Archive for July, 2010

This is a new painting that is also part of the New Days exhibit at the West End Gallery.  Titled Roots Show Through, it’s one of those paintings that, for me, brings to mind an immediate thought.  When I look at this piece I am instantly reminded that we are the products of our past and that our ancestry deeply dictates many of our behaviors.  We may believe that our actions are ours alone and that our forebearers are remote from us in all ways but they show themselves in ways we may never recognize.

I was watching the end of the PBS series Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates (of the infamous arrest and subsequent Beer Summit at the White House) which traces the genealogical background of a number of well known folks, showing how they came to be and how they are interrelated to many others.  I was captivated by how they were able to break down the genetic composition of their subjects, showing how richly we are endowed those things that make us unique by prior generations.  Each one of our direct anscestors made it possible for us to be here in the form, for better or worse, that we are at present.  Take away any of them and we become much different people, if we exist at all.

The roots show through.

Now there are roots that we would like to keep deeply buried.  I know from doing genealogy that there is a tendency to want to see our ancestors in the best possible light, to give them the most positive attributes.  You imagine them to be wise and good and often you can find some evidence that some of your ancestors were .  But sometimes you find things that are less flattering, things you hope haven’t found their way to you through the genetic network.  In doing my own genealogy ( and my guess is that it is similar to a great many people out there) I have found a number of good and learned people who had places of respect in their communities.  But for every one of these folks I found even more who were less accomplished. 

 Going through census records, I find many ancestors in the recent past  who could not read nor write.  Some are listed on these same records in prisons and county poor houses and sanitariums.  Some are found in other records listing their misdeeds.  I have thieves and swindlers in my line.  My favorite was a beaver thief from the late 1600’s up the Hudson Valley.  I have some ancestors who were killed in various battles and massacres and as many who took part in other massacres, including one who was darkly remembered for the lifelong  revenge he took against the Indian tribes who had killed his father.  I have murderers including a great-great grandfather from several generations back who was hung in the town square in Easton, PA  for the murder of his wife. 

You hope some of those roots found a dead-end generations ago.  But they probably found their way through in some form and you ultimately deal with the background that brought you here in ways you hope allow you to live and prosper, with some semblance of wisdom and good.  You hope that the positive traits handed down to you by your ancestors far outweigh the negative ones.

Oddly enough, all of this and more comes to mind when I glimpse this piece.  It has almost become an icon for this particular thought.  How others see it, I cannot guess…

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As I normally do in the weeks before a show, I’m featuring new work from a show in my blog posts.  The show this time is one called New Days that opens Thursday with an opening at the West End Gallery in Corning.  Today’s painting is one called Galliard, a 13″ by 13″ painting on paper.

When I had finished this piece and began to search for a title, I focused on the intertwined trees.  I’ve often used dance terms to describe the way they seem to hold each in these paintings and this piece definitely had the feel of dance for me.  So I began to search for a term that captured this painting. 

I came across the term galliard and, without even knowing what the term meant, immediately felt pulled to the word.  It has a rhythm in its pronunciation that struck me.  It just sounded right.  Looking further, I discover that the galliard was a lively Renaissance dance, said to be a favorite of Elizabeth I.  There is one section of the dance called lavolta that involved the couple in an intimate hold where the woman is lifted in the air as they do about a 3/4 turn.  It was considered pretty scandalous at the time.  The Lambada of the Renaissance, if you will.

It fit though.  There is a sense of intimacy in the two trees.  The open, airy space in which they perform the dance represents a liberation of sorts for me, as though they hold no shame for their dance of devotion for one another.  The red in the trees gives it a feeling of passion set against the fertile lushness of the green in the foreground. 

So, in this case, the sound and meaning of the title worked for me.  Perhaps the title and the painting itself are performing a dance…

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Sometimes a title for a piece is so undeniable that it makes all other attempts at naming it seem utterly futile.  When I completed this 8″ by 16″ painting on paper, I tried to find something in it that reminded me of  something other than  the feeling of  Eastern influence that seemed to drip from the surface.  The bonsai-like tree and the mound from which it sprouts.  The rising sun.  Even the way the sky is segmented and shaded seemed to bring forth thought of a flag from the East.  It all conspired to give the painting a decidedly Eastern Zen flavor.

I was trying to get away from having the viewer see the piece as only a product of influence, as though that might somehow lessen the work.  But isn’t every painting a product of influence somehow?  I can often see the onfluence of others in my work.  A bit of color here borrowed from something I’ve seen in another artist’s work.  I remember doing a piece when I was first showing and I had used a green in the work that had a wonderful rich earthiness to it.  This little bit of my painting so reminded me of the greens that Albrecht Durer had used in some of his lovely paintings of small wildlife such as rabbits and squirrels.  One day, I was in the gallery and the piece was hanging when another artist who also showed his work there saw it.

“That’s Durer’s green!” he exclaimed. 

I was thrilled that he caught it, that he saw the same qualities in it that I saw in Durer’s use of the color even though there was no other similarity in the work.  It provided a real insight into how influence works in how we create and view work.

