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Archive for June, 2012

We’re into the heat here and in many areas across the nation with near record temps in Alexandria yesterday and the fires in Colorado still raging.  The dog days of summer.  I thought I’d have a musical break and in looking for something appropriate came across Fire from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown from back in 1968.  We’ve moved way past this in terms of outlandishness in the forty-plus years since this performance on Britain’s Top of the Pops but I have to chuckle at the outrage it must have provoked at the time.  I can only imagine the middle-aged British parents who had endured World War II and the German Blitzkrieg  upon seeing this must have felt that the world was in a death spiral and that Arthur Brown was indeed the god of hellfire.  Of course, he was just a guy trying to draw some attention and sell some records, which he did.

The painting shown above is one of my personal favorites called Elvis in the Wilderness.  It was part of my Outlaws series from several years back.  I’ve shown it here before but I thought it fit the spirit of this song and the background has the feel of impending fire.  Here’s Arthur Brown.  Hopefully, his fire will soon diminish and the fires in Colorado will cease.

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If they [artists] do see fields blue they are deranged, and should go to an asylum.  If they only pretend to see them blue, they are criminals and should go to prison.

–Adolph Hitler

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I never thought I’d be quoting this  particular German art critic here but I have to admit that this quote makes me feel better about my work.  Although the asylum or the prison have sometimes fell into my realm of possibility, it has been those blue fields (and Red Trees) that have kept me from either.

Now do I see fields as blue in the real world?  No.  Do I pretend to see them as such?  No. Maybe I’m not a lunatic or a criminal after all.  But I do see the blue fields in this painting as real.  Is that so crazy?   I don’t think so and besides, seeing them as such makes me feel less criminally inclined.

Above is a good example, a new painting that is a16″ by 20″ canvas titled Just This Side of Blue.  This translates so easily in my mind, having a reality  that I don’t question at all.  For me, it as real as anything I see in the outer world.  And the colors and the harmony they create resonate with me and pacify my tensions and angers.

Perhaps Hitler should have kept a more open mind on the place of expression in art.  In denying self-expression to others, he only demonstrated his own lunacy and criminality.  The lesson:  Be wary of those who try to control how you see things in your own mind.  That is our greatest and last freedom– the right to our opinion and reaction.

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The painting shown here, Just This Side of Blue, is part of my solo show, In Rhythm, which opens at the West End Gallery on July 20, 2012.

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I think I’m in a really good groove at the moment.  I’ve talked a lot over the years about being in a sort of rhythm when painting, when everything begins to flow spontaneously and easily.  I often am emotionally engaged by the work produced during these times, excited to find something new and stimulating in the familiar landscapes of my artistic vocabulary.  It makes me glad that painting found me.  Or vice versa.  That’s how it’s been the last few weeks.  It reminded me of a post, The Need to Paint.  from a few years back that I thought I would rerun today:

I wrote a few days ago about how I am often mystified by the meanings of my paintings and how I this makes me glad that I still have the need to paint. 

I thought about that after I hit the button to publish that post. I have often heard artists say they had to paint, as though it were some sort of exotic medical quandary. 

Paint or die. 

It always kind of bothered me when I heard this, as though these guys were saying they had some sort of predestined calling. Like they were prophets or shamans that the world, without their visionary paintings, would spin out of control. It just always sounded a little pompous to me. 

So when I wrote that it made me twitch a bit. Maybe I’m the pompous ass here. It certainly is in the realm of possibility. 

But I find myself kind of standing behind what I said. I do need to paint. It’s not some call to destiny. It’s not to transmit some psychic message to the world. It’s more a case of me needing have a form of expression that best suits my mind and abilities. Painting just happens to fill that need. If I could yodel, I might be saying I need to yodel. 

But I need to paint. 

I need to paint to try to express things I certainly can’t put in words, things that awe and mystify me. I need to paint to have a means to a voice. 

I need to paint just to remind myself that I am alive and still have the ability to feel the excitement and joy from something that I have created. I need to paint to feel the surprise of exceeding what I felt was within me, to go into that realm of personal mystery within and emerge with something new. I need to paint because it has given me the closest thing I know to answers to the questions I have. 

I need to paint because it is one of the few things that I’ve done fairly well in my life. 

Would I die? 

Nah… 

I’d adapt and find something new but it would be hard to find something that would suit me as well. So I guess I do need to paint after all. Call me a pompous ass. I don’t give a damn- I’ve got work to do.

