Archive for May, 2012

I call this new painting,  18″ by 26″ on paper,   Liebestraum after the title of the famous piano piece from  composer Franz Liszt.  Liebestraum translates as dream of love and there is a dreamlike qualityto this piece, in the way the two trees intertwine to become almost one beneath a warm dusky sky and in the way the thin white ribbon of a path winds rhythmically through the landscape in a way that seems to mimic the graceful weaving of the musical composition’s melody. 

Looking just now, I notice that the two fields in the center, one orange and the other yellow, seem to form a divided heart shape, like one of those pairs of lovers’ pendants where each contains a half of a heart.  Interesting that this evaded my eye before.

Yhe Hungarian-born Franz Liszt is an interesting character.  He was a phenomenon of his time, a womanizing piano virtuoso whose playing caused  an incredibly frenzied response from his adoring female fans.  There was such a hysteria over his performances that a term, Lisztomania, was coined by the physicians who studied the effects at the time.  We don’t often think of classical  performers, particularly of the mid 1800’s, as having the public persona of an Elvis but Liszt may have been the prototype for the modern rock star.  For you film buffs, you no doubt recognize Lisztomania as the title of the Ken Russell film from the 1970’s that featured The Who’s Roger Daltrey as the pianist in a slightly twisted telling of his tale.

The painting, Liebestraum, is part of my show which opnes next Friday at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA.

Although it is primarily a piano piece, I do like this guitar version.  Enjoy.



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I am in the final days of preparations for my show, A Place to Stand, which opens next Friday, June 8th, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria.  This always seems to be  the most tedious part of my job, at least while I’m in the midst of it.  The painting is set aside and long days are spent staining and sanding frames, cutting  mats and putting it all together to make what I hope is a great show. 

 But near the end of the tedium and  the angst which comes as the deadline appoaches, it begins to become exciting again as the paintings, which have been strewn around the studio in various stages of completion and without any sort of framing or final finish, begin to come to life for me.  It’s like the final presentation suddenly clicks some deeply hidden switch and what seemed like only potential before now becomes a separate entity before my eyes, complete and self-contained in its message and meaning.  

It’s at this point that I get to really look with focus for what may be the last time at much of this work.  During the process a painting may be completed and set aside, only to get an occasional glimpse or passing glance.  But now I get to take a last long look and see what is really there.  I am seldom disappointed at this stage.  Paintings that would do that don’t make it this far.  But sometimes I am simply satisfied,  the painting being just as I had expected.  But once in a while it all comes together and a piece meets every aspiration I have for it, making it feel like more than the sum of its parts.

That is how I feel about this new painting.  It is titled Archaeology: Future Past and is a 12″ by 24″ canvas.  It does just what I wanted the Archaeology pieces to do which is to to have an immediate and strong look, an instant identity  that the viewer takes it in and gets a sense of   from a distance.  The subterranean deris field reveals itself as the viewer nears and has its own rhythm and narrative, contained in yet separate from the strong presence  of the scene above.  Even the ribbons of strata that separate the two parts here have a strong rhythmic presence that adds greatly to the whole. 

That may be the operable word here– whole.  It has a feeling of completeness that I am always excited by in any piece of art .  It doesn’t need any explanation including my words here. Simply strong and unmistakable. 

All I could hope for…


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I came across a photo recently and it really pulled me in immediately with an almost mystical appeal.  It’s an image of an iceberg taken under a midnight sun by during one of the great Antarctic expeditions of  the early part of the 20th century.  The photographer was Frank Hurley and doing a quick search revealed an amazing life of a man from Australia who documented with his camera some of the most storied explorations into Antarctica and both World Wars.  This being Memorial Day, I thought I’d share a couple of his WW I photos that mix artistry and the  hard reality of the battlefield.

The photo above shows the newest forms of warfare at the time, the biplanes,  swooping over soldiers coming out of the trenches.  I can only imagine the  element of terror that the plane hovering menacingly above must have added to the reeling minds of those soldiers trapped in that deadly cacaphony.

