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Archive for October, 2010

I Was a Teenage Werewolf

Another Halloween rolls around and I’m on the road today, delivering my show to the Kada Gallery in Erie in advance of my show that opens there next Saturday.  I thought I’d throw out some scary music but there isn’t a great selection of monster themed music.  Oh, there’s the Monster Mash but that gets played to death this time of the year, like Grandma Got Ran Over By a Reindeer at Christmas.  And the Addams Family or Munsters themes are memorable but not what I’m looking for.

But there are the Cramps.

The Cramps emerged out of the NY punk scene of the 70’s with a distinct sound  that influeneced by rockabilly and the B-Horror movies of the 50’s.  Two guitars and a small drum kit- no bassist- and a leader called Lux Interior and a girl guitarist/femme fatale named Poison Ivy, the Cramps’ music was often called psychobilly.  Many of their songs paid direct homage to old horror flicks, like Human Fly and the one I’m highlighting here, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, which starred  a very young Michael Landon in a pretty kitschy story.  But the Cramps created some high energy creeptastic stuff out of some hokey films.  Below I Was a Teenage Werewolf is a performance by them  from 1981 at NYC’s Mudd Club.  The first is The Natives Are Restless and the second is their macabre TV Set.  It’s a neat slice from an interesting time.

Have a very spooky Halloween!

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I wasn’t going to write any more about today’s Rally to Restore Sanity being held today on the Mall in Washington, DC.  I’ve written that I hoped it provided a way for many to see that not everyone out there is teetering on the brink of insanity.  But it’s been interesting the past few days, seeing how this event has grown in the media and hearing some of the commentary about and aimed at it.   Many words have been written against and in favor of it, the critics citing it as frivolous and self-important and the supportersseeing it  as an important statement on the current state of our political discourse.  Both are probably correct.  Satire is often frivolous and self-important but also often provides clarity in the form of social commentary.

I don’t know exactly where I sit in this situation but I will be watching today and hoping to get a laugh and hear something that makes me think that we are not, as a whole, crazy and/or stupid.  That last hope, to convince me of our sanity, might be quite a feat considering the political events of the last few weeks. 

Rand Paul supporters throwing a girl who was protesting Paul to the ground then stepping on her shoulder and neck.  Joe Miller’s security detail posing as police and placing a journalist under arrest, placing him in handcuffs until the real police arrived and made them release the man.  Sharon Angle refusing to answer questions of any sort about her positions on pertinent issues, often running away from cameras.  Anything concerning Christine O’Donnell.  Politicians from both parties blatantly lying about their military service, which seems crazy in a time when facts are so easily checked and exposed.

I’ve written before how Jon Stewart, despite his obvious handicap of being a comedian, has replaced serious journalists in being the source for the questioning of those who seek or are in power.  The so-called serious journalists have made it clear that they either don’t have the intelligence or the will to stand up to the gibberish and stonewalling that politicians often offer up.  This was made painfully obvious on yesterday’s morning show on MSNBC that is hosted by Chuck Todd.  In two consecutive segments, he hosted two Republican operatives and in both segments he allowed them to basically spew nothing but talking points without any challenge, any single question, as to the validity of these points or of how they hoped to accomplish some of their stated goals.  He sat there like  a lump and nodded  like a ventriloquist’s dummy.  David Gregory of Meet the Press was moderating a town hall event and was challenged by a member of the audience for this same attitude as Todd’s in his questioning of the guests on MTP.  The man accused him of asking softball questions and allowing his guests to evade answering.  Gregory became angry and claimed he was asking the questions but what could he do if they chose not to answer? 

Any good used-car saleman could answer that question.

Such is the state of our political world and the people of the press upon which we depend to be our watchdogs.

Is it any wonder that Stewart’s show has become must-see watching for millions of Americans?  Sure it’s comedy.  But there is also social commentary there.  Hopefully, today’s event will be humorous and maybe a little more.  We’ll see.

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The Question

There are times in the lives of many when they find  themselves at a particular point and they move beyond what the everyday has to offer and they begin to question what they are and why they exist.  It may be a question of the spiritual or it may be some internal yearning to be more than they see in themselves.  Whatever the case, they find themselves on the brink of what seems like eternity,  seeking to comprehend the answers that swirl around them.

 A time of questioning.  A time of definition.

