Archive for February, 2010

This etching hangs on my studio wall, near my painting table.  It’s titled The Devil and the Messenger and it’s from  Grant Silverstein, an artist from rural northern Pennsylvania not far from where I live.  He is self-taught and has worked in intaglio etching, which is engraving the image on a copper plate with a sharp needle, for many years now. 

I’ve always liked the look and feel of etchings and have great admiration for those who can translate their vision through this medium.  I don’t know if I would have the patience. Grant has his own look and feel, often dealing in the allegorical.  Whenever I come across his work I have to stop and look with great pleasure.

My eye often drifts up to this piece and fills me with a lot of different questions and feelings, outside of the satisfaction of the viewing the composition itself.  I am curious as to what the messenger is carrying and to who is he taking it. Is the Devil is taking the message or replacing it as the messenger sleeps.  Is the messenger merely sleeping  normally or is it the result of the Devil’s work?

I see it as a reminder that one is always vulnerable in some way, that there is always the possibility of some Devil tinkering with you while you least suspect it.  A little vigilance is required.   I don’t mean that to sound paranoid.  What I mean to say is that it’s best to view strangers you encounter in a dark wood  a bit warily, particularlly if they are horned. 

And to be careful where you sleep.

To see more of the etchings of Grant Silverstein click here to go to his website.

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This K.R. Sridhar, the man behind Bloom Energy, the company that was the source of a media blitz this past week as they unveiled their Bloom Boxes, which are a  type of small power plants.  Using fuel cell technology, these units are powered by natural gas, ethanol or bio-gas at this point and produce electricity in a highly efficient, quiet and cleaner way than traditional powerplants that burn coal or other hydrocarbon fuels.  A unit roughly the size of a parking space can can power a hundred or more U.S.  homes and many more than that in other parts of the world.

Currently, Bloom is only producing commercial units like the ones that are currently in use on the corporate campuses of over 20 large companies such as Google, Ebay and Walmart.  They have plans to unveil in 5-10 years a residential unit that will be the size of a mini-fridge and will power the average home and will cost in the $3000 range.

What’s so great about this?  Besides lower energy costs and less pollution?  For starters, fewer widespread power outages like the ones recently caused by downed power lines due to snowstorms.  The power sources would be much nearer so the need for huge, vulnerable transmission lines would be lessened.  And there is the energy saved by not having to transmit electricity over these lines for long distances.  Almost half of the electricity produced in this country is lost, wasted, in transit via these lines.  Half.  Imagine how much money in our economy could be saved and how much  pollution could be averted by reducing  our electrical production by half.

This would also lessen the effect of the current energy grid.  Power generation would become a very local thing and be less susceptible to blackouts and other systemic failures that we’ve seen in the past.  The very idea of a grid might fade away.   This would also be a perfect solution for developing nations or for nations whose infrastructures have been decimated by disaster, such as Haiti.

Is it perfect?  No.  Still uses hydrocarbon fuels.  But the efficiency of the the units and the savings from less waste in transmission might extend the life of fuels like natural gas for many generations. 

But it’s a start, a step forward towards a new paradigm for how we see and make energy as a part of our lives.  Something we truly need to address…

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This is a new painting I’ve been working on for the last couple of days.  It’s a 14″ by 18′” piece on ragboard and fits well in my Archaeology series.  The upper and lower sections of this piece are painted in two different styles, with the upper being painted by adding layers of paint ( what I call my obsessionist style) and the lower painted in a predominately transparent fashion but with quite a bit of opaque touches.

Shown at the top, I wanted to show the lower section of this piece in a little more detail, to give a better idea of how this section is put together.  It’s  a chance for me to paint spontaneously, but in detail.  I  start at one corner and bounce all over the section, basically using my brush to draw the small items.  As I’m moving along, I’m constantlly weighing each new artifact against those around it then against the section as whole.  This weighing process has to do with color and shape, not what the item actually is.  I don’t really think about what the items will be in these pieces.  I prefer to let them take shape as the piece progresses although I do fall back on a number of recurring artifacts.  Some of these are the peace symbol, my initial, a shoe, a mask of some sort, books and a few others.  This particular piece also has a self-reference in the form of a small painting.

