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Archive for June, 2017

Timely

This advice seems very prescient.

It comes from the 1998 novel Parable of the Talents from  Octavia E. Butler. Butler was an multi-award winning author of science-fiction novels that often took place a dystopian world in the near future. She was also a winner of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship— the Genius Award, as it is sometimes called– and passed away in 2006 at the age of 59.

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This past Tuesday marked the 90th birthday for the iconic Cyclone Rollercoaster at Coney Island. I have a single memory of that fabled old wooden rollercoaster, sitting in the couch-like red vinyl seats next to my dad as we hurtled through the Brooklyn sky. I thought I’d use this occasion to rerun a favorite post here along with a few more images and a video of the work of American painter, Reginald Marsh. Coney Island in the Swing Era was one of his favorite subjects so the music in the video- Sing, Sing, Sing — seems like a perfect fit.

Give a look and a listen and enjoy Mr. Marsh’s Coney Island.

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Reginald Marsh Coney Island Beach I’m always intrigued by the paintings of Reginald Marsh, who painted scenes depicting the urban world of New York City throughout the early part of the 20th century until his death in 1954.  His paintings always seemed densely packed with figures and constant movement, all rendered with easily recognizable line work and colors that were strong yet had a soft transparency.  Striking.

One of his favorite subjects was Coney Island, the famous part of Brooklyn with its beach, boardwalk and amusement park.  Whenever I see Marsh’s Coney Island paintings I am always reminded of the several trips I made there as a child in the late 1960’s.  My parents and I would go to NY to see Mets’ games, leaving my older, busier siblings at home, and would sometimes go to Coney Island on the day when the games were at night. 

It was always like entering an exotic, much different world than my country home.  It was dirty with  trash strewn everywhere.  I remember the first time we swung into the parking lot at Astroland, the amusement park there, and thinking we’d entered a landfill as there were literally piles of paper and bottles over nearly the whole lot.  If you spent much time in NY at that time, it was not an unusual sight.

Reginald Marsh The Lucky DaredevilsBut it was great fun and over the few visits there I had many memories that burned indelibly into my memory bank.  My parents, and my aunt and uncle who sometimes were with us, would, after a while stop at one of the bars that opened to the boardwalk to have a cold one and I would wander alone.  It was a wonderland of colorful attractions and games, their facades faded by time and sun. I have sharp images of a burned in memory of standing at one bar’s doorway and watching a singer all dressed in cowboy regalia standing on the bar with his electric guitar singing out country songs in the middle of the afternoon.    

 Reginald Marsh Coney Island SceneI remember seeing the crowds down on the beach and suddenly seeing everyone there pointing out to the water and yelling.  Looking out, I saw two legs bobbing straight out of the water, almost comically so.  The lifeguards rushed out and dragged the body in.  Dead and, now that I think about it, had probably been so for a while.

I also remember going into a boardwalk arcade and approaching an older man with a gray moustache and a coin changer on his belt.  I asked for change and handed him my dollar bill.  He made a couple of clicks on the changer and poured a pile of nickels into my hands.  As I turned to go the machines, he put his hand on my shoulder.

Reginald MarshTunnel of Love“Hold on!” he exclaimed in a thick accent that sounded Greek and a little angry to a terrified nine year old.  He started chastising me.

“You don’t know me! Don’t ever trust anyone you don’t know.  I give you money and you trust me and don’t count.  You should not trust me.  Now, count!”

I stood there petrified and counted out loud.  It was the right change, of course, and the man’s gruff demeanor suddenly changed and he beamed a smile at me.  “You understand? Now go.  Have fun,” he said as he gave me a pat on the shoulder.

A little life lesson along with the change on the boardwalk in 1969.

That moment is clear as yesterday and it always reappears when I see images from Marsh or images of Coney Island.

Reginald Marsh Pip and Flip

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Solitude is independence. It had been my wish and with the years I had attained it. It was cold. Oh, cold enough! But it was also still, wonderfully still and vast like the cold stillness of space in which the stars revolve. 
― Hermann HesseSteppenwolf

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I understand very well the sentiment behind the words above, spoken in the voice of Hermann Hesse‘s character Harry Haller in his novel, Steppenwolf. It is the story of a man who sees himself as both man and wolf, divided by his desire to be part of man’s society yet driven by his wolf’s need to be a solitary, instinctual being. There is a constant inner conflict between the two opposing forces.

Yeah, I understand that very well. I think that many of us do.

I, too, have seen solitude as independence and, like Harry Haller, have sought and to a great degree attained it. Yes, there have been points when it was the stillness that he describes, like soaring through the cold blackness of space. A wondrous vast and empty dome of space.

But with time, that same solitude begins to feel less cold, warmer and more comfortable. It is as thought the time spent alone in that expansive space has drawn you to the gravity of a distant sun. Sharing its light and warmth, it becomes a silent yet reliable and amiable companion. Solitude feels less lonely and begins to feels like a natural condition, comfortable and even homey.

To a great extent, that is how I have found myself. I am grateful for the warmth that solitude now provides. It is a friendly and welcoming place now. Paradoxically, it is when I am among crowds of people that I feel most alone and untethered, like I was desperately floating without direction in the coldest and darkest parts of space.