The second shows the battlefield under an icredible sky with light filtering from behind a dark cloud, casting an eerie radiance down on the trenches and bodies that gives it an end-of-the -world feel, which for many of the combatants, it was just that.  It makes me appreciate how easy and soft my own life is, how I have been spared the horrors of war.  It puts context behind the imagery of the rows of flags fluttering in blue skies that we often associate with Memorial Day and makes the words Lest We Forget have reall meaning.

Have a great holiday and try to remember what is behind the celebration.  If only for a moment, try to give it a bit of the reverence for which it stands.

Here is the photo of the iceberg [ further inspection reveals that it is not an iceberg but  land] that brought me to Mr. Hurley’s work.  It was taken during the Mawson Expedition which is the subject of a great book, Mawson’s Will, that tells an incredible story of survival of explorers trapped for two winters in the harshness of Antarctica.   I read it many years ago and highly recommend it.

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Every man’s memory is his private literature.

Aldous Huxley
I like this quote from Huxley.  I have often felt that all of our personal lives fit into some sort of mythic template on which all literature is based and that we often fail to see the connections between the tales of our own lives and those stories which have come down through history in the form of myth and legend.  We all live lifes that are often filled with tragedy , comedy and drama.  Heroic, even.  But we seldom perceive them as such, instead thinking of our personal memories as being merely mundane. 
And that’s probably as it should be.  Life is spent, for the most part, moving forward in small, day-to-day steps with little time left to see the larger pattern of our lives.  Who has the time to reflect backwards, to see how our lives fit into the templates of eternity?  Very few of us, to be sure.  But what if we could take that time to look back fully and see the patterns set in history and to see that our lives own patterns mesh into that pattern, that we are all indeed connected to and part of the same fabric?
Would it make a bit of difference?  Would it make us appreciate the fragility and rareness of  each individual’s place in this world. make us understand that our own history is the history of all and that our memory binds us to the fabric of history?
I don’t know.  But it’s something to think about.
Funny how the mind works.  I meant to write about the painting above, a new piece  called Distant Memory (  10″ by 16″ on paper) set for my Principle Gallery show early next month and suddenly find myself off on a theoretical journey.  Maybe its the way the foreground of the painting, with the converging rows of the field,  relates to the house and tree across the water in the upper half of the painting.  I get a sense of looking back from the present, taking a pause from the labor of the moment,  which is represented in the rows,  to a personal past set around that house that reminds me very much of the farmhouses of my youth, often taking me back to different points of my own life, my own connections to templates of time.  Even the overall color of this piece sets that tone of memory for me.  There is  something in that green that reminds me of the ferns that my mother dug up many years ago from the hillside above the Chemung River and planted in the shade of the old farmhouse that we lived in for much of my childhood.  That green often brings back that memory, one filled with an air of  coolness and the smell of damp, rich soil.  A good memory.
Okay. Enough for now.  Work and the present calls.  I have my own fields to tend to now.

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The Boys/ Redux

We had a scare over the weekend when our cat, Zsa Zsa,  disappeared for a couple of days in the woods, leaving us to believe she was gone for good, most likely taken by a coyote or bobcat.  It has happened to us  before but that certainly doesn’t make the sudden loss any easier.  Zsa Zsa came to us as a very young feral cat with absolutely no socialization with humans or their ways.  Smart and athletic,  she was a quick study and had turned into a great pet after breaking down our resistance to being attached to a creature that inevitably will break your heart.  Luckily, this time she showed up two nights later, about 3 in the morning, a little frazzled but none the worse for her adventure.  Our sadness suddenly turned to joy at seeing her.

This made me think about several of the cats who have passed through our lives, almost always just showing up and choosing our place to make their home.  I wrote about the Boys a few years back and their story is a very bittersweet one to remember but an interesting one:

I came across a group of photos from a few years back that brought back very bittersweet memories. The photos were of a pair of feral cats that took up residence around our place along with a three legged raccoon that was in the vicinity for a short time. The cats tolerated the raccoon’s presence and they never seemed too upset when he helped himself to the food we put out for them.