This is only the second piece in this series that has the upper section painted in this way,  showing the simplified  roots of the tree and having the sky painted with multiple layers of rough strokes.  So far I am liking the contrast between the top and bottom.  I may lighten the foliage of the tree and adjust a few parts of the sky but I’m not sure yet.  This is at a point where it requires a little time to sit and be taken in, almost with a peripheral view.  With paintings like this, with a lot of detail and action in the color and forms, I find that I need to see it but not focus on it completely to get the best overall feel for it.  That’s the real test.

So, with this piece, we’ll see over the next several days in the studio.

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Sitting here as the first light of morning reveals snow falling, piling quickly and coating the limbs of the trees in the forest.  Truly beautiful.  However, we’re expecting a foot or so and, while I really love the snow, I am reminded of the tropical watercolors of Winslow Homer.

Homer, perhaps best  known for works such as The Gulf Stream which is  the second image from the bottom of this post, fled the cold of winter starting in the 1880’s, travelling and painting in such places as the Bahamas, Bermuda and Florida.  Because of their convenience, he chose to paint in watercolors for his travels.  The results were stunning pieces with rich colors and an feeling of immediacy and spontaneity in the way they were painted.  They have a really modern yet timeless feel, as though you could be looking at something painted just yesterday.  They were unlike anything being done at the time and have been highly influential to generations of  artists.

Despite less than flattering comments from the critics of that time, Homer knew they were special and has been quoted as saying, “You will see, in the future I will live by my watercolors.”  In fact, his watercolors were extremely popular with his collectors and provided a great portion of his income.  But I think with this quote he also alluded to his name living through future generations via this work, which has been the case.

On this snow-filled day, I am momentarily transformed by these pieces to warmers climes…

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I’m in the middle of a piece at this moment so I’m going to be brief this morning.  Actually, I’m at two different points in two different paintings and am pretty eager to get to them.  Sometimes it’s difficult for me to go back and forth between pieces.  My focus sometimes gets broken in the transition from one to the other and both pieces suffer.  But this time there seems to be a seamless shift between the works and I’m actually taking energy from one piece and plugging it into the next. 

Wish I had four arms.  And eyes that worked independent of one another like some tropical fish looking for moray eels…

My selection for this winter Wednesday is from the late Warren Zevon, a wonderfully talented songwriter/performer best known for his Werewolves of London.  Actually, it sort of yoked him and overshadowed his abilities as a composer of unique and often beautiful songs.  Here’s one of my favorites, Mohammed’s Radio,  from way back in the day.  1976, I think.  Give a listen…

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“There was an old man of Madrid
Who ate sixty-five eggs for a quid.
When they asked, ‘Are you faint?’
He replied, ‘No I ain’t,
But I don’t feel as well as I did.”


I came across this old limerick and immediately the movie Cool Hand Luke came to mind and the scene where Luke, played to perfection by Paul Newman, bet his fellow inmates that he could eat 50 eggs.  Great scene.  Great movie.

Luke was and is one of my favorite movie characters of all time.  His contrarian nature constantly put him at odds with the world.  He just didn’t seem to fit in with all its rules and was in a never ending rebellious struggle with those in authority.  It was easy to identify with Luke as a young man, especially in the way he channeled his rebellion.

Cool.  Never showing the anger and frustration that was obviously inside him.  He had a sort of stoic acceptance, even a smile, when he appeared to totally defeated by the forces he opposed.

It’s a great film.  It has drama, tragedy, humor and moments of defeat and triumph.  It’s everything a movie should be.  very human.

Funny how a little found limerick can trigger so many memories and feelings.  Something out of nothing.

Or as Luke might say:

Sometimes nothing can be a pretty cool hand…

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This is the view of a house that Dave Higgins, one of my favorite painters,  used to see from his bedroom as a child growing up in Binghamton.  This scene and that yellow house made quite an impression because over the years Dave has painted this particular house over a hundred times.

