Archive for July, 2009

milwaukee fireLast night on the NBC Nightly News, there was a segment, part of their Making a Difference series of feel good stories about people helping out others, that was a follow-up to the story from a week or so ago where the off-duty Milwaukee firefighters rescued a family trapped in an overturned and burning minivan. 

It was the story of how the firefighters’ wives went on the offensive to raise funds for the victims of the crash, one of which was a young boy who suffered burns over 30% of his body.  It seems they were uninsured and going through financial difficulties, so the costs of the intensive therapies and surgery needed for their son’s care would inevitably overwhelm them.

I was thrilled and heartened to see such unity in the way the community came together to raise money for this family’s hardships, just as I’m sure NBC hoped I would be.  But after a moment I was angry.  This was the face of the debate that’s currently going on in this country concerning healthcare.  Sure, I’m glad that there are good people out there who are willing to step up and help out those who need it but what happens when there is nobody stepping up, nobody taking the time to look out for those in trouble?  This family would have been put into a financial hole out of which they may have never been able to escape.

I know from personal experience how this works.  When I had the accident that enabled my painting career to bloom, where I fell from the peak of my home and shattered my wrist and knocked out my front teeth, I was uninsured.  My very first thought on hitting the ground and getting to my feet, as blood poured out of my nose and mouth and I saw my wrist with two 90 degree bends in it, was, “Oh, shit.  I won’t be able to work.  How can I pay for this?”  I remember that moment from seventeen years ago as though it were this morning and I remember that sense of dread and worry more than I remember the pain.

I also remember the doctor who set my wrist saying that normally he would perform surgery on such an injury then looked at the paperwork and asked again if I was insured.  He kind of frowned when I said no and said he would simply manipulate the shards with his fingers and shape them, putting them back into place.  It should be okay , he said, and so far it has.  It is rough with more bumps and edges than my other wrist and there is occasional discomfort but it’s been okay.  I ran into another orthopedic surgeon in a gallery years later and told him of  my story.  He felt my wrist and said that it probably should have had surgery but that my doctor had done a pretty fair job.  Said I was lucky.

Now, mine is a story with a fairly happy ending though it was a huge burden to pay off the several thousand dollars of medical bills even without the surgery.  My wrist is relatively good.  But what if it was not?  It always bothers me that, at that moment, when a decision needed to be made that could affect the rest of my life, it came down to the matter of whether or not I had insurance.  I can’t imagine being the parents of the kid in the minivan and wanting only the best for their boy but knowing it would hamstring them financially , maybe forever.  The dread and worry I felt in those seconds after I fell would be nothing to what they must feel.

And that’s just not right…

Now I don’t have answers.  I don’t have data and facts to spew out and this is simply a couple of anecdotes.  But to say that we should maintain the status quo or that we can’t do a better job is just wrong.

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Early Bruce

Bruce Springsteen 1975I’m on the road today so I’ll fill with a little story.

When I was seventeen years old I left high school early, in January.  I guess I graduated.  I had enough credits, had fulfilled all the requirements.  Never went to a ceremony, never received a diploma.  I had had enough school at that point.  I was adrift in my life.  No real goals to speak of.  Oh, I had desires and dreams but no direction, no guidance.

At some point, I decided i would move to Syracuse and work for my brother, putting in above-ground swimming pools, but that wouldn’t start until April so I had several months to kill.  Free time.  I spent most of my time reading or watching TV or just driving around.  One day in February, I stopped in at the local OTB (that’s off-track betting, by the way) and bet my last eight dollars on the ponies at Aqueduct.

Good fortune was with me that day and I won, hitting the daily double and walking away with something like $ 130.  I called Cheri, my girlfriend (and now my wife) and asked if she would be interested in going out.  There was a guy playing tonight at the Arena in Binghamton who I had heard a little about.  I had his first two LPs and they were alright.  Might be interesting and I had money burning a hole in my pocket.  His name was Bruce Springstone, Springstein- something like that.

So we went to Binghamton.  We got there about an hour before the show and it seemed so different than other shows we’d been to at that time, the mid-70’s.  It was so quiet.  People were lined up but it was almost silent, like there was this heavy air of anticipation.  We still needed tickets so we headed to the box office.  I asked the lady behind the glass for the best seats she had and after a moment she slid me two tickets.  I looked at them then asked if she had anything better.  She laughed and said no, these were pretty good.  They were third row, just left of centerstage. 

I did say that I was seventeen, right?

