Archive for November, 2012

This will be my last post for the next week or so as I head off to California for my show, The Waking Moment,  this coming Saturday, December 1, at the Just Looking Gallery in San Luis Obispo.   It’ll be my first glimpse  of seeing my work hanging at the gallery.  It will also be  the first time I will get to meet the collectors there, something I am eager to do.  It’s always interesting to meet people who are drawn to the work, especially those from a distance away.  I like to see how they respond to the work, to see if they see it in the same way as those collectors I have come to know a bit over the years at those galleries that have represented me for many years.

I am sure there is a similarity in the way they see the work.  That only makes sense because of the consistency that I try to provide in the work and my messaging of it.  But I am always looking for a new perspective on it that I may have missed, one that someone from a different geography might provide.  As with everything, we shall see.

If you’re in the SLO area at the end of this week, please stop in at the Just Looking Gallery and say hello.  On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I will be in the gallery for a period of time outside of  Saturday night’s opening  for those who would like to discuss the work but might not be able to make the opening.  Hope to see you there!

The painting shown here is Moment, an 8″ by 14″ on paper which was the piece selected for the invitation.


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I’ve been thinking about Thanksgiving over the last couple of days, trying to think of things that I’m thankful for and I began to realize there are no actual things on the list.  There are people and moments but no things.  And I guess that’s the way it should be.  But it made me wonder about what particular things  do have meaning for me.   What would I take if I had to grab but a few things and flee, say like the recent storm victims or the people in the areas where the wildfires bear down on them?

The actual loss of my house and studio might be difficult but they too an be replaced.  Outside of these structures, the list is still pretty thin.  A few photos, a few notes and letters and perhaps a painting or two.   A handful of books but they can also be replaced.  But no other things that I feel would leave a void in my life if I suddenly were to be without them.  No jewelry or family heirlooms. No memory jugs like the one shown above.   No priceless artifacts that I sought for years to find.  Very little, actually.

I sit here in my studio and look around at a few of the paintings that I hold on to and think that I would hate to lose them but it comes to me that they also represent moments and emotions for me.  Inner things that I hold already.  They actually are souvenirs of past moments,  like   family photos.  I’ve said before that seeing a gallery full of my work is sometimes awkward at first because it feels like I’m looking at my family photos on the walls for all the world to see.  And that’s not always the best thing.

Interestingly, I find this lack of things very liberating.  And that is something for which I am thankful.

Here’s a fitting  song, Souvenirs,  that is sung by here by John Prine and Steve Goodman, who wrote it.  Goodman also wrote The City of New Orleans , recorded most famously by Arlo Guthrie.  Most people have little knowledge of Goodman’s songwriting since he died in 1984 at the age of 36 due to leukemia.   There is another song  here by Goodman after  Souvenirs that shows more of his talents.

And I’m thankful for that, as well.

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Another painting that is part of my upcoming show at the Just Looking Gallery in San Luis Obispo is this is a new piece called Elysian Moment,   16″ by 26″ on paper.  The title is derived from the name for the Greek concept, Elysium,  of  the afterlife reserved for heroes and those related to the gods.  In other cultures it takes on the name of paradise or heaven, among other terms.  It is often described as being a rich and lush landscape.

Now I don’t think this is meant to be an actual depiction of Elysium.  Rather, I think this is a moment that anyone might have when they feel they are at a point in time that approaches paradise for them on this earth.  When the world seems good and the winds blow cool so that the sun’s warmth is just so and its light is bright and illuminating but not harsh.  When time seems to slow to a crawl so that the world appears frozen as they survey the beauty and the bounty of the landscape that surrounds them.  They feel themselves strong and in rhythm with that world around them, as though their very existences are both bound together.  They need the world and world needs them.  They have become elemental.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had such a moment.  I’m sure I would remember.  But I certainly hope to experience one, desire the unity of that single moment.  Maybe that desire is enough to carry one through the more difficult times of this life, enough to provide the needed idea of possibility that gives hope.

