Archive for July, 2009

bacon-reece-mews-studioOne of the chores I have around the studio this time of the year is to restore a little order.  The year is a little over halfway over and in painting for the two solo shows I do each year that open in June and July, my studio environment can get a little disheveled, papers piled up and paint tubes, bottles and brushes everywhere.  Half-done canvasses, some started with a fire of inspiration that suddenly  dwindled midway and now await renewed  interest, lean against every available wall.  Books are stacked in piles waiting for the day when I can sit down and just read.  

It’s not as bad as it was in my old studio in the woods.  It was smaller and all my different processes including framing, staining and matting, were done in one compact space.  That was infinitely more messy and about this time every year, I found the clutter made concentrating in the studio more and more difficult.  The mess created a kind of static in my thinking.

bacon_study1953Now, the studio shown above is that of Francis Bacon, the late Irish born artist best known for his Expressionistic work that is often viewed as violent and disturbing.  I remember seeing these photos years ago and feeling so much better about my studio.  The huge black paint stain on my floor didn’t seem so bad.  But I wondered if I could function in his space.  I guess the concentration required to block out the mounds of debris would have to be incredible.  Maybe that is part of the painting obsession- to be so engrossed in what is before you that all else is pushed far off into the background.  Bacon did view his painting as an obsession, saying, “I have been lucky enough to be able to live on my obsession. This is my only success.”  

Bacon was an incredibly interesting character and one whose words often ring true for me.  He was self taught and talked in terminology that I understand, earthy and straightforward.  Very little artspeak.  

The piece shown here is one of my favorites, Study After Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, and is very representative of the style of much of his work.  You can find a lot on Bacon and his work online.

Anyway, I’ve got some cleaning to do or my studio will start to look like this…



I have been lucky enough to be able to live on my obsession. This is my only success.

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DispatchesThis is the title piece from my show, Dispatches, which opens this coming Friday, July 24, at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY.

This painting has a lot of motion in it from the leaves and bend of the limbs on the trees to the way the color seems to move over the texture of the sky.  It’s a pretty simple composition that allows the motion and color to take center stage although I still believe the strength of this piece comes from how one sees the central message, which is contained in its title, Dispatches.

It’s primarily about our interaction with the world and how much we’re willing to give of ourselves.  What we send out into the world.  Our intentions shape our actions and our actions define us.  

What message are you sending out to the world?

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Apollo 11 MoonwalkToday is the 40 year anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, back in the turbulent world of 1969.  It was an incredible testimony to our ability as humans to create a huge goal and come together to achieve that goal, facing and overcoming obstacles.  At a time when our country appeared to be tearing apart at the seams, the moon landing, for a moment, brought us together in a unified spirit.

There’s a certain symmetry in this anniversary and the passing this past week of Walter Cronkite, the legendary CBS broadcaster.  Cronkite, unanimously hailed  as the Most Trusted Man in America, was the very symbol and voice of this collective American spirit.  A sort of arbiter of conscience for the country.  You had the feeling that when Walter spoke, it was as the voice of America as we wanted our country to be.  There was never a feeling of him pressing his own agenda, his own partisanship.  It was never bitter and judgmental.  He gave us the information we had to hear and when he did speak editorially, it was only in our best interest.

I’m sure many would call this naive, that we have so much more access to information and news today with all the technology at our disposal.  There’s no disputing that.  We are inundated with every bit of data available to the point that we are floundering in minutiae.  We have so much more information and so many differing, partisan outlets for this info.   But where is our filter, our collective conscience?  Are we better served by our access to so much data or are we constantly splintered and misdirected by those who pass on their versions of the truth of this info? 

Last night, on a tribute to Cronkite, somebody said that there will never again be a person who could be called the Most Trusted Man in America and that perhaps that was a good thing because it would be such a dangerous thing to have someone with so much power over the viewpoint of so many.  For a moment I agreed then a sort of sadness swept over me from the realization that we have come to such a point where we have been so often deceived and taken advantage of that we now cynically believe that no one could possibly serve our best interest collectively.  It made me realize that perhaps in 1969, even as our country seemed in the death throes of turmoil, that we were closer to being a united nation than we now are today.

cbs_cronkite69moonwalkSo, it is with a wistful nostalgia that I look back to that day in 1969 and that look of sheer delight and childlike wonder on Walter Cronkite’s face when that space ship landed because, although I consider myself often naively optimistic, I don’t really want to look forward today.

It’ll have to wait until tomorrow…

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 The Dark Blue Above  This is a new piece that’s titled The Dark Blue Above.  It’s very much about atmosphere and feel, very much about the weight of the sky and the potency of color and texture that give it a certain presence.  I think the simplicity of the overall composition enhances this feeling.

