Archive for September, 2011

This is a newer painting titled Raw Grace that recently went to the Principle Gallery.  It’s an 18″ by 26″ image on  paper that has been heavily textured with multiple layers of gesso.  The gesso is applied in several ways here– by brush, trowel and from a squeeze bottle that leaves the ropey strands that swirl through the piece.  When I was finally done the sheet weighed several pounds and had a definite sculptural feel, like a bas relief piece.

This was a case where I was so enamored of the prepared sheet that I hesitated for a very long time before starting on the painting itself.  I wanted to make sure that I was positive of my commitment to the piece before I jumped in.  Anything less than that could ruin all the prep that took place.

I knew that I desired that  the composition of the painting to be uncomplicated , even simple.  I wanted the chaotic feel of the texture underneath to be able to shine through and carry the weight of the piece’s message.  But, at the same time, the overpainting needed to be strong enough to not be overwhelmed by the underneath.  I felt that the  blowing red tree offered that strength as well as a reactive counterpoint to the fury of the sky.  It was painted as a dark silhouette to move it further to the front and create space behind, space that carries the emotional feel of this piece.

 I think the title captures what I see in this painting well.  There is definitely a rawness in the texture and the way the paint, especially the edges, covers the ridges and valleys.  Even the graceful flow of the tree in the wind has a sharp, raw edge that hints at its strength.  It all comes together well in this piece for me and I feel that I haven’t squandered the opportunity that I saw in those first layers of gesso.

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Recently stumbled across a site that has become a new favorite.  It’s called Luminous Lint and is devoted to the art of fine photography from the earliest days of the medium up to the present time.  It is filled with an incredible archive of imagery from the work of the giants of photography such as Richard Avedon and Walker Evans to the most obscure photos from unknown photographers.  I have only scratched the surface with my own visits to this sight, at first drawn to it because I discovered they had a group of photos from Henry Beach, a photographer of the turn of the 20th century who chronicled life in the Adirondacks.  I was familar with some of his photos of the village of Forestport, a place I’ve mentioned several times here.  My great-grandfather was a prominent lumberman there in its heyday and it remains an area of fascination for me.

One of the oddities you can find on this site is a good sized collection of Post Mortem photography from the late 1800’s, such as the piece shown above.  It was not uncommon for families of that era to have photos taken of the recently deceased as a final memory of their family member.  It is a very different viewpoint of death than we have as a society today and perhaps stems from the relative nearness of death in their world as compared to ours.  I know from my genealogical research that many families losing several children to death was not uncommon and many households held extended families so that aged relatives passing was a normal course of everyday life.  Death was simply a part of life.  It still is even though we often try to deny and delay it. 

So, if you are attracted to imagery that is beautiful or odd or filled with history, this is a great site to spend a bit of time.  Unlike many sites, you won’t feel as thought your time was wasted.

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Cheri and I were walking yesterday afternoon on a dirt road near us.  The road goes down steeply into a ravine then back up, passing through fields.  On one side there is a large field, probably 70-80 acres in size, that is no longer worked by any farmer and has become full of chest high goldenrod, now all out in  yellow splendor.  This field of goldenrod rises to our left as we climb and all you can see at the top of the ridge beyond the field are the perfectly round crowns of maple and other hardwood trees.  Above it all is a deep blue autumn sky with beautiful full clouds rising at  the bottom of our sight  of it. 

It’s quite an idyllic scene.  Tranquil. It seems as though it is a place existing in different times at once and as we walk, I can’t help wonder how someone walking up that road two hundred years ago would have felt.  Would their experience of that moment and place been any different than mine?  Have all the changes in the world over that time altered the way in which I or anyone of our time react to this moment?  Have we really changed at all since someone might have first walked up that road centuries ago?