That’s the feeling I pull from this painting, a 7″ by 7″ piece on paper that is part of my show, Toward Possibility, which opens November 6 at the Kada Gallery in Erie.  This painting is titled The Question.

There’s a brightness in the colors of this piece that give it, at first glance, a deceptively happy feel.  But the merging lines of the field moving  into the swirls in the blue of the sky tell a more serious story.  Even the tree has this same appearance of simple joy in the way it is shaped but when placed against the light that burns through the blue, it takes on a more somber look.

It appears to be one thing but can be something quite different, depending on how one views it.

I think that’s what I like about this piece, the fact that if one wants to see it simply as a pleasant composition with nice colrs and contrast, it is just that.  But if one desires to see a layer of depth beyond that, one that might echo their own questioning, it serves that purpose as well.

Hopefully, The Question does either of these for someone besides me.

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Chang and Eng Live On

When I was a kid I had a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records  that I read unti it was dog-eared and tattered.  It featured many prodigious and  ridiculous feats performed by folks from around the world but also reveled in human oddity.  The tallest man in the world.  The fattest twins.  Things like that. I always remember it as the place where I first saw the photos of Chang and Eng, the original Siamese twins who gained popularity in the midcentury 1800’s as an attraction with the P.T. Barnum shows. 

The child’s imagination struggled to figure out how they accomplished the little things we take for granted while being attached to one another.  It all seemed such a great obstacle, the trouble it must’ve been in doing something so basic as going to the bathroom. Or anything, for that matter.

Yet, they persevered and prospered wonderfully in this country, despite their obvious handicap.  They married and had 21 children between them.  I’m sure their wedding bed was a crowded affair.  But they were more than circus freaks.  They stressed integrity and intelligence and became known as shrewd businessmen who maintained a successful plantation in Mount  Airy, North Carolina which you may know as the de facto location of Mayberry, the fictional small town Utopia from the Andy Griffith Show.  Barney Fife and the Siamese Twins!  Imagine the possibilities!

Of course, this was long before the time of Barney and Andy and Opie.  In fact, it was before the Civil War and the twins, in fact, owned a number of slaves and supported the Confederacy in the conflict.  Two of their sons fought for the South.  After the war, they lost much of their property to the government .  They died within  hours of one another in 1874.

I bring this up because I just read that Alex Sink, the Democrat from Florida who is leading in the polls in the gubernatorial race there, is the great-granddaughter of the twins.  I thought that this was an interesting sidenote to this election season, one that doesn’t involve yelling and character defamation.  It is a great example of the American Dream, the descendent of immigrants (yes, immigrants!) who came here and succeeded despite the many obstacles they faced, leaving a legacy that brings one of their ancestors to the doorstep of a high office in government.  What a great story in such a shrill time!

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I received a comment on yesterday’s post about the Victorian era stereopticon plates  that mentioned the year 6513 that was in one of the photos, New Years Day in Hell,  from the Les Diableries series that I was highlighting.  He thought the significance of the date was in indicating a very distant date that suggested eternity.  Sounded good to me.

But I began to think and was wondering if this date had to do with some prophecy, some Mayan calendar or Nostradamus thing.  After all, if the Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012 ( when doomsayers predict an end to our time on Earth), New Years day in 2013 would be pretty hellish.  At least I would think.

So I looked up dates and tried to figure some significance for 6513, thinking that the calendar used in such predictions went back that far.  But I came up with nothing.  Seems the Mayan calendar is in the 5200 year range.  But as I was looking it up I came across the Antikythera Mechanism, which I have always found incredibly intriguing.

The Antikythera Mechanism, considered the first known analog computer, was found in a box in an ancient shipwreck found off the Greek island of  Antikythera in 1900.  The mechanism was a mystery from the beginning and remained so for decades until technology allowed the device, heavily cemented from being deeply buried in the sea for millenia, to be scanned internally and dated.  It is dated back to about 150 BC and appears to be a very sophisticated device for ascertaining the location of the planets and moon and sun ( along with eclipses) at any given date.  It is complex and finely machined, predating modern clockmaking by about a thousand years. 

I find this amazing and just a bit more proof of how we often we are wrong when we view ourselves in this time as being so intellectually superior to times past.  We may have expanded our base of knowledge and our use of technology but at the base, the brilliant minds then would be the brilliant minds now.  The capacity for thought and intellectual inquiry has not grown over the eons, nor has our capacity for performing barbaric deeds diminished.  In fact, this mechanism shows that we have changed far less than we would like to believe, despite our advances in science and technology.  We are, at the core, the same as we’ve always been.

