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Archive for January, 2018

Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.

 Marcel Proust

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A few days back I featured a new small painting that is headed to the West End Gallery for next week’s opening of their annual Little Gems show. That piece, and never looked back…, was a stark image in tones of black and gray that was about the idea of being forced from your home, never to return. It’s a depiction of that moment of leaving and the sense of loss and abandonment that remains.

The new painting above, also headed to the Little Gems show, is another take on the idea of abandoning one’s home. This piece, One Last Look, speaks to the nostalgia that appears after time, as memories of bad times and the accompanying anxieties have faded and singular moments of happiness have grown to fill all the moments of that time.  Time has smoothed away the rough edges and we begin to think that that time, that place, was much more idyllic than it ever was in actuality.

To me, this painting speaks to that nostalgia and its idealized sense of home and youth. With nostalgia, the past seems more vivid and vibrant.

The grass was greener then, I guess.

I am reminded of a post I wrote back in 2009 where a large poll taken at that time throughout Russia named Joseph Stalin as the third greatest Russian of all time. I wrote: Despite the many millions, yes, millions of Russian citizens who were put to death by Stalin, despite the political purges and gulags and Soviet policies that caused a type of artificial famine that killed far more citizens than any natural famine more than once, the current populace said that this Man of Steel was their guy.

Some of those polled had lived through the Stalin era but time, and a little more food and comfort now, had eroded the memory of the hardship, the famines and the purges. In fact, Putin had began extolling the virtues of Stalin about that time and many of these people felt the country needed that type of autocratic leader again. In Putin, they– and, unfortunately, we as well– may have found him.

We all often fall prey to this sort of nostalgia, our memories holding onto a few events of happy triumph here and there through time and discarding the much more numerous days and weeks and months of chaos or drudgery that many of us live through.

Nostalgia is like a beautiful double-edged sword– both wonderful and terrible. Such things should be handled with care.

 

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Visible things can be invisible. However, our powers of thought grasp both the visible and the invisible – and I make use of painting to render thoughts visible.

― René Magritte

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It’s an interesting thought, that our power of thought grasps both the visible and the invisible.

I, a seemingly visible thing, have sometimes felt invisible.

And I have sometimes seen things that turned out to not be there at all.

Thought is a magical thing.

And maybe that is why some folks paint, to attempt to capture those things they think they see and to take away their own invisibility.

Gotta chew on that one for a while…

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Botero

An artist is attracted to certain kinds of form without knowing why. You adopt a position intuitively; only later do you attempt to rationalize or even justify it.

Fernando Botero

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I don’t know much about artist Fernando Botero, who was born in 1932 in Medellin, Colombia. But it is obvious that his work represents his attraction to a certain kind of form– the round and the over-sized. While I would not count him among my favorites, I am impressed by the impression his work makes, how you never doubt that a painting or sculpture is his work.
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His work is boldly and instantly identifiable. And that is saying a lot.
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I think a lot of artists struggle in finding that certain kind of form that speaks to them intuitively, a form that becomes part of their true voice. Botero found it in the form of rotund figures and listened to his intuition. I think the impressive body of work he created over his long career justifies his decision.

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This new small painting is titled and never looked back… and is headed to the annual Little Gems show at the West End Gallery. It’s a piece that reminds me of the Depression era and the Dust Bowl refugees who forced from their homes by a hostile environment and a pitiless economy, leaving all they ever knew behind. I can only imagine the feelings of loss, the anxiety, the confusion and the anger that must have been constantly running through these people’s minds.

To have to leave one’s home– and never look back.

I know this is hardly a happy subject to face on a Sunday morning but I worry that we will someday soon face the same sort of situation. It has happened in one instance recently, if you consider the many people of Puerto Rico who have lost everything in the past year and how they have been forced to leave their island home. They are the current modern day Okies.

You may say this an unfounded worry, given the strength of our economy. And you’re probably right, at least for the short term.  But with the deregulation taking place in the financial sector, the shredding of the social safety net and unparalleled wealth inequality– a mere 6 people have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the global population, 3.7 billion people– we are setting the stage for a huge economic crash when the economy eventually sputters, as it will given its cyclical nature.

I know that I sound like a bummer filled with gloom and doom. I don’t mean it that way. I am just sending out a cautionary note that if we continue to ignore the lessons of the past, we will relive them. Not necessarily in the same way. We may not be Okies jammed into old trucks, heading out west to pick fruit. I don’t have the imagination to think what our lives might be in the next critical situation that comes our way. But I do know that it won’t be good unless we begin working now to avert the worst of it.

Okay, enough. Today’s Sunday morning music is a classic Dust Bowl era song from Woody Guthrie that was in my mind when I was finishing up this painting. It’s title is I Ain’t Got No Home in This World Anymore.

In the 1950’s, Guthrie lived in public housing in Brooklyn that was built with public funds by a NY developer by the name of Fred Trump – yeah, that guy’s father. Guthrie noticed the fact that people of color were not allowed in that development and later wrote new verses for this song that called out the racism of Old Man Trump, as he called him. This discrimination throughout Trump’s network of developments persisted for nearly 25 years until a Civil Rights lawsuit was brought by the Federal authorities and was settled in the late 70’s. Here’s a link to an article outlining more of the details.

Like I said, we relive the past.

Give a listen and have a good Sunday.

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Every age manifests itself by some external evidence. In a period such as ours when only a comparatively few individuals seem to be given to religion, some form other than the Gothic cathedral must be found. Industry concerns the greatest numbers-it may be true, as has been said, that our factories are our substitute for religious expression.