I try to put myself into the mind of someone from that past time doing just that, try to think of things that may have been bearing on their mind at that time.  Someone at that time walking up such a road was probably a farmer of some sort.  Probably thoughts of the labors that must be finished before the harshness of winter set in preoccupied their thinking-the crops that must be harvested and safely secured, the wood for heating their home that must be cut, etc.  All the things that allowed their survival against the cold and hunger of winter.

My thoughts are a bit different, less concerned with survival and sometimes about things well beyond my own personal world.  I suppose my world has allowed me more time to think on things outside the immediate necessities of pure sustenance.  But I wonder, in that moment when I look up over the goldenrod and see those blue skies, if  we don’t share at least that same sense of awe at the beauty of the moment?  In that moment, would his thoughts of the immediate labors before him dissolve in the same way as my thoughts of things far removed did as I looked on?

Perhaps, beyond our trappings, we remain unchanged.  I would like to think so, at least in matters of awe and wonder.

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I’m done with shows for the year and have been starting to do some little and not-so-little chores around the home and studio.  My time painting for a few weeks will be limited but even so, I have imagery and ideas floating around in my head while I’m preoccupied in these other tasks.  I start thinking about how the next big burst of painting will start and where it might lead and how I want to continue some things that have marked this past year’s work and set aside some other things until another time and place.

For instance, the colors in this recent painting, Released, are some that I have used periodically in the past.  Rolling orange dunes and purplish sky.  There’s something in this palette that thinks I should go a bit further with it and I set a marker in my head to do so.  What comes from it, I can’t yet say.  Sometimes these markers, these ideas,  end up only being the beginnings of something that results in something far different than I expected.  More often than not, if I let the idea just go on its own and of its own energy it is better than expected.  It’s when I try to force the situation that it ends up being less than I thought or hoped.

This is always an exciting time for me, when ideas are germinating and there is nothing but potential in the forseeable future.  The ideas are yet untested and there’s a real positivity around them.  These growing ideas really drive me to get back to the studio after doing the other tasks at hand.


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Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.

—-Hannah Arendt


One can’t watch the current political discussion, if that’s what it can be called, taking place in our nation without the word hypocrisy or hypocrite somehow emerging in the  mind.  I’m thinking of those elected officials who have worked for decades in government who now claim that government is, in fact, the problem and that they now have the solutions, even though their past performance shows no indication of any initiative to change anything.  What they were once for they now oppose.

 Each side sees it in the words of the other and those who favor neither political extreme wish only to hear words that are earnest and truthful, or at least truthful in a way that they themselves see as truth.  Unfortunately, truth seems to no longer be an absolute but has become a relative term, with degrees and shades, leaving those who seek some sort of answers to quell their fears and concerns to decipher a melange of facts, truths, half-truths and bald-faced lies.  A ball of confusion that yields nothing but frustration.

I certainly have no answers.  I’m as frustrated as the next person by this currently disjointed and ineffective dialogue and only want clarity.  A delineation of our common goals that we can strive for together, goals that bind us rather than pull us apart.  I don’t think there’s much room for hypocrisy in this effort.

Probably not making much sense or providing any clarity here myself.  Just a little early Sunday morning half-rant.  Hope your day is good.

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Low Rider

Another one of those looking-for-one-thing-and-finding-another moments.  I can’t even remember what brought me to this picture but I stopped as soon as I saw this.  At first, I thought it was some spaced out lowrider with a see-thru hot tub on the back.  I mean, it’s tricked out with flashy rims and it looks like the front end is starting to buck a little. 

Then I realized this was no ordinary lowrider but was, in fact, the PopeMobile.  It kind of took me aback for a second, the idea that the Pope had somehow converted to some sort of lowrider high priest, calling himself Joey Ratz and cruising the streets around the Vatican in his souped up Benz.  Just an odd image that seems a bit out of place.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the song Low Rider from War, the classic 70’s hit that had an infectious rhythm that still clicks today.  Here it is with a video of some real lowriders doing things I don’t think Gottleib Daimler or Henry Ford ever envisioned.

