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Archive for March, 2018

One of my favorite paintings is the one above, a depiction of the biblical Tower of Babel painted by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, the Flemish painter around 1563. It is probably the image that jumps to mind for many folks when they think about that tower. It is an iconic image.

But it also spurred many generations of other artists to render their own vision of how they thought the tower may have appeared. I am fascinated by the hundreds of different, yet in many ways similar, ways in which the Tower of Babel has been depicted and have scanned over numerous iterations.

All are captivating to me, filled with all sorts of compositional possibilities that always seem to have me on the verge of painting my own tower. I may have already attempted and haven’t even realized it, like the characters in Close Encounters of the Third Kind who are compelled to by their visions of Devil’s Tower to recreate that landmark in whatever is at hand, such as the mashed potatoes in the case of the Richard Dreyfuss character.

Here are just a handful of other paintings of the Tower of Babel along with a short video I came across that contains a few more.

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Schiele -Eternal

Egon Schiele- Setting Sun 1913

 

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Art cannot be modern. Art is primordially eternal.

Egon Schiele

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I Am Not Alone

The night, it is deserted
from the mountains to the sea.
But I, the one who rocks you,
I am not alone!

The sky, it is deserted
for the moon falls to the sea.
But I, the one who holds you,
I am not alone !

The world, it is deserted.
All flesh is sad you see.
But I, the one who hugs you,
I am not alone!

Gabriela Mistral

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Another new piece that just came off the easel, this one a 24″ by 24″ canvas. I think I am going to call this painting Never Alone.

I’ve written about the focused, almost mesmerized, feeling that comes over me when I have been at work on this recent work and this painting was no different. It just pulled me in from the beginning and held me captive. Even when I would stop working on it, I was constantly looking back at it, trying to absorb it as though it were some sort of balm.

And maybe that is just what it is for myself. A soothing balm.

I came across the poem above a number of years ago from the great Chilean poetess and Nobel Prize winner, Gabriela Mistral, and shared it on the blog back in 2010. I wrote then that I felt this poem perfectly paired with a painting I had done at that time. I think the same holds true here.

As I wrote in 2010:  The sense of being alone yet not lonely is an important element in the way I look at my work and one that I sometimes struggle with for fear that it may alienate some who see being alone as only loneliness and not solitude. An important distinction and one that is often misunderstood. 

But we who relish our solitary time understand.

Well, I have some solitary time right now to further absorb my balm.

 

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It is the treating of the commonplace with the feelings of the sublime that gives to art its true power.

–Jean-Francois Millet

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Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875) is mainly known for his peasant scenes painted in the genre of the Barbizon school, of which he was an originator.  This genre marked the move from Romantic painting to Realism which depicted the reality of all aspects of the world, including the rural working class which were seldom portrayed heretofore.

This work played a huge role in the evolution of modern art as a number of artists from subsequent generations ran with this work , adding their own voice and style to the subject matter. Van Gogh, for example, directly copied a number of Millet works, such as The Sower below, in his own distinct style.

I am not moved by all of Millet’s work. Some of it feels generic but I think that is understandable as its style was so influential that it was emulated, creating a vast body of similar work. But there is something in a segment of his work that I feel is truly visionary in a way that lends credence to the statement from Millet at the top of the page. Here are a few of my favorites.

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Brancusi on Fame

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Brancusi The Kiss Phila Museum of ArtOne day in Switzerland, in front of a beautiful mountain there was the most beautiful of cows, and she was contemplating me in ecstasy.  I said to myself, ” I must be someone if even this cow admires me.”   I came closer; she wasn’t looking at me, and she was relieving herself.  That tells you what you need to know about fame.

–Constantin Brancusi

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This was a favorite anecdote of famed sculptor Constantin Brancusi(1876-1957) concerning an incident as he took the long trek on foot from Bucharest to Paris as a poor young man seeking fame and fortune. He found both but the influence of his peasant roots in Romania remained with him.