So, why fight it when an influence shows through even more prominently?  It was influenced by the East as am I.  Even as I sit here now, my desk looks out an east-facing window as I watch the sun’s rays filter through the thick foliage of the trees as it rises from the east.  Every morning that I look into the eastern sky I am influenced by it.  You can’t deny your influences or habits, the things that shape your views.  So to call this piece anything other than Eastern Influence would be like trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

This painting is part of the New Days exhibit of my work at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY  that open this Thursday, July 22.

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Well, my show for the West End is complete and delivered, leaving me a little fatigued and listless at the moment.  It takes a few days to get my feet back under me usually and regain some semblance of focus.  So, today I find myself sitting here, looking at the computer screen with nothing to say that amounts to much.

What I try to do at points like this, those transitions between exhibitions, is to try to pinpoint the things in the work that are exciting me at the moment and begin to plan on how I can further explore these things.  For instance, if I had worked on a smaller piece that involved a new element or a different look of some sort, do I want to expand this element or look into a larger format or push it further in some way? 

But for all the planning and thinking, it usually comes down to serendipity or jsut doing something without thinking for the next big thing to break through.  The palnning and thinking just give those moments a launching pad.

hey, how about a tune?  This song was featured by Little Feat on their 1978 live album, Waiting For Columbus.  A tremendous live set.  To me, one of the best live albums ever.  At that point, they were still being fronted by the great Lowell George before his death the next year, I believe.  OD’d, unfortunately and of course.  

This version of Willin’ is not from the album and isn’t quite as good but it still captures the song well.  It’s from the German rock show of the time, Rockpalast.  Enjoy…

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This is Night of the Blue Wish.  It’s a small painting, only a 4″ by 14″ image on paper, but it has a much bigger feeling.  It’s part of my show, New Days, that opens a week from today, Thursday, Jully 22 at the West End Gallery in Corning.

It’s a very blue piece.  Blue, as I’ve talked about before here, is like an addictive drug for me.  I love using it in the way it is used here, to create a dense color of night, but working with it has a very intoxicating effect.  It makes me want to use this color, this blue, all the time, makes me want to make it the center of my color universe. But I know I must resist and only use it sparingly lest it overwhelm my whole way of expressing myself. So, periodically I cautiously let it emerge and show itself, to satisfy my addiction. 

This piece has a feeling of magical thinking for me, like a fairy tale.  As though the tree, under the cover of this special night of color, comes alive, as we humans slumber in our little boxes, to engage in a dialogue of sorts with the moon.  As though it were beseeching the moon to stay a little longer, to keep it company and enjoy a bit more conversation.  As though the moon’s light gave the tree an ability to speak, to express itself in a way outside its normally slow and stoic way.

Well, that’s how I see it…

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George Steinbrenner , the polarizing owner of the New York Yankees, died yesterday at the age of 80.  To many fans of the game, especially for Yankee-haters,  he was the epitome of what went wrong with the game over the years, with his win-whatever-the-price mentality and larger-than-life bluster.  But if you were a fan of the Yanks, you probably grew to love the guy over the years for the same reasons. 

I liked the guy.  Over the years, there was a mellowing of his public persona and the focus went away from his public battles with Billy Martin and others to one that centered on his desire to win and his sentimental nature which led to his legendary generosity.  There are countless anecdotes about him talking to cashiers one day then having his people contact them the next with the news that Steinbrenner was putting them through college.  He started numerous foundations in cities around the country to send the children of fallen police officers through college.  He gave second chances to flawed humans, from the well known such as Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden to the many obscure folks who found themselves on the Yankees payroll after they had reached the bottom.  There are several stories out there of  people who Steinbrenner had come across over the years, who ran on to hard times with financial and health problems who were notified out of the blue that they were being hired by the Yankees as scouts.  They had no duties as scouts.  Nothing was required from them.  They simply received a paycheck for the rest of their lives.

I also liked his willingness to let others poke fun at him.  It made him an unlikely iconic figure in popular culture.  What other team-owner or businessman could host Saturday Night Live twice?  Then there’s his persona on Seinfeld with Larry David doing him as a staccato speaking loony.  It made Steinbrenner a cult figure of sorts.

Actually, Steinbrenner actually did appear on an episode of Seinfeld, although it was cut in the end and never aired.  It’s kind of funny. 

So, whether you hated or liked the guy or have absolutely no feelings, take a moment and watch  him be a good sport…

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Another new painting for my show, New Days, that opens next Thursday, Jully 22, at the West End Gallery in Corning.  this piece is titled All Is Given and is 12″ by 12″ on paper.  This piece, for me, is like comfort food.  The color and the way it comes together as a composition has a very soothing effect and there is a real harmony in the deep greens and blues that shines through here.

Even the fact that there is motion in the central figure of the tree doesn’t detract from this peaceful feeling.  The giving of leaves to the wind by the tree seems natural and there is no remorse over the loss.  It is all just part of existing in nature.  Just being and not reacting.  Accepting what is and what cannot be.

