Archive for February, 2012

Thought today deserved a lighter touch.  As I’ve  said here, I’ve always been a big fan of the movies, enjoying most aspects of the crafting of them from their direction to the cinematography of the films to the acting that takes place.  One aspect that I’ve always enjoyed is the movie trailer, a condensed version of the film that gives a preview of the film without really giving away the entire story.  Well, ideally.  There is a real art and rhythm to the best movie trailers that really jumpstarts a movie to life, sometimes coming off far better than the actual film. 

The modern movie trailer has become a different sort of animal than the older trailers that used to more gently promote the film with a genial sort of hyperbole.  Today’s movie trailers are often way over the top, with volume turned up to eleven (for you Spinal Tap fans out there) and enough fast paced scene changes to induce epileptic seizures.  I’m not so much a fan of these. 

After this years Oscar awards, comic Jimmy Kimmel  had a special version of his late-night talk show and on it he unveiled the trailer for his film, MOVIE: The Movie.  It combines every modern stereotypical movie genres into one gargantuan film that feature the willing participation of some of filmdom’s biggest stars such as Meryl Streep, George Clooney and Tom Hanks, to name just a few.  Oh, and Matt Damon, as shown at the top here.

Anyway, if you enjoy movie trailers, you might get a chuckle from this epic (?) production.




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There’s an exhibition currently hanging at  one of my favorite museums, the  extremely comfortable Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, called Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard.  It bascially shows how the advent of personal photography in the late 1800’s, with the invention of the Kodak handheld camera, changed how many artists worked.  The camera allowed artists to capture moments without their easel as well as permitted them to ponder an image long after the moment had passed.  This exhibit focuses mainly on the effect fo the camera on the Post-Impressionists, such as George Hendrik Breitner, whose photo of a girl in a kimono and the resulting painting is shown here.

I have seldom used photos as a pure reference source but, as this blog will attest, have been influenced by many of the photographed images I have come across through the years.  I think this exhibit would be a wonderful insight into how the photographed image is used to translate the artistic vision.   It runs at the Phillips until May 6 of this year

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Not too long ago, I displayed a Chuck Close quote where he said that work is inspiration in itself, that by simply steadfastly doing  what you do will open up creative avenues to follow.  I frimly believe that and have experienced it on many occasions including just this past week. 

 As I have been documenting, I am working on a large canvas, which is nearing completion, by the way.  I showed, in a post last week, how I would cut the image into sections to weigh the strength of each area of the canvas to make sure that it had its own visual power to contribute to the painting as a whole.  I showed the two section from each edge of the canvas and concluded that both pieces stood up well as strong parts of the overall painting as well as compositions in their own rights. 

 In fact, the section from the far right kept me coming back to it.  I really liked the way it flowed upward with each piece interacting with those around it, creating a lovely harmony that really worked well, for my personal taste, at least.  It gave me a great sense of peace looking at it and I soon began exploring ways to make it work in a separate piece.

I felt a real sense of immediacy in creating something based on this and, searching the studio, realized I didn’t have any prepared surfaces ready in any dimension close to what I was seeing in my head.  There was a painting that was in a later state of completion, one that I had mentioned here recently.  It never really sang for me and had sat in a corner of the studio for quite  a long time, just waiting for me to give it the needed attention.  But every time I looked at it, I was less than inspired.  It just wasn’t working. 

 So, looking at it as a possible new surface to paint, it wasn’t a difficult decision to paint over  the image that had never really taken off for me.  It wasn’t a perfect choice, a bit smaller and narrower than the inspiring image, shown here to the left.  The original is somewhere in the 24″ wide by 54″ range whereas this piece is only 10″ wide by 30″ high, making it a much more condensed space in which to work.

  The resulting image is therefore different, which is as it should be.  It is inspired by, not a copy of, the original image.  For me, it flows in much the same manner and has the same sort of feel and harmony.  It works for me and having said that creates its own new sense of inspiration for other work to come.  Just like Chuck Close said– one thing leads to another.



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Ahmet Ertug is an Istanbul based  photographer who began his career as an architect.  This interest in architecture has led him to a renowned career photographing the great buildings of the world.  He works in a very large format that produces huge fine prints that are spectacular.  He shoots the interiors of these buildings in natural light with exposures that often run 2-4 minutes in length, capturing the  beauty of the building as it naturally appears.  Grand and beautiful.

 He has produced a number of limited edition volumes of his work that are hand bound.  One of these is Temples of Knowledge.  It features his exquisite photos of the great historic libraries of the Western world.  For those of you into bookshelf porn, excited by the beauty of the library, his photos are a marvel.

