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Archive for January, 2010

I’ve written recently about the upcoming Little Gems show at the West End Gallery in Corning, a show that has a lot of meaning for me as far as being the jumping off point for my career.  I also really enjoy this show,  just to see other artists’ work.  It’s always interesting to see how artists who more often work in larger formats  handle the challenge of working on a smaller scale.

Here’s a great example from Marty Poole.  It’s a beautiful little 6″ by 8″ painting, a wonderful  example of his great ability with color and light.  The face of this child just glows on the panel. Marty is well known nationally for his large landscapes with broad, evocative skies as well as for his figurative work.  His handling of paint is remarkable in any genre.  He very seldom works so small so this show presents a great opportunity for collectors to pick up more affordable pieces from an artist whose work is widely sought.

Another aspect of Little Gems is allowing artists who normally work in a smaller format to show their work on equal footing, as far as size, with artists who works’ normal sizes would dominate the gallery walls.  It allows their normal work to really shine.  Here’s a great example called Last Bell from Mark Reep, whose meticulous black and white small works are always filled with ponderous atmosphere that belies their size.  Just beautiful work.

Then there are artists who take this opportunity for small works to show a different side of their talent.  Such is the case with Wilson Ong who is perhaps best known for his sublime portraiture.  His small pieces are whimsical tiny (in the 2″ by 3″ range)  paintings of animals in unlikely situations. Here are two of my favorites:

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As I said, this is always  a great show to see really talented artists working on a small scales.  Stop in and see these gems.

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The other day I had a post about Lon Chaney and my friend, Dave, commented that he had wanted to be Chaney when he was a kid.  This made me wonder what movie hero I wanted to emulate when I was young.  It’s easy to rattle off stars now, when you’re older and know their full careers and the impact they made.  But when you’re a kid the attraction is more basal, less thought out.  More limited to the scope of your own small world.

I wanted to be Audie Murphy when I was a boy.

Though hardly known today, Audie Murphy lived for me in the B-movie westerns that were shown every Saturday morning at 7:30 AM on our local TV station.  They were pretty predictable stories with Audie as the lawman or the wrongly accused cowhand who ferrets out the bad guys, often played by Dan Duryea, another name that is little known today, and finds justice with his fists or his six-guns, riding off into the western sunset.

His appeal for me was in that, as a kid, he seemed both like the hero and the underdog.  He wasn’t a big  tough guy who physically dominated the screen like John Wayne.  He seemed smaller than the villains who threatened him.  Maybe that was the appeal to a kid.  But he had quiet determination and grit and always upheld the heroic qualities of honesty, courage and justice.  He always persevered.

While most of his films were B-movies, he did have a few higher quality outings.  He starred in the classic The Red Badge of Courage and in The Unforgiven with Audrey Hepburn as well as a starring role as himself in the biographical To Hell and Back.  Did I forget to mention that Audie Murphy was a real-life  war hero?  Audie Murphy was the most decorated soldier of World War II and his exploits in the field are legendary.  He received the Purple Heart  when a German bullet hit and shatter his hip.  He recuperated for all of ten weeks, came back and was wounded within days by a mortar then again some time later  during incredible combat actions which led to him receiving the Medal of Honor.  He received 33 medals, all that were  possible, plus 6 medals from France and Belgium.

Not bad for a guy who was listed upon enlisting as being 5′ 5 1/2″ tall and weighing 110 pounds.

But I didn’t even know about his offscreen heroics then nor did  I know about the emotional struggles that came with such brutal war experiences that haunted him until his death in 1971.  He was just the little guy in the light colored hat with the fast fists and quiet determination, fighting for what was right.

Not a bad guy to want to emulate…

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Before I was a painter, I had jobs, as a service tech and a salesman,  that quite often had me in the homes of clients.  One of the first things I did when coming into a home was to look for bookshelves and scan them quickly.  You could tell a lot about a person by seeing if and what they read.  I was looking for something that gave me an idea of common ground we might have.  It was disheartening how many homes had no books visible and many times, if they did have books, the books were mass market romances or self-help books.  But sometimes there were shelves filled with great books that jumped out at me and generally I was able to establish instant rapport with that person.  I became very adept at glimpsing shelves and judging what was there.

This particular edition of The Catcher in the Rye had a cover that my eye could glimpse at a hundred feet.

JD Salinger died yesterday, at age 91.

I don’t know that this tale of teen Holden Caulfield still resonates with the youth of today but for the generations of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, this book was an eye-opener, one that gave voice to the real emotions of many young adults.  It was bold and funny and real.  It was unlike any literature that featured a teen protagonist ( if you can call Holden a protagonist) at that time.  I don’t know if Holden was just a reflection of true behavior of disaffected teens or if he became the template.  That will have to fall to sociologists and cultural anthropologists to determine.

Whatever the case, Holden Caulfield and JD Salinger both became cultural  icons.  Salinger became the very definition of recluse, eschewing all publicity and interviews with steadfast determination for all these many years, and living a quiet  life in New Hampshire.  While his last published piece, a short story,was in the mid 1960’s, he continued to write but only for himself, filling bookshelves with his written notebooks.  I wish I could have scanned those shelves.

I wonder if Holden lived on in his private writings, moving through his phony-filled life in the manner of  Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom?  Perhaps we will never know.  If so, let it be JD Salinger’s choice to share it with us.

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I don’t know what made me think of this movie so early this morning.  Something made me think of clowns and how even though their aim is to be comedic and entertaining, they often come across as scary or tragic.

I saw a couple of Lon Chaney silent films a few years back that really reinforce this image.  He Who Gets Slapped and Laugh, Clown, Laugh are anything but laughfests.  Both are grim in nature and filled with tragic circumstances, like many of the films in the post-WW I early 1920’s.

