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Archive for April, 2019

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All art is exorcism. I paint dreams and visions too; the dreams and visions of my time. Painting is the effort to produce order; order in yourself. There is much chaos in me, much chaos in our time.

–Otto Dix

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The German artist Otto Dix (1891-1969) certainly saw much chaos in his time. He fought and was wounded in his neck in the chaos of World War I. He then lived through the turbulence of the Weimar Republic of post-war Germany, his paintings often reflecting its sense of despair and fatalism.

At that time, he also painted anti-war paintings that showed the horrors of combat. His paintings earned him a place of the list of Degenerate Artists when the Nazis came to power and he was removed from his teaching position at the Dresden Academy  and over 250 of his paintings were confiscated.

Several of what were considered his greatest paintings were destroyed or lost during this time. One of these, The Trench, which depicted the horror of trench warfare in grim details, was considered perhaps the greatest post-war European painting. It is shown below in a black and white photo from the time along with another lost painting, War Cripples. Another, the painting at the top The War, painted from 1929-1932, survived only because Dix separated the four panels and distributed them among friends so that they might hide them.

During the final months of World War II, many Germans who were considered too young, too old or unfit for combat were conscripted into the German army. Dix was among this group. He was captured in the chaos of combat and held by the French until 1946.

Dix knew a lot about chaos. I feel fortunate to have not been exposed to that degree of upheaval in my world.  But I can agree, even though much of the chaos I know lives inside of me, that art is an effort to produce order in oneself.

For example, the other morning I came into the studio very early with a high degree of anxiety. I had slept restlessly, tossing and turning and wide awake with my mind racing for most of the night. I was really out of sorts and seemed ready to burst. I got to work as soon as I could and began painting. I didn’t care what it was. I just knew I had to make marks, put something down on a surface on which I could put my focus.

An hour or so later, I stepped back from a finished underpainting of red oxide paint. It was not a complete painting but it conveyed the order and essence of what it would be. I could feel then that my anxiety had lifted and a calmness had replaced it. The tightness in my chest was gone and, looking at the piece, I could see that a sense of rightness, of order, had pushed away the chaos that had crept into my  mind.

I felt tears in my eyes. I am embarrassed to say that but I think it has to be said. Finding a bit of order in a world that seems filled with chaos is an emotional moment for me. It is that thing that makes art such an invaluable thing.

Dix painted scenes of chaos in order to clarify and bring to light those things that haunted him. My work is about just finding a small slice of order in the work so that it might still my own inner chaos.

It takes all kinds, I guess.

Otto Dix- “War Cripples” 1920

 

Otto Dix- “The Trench”

Otto Dix- “Skat Players”

Otto Dix- “Three Prostitutes on the Street”

 

Otto Dix- “Metropolis”

 

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Hmm…

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An honest man always values earning honor over wealth.

-Rembrandt

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This is as true today as it was 350 years ago in Rembrandt’s time. Acts of honor seem rarer and definitely less valued in this modern world.

Just saying.

Much to do so I am off to work now.

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Tracy Letts , Benjamin Walker and Annette Bening in “All My Sons”


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“Mother: What more can we be?

Chris: You can be better! Once and for all you can know there’s a universe of people outside and you’re responsible to it and, unless you know that, you threw away your son because that’s how he died.” 

Arthur Miller, All My Sons

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I had the good fortune to take in the current Broadway production of the Arthur Miller play All My Sons yesterday. A powerful, beautifully crafted  play with memorable  performances made it one of those moments when I truly appreciate the shared experience of live theater. There’s something hopeful, even with a darkly set play that bares our faults and inadequacies, in sitting in a theater filled with people who you can feel being moved by the material and the performances. I woke up this morning thinking about this play which is a pretty indicator of how well it hit the mark for me.

Written in 1947 and set in the aftermath of World War II, it’s a drama that maintains its impact and relevance. Times may have changed some things, but the unbrave new world it presented then are recognizable in these times as well. The conflict between those who fail to accept responsibility for their actions in the name of self-preservation and those willing to sacrifice and hold themselves accountable is as cogent now as it was then.

There were lines, such as the exchange between the mother, Kate and her remaining son, Chris, (played masterfully by Annette Bening and Benjamin Walker) that leapt off the stage for me. But the moment that I felt was the most memorable came without words. It was at the pivotal point where the father, Joe (in a tremendous performance from Tracy Letts), silently reads the letter from his MIA son that sets the course for the final act. I don’t know how long he read in silence. It might have only fifteen seconds or so but it felt like it a minute or more. The silence of the theater was absolute as though everyone there was holding their breath in anticipation of his response.

It was a great moment from what I feel was great performance. Glad to have taken a short break to have experienced it. Makes me want to do better, be better.

So, this Sunday musical selection came about as we were waiting for our car to be brought around. Sitting in the lobby and  Sly and the Family Stone’s Sing a Simple Song was playing in the background. I felt my head boobing to the beat and I look across the lobby and see another guy sand wife both reflexively moving up and down on the balls of their feet to the beat. Thought that maybe the world would be a better place with Sly being played more. Give a listen and have a good day.

 

 

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For everyone we see and who interests us, we should create a biography of his past and future. One of the sage’s mental characteristics is his ability to dress up other people inside himself, giving them the clothes he deems most suitable for however he chooses to dream them.

