Archive for May, 2011

I’m in the last few days of finishing my work for the show that opens next week, June 10, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. VA.  I’m sealing frames and wrapping the pieces for safe transport to the gallery later this week.  This is always the time when there are alternating waves of relief and anxiety.  Relief in knowing that the work is done and that I’ve did all I can for this show.  Anxiety in the fear that it won’t do well, that I’m seeing something in the work that won’t be evident to others. 

 This is somewhere around my 30th solo show so I’m somewhat used to these mixed feelings by now and don’t panic when the anxiety hits.  I know that I’ve given maximum effort and it’s out of my hands.  I can’t control the response.  

The anxiety, like most things, will pass with time.

I’ve tried to create a mix in this show with some new looks and some pieces that are easily recognized as being part of my visual vocabulary.  The piece shown above, Night of Wonder (15″ by 20″), is such a piece.  A very simply composed piece, it has many of the elements that have been part of my work for many years.  The archetypical Red Tree, perched atop a distinctive nob of soil.  The exposed  and somewhat irregular edges.  The two blocks of color separated by a thin white break between them.  Dense color and a viewpoint with the eye-level set at the same height as the horizon. 

I think they all come together well here and give this piece the sense of quiet wonder that I hoped for– quiet but not bland.   It has bite , if that can be used here as a measurable quality, and that is what makes this piece come together so well.  

It also has a solidness of feel that helps quell the anxiety of preparing for this show.  It is like an old friend who I know will stand up well for me when I need it.

And that is saying a lot.


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Memorial Day

Like a great many of you out there, I have not had to experience the hardships of war firsthand.  It remains a sight to see from a distance, on the television or in movies.  Terrifying and deadly but always from afar.  From this remote view it becomes an easy thing to simply shrug it off after a while and turn back to our own personal endeavors, thinking that the spectre of war won’t affect us and can remain a distant afterthought.

But it doesn’t take much  to realize how close war has been to each of us and our families for generations.  I know for me,while doing some genealogy,  I found war after war through the ages where relatives  served, some dying and some being wounded.  Young and not so young men who rallied to the call and paid some sort of price for their efforts.  My genealogy is unremarkable in that aspect as the same could certainly be said for almost all of  families.

There is a lot to hate about war.  The death, devastation and destruction is enough, let alone the financial costs that sap the economies of the world.  But while war is, and should remain, a thing to be despised, we owe a huge sense of gratitude for those who have served and paid the ultimate price to preserve the things and ideals we take for granted nearly every day, all the time  thinking that these things will remain in place without any need for protection. 

So today, remember the price paid, the lives cuts short.  Hate war, yes.  But give these soldiers who have shed their blood our gratitude and respect, as well as our empathy for the other lives they were never able to realize. 


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Still in the act of getting work ready for the show in a couple of weeks.  It’s going pretty smoothly which I suppose it should after the years of doing this same routine.  It’s pretty exciting to see the work, especially those on paper, transform from the raw image to a fully presented piece with matting and frame.  Unmatted, the paintings have the exposed  beginnings of where the gesso of the surface begins as well as the rough edges of the paper itself.   The mat and frame focuses the piece and there’s a real sense of transformation once the piece is complete as though it has suddenly blossomed fully. 

So, I’m off to continue the transformation.  I thought I’d play a tune today, a wondeful version of an old John Prine song, Killing the Blues.  It’s from the unlikely  duo of  of bluegrass/folk star Allison Krauss and formerLed Zep frontman Robert Plant.  Just a great take on a great song.

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This week I’ve been heavily focusing here on new work from my next show which opens at the Principle Gallery on June 10th.  I was going to move to something other today but as I sat here contemplating what to write about, this piece just completely swallowed my attention, making me forget about anything else.  I suppose that’s as strong a sign of validation for a piece of work as anything.

This painting has a feeling of total contentment for me.  Nirvana.  In fact, I call this piece,  a 14″ by 24″ image on illustration board,  Serene One.   

There’s a wondeful golden glow to this piece, a radiance in the surface that I often hope for in my work but seldom feel  is completely attained.  It’s not something that I can produce at will.  It just shows itself periodically, a tantalizer, a glimpse of where the work might take me if only I put myself- mind and spirit- completely into it. 

This search for this  radiance is not unlike the quest and desire for the actual serenity it represents.  That may be the greatest benefit of my job as a painter, the fact that it allows me to search for this contentment in my work, the same sort that I seek in myself. 

