Archive for February, 2009

Archaeology: The New Dawn

Archaeology: The New DawnAnother Saturday and I thought I’d show a painting from last year’s Archaeology series, The New Dawn.  This was one of the first of the series and one of the most dynamic.

I’m showing this as a sort of segue into a film clip I stumbled on.  I figured archaeology and digging around in the past would match up well for a goofy bit from my memory.

In my teens. The Gong Show was popular viewing with Chuck Barris, the Unknown Comic, Gene-Gene the Dancing Machine, a rotating cast of obnoxious celebrities(does JP Morgan really qualify?) and an endless supply of forgettable, and often downright sad, acts.

It was not Masterpiece Theatre certainly but when you’re fourteen, loud and obnoxious will suffice.

Anyway, I have this embedded memory of a group of costumed guys pulsing around the stage to The Immigrant Song from Led Zeppelin, one of those memories that you are pretty sure are less than they seem.  The kind of thing that makes you question the judgement of your brain’s selective trigger- why is thing occupying space here?  Well, on a whim I looked it up and sure enough, there it was.  Just goes to show that you can, indeed, find anything on YouTube.  I’m still not sure that’s a good thing but here is my memory.  Have a good Saturday…

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klimt-portrait-of-adele-bloch-bauerAnother artist whose work always draws my eye is that of Gustav Klimt, whose popularity continues through the success of  sales of items such as posters, prints, cards and calendars, all bearing his distinctive images.  Who hasn’t seen an image of  The Kiss on something?

For me , the attraction to Klimt’s work is in the way many of his pieces can be viewed as objects rather than a scene on a picture plane.  There is a feeling that you can be both in the painting and outside it.  This is a hard quality to describe for me.  Maybe it can best be equated to the  religious icon paintings of the Russians.

klimt_giudittaThis objectification  of his paintings has been a big influence on my work.  I have always wanted to create paintings that were as much objects as they were mere scenes on a panel.  Of course, this is done in my own way, not nearly so ornate as Klimt’s.  His influence may not even be visible in my work, nor should it as it is not a stylistic influence but rather a conceptual one.

This is just another example of how truly diverse work can inspire the artist and why it is so important for young artists to view a wide spectrum of art and artists.   There is so much to be gained from keeping an open mind and drawing as much as possible from the minds of others, in art and in life.klimt_pallas-athene 




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Exiles: Martyr

MartyrThis is another painting from the Exiles series of the mid 90’s, titled Martyr.  

As I sit here right now, I am at a loss for words to describe this piece.  While there is overt religious symbolism, for me it is not about that.  It is about self-sacrifice, giving everything for the benefit of others.  

But there is also an element that has to do with fear.

When I look at the torso of this character I see it almost as though he has had his skin removed, baring the muscles beneath.  For me, this translates as one being afraid of the consequences of exposing what lies inside.  In my mind, this martyr has been punished for showing who he truly is.

Maybe I’m describing paranoia.  Maybe it’s a form of agoraphobia or just introversion.

I don’t really know.  It’s funny that this piece that has hung above my desk for many years still perplexes me and eludes definition.  I’m sure that one would expect to know exactly what was meant when I painted this but quite honestly, when I started this piece I had no idea where it was going.  Even when the figure neared completion I was still scrambling for the true meaning.  The elements that seem to from a crucifix were not present and weren’t even contemplated at first.

So the piece remains an enigma.  Personally, I like that.  It gives me a sense that the piece is beyond the obvious which is what I hope for all my work. 

Hey, maybe that will be the title of one of this year’s shows:

Beyond the Obvious…

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And the Road Rises...Last night’s address by President Obama was, in my opinion, a bravura performance, a great piece of oratory that informed and inspired.  It was an interesting juxtaposition between the President’s speech and that of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who delivered the Republican response.  Obama spoke with great confidence in a way that treated us as adults whereas I felt that Jindal was channeling Mr. Rogers speaking to children in his neighborhood.

 I’m not a political wonk so I’m sure there will be those who will dispute this but I felt Obama effectively laid out an outline for recovery and at every turn trumped objections raised by the opposition, last night in the form of Jindal, who offered nothing more than we’ve heard from the GOP in the past eight years.  His claim that they were the party of fiscal conservatism once again seemed to ring hollow when many of the same members of  Congress who were at the forefront of the spending spree of the past administration are still there.  

There were a couple of things that stood out for me.  Obama’s assertion that dropping out of high school was no longer an option was strong.  One hopes this forceful push for education will indeed reach down and pull up  kids who are struggling within the current system and will inspire them to strive for achievement and responsibility in their lives.  We’ll all be better off in the long run if this can  be achieved.

