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Archive for December, 2018

Came across this old piece, an early attempt from 1994 before I was showing my work in public. It’s painted in way, a direction I never followed much further but it is a piece that always makes me stop.  Don’t know where it came from or why I painted it. Don’t know why I gave him some sort of seaman’s cap and striped shirt. I loosely refer to this as the Sea Dog.

I don’t think there was a narrative at all. It just came. But after 24 years or so, it has developed a story, of a sort, for me. I see him as sailor in an exotic South Seas port city on a misty and mysterious night. A scuffle, a knife fight and a man falls down dead on the dark, wet streets. He flees the port and begins on building a new life with a new identity.

For a minute this morning, I saw him as a young Santa.

Maybe that’s Santa’s backstory? A murderous sailor redeemed?

I don’t know about that. But, hey, you never know.

That brings me to a Christmas song. Well, kind of a Christmas song, one that’s keeping in the spirit of a Killer Kringle. It’s from  John Prine, and it’s Christmas in Prison. It’s been a favorite of mine for decades so I was surprised that I haven’t played it here yet, after ten years of this blog.

Well, today’s the day. Give a listen and don’t mind the subject or title too much. It’s actually a beautiful song. It could be Santa singing, in different circumstances.

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“The world concerns me only in so far as I owe it a certain debt and duty, so to speak, because I have walked this earth for 30 years, and out of gratitude would like to leave some memento in the form of drawings and paintings—not made to please this school or that, but to express a genuine human feeling.”

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

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Thought a good way to kick off this week might be to share a few paintings from Vincent van Gogh along with a quote from one of his letters that speaks very much to my own feelings about my own reasons for doing what I do. These are not his better known paintings, though some of you may well know these pieces. They’re pieces that speak to my own personal inclinations. You might notice that most of these paintings have his ball sun/moon.

The idea of feeling a need to leave a memento behind that expresses one’s gratitude and one’s expression of self is one that is not foreign to me. I often think about how my work will speak for me after I am gone. Actually, if it will speak into the future at all and if so, will it be an honest reflection, a true representation of my voice.

I know that an artist, for all of the ways they try to guide the narrative about their work and life, have little control on the future.

What will be, will be.

Their voice might echo but it is always just that, an echo, a one-sided conversation from the past. Hopefully, what is said in that echo reverberates and speaks to someone of that future time so that they can fully understand and connect to the feeling behind it. And if so, with the hope that they might respond to that voice in some small way that continues to give life to it.

As I said, an artist has little control over this outside of doing their work with honest efforts and emotions. It’s obvious this was the case in the work of van Gogh and we continue to have a conversation with his echoes from the past, his mementos of gratitude.

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Running a little late this Sunday morning, so I am just going to share a little music without too much talk. Let the music talk for itself,

The song is The World (Is Going Up in Flames) from Charles Bradley, a latter day soul singer who passed away in 2017 at the age of 68. Bradley had a classic soul delivery, full-throated and with a wail that mixed pain and joy in equal measures, in the tradition of Otis Redding and others.

The song could definitely speak to the condition of the world these days, here and abroad. Here, we are approaching an endgame that many of us saw in the cards two years ago. Back in December of 2016, I wrote about how  the word kompromat would become more and more significant and little by little, revealed detail by detail, that is becoming an evident truth.

We still have the chance to quell the fire that has been raging here. Let’s hope it doesn’t all burn down before it happens.

Give a listen and have a good Sunday.

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All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.

― Edgar Allan Poe

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Last night I had a kind of odd dream. In it, I found myself remembering many previous dreams, some from many years gone by, in great detail. I should say that it was the details of places, of houses and landscapes, that existed in previous dreams that I remembered.  With each dream place there was also a clear memory of the emotion contained in the dream in which it originally existed.

I knew that I was dreaming and that these places I was remembering in this dream were from my dreams and that they didn’t exist in the real waking world. At least in the waking world that I know. In a way it was like I was inventorying these places, trying to put them in order in way in which they would make sense to me when I woke up.

I don’t think that worked. At least, not yet.

The memory of each of these prior places came with such clarity. It was as though they somehow had some meaning, some importance, that made them deserving of remaining stored deep in the recesses of my brain and not washed away as so many dreams seem to be upon waking.

It was puzzling but there was also a sense of reassurance in the recall of these dream memories. I wondered in the dream if it was somehow connected to my work, to the sense of place that I believe is vital to my painting, one that I often connect with some deeper emotion or memory. The dream made me feel that there was a connection.

I don’t know if I am conveying anything here. I am still processing that odd dream, that strange feeling of clear memory of dreamed places within another hazy dream.

If nothing else, it gave me something to think about on my walk to the studio.

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To have a sacred place is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so, where you do not know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody or what they owe you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.