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The painting at the top is titled  Knowingness, an 18″ by 26″ painting on paper, which is part of my upcoming West End Gallery show, opening July 20.

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In Rhythm

I am now in the midst of preparations for my annual show at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY.  It opens July 20 running through August 31 and is titled In Rhythm, the same title as the painting shown here, a 24″ by 36″ piece on canvas.  I often talk of rhythm here on this blog, most often about the rhythm of the composition’s elements, how they play off the energy of each other to create harmony.  I feel that this painting captures that aspect  of rhythm well and would be a great piece to set the direction for this show.

But I also speak of rhythm in terms of the process, about being immersed in the act of painting.  This annual midyear show comes always while I am deeply entrenched in my painting and I felt that the term in rhythm fit in this aspect as well.

Below is another piece from the show, Simplex, a 10″ by 30″ canvas.  It has its own rhythm, a very direct one that is crisp and clean.

 

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Jack White has a recent album out, Blunderbuss,  on which he puts his own stamp on the Little Willie John classic I’m Shakin‘.  My own first taste of this song was Dave Alvin and the Blasters‘ version back in 1981 which was great version pretty much in line with the original and has always served as the one which comes most quickly to mind.  Dave Alvin has long been a favorite of mine but has always flown well under the radar of most folks. unfortunately.  But I do like this version from Jack White.  I came across a YouTube video of the song that has set footage of the dance line from a vintage episode of Soul Train to the song and it fits pretty well.  Plus it’s great to have a chuckle at some of the styles from that time, which looks to be the mid to late 70’s, judging by the number of big bell bottoms.

Anyway, here it is to give your Sunday a shakin’ start…

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We don’t know what we don’t know.

That’s a term I’ve heard several times recently and I can’t quite remember what the context has been, whether it was in some historical or scientific matter.  Doesn’t really matter.  The words speak volumes without context.

This not knowing what we don’t know always lingers in my mind when I think on most subjects, tempering my own certainty and making me question the supposed certainty of others. I am generally suspicious of those with absolute certainty, remembering that there are very few things in this world of which we have absolute knowledge or absolute truth.  We can only truly know how we react to and see our own little slice of the world.

And that thought is at the heart of this painting, Clarification, a 16″ by 26″ piece on paper that is part of my ongoing Principle Gallery show.

I see this piece as being about the clarity that comes from recognizing your own truth, who and what you really are, for that is the extent of our real knowledge.  Knowing that is all that that we know lets us put aside judgments of others or focusing  on events that we cannot know or control.  This clarity allows us to focus on the moment that we’re personally in at the present time because that ultimately is all that we can fully know and appreciate.  It’s something we don’t do enough in our lives— appreciate the now.

That is the message I see here…

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John Ruskin- Ferns on a Rock 1875

The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one.

–John Ruskin

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I have been very interested lately  in the work and life of John  Ruskin,  who lived from 1819-1900.  He was one of those Victorian British sorts who displayed a wide range of talents throughout the era.  He was one of the greatest of  British watercolorists, perhaps second only to the great JMW Turner, whose work he defended in a book, Modern Painters, that sought to prove the superiority of the landscape painting of the time  over that of the early Masters.

John Ruskin- Amalfi

Although his painting is wonderful, he is probably best known for his criticism and his writing.  He had a real dogmatic sense of certainty in everything he took on, a quality that was very appealing if you agreed with his views but one that didn’t always sit well with those who did not.  I am not going to go into a biography of his life here but I wouldn’t deter anyone from looking further on their own by clicking on his name above or going to his bio page at the Victorian Web.  It is a most interesting life filled with famous names, controversy ( a famous court case with Ruskin being sued by James MacNeil Whistler for libel) , madness and tragedy.  All the elements of a great story.

The thing that first caught my eye was not his painting, though I do really like and appreciate it, but a rather a passage from a lecture he gave that I thought could have been written for our time as well as we seem to be ever more embracing of a culture that is anti-intellectual, anti-environmental and anti-science.  He wrote:

No nation can last, which has made a mob of itself, however generous at heart. It must discipline its passions, and direct them or they will discipline it, one day, with scorpion-whips. Above all, a nation cannot last in a money-making job; it cannot with impunity,–it cannot with existence–go on despising literature, despising science, despising nature, despising compassion, and concentrating its soul on Pence.

There are days when I fear that we must prepare ourselves for those scorpion-whips that Ruskin foresaw.

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