Archive for June, 2009


einstein quote boxOkay, so I’m feeling curmudgeonly today.

I’ve got a lot of things floating around in my head and can’t get a grip on any of them.  For instance, I recently heard a sports psychologist talk about the growing trend in anxiety disorders among the younger generation of young players.  He attributes it to the players not being prepared for exposure to greater pressure because they have been raised in an environment where everyone is a winner. Everyone gets a trophy.  They have not been allowed to fail miserably and when they are faced with the possibility of this they can’t cope. 

Makes sense.

Then I hear a story about Bernie Madoff and his being sentenced to 150 years in prison for his scam.  I find myself feeling bad because I am more incensed by his crime and his evident lack of remorse than I often am for more violent, horrible crimes.  I think it must be his attitude that seems to lack all compassion for his victims.  I can understand passionate rage and violence but his cold-blooded willingness to steal the future from people he often called friends is just beyond me.  There’s something about about this betrayal of faith that seems worse than some of the most violent crimes.  And for what?  A bigger private plane?  Solid gold shoe stretchers for his platinum shoes? This was a wealthy successful man before the scam started.   So was it simply greed?  Or was it just some inner malevolence, the same sort that is at the root of all evil human deeds?  I know that watching him over the past several months, I got the same feelings one might get from watching a true war criminal, one who done the unspeakable but has rationalized it within the framework of their mind.  Calm and cold.  Unrepentant.

Doesn’t make sense.

And then I hear a tidbit from the Michael jackson saga, that he weighed something like 112 pounds at the time of his death.  Talk of drug cocktails and his own Dr. Nick character.  Further evidence of a mind trapped in a downward spiral.  A sad end to a sad story.


Okay, so I’m feeling curmudgeonly today…

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 Given to the NightI spent some time looking back over  work from the past several years this weekend.  I was just seeing how the work moved from season to season and year to year, examining how the look of the work has changed.  How the technique I use continues to evolve.  How different colors revolve in and out of the parade of work through the years.

Blue is such a color.  I love working with blue and all the different hues within its spectrum.  I like its expressive quality and the sheer beauty of the color.  It’s easy to see why so many people inevitably say that blue is their favorite color when asked.  I see this in peoples’ reactions to work that is predominately blue.

At shows, folks who have followed my work over the years will sometimes ask why I don’t paint more blue pieces.  It’s always hard to explain because it sort of defies logic.  I mean, I love working with the color.  People react very strongly to the blue work.  I have only one blue piece in the studio that came back unsold.  The works in blue always do well.

So, I should be doing more, logically.  But there’s an feeling when working with blue that is hard to explain.  I call it color intoxication.  There’s an impulse when working with a color that has such a strong reactive quality as blue, especially when your face is constantly a foot or so from the surface of the painting, to be drawn deeply into the color.  It’s almost a trancelike state.  When I’m in this state I want to only see more of this color, to the point that it becomes obsessive.  So, despite it’s positive qualities, I have to pull myself back, have to fight the desire to continue deeper into the color.  If I didn’t my work would evolve into a blue drone, abandoning all the other colors that I also love to use.  

Maybe that would be interesting as an artistic statement but I kind of doubt it.  So I fight the pull of the blue and only do one now and then, just to keep the the beast alive…

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Joseph Stella Flowers, ItalyWhen I see the paintings of Joseph Stella, particularly his modernist work, I am immediately engaged.  They seem dense and complex, almost manic in their compositional content, yet the color and symmetry have an effect that I find calming.  I often wonder how Stella viewed this work, what he felt from it.  Not in an artspeak sense.  Not academic jargon.  Just how it made him feel.

Stella (1877-1946) was an Italian immigrant to this country who has often been linked with several movements- modenism, futurism, and the precisionism among them.  There is a contradiction in this in that everything I find about him points to someone with an outsider’s mentality, someone who never felt himself a part of any group  and with an “antipathy for authority” with which I identify.  Joseph Stella Brooklyn Bridge

Maybe that’s what I see in the work.  I don’t know.  I do know that I am drawn to the boldness and beauty of it.  The strength of the lines.  The depth of the colors.  The sheer visceral bite of the  image that when taken in as a whole seems to engulf you.  Gorgeous stuff.  Work that makes me feel smaller, even tiny,  for a moment yet inspires me to want to move my own work further ahead.  To grow and expand.

Maybe that’s how I classify other’s work in my head- by how much they make me want to do better, by the way their work’s impact becomes an endpoint for me, a goal that I hope to achieve.

The work of Joseph Stella is definitely such an endpoint.  Now I must work…

joseph stella fountainjoseph stella old brooklyn bridgejoseoh stella

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UkuleleI always feel like I’m cheating a bit when I come across something in another person’s blog and end up using it in my own.  But when I saw these guys I knew I was going to have to use them as soon as possible. 