I mention this today to illustrate a point about how artists will often paint in series or repetitively, often using the same compositional elements again and again.  For some painters, it might become an exercise in copying each detail so that eventually the very life is squeezed out of the scene  but in the hands of a talented artist with a truly probing mind such as Dave, it becomes a study in finding nuance and dimensions that make each new version take on a new and different life.

Painting repetitively allows a painter to free their mind from trying to compose and focus on pure execution, letting them spend more of their mental effort on the surfaces they’re creating.  The less time spent on capturing the basic form of the subject  results in a scene that changes subtly with new version, revealing more depth and feeling.

Think of it as musician with a new song.  The first several times through they are focused on learning the basic construction of the composition but it’s not until it becomes ingrained in their muscle memory and they can play the composition with little thought that they are free to find and express real feeling within the piece.

This bottom piece is an early version from Dave and you can see how Dave has evolved over  the years by examining the ones above this.  He paints the scene from memory and adds and subtracts small elements to fit each new piece.  Whatever is needed to fulfill what he sees in that new version, to give the depth he’s seeking in it.  If you’ve been fortunate enough to see some of the Yellow House paintings from Dave Higgins over the years, you’ll know what I mean.

Great stuff…

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Late last year, I was contacted by a man who wanted to use a painting of mine that he had acquired ten or so years ago as part of the packaging for a CD he was about to release.  The piece, To the Victor,  was one that I remembered well from that time and I agreed to his use of the image.  It was, however, a painting that I only had documented with a slide that had been damaged so he would have to get the painting photographed.  No problem.

This week I received a copy of the CD from the artist and was pleased to see the painting on the cover of the CD’s booklet.  The piece fits well with the title of the CD as well, Songs Along the Way, from songwriter Gary Portnoy.

Gary Portnoy is best known as the singer and composer of perhaps the best known theme song from any TV show ever, the Cheers theme, Where Everybody Knows Your Name.  Who hasn’t at least hummed along to that tune at some point?  He has also written the themes of several other television shows, garnering two Emmy nominations, and his songs have been recorded and performed by a wide variety of artists.   To find out  more about Gary’s music and his career check out his website by simply clicking the cover from his new CD, shown here.

You always hope that your work will live well with the people who obtain it and it’s extremely gratifying to have a piece such as To the Victor still resonate with its owner so that he chooses it to represent, in some small way, his own work.  Many thanks to you, Gary.

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It’s a Saturday morning and I feel like I’m starting slowly to reach a rhythm with my recent painting where it’s just coming easily, not feeling forced.  This rhythm, this feeling lets me know I’m going in a direction that is desirable to me.  It’s a feeling that, like many things, that is hard to put in definable or measurable terms. 

It’s just a feeling.

For me, when the everpresent knot in my stomach fades away as I’m working I know I’m in the vicinity.  It used to bother me when the knot would return and I seemed a bit out of rhythm in my work, as though it might never return.  But through the years I have come to know that by simply pushing forward, working hard to the point that all the extraneous distractions melt away, this rhythm will return.  In fact, it never leaves.  It just gets pushed aside at times.

Anyway, let’s have a little music on this fine Saturday.  Here’s Bob Dylan’s Thunder on the Mountain.  Enjoy…

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This is a new piece, a little 6″ by 8″ canvas, that I finished in the last few days.  It is in the same vein as my Archaeology series although it is without the artifacts beneath the surface.  I personally refer to them as Strata pieces.

The Strata work still exposes the underground timeline but relies on the rhythm and color of the layers to carry the painting.  There is also a chair aboveground in this painting, something that I never used in the Archaeology work, which was intentionally left devoid of human evidence outside of the underground artifacts.  The inclusion of the chair puts this piece more in the present time, the time of man.  The Archaeology series hinted more at being in the future, in a world without man.

I call this piece On the Shoulders of Time.  It is just a reminder of how we are the result of all that has come before us.  Every decision, every action, everything good and bad that preceded us, has brought each of us to this juncture in time.  Our decisions, our actions, will determine how and where that chair sits for future generations.

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