Archive for November, 2010

There’s a new documentary out (actually a re-edited version of a 2006 film) called Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him) which concerns itself with the life, death and influence of the late American singer/songwriter.  His career was both brilliant and tragic, qualities you can often see in many of his songs. 

 He had a genius for composing beautiful ballads yet often had a bitter edge, throwing in lyrics that catch the listener off guard.  For example, in Don’t Forget Me Nilsson takes a tender song that has a wistful air and suddenly drops a line like “and when we’re older and full of cancer, It doesn’t matter now, Come on, get happy” that disarms you completely.  Neil Diamond perfromed that song on a recent album and changed that lyric, which bothers me in that it alters the whole song.   Or you can choose any of the lines from You’re Breaking My Heart with its happy rhythms and the ultimate punch of its chorus.

I’m hoping that more people will learn more about Nilsson and his talent to keep his music alive.  It has been a staple for film-makers since his Evcerybody’s Talkin’ from Midnight Cowboy  in 1969 captured the essence of  film and its memorable characters.  A personal favorite of mine is Martin Scorsese’s use of Jump Into the Fire from Goodfellas.

So, if you get a chance, take in this documentary or least find a Nilsson song and give it a listen.  I guarantee you will find something in there to like.  Here’s the trailer:

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I don’t normally show my paintings here with the framing, instead focusing on the image only.  But framing and presenting the work properly is a big deal.  A poor presentation can lessen the impact of a good piece, create a barrier that the viewer can’t get past.  A good presentation allows the work  to be seen in its best light, holding the piece  as though it were a gem and the frame was a fine setting.  You may notice it but the painting itself remains the focus.

I’ve had a certain look for many years now.  It’s a simple profile with a distinctive color that is built for me by a friend, Stephen.  For about the last 13 or so, he has provided me with sturdy raw frames built to my specs and I stain them to attain the color I desire which is normally a  warm yellowish tint with red undertones.  The edges are normally black. 

I tend to use the same frame for almost all my work.   It is simple and is immediately recognizable as my framing.  It also allows work from different years to hang easily together, giving them a sense of continuity and unity.  Plus, it allows me more time to paint by taking away the decision making process in choosing frames for individual pieces.  Early in my career, I learned that this process of choosing was very time consuming and wanted to come up with a way that took it away yet still gave me a distinctive and complementary frame.  Hence, the frame I’ve used for well over a decade came about.

But I still want to change things up periodically, if only to see my work in a different setting.  The piece above is a new one that I call Into the Mix which is a 10″ by 22″ image on paper.  It has a very distinct texture with raised ribs of gesso running chaotically through the background beneath the paint.  All in all, a very strong and individual piece. 

I really wanted to try something different with the presentation of this piece so I went with a frame that I’ve been experimenting with on a very limited basis.  This is only the third one of these I’ve produced.  It is a very simple flat frame with layers of gesso built up on top of it in the form of thin ribs, echoing those in the painting, then painted black.  The black gives the ribs visual depth and the gessoed ribs effectively cover the mitred corners, giving the frame a feel of unity and strength.  I like the look very much for certain pieces such as this, but don’t know if I will adapt it any way for wider use.  It’s just something I need to try to periodically see how the work looks in different settings.  Here, I think the new look works pretty well.

I’ll have to think on this…

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Hallelujah Mobs

I’m a little intrigued by the concept of flash mobs, where in public settings throngs of seemingly random people break into spontaneous (and well choreographed) acts such as singing and dancing.  They’ve been around for a while now and, for the most part, are relatively harmless.  Some are really great to see when they are meant to entertain.   I saw a short clip of this one the other day on CNN.  It takes place at a mall food court in Welland, Ontario, just outside Niagara Falls.  The diners there, one by one , begin to sing Handel’s  Hallelujah Chorus and by the end there appears to be more singers than listeners.  The looks on the unsuspecting and surprised diners are wonderful.