Charles Sheeler
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In much of his photography and painting, Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) equated the sheer mass and space of modern industry with the grandeur of medieval cathedrals. He saw in both of these environments, spaces that bring awe to the common man. These places often make one feel small and insignificant and in the presence of a powerful entity, one that dwarfed one’s own strength and power.
I think his work accurately showed the transition of our spiritual adoration from the religious to the corporate structures. It seems to me that we have bestowed a new sense of reverence on corporations, believing that they are some sort of savior and protector that will always act in the best interest of the many. When we speak of policy now, we don’t speak about how we can help people in need, we speak about how we can help large businesses. The idea there is that if they do well the benevolence they show in their hiring and acquiring will naturally take care of all ills.
If you look at that from a historical perspective, that’s not much different than the place occupied by the church throughout the ages. I know that’s not a new observation but it seems more and more obvious in recent times as so many common people have come to view capitalism in almost religious terms, with corporations deserving our veneration and protection.
And it makes me wonder if Sheeler was right, that the factories and corporations have become our substitute for religious expression? What will future generations see as the external evidence of our age? Will our perceived legacy be little more than the spaces of large corporate campuses and huge distribution centers? Is that the extent of our reach now?
Just thinking a little this morning.  Anyway, here are some other Sheeler paintings.

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I was going through some older posts this morning and came across this one on artist Amedeo Modigliani. I don’t know if coincidences have any meaning beyond being interesting things to ponder but the coincidence of the date for this post and today’s date, along with the same date back in 1920 as mentioned in the post made me think I should rerun this post. I’ve added a video of Modigliani’s work if you would like to take a look– it’s very calming.

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You wouldn’t know it to look at the work of Amedeo Modigliani, but it was quite an influence on my painting. Modigliani’s work through his short, self-destructive life consisted primarily of stylized portraits and  nudes. The heads of his subjects were long and oval, often set at an angle atop an overly extended long neck. The eyes are almond shaped and the nose pinched. Hardly words to describe great beauty yet they maintain a graceful allure that is immediately recognizable as the work of Modigliani.

His instant recognizability of his style and subjects from across large galleries was striking and was the great message I took from seeing Modigliani in museums over the years. You couldn’t mistake it for the work of anyone else and as a painter early in my career, still seeking the direction of my work, this was an invaluable observation. With each Modigliani I came across, the idea that my work should be somehow unique and have a quality of instant recognition was reinforced in my mind.

Also, his limited subject matter made an imprint. The idiosyncratic nature of his portraits and nudes made the repetition of his forms seem like a moot point, making the viewer easily enter the picture plane and focus on the unique qualities of the piece in the colors and forms. It wasn’t the subject that mattered but the way in which it was painted. Another valuable lesson.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t learn the lessons of the other parts of Modigliani’s life. His drug and alcohol addictions, combined with tuberculosis, led to an early death at the age of 35. Even more tragic is the story of Jeanne Hebuterne, the model for the paintings shown here and the common-law wife of the artist.  She was the subject of at least 25 of Modigliani paintings. The day after the artist succumbed to death in Paris in January of 1920, a distraught and pregnant  Jeanne threw herself out the window, killing herself and her unborn child. She was 21 years old.

Coincidentally, her death came on this date, January 25. I didn’t realize that until I just looked it up.  Hmmm…



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It is not a matter of painting life. It’s a matter of giving life to a painting.

-Richard Diebenkorn

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I am going through a period where I am struggling to find focus. My ability to concentrate seems limited and everything, even small tasks, seem like huge distractions which I allow to take over much of my day. Even writing a short blog entry has become an epic struggle to complete, taking twice as long as normal to write a few lines that say little.

It’s frustrating and a little scary, with a nagging fear that this will become the new normal, that every task will become a struggle. I worry that the spark that has sustained me for the past two decades has somehow diminished.

I’ve been through these episodes before, as I’ve noted here in the past. I can’t say that this is any worse than any of those although it probably seems that way while I’m in the middle of it. I’ve always been able to muddle through it and have usually come out at the other end back in form, the spark in full blaze.

But part of me worries that this time might be a different thing. Maybe it’s watching my father living a shallow existence with his dementia in a local nursing home. I find myself worrying that my current lack of concentration might morph into the same short attention span that bedevils him.

I tell myself that this a baseless fear but when you’re running on a low spark, your confidence in your own beliefs and strengths becomes a bit strained. Fears, once unthinkable, become plausible.

So, trying to find inspiration, I spend some mornings looking at the work of other artists and reading a bit about how they perceived their work and how they coped with the struggles they faced. I’ve been a fan of Richard Diebenkorn’s work for some time, especially his Ocean Park series. Ocean Park #79 is shown at the top. I was looking at some of his work this morning and reading a few short quotes from him. The one at the top resonated because it reminds me of what I am trying to do.

Another, about the beginning of his process, also spoke to me: Of course, I don’t go into the studio with the idea of ‘saying’ something—that’s ludicrous. What I do is face the blank canvas, which is terrifying. Finally I put a few arbitrary marks on it that start me on some sort of dialogue. I need a dialogue to get going.

That is where I am right now. I am trying to start a dialogue, a conversation, with a blank surface. The problem is that on some recent mornings I feel as blank as the empty canvas. That doesn’t make for sparkling dialogue.

But I keep trying because it is what I do. And I have to believe that the spark is there, waiting to spring into a full blaze. Maybe it’s today…

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