Archive for November, 2008

Seems Like a New SunThis piece, Seems Like a New Sun, is part of the show currently hanging at the Haen Gallery in Asheville, NC.  It’s a cityscape, a genre I enjoy mainly because of the abstract quality of shape and color that is formed by building up the structures.

At the opening for the show, someone asked if this painting was of a necropolis, a city of the dead or cemetery.  They cited the lack of windows and doors and said that it reminded them of those in Paris and New Orleans, where many of the graves are housed above-ground in beautiful small mausoleums.  This kind of took me  back a little because the idea had never entered my mind at any point in the creation of this piece but when I looked again it made perfect sense, in more than the obvious way.

I have always been attracted to cemeteries of all sorts and when we travel (a rarity these days) Cheri and I generally find a cemetery and walk around it, admiring the stones and mausoleums.  I read the names and epitaphs, trying to discern what sort of life they indicate.  Some find this morbid but I find it fascinating and very peaceful and in some ways, invigorating and reinforcing of life.  There is a lot to be said in the way a culture treats its dead.

We have a beautiful cemetery in our home area, Woodlawn Cemetery, that was created in the heyday of “burial parks” in the mid-19th century.  It has a rolling landscape with beautiful old growth trees and meandering roads. Very nice.  It’s home now to Mark Twain, Hal Roach, Ernie Davis and others.  Adjoining it is a national cemetery where there are the remains of a number of Confederate soldiers from the Civil War who perished in the notorious prisoner of war camp at Elmira.  There is history everywhere if we only look.

This is Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Evita Peron is its most famous resident.  Quite a striking sight amid the sprawl of the living city.  Maybe there is some validity in the viewer’s question…Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

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The first time I remember being truly struck emotionally by a piece of art was many years ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, long before I ever dreamt of being able to paint.  I came across this Van Gogh's IrisesVincent Van Gogh painting, one of his Iris pieces.  It seemed to literally vibrate on the wall.  I was mesmerized, to the point of nausea and a throbbing headache that made me exit the room.  

I often think about that experience, especially when I speak to high school or college classes where it seems they are more intent in their subject matter than in the way they express their emotions in the paint itself.  This piece is a merely a group of irises in a pitcher, probably a subject painted through the ages by thousands of painters.  Hardly anything earth-shaking there.  But it’s in the paint and the strokes that the emotion burns through.  The thick application of the background and the rich lines of the foliage all express much more than the mere subject.  To me, this piece is brimming with desire and heartbreak, love and anger– a spectrum of human experience. 

So I try to get kids to look beyond the subject and try to see what is really contained in the surface of any painting.  After all, a pitcher of irises may say much more than it seems.

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I am a product of television and pop culture, having spent innumerable hours as a child glued to the tube.  It was in many ways a classroom where I picked up many details about the outside world that didn’t seem to exist in my world at the time.  That may be a sad commentary but luckily, when I was growing up, many shows had moral compasses and had lessons to teach through their humor.  Shows like The Andy Griffith Show come to mind.

Well, a great part of TV watching as a kid were the Christmas specials and since today marks the start of the season I thought I’d show a clip from one of my favorites, one that started when I was a kid and one that I try to catch every year.  Great music, great story and the greatest characters– It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas.

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    “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.
Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

                         -Albert Schweizer

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Seeking Imperfection 2001

Well, it’s Thanksgiving eve and I doubt I will be able to post tomorrow so I thought I’d put up a couple of things.  This is a piece from 2001 called Seeking Imperfection which was the title piece for my show that year at the Principle Gallery.  The solitary, windblown figure is only used a few times a year in my work and remains a favorite theme for me.  He is the seeker, the existential traveler, and he represents a lot of things to me.

I choose this piece to show because it kind of brings to mind the feelings raised when I think of Thanksgiving, beyond the pleasant ones of family and feast.  There is empathy for those whose lives are a struggle and there is remorse for not having done more to help others in need.  There’s regret for feeling sorry for myself at any point when it’s obvious that there are so many who suffer much more than I ever have.  But there is the hope that we can do more in the future and that some, maybe many, will be raised up from their suffering.

Below is a video of Steve Earle’s version of Tecumseh Valley, written by the late Townes Van Zandt.  It’s a sad, heart-breaking song but maybe it will serve as a reminder that on this day of thanks we need to truly appreciate the lives and blessings we have and should not forget or forsake those who have not been so fortunate.  With that in mind, give a listen then don’t forget to extend a hand.  Donate cash, food, clothes, or your time.  Just don’t turn a blind eye…

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odd bodkins blue skies

Well, it’s the day before Thanksgiving and I’m in the studio on a wintry morning, getting ready to go to work on a couple of commissioned pieces.  I’m watching a group of deer that are laying down in the yard outside my window, not quite ready to start their day.  My studio is surrounded by woods and this is a group of deer that have occupied my property for many generations.  We get along pretty well.

I spent a little time this morning looking at some older small pieces that were done before I started showing my work publicly.  I sometimes do this when I’m starting to think about where the work might be headed in  the future, something that I focus on at this point in the year.  It’s always interesting to see how the work has progressed, how the way the pieces are painted has evolved and how some elements remain and how some stayed behind, at least thus far.

The piece above struck my eye this morning.  It’s called Odd Bodkins Blue Skies and was done in 1994.  I can see my technique coming into shape and the beginning use of what I call complex colors.  I’m very pleased by the strength and clarity of this piece.  I think it has held up very well and even though it doesn’t resemble my typical work I can see my hand in this piece.  This piece always makes me smile when I come across it.

