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Archive for March, 2018

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“Art is such an action. It is a kindred form of action to idealism. They are both expressions of the same drive, and the man who fails to fulfill this urge in one form or another is as guilty of escapism as the one who fails to occupy himself with the satisfaction of bodily needs. In fact, the man who spends his entire life turning the wheels of industry so that he has neither time nor energy to occupy himself with any other needs of his human organism is by far a greater escapist than the one who developed his art. For the man who develops his art does make adjustments to his physical needs. He understands that man must have bread to live, while the other cannot understand that you cannot live by bread alone.” 

― Mark Rothko, The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art

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Three Base Hit- James Daugherty 1917

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Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.

George Will

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Opening day yesterday and baseball is off and running. This whole damn place might seem ready to go up in flames any minute now but for a few hours every day or so, all seems right in the world. Hey, baseball even gives me a place to find common ground with George Will.

For a Yankees fan, yesterday’s opening day was all that could they could hope for as Giancarlo Stanton, one half of their Twin Towers along with Aaron Judge, quickly put to rest any fears that he would wither under the pressure of playing for the Yanks. In the first inning, on the second pitch he saw, he crushed a home run to right center. Then he bookended the day with an even longer blast to center in the ninth as the Yanks cruised to the win.

And I had a great day in the studio, to boot.

And all was right in the world for a few hours.

Here’s a song I played here a couple of years back, one of my favorite baseball songs. It’s Baseball Boogie from Mabel Scott. Batter up!

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I am really busy this morning but wanted to replay the post below from a few years back. I am currently at a point where I am just emerging from a period of great uncertainty and doubt, which had me questioning the path I had followed. But with each painting comes a bit more confidence, a bit more energy and a renewed sense of purpose. It makes me realize once more that the work itself is a sort of perpetual motion machine– it produces energy beyond that put into it.
The trick is in simply trusting the work and just doing it. Which is what I must do right now.

Paul Gauguin- Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?What still concerns me the most is: am I on the right track, am I making progress, am I making mistakes in art?

Paul Gauguin

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At one of my gallery talks a year or two ago, I was asked about confidence in my work. I can’t remember the exact wording but the questioner seemed to imply that at a certain point in an artist’s evolution doubts fade away and one is absolutely certain and confident in their work.

I think I laughed a bit then tried to let them know that even though I stood up there and seemed confident in that moment, it was mere illusion, that I was often filled with raging doubts about my voice or direction or my ability. I wanted them to know that there were often periods when I lost all confidence in what I was doing, that there were days that turned into weeks where I bounced around in my studio, paralyzed with a giant knot in my gut because it seemed like everything I had done before was suddenly worthless and without content in my mind.

I don’t know that I explained myself well that day or if I can right now. There are moments (and days and weeks) of clarity where the doubts do ease up and I no longer pelt myself with questions that I can’t answer. Kind of like the painting at the top, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, the masterpiece from Paul Gauguin. Those are tough questions to answer, especially for a person who has little religious belief.

And maybe that’s the answer. Maybe my work has always served as a type of surrogate belief system, expressing instinctual reactions to these great questions. I don’t really know and I doubt that I ever will. I only hope that the doubts take a break once in a while.

There was another quote I was considering using for this subject from critic Robert Hughes:

The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is given to the less talented as a consolation prize.

I liked that but it felt kind of self-serving, like saying that being aware aware of your own stupidity is actually a sign of your intelligence. I would really like to believe that all those times when I realized I was dumb as a stump were actually evidence of my brilliance. I think many of us can  claim that one.

Likewise, if Hughes is correct  then I may be one of the the greatest artists of all time.

And at the moment, I have my doubts…

 

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By three methods we may learn
wisdom: First, by reflection,
which is the noblest; Second, by
imitation, which is easiest;
and Third, by experience,
which is the bitterest.

Confucius

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This is another new painting, a 10″ by 20″ canvas that I am calling A Time to Reflect.  This is also going to be part of my show, Haven, that opens June 1 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria.

I had my first show at the Principle in 2000 with the Redtree show that turned out to be the formal beginning point for the image of that tree that has come to populate and define much of my work. Each subsequent year has seen some change, an addition of a new element or shade of color, that pushes the work in a slightly new direction.

For this, my 19th show at the Principle, I have made a conscious decision to have many pieces of this exhibit revert to more simplified forms, cutting away a lot of excess detail and focusing on pulling as much as I can from a sparse set of elements. To allow the color, the texture, the shapes and lines of the forms to speak clearly. Even on the recent geometric, broken sky pieces, the compositions are simply constructed which creates an abundance of space that allows the shapes and colors of the sky’s forms to carry the emotion of the painting.

This particular painting very much feels like it may have come from those earliest shows at the Principle Gallery with the addition of nearly twenty years of reflection. Hopefully, it displays the nobility of wisdom gained through reflection, as Confucius states in his words at the top.

I think you must experience all three methods to truly gain wisdom. You first learn through imitation. Then you learn even more from the failures that come with your first attempts to use this acquired knowledge. But after a time filled with many failures and a few triumphs, you come to a sort of peace with the world and are able to stop to look back with a new respect and gratitude for it all.

And in that moment of reflection, when you have shed the bitterness, recognized your shortcomings and gave thanks for your few positive attributes, maybe there is a certain nobility. And maybe then there is real wisdom.

I’m hoping to find out someday.

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Joan Miro, Constellations 1959

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The older I get and the more I master the medium, the more I return to my earliest experiences. I think that at the end of my life I will recover all the force of my childhood.

