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Archive for October, 2017

What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?

Henri Rousseau

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Guide me through this pathless water,

Give me a moon to cut the endless dark,

Protect me from the coming storm

Carry me to that distant shore

Where I can stand in Your light on solid ground once more.

The Ferryman’s Prayer

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There have been a lot of dark clouds in my most recent work, such as the 8′ by 24″ painting above that I call The Ferryman’s Prayer. I surmise that this work is a result of my own observations and feelings about the state of affairs in this country. I’ve said before that my work usually reflects how view things around me on an emotional level and these times certainly have had an effect on my psyche.

At first glimpse, these pieces seem ominous and foreboding but I see them as hopeful. There is usually a source of light that breaks the darkness and creates a sense that there is a way forward, that the storm will eventually pass. Bad things and dark days visit us all but it is the hope that it will soon pass us by that gives us the strength to persevere.

And I think that perseverance is the thing that drives these dark-skied paintings and that might be the most human of all our qualities.

I don’t know if there is an actual prayer for ferrymen but the one at the top is how I imagine it might sound if there was one.

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I am running late this morning and there’s a long to-do list of things waiting for me. But I definitely wanted to get out a little music for this Sunday morning. Here in the northeast, it’s rainy, dark and gray. It would be easy to gravitate towards music that reflects that mood but I think I am going to go the other way.

Bright and light. Pop.

So I am going to play a song written and released by Cat Stevens in 1967. The British group the Tremeloes also released the song that same year.

It’s hard to believe that this song is 50 years old. It feels like a perfect pop song. It’s bright and clean and doesn’t feel dated in any way. If you’re a fan of Wes Anderson films, you probably will remember the song ( the Cat Stevens version) from Rushmore.

I like both versions but slightly favor the Tremeloes version which is the one I am showing here today. Plus it has a neat live video of the era, which is always fun to see. It’s a little unusual in that it focuses on the band without the usual go-go dancers from TV performances of that time. Hope it brightens your day.

Have a great Sunday.

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I have always had a passion for the beautiful. If the man in me is often a pessimist, the artist, on the contrary, is pre-eminently an optimist.

Jules Breton

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A bit of hope for today. I have to agree with Breton: even on those darker days when I feel my most cynical, I find hope in doing my work. Or in considering that far horizon in Breton’s painting.

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Keeping Hope, Again

I have been filled with a dark and foreboding anxiety lately.  It’s even deeper and darker than the uneasiness and apprehension that has been with me for the past year as I watch the fabric of this country seem to unravel before my eyes. In recent weeks I get the sense that we are nearing a tipping point, that without some sort of dramatic change in our course forward we may find ourselves at a time and place from which there may be no recovery. 

At least in a peaceful and orderly manner.

I know this sounds hyperbolic but I feel that even darker days may be ahead. 

It’s easy to lose grip on our hope in these times, to feel our own humanity slip away only to be replaced by fear, anger and paranoia. That is something that seems evident by observing the growing division and incivility taking place in day to day life. 

As bad as it seems, I am reminded of an entry posted here several years back soon after the death of historian and social activist Howard Zinn. It was about the need to behave as a real human in the darkest of times, if only to remind us of those better qualities that we are struggling to maintain. The world may be dark and darkening with each passing moment, but kindness and compassion have the power to create moments of light that defy the shadows that creep over us and to give us a renewed energy to go on.

It’s short–less than the blather I’ve written here to introduce it– but it is worth a moment to absorb it. The last paragraph is a gem.
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To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

——Howard Zinn

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Get yourself to a vantage point of seclusion and view the world with your eyes alone. Think of the infinite spaces of the skies and the world beneath.

Charles Burchfield

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Good words for a painter. Or any other human, for that matter.

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The poet Robert Frost wrote a wonderful preface to the 1939 edition of his collected poems. It was titled The Figure a Poem Makes and it described how he viewed his process of unveiling the true nature of his work. Reading it, I was struck by the similarities between his work as a poet and how I view my work as painter.

For example, the following paragraph-I have highlighted individual lines that jumped out at me. I probably could have highlighted them all:

It should be of the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same as for love. No one can really hold that the ecstasy should be static and stand still in one place. It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life–not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion. It has denouement. It has an outcome that though unforeseen was predestined from the first image of the original mood-and indeed from the very mood. It is but a trick poem and no poem at all if the best of it was thought of first and saved for the last. It finds its own name as it goes and discovers the best waiting for it in some final phrase at once wise and sad-the happy-sad blend of the drinking song.

A painting often begin in delight. A certain tone of color, the way a line bends, the manner in which a brushstroke reveals the paint or in how the contrast of light and dark excites the eye.  The delights pull you in and keep you engaged and it is not until you have finished that you are able to understand the sum of these elements, to detect the wisdom, the meaning, behind it all. It is only then that you know what you have uncovered and how it should be named.

The work itself, if left to its own means, knows what it is and will tell you.

Then there is this gem of a paragraph:

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. For me the initial delight is in the surprise of remembering something I didn’t know I knew. I am in a place, in a situation, as if I had materialized from cloud or risen out of the ground. There is a glad recognition of the long lost and the rest follows. Step by step the wonder of unexpected supply keeps growing. The impressions most useful to my purpose seem always those I was unaware of and so made no note of at the time when taken, and the conclusion is come to that like giants we are always hurling experience ahead of us to pave the future with against the day when we may want to strike a line of purpose across it for somewhere. The line will have the more charm for not being mechanically straight. We enjoy the straight crookedness of a good walking stick.

I have often spoke of the need to be have my emotions near the surface when I work, to always need to feel excited and surprised by what I am working on. To recognize things I never knew as being part of me. If I am not moved by the thing I am working on at any given time, how can I expect others to be moved by it? This paragraph speaks clearly to my experience as an artist.

Then there is the final sentences of the essay:

Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting. A poem may be worked over once it is in being, but may not be worried into being. Its most precious quality will remain its having run itself and carried away the poet with it. Read it a hundred times: it will forever keep its freshness as a petal keeps its fragrance. It can never lose its sense of a meaning that once unfolded by surprise as it went.

My translation of this, as a painter, is that the work must be free to move and grow of its own volition. It tells you where it wants to go and, if you don’t constrain it and try to push it to a place where it was not intended to go, will reveal its truth to you. If you can do that, it remain always fresh, always in the present and always filled the excitement and surprise that it contained in that burst when it was created.

I don’t want to bore you too much. It’s a great essay and is a valuable read for anyone who makes art in any form. You can see ( and download) the whole book, The Collected Poems of Robert Frost, with this essay in full by clicking here.

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