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Archive for May, 2019

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“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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The painting at the top is a new piece that is included in my solo show, Red Tree 20: New Growth, that opens June 7 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. It is titled To Stand in Beauty and is 18″ by 24″ on canvas.

Beauty was the first thing that came to mind when I began looking for a title for this painting. It seems like a fitting representation of the old adage that we should stop and smell the roses.

As Goethe points out above, worldly cares often threaten to obliterate our sense of the beautiful. That may never be more true than it is in these days as there is so much anger, hatred, stupidity, and frustration on public display now. Many of us find ourselves focusing on all that is wrong in this world and in the process forgetting the beauty that often surrounds us.

The beauty of a blooming flower.

The romance of a beckoning horizon.

The graceful strength of a tree trunk.

The awe of a rising mountain.

The lure of a winding path.

I am looking out my studio window from my seat at the moment and a deer is looking back at me from the lawn. Beyond him I can see a couple of wild turkeys strolling up the driveway in front of one of the large rhododendrons that line it. The rhododendron is finally flowering fully, adding a gorgeous splash of color among the greens and grays that surround them. In the distance I can see the mass of yellow irises that are blooming on the edge of the pond. And while I was looking to the distance, a small buck with velvet covered antlers just beginning to develop walks across my line of sight. And above it all. I can hear the chirp of the bird nesting above my front door.

It’s a beautiful moment, one that I all too often overlook, especially when I first come into the studio. I check the news, read emails, begin figuring out what to write for this blog and what my painting agenda might be for the day. And the rush of the day sometimes blots out the beauty that surrounds me.

But this painting, especially this morning when I am in the final frantic steps of putting the work for the show together so that it can be delivered tomorrow, has reminded me to stop and consider things of beauty instead of news or emails or whatever bothersome tasks lie ahead.

And it has made a difference. Goethe was correct, there is beauty to be found in music, poetry and fine pictures as well in simply looking out at the natural world for a moment.

We can all stand in beauty if we choose to look.

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Edible Sendak

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Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.

–Maurice Sendak

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He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.

I love this little episode from Maurice Sendak. Reinforces my own faith in the judgement of children when it comes to art. Their reactions are pure and unadulterated– with the emphasis on the adult portion of that word. Kids look at things without pretensions and preconceived notions of what art is or is not. I am happiest when a kid reacts strongly to my work.

If only I could paint something that some kid would love enough to eat…

 

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This morning, I was looking for a piece of writing that I could pair with this new Multitudes painting, a 12″ square canvas that I call Facing the Crowd, that is part of my upcoming show at the Principle Gallery. I came across the poem below from the late poet Charles Bukowski and before I even read it I had a feeling that it might work. These paintings have a kind of Bukowski feel to them, as though each of these faces might inhabit a dark corner of his seedy world. If I look close enough I am sure I can find Bukowski’s timeworn face somewhere in there.

I was originally going to call this Welcome to my TED Talk or just Public Speaking. But I felt that Facing the Crowd described it better because I didn’t really see it as being about standing in front of crowd once in a while, even though I have given a talk or two where I definitely felt like this. Actually, I saw this as being willing to face the scrutiny and judgement of the crowd in order to be the person you desire to be.

Too often we choose to stifle our own voice and desires and instead blend in with the crowd, getting swept along in a force that overcomes all our individual efforts. The choice of the crowd becomes our choice, without nuance or depth of understanding. We lose our voice in the din of the many.

We become the din.

To choose to turn and stand before the crowd, to speak our own words in our own voice is a scary thing for any of us. But more than that, it is an act of bravery, an act of liberation from a crowd that is most often driven by the lowest common denominators of our character.

Well, that’s what I get from this. You might see it in altogether different terms and maybe even dislike this piece immensely. And I celebrate that because that is how it should be. Art allows us great liberty if we listen to our own reactions rather than becoming part of the crowd.