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I’ve been thinking more about Eugene Von Bruenchenhein since writing about him yesterday, mainly about how he continued creating prolifically throughout his life, all the while keeping it pretty much to himself and his wife and perhaps a friend or two.  I try to compare his obsession with my own need to paint and I find they are quite different or at least appear to be.

I don’t think I could do what artists like Von Bruenchenhein and other private artists have done.  I don’t think I could maintain that intensity in the work if I thought it was only for myself.  I suppose these artists get their satisfaction in the actual creation of the work and  that, in itself, is their reward.  That makes sense but is different from what drives my own obsessive need to paint.

I think that the actual creation of the work is vital to me  but more important  is the communication that comes with each piece.  Knowing that the work is going to be seen and is going to be able to reach out to others is the driving point in what I do.  If I thought that the work would only be seen by myself I probably wouldn’t create it, wouldn’t feel the need.  The painting itself is an expression of something I hold inside already and wish to get across to others so, if I’m not going to show it to others, why do it

That being said, there is work that I do periodically for only myself.  I don’t do these pieces in the prolific manner of Von Bruenchenhein but those few I do are meant to stay with me and are painted only to be seen by me.  They are private expressions, different parts of my own personal prism that will remain hidden from sight.  Perhaps I do this because so much of my life is shown in relation to my work and feel the need to have something that is created only for my eyes.  That is different than the obsessive creators.  Maybe because their urge to create is so different than my own is why I find these possessed few so fascinating. 


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The idea of an artist devoting his whole life to creating a large body of work that remains hidden from most of the world is an interesting concept.  In some minds there is a romantic notion where this body of work is discovered after the artist dies and the great talent  is suddenly unveiled to the world.  The hidden genius. 

 Unfortunately, this seldom happens.  Probably because there are so few people driven to continue making a body of unique and expressive work over a long period of time without somehow finding its way out into the greater world, even in a small way.  Some are prolific for short periods of time but few let their passion carry through the entire course of their life.

One who did fill his whole life with the fruit of his creative impulse and kept it hidden until after his death was Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, who was born in Wisconsin in 1910 and died there in 1983.  For most of his life, he worked as a bakery employee, keeping his creative side well hidden from the outer world.  He occupied his time with painting, creating sculpture from chicken bones and ceramic and erotic photography of his wife, Marie, wearing crowns and jewelry he had crafted, probably the aspect of his creativity that has gained the most notoriety.

After his death in 1983, a friend wishing to somehow find a way for Marie to survive financially and hoping that some of this artwork might be selllable , took some of the work to the Milwaukee Art Museum.  The bulk of it eventually was acquired by the Wisconsin based Kohler Arts Center.   The inner world of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein was finally out into the light of the outer world.

His painting was mainly abstract and verging on the psychedelic, with swirls of bright paint that he manipulated with his fingers, brushes made with Marie’s hair and tools he fashioned from bakery items.  Painted in the Cold War era of Assured Mutual Destruction, many of his paintings have a definite apocalyptic feel to them.  Definitely visionary stuff. 

There’s a great site featuring his paintings that has been set up by a fan of his work and there are other sites that can give you more info on this creative life than I can in this short post.  Just an interesting story of the triumph of the creative impulse. 

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A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.

–Joan Didion


My friend Linda from Texas one day in her blog  brought this quote from Joan Didion to my attention and it has stuck in my mind for some time.  It seems to especially apply itself to those places and memories from our past that have long passed from the sight of the general public, places that I often run across when doing genealogical research.  Towns that have vibrant stories and a rich , interesting past but are nearly vacant now, the memories of that place now resigned to an existence in a few aging minds and a few timeworn photos.

My nephew and his wife recently went up through the Adirondacks and I told him to look for the village of Forestport where my grandmother’s family had a large presence in the late 1800’s and early 20th century.  Her father, my great-grandfather was a prominent member of the logging industry there, employing hundreds of loggers who harvested the timber of the Adirondack and sent it on barges down the Black River Canal to the Erie Canal and onward to build the booming cities of the east.  After his trip, he said that he had been through Forestport and there wasn’t much there.