Inside, it was so quiet still as we took out seats.  There weren’t the screams of drunk kids nor the pungent clouds of pot smoke.  Just that heavy air of anticipation.  The people around us kept nervously looking at the stage, waiting.  We had no idea what to expect but our interest was being piqued.  Finally, the roadies cleared the stage and the arena went black.  The first Bruuuces filled the air.

The lights came up and there they were, only feet away.  Bruce was in a white collarless shirt buttoned at the neck and a vest with a woolen sport jacket.  Miami Steve ( Silvio for those of you who know him from the Sopranos) was dressed in a hot pink suit with a white fedora. And directly in front of us, resplendent in a white suit that seemed to glow in the lights was the Big Man himself, Clarence Clemons, his sax glinting gold.

It was overwhelming for someone not knowing what to expect.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen to that time.  It was pure sonic nirvana with the thump of Mighty Max’s bass drum rattling my sternum and the Big Man’s soaring sax lines.  But more than that was the sheer effort that was put out by Springsteen.  It was the first time I had seen someone so committed to what they did.  It really mattered to him.  It seemed that all that mattered at that moment for him was to get across that space to the people in that arena.  He dove across the stage.  He clambered onto speakers.  He gave everything.  By the end of the show, some three and a half hours later, he appeared to have been dragged from a river.  He was soaked from the top of his boots to the top of head and when he played his Telecaster, his hand on the neck of the guitar would fill with a pool of  sweat.  

Several years later I ran into a person who had been at that show and when I told him my luck at getting such great seats he greened with envy.  We then both agreed that our favorite moment was when they did a cover of the Animals’ It’s My Life.  We didn’t really know one another but we both gushed about how that song had moved us, had changed our lives in some small way.  I still carry that image and when I hear that song I am suddenly 17 years old again.  And ten feet tall with the world at my feet because it was my life and I’d do what I want…

That’s my first Bruce story.

Here’s Backstreets from just a few months earlier than the show I was at.  Enjoy.

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Going Up CountryWell, the show is up and hanging, with paintings like the one shown here, Going Up Country,  at the West End Gallery and will do so through the end of August.  The next items on my agenda are a few small events but things that matter to me.

For instance, tomorrow I head out to Erie, PA, to see my friends, Kathy and Joe DeAngelo, at the Kada Gallery to drop off a few new pieces and to just touch base, to talk about where the work is headed and to see how their clients are viewing the work lately.  It’s always helpful to get this type of feedback because every gallery is a little different in its preferences for the work it sells.  It’s important to make sure that the work you give them is the sort of work to which they are most attracted and feel best about when talking about the work.  The enthusiasm the gallery staff has for your work comes across when they are dealing with their clients and that’s vital because so many people need support and validation for their choices, especially with art which is so subjective.

Kathy DeAngelo is definitely enthusiastic.  She has carried my work from the very earliest days, building a very nice following for my work in a relatively small market,  and has always offered tremendous encouragement.  She wants to know as much as possible about the work I bring to her- the motivation behind it, what I see in it and so on.  It helps her in passing along info along to her clients and gives the work a better sense of fullness.  I know that she will always represent my paintings in the best possible manner.  

During my drive out to Erie I will spend my time starting to think about my upcoming Gallery Talk at the West End next Thursday, August 6.  This is an annual event there and one that is often a lot of fun.  For the new attendees, I always offer a quick overview of how I came to be a painter and how the work has evolved over the years and for those who have been there in the past I try to share something new.  For instance, the story behind a painting that may not be obvious when looking at it.

 So, during the quiet ride out to Erie (and, believe me,  going through western NY on Rte. 86 is a quiet ride with very little traffic) I will let my mind drift over different subjects that I might want to speak about.  Hopefully, it will be something that has at least a little interest to my friends at the talk next Thursday.

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Holbein-SirThomasMoreYou run across a lot of people who are completely dismissive of anything from the past.  They feel that we at the moment are the leading edge of humanity’s progress, that we are the culmination of all that has come before us and thus, anything created long before our time can not have equal value  now.  There’s this sense that only the modern can fully express the complexity of our world.

When I see this painting of Sir Thomas More painted by Hans Holbein in around 1527 I realize what  flawed logic that is.  

Here is a painting that was painted nearly 500 years ago that, when seen in person at the Frick in NYC, has surfaces that are absolutely beautiful.  It still glows with its sumptuous colors.  All the years of technical progress have not produced materials that could accomplish any more than Holbein did with the materials of his time.

holbein_henryviiiI could stand and look at this piece for hours, marveling not only at the beauty of the paint but at the way Holbein captured More’s humanity and the sense of the time in which it was painted.  For me, this painting really illustrates, gives life to, an important figure in history.  More was the ultimate man of conscience, refusing to give in to Henry VIII‘s will that he endorse Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon so that he might marry Anne Boleyn.  It ultimately cost him his head and cost the world a wonderful mind, one that gave us the concept of Utopia.