We shall see…

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Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.
–Joseph Stalin


I was looking at a selection of quotes with a Thanksgiving theme when I stumbled across this lovely item from that great inspirational speaker, Joseph Stalin.  It was so much in contrast with the rests of the lovely platitudes that it made me laugh. Stalin would probably not be the guy you would want as a guest on Thanksgiving, especially if you expected him to say grace.  He would no doubt our holiday as a foolish expression of sentiment, a day for sick dogs to howl in thanks to their owners.

You know, even though it comes off as cruelly insensitive, I think Stalin’s comment might actually make sense.  Thanksgiving is a day where we realize that we are no better than our pets, that we are as dependent on others as they are on us for love and support.  We should do like our dogs and show our gratitude to those we love without condition.

Well, that’s okay by me.  Call me a sick dog because I am nothing if not grateful for so many people I have encountered in my life from my family and friends to people who I don’t even know who have offered kindnesses.

Here’s a reply to Stalin from a real human being, Elie Wiesel, “When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity.”

So, whatever you might call today, be it Thanksgiving or Sick Dog Day, be thankful for those you know and love.  Be a dog today.  It’s the human thing to do.

PS-  The painting at the top is a new 24″ by 24″ canvas, titled Placid Pondering, part of the show at the Just Looking Gallery.

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One of the things I am looking forward to next week when I head to California for the opening of my show at the Just Looking Gallery in San Luis Obispo is the couple of days beforehand that we will spend in Yosemite National Park.  I have never been there but know well the iconic images of its beauty from the photography of the great Ansel Adams.  While he is known for many photos of other locales, his images of the Yosemite Valley have come to be most closely associated with his name.

Adams (1902- 1984) first encountered Yosemite as a teen on a family excursion  on which he carried his first camera , a Kodak Brownie.  He was smittten by the spectacular landscape and the light as it filtered through the valley.  He would  return  over and over through the coming years, his prowess as a photographer growing.  He eventually married a local Yosemite girl, Virginia Best, whose father ran  Best’s Studio there.  She inherited the studio in 1935 and she and Adams ran it until 1971.  It is now called the Ansel Adams Gallery , where his work and the photos of  other great contemporary photographers are shown and sold.  The gallery  is still in the hands of the Adams family.

I’ve always loved his images of the grandeur of the Yosemite Valley and have formed my own idealized version of how the place might be in my mind through them.  I am hoping that reality lives up to expectations that have grown over many years.  I f any place can do this, I believe it might be Yosemite.

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Imperfection clings to a person, and if they wait till they are brushed off entirely, they would spin for ever on their axis, advancing nowhere.

–Thomas Carlyle


I was thinking early this morning about a comment made yesterday by Linda Leinen about how we go through life, starting fresh and clean, and progress as we absorb all that life deals out to us, leaving us somewhat scarred. It reminded me of  the title of  both a painting and a show that I did many years ago called Seeking Imperfection.  It remains one of my favorite titles, probably because it best describes my own relationship with perfection.

I’ve always been somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of perfection or the search for it.  Perfection is the antithesis of our humanity, at least in how I view it, and to seek it is to deny our imperfect natures.  We are flawed and scarred characters in a world that is definitely not perfect except in those rare moments when all of these flaws coalesce into instances of harmony and beauty.

That’s kind of what I hope for and sometimes see in  my paintings– harmony and beauty despite the inherent imperfections.  I can find flaws in any of my paintings but I don’t cringe at the sight of them.  Instead, they make me glad because in seeing them I recognize my connection to them, can see the struggle in trying to create these moments of harmony.  A pit here, a dot of stray paint  or a rough edge there, a bristle from a brush trapped in the paint– it all speaks to me, saying that it can be whole and harmonious-  beautiful- despite the flaws.  Perhaps not a bad way to view one’s life.