His story of the unimpressed Swiss cow is a pretty good reflection on the nature of fame, even the type acquired through great deeds. Fame is something created by other people, not something that is displayed on oneself. When all is said and done, we’re all pretty much the same– famous or not– in the eyes of that peeing cow.

It reminds me of when I first began showing my work in a gallery while I was still working as a waiter in a pancake house. I would go to openings and people would praise my work, telling me how great I was. I could barely get in my car to drive home because my head was so big by the end of the evening. But at 6 the next morning, there I was, pouring coffee for truckers and families who were less than impressed by the praise lavished on me the night before.

A big pin prick that brought my head quickly back to a more normal size.

Those folks at the restaurant were my peeing cows.

It’s a lesson that I try to remember when things are going too well and I find myself beginning to believe that I am something more than what I really am– a simple schlub watching a cow pee.

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Things are as they are. Looking out into it the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.

Alan Watts

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I wasn’t planning on showing this newer painting for a while. But I came across this lovely piece of music and this painting seemed to pair perfectly with it, at least to my eyes and ears.

The painting is an 18″ by 36′ canvas that I call Starmap and is part of my annual show at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria which opens June 1.

I have been working on a series of paintings like this, with blocks of color making up the sky and stars as points of light showing at the intersections of these blocks. I love working on these pieces. They require an emptying of the mind with a focus solely on what is before you. There’s this interesting sense of constant problem solving that bounces from making each form correctly and balancing that form within the whole composition. I continually go back and forth from tight focus to wide focus.

I probably can’t properly explain it but for me, it is an exhilarating process as each added form and layer of color, each poke of light from the stars, subtly transforms the piece into something more than I was expecting. It feels more complete and full than the first thoughts and brushstrokes that initiated the painting, leaving me with a giddy kind of satisfaction. I know that this has been the case thus far with each of the paintings in this series.

Now for this Sunday morning music, I thought this wonderful piece, Nocturne, from young Hungarian guitarist Zsófia Boros paired up beautifully with the feeling that this piece creates for myself. I’ve listened to it several times this morning and it just seems right.

Give a listen and have a great Sunday.

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Another St. Patrick’s Day, that celebration of all things Irish– parades, pints and more Kelly green than the mind can fully process. They say that well over 30 million Americans claim to have Irish roots.

Growing up, I always believed we did as well because my grandmother was an O’dell, which certainly seems Irish. But doing genealogy over the last decade I have discovered that the O’dell was changed through the years from Odell and before that from Odle and, most likely, before that from Woddell, It turns out that it was not Irish at all.

No, it was British. And for the Irish that is a big distinction.

But I also discovered that my father’s great-grandparents were Irish immigrants during the Great Migration of the middle of the 19th century. It was something I wasn’t sure of before I started my genealogy work. I still haven’t found where they originally came from in Ireland.

Icon: Mary T.

Their’s was a pretty stock story. The father, Michael Patrick Tobin, worked on building the railroads in central New York, ultimately settling in the Binghamton area, where most of his family worked for the next several decades in the tobacco industry there. Most were tobacco strippers or cigar makers.

I am not positive that his wife was actually born in Ireland. There are conflicting accounts but her parents definitely were. She was the subject of one of my Icon paintings from a couple of year’s back shown here on the right. Her story is an interesting one, one that I wrote about on this blog. You can read it by clicking here.

So, it turns out I am one of those 30-some million with a bit of Irish blood, about 16% according to the DNA tests. I don’t give it much thought except on this particular day and even then I realize that these folks were little different than most of my other ancestors from other countries who left the hardships of their homelands for what they hoped would be a better life in America. I can’t say they all found wonderful lives but perhaps they were a bit better off than they might have been had they stayed put.

Okay, here a bit of Irish music for the day, a nice reel, The Glen Road to Carrick, from a contemporary Irish group, FullSet. I like the feel of this- it has a fresh edge that makes me want to drive too fast. By the way, the painting at the top is from a late Irish painter, Paul Henry, who painted primarily in the first half of the 20th century. I am a fan of his work and featured it here a couple of years back.

Have yourself a good day.

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