–Joseph Campbell

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I was thinking about my studio and how it shapes the work I do. It’s size sets some limitations on how large I can work and I sometimes wish I had twenty foot ceilings where I could do massive canvasses. But that mild complaint does little to take away from how wonderful a space it has been in which to work on a daily basis.

It is comfortable and warm with views that look out on a very private yard with mature trees, several huge rhododendrons and a constant parade of wildlife. It has room to work with a large, well appointed basement for framing and prepping my surfaces. One of the three bedrooms serves as a library and the other two hold paintings and papers. The stone fireplace that I face most of each day in my main space gives me an elemental, grounded feeling and the light that streams muted by the trees provides a coolness to play off the warmth of the space.

The seclusion it offers is all I could ask for. My large front window looks out on the driveway that curves gently in and whenever I see anyone coming in, it almost feels like an affront, like an invasion into my private world. A private world that is an extension of the internal one that provides the landscapes I paint. My studio complements that inner world so well, creating a sacred space for me to hopefully bring forth what I am and what I might be, as Joseph Campbell points out in the quote at the top.

It might be the one place on this earth where I feel completely at ease. Not always, but most of the time.

I thought I’d share a shot today of the studio, my sacred space, in all its cluttered glory. It has come to reflect me and I, it.

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The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

Marcel Proust

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This painting is titled To the Fields of Fortune. It’s one of those pieces that I to which I personally respond strongly. Maybe it’s the mood I feel from it or simply a chemical reaction to the juxtaposition of colors, forms and contrasts. Who really knows what truly causes a visceral reaction to art or music?

But the meaning that I attach to this painting has some influence on my reaction. I call these type of paintings my Acres of Diamonds pieces alluding to a story that I have replayed here a few times over the years. It is basically a tale of a farmer who sells his land and heads out, seeking to find his fortune in diamonds. He travels all over for years in his fuitle search, failing at each attempt until he ultimately takes his own life. Meanwhile, his original homestead turned out to be the location of the biggest diamond mine in Africa, where this story takes place.

What he sought was right beneath him all the time, if only he had taken the time to see what he had at hand.

And isn’t that too often the case with many of us? We believe that the grass is always greener elsewhere, making us think we need to seek far and wide when what we really need is with us, sometimes within us, all the time. As the author Marcel Proust states above, the real voyage of discovery comes in having new eyes to see what is already all around us.

There are diamonds waiting for us to simply bend down and pick them up, if only our eyes will see.

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This piece, along with a few other newer paintings, will be headed to the West End Gallery within the next few days.

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What was Avery’s repertoire? His living room, Central Park, his wife Sally, his daughter March, the beaches and mountains where they summered; cows, fish heads, the flight of birds; his friends and whatever world strayed through his studio: a domestic, unheroic cast. But from these there have been fashioned great canvases, that far from the casual and transitory implications of the subjects, have always a gripping lyricism, and often achieve the permanence and monumentality of Egypt.

Mark Rothko, 1965

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While not a huge fan of the paintings of Milton Avery upon my first encounters with it, I find myself respecting and appreciating his work the more I look at and read about it.

Born in 1885, Avery worked blue-collar jobs into his thirties. He felt a desire to paint and began taking classes while still toiling as a laborer, working in obscurity for many years. He moved from pure representation of his subjects to an abstracted representation built on blocks of color and a flattening of the picture plane that became his signature style. His work eventually was recognized by a wealthy collector who set out to make it better known by distributing it among various American museums.

It worked and Avery became a leading light of the early abstract movement with his abstracted takes on representation and was considered a master colorist, sometimes referred to as the American Matisse. He died in 1965 at the age of 80.

I find that there are commonalities between us that give me a better sense of his work. First, there is his late entry in the world of art and a prior existence as a blue-collar worker. I certainly can relate to that.

Then there is his use of blocks of color, especially colors that seem radical for the subject. Looking at his work, I can easily relate to how he composed his paintings, how each block of color relates to those around it.

I also like the fact that Mark Rothko pointed out the lyricism of his work which refers to the fact that his painting, even when the subject matter seems most mundane, has high emotional notes that give it great weight beyond the subject matter. That lyric quality is something I desire in my own work.

I also like some of the writings from Avery especially one quote that rings true for me:

I try to construct a picture in which shapes, spaces, colors, form a set of unique relationships, independent of any subject matter. At the same time I try to capture and translate the excitement and emotion aroused in me by the impact with the original idea.

That is exactly what I trying to do– trying to capture the excitement and emotion aroused in me— each day in the studio. I think I often use those very words when talking about my work practices.

So, these common bonds allow me me to see Avery’s work in a better light. I find myself liking the consistency of his work, how he confidently used his native voice to express himself.

Respect is now there.

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