Handel’s piece is not an original choice.  You can find other versions online from all over including one at Macy’s in Philadelphia that had 650 choristers singing as they mingled among the regular shoppers.  But this version is a bit more intimate in setting and sound.  There have been some that complaints about the religious nature of the selection but I think that’s ridiculous.  The beauty and power of the music is evident to anyone regardless of their religious views.

So let the hum-buggers crow and give a look and a listen.

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This time of the year I often do a series of  small paintings to show in the galleries that represent my work.  It allows me to start moving towards new ideas that I may be working on in the upcoming year, as well as  revisiting themes from the past years in a smaller form. This gives me a chance to work on a small scale which allows for quicker alterations to the work while working out concepts as well as providing a lower priced entry point to those who might want to obtain a piece.  These are as close as I come to sketches or studies.  The difference is that unlike many studies, these are complete pieces  done in the same manner as all my paintings no matter the size. This is one such piece from this year, a small 3″ by 5″ canvas that I call Eyes on Time.

The idea of the tree piercing the large sun/moon behind it is one that I ‘ve played with in the past although having the strata beneath is new.  This has a great profile and would translate really well as a larger painting although sometimes it is hard to move a piece to a larger size without losing some of that feeling that makes it seem vital and alive.  The color relationships sometime change  over larger spaces, requiring alterations to the intensities that fundamentally change the way it is perceived. 

 Plus, committing in large scale to some of the elements that work well in a very small painting is sometimes difficult.  For instance, moving this painting to a larger scale might make the sun/moon seem too big as I hover over the canvas or paper.  I have to be fully committed to this idea, have to see it in my mind, or I might be tempted to scale it back in size which changes the whole composition.

It sounds like all of this is well thought out but actually this is a longer explanation of something that occurs in seconds, on the fly as the brush is in motion.  There are many, many decisions in the painting of a piece that are made like this, each one fundamentally changing the painting and sending it in a new direction that calls for more decsions. 

It’s a bit like driving a car.  Blind. There is constant adjustment to the steering wheel as you move forward, feeling the road and reading what it’s telling you as to how to next move.  Or not.  Whatever the case, this feeling along process produces a piece like Eyes on Time, which may be small but is very strong.

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Ragin’ Cajun

I was looking for an old piece as past of a project I’m mulling for the near future and I came across this little piece from about 10 years back.  It’s one that I remember very well.  The movement of the fiddler reminds me of seeing Doug Kershaw as a child on many TV variety shows during a period where he was very visible to the greater public.  The Ragin’ Cajun, as he was known, was unlike most other performers that you saw at the time.  He was this gaunt, bony creature with dark eyes and big sideburns that had an energy that seemed to always be seething below the surface.  He played his fiddle with abandon, cradling it low against his skinny bicep and sometimes flailing at it with his tattered bow.

He seemed pretty cool compared to the Steve Lawrences and that sort that often populated the variety shows of that time.  I see the Cajun in this little piece and am thankful for YouTube because I can reference someone like Doug Kersahw and know I can find something to illustrate my point.  Here’s a little bit of him from the period, doing Johnny Horton’s Battle of New Orleans

Have a great  Friday.

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A Day of Purpose

Another Thanksgiving. 

It’s often a difficult thing for many of us to say what we’re thankful for on this day, or on any other for that matter.  To put into plain words those things that give our life purpose, that give us hope and the need to forge onward.  It is easy to forget those things, to brush them to the back of our minds when faced with the grind of day-to-day life and all the worries and concerns it presents us on a steady basis.  We become so preoccupied with simply surviving and moving ahead  that we forget the very reasons we want to do so.

I think that’s why the idea of Thanksgiving appeals so much to me.  It’s a time to put aside reasons for sorrow and bitterness and a time to reveal reasons for  love and hope.  Our purposes for livings.  I’ve tried to adapt that concept into my everyday life, to take an optimistic tone and to find something positive in the darkest of times. 