His vow for renewable energy was music to my ears.  We have waffled on this subject for 30 years and have paid dearly for our hesitancy in moving forward on achieving a level of energy independence.  Now is the time for this type of investment in new level of energy technology.

I also liked Obama’s approach near the end when he tried to stir optimism by taking the view that while this time may present a great and dangerous challenge, it is also a great opportunity to forge a new and better future.  That’s an important perspective to maintain, in this instance and in our private lives– in every crisis there is opportunity.  Lessons to be learned.  New ways of seeing and doing things.

If life is a journey, we may sometimes find ourselves in a place where the road seems to end, seems to have little hope.  It’s at that point we must remember that the road will rise, as will we.

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Simple GloryI am asked this question at every opening:  How long does it takes to finish a painting?  

This is a question that I’ve answered a thousand times and I still have to stop and think about my answer. 

You see, there are so many variables in my painting technique at different times that sometimes the actual process can be much longer or shorter.  Sometimes I can toil over a piece, every bit of  the process requiring time and thought.  There may be much time spent just looking at the piece trying to figure out where the next line or stroke goes, trying to weigh each move.  Then there are times when the painting drops out effortlessly and I’ll look up after a very short time and realize that it’s almost complete. Any more moves from me and the piece would be diminished.

I often cite an example from a number of years ago.  I had been working on a series of paintings, working with a particular color and compositional form.  Over the course of a month, I did several very similar paintings in several different sizes from very small up to a fairly large version.  Each had a very distinct and unique appearance and feel but the technique and color was done in very much the same way.

One morning at the end of this monthlong period, I got up early and was in the studio at 5 AM.  I had a very large panel prepared  and pulled it.  Immediately,  I started on the panel.  Every move, every decision was the result of the previous versions of this painting I had executed over the past month.  I was painting solely on muscle memory and not on a conscious decision making thought process.  I was painting very fast, with total focus, and I remember it as being a total whirl.  The piece always seemed near to disaster.  On an edge.  But having done this for a month I trusted every move and forced through potential problems.

Suddenly, it was done.  I looked over at the clock and realized it had only been two hours.  Surely, there must be so much more to do.  

But it was done.  It was fully realized and full of feeling and great rhythm.  I framed the piece and a few weeks later I took it to the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. where I had shown my work for many years.  It sold within hours of arriving at the gallery.

I realized at that point that every version of that painting was a separate performance, a virtual rehearsal for that particular painting.  I had choreographed  every move in advance and it was just a matter of finding the right moment when plan and performance converge.

 It had taken a mere two hours but it was really painted over the course of hundreds of hours.

I hope you can see why I always have to think about this question…

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992-221-jpegThere is an unmarked grave in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira that contains the remains of  my great-grandmother, Nellie Myers.  She died in May of 1933 in Allentown, PA.

I always think of her as Nellie Tobin because,  when trying to find any info on her, her maiden name was the only name that brought anything at all.  Which was practically nothing.  Only a listing or two from her family in some Elmira City Directories from the 1870’s and 1880’s.

My aunt Norma is the only member of our family with any memory of her and that was when she was a young child so there is little known of her except for the circumstances of her death.  A few days after my father was born in Allentown, his grandmother, Nellie, went to the market with his sister, Betty.  Nellie sent Betty into a store and when Betty returned Nellie was gone.  It was discovered she had jumped in the Lehigh River from which she was later fished out.  Most of my aunt Norma’s memory has to do with the funeral and the bloated nature of her body after being shipped back to Elmira several days later.

My family, like many others, is full of folks like Nellie Tobin, family members who are lost in the miasma of memory.  There is little known of them and they are long forgotten.  All that denotes their existence are perhaps a death listing in the archives of an old newspaper and a headstone on their grave, if they’re lucky.  Nellie is only a name on a yellowed index card in the office at Woodlawn Cemetery.

I don’t know why I bring this up today.  Perhaps because Nellie Tobin is, for me, a symbol for the tenuousness of our lives here and how we are all pretty much destined for the anonymity of the collective memory in the future.  There’s a certain sadness in this realization.  To have all the things that  define us as vibrant living beings reduced to a cold line of writing here or there in some archive is a sobering thought, one that makes you reconsider how you live your life.

It’s only a thought.  There’s little one can do but live for today and let that distant future take care of itself.  But for my today, I’ll remember Nellie Tobin and try to imagine her existence.  Maybe she won’t seem so blue…

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The New Phoenix

dsc_0349-webI am calling this painting, for now at least, The New Phoenix.  It’s a new piece and is an extension of what I term my obsessionist work.  This is a 30″ X 40″ canvas and really seems to have a glowing vibration in the light.  

