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Archive for November, 2018

I’ve got several things on my plate this morning so time is short. Thought I’d rerun the post below because it describes a bit the dark to light process I often use. I also liked this simple painting but, as I write below, I wasn’t sure about it at the time, wasn’t sure it would translate well to others. Time has passed and I still find myself liking this painting. Plus, it quickly found a new home so someone saw something similar in it. Give a look and have a great day.

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“A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.”   

-Leonardo Da Vinci

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I’ve been working on a number of pieces lately that start on a black base of paint, rising from the darkness as each subsequent layer adds more and more light. I still think of this additive process as being a form of sculpture, one that starts with a flat surface and builds out in contours that give it definition and texture. Each layer of paint is like adding clay to the supporting armature of the sculpture. It’s a process that is hard to pull away from when I immerse myself in it. There’s something about seeing the colors grow more and more vibrant on the surface that becomes mesmerizing. I guess that’s why I often refer to this work as obsessionism.

This small experiment, a 10″ by 12″ piece on paper, is in this vein. It’s one of those pieces that I’m just not sure about because I like it but I’m not sure if I like it for what it actually is or for the experience, the obsession of the moment in painting it.

Or because it is simply from my own hands, part of myself. Like a parent looking at something their child has done and wondering if they like it because it is truly good or simply because it was done by their child, their flesh and blood.

Sometimes I can finish a piece and it instantly stands apart and on its own, complete and independent. Ready to move on like a young person proclaiming their emancipation from their parents. Other times, there are pieces that cling closer to me, perhaps too attached to yet stand on their own, at least in my eyes. Because I am unsure, I become more protective of these pieces because they do feel more personal, more of me.

It’s a hard thing to describe, this uncertainty in a piece, especially when it feels objectively right. Can a parent ever fully take out their own subjective view of their offspring and see them objectively as they really are?

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“Living right in the heart of Tokyo itself is quite like living in the mountains – in the midst of so many people, one hardly sees anyone.”

― Yūko Tsushima, Of Dogs and Walls

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This is a new painting, a 24″ by 24″ canvas, that was inspired in part by the older painting I showed here last week, Raise Your Eyes.  Unlike my normal Red Roof structures which have a closed off feel without doors or windows, these cityscapes are all doors and windows.

All eyes, ears, and mouths.

But as the late, esteemed Japanese writer Yuko Tsushima described in the words above, even with the presence of so many buildings filled with so many people, there is often a sense of anonymity. Perhaps it is the scale of the buildings which sometimes seem like looming mountains that overshadow anything beneath them. Or maybe it is the sheer number of people, so many that the faces and shapes blend into an amorphous blur in passing.

I’m not sure exactly what it is that gives this sense of anonymity but I find the paradox in it fascinating. Maybe that’s one reason why I enjoy painting these pieces so much. The main reason I believe is in the focus required in putting these together. Starting at the bottom of the canvas with no predetermined endpoint in mind, the picture rises slowly with each new structure leading to the next, all the while trying to ascertain how each new move changes the weight and feel of the whole.

Every stroke is a solution to one problem and the beginning of the next.

For me, the result is kind of like looking inside my head. It resembles a jumble, sometimes sloppy and tangled. But somehow, through the mess, it is always trying to create a sense of wholeness, of rightness.

Trying to find order in chaos.

Sometimes, I find it. Sometimes, I don’t.

I am still not sure this painting is finished. I am calling it for time being Around the Clock but for a time had considered calling it Witnesses or Hit and Run. I saw it with a body on the pavement of the intersection at the bottom right of the piece. and maybe a silhouette or two in the windows that look out on it. But I am not sure that I want to add that narrative thread, not sure that I want to change what I am looking at now in that manner.

So, I will dwell on it for a bit before I do anything. Or don’t.

We shall see…

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The Peace of Wild Things

 

When despair grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting for their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

–Wendell Berry

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You can’t go too far wrong on those rough days when you look to the words of Wendell Berry. It generally will provide the needed stillness to overcome the anxiety of these times.

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I was in my basement earlier moving some things around, trying to get somewhat organized, when I came across a box with a handful of giclee prints of my work  from 2001. I hadn’t went through this box in a while so took a few minutes to see what was there.

My eyes settled for a bit on the piece shown above, titled Give the Wind Its Due. I’d looked at it many times over the years but it was always for but an instant, just in quickly passing over it. But this morning, I took a minute and really looked. It tried to remember what I could of it from back in 2001. It was a large painting, I remember that, measuring 36″ high by 48″ wide on birch panel.

It was painted with oils rather than acrylic. I used oils as often as I would use acrylics around that time. I transferred almost solely to acrylics in the next few years, that medium better matching my technical and thought process. I found that I was too impatient to wait to get the effects I wanted with oils. The quicker drying time of acrylics allowed me to dive back in sooner while I was still focused in on what I was seeing and where I saw it going.

But this piece oil worked well as it was. It still worked and stood out for me now. Hopefully, whoever has ownership of this piece thinks so, as well. Unfortunately, I have no idea where the original painting is. Like this piece, there are many paintings that will be forever lost to me. I would love to see some of these earlier pieces just to examine the surfaces closely. Look at the edges and how the colors layer together.

In looking, I try to remember what I was doing then that I don’t do now, sometimes from just forgetting how it was done in that particular moment. I sometimes have memory problems when it comes to procedural items.