Makes me think again of my own smallness, my own insignificance in this world and this universe.  It’s a catalyst and sets me thinking on the nature of all things.  How? Why?

I guess that’s all I can ask out of a piece of work.  

This piece is past of Dispatches, my solo show at the West End Gallery that opens July 24.

On this Sunday morning here’s a song from Johnny Cash that sort of fits the feeling of the painting…

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Gather the Light Well, I’ve delivered the work for my show that opens this coming Friday, July 24th, at the West End Gallery in Corning.  

It’s always a bit strange those first few days after the studio is emptied of a great deal of work.   The pieces had maintained a presence here for months, filling the space with a sort of life force,  then suddenly, they’re gone.  It always takes a few days for me to recover my equilibrium, to refocus, after I face the empty studio.  I try to find a new destination, try to think of when and where the next step will be taken.

It’s as though, in preparing for a show, I am racing down a road towards a fixed point that looms on the horizon.  As I near the deadline, the focus makes the road  seem narrower and narrower.  That fixed point is all that I can see.  Then, upon delivery, it’s like I have burst through that point of destination and a whole new horizon suddenly opens before me in all directions.  There’s a period of gathering one’s bearings, taking in all the possibilities of this new landscape I’m faced with.

And that’s where I find myself this morning.  Horizons in every direction.  The feeling of potential is wonderful but behind it there is always a nagging fear of making the wrong move, choosing the wrong direction.  It’s a fear of freedom, the same type described by Erich Fromm in his book, Escape From Freedom, from the early 1940’s.  He basically (it’s much more in depth than I’m going to paraphrase) said that while everyone craves total freedom, few are prepared for the self-responsibility that comes with it.  Most feel the need for guidance of some sort.

A point on their horizon. A destination.

So, here I am today.

The painting at the top, Gather the Light, is part of the West End show.  It’s a piece that I very much like for many reasons.  I think there’s a certain dynamism to the color and light that gives it real oomph.  While there is this dynamic feel, it doesn’t betray the quietude and introspective nature of the piece.  I like that tension between these two aspects of the painting.  It creates a layer of interest that is really felt and not seen.

Hopefully, other will feel this as well…

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The Recalling Reinvention.

What I was is not what I am and what I am is not necessarily what I will be.

We’re fortunate to have such an opportunity, to be able to change and evolve over our lives.  To be able to show the world other and new facets in our prisms.  The only question is why do some people take this opportunity to reinvent themselves and other do not?

I thought about this the other day when I was in the studio, prepping work for my next show. I was listening to Van Lear Rose, an album from a couple of years back from Loretta Lynn, the Queen of Country Music.   It’s a great album with Jack White of  White Stripes fame  producing and playing.  The songs have Loretta’s unmistakeable signature voice and songwriting but have a new feel.  A little more edge and a little less twang.  A new side to Loretta.  She took the opportunity, when it presented itself,  to step forward and change.

But what about those who don’t?  Why don’t they continue to evolve?   Are they simply satisfied with where they are?  In music this is pretty common, guys playing the Oldies circuit, performing the same songs that they made popular when they were 18 years old.  Perhaps the opportunity to change never showed up.  Maybe they felt safe in staying in their tried and true routine of rehashing the past.   No risk there.

Who know?  I surely don’t but I do know that this chance to change our skin, chameleon-like, is an opportunity  that the truly creative should not simply push aside because for them to remain static is death.  Take the risk.

Here’s  a little Loretta from Van Lear Rose:

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9909-234  Wind of History smallThis is a new painting that is titled Wind of History, part of my next solo show at the West End Gallery.  The show, Dispatches, begins next Friday, July 24, with an opening running from 5-7:30 PM.

This is a very striking piece, one that demands immediate attention.  It has a lot of different aspects that all contribute to the overall impact.  It has a very graphic quality in the strong color and the way the multiple  layers below stack together.  There’s also great visual interest in the sky’s texture, which may not show very well in the image here.  The stones below the surface echo the light of the sun (or is it a moon?) in this sky. 

Adding to this is the motion in the trees with the central figure, the Red Tree, astride a hillock.  There is motion in the strata below as well which gives the impression of them being a part of a wave under the ground’s surface.  The Red Tree seems to ride this wave.

There’s a lot about this piece that I like.  For me, the Archaeology-like paintings are more about abstraction that the final painting’s representation.  By that, I mean, when I start a piece like this I have little or no idea where it’s going.  The piece builds from the bottom, in the layers.  As I paint them, there is little thought to what will be above.  It’s, as I said, very abstract at this point, all about color and shape and how each bit relates to the other.  One layer dictates how the next will form.  It’s an interesting time in the painting of the piece.