In my research, the town had taken on its own life.  There are many photos like the one above of the rail station where my grandmother used to come and go (she might even be in that crowd) give evidence of a bustling place full of life.  There are a few books that document the town at that time, talking about the many characters who built the village in the southern forest of the Adirondacks and rebuilt after it burned to the ground on several occasions.  Other books document its place on the Black River Canal, the barge builders who worked there and the men who kept the locks made the canal work.  All attest to a place full of life.

Yet now that is all nowhere to be seen.  That life is a mere reflection in a few minds who have any interest in such places.  Like me.

I wonder often how close the memory I have wrestled from reading and looking jibes with what actually was.  Have I added more life, more vibrancy than actually existed?  I suppose that’s where Didion’s words enter the equation.  Because I care for some reason, that past, that memory of place has become my possession somehow.  Remade in my image, as she said.

It’s an interesting concept and one that doesn’t necessarily just pertain to place alone.  It may work for all memory, all history– events and people, for instance.  History belongs to those who remake it in their own image, for better or worse.

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I am a big fan of baseball.  I classify myself as a Yankees fan currently but, though I revel in the rich history of the organization with names like Babe Ruth,Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and on and on, it is the group of players that started their current run of success that made me fans of this team.  Bernie Williams, Jose Posada, Andy Pettitte and, of course, Derek Jeter were constants over the last 15 years. All played significant roles in the restroing the Yankees to the top of the baseball heap.

But any fan who cares a lick about baseball knows that much of their success is due to one player, a rail thin man from Panama with the name Mariano Rivera, known to fans simply as Mo.  Today he stands as the all-time leader in saves, meaning he is the pitcher who comes in at the ends of games when the outcome is in the balance and shuts down the threat from the other team. He is the closer, the most demanding position  in the game so far as absolute consistency is concerned.  He either preserves the win or loses the game.  No excuses accepted.

No one has been as consistent in protecting the lead for wins as Mo for the past 15 years, a remarkable time for a position where the strain and stress usually drains most closers after 7 or 8 years.  Yankee fans have long felt the welcome comfort that comes with seeing number 42 come jogging out of the outfield from the bullpen to enter the game.  Even his number is special.  Mariano will be the last player to wear the number since he is the last active player who was wearing number 42 when Major League Baseball retired the number to honor Jackie Robinson. 

It’s hard to explain to non-baseball fans what Mo has meant to the Yankees and to baseball in general.  He has carried himself for these years with great modesty and dignity, never showing up an opponent.  On the mound, he has the appearance of the old gunfighter in the movie westerns of years gone by– wary but calm and collected, knowing that he must control his emotions to do what he must do.   When the game is over, there are no histrionics, no throwing of his hands toward the heavens.  He expects his success and usually flashes a small grin, almost embarassed  sometimes, as the players congratulate him.

 It’s an attitude that has won him great respect around the game.  Yesterday, when he broke the record, the Minnesota Twins, who came up short against Mo in this game, stayed after the game and gathered on the dugout steps to join the Yankee faithful in applauding the embarassed star as he stood alone on the field.  Even diehard Red Sox fans, who boo Jeter like he killed their mother, often give Mo a hearty cheer when he is announced at post-season or All Star games.  He is a man of respect, both giving and receiving, a quality that hopefully will rub off on younger players.

Mo’s 41 years old  and when he takes off his cap his scalp is bald now.  He shows his age a bit but still performs at the highest level.  As a fan I know there will not be many more times when number 42 calms the anxious Yankee fans as he jogs acoss the outfield toward the mound.  I relish every appearance now, knowing that I am watching a legend, a player who will be talked about in the same breath with Ruth and Gehrig.

Deservedly so.

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