There are maintenance things that I have to do every year around the house or studio and I often have to go to the printed directions because my memory refuses to hold those details. Unfortunately, this also sometimes extends to my own work procedures. Revisiting older work sometimes is like looking at those printed directions and I find myself saying to myself, “Oh, so that is how I did that!

I find that there’s a lot to be learned from looking back periodically.

Maybe that applies to life as much as art. Or maybe not.

I can’t really say.

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People have the idea that an image must stand for something else, that the real meaning needs to be described with language. Instead it is the image itself that is the meaning.

Mark Ryden

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I came across the quote above from contemporary artist Mark Ryden and it struck a chord with me. So, often an image has a feeling to it  that is beyond words that adequately describe it. I know I have sometimes written about a piece of  mine and even though I have tried to fully describe how it strikes me, I often feel that the words fall well short.

Sometimes you just have to let the image be what it is.

Now, to be honest, I don’t know a lot about Mark Ryden except that he is a contemporary big name artist that works in the genre of Pop Surrealism. His work is sometimes also called Lowbrow which is a movement that began in LA in the 1970’s based on underground comix, punk music and other fringe pop references such as the tiki and hot rod cultures of the region. You may best know his work from his album cover painting for Michael Jackson’s Dangerous.

His work is engaging and appealing on many levels with recurring themes that run through the work. It is rich in symbolism though I think there is so much ambiguity that one could get lost in trying to decode many of the paintings. Which makes his statement about the image itself being its own meaning even more understandable.

I also came across another quote from Ryden that hits close to home for me: I believe if you follow your heart and do what you love, success will follow. If you enchant yourself, others will be too.

It’s something I have been saying for many years now. The biggest challenge as an artist is creating in yourself an excitement with your own work. If you are excited– enchanted in Ryden’s words– by it, more likely than not, it will excite others as well.

I can see where Ryden would be exchanted in his own work. It is something to which any artist in any field should aspire.

 

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I wish that I knew what I know now

When I was younger.

I wish that I knew what I know now

When I was stronger.

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You have probably heard the line above, uttered in the chorus of Faces‘ 1973 song Ooh La La by an aging grandfather to his young grandson, many times over the years as it’s been used in many movies and television shows and ads. It’s very atmospheric as Wes Anderson demonstrated to great effect in the final scene of his film Rushmore.

And if you have somehow missed it, you have definitely heard someone older spout those very same words.

The words make sense. I guess you would almost always want to relive the past with greater knowledge than you had at the time. It would definitely help avoid the stumbles and setbacks you experienced along the way. To have that wisdom beforehand might be a wonderful thing.

But maybe it’s the acquiring of this wisdom that matters, the experience of trying and failing multiple times. Maybe you need to experience that blind and unfounded optimism that sets you off on misguided missions doomed to fall short. Maybe you need to learn how to claw your way up from the fall to the bottom.

Maybe wisdom has to be hard earned before it can be fully appreciated.

Or maybe not. Maybe I am making excuses to rationalize away my own past stupidities and shortcomings. Maybe all those mistakes and missteps could have been avoided altogether with the wisdom I have now.

But would that wisdom have led me to this point where I am today?

I don’t think that can be known.

And today I am relatively content with my lot in life so I can happily abide with the choices, even the mistakes, I have made. What lttle wisdom I have gained over the years tells me I would be no happier on the safer, stabler path I might have chosen with foreknowledge.

Ooh la la…

So for this Sunday morning’s music interlude, here’s the song from Faces featuring Ronnie Wood on vocals. Give a listen and have yourself a great day with no regrets. Ooh la la…

 

 

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I have been looking at this painting quite a bit lately. It’s from back in 2010 and is titled Raise Your Eyes. Featured in my 2012 exhibit at the Fenimore Art Museum, it’s a piece that I find myself coming back to examine quite often.

It’s different in many ways from the larger body of my work. For one thing, there are plenty of windows and doors, things I seldom use in my regular work where I prefer the blank  anonymity of windowless and doorless houses. This painting is all detail, even though its not extremely fine detail.

In some ways it reminds me of my Archaeology series, mainly because there is so many small touches to examine beyond the greater whole. I think that’s why I come back to this painting so often. Every new look reveals something I haven’t noticed since I first painted it. There are so many individual decisions here that dictate how the painting comes together, how it reads and expresses itself. Each window and door, each ledge and building top is a decision. Looking at them closer makes me appreciate the thought process behind it.

I mention  this painting today because I am working on a new piece that is based loosely on it. At least, it goes back to the process behind it and fills the canvas with thousands of small but vital decisions. It’s been exciting to revisit and I like what I have so far. Keep an eye out for it in the near future.

I also thought it might be a good painting to remind you to support your local small businesses on this Small Business Saturday. Every artist and every gallery owner is a small businessperson that rolls much of their income back into their respective local economies. Your patronage of artists and galleries. as well as so many other small local businesses, is vital to your local community.

I know that I can’t do this, can’t maintain a career as an artist without your support. And I am deeply grateful for that support and hope you’ll continue to patronize the galleries that show my or anybody else’s work.

Art is more than decoration, more than a product. It is an expression of humanity and a message that, in its best form, communicates through time. It is who we are.

And that is worth supporting.

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