The cats were an interesting pair. We called the tiger one Partner and the other Ben although we always called him simply Black & White. Partner and Ben were the Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin characters from the movie Paint Your Wagon. The two cats had started coming to our place in the woods a few years before and came separately. Ben was super skittish and would never let you get close enough to touch him but hung around and came to understand when there was food available. Partner was more affable and approachable but he only came once in a great while, at which point ben would attack him and chase him away, off into the woods.

This went on for a year or so and we seldom saw Partner then one year, as a very bitter winter began to close in Partner came and made a stand. Instead of running away he held his ground against Ben. It was horrible. For a day or so, they were in what seemed to be non-stop combat outside our house. Under our house. Maybe on our house, I don’t know. There was thumping and screeching and all sorts of awful noise. We would try to intervene but they would run out of sight and pause for the time we out there then resume immediately after we went back inside.

The next morning when I put out some food for them, they both emerged. They were a mess with bloody cuts and scrapes on both. Yet they were together now with not a hint of malice between them. From that time on they were inseparable. They spent that very cold winter sleeping together in a makeshift box I had built for them, one on top of the other. When they would walk through the yard or up our walkway, they would walk in step with their shouldersshoved  together as though they were joined at the shoulder. As spring and summer came, they would lazily sleep on our walkway, often spooning as they laid together with their legs wrapped around each other or would sleep facing one another, their paws lightly touching. When our female cat, Tinker, was outside, Partner would make attempts to be friendly but Ben wanted no part of her and, in an obviously jealous act, would aggressively push himself between the two. It was an amazing transformation from their previous animosity to this sweet friendship.

It was short lived however as they both passed away later that next winter, both disappearing with days of one another, obviously very ill. We’ve always regretted not being able to do more for them but through this time they never let us get too close to them, always being wary of any attempts to corral them. So when I see these photos I am torn between the sheer sadness of their hard fought existence and the absolute joy and comfort they had found in their love for one another. A rare thing indeed…

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The object of painting a picture is not to make a picture– however unreasonable this may sound.  The picture, if a picture results, is a byproduct and may be useful, valuable, interesting as a sign of what has past.  The object, which is in back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a more than ordinary moment of existence.

— Robert Henri

I love this passage that  Robert Henri wrote in his classic  book The Art Spirit, so much that I’ve taken the key phrase from it as the title for this new painting,  A More Than Ordinary Moment.  It is a tryptych on mounted paper  with the outside panel images measuring 10″ wide by 14″ high and the center 16″ by 14″.   It is set in a large frame with three separate windows that is about 24″ by 58″ in size, giving this piece a real sense of it  being, as its titles implies, more than ordinary.

This piece very much reflects the essence of what Henri was conveying in the passage, that art is not about capturing scenes or mere subjects but was instead about capturing a state of being, the  existential feeling behind the moment.  As I  have maintained for some time, my paintings are not about depicting the reality of the outer world.  They are more about capturing and mapping the emotions and sensations of our inner selves,  those rare things found all of us if we are willing to take the time to look.  They are internal landscapes.

I get a great sense of tranquility from this piece, a feeling that comes from the colors that somehow remind me of  the warmth of the crocheted afghans I knew as a kid with those sometime garish color combinations from the late 60’s and  early 70’s with olive greens, browns and  oranges.  When I think of those afghans, I don’t remember them for what they were as objects but for what they represented with those moments beneath them when I was warm and secure.  I didn’t see this in this painting until just now as I wrote this and now, looking at the painting, it is all I see.  I am instantly transported by it to those moments of supreme security as a kid, huddled under my mother’s afghan in my father’s house, carefree and safe from the world outside our doors.

It’s a feeling that I get less  as an adult and one that I need more often. 