It also has the depth into the picture plane that I feel is the difference between effective and less effective paintings, particularly my own.  I’ve been looking at this piece for several days and feel that it’s a very strong example of one of my iconic images.  It has a bold look with great contrasts yet still has the calmness and quiet that I want in my work.  Strong yet thoughtful…

This piece has a certain degree of empathy that I find attractive.  I can’t quite describe what mean or how I see it- just a feeling I see in this painting.  Empathy is an important term for me, in my work and in many aspects of my life.  I want to write more about it at some point not because I want to bare some part of my self but because as a whole I think empathy is lacking in many of our lives.

But today I don’t want to go any deeper into that subject.  I just want to look at this painting a bit more before it goes out into the world alone…

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Step Back

Archaeology: Man's FootprintIt’s been a pretty busy week on the blog trail so I thought I would take a small break today.  I wanted to show the piece to the right, Archaeology: Man’s Footprint, but don’t really want to say much.  I just like this piece and find it a striking image so I thought I might share it.

Instead of going off on some tangent I thought I’d instead take a step back and share a little clip called Death Star Canteen,a monologue from Eddie Izzard.  I was shown this by my friend and dentist, Warren Eng, who I first met after I fell from my house.  This clip always cracks me up and I hope it does the same for you.

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The AngstWhen I used to enter a gallery or museum, even up until several years ago, I would be filled with a severe sense of dread and anxiety.  Angst.  The knot in the stomach.  The racing pulse. The whole thing.

I would go from painting to painting and would feel lessened because in each piece I would see something that I could not do, some technique that was not in my toolbag.  There were colors and forms that I could not replicate and all I could think was that I was somehow inferior.  

I didn’t belong.  

The resulting feelings would leave me reeling and sometimes angry, making me even more determined to create something that would validate my work.  

While this was a motivating force for many years, helping me actually find my voice, it gradually subsided over the years as I became more and more aware that I had been focusing on things I could not control and on being something I was not.

I began to see what I was.  I had an individual voice and vocabulary that was mine and mine alone.  I began to see that other artists felt about my work as I had felt about their work.  I saw that while they were doing things that I could not, the reverse was true as well.  I recognized that my voice, my technique and style, was finally mine and mine alone.  I saw that my form of expression was every bit as valid as any other artist hanging in any gallery or museum.

This was a liberating feeling.  It allowed me to go into galleries and museums and , instead of seeing what I was not, recognize the beauty of expression that was there and be excited and inspired by things other artists were doing.  Instead of coming out saying I’ll show them I was saying I can use that.  

It was merely a matter of trusting that what I saw in my own work was a true and real expression and would be visible to others.  I think this a lesson from which any viewer of art can benefit.  They must learn to trust their own instincts and reactions when looking at art.  Like my self-expression, their reaction to a work is theirs and theirs alone.  Their reaction is as valid as anyone else and no critic or gallery-owner can make a person like a piece that doesn’t move them.  When the viewer realizes that there is no right or wrong, that their own opinion is truly valid, their viewing pleasure will increase dramatically.  

By the way, the piece at the top is an old experiment from around 1994.  I always enjoy pulling it out even though it doesn’t fit neatly into my normal body of work.  No more angst.

Well, a different kind of angst…

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Paul Sample CelebrationSometimes you run across work that really hits you and you wonder, “How have I never heard of this guy before?”

The world of art is full of such people, artists who while popular in their time never have made that shift into the ongoing popular consciousness. Perhaps their style was out of step or out of favor in their time or perhaps they just never caught the big break.  One of my favorite examples is the artist Paul Sample.  paul-sample-church-supper

The poor guy doesn’t even warrant a Wikipedia page of his own.

I first saw a piece of his a number of years ago in a traveling exhibit at the Arnot Art Museum,  in Elmira.  I can’t remember the title or even all the details.  I just recall being struck by the composition and the way he framed the painting with the elements at the picture’s edge (much like he has done in the top painting, Celebration, shown here).  There was an emergence from dark to light that really presented the central part of the scene in a strong way.  

Paul Sample Janitor's Holiday I immediately went home and integrated this idea of his into my own work.  Over the years I’ve come across other examples of his work (I’ve never been able to locate the piece I saw those years ago) and am always visually excited by them.  The compositions have a wonderful triangular quality where everything more less pointed to center of the panel, allowing the eye to settle easily into the painting.  His colors have the richness and dark undertones that  really attract me as well.

As I’ve said, the art world is full of any number of Paul Samples.  They may be less known and less loved than the brighter stars in their galaxy but their work remains alive and vital, full of the potential to influence even to this day.

Give them a chance…

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