The painting at the top, In the Rhythm of the Moment, is a 16″ by 18″ piece on paper which is also part of my upcoming show at the Just Looking Gallery in San Luis Obispo, CA, opening December 1.

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This is another painting, measuring 12″ by 18″ on paper,  that has made its way to San Luis Obispo for my upcoming show, The Waking Moment.  The show is at the Just Looking Gallery and opens on Saturday, December 1.  The title of this piece is The Mellowing Way.  There’s a subtlety in the color of the sky and a suppleness in the rolls of the fields here that gives the piece a sense of softness that I find intriguing.  Maybe it’s more a softening of attitude than mere softness, an acceptance of one’s place in this world that allows one to simply just be and let the rest of the world wash over them as it rushes by.

I’ve said before that I wish I were a smooth stone on the bottom of a stream, cool and sleek as the water rushes by.  No resistance.  Maybe that’s what I see here.  We start our existence as a rough-edged piece of this earth, a jagged stone,  and in our life, or lives depending on your views on incarnations, we tumble along, our hard edges slowly eroding as we come to realize how futile is our resistance to the tides of time and change.  Eventually, the water can no longer find an edge to push us along and we settle, finding a place where we are comfortable to watch the world pass by.

I don’t know.  There’s a sense of tranquility and acceptance here that speaks to me personally.  And that’s enough, I suppose.  All I could ask.

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If you are a regular reader, you probably know that I like old photography from the 19th century.  I am constantly fascinated by being able to step into that time period via these images, more so than reading a passage from literature of the time.  There’s something about seeing how the reality of the time is portrayed as well as seeing how our commonality as humans remains over time.  It’s like the difference between picking up a worn book printed in that time, the pages frail and stained with waterspots, and looking through a clear window that somehow takes you back to that moment.  I think this photo shown here is a great example of this.

This photo is called Sadness and was taken by the British photographer Juliet Margaret Cameron in 1864.  Cameron was a Victorian aristocrat who took up photography, in the medium’s relative infancy, at the age of 48.  Over a ten year period she took over 3000 large format images of many of the celebrated figures of the time– Lord Tennyson, Carlyle and Darwin, for example– as well as staged recreations of literary and dramatic scenes.  She moved to colonial India in 1875  at which point her career in photography effectively ended.

Sadness is an image of the legendary British actress Ellen Terry, who became the most celebrated Shakespearean actress of the 19th century and continued well into the 20th century until her death in 1928, a career that spanned 70 years.  You may not have heard of her but her image as Lady MacBeth was immortalized in this  1889 painting  by John  Singer Sargeant .  In Sadness,  Terry was but a girl of 17 and was about to be married to a much older man, artist George Frederic Watts.  Perhaps the sadness portrayed in this image foreshadowed their short  marriage, which lasted less than a year.

History aside, I find the immediacy and presence of the image very appealing.  I don’t feel as though I am looking back in time.  This could be this very morning.  The humanity in it is great and I can easily feel the moment, could feel myself in the very instant that it was set.  I think this sense of  being set in the now of the viewer is a defining quality of  all great visual art, at least in my eyes.  And this image from Juliet Margaret Cameron has that.

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I’ve written here a number of times about my affection for  outsider or self-taught artists who pursue a personal vision in their own distinct manner.   They draw, paint, sculpt and carve  trying to express that essential part of themselves that demands to be released on to the world.  Many go on with their work for years and decades before they receive any recognition, if they ever receive any at all.  I can only imagine how many people toiled at their passions for their entire lives without anyone ever taking notice.  But some do eventually find recognition and it’s always gratifying to hear such stories.  One such story is that of Elijah Pierce.

Elijah Pierce was born to an ex-slave on a plantation  in Mississippi in 1894 and moved northward in the 1920’s , settling in Columbus, Ohio.  He took up a career as a barber in Columbus but had been taught chip carving  using a simple pocket knife by an uncle as a boy and it occupied his free time for over 60 years.  He carved figures and ornate reliefs of everyday scenes as well as depictions of biblical stories, popular figures of the day and just about anything that came into his mind, displaying them in a section of his barbershop.  One piece, The Book of Wood , from 1932, was a group of 33 bas-relief panels depicting scenes from the life of Christ that were bound together like a book.