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A new painting  that is headed for my upcoming show , A Place to Stand, at the Principle Gallery , opening June 8.  This is a 12″ by 36″ canvas that carries the title Almost Blue, a title taken from the great Elvis Costello song.

I often talk about  the color blue as being addictive, about how difficult it is at times to pull myself away the color when I am working with it.  It is the yin to the yang of the reds and yellows I often work with in my paintings.  The reds and yellows are often bold in statement, claiming a small piece of the world as their own and making the case that they have meaning in this world.  The blues, however, don’t make such brash statements.  They create a different atmosphere, one that is quietly questioning why they are here in this world. Blue is a calm sense of wonder and reflection, almost melancholy at times. 

The Red Tree is here but its normally bold statement of self is enveloped in the blueness of the sky and landscape surrounding it, making it feel less like a statement than a question.  There is an uncertainty as to the whys and whats of its existence and the red of the tree seem almost ready to turn to blue.  It is almost blue.

I was going to have a video of either Elvis Costello or his wife, Diana Krall, doing the song here.  Both are fabulous.  But I came across this video of the late jazz great  Chet Baker doing the song in a performance taken from the film Let’s Get Lost, a documentary about his life made in 1988 not long before his death.  If you don’t know much about Chet Baker, you should really check out his bio.  It is the stuff of classic tragedies and will surely someday be the subject of a great film.  This version of the song  is a great expression of his existence and in the photos shown throughout the video you can see the toll that life, violence and drug abuse took on Baker over the years.

Almost Blue…


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I’ve been running a few of my favorite posts from the past recently as I’ve been very busy in the studio.  This one from back in December of 2008 speaks a bit about our perceptions of an artist and how these views might affect the way we see their work. 

In the comments from the original post, someone made the point that the work should stand on its own regardless of the mannerisms or perception of the artist.  Of course, I agree completely with that in theory.  But I point out that sometimes the artist can affect, both positively and negatively, how their work is viewed with their words and actions.  I cite a story I’ve told innumerable times of going to a local college to hear a famous author speak.  I was seventeen years old and aspiring to be a writer at the time, armed with a legal pad filled with questions that I hoped to ask this author so that his words of wisdom might guide me along.  At the reception afterwards when I finally got a chance to speak with him, he was half in the bag drunk and a prick as well.  He rudely  dismissed me and moved on without taking a second to consider my question to him.  I was crushed and left knowing that i would never read another word that fool would write, which I haven’t to this day.  I also vowed to myself that if I was in that position I would never treat anyone dismissively.  Hopefully, I have kept that promise.

 This was written in the first few months of writing this blog so some things have obviously changed.  I was still up in the air about writing this blog, something which I have obviously reconciled with myself.  But I am still the same middle-aged guy with a thick waist and a sloppy gray beard.


At the opening for my show at the Haen Gallery in Asheville, a young woman approached me, telling me first that she had a piece of mine and she loved the work. We talked for a bit then she came out with the inevitable.

“You’re not what I had expected. I thought you might be wearing a beret or a cape or something like that.”

I get that a lot.

People expect something much different than I appear to be. More flamboyant, I guess. Maybe more boorish. Maybe like this guy, Salvador Dali, who exemplified that stereotype of the crazy artist. But they’re faced with me- a thick-waisted, middle-aged guy with a sloppy gray beard. I used to kid with the folks at the Principle Gallery that I would show up at a show one day in a Dali-like manner, swooping in to hold court in my flowing black cape, waving my arms about in dramatic flourishes. Maybe wearing a monocle? I sometimes wonder if people would look at my work differently if I donned a cape and had a long waxed mustache. Would they find different attributes in the paintings? Would they find a different meaning in each piece?

I don’t know. I hope not. But I do know there is an illusion behind each person’s impression of a piece of art, that it is a delicate web that supports how they value a piece and that can be affected by my words or actions or even appearance. That is one of the reasons I’m a little reticent to do this blog. I could write something off the cuff, something that I might soon realize was a product of flawed logic, and quickly destroy someone’s whole interpretation of my work.

