Archive for December, 2008

Caught In TimeLast day of yet another year…

I don’t want to drone on about this past year.  There are enough blogs out there doing that today and tomorrow, citing personal triumphs and failures.  Putting up their personal top ten lists of things like movies and music.  But even the most jaded and contrarian of us can’t deny it was a remarkable year in many ways, both good and bad.  

The rise of Obama and the return of the disenfranchised voter.  The virtual collapse of the world economy.   These first couple of things are so big that they seem to dwarf all other events, mainly because they signify a much different future in 2009 with wildly different expectations than those we brought with us as we entered this past  year.  2008 was a game-changer.

2008 will be the year that will be remembered in historical terms  but 2009 is really the more important year because that is when our reaction to the events of the past year start to take shape.  And how one reacts to the hardships that rise before them defines them, shows their true character and potential.  

To me, that is truly exciting.  It is an opportunity to be better and to do better.  A time to discover strengths that we thought we lacked.  A time to find and nourish a future we hadn’t even considered before this time.

Okay, it is scary.  So what?  The world is changing before our eyes and change is always filled with fear.  But if  we look at this as an opportunity perhaps those fears will recede and we will move into the future with eyes wide open and see everything available to us. 

And overcome and be better for it.

So, to 2009, I say, “Bring it on.”

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Blue GuitarI wanted to show yet another of the paintings from the Exiles series, a piece titled Exiles: Blue Guitar.  This was larger than the other paintings in the series and was the most intricate in design.  It was the only piece to show a full body, more or less.  The crimson sheets beneath the figure are certainly not typical of my work.  Even the blue guitar was an anomaly.  I think these things, in themselves, make this a distinctive painting and one that is perhaps the one piece I most regret letting go.

I remember painting this piece back in ’96 with great clarity.  The face was based on a portrait of the composer Sibelius  taken by the great photographer Karsh.  I had seen the photo at an exhibit of Karsh portraits at the MFA in Boston (where there is, coincidentally, an exhibit celebrating Karsh currently on display ) and was immediately taken with the face.  The face expressed bliss, but not joy.  A painful bliss, perhaps an ecstasy tempered by the knowledge that the world is an imperfect one and that this moment of grace is a fleeting one, soon to be gone.Sibelius by Karsh  It was exactly the expression I saw for my guitarist and one that I wanted the whole piece to convey.

This was the centerpiece of my first exhibit and remains vividly in my memory.  I hope that whoever possesses this piece appreciates all that it represents and gives this sad, blissful guitarist a bit of attention now and then.

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Waiting on the SunThis is the part of my year where I step back and take a good look at the past year, how my work developed over the year and what I felt really came across and expressed what I wanted in the paintings that I executed.  It’s also the time when I start to set my course for the upcoming year.  I start to think about possible tweaks in my work.  I try to decide what aspects of my work were exposed this past year and how I can increase the strengths and minimize the weaknesses that emerged.

I think about possible new projects.  For instance, I want to do a large detailed canvas, something much larger than I normally paint, that I will work on for the better part of the year and will document its progress on this blog.  I think there will a continuation of the Archaeology series, on a smaller basis than this past year.  I also look at work from past years to see points where my work has changed and try to determine if it might be interesting to revisit that earlier style armed with a more evolved vision and technique.Dark Gives Way

The pieces shown here are a good example of a style that I may well examine once more.  They are painted in a different way than I typically paint and, as a result, have a different look.  I only did them for a short while but I always find my eye being attracted to them whenever I look back at past work.  I see that style now and see things that would be exciting to revisit  with some new ideas.

So in the next few days I will continue to look back on the path I’ve traveled and maybe go back for a short while and find inspiration and a spark that will ignite into a new fire for the new year.Just Passing Through

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The RevelatorI find that whatever is playing in the studio, music or film, at the time I’m painting has a great influence over my work.  Songs or movies that have great dramatic impact for me often manifest themselves in my work, with me picking up their tone and rhythm and trying to lay it down in paint.

This is a great example of this trait.  It’s a painting from a few years back titled The Revelator and even takes it’s name from the song that influenced it, (Time’s) The Revelator from Gillian Welch.  This was a much played song in my studio at the time and I felt that it had emotional weight that mirrored what I was trying to get across in my work.  Wistful but warm.  Accepting of the fact that time eventually reveals what is true and what is important.

Good stuff…

Here’s the song performed by Gillian Welch.  Enjoy.

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CainI thought I’d take a moment and show this painting, Cain, another from the Exiles series that I’ve discussed in past posts.  This is a smallish piece and one of my favorites, one with which  I will never part.

He is based, somewhat, on the biblical story of the original exile, one sent from his homeland to create a new world for himself, never to return.  It is also based on the novel Demian by Hermann Hesse, a book that meant much to me when I went through a trying time years ago.  Actually, it seems a lifetime ago.

In Demian, Hesse uses the mark of Cain as a symbol for those seeking the truth in themselves.  He also discusses the dual nature of man, an idea which has had a very formative aspect in my growth as a painter.  The idea of opposing forces, light and dark,  being contained in one element, one being, always struck a chord in me.  It made sense of the struggles that I observed in myself and many others.