I could say much more about this painting but I think what I’ve said is enough.  This piece is well beyond my words.

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Origins is the title that came forward in my mind for this new  painting from the Principle Gallery show, which opens June 10th.  It’s a  small piece, 5″ by 7″ on paper, that recalls some of my earlier Archaeology series pieces, particularly the ones that focused more on the strata rather than the artifacts. 

Origins is primarily painted in shades of sepia with some grays and blacks.  It is highlighted with a thin greenish tone in the grass and a deep orangish sun above, touches that push out well from the sepia background, giving a pop to the piece.

The title, as I see it, refers to the relationship between the sun and the grass, as well as the tree which connects them in the scene.  The very beginnings of life, the start of yet another cycle of existence.  The layers below the surface represent the generations and ages that have come and gone before, now buried together out of sight.  The surface is the present,  for the living, unfettered by the past.   The tree, and its limbs that move in many directions, represents the potential of youth.  The freedom of the now.

The grass at the base of the tree symbolizes an urgency of existence, being pulled upward by the feeding sun, feeling fresh and vibrant while knowing its time is limited here. The pale tint of the larger grassy area is a pulse to me, faint but becoming stronger.

As I’ve stated many times before, these are what I see after the fact.  When I’m painting, these things are not in mind at all.  At that point, it is all about balance and rightness and rhythm.  The outcome, the what-wiil-be, is undefined.  It’s like being a reader of tea leaves- before I can read the leaves the tea must be made.

That may not make sense to anyone but I think I know what I’m trying to say.  And for the moment, that will have to be enough.

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When he reached the ferry, the boat was just ready, and the same
ferryman who had once transported the young Samana across the river,
stood in the boat, Siddhartha recognised him, he had also aged very

“Would you like to ferry me over?” he asked.

The ferryman, being astonished to see such an elegant man walking along
and on foot, took him into his boat and pushed it off the bank.

“It’s a beautiful life you have chosen for yourself,” the passenger
spoke. “It must be beautiful to live by this water every day and to
cruise on it.”

With a smile, the man at the oar moved from side to side: “It is
beautiful, sir, it is as you say. But isn’t every life, isn’t every
work beautiful?”

——-Herman Hesse, From “Siddhartha


This is is a new piece, also from the upcoming Principle Gallery show.  It’s a small piece, 6″ by 18″ on canvas, that I call simply Ferryman.  I have used the image of the ferryman through the years, usually in very simple, quiet compositions.  It would be easy to associate the image with that of Charon, the boatman of Greek mythology who carries recently deceased souls across the river Styx in Hades.  There is that feel about this image,  especially with the red chair sitting empty in the boat, an image I have often associated with the dead and memory of the past.

 But I see this particular ferryman in a different way, more like the philosophic ferryman of Hesse’s Siddhartha above.  The passage with this ferryman is  more about transformation than transportation, a spiritual crossing from existence, one state of being,  to another.  The brightness of the light breaking through in the sky seems more attuned to this reading of the image as well, as though the passage is taking one across to a state of higher enlightenment.  There’s still a somber quality but it is different than that which is often attached to death.  It’s more the feeling of knowing that you are being transformed on this voyage and the past you is no more.  Gone forever.

As always, this is just how I read it.  You may see more, you may see less.  All views are equally valid.

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I just love this photo.  It’s a classic from around 1920 from the great Lewis Hine, the photographer who is best known for his photos of children at work in the mines, factories and fields of  early 20th century America, images which aided in the crusade for child labor laws.  Hard to believe but nationwide child labor laws weren’t fully enacted as law until 1938, about 30 years after Hine started his documentation.  I will show some of those photos at another time.  They are extremely powerful and human and should be seen by those of us with short memories for our not so distant past.

But Hine also was fascinated by the interaction of the worker with the machinery in the burgeoning industrial world.  Man and machine.  His photos are very poetic, the beautiful curves of the machine encompassing the straining form of the worker. Beautiful work.

For me, I am reminded of the A&P factory where I worked for several years as a candy cook.  Our equipment was ancient, much of it built in the 20’s and 30’s with these same curves and weightiness of material.  I always felt like the building was one large machine with multiple parts and we, the workers,  were a sort of  flexible cogs that connected the various parts.  I often felt dwarfed by the sheer size and power of some of the machines but after a bit found that there was a wonderful sense of rhythm and empowerment in mastering a machine.  That’s sort of what I see in this photo.