Masquerades disclose the reality of souls. As long as no one sees who we are, we can tell the most intimate details of our life. I sometimes muse over this sketch of a story—about a man afflicted by one of those personal tragedies born of extreme shyness . . . who one day, while wearing a mask I don’t know where, told another mask all the most personal, most secret, most unthinkable things that could be told about his tragic and serene life. And since no outward detail would give him away, he having disguised even his voice, and since he didn’t take careful note of whoever had listened to him, he could enjoy the ample sensation of knowing that somewhere in the world there was someone who knew him as not even his closest and finest friend did. When he walked down the street, he would ask himself if this person, or that one, or that person over there might not be the one to whom he’d once, wearing a mask, told his most private life. Thus would be born in him a new interest in each person, since each person might be his only, unknown confidant. And his crowning glory would be if the whole of that sorrowful life he’d told were, from start to finish, absolutely false.

Fernando Pessoa, Masquerades

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I was looking for a piece of writing to accompany this painting, Face Off, which is from my new Multitudes series when I came across this item that was published in a 2009 issue of Harper’s Magazine from the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. I didn’t recognize the name but soon discovered that Pessoa, who lived from 1888 until 1935 when he died from cirrhosis, is considered one of the giants of Portuguese literature and poetry.

And an interesting character whose views might match up well with this painting. You see, he assumed and wrote under many different names. But these were not simply pseudonyms, were not just different names. No, they were mostly different personas as well. He termed them as heteronyms. In fact there is a list of over 80 of these heteronyms that he employed over his relatively short life.

The Masquerades of which he wrote above seems to be a description of his own world and life. He appears, from what little bit I have been able to find out about him in a short time this morning, to have been a man of masks.

And that’s an interesting premise, this idea of wearing a different mask for each new encounter with those we meet in our lives, giving each a bit of ourselves that might be unique to that person alone. It has the effect that while many may know us, might recognize the mask we are wearing at any given moment, none might truly know our totality.

There might be no one who would know and recognize our true unmasked face.

In a way I think that is an apt description of how I see the Multitudes series. Each face in these crowds might well be a mask of my own, one that I might have worn around others at points in my life. Angry times. Desperate times. Goofy times and times of absolute stupidity and ignorance. Lonely times. Ugly and shameful times.

As I have aged, the masks I wear seem more and more representative of my real face though I believe they are often still distorted.

Maybe that is what this series represents for me– a shedding of old masks. Maybe even old lives.

I don’t really know. Maybe you get to the point that you become the mask and the mask becomes you.

Hmm…

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I know that I featured the art of Georges Rouault just a few weeks back but I am short on time and wanted an image of clowns to accompany a song. But I didn’t want the schlocky Red Skelton clowns. I wanted something else. And it turns out that Rouault, a favorite of mine, painted plenty of clowns. I don’t know how many but it seems like a lot. The clown can be a compelling figure, as the song below proves.

So, here are a few Rouault paintings to go with the classic The Tears of a Clown from the great Smokey Robinson. It has what I think is the greatest intro to any pop song ever. Just hearing this song begin makes me happy.

Got to run. Enjoy some Smokey and have a great day.


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I give thanks every day that I’ve been able to take my craziness and make it work for me.

Fritz Scholder

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I featured the work of Fritz Scholder (1937-2005) last year, showing a few of the piece that were representative of much of his work, which was in the depiction of the Native American experience in his unique and colorful Modernist/Expressionist style. It’s work that I really enjoy. But today I thought I’d show a few pieces that take the focus off the Native American aspect of his work and talk a bit about his quote above.

When I read these words, I instantly agreed. I often think how fortunate I have been over the past twenty-some years to have found a life that supports me while allowing me to indulge my own quirks and craziness. There aren’t a lot of careers that cater to someone who needs to be alone, that has a need to set and work by their own rules (or lack of rules), that needs to to be free to be introspective and express raw emotion, and that allows me to create and dwell in my own little world. It’s hard to find a job where you set your own standards for what is acceptable.

There are probably a many, many other things that I don’t even see as quirks anymore. They have become ingrained in my day-to-day life. Like Scholder, I give thanks every day to be able to use my craziness as an asset rather than a liability. It’s been long enough now that I can’t imagine doing anything other than this and have a little trouble remembering how it was before this except that I was often deeply unsatisfied with life.

Maybe I was just lucky to find this life. Or maybe it was matter of not giving up along the way and continuing to search for something that I instinctively felt was lacking. Maybe we all end up where we need to be so long as we keep responding to some inner call.

I don’t know. That’s another nice thing about this job, this life– I don’t have to really know anything. I can not know anything all day long. Maybe better than anybody.

But let us set that aside and look at a couple more Fritz Scholder paintings.

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It’s Easter, again. Since I have never had a religion, Christian or otherwise, even as a child, the holiday probably doesn’t hold the same significance for me than it might for many of you. But I do know and enjoy many of the stories and lesson of the religions.

Among them all, the Resurrection is certainly one of the most potent, even if only in symbolic terms. The idea of rebirth and redemption is a powerful concept, one that many of us who have wronged in the past seek in our own lives.

I am hoping for such a resurrection in this country, one that sees us returning to a code of ethics and a rule of law which finds no one above it. One that places what is best for the most of us over what is best for a chosen few and where we seek to help the neediest rather than the most fortunate among us. One that holds those who hide behind lies and falsehoods responsible for their words and actions. One where those who represent us in our government understand their obligation to serve country rather than party or moneyed interests.

Is that too much to ask?

Maybe. But it sures seems that we, as a nation, are at a point where such a restoration of honor and sanity is sorely needed. Hopefully, the findings revealed this past week will set us on the path to such a thing.

Anyway, for this Easter Sunday, I have selected a song that doesn’t really have anything to do with the day. It’s Nobody Knows (The Trouble I’ve Seen) performed by the great Sam Cooke. It’s a different interpretation of the African-American spiritual that came from the slave era and it soars. I am also sharing the magnificent Mahalia Jackson which has a second gear that is truly uplifting. And that fits this day, doesn’t it?

Hope you have a good day.


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