It’s not always easy to do.  We all are destined to go through dark periods in our lives, when the natural course of life presents us with the inevitabilities such as illness, death and sorrow.   In those times, it is difficult to find  a reason for thanks in the moment and so easy to fall back into sorrow or anger.  But even in those darkest moments, I find a purpose if only a confirmation that we are indeed human and have the capacity to be moved, to feel the hurt of life. 

As in painting, the darkness serves to make the light brighter.

So today, I put aside reasons for sorrow and focus on reasons for thanks for those things which bring purpose to my life.  I hope you can do the same.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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In yesterday’s post on the blog American Folk Art @ Cooperstown, Paul D’Ambrosio wrote about a bas relief carving in the collection of the Fenimore Museum.  It was one of a series concerning Sullivan’s Diner in Horseheads, NY and was carved by renowned folk artist  Mary Michael Shelley, who works just up the road in Ithaca.  The piece shown here is different from the carving in the Fenimore Collection but both feature the diner’s intimate interior with counter that runs the length of the small trailer with round stools.

I was really interested in this blog post for a couple of reasons.  First, I’ve always been interested in bas relief carvings and, as I wrote her before, started carving in the years before I became a painter.  Much of my painting is done very much like a carving , in the way I see and render the elements.  The second, and more important, reason was that Sullivan’s Diner has always been in my sight in some way for my entire life.  Built in the 1940’s in New Jersey, it spent its early years as Vic’s Diner on Elmira’s eastside,  from where my family hails.  I have distinct memories of its appearance on the corner near St. Joe’s Hospital as a child, even a memory where I was sent sprawling on the sidewalk in front of it on my bicycle.

In 1974, it was moved up the road to Horseheads where Art and Fran Sullivan renamed it and ran it.  Art was a railroad fanatic of the highest order and had an actual engine and an attached car behind the diner’s new location on Old Ithaca Road.  Fran ran the restaurant , doling out generous portions of eggs and bacon for many years from the grill behind the counter of this small trailer diner.  This was not one of the larger streamlined beauties you see along the turnpikes of Jersey.  It was cramped inside with a few booths on one side of the aisle and the counter on the other.  The woodwork and feel was more 1930’s even though it was built in the 40’s.  Living in Horseheads, I ate many breakfasts there over the years and always felt like I was walking into Fran’s home kitchen when I walked through those doors, which seemed to transform you back to a much earlier time when you passed through the doors.

The food was okay, simple but satisfying.  The coffee watery but tasty. But the attraction was the sense of community that the place fostered.  Walking in through the old door you felt like you were entering Fran’s personal kitchen and she treated you as though you were a guest in her home.  Even though I was only a sporadic visitor she always made me feel as though I were one of her regulars, making me feel as comfortable as the regulars who laughed and joked at the counter each morning. 

 I haven’t been there often since Fran retired but the place was reopened under new management and seems to be flourishing.  But I do have fond memories of that place and am gratified that Sullivan’s Diner will forever be immortalized in the collections of at least two museums.  The piece at the bottom is the one from the Fenimore Museum and another is in the National Museum of Women and the Arts in Washington, DC. 

Thanks for the fine work, Mary Shelley, and thanks, Paul, for pointing it out.

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Was That Me?

As machines become more and more efficient and perfect, so it will become clear that imperfection is the greatness of man.

——-Ernst Fischer 


I’ve wondered about the concept of perfection for some time  and quite some time back came to that conclusion that perfection is not a human quality, that we are defined by our imperfections.  That’s somewhat what the quote above says.  When I read it, it struck me at once but I had never heard of the writer, Ernst Fischer.  Looking him up, I found him to be an Austrian Marxist writer who waved the banner for Stalinist policies for many years but in his later years ( he died in 1972) came to regret his past.  His memoir of his life began with a chapter that was titled Was That Me?, indicating his astonishment at looking back and seeing the phases he went through in his life.