Perhaps that is not giving the work enough credit for its own strength and life. Perhaps this is the flawed logic I mentioned. Whatever the case, it’s something I bear in mind. But for the time being, I will keep the cape in storage and stick with the credo of my childhood hero, Popeye: “I yam what I yam.”

And that’s all that I am…

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I’ve been getting work ready for my upcoming show, A Place to Stand, which opens June 8th at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA.  This will be the thirteenth consecutive year that I have had a solo exhibit there yet it still induces a certain fear and anxiety, feelings that my own common sense tell me should have faded long ago.  But they still persist.  However, part of me appreciates this fear in that it makes me focus on the body of work, knowing that creating work that speaks and stands on its own is the only way to overcome these anxieties.  If I am satisfied with the overall feeling of the work then it will ultimately prove to be successful.

That being said, I am at a point in this process where the body of work has began to take a shape, a theme that runs through it.  It is called A Place to Stand and that definitely speaks very much to what I see in many of the paintings.  The word sovereignty  also comes to mind often when I scan through this group of work.  The idea of the individual standing apart, self-reliant and strong, is an appealing notion to me, as it is to many others.  This sovereign individual is still part of this world yet self-contained, it alone being responsible for its actions and reactions. It has made its choice and it has chosen solitude.

This is a scary concept for some, a life where we must take responsibility for our actions and decisions, where we relish our time alone in solitude.  It is a freedom which we profess to desire but are often hesitant in pursuing. It may not be a freedom which suits everybody but for those who seek this sovereignty of self, there is no greater reward than living by your own decisions and beliefs.  We may not seem significant in the greater world but we have the power to rule our own lives.

And that should always be remembered.

The painting at the top is very new and really ignited this thought process this morning.  It is called Sovereign Solitude, of course, and is  6″ by 22″ on paper.  I finished this piece late yesterday and found myself thinking about it all evening, wanting to get back in the studio early this morning to look at it to see if it still jibed with how I was seeing and feeling it in my mind.  It did. 

It has a warmth and calmness in it that I myself find appealing.  It is like taking a deep breath then slowly releasing it, allowing the effects of this action to be felt fully.  The pulse slows and breathing levels off. 

Solitude found.

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I was contacted a week or so back from a gallery that represents me, asking about an image that appears in In Quiet Places, the book that shows some of the paintings  from the 2003 -2008  time period.  I opened the book to the page so I could fully reference as we talked and it wasn’t until they asked about the color of the sun did I even realize that the sun was  blue in the painting.  It just didn’t register at first and my mind didn’t even recognize the fact that the color was unusual , instead focusing on the feeling it gave to the piece.

It was the feeling of a bright and seemingly normal day that was somehow different.  A strangeness that didn’t threaten but was instead like a sudden awareness of the unseen that surrounds us.

It was at this point that I realized that a painting that I had just finished had such a blue sun hovering in its sky.  It is the one shown here, a 20″ by 40″ canvas that I have titled OtherWorld.  It. too, had that feeling of the unseen dimension, one that is everywhere but remains hidden to us and, therefore, strange.  The sky in this  piece is painted in three sections that seem to hover transparently between the blue sun and the red tree, symbolic of that invisible other  world that surrounds us.  Perhaps it signifies the spiritual dimension or maybe it is a purely physical dimension of energies that we simply cannot detect or feel.  Or maybe it is both.

I surely don’t know.

But that blue sun made me feel differently in this painting than if it had been a more traditional color, say a yellow or orange.  It was as though I were suddenly aware of that hidden dimension and this knowledge changed my perception of all things normal, everything somehow just a bit different.  Slightly strange yet the same.  Like the feeling when the hairs on the back of your neck suddenly raise for no apparent reason.  You feel there is something there but it remains a mystery and then the moment is passed, soon to be forgotten. 

Maybe that is what this piece is about– how we remain remain strangers to those dimensions that we often brush against.  Those other worlds.


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