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This is a small piece that I used here last year in a blogpost featuring Richard Thompson’s song Shoot Out the Lights.  I showed this piece but didn’t say anything about it which I think was an oversight because it is one of my personal favorites from this particular series.  It’s called Two Sides and is part of my Outlaws series from several years back, a group that was influenced by some small Goya works done in carbon on ivory as well as by powerful imagery from some later films of the silent era.  Many of the pieces featured a single figure, often holding a handgun, usually in a monchromatic sepiatone.  A few, such as this piece, incorporated more color as well as a copper foil border.

Some folks saw these pieces as being a bit scary, with the handgun imagery and the figures often seeming to be peering out (or in, as some saw it) a window.  I understood the scary part but not for the same reason as those who saw it this way.  They saw the figures as menacing while I saw them as being frozen with their own fears.  These figures were the scared ones.

The title of this piece, Two Sides, is a reference to the polar opposites that make up a yin-yang symbol.  In fact, it’s composed like a yin-yang symbol. with the light of the hand and gun appearing in the dark shadow in which he stands and the darkness of his face appearing in the incoming light.  I see this as representing the light and dark,  the good and evil, that resides in everyone.  At any one time, we may appear to be more to one side  or the other but we normally, and hopefully,  exist between these opposing forces.  This piece reminds me to temper my darker side when it wants to push outward, to maintain this equilibrium.  It makes this a special piece for myself.


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I came into the studio this morning and there was an interesting e-mail from Dave Higgins, a friend and one of my favorite artists whose work has been featured here on the blog  a number of times.  He said he visited a Corning senior center where they hold a weekly session to learn and practice the art of wood marquetry, which is creating pictures using thin veneers of woods as the medium instead of paint or pastel.  It requires precise cutting and placement of the wood as well as a keen eye for matching the tones and textures of the scene you are trying to replicate in wood.  It has been around since the 15th century and has reached some pretty spectacular heights.

Dave said that this group of mainly older women  meet every Friday to practice this art and that they use items snipped from the local newspaper as reference material for them to translate into wood.  To Dave’s surprise, it turns out that their favorite subject to copy is my work. 

He told them he knew me and said that they looked suddenly afraid as though they might be in trouble for plagiarizng my work.  He assured them that I would not be upset but would instead get a kick out of it.  He was  right.  I do get a kick out of this and am very honored as well  It’s a sort of affirmation that my work reaches the wide spectrum of people that I hope for it. 

 I had a similar experience a number of years ago when I was contacted by an arts therapist who worked with seniors.  She would take photocopies of  artists’ works and print them in grayscale for her seniors to color and said that my work was the most popular with her seniors.  She said they really responded strongly to the shapes and lines in my work as well as to the colors in the original images.  That was very gratifying.

I hope to someday drop in and see some of these landscapes in wood.  I hope these folks continue to find them inspiring for their own work.  The image at the top is from Bill G. at Colorado Marquetry.  The image below is his translation of the USS Constitution.

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I wrote last week about the work of the Chicago-based artist Roger Brown, who was part of the Chicago Imagists which were a group of artists who were inspired by the pop imagery of comic books as well as surrealism.  Another artist who was in this circle was Jim Nutt, born in 1938 in Massachusetts and educated at a variety of universities including the Art Institute of Chicago, where he met his wife, artist Gladys Nilsson.  He has lived and painted in the Chicago area since the 1960’s.

Nutt’s early work in the 60’s and 70’s was very much in the comic book/pop art style with bold, flat colors that were often harshly contrasting and fantastic imagery bordering on the bizarre, as can be seen here in the image to the left.  It’s strong, exciting  work but for me the more interesting part of Nutt’s career has been his obsessive, repeated painting of a single imaginary female portrait over the past twenty-five years.  He spends nearly a year neticulously painting  each of these portraits of a woman with a hairdo that evokes the 1940’s and a most unusual large nose that is typically colored in direct contrast to the rest of the woman’s face.  He paints these works in thin acrylic paint with tiny brushes which accounts for the long time frame for each piece.  The resulting work, as a result of this technique, is meant to be seen up close where they reveal their refined surfaces and subtle tones, revealing beauty that belies the sometimes grotesque appearance of the image from afar.

I am always drawn to the artist who repeatedly revisits a form, finding something new in each new foray.  This subject of Nutt’s may be the same image he sees in his mind but each piece is decidedly different  in presentation and feel.  And, while I feel his early work is interesting and distinctive, it is this obsession that has held Nutt for the past 25 years that defines Nutt for me.

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Left Side detail

In my last post, I wrote about how I was going over the large canvas on which I am currently at work, weighing the different elements against one another as I try to create balance in the composition.  It’s a large canvas, 54″ by 84″,  and there is so much more space to oversee, making sure that one area doesn’t so dominate the whole.  In a large horizontal landscape composition, if the one side is overly dominant, making the other seem weak or dull, the entire piece suffers  no matter how wonderful the strong area may be. 