They’re the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and they are just what the name implies: a band of uke players.  They play great covers of unlikely songs.  The theme from Shaft.   The Good, the Bad  and the Ugly.  Should I Stay or Should I Go.  From rock songs to classical standards, all done with a mix of tongue in cheek virtuosity.  They’re currently working on a mass version of Ode to Joy that will be performed in August in London.  If you’re going to be in London and want to play along, check out their website and you too could be strumming out Ludwig’s eternal music along with hundreds or thousands of others.

If not, at least enjoy a little Smells Like Teen Spirit

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Michael JacksonI wasn’t going to post anything on the untimely death of Michael Jackson.  There is going to be an over abundance of coverage and everything, good and bad, associated with the man will be examined to the tiniest detail.  There was already an excess amount of coverage of his life while he was living and I felt that I didn’t need to add to it.

But I caught a few moments of his performance of Billie Jean from the Jacksons’ 30th Anniversary special and found myself once more mesmerized by his movement.  It was something that had been lost in my mind, overpowered by the coverage of all the bizarre details of  his apparent flaws.  

But there was magic in this, particularly in the first few minutes.  The sheer mastery of his movements and the way he pulled us in was powerful and I found myself moved in a way I hadn’t imagined.   It’s hard to look away. 

Perhaps he was a flawed human.  But as an artist, if you are, as they say, as good as your best work, Michael Jackson was brilliant…

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Bela Lugosi as DraculaMaybe it’s a sign of advancing age or just detachment from youthful society at large, but I am totally mystified by the romanticization of vampires in things like the Twilight series of books and movies or the True Blood series on HBO.  While I know there was a certain charisma that went along with Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula in the films of the 30’s and 40’s and maybe a little with the vampire-based soap opera of the early 70’s, Dark Shadows, I suspect the current fascination with all things vampirish really took off with Ann Rice and her books.

Okay, so people enjoy the books and movies and find the lore and drama of it all interesting.  I can see that.  But why do people feel the need to try to adopt the lifestyle of vampires?  What does someone see that compels them to dress and act like vampires and even have dental work done to give them fangs?  What is it in this world of bloodsucking that they find so much more appealing than their normal lives, to the point they make it the focal point of all they are and do?  

It seems to be a recent phenomena.  I can’t imagine that there were groups of youths in the 1930’s who dressed in Dracula-like black capes and dark eyeliner, sulking around their parent’s homes and muttering under their breath in an affected Romanian accent.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe, but I doubt it.

Maybe there is nothing wrong in this.  Maybe there’s something to be said for trying to become more like the characters we see in movies and read about in books.  Maybe I’m being too critical and should have a more open opinion.  I mean, I do have a beard and I did like Lon Chaney, Jr. as the doomed Larry Talbot in those werewolf movies…

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Fire Sale

sanford-for-presidentWell, I guess these things will be priced to sell now…

Normally, I don’t like to comment in this space about the political world and most of its denizens.  Those who come here aren’t looking for that and I’m not that comfortable expressing my political views, not that they’re far from mainstream.  But there were a couple of things that came to mind when watching Mark Sanford‘s press conference yesterday.

I take no pleasure in watching a person whose  life that has been apparently unraveling for some time have to make public disclosure of his shortcomings, regardless of how far apart we may be on the political spectrum.   I have only sympathy for his family and the public hell they’ll be enduring for the next few weeks.

But I will never understand the egos of these guys who live such public lives and think their infidelity and duplicity will not at some point be exposed, putting the very people they hold up on the campaign trail as their greatest treasure through this particular hell.  Particularly those who portray themselves as pillars of virtue.  There must be some sort of law floating around in the ether that if a politician proclaims his own righteousness and makes judgements on the shortcomings of others then he is destined to have his own mistakes and faults exposed. The Rule of Political Karma. 

I know that Sanford was not a true fire and brimstone guy, not a bible pounder.  Even so, there was this image of virtuousness that was always pushed when he was discussed.  He was bound to fall to the Rule of Political Karma.

But it wasn’t Sanford or his actions that bothered me yesterday.  His actions and the way his family life fell apart are everyday occurrences, unfortunately.  We see this all the time in our lives.  Maybe not in such so public a forum.

No, it was listening to the commentators and other politicos afterwards.  Words were thrown around like heroic, courageous, brave, and so on to describe Sanford’s performance.  It made my stomach turn.  The brave thing would have been coming forward weeks ago before he bugged out to Argentina, which drew the collective eye of the nation to his personal life.  There was nothing courageous in his press conference yesterday.  He had no other option, no choice.  He had put himself into a position where this was inevitable.  It was not an act of courage.

Maybe I’m being too picky about the words used.  It’s just the fact that they feel the need to elevate a trapped man’s obligatory confession into some sort of heroic deed that puts a burr in my saddle.  Bad decisions and dumb moves are not made heroic by saying, “I screwed up.”