In the 1970’s, Pierce’s work began to attract much deserved attention and the New York Times in 1979 in an article about folk art praised Pierce, saying that among all carvers, “none can equal the power of Pierce’s personal vision.”   That set off a rush among collectors and his fame grew in the folk art community.  He was honored with a National Endowment for the Arts award and the space at his barbershop once displayed a large group of his work was soon empty, the works snapped up by collectors and museums.

Pierce operated the barbershop until 1978 and passed away in 1984 at the age of 92.  He left a wonderful body of expressive work as a legacy, including a large collection at the Columbus Museum of Art,  and is memorialized with a statue (shown at the top of this post) at Columbus State Community College.  He has also been the subject of a biographical play that was performed in  Columbus.  It’s a wonderful thing to see someone maintain their vision for the entirety of their life and to have others recognize the beauty and power within it.  Elijah Pierce’s work was a perfect expression of himself.

Here’s a short film featuring Pierce.

Elijah Pierce from Zach Wolf on Vimeo.

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I came across this photo of my old studio up in the woods yesterday and remembered that I had used it in a post several years ago, back in December of 2008.   [Wow, I’ve been doing this blog for that long?]  It was a post about the role of solitude in my work.  My new studio is much more comfortable and warm, with all  the amenities , such as phone , cable TV and the  internet , that keep me  connected to the outer world.  Reading this post made me realize how less alone I am today at times in the studio and how important that time of solitude was for my work’s growth at that time.  I’m not sure that my work would have evolved in the same way in my current environment. I just thought it was an interesting post and wanted to share it again:

I’m showing the picture to the right to illustrate a bit of advice I often give when speaking with students or aspiring painters.  This is my first studio which is located up a slight hill behind our home, nestled in among a mixed forest of hardwoods and white pine.  This photo was from last February [2007].  It was a fine little space although it lacked certain amenities such as running water, bathrooms and truly sufficient heat.  However, it served me very well for about a decade.

The advice that I give to aspiring artists is this:  Learn to be alone.

The time spent in solitude  may be the greatest challenge that many artists face.  I have talked to many over the years and it is a common concern.  Some never fully commit to their art for just this reason.  To be alone with your own thoughts without the feedback or interaction of others can be scary especially for those used to being immersed in people and conversation.

I like to think that I have been prepared for this aspect of this career since I was a child.  For much of my youth we lived  in the country,  in houses that were isolated from neighbors.  I had a sister and brother, 7 and 8 years my senior,  and they were often my companions at times but  as they came into their middle teens I spent more and more time alone.  This is not a complaint.  Actually, it was kind of idyllic.  I lived a fairly independent life as a kid, coming and going as I pleased.  I explored the hills and woods around us, going down old trails to the railroad tracks and old cove that ran along side the Chemung River.  I studied the headstones at an old cemetery tucked in the edge of the woods overlooking what was then a thick glen,  filled with the family who resided at a late 1700’s homesite that had stood across the road from our home.  All that remained was a stacked stone chimney which served as a great prop for playing cowboy.

In the woods there were immense downed trees that served as magnificent pirate ships.  There were large hemlocks with thick horizontal branches that were practically ladders, easy to climb and sit above the forest floor to watch and dream.

My life would be very different without this time alone.  Sure, maybe I’d be a bit more sociable and comfortable with groups of people, something which is sometimes a hindrance.  But it prepared me for the time I spend alone and allowed me to create my own inner world that I occupied then and now.  The same world that appears in my work.  That is my work.

This is only a short post on a subject I could drone on about for pages and pages.  But, to aspiring artists, I say learn to love your time alone and realize what a luxury and an asset it can be.  Your work will grow from your time alone.

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