Lon Chaney was a huge star of early films and is pretty much unfamiliar to modern movie fans.  He was known for his ability to transform himself into a wide variety of characters, often contorting his body and altering his face for grotesque effect.  This transformative ability won him the nickname The Man of a Thousand Faces which was also the title of a great film biography of him starring Jimmy Cagney as Chaney.  I recommend this film for those who wishing to learn a little more about an incredible talent.

Chaney is probably best remembered for his classic roles as The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but for me it’s these roles as clowns that define Chaney for me.  They are dark films filled with grim  melodrama and tragedy.  They’re sometimes hard to watch.  But they are filled with real human emotion and complexity, so dark that it’s hard to believe that these were popular successes of the time.  Hollywood had yet to perfect the happy ending.

Again, I’m not sure why these came to mind today.

Maybe I’ll be painting clowns today.  Brightly painted sad faces.  Like Red Skelton.  That’s probably another too obscure reference.

Anyway, if you get a chance, and don’t really want to have your spirits lifted, check out these classics from the great Lon Chaney or his film biography.

The Man of a Thousand Faces.

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I wrote yesterday about how music and other stimuli influence my work.  Since then I’ve been thinking about that and a comment made by writer David Terrenoire about knowing other fiction writers who refuse to read other writers for fear of having the voice of this other writer creep into their own.

I believe the creativity of any artist, writer, or musician comes from their own unique perception of the world around them, how they see and take in everything to which they’re exposed and reflect it back to the world.  I don’t think it’s so much that they create new worlds but how they synthesize what they encounter in this world into their own personal version of it.  This synthesis of influences is what gives an artist their unique voice.

I was recently talking to a young painter, still in a college program, whose work showed real promise but it was obvious he was still in search of a voice.  Every painting carried the earmarks of the painter he was influenced by during its making.  While all were well done, there was nothing yet visible that stood out as being uniquely his in any of the paintings.  It was obvious he was still gathering influences, seeing what was out there and trying to copy it first.  I asked him how he liked to paint, how he saw his work in his mind and he said he wasn’t sure yet.

He hadn’t started synthesizing yet.  While obviously talented, his voice was not present yet.

But at some point, for any creative person,  there has to be the transition from simply taking in information and reflecting it just as it entered to a thought process that allows new data, new influences, to be taken in and transformed internally into something uniquely their own.  Their own voice becomes unmistakable.

When that happens, I can’t say.  It’s probably different for every person and maybe it never happens for many.  Maybe there’s an aspect to this I’m overlooking because I am just thinking out loud here.

As is often the case, I don’t really know…

The piece at the top is a tiny new painting,  the image being 1 1/2″ by 3 1/2 ” in size and matted in a 6″ by 8″ frame, called Hold Your Banner High.  It is available at the West End Gallery as part of their Little Gems exhibit.

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I was listening to music this morning as I read email and puttered around.  My iPod was docked and in random mode so anything could come on.  At first one of my favorite pieces, Tabula Rasa from composer Arvo Part, played.  It’s a modern classical piece that I have always identified with.  Tabula Rasa translates as empty slate and was actually very influential in a lot of my early painting, helping me visualize the feeling of wide space as I painted.

Next up was Highway Patrol from Junior Brown, which is worlds away from Tabula Rasa.  It’s clunky and chunky and throttles along on Brown’s deep twangy voice and his unique guit-steel guitar licks.  I began to think about how the mood shifts so quickly between the two selections, how the mind is suddenly thrown from silence to chaos.

Something very interesting in this contrast.  I began to wonder if this has an effect on my painting, on strokes and color selection.  Am I looking for different things in my work when different types of stimuli are present?  It’s something I’ll have to examine further.

The picture shown is of a visual/psychological phenomenon called the contrast triangle.  Just above the reflected light on the water is a dark triangle in the sky.  Supposedly, it’s not really there.  If you cover the water, the darkness fades away.  It is only in our eyes and minds that it exists.  Don’t know why I put this in today except that maybe this little area of created vision is similar to the influence of other stimuli on someone’s creative work.

I don’t really know.  I am working off the cuff here, you know.

Here was the next song that came up this morning.  Another favorite, Gillian Welch with Miss Ohio.  I think that fits somewhere in my contrast triangle.  We’ll see…

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When most people think of paintings by Georges Seurat, the French pointillist painter, they probably think first of his famous painting,Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte which is probably remembered by many as Sunday In the Park With George , from the Stephen Sondheim play which revolves around the Seurat painting.  For me, the Seurat paintings that spring to mind are a couple of his pieces that revolve around the circus, such as the one at the top of this post, Circus Sideshow.

For me, this painting just has magical, mysterious  feel.  I can imagine the tinny sound of the musicians, a kind Kurt Weill/Threepenny Opera  quiet cacophony.  The composition of this piece also reads very easily into my brain and I find myself excited by it to the point of envisioning work of my own that will borrow from  the light and dark blocking of the piece, the way the figures are between dark borders formed by the patterned edge at the top and  the shadowy people at the bottom.

While I can appreciate many paintings just for what they are and their own sheer beauty, it’s the paintings that spark something in myself, that inspire something in my own work from some connection in that painting that jumps out at me, that are usually my favorites. These Seurat circus paintings do that for me.  While I find many of Seurat’s other paintings pleasant enough and lovely to see, they don’t fire my imagination in the same way.

Maybe it’s the subject matter.  Maybe it’s the angular edges in these compositions compared to the softer , rounder edges of  the Park painting, for instance.  Maybe it something as simple of the colors of these pieces.  I don’t know.  I just know they make me want to get something down on paper or canvas quick before the inspiration fades.


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