It’s one of those pieces where, when done, I feel a great sense of satisfaction.  As though  I’ve hit my mark, reaching some undefined, hazy goal that is known only by reaching it.  That’s hard to explain.  I don’t have specific endpoints when I’m painting.  There is seldom, if ever, a fully realized image in my mind when I start painting.  It’s more of a shifting amorphous mass of color and  with no specific shape or imagery.  I just hope that when I’m painting I can somehow capture the essence of this idea or whatever it is.  Sometimes it is revealed and other times, something different emerges which is a discovery in itself that is quite unlike what I felt in my mind at the beginning of the painting. 

See?  Hard to explain.

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Yesterday, as I was working in the studio, I caught the last few minutes of the film, Tin Men, Barry Levinson’s atmospheric comedy about aluminum siding salesmen in early 1960’s Baltimore.  It’s a great film that I’ve seen dozens of times.  It never fails to make me laugh with Levinson’s always engaging dialogue and great use of deep detail throughout the film that give it rich texture and a real sense of place.

He also makes great use of the background music that adds another layer of texture to the overall feel of the film.  One of my favorites is his use of Nat King Cole’s version of the classic Sweet Lorraine.  It ‘s easy rhythm and pace makes me feel as though I were in Baltimore in the heat of a carefree summer in 1963.

Here’s Nat King Cole with Sweet Lorraine.  It’s always been a favorite of mine and I hope your day goes as smooth and easy as this song…

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This is the last painting I finished for my show, New Days, that opens in two weeks at the West End Gallery.  The name of this 24″ by 30″ canvas is Bent But Not Bowed and was started several months ago, sitting in various stages just on the periphery of my vision. 

 It started with many layers of gesso that were at first troweled on then finsihed with thick veins that run through the surface in a haphazard, chaotic fashion.  When it was finally prepped it had a definite character before I ever put the first drop of paint to it and as a result, begged for me to put it aside and ponder it.  It had something in it that was there to be revealed with the paint above it, if I could only find it. 

So I set it aside and would consider it as I worked on other paintings, always a bit intimidated by the strength and motion within the surface.  It had to be right or it would fall apart under its own force.

The surface was so rich in texture that over the months I determined that the imagery should be simple and close to the surface, not deep into the picture plane, which is counter to what I normally seek in my work.  The imagery should truly react to such a strong and emotive surface. 

It also needed strong color to accentuate the surface, to bring it even more forward.  More prominent, not understated.  The trick was bringing these elements together in a way that didn’t look too considered, too thought out.  Make each element- the texture, the color and the imagery- play off of one another, bringing the strengths to the forefront in an organic fashion that gives the painting a feeling of it bursting off the canvas on its own. 

This piece certainly has a dynamism is the studio.  It demands the eye.

I feel as though I haven’t squandered the potential that the canvas first held when I first looked on it after the gesso was applied.  It is a piece that has real life, real feel.  A voice that has words of its own, well beyond mine.

In short, it is what I hoped it could be…

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Helen Frankenthaler- Savage Breeze


There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about.

–Helen Frankenthaler


I’m using this quote from Helen Frankenthaler, the famed Abstract Expressionist, as a sort of follow-up or addenda to yesterday’s post about change.  I remember reading about Frankenthaler when I was first beginning to really paint with purpose.  In an article that I read but can’t locate now, she spoke of how she came to her trademark stain paintings where very thinned oil paint is applied to unprimed canvas.  She said it was almost by accident that she first experienced the absorbing of the paint by the raw cotton canvas and how that it caused a reaction, a breakthrough, in her thinking about how she wanted to express herself within her work. 

She felt that all artistic breakthroughs were the result of a change in the way one saw and used their materials.  It could entail changing the type of material used or using them in a more unconventional manner, as her above quote stating there are no rules infers.

This immediately clicked with me at the time I read it.  I had been trying to shape my way of thinking to fit the materials I was using at the time.  Unsuccessfully.  What I needed to do was change the materials to fit the way I was thinking.  Allow my thought process more free rein and not cater to the restraints of materials.

That may sound kind of abstract but it allowed me to start working with my paints and grounds in a much different way, forming my own process that worked well for my way of thinking and has become entrenched in my thought process.  Even though it may be outside more traditional forms of using these same materials,this process has over time become as rigid in my use as the techniques used by the most steadfast adherent of the most traditional school of painting.  This is sort of what I was referring to when I mentioned the end of the cycle, as far as art is concerned.  You reach a certain point, a mastery of your materials, where there are few accidents, few surprises in the materials’ reactions and, as a result, fewer surprises in your own reactions. 

For most, this is the goal.  But I want that surprise, that not knowing exactly how the materials will react and that need to solve the problem presented by the need to express with the limitations of the materials used.  So I try to continually tweak, create a little tension in how the materials react to my use of them, to create a sense of surprise.  Breakthrough.

And that’s where I feel I am at the end of the cycle mentioned in yesterday’s post.

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