I don’t know if that’s comforting or sad. 

I would hope that 2000 or 3000 or 4000 years would find us more evolved, less tied to our baser self, less prone to stupidity and viiolence.  But it doesn’t.  We are no more civilized or intelligent than the folks who conceived and built that ancient device.  I guess that’s sad.

Well, now that I’ve depressed you,  here’s an animation of how the mechanism is assembled…

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Les Diableries

I came across these photographic oddities and thought they would be fitting in this week that ends with Halloween.  The stereoscope was invented in Paris in 1850 and became a worldwide sensation over the next decade.  In 1861, a series of 72 of these stereoscopic photos were printed anonymously in Paris that consisted of macabre scenes of Satan and various aspects of Hell.  Called Les Diableries, these plates were a drastic turn away from the often mundane photos seen in early stereoscopes and were quite the hit in 1860’s Paris.

The photos remained anonymous in that time because they were viewed as politically satiric of the French government of the time, the Second Empire under Napoleon III.  To openly chide the Emperor at that time could bring dire consequences but the images circulated freely, nonetheless.  I think they are a remarkable set of images from that time and I can imagine how they must have resonated in the minds of people who weren’t exposed to the mind-boggling array of imagery that we often experience in a single day in our time.

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Above Cynicism

It’s less than a week before I deliver my show to the Kada Gallery in Erie and it’s also the last week leading up to the 2010 elections so I am filled with dread on two fronts.  The dread that comes with finishing my works and being ready to show is easy to deal with by simply putting down my head and shutting out distractions from the outside world.  It’s also how I’ll try to get through this last week of politicking in the media, with all the mostly negative campaign ads, partisan analysis and unending polling.

It was with this in mind that I titled this painting from the upcoming show.  A 12″ by 24″ canvas with a calm and confident air about it, I titled this piece Above Cynicism.  This piece reminded me in tone of a small painting that I did many years ago that I entered in a regional show.  It took one of the top prizes and gave me the first glimpse that I could succeed with my work.  It was titled The Sky Doesn’t Pity.  The idea behind the title was that the natural elements simply exist and are not subject to human qualities, good or bad.  There is no pity, no shame, no hatred in the sun, the wind or the rain.  They simply are.

Oh, there are times when they seem to punish us, when floods wash us away or snow buries us, but it is only our own selfish trait of defining everything as it pertains to our existence.  The elements only do what they do.  The rain and snow falls, the winds blow and the sun shines.  Without emotion or bias.

That is pure truth.

That’s what I see in this piece.  The central figure is high above the surrounding landscape, exposed to the elements but free from the tentacles of human traits such as envy, hatred and anger.  It is peace in that it is simply what it is. 

 No argument.  No hyperbole.  No politics.

Light fills the sky and clouds trail across it, carried by a cool breeze. It is a moment that is what it can only be.  Perfect.

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There are particular types of paintings that I do that I sometimes paint expressly for certain galleries where they show more interest for that particular type than other galleries.  One such case is the long, thin sliver paintings such as the one shown here.  This piece, The Thin Shard, is an image measuring 4″ wide by 44″ tall on paper and was done specifically for my upcoming show at the Kada Gallery

I have done a number of these paintings over the years for all of my galleries but Kathy, the owner of the Kada Gallery along with her husbamd Joe,  has always had a personal preference for this tall, lean shape which comes across when she talks with her clients.  As a result, these paintings have always left the gallery fairly quickly.  Whenever Kathy asks what is new in the studio she almost always asks if I have been working on any of these this slices for her.

I started painting this shape early in my career, basically as a way to make use of all the scraps of paper left over from other more traditionally shaped paintings.  As I painted them, I realized that there was a certain pleasure that came from putting together this type of paintiing, from conquering the puzzle of how to create a scene that incorporates multiple elements into such a thin view while still maintaining a certain cohesiveness and natural feel, without the appearance of being contrived.  Creating depth into the piece was also an obstacle that had to be overcome without the benefit of a wide horizon and little room to convey much perspective. 