Maybe it will spur something new for the coming year, maybe not.  But it’s part of my history and in some way remains in me.  And for that, I am thankful.  A day early…

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Thomas Wolfe Home AshevilleDuring our stay in Asheville our hotel was located directly next to the Thomas Wolfe house and memorial.  Our room looked directly down on the roof and you had the sense of hovering over it like a ghost or angel flowing over the landscape.  I wished I had heeded the advice of my high school creative writing teacher who had pointedly suggested that I needed to read Wolfe, specifically Look Homeward Angel. Of course, I had other concerns, other fish to fry, and the book sat on my shelves for over thirty years. So I stood at my hotel window, perched above his home, wishing I knew a little more about him and his life.

So I did a search and the first quote I came across struck me immediately because it spoke of exactly how I feel about effort and talent.  Talent is only valuable when used to its fullest. His quote:


If a man has a talent and cannot use it, he has failed. If he has a talent and uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he has a talent and learns somehow to use the whole of it, he has gloriously succeeded, and won a satisfaction and a triumph few men ever know

                  – Thomas Wolfe, The Web and the Rock                                                                                           

There is a book out that I referenced in my gallery talk, titled Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  He states that a common trait among highly successful people is the 10000 hour principle.  To reach the farthest reach of their talents, each put in 10000 hours at their skill, making the absolute most of their abilities.  He uses examples such as the Beatles, Bill Gates, and others.  There may be flaws in the premise and in the book itself but I think the principle is a good example of Wolfe’s quote.


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In the days after a show there is an inevitable letdown, a short time when it takes a few tries and more effort before normalcy returns and you start taking on tasks with full vigor.  I think this has to do with having been focused for a period of time on a specific goal, in this case the Haen Gallery show and suddenly that goal is gone and past.  So a new goal must be set and things that have been put aside in order to achieve the previous goal must be done.  

So I’m puttering around, prepping a few commission pieces and trying to rev my engine.  But it’s gray and damp outside and all the tunes that come on seem sad and bittersweet.  This is always how it feels after a show has passed for me.  Not good nor bad, just different.  Slower…

This song came on and seemed to fit the mood.  I looked for a video of it and sure enough, there it was.  This is I Never Really Cared For You by Willie Nelson, backed by Emmylou Harris.  Enjoy…

Note::   After I added this video, it was pulled from embedding which means it won’t show here on the page.  To see it on youtube, click here.

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Asheville: After the Show

Well, I’m back from several days in Asheville where my show opened on Saturday.  While it’s always great to attend the show and meet with the folks who turn up to see the work, it’s always a relief to be back home and to be here in the studio today.  I am a creature of habit and to be out of the studio for more than a day or so is always a little stressful.  So, I’m back in my comfort zone now…

Haen Gallery November 2008The show at the Haen Gallery started with a short gallery talk that had a pretty good crowd.  With gallery talks, you can never tell how many people will show up so I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout.  I gave a brief rundown of how I came to painting and spoke a bit about some of the themes present in the work.  The best part for me is when the audience starts to ask questions because there’s something more personal in answering a question from someone.  Lots of questions and very good ones, at that.  It was a pretty easy crowd to work with and I enjoyed my time in front of them. Hope they did as well.

  The show itself hangs very well together.  The Haen is a very large and striking space and can sometimes overwhelm smaller pieces but I think the work’s deep colors and contrasts filled the space well.  From an artist’s standpoint, it’s always a thrill to be in a space where you can sometimes have views of your work from 50 or 60 feet back in an expansive space.  It casts a much different perspective on the work than being in the studio.Before the Show with Katrina (left) and Rick (right)

 There was a pretty good crowd throughout the evening and I had an opportunity to speak with many of them.  There was also entertainment from a guitar/banjo duo playing traditional Mountain music.  I’m sorry to have forgotten their names but I enjoyed their playing very much.  Many folks I had met in the past,  such as Laurel Winter, and many were new to my work.  There were several young artists including Ronnie Beets, an interesting fellow who was seeking a little advice on getting his work out to people.  He seems very serious and dedicated in his painting and you can check out his work at his site by clicking on his name.

All in all, it was a pleasure being in Asheville.  Many thanks to gallery owner Chris Foley, his wife Christine and gallery manager Carol Bonds for all their efforts in making the show come about.  And many thanks to all who showed up Saturday.  It is deeply appreciated.

For those who couldn’t make it, stop in and take a look and say hello to Chris and Carol.

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Visible HopeThe show for the Haen Gallery is complete and now I begin to think of what I might say at the gallery about what I do, about the process and about the work in general.  It has become much more difficult to do so as the years have passed.  When I first began to do this it was easy.  I was still in contact with the public in my regular job and everything about creating my work was still forming and being thought out, still fresh in my brain.  But as time passed and my way of working became ingrained, less thought out and more instinctual,  words to express what I do and I feel about it became increasingly hard to find.  When I’m alone in the studio there is no need for words.  It’s all instinct and intuition.  Quite honestly, I usually don’t even begin to try to read anything into a painting until it is done.

But I do want to be able to talk about the work because I think it is primarily about communication, about expressing an emotion to the world.  Reaching out. 

So I try to come up with words that describe this.  But ideally, the words are moot and the work speaks for itself and people make their own connections to the paintings and see something in them that is more than I could have ever intended.  Their own hopes and dreams and lives.  To me, this is miraculous and perhaps the best part of what I do as an artist.

So I will be prepared to say a few words but hopefully the work will do all the talking.

And All Is Revealed

The show is title Now… and will be opening at the Haen Gallery in downtown Asheville, NC on November 22.  The show opens with a brief gallery talk at 5 PM and runs until 8:30 PM. 


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