Anyway, I know a guy who has some t-shirts.  Cheap…

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Poole Early MeltI am currently in the process of getting ready for my annual show at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY.  This exhibit, titled Dispatches, is my ninth solo show at the gallery which was the first gallery to exhibit my work, starting back in 1995.  

For the past several years at the West End, the show that is hanging in the month or so before my show is from one of my favorite artists,  Martin Poole, who also lives in this area.  Marty’s work is always beautiful, with wonderful handling of the paint and luminosity in his colors.  There is little he can’t do with a brush and it shows in all the genres he paints.

Poole CassandraHis landscapes are filled with light and space, often immense, complex  skies that fill the picture plane.  His portraiture goes beyond traditional portrait painting.  For Marty, it’s not enough to paint a superb representation of the subject- it’s more important to have them be mere components in a beautiful composition, which makes for a more interesting viewing experience for all.  Marty’s unique eye comes through in everything he paints and other painters usually just sigh resignedly when they look at his stuff.Poole Long Talk

I know I have on more than one occasion.

It’s always a daunting task to follow Marty’s show at the West End.  His shows are always filled with beautiful, strong work that draws raves and oohs and aahs.  You never want to be the one who comes in with a lackluster show after Marty sets the bar a little higher each year.  So, I work a little harder after I see his show each year and hope I can match his consistency and his obvious commitment to his work.  It’s the sort of pressure that some artists don’t enjoy, having to follow the show of a highly skilled and well known artist.  I can’t say I enjoy it but I know it provides an impetus to continue striving, to continue to grow my work.  For that alone, it’s a pleasure to follow the Martin Poole show.

You can see the work of Martin Poole in a number galleries throughout the country including the West End in Corning and the the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA.  His current show at the West End hangs until July 18.

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Soft Dream of NightIt’s one of those Tuesdays.  I read things on the web and end up gritting my teeth at the intractability of people on both sides of any issue.  Some try to convince you of the truth and rightness of their cause through anecdote, giving dramatic accounts of single events with the hopes that this episode will sway you into seeing the world as they do.  I’m referring to a blog that had a debate on healthcare (among other things) where an anonymous comment came in decrying the horrors of the Canadian healthcare system, illustrating his point by saying he “heard” this past weekend of a story of a patient in Canada who had need of emergency colon surgery and waited three days for an operating room to open up and was finally operated on with only local anesthesia as orderlies held him down.

 When I read that all I could think of was a Seinfeld episode where Kramer, upon telling of a story he heard about Raquel Welch where she climbed the stage scaffolding and began pelting the stagehands below with spotlights, ended by saying “Something like that, it’s just gotta be true!

I am always amazed at the willingness of people to believe so much that they see or hear, no matter how far-fetched, if it serves their own point of view or self interest.  I guess that’s what separates us from the animals…

Anyway, I need something that makes me smile and this song from Canned Heat has always done that for me.  This  is Going Up the Country… 

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Face Jugs

Face JugYears ago I sold a painting to a lady who was working in Corning.  I can’t remember what she was doing at the time exactly but she had a thick German accent so I asked where she was from and what brought her to this part of the world.  It turns out she was from Austria and had originally came here as an anthropologist studying Appalachia.

It kind of surprised me because I never really thought of our area as Appalachia, especially in the stereotypical terms the word conjures up.  But as we talked I saw the thread that tied us to the mountain culture.  Our area has a rural feel and driving through the hills you get the feeling that you could be driving in the Tennessee or Kentucky hills, not New York.Face Jug

Unfortunately, we don’t have some of the better traditions of the Appalachian culture.  For instance, the pottery face jugs like the one shown.  Face jugs evolved through the slave culture of the south as a means to deter evil spirits from the graves of the dead so that they might get to heaven.  They also served as a sort of gravestone for the living as the graves were not generally marked.  

The tradition of making face jugs has continued in Appalachia and there are families that are in the fourth and fifth generation of jug making.   Like any other art form, there is a wide spectrum of face jugs.  Some maintain the roughness of the early slave jugs while others have become more polished, with a contemporary feel that definitely takes a new course from the early pieces.  There are some that walk the line between the originals and the work of highly skilled potters.  These jugs are usually done by potters who are self taught or learned the craft from a family member and usually have a certain individual style.Wayne Hewell Face Jug  Kind of like this one from Wayne Hewell, who is part of a multi-generational jug making family in North Carolina, that is done with a swirl of lighter clay running through the jug.  I have one of the brothers to this particular jug and he sits on the fireplace of my studio.  I call him Clem and so far he’s done a pretty good job keeping the evil spirits away. Devil Face Jug

But if I think he’s slacking off I might have to get a Devil Face Jug just to remind him what he’s trying to keep out of the studio.

I’m watching you, Clem…


Face jugs 1850

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