He also made a statement that resonated like a gigantic bell tolling for me.

Whoever wants to be born, must first destroy a world.

Without going into detail, that small sentence was a revelation.  It changed my world forever.

I realize this is a fragmented explanation of this painting and the book that influenced it.  I merely wanted to illustrate what personal meaning some pieces can have for an artist as well the serendipitous nature of moments when art and one’s real life converge.

Maybe I will elaborate in the future.  Maybe not…

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997-152-bluepeacenightWell, it’s the day after Christmas.  I always find this holiday a reflective time.  There are always a flood of memories of past holidays- moments of joy and moments that are a bit melancholy.  Memories of family and friends, past and present.

For many, it remains a small respite from the chaos and cynicism of the larger world and in this year of extreme stress throughout this planet, I say let’s not jump back into the real world too quickly.  Let the quiet of Christmas last another day…

Here’s a little song from A Colbert Christmas with Elvis Costello and Stephen Colbert singing a very sweet and wistful song that kind of sums up the holiday (note: I had originally inserted the actual video from the special but it was withdrawn on Youtube):

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On Christmas Morning

Party Lights

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home! 

                                                             ~Charles Dickens



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The Deacon's New TieThis is another painting from the Exiles series, called The Deacon’s New Tie, a piece finished near the end of the series.  It is a bit lighter and more whimsical than the other pieces in the earlier post.  He has hung in my studio for many years now and is a fine companion.  

There’s really no back story to the Deacon.  He sort of just emerged from the surface.  I had no preconception of what he would be when I started.  I remember clearly starting this piece on a blank sheet and making a nose.  Slowly, the face formed and when his eyes with their hangdog look came around I knew he was different than my other Exile characters.

The funny thing about the Deacon is that several months after the piece was done and include in the Exiles show, I came across an article in the newspaper about a 95 year-old man in central Florida who had won a case where he was trying to be forced from the land he had lived on for nearly 70 years.  There was a picture of a  bald old man sitting on his veranda, a slight smile on his lips.  There was something slightly familiar in that face, something that caused me take a second look. There it was: he was the spitting image of my deacon.

Then, reading the article, it stated that he was a longtime member of a local church and was known to friends and neighbors as the Deacon!

So, perhaps this is a portrait,  of sorts.  Either way, have a great Christmas, Deacon.   Maybe you’ll get a new tie this year- you’ve been wearing that one for about 13 years now.

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9908-233-the-entreaty-a1I think a big part of my becoming an artist was the time I spent in my childhood, not as the center of attention,  but as an innocuous observer to everything around me, all the different people and events and stories that formed a personal mythology that very much shaped the way I think and see the world to this day.  I think a lot of artists held this position as kids, the watcher standing off to the side, taking everything in.  Seizing on those details that seemed interesting and holding them, making them part of their permanent memories.  These details give their memories texture and color, giving the past a vibrance that it might otherwise lack.

For example, part of my personal mythology is in the names of family and  friends I heard as kid.  In my father’s world everyone had a nickname.  My uncles were Bucky, Coal Man and Dirty Neck.  My mother was The Foot.  My grandfather was Shank and an aunt was Moms, with a son who was called The Guinea-political correctness was not real big in this world.  They had friends with names like Punky, Snooky, Moxie, Hank the Tank, Nummy, Digger, Chubs, Squint and on and on.  These were all very average people with obscure lives but they come alive when I hear these names.

Their stories were often colorful and interesting to a little kid with open ears.  There was crime and violence, tales of prison.  Racy stories that I didn’t quite get.  Sad and tragic stories.  Some are lurid and embarrassing to even have in my memory.

But all formed my personal mythology.  Most of the stories and events are not mine but have become enmeshed in who I am.  In future posts, I will share some of this mythology, these little tales of interest, not so much to just tell the story but to get them down so that they aren’t lost as memory fades.  I hope you’ll stick around and hear some of them.  Maybe it will spark your own memories and your own personal mythology.

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A Prayer For Light  This past week I mentioned a series of paintings that I had finished in the mid 90’s called Exiles.  This series was the basis for my first solo show and remains a very prominent and personal group of work for me.  I had started showing my work publicly for the first time at the West End Gallery in Corning in February.  It was a huge first step for me.  A few months later, my mom, who lived in Florida, was diagnosed with lung cancer.  

This, in itself, was not unexpected. She had been a smoker since she 13 or 14 years old, often smoking 2-3 packs a day.  She smoked Camels.  No filters here.  Many of my childhood memories are tinged with white clouds of cigarette smoke, something that seems horrible and unthinkable now but those were different times with different sensibilities.  

A Prayer For ReliefHer struggle with her cancer was fairly short and tortuous, lasting about five months.  Her cancer had moved into her lymph system and became systemic, invading her breasts and bones.  It ended in early November of 1995.  She was 63 years old.

The feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that came from this were manifested in the faces I began to paint.  They mirrored the extreme pain we watched her endure and could do nothing to alleviate.  They were the only way that I could express the myriad feelings of that time and to this day fill me with emotion.

That is, in short, how this series came about and why I still show the work on my website.  My work has evolved over the years but  this work remains perhaps the closest to me.


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