–Joan Miro, from 1960 at age 67 

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It’s the young people who interest me, and not the old dodos. If I go on working, it’s for the year 2000, and for the people of tomorrow.

–Joan Miro, from 1975 at age 82

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There are two quotes here from the great Spanish painter Joan Miro (1893-1983) that really strike a chord with me. Both come from him when he was older and both speak very much to the way I feel about my own work.

In the first he speaks about gaining more mastery over the medium through the years while simultaneously moving closer to the vibrant energy that one has in their youth. I have felt the same feelings. The more one gains control over their form of expression, the more they are freed from the constraints of conscious thoughts and decisions. The work becomes reactive to the feel and emotion of the moment.

Now, I will add that with this acquired mastery there is also a new barrier erected to overcome. Well, at least, in my experience. I have found that with years of work, which is, in effect, rehearsal and practice, there is sometimes a loss of spontaneity and passion in the actual making of the marks. They become a little too precise, a little too mannered and a bit too clean and neat. They don’t have that feeling of wanting to burst off the surface. I have found ways to get past this–using bigger brushes and making strokes quicker with more urgency, for example– but every so often I will get near the end of a piece and it just feels too neat, too precise, for the underlying emotion.

It needs the innate exuberance of a child at play.

The second Miro quote, made when he was 82, speaks of painting not for those of his age but for the younger and the future generations. I certainly understand this sentiment. I am most thrilled when children react to my work, knowing then that it is speaking to the aforementioned innate exuberance.

It means I am not dealing with intellect or acquired knowledge or conscious thought. It is a pure and uninformed reaction. It means the work is communicating emotionally across and out of time.

And I think this is important because I believe most artists wants to break free from their own era, to not be consigned to any single period of time. To be known for what they were at their inner and eternal core, not where or how they were categorized in their time.

Maybe like the Miro painting at the top, a single small voice among the multitude of stars and constellations in the universe.

I don’t know but that might be my primary goal in doing what I do.

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While writing a reply to comment made on yesterday’s blog early this morning, I stated that for me, there was a connection with energy of these young people that were behind this weekend’s March For Our Lives and that of the presidential campaign of RFK in 1968. I was only 9 years old but was fully aware of RFK , watching intently every day as his campaign was covered on the evening news, in our case NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report.

Robert Kennedy campaigning for a seat in the Senate, 1964. Elmira, NY

His youthfulness stood in stark contrast to the other politicians that I saw such as LBJ and Nixon, older stodgy looking men in dark suits. Kennedy looked young enough to be their sons and the crowds that turned out to see him were always filled with kids. Many photos of his campaigns show him standing amid swarms of young people. One of my favorites is from his 1964 senate campaign, with him in a shopping plaza in my hometown that I know well. He is standing in car with his shirtsleeves rolled up with a crowd of kids reaching out to shake his hands.

The idea of dreaming things that never were and thinking they could actually happen still seemed like a possibility in those moments. And why not? We were on the brink of putting a man on the moon, something that only a few years before seemed impossible. We had passed sweeping Civil Rights legislation, overcoming centuries of ingrained prejudice and the darkest efforts of those who claimed supremacy.

Anything was possible.

And that thought is what seems to be taking root in these kids. They don’t feel bound to history. They see only the present and the future and in that, they recognize that they will be the ones occupying the future.

Why simply accept the wreckage we are leaving them as our legacy? Why not make it a time and a place of their own making? Their vision, their world. Not one forged by old men who only see things in terms of money and privilege.

Why not, indeed.

 

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It was not hard to see the contrast yesterday between the attitude of the oceans of youth that swarmed cities around this country during the March For Our Lives and that of the nation’s current governing party.

These kids are amazing. Stunning, really. They are smart, focused and savvy in the ways of media that goes well beyond their years. They have boldness and strength, a clear-eyed vision of rightness and a true sense of serving the greater good. There is a guileless purity to them that is refreshing and clarifying.

Now contrast that to the politicians who stand opposed to their agenda. The words that spring to my mind are words like cowardly and greedy and self-serving and evasive and deceptive and amoral. Corrupt in every sense of the word. Their craven attitude is bringing this country to the brink of a disaster, enabling a transformation of our democracy that may be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.

As Andrew Sullivan deduces in his review this week of the book Can It Happen Here: Authoritarianism in America, it may already have happened and we just haven’t recognized it yet.

It’s hard for me to not think that we at this moment in history are standing on the middle of the yin yang symbol above and we could go either way, into light or into darkness. We need to decide right now whether we want concede our future to those who think nothing of selling that future to the highest bidder and lying to us about doing so.

If the great numbers of people somehow are offended by these kids’ call to action, if they prefer to stand behind the craven cowards in congress and in the white house — neither deserve capital letters in my opinion–then I fear we have already moved into the darkness.

But for today, in the wake of yesterday’s demonstration, I see a little light. I have always been disappointed by the youth vote in this country but I have hope that these kids can take the lead to make it the force it should be. If they can unite behind a few issues they have the numbers and power to change this country. The future is their’s if they choose to take it.

I hope yesterday was the beginning of that recognition in this new generation, as well as in the older generations, like mine, who have been asleep at the switch for much too long.

Okay, for this week’s Sunday morning music I am going back to another turbulent point in our history, the 1960’s and anti-war movement in the wake of the assassinations of MLK and RFK. Here’s some Canned Heat from Woodstock in 1969 doing A Change Is Gonna Come.

Have a good day. But think about which way you want things to go and do something to push it that way. Take a page from these kids– get off your butts and make the world the way you want it.

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