Then there was the problem of creating the balance in the painting that I’ve talked about in past posts.  It’s still there in each thin painting but it’s a tighter, more organized sort of thing that requires more precision in the placement of each element that makes up the painting.  A misplaced line or a sloppy juxtapostion of colors can be disastrous in such a such a small area with little room for compensating in other ways.  The shape of the painting seems to make the normal puzzles of painting seem larger.

But for me, these barriers create a wonderful environment for the paintings to grow.  The narrowness of the pieces creates its own visual excitement and is a wonderful carrier of color.   When successful, these pieces have an easy feel that allows them to be taken in at once.

I like this particular piece very much.  The color is rich and  and the weighting of the color and contrast, along with focus created by the placement of the moon,  make the eye take in the depth of the piece easily.  The tree breaks mildly out of the picture plane, giving it even a bit more feel of depth and an interesting silhouette.  On the wall, the size of the painting when framed (10″ wide and 50″ tall) gives the piece great visual impact.  It demands the eye, which is ultimately what I hope for all my work– that they have a force that is so vibrant and alive that they reach out from the wall.

I think The Thin Shard does that.

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It’s always disappointing as a baseball fan when your team’s season ends unceremoniously in defeat.  Such is the case today as I ponder a long year that began in March with the high expectations of spring training for the Yanks and ended nearly eight months later with a loss to the Texas Rangers, who move on to the World Series.  The Rangers outplayed the Yankees on every level, outhitting, outrunning and definitely outpitching the defending champs in all but a handful of innings in the series.

The Yankees had a pretty good year but the watchful fan had a feeling they came into the postseason out of rhythm.  They struggled in September, losing their divisional lead and going into the playoffs as the wildcard.  There was seemingly a renewal of spirit after their sweep of the Twins in the first round but, in reality, the Twins had come into the playoffs in as much of a funk as the Yanks and were even more out of step.  It created a false hope that this team could simply turn it on and be back in a smooth winning rhythm.

The Rangers made certain that this was not the case and made the Yanks look older and slower and uninspired.  Oh, they were professional and always on the verge of springing to life but never seemed to make the crucial pitch or play.  As much as it galls me to say it, after watching George W. Bush clapping in the stands next to Nolan Ryan during some of the games, the Rangers were simply the better team.

For now.

So my investment of time rooting for my team comes to an end and my remaining fan allegiance for this season is transferred to the San Francisco Giants.  They are a team that is fully in rhythm and playing as a cohesive unit.  Although they have less talent than any of the teams still standing, they are doing the most with what they have, playing with an attitude of confidence and destiny.  Hopefully, they pull it out tonight against the Phils.

I mean, how can you not root for a team whose best players are named Buster Posey (what a great moniker!) and Tim “the Freak” Lincecum?

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This is a painting I just completed yesterday, an 8″ by 26″ piece on paper, that I’m calling Edge of Light.  It’s another piece that I am showing at my upcoming show, Toward Possibility,that opens November 6 at the the Kada Gallery in Erie, PA.

There is a lot that I could talk about in this painting.  It has great underlying texture with swirls of chaotic fingerpaint-like slashes in the gesso.  It has great depth into the picture plane that gives one the feeling of being able to fully enter the landscape.  It has elements I seldom use in the stone walls of the short cliffs next to the water.  It has rich colors and a winding road that pulls the viewer along.

But the element that stands out for me is the balance in this piece between the light generated from the hazy sun that burns through on the right side of the painting and the darkness in the color and shade of the left.  When I look at a painting like this, one that is more horizontal, I always look at it as though there is a fulcrum underneath it, as though the painting were a teeter-totter and it rested on a support which allowed it to pivot upward or downward depending on which end had the greater weight.  What I am trying to do is make the painting on that fulcrum, balancing elements so that it seems to hover effortlessly level above this pivot point.

In this painting, this is all about balancing the light between the two opposing sides.  The greater the light coming from one side, the greater the darkness in the other side.  The darkness on the left makes the light coming from the other side appear brighter.  However, in a wide piece like this, if the the contrast is too great, the lighter side becomes too dominant, too heavy in a way,  and the balance on the fulcrum is broken.  I think this painting has that balance that I’m seeking.

I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone but myself.  Like a lot of things I do, this is a matter of feel and trying to describe how feel works often requires using analogies that may not always make sense.  In the end, I simply paint and if I’ve done all I can with the feel of which I talk, the viewer will easily take in the painting without considering things like balancing on a pivot point.

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