I’m also reminded of a piece of equipment I bought a number of years ago to clear some of my property here.  It was a late 1940’s Allis Chalmers track loader, much like the one shown here.  I spent as much time working on the machine with big wrenches much like the one the worker is using in the Hine photo as I ever did clearing land.   After many headaches, I finally got rid of it after a few years.  But I did come to appreciate the weight and intrinsic beauty of those big tools and still enjoy feeling them in my hands, if only to hold them for a moment.

Here’s a neat little videoon this photo from the George Eastman House, where much of Hine’s work is held.

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I’ve been showing a number of the pieces here that are part of my Principle Gallery show that opens on June 10, focusing recently on the more monchromatic work, those pieces in shade of gray and sepia with less color.  I thought this painting would be a nice return to the color of my normal work.  Called Dusky Dance, it’s a 7″ by 15″ image that rests in a 14″ by 22″ mat and frame.

This image features the intertwined trees that I have sometimes painted over the years, their trunks and limbs rhythmically coming together which brings about the dance of the title.  There’s a great moodiness here in the misty orange atmosphere with the sun  softly finding  its way through. 

The landforms are kept low and simple, their compositional impact intentionally kept to a minimum.  The piece is really about the feel from the sky with its dusky oranges and yellows,  and the the way the trees twist together.  As though the the two trees are existing in only the rare atmosphere of that moment which I think is reflected in the extreme focus of this piece.  It’s simply put together but intense in its feeling, both aspirations I normally maintain for my work.  This  makes this a very prototypical piece, one that expresses much of what I feel for my work.

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I came across this photo,  titled  Roth Service Station, Muscatine, Iowa, May 14, 1934, on a terrific site that features a great archive of photos of historical and sociological significance, These Americans. Well worth a visit.

I was immediately taken by this image.  I loved the way it came together as a composition as well as the beautifully simple yet elegant design of the service station.  It also made me think about that boy in his road racer, made me wonder if he was aware this image of his eternal youth was out there somewhere, floating in cyberspace.  He would have to be near 90 years old if he were still alive and would have a lifetime of experiences to place on that youthful face.  But here he is always 11 or 12 or whatever age he was.   There is no evidence of what might come of him except for that road racer in Iowa. 

Maybe he ended up in Detroit,  becoming one of those designers who brought us those wonderful cars in the post-war years of the 40’s and 50’s.  That is, if he survived the war.  He would have been about the right age when war broke out for us in late 1941, seven years after this photo. 

Or maybe he didn’t even live to see the war.   A tragic road racer accident?  Who knows?

A photo like this is such an enigma, filled as it is with multitudes of possibilities with only a few people, if any,  knowing the true story of that boy.  I’m hoping he lived a long and calm, uneventful life, surviving the highs and lows we are all subject to in our passage through this world.  Whatever the case, he lives on as young man in a road racer on a spring day in Iowa in 1934.  Great photo…

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Well, once again we are at the End Of Days.  And just like every other time, and there have been many other times throughout history, we will get up tomorrow and slog forward as we wait for the next best guess as to when the world will end.  And there will be more guesses, more goofy calculations made from vague biblical dates and questionable interpretations of scripture telling us to prepare for the Rapture.  And there will always be a willing audience listening and hoping that this will be the real thing.

I never really understood why some folks were so eager for this event, how they could be so sure of their own righteousness.  I always had the feeling that if there really was a  rapture and the righteous among us were somehow sucked upward to meet Jesus  in the heavens above, or whatever these people believe, that there would be a lot of very disappointed people running around, screaming that a mistake had been made, that they had somehow been missed. 

I would not be one of them.  I have no illusions.  When the world is transformed into a lake of fire or whatever the hell they claim the world will become, I fully expect to be here.  Oh, I won’t be happy about it– I really can’t take the heat– but I will stick it out.  That’s the human urge and besides, I have things to do.

I’ve always felt more inclined to be in the school of thought that believes that the world will end not with a bang but with a whimper.  Maybe the end has already started, been advancing upon us for hundreds of years and we just can’t see its progress.  Oh, well…

Here’s a song, Skeeter Davis’ 1960’s hit, The End of the World.  In my memory of it, I always thought this was a better song but after seeing this version, I find myself ready for the world to end.  Surely that hairdo is one of the signs of the apocalypse!  See you tomorrow.  Hopefully.

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