The new painting above, a 16″ by 12″ canvas that I am calling A Warmer Solitude, represents this sentiment for me. It has an inviting and warm presence with the air of solitude around it.

All I ask.

This piece is part of my solo show, Self Determination, that opens July 14 at the West End Gallery, which has represented my work for 22 years now. This is my 16th or 17th solo show with them and I may be more excited about this show than any other that I can remember. I hope you can make it to the gallery for this show that will be hanging until the end of August.

 

 

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Very, very busy but I thought I’d pause for just a little Bellini this morning. Not the cocktail, though it is tempting on this particular morning. I am talking about my favorite Renaissance artist, the Italian painter Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516) who lived and painted in Venice.

While most of his work is religious in nature, as was almost art of that time, I am always thrilled and fascinated by his treatment of the background landscapes, especially in the way he composed them,  and his handling of color. His surfaces, on the few paintings of his that I have seen in person, are truly beautiful and seem to be fresh and new with colors, the blues in particular, that just pop off the surface.

Absolutely gorgeous stuff.

I have included a video to go along with a few pieces here that really spark me. Take  a look and have a great day.

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The title for my show opening July 14 at the West End Gallery is Self Determination. The title for the painting above, a 24″ by 36″ canvas, which is included in the show, is Self Preservation.

The title comes from how I have come to view the current state of this world over the past several years. Decades of insulating ourselves via the internet, content in our own little echo chambers where we are constantly pushed further away from others by figures hidden in the shadows of the web who profit by exploiting our division, have brought us to a state where misinformation is more prevalent that fact.

Where belief, however unfounded it may be, has an equal value with truth.

Where every event is recorded with multiple sets of alternate facts allowing each person to justify their point of view and belief.

Where every word and sentence is parsed to detect which way that person leans in their belief.

Where intolerance is tolerated.

Where rational discussion has been thrown over for a constant uncivil cacophony of screamed biases and opinions, a virtual Tower of Babel where there is a constant sound and fury yet no one hears a word being said but their own.

It is a maddening time, one that truly challenges our sanity, personally and as a whole.

It leads me to the question: How does one weather such a time, hows does one hold on to what they see as their own truth– who and what they are at their core– without being swept up in the ill winds that rake this world?

What does one hold on to for self preservation?

I don’t know that I have an answer that applies to anyone other than myself. But it’s all I have and, for now, that will have to suffice.

Self preservation for me comes in the inner world I visit in my paintings.

I see it as a place where truth and belief come together. It is place where there is an inherent sense of rightness, of calm rationality, of harmony, and of little anger.

And it is without hatred or prejudice. While it is my world and it is a place of tolerance, excluding no one.

I am free in this world. Safe. At peace. Part of a universe that understands me, that hears my voice and responds to my prayers and desires.

Oh, I don’t have to be told how foolish it all sounds. I know that it is an escape from the harshness and insanity that the world offers us at the moment. But it is a world in which I have lived happily for many years, more sane and content than I ever was before that world came to be.

Perhaps that is an answer that will work for others– to find that inner world for yourself where you can periodically retreat, even for a moment, to experience calmness and a sense of self.

I don’t know for sure. I just know that is has been a place of self preservation for me for decades now.

Excuse me, I have to head over there now…

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Self Preservation opens July 14 at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY.

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There just doesn’t seem to be enough time in any day, with what seems like a thousand tasks gnawing at me to get done. A little anxious,  I am eager to get going but it is Sunday morning and my routine dictates that I dig out a song to play here on the blog.

This weeks features two versions of Bob Dylan‘s Everything Is Broken, a definite favorite of mine and a song that oddly fits almost any time and place. I chose the  first, which contains the song done by Dylan himself, because the video cracked me up. It’s done by someone from Italy, I think, who makes some interesting videos. I believe he just does it for himself and friends because none of them has a huge number of views. But his one caught my eye and makes me chuckle.

The second video is from longtime soul diva Bettye LaVette. I like to hear different takes on the same song, seeing how many artists take different approaches to the same material. Bettye’s version is pretty satisfying.

But you be the judge. Have a great day.


 

 

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Mark Twain holds great say in our area. He spent many of his summers overlooking my native city, Elmira, and the Chemung River valley at Quarry Farm, where he wrote many of his best loved books. His family plot at Woodlawn Cemetery is a tourist attraction. Maybe that’s why I’ve always felt an affinity for the man and his writing.

Or maybe it was his inability to suffer fools, most notably those with great advantages and power. The current goings-on in DC, especially with the spite and greed that is accompanying the healthcare bill, have me swearing under my breath whenever I let the subject enter my mind. Keeping it out is a full-time and exhausting job.

So, today instead of venting, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Mark Twain-isms. Though some of this lines seem ornery and misanthropic, I think they reveal great compassion and empathy for the common man. I mean that in the singular sense. I like to believe that he was as leery of organizations, clubs, populist movements and, especially, those who reign over these groups as I am.

Plus they make me smile. And I need that these days, more than ever.

 

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