It is obvious to me that Holbein felt warmly towards More in the way the piece is painted and the way he captures his persona.  In the painting Holbein  did of Henry VIII (on the left) I get a different sense.  It’s meant to be large and strong, to be a display of regal power and that it is.  But there’s a coldness in the piggish eyes and an arrogance in the stance.  Oh, it’s a beautiful painting, on many levels, but when you compare the two it’s obvious where Holbein’s sympathies lay.

This is art and history coming together at single points.  It captures the humanity that is contained in all of us and remains unchanged even to the edge of our time.  Good stuff.  No, great stuff…

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stingray_deluxe I had an old friend show up at the opening of my show at the West End on Friday night, someone I had not seen in thirty years or more.  Near the end of the opening I looked up from a conversation and saw a familiar face grinning at me, a face that I knew immediately even with thirty years added.  It was Jim Langdon.  Jimmy.  Langoose.

Just seeing him triggered floods of memories from my childhood on Wilawanna Road near Chemung, NY, in the 60’s and 70’s.   It was, as I have said before, a different time and on summers mornings like today I would have been up and out of the house by eight o’clock in the morning, heading up the road on my faithful Huffy Stingray, looking for some sort of adventure.  My little Huffy was to me  like Rocinante,, was to Don Quixote- she wasn’t pretty but she took me to faraway (relatively) places.

The kids of that era had a much larger range to investigate and more freedom to do so.  On many days I would be out of the house by eight in the morning and not return until evening and might find myself many miles away in any direction, driving through all sorts of roads and traffic without helmets or protection of any sort.  We had no idea that there were even such things then.  I can’t imagine today’s children being given such leeway, such freedom to investigate life without the watchful eye of an adult always being present.  The freedom to make decisions on your own behavior and see the results, good or bad.  We probably weren’t as safe in many ways as today’s kids but we were more independent, more aware that there was a world outside the one that constantly revolved around us at home.  And I don’t think that’s a bad tradeoff. 

Seeing Jimmy instantly brought back those moments of adventure and fun and yes, sometimes danger and reminded me how much freedom one little golden stingray bike could bring to a kid.  I smiled like an idiot and we reminisced for a while.  Can’t wait to do it again.

Anyway, that’s that.  Now, you kids get the hell off  my lawn…

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Sunday Quiet

Calm SummoningSunday morning.  Quiet.  

There’s always a certain stillness on Sunday mornings.  Very little traffic as I walk down our long driveway to get the paper.  Hardly anything stirring.

I always enjoy these mornings, always feel as though I have the world to myself.   Like the quiet is all mine.

Big quiet.

Here’s an older song from Chris Isaak.  Same feel.  This is from the Tonight Show from 1992 so it looks a little dated.  Enjoy…

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Higher Thought Well, we had the opening for my solo show last night at the West End Gallery and I’m pretty happy with the results so far.  The turnout was very good which, for a summer opening, is somewhat surprising given the multitude of things going on  and the  number of people heading out to the lakes or out of town.  The response from those in attendance was great and I was able to get a lot of feedback.  Most, including gallery owner Linda Gardner, thought it was the best show I’d had at the West End ( this is my ninth there) and they may be right.  

I am very pleased with the show.  It fills the space nicely and Lin hung the work to its best advantage. The gallery’s lighting made the surfaces glow, giving the pieces real depth.  I think the work itself was very consistent in strength and had many paintings that reached out equally to viewers, pieces that might be the stars of other shows.  Just a very good group.

My favorite comment of the night came from an older couple from out of the area who said, ” You go to so many galleries and just when you think you couldn’t see something new and fresh, we come across this.”   Always good to hear.

So, it went well.  The show continues to hang at the gallery until the end of August so if you’re in the Corning area this summer stop in and check out pieces like the one show above, Higher Thought.

Now I’m left to find my next goal, my new point on the horizon that I can work for.  This will occupy my thoughts for the next few weeks as I putter around doing things around my studio and my home.  It’s an odd time.  There’s this emotional letdown after a show opens and if the show doesn’t meet one’s expectations it can last for quite a while.  But if the show goes well and rises up to your hopes, there’s a momentum of sorts that propels you past the post-show funk and onto the new road going forward, which is exciting and energizing.

So far, I think I will be going forward.  And that’s a good thing…

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Song of Self    Well, another show day has come around.  Tonight’s opening is at the West End Gallery in Corning,  kind of my home gallery.  It’s in my home area and was the first gallery to show my work so there’s a certain sentimental attachment.  You always want to do well on your home field.  