I think all of the elements in this painting come together very well, creating a unity that I think translates really well.  It has a powerful feel, at least in my eyes.  I hope it comes across to others as well.

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valvanoThere is a telethon of sorts today on ESPN.  Every year they take a day of broadcasting and devote it to raising money for the Jimmy V Foundation which raises money for cancer research.  The foundation is named after Jim Valvano, the college basketball coach who died from cancer back in 1993.

For those not familiar with Valvano, he was a pretty good coach but a great personality.  He is best known for his mad dash across the court looking for anyone to hug when his North Carolina State team improbably won the NCAA championship on a miraculous last second play.  His thick New York accent and fast, humorous banter were trademarks.

Well, every year during this day ESPN repeatedly plays Valvano’s final speech at the 1993 ESPY Awards, made mere weeks before he died.  I’ve seen and heard this speech probably a hundred times and am always moved by its power, humor and message.  It is a tour de force of speechmaking.  He makes you laugh.  He makes you cry.  But at the end, he makes you think about how you’re living your own life.  His words make you want to be better.

That’s real inspiration.

Here’s the speech.  It’s about 11 minutes long but trust me, if you haven’t seen it , it won’t be time wasted.  If you want to learn more about his foundation, click on the Coach’s picture above.

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Omega Wind

Omega Wind Getting work ready for my upcoming solo show, Dispatches,  at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY which opens July 24.  I am in the final stages of framing and the show will be ready for delivery by the end of this week.

I’m at the point where I really get an impression of the group of work as a whole, to see how the pieces work together and, hopefully, complement one another.  Thus far, I’m very pleased with this group and the overall feel it conveys.  The work is predominately on canvas and the colors are deep and saturated with a lot of interesting texture.  I think the show as a whole should have a very striking appearance.

The piece shown here, Omega Wind, is a good example of this show’s work.  There is great motion in the movement of the trees as well as in the underlying textures in the sky.  I particularly like the complexity of the sky’s colors, the different shades of blue and green running across it.  It creates the depth of feeling I want this piece to possess.  I think it’s a very strong piece, which as I’ve said before, is simply my opinion.  The viewer’s reception of the painting may be very different.

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climbing-in-the-tourIt’s that time of the year again and I’m always surprised at how interested I can become in the Tour de France bicycle race.

I realized this today when I came into the studio and remembered that this was an off day on the Tour so I wouldn’t have the race on the television in the background here in the studio.  I found myself I little disappointed, much to my surprise.  

I’ve always been a sports fan since I was a kid but primarily the big sports like baseball, football and basketball.   Boxing, a staple of the Wide World of Sports, was also a favorite although over the years I have lost all interest.  But when I was a kid, boxing held more prominence in the public eye and Muhammad Ali was at his peak.  I remember even wanting to be a writer for Ring magazine when I was 12 years old.

But bicycle racing never got a lot of coverage here and the idea of it as a watchable sport seemed kind of far-fetched.  I mean, guys on bikes pedaling in big packs for a hundred miles at a clip through all kinds of terrain, going over the highest passable peaks?  It seemed kind of slow paced and didn’t have a lot of action even though the racers sometimes flew down steep precipices at crazy speeds.  The coverage never really captured the spirit of the competition.  Besides, we didn’t know the stars of the sport, who were almost always European.  We didn’t have our own horse in the race, at least anyone who could contend and pull in our interest.

American Greg LeMond changed that a bit in the late 80’s when he won three Tours.  He drew the initial glance from the American public and created a slight sensation.  But his name sounded so, so- how do I say this- French.  The casual fan was never quite sure if he was American.  There wasn’t the same level of of coverage and technology didn’t provide for the instant worldwide dispersal of information that it does today on the web.  

No, it took Lance Armstrong to pull us in.  No wondering about that name.  We now knew we had a horse in the race.  And what a horse he was.  He brought drama to the race, from his unlikely return after his battle with cancer to the way he dominated Tour after Tour in his cool, methodic manner.  The French press and bike racing establishment despised him and that only elevated him in our eyes.

So his victories made us finally watch and the coverage became better and more comprehensive, allowing us to see the real drama and beauty of the race.  To see how truly epic were the efforts of these athletes.  I ache just watching these guys struggle over these impossibly steep mountain passes day after day.  I am amazed at the level of dedication it must take to compete at this level.

So, it has become one of my habits in July to flip on the tube as I work and have the Tour there.  Skinny men with huge legs.  I would have never imagined.

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