tow had thick, heavy frames and extra wide mats that created a distraction from the actual work and overwhelmed the images.

A couple are favorites of mine that just never caught the right person’s eye.

And a couple have been with me for so long that I can’t figure out why they’re still here. For instance, the painting at the top of this page, Four Front from back in 2003, falls into this category.

These paintings are only going to be there for my time in the gallery on Saturday and are specially priced. If they don’t find a new home, they come back to the orphanage–er, studio.

Look at these little guys and tell me that they don’t deserve a home to call their own.

You Can Win This Painting!

So, try to get into the Principle Gallery tomorrow, Saturday, September 16. The orphans will be on display along with new work from the studio. The Gallery Talk begins at 1 PM and concludes with a free drawing for those in attendance for the painting shown here, The Warmth of Breath. Plus, there are a few more surprises that I don’t want to divulge here.

I am anticipating a good time with good questions and a lively conversation so I am hoping you can take part tomorrow. I suggest getting there early for a good seat. Plus, you can take a look at my orphans. Look forward to seeing you there!

In the Window: The Vigil 2005

In the Eye of Grace- 2006

No Mail- 2010

Call to Waking- 2011

The Journey- 2006

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” 

― Thich Nhat HanhThe Miracle of Mindfulness

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This gets harder and harder all the time.

I can’t describe the knot I get in my gut when trying to pick a painting that is given away at the end of my Gallery Talks. I really agonize over this choice, wanting to make sure that the selection is truly substantial, really representing my work and having enough meaning for myself that it hurts a bit to give it away. This choice hit all those points dead on for me.

The painting for this Saturday’s Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery is The Warmth of Breath, coming in at 16″ by 20″ on canvas.

I am not sure my photography on this painting does it justice, especially in capturing the depth of color. I consider this a very representative piece for my body of work. It is simply constructed with deep colors and texture as the  signature Red Tree casts itself across the face of the Sun/Moon. It’s a painting that seems to draw my attention, the warmth of it always making me stop to consider it if only for a short moment. The title refers to the thought of being self aware, of recognizing the breath of life that flows through you and bonds you with all living things.

There is, for me, a real meditative feel in this painting, one that calms me greatly. I am hoping that it does the same for someone else after this Saturday.

So, to recap, this Saturday, September 16, I will be giving a Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. The talk starts at 1 PM and if you are in attendance you will have a chance to win this painting. Plus, there are a few twists I have planned that I can’t disclose here but I think will please those at the talk.

It could involve card tricks, juggling, mind reading, interpretative dance, yodeling or a combination of all of these things.

Or not.

You will have to come to the Principle Gallery on Saturday to discover what I mean.

Hope to see you there.

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