Normally, this creates a certain tension, some nervousness.  But as I wrote about my earlier show this year, I’ve tried to shake off these jitters.  If I’ve done the work and feel I’ve done my utmost then there’s nothing to be worried about.  How folks react is beyond my control and to feel stress over it is a waste of energy.  Besides, I do feel that this is a very strong group of work.  

That being said, there’s still a little anxiety, mainly over just having to talk about my work.  I try to remind myself to not overtalk, something I tend to do when I’m nervous.  I babble on a little more than I should, sometimes speaking but saying little just to fill the pauses in the conversation.  I try to remind myself to listen more.  Like any situation, my openings always go best when I let the natural pauses occur and just listen to what the people are saying to me.  It’s a lesson I learned in sales many years ago.  If you just listen, the person you’re dealing with will tell you what is important to them.  And knowing this makes your conversation all that much better.  For instance, if a person reveals that their attraction to your work is because of the emotional impact, they may not want to hear the technical details of how a piece was painted.  They probably want to know more of the intent behind the painting and how I view the piece.  

Knowing how to speak to people’s differing needs is an important part of  the opening and sometimes I do it well and sometimes I miss my mark.  So, today I keep reminding myself to listen and give each person who wants to talk my full attention.  If they make the effort to come out to my show, then that is the least they deserve.

The piece above is Song of Self and is part of tonight’s show.  It’s a very simple composition, one that I’ve done in a few versions over the years.  It’s meant to be a piece where the the quiet of the scene is highlighted by its contrast to the texture and color in the painting itself.  The sky in this piece has great texture and brings a deeper visual interest to areas of the painting that may not immediately register when the piece is first seen.  I like this piece a lot.

You can see this painting tonight at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY.  The opening for this show, Dispatches, starts at 5 PM and runs to 7:30.  If you want to talk stop in and I will listen…

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jon-stewartI normally don’t have two posts in the same day but I had to comment on a story I just read where, in an online poll taken by Time  (click on to see the results and map), Jon Stewart prevailed as the most trusted newsman in America.  And not by a small margin.  He topped the closest newsman, NBC’s Brian Williams, by a whopping 15%.  

I had written in an earlier post how sad it was that with the passing of Walter Cronkite went the idea of having a newsman who acted as our conscience, who tried to give us the news in a way that best served our needs as a country.  After writing that, I realized that sadly, the only person who might fit this niche was Jon Stewart.  He skewers hypocrisy from both sides and doesn’t seem beholden to any group or ideology.  Oh, there’s a liberal bias but it is tempered with common sense and an idea of right and wrong.  

He also brings a sense of respect for each side to the debate at hand.  It’s not unusual to have representatives from either side of any debate and never does it devolve into a screechfest.  But at the same time there is often real info and real commentary passed along.

While I don’t know if this a good or thing, it should serve as an example to those who finished below Stewart.  I think somewhere right now, Walt is smiling.

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barack-obama-birth-certificate_You know, I must have not been paying attention in the last few months because I thought  everything that needed to be said about Obama’s birth certificate had been said a year ago.  Now the media is filled with these birthers, people who cling to their misguided beliefs that Obama is indeed  the product of some long range conspiracy to overthrow their country.

It’s insanity.

I almost feel sympathy for these people because it seems that they are reeling out of control.  The election of Obama turned everything in their world upside down and they just can’t come to grips with the reality before them, that their country is being led by a black man.  

The latest example is the lady  who stood up at a Delaware Republican’s town hall meeting and ranted that Obama was not a citizen, that her father was part of the greatest generation that fought in WW II and that she wanted her country back.  A good portion of the conservative crowd cheered her on as she waved her birth certificate and a small flag.  It was all pretty sad that this remains such an  emotional trigger for this group of people.  But sadder still was how feebly the speaker at the dais tried to convince them that Obama was indeed a citizen.

Watching it, it became evident that the crisis was not the question of where someone was born.  No, the crisis is that there are very few  politicians with real guts, willing to step forward and tell these people to get over this deluded idea, to take this energy and put it to better use in working to make our  country better.  Instead we get the media and gutless politicos who only serve their own self-interest by stroking this sad lot, allowing this to grow into a diversion that takes away focus from real problems.  

It’s this same gutlessness that will prolong our country’s problems.  The first priority of too many politicians is an allegiance to themselves and their party, not the best interest of the country.  And that’s just wrong on so many levels…

Anyway, as much as I dislike talking about this stuff, it must be said: Get over it.

Here’s a clip that shows the incident I spoke about along with some commentary that pretty much echos mine:

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