  The right side with the heaviest grouping of houses  was very strong in the overall composition and I found my eyes always settling on the right side of the canvas.  There just wasn’t enough boldness in the sections to the left of center to counter the weight of the houses.  I wasn’t about to add more houses or elements so I decided to turn my attention to heightening the colors and contrasts on the left side, strengthening it so that it came closer to the right in weight.  I spent a day just going back in with colors that brightened the area and brought more attention to it.

Right Side detail

I decided to better see the strength of the different areas I would break up the canvas into sections on my computer. This would let me see their strengths without the influence of the surrounding areas and evaluate them as individual compositions.  The right side  (shown to the right here) was bright and strong with the houses just dominating the area.  But after making the changes on the left side ( the image above) I found that it had tremendous strength of its own and was equal in strength to the right, at least in my eyes.  The strength of the left side, for me, was in the weight created by the harmony of the colors and the elements.  In fact, looking at the left side detail above, I think that it could stand easily as a  really strong piece on its own.

Satisfied with this progress, I can now start to evaluate other parts of the painting and make the final touches that will hopefully pull it all together.

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I’m in the final stages of finishing the  large canvas that I’ve been documenting here, spending a lot of time weighing the weight of the colors and forms and adding a bit here and there to bring it into balance.  It’s slow work and sometimes I have to just get away from it to clear my head.  I have spent this time working on finishing a few other paintings that have been in hanging in limbo for some time, in various stages of semi-completion.

One such piece is shown above, In the Early Morning, a 12″ by 36″ canvas that I started some time ago and just couldn’t get it past the initial stages of laying in the composition and several layers of color on the sky.  The color just wasn’t working for me on this piece and I wasn’t excited by where it seemed to be heading.  So I put it aside, thinking that eventually I might try again.  I usually do try again although there is one similarly sized canvas in my studio now that is about a year old and about which I seem to have enthusiasm.  That piece may just end up getting painted over if only to get it out of my sight and mind.

On the other hand, this painting survived its time in limbo and I find myself glad of it.  It felt, the more I looked at it, as though it needed a single color to bring it together thematically.  I initially thought of making it a nocturnal scene but could see that, while I wanted the color to be blue, I wanted it to be lighter.  It ended up being more of a dawn scene, a time to which I am attracted to naturally, both personally and in my work.

I don’t know what this piece is saying yet but it doesn’t matter to me now.  It has a placid feel and I find the blues soothing throughout this scene.  It’s beauty is enough for now– in the early morning.

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Oh, it’s that time of the year once more.  Pitchers and catchers reporting to warm southern sites.  The first tentative soft toss of the ball and the swing of the bat.  Spring training is starting and for diehard baseball fans  it is the true beginning of the year, a time when the disappointments of last year are wiped from the slate and all that remains is the giddy hope that your team will experience that special year this year, topping it all off with a World Series crown.  It is, for me,  the best and most hopeful time of the year.

The photo I’m showing here may seem at first glance to have little to do with baseball but it is from a very important goodwill  tour of Japan that American players took in 1934.  Lasting a full month, it featured some of the best players of the day but by far, the biggest draw was the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth.  The crowds were massive wherever he appeared, with his every movement drawing oohs and aahs from the adoring Japanese fans.  This photo is from a parade from the Ginza in Tokyo which drew over 500,000 fans.  Most baseball historians mark this tour as the beginning of the baseball mania which still remains in Japan today.

I think it’s events like this that make me such a baseball junkie.  I mean, there’s  so much than just the game, which itself  has a Zen-like perfection in its geometry and a unique skillset  that allows players of any size to excell.  I mean, in what other sport can a 150 pound man utterly dominate a player that is a foot taller and  a hundred pounds heavier?  But it’s the  interweaving of the game with our history and our day-to-day lives through the past 150 years or so that also makes it different than other sports.  It has an ingrained tradition that  lives with us, existing in the same rhythm of our lives.  It is mythic with players like the Bambino who were larger than life and whose appeal made entire nations want to emulate him.  It inspires poetry and music.  It is, like those first days of spring training, all about hope and possibility.

It makes me want to smell the fresh cut grass of a ballpark.

Babe Ruth at the Meiji Shrine 1934

For more info on the 1934 tour of Japan, there is a book titled Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan from author Robert K. Fitts.  It documents all the aspects of this famed tour including what might be the first mission in espionage from Moe Berg, the Princeton educaated Detroit Tiger catcher who was an OSS (forerunner of the CIA) operative during WW II.  See? History!  There are excerpts from this book here.

Batter up!


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