I think most of us could start our own memoirs with that same first chapter title.  I know I could, even though I feel that I am very much the same at the core now as I was then.  My actions were not always consistent with that core, however.  I was, and am,  a walking exhibition of flaws, imperfections.  As we all are.  Maybe it’s when we begin to align our actions to who we are at the core that life begins to appear become easier to swallow and our imperfections become less evident. Not worn on our sleeves.  I’m not talking about acquiring perfection, just recognizing the flaws that make up each of us and accepting them.  Life is in toleration.  Of ourselves and others.

Please bear with me here.  One of the problems of doing a daily blog is that I often post things as though I were writing them in a journal, unedited and just as they fall out of the mind.  They are not always fully realized thoughts or ideas and will soon be questioned in my own mind,  like reading an old journal written when much younger and wondering , “What was I thinking there?” or “Was that me?”  You hope that, as we age and gain experience, that this is a less frequent happening in our lives.  But writing in this public forum, forcing out words each day, it sometimes reappears. 

One’s imperfections become apparent. 

Phew!  I don’t know what I just said here and I don’t really want to reread it so I’ll let it hang out there for now, flawed though it may be.

The piece at the top is a tiny painting, 2″ by 4″, that I call Red Eye.  For some reason unknown to me at this point, I felt it fit this post.

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Eyvind Earle

I  was asked by artist and teacher Dave Higgins to sit in on one of his classes at the local community college last week, to critique an assignment he had given his students.  It was a class that focused on creating digital graphics and animations using primarily Photoshop.  The assignment was to make a graphic based upon one of two subjects.  One choice was to select any sign of the zodiac and the other was based on the term red tree.  For red tree, he gave the students no indication of my work , just the phrase.

This was an entry level course but the work was wonderfully creative.  Of course, being a class of mainly 18 and 19 year-olds, there was a fair amount of angst and morbidity expressed in images of death and plenty of blood.  But the work was great.  I could find something of value in each student’s work, something that showed a real spark of imagination and inspiration.  One of the students who has chose red tree had a simple composition of a weeping willow (that weeped blood!) set on a mound.  Very simple but well done.

The color of the mound set against the silhouette of the willow immediately reminded me of the work of Eyvind Earle.  Earle was an artist/illustrator who died in 2000 at age 84.  He was a child prodigy and had his first one man show at age 14 .  He exhibited his work in shows for many years but gained fame through his stylized Christmas cards throught the years and with his time spent working with Walt Disney in the 50’s and 60’s as a background artist.  He was responsible for the look of many of the animated films of that time from Disney, including the classic Sleeping Beauty.  Shown here is some of Earle’s work from that film.

 I came across his work about the time of his death, seeing ads in framing magazines for prints of his highly stylized paintings.  There was something  very familiar and attractive in the work and upon reading his bio I saw the connection between this recognition and his work from having absorbed it in as the settings and backgrounds for many Disney animations I had seen as a kid.  It was very attractive work, very much of the graphic rather than painterly variety.  Strong colors and great and unusual juxtapositions of compositional elements.  Tree limbs extending into the picture like an arm reaching into the center of the image.  Very evocative as well.  It was easy to see how it was so successful in setting the tone for the action that ran across it in the Disney films and how something like it could have subliminally influenced a young student, or me, over the years.

Here’s a short animation that highlights more of Earle’s work.  I believe this is Russian-made so excuse the error in the title as they switched the names around making him Earle Eyvind instead.  I think you’ll feel that same familarity even though you may never had heard the name Eyvind Earle.

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Western Stars

I just want to be quiet this morning, let things just settle in.  Think just a little but more or less just be.  I think the piece shown here, Blue Speculation from 2003, pretty much sums it up.  Just sit back and ponder, just a bit.  The emerging daylight of a Sunday morning has washed away the stars that hung in a cold November night sky but the memory of them remains.

So, I sit quietly and think on stars this morning.

Here’s a little music from KD Lang to fill out the mood.  It’s Western Stars

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