Anyway, here is Bukowski’s poem:

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“The Genius of The Crowd

 

there is enough treachery, hatred violence absurdity in the average

human being to supply any given army on any given day

 

and the best at murder are those who preach against it

and the best at hate are those who preach love

and the best at war finally are those who preach peace

 

those who preach god, need god

those who preach peace do not have peace

those who preach peace do not have love

 

beware the preachers

beware the knowers

beware those who are always reading books

beware those who either detest poverty

or are proud of it

beware those quick to praise

for they need praise in return

beware those who are quick to censor

they are afraid of what they do not know

beware those who seek constant crowds for

they are nothing alone

beware the average man the average woman

beware their love, their love is average

seeks average

 

but there is genius in their hatred

there is enough genius in their hatred to kill you

to kill anybody

not wanting solitude

not understanding solitude

they will attempt to destroy anything

that differs from their own

not being able to create art

they will not understand art

they will consider their failure as creators

only as a failure of the world

not being able to love fully

they will believe your love incomplete

and then they will hate you

and their hatred will be perfect

 

like a shining diamond

like a knife

like a mountain

like a tiger

like hemlock

 

their finest art”

 

― Charles Bukowski

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The Wheatfield -1929- Raoul Dufy

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I don’t follow any system. All the laws you can lay down are only so many props to be cast aside when the hour of creation arrives.

Raoul Dufy (1877-1953)

 

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I can’t say I am the biggest fan of the paintings of Raoul Dufy or his younger brother, Jean Dufy (1888-1964) , French painters who were popular in the first half of the 20th century. It’s not that I don’t find them attractive and pleasant. While I particularly like the painting at the top , The Wheatfield, from 1929, they just don’t speak to me deeply.

But I like and agree with Raoul’s words above. Rules and systems may be fine and necessary up to a point. The trick comes in knowing when to blow past the limitations that they set on your work. When it comes down to making a piece work and come to life, rules and systems are often set aside. Whatever it takes to create rhythm, energy, and harmony within the painting becomes acceptable.

Casting aside rules is often the beginning of a new artistic freedom. It’s like taking off the training wheels and feeling the fear and freedom of being out there on your own.

Got to go try to break some rules right now. Have a great day.

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Civil War Soldier DageurrotypeMemorial Day weekend. I’m no historical anthropologist so I can’t be completely certain when I say that I don’t believe there is any one group of people on this planet who have not been touched by war in some significant way. The history of this world has been written in the bloody ink of war.

A few years back, when I began doing genealogy for the families of my wife and myself, I was surprised at the many, many generations in each line who had taken part in the wars of their times, putting their lives aside to give so much of themselves– in some cases, their very lives– for causes that often might have been mere abstractions to them.

In fact, we have both have ancestors who have fought and died in every war and conflict waged on and by this nation since the Pilgrims first landed at Plymouth Rock. I have a 7th great grandfather from the 1600’s, Benjamin Church, considered the founder of the Army Rangers, who led his Ranger unit in King Phillip’s War  and other early wars. There are ancestors who fought on both sides of the conflict during the American Revolution. There are ancestors who were prisoners of war at Andersonville and a number of others who are buried throughout the American south, from Louisiana to Georgia to Virginia, as a result of the Civil War.

Part of me is proud that these people have answered the call to be a small part in something bigger. But another part of me is simply sad to think that they were called on to give so much in order to satisfy or deny the baser motives of those in power. War has usually been about greed and acquisition, nationalistic pride or ethnic and religious hatred– in each instance proposed with the greatest conviction and certainty by the leaders of each side of the cause.

And on Memorial Day, we remember the people who actually fulfilled the pleas of these leaders, be they right or wrong. These citizens did what they were asked and what they felt was necessary in their time and place. And I have nothing but respect for that.

For today’s image, I chose the daguerreotype of the Civil War soldier at the top because there was something in him that seemed to show the sacrifice of war. Maybe it’s the steely stare of his eyes. Or maybe it was his belt that is cinched in to what looks to be a ridiculously tiny diameter, showing how emaciated he appears to be. I’m not exactly sure but there is something in him that seems contemporary, less dated.

And for today’s Sunday musical selection, I have chosen the song Ben McCulloch from Steve Earle.  It tells the story of two brothers who enlist in the Confederate Army in the Civil War and discover the hard realities of war as they serve under General McCulloch, who was a real person who died in battle in 1862. The chorus probably echos the sentiments of many soldiers through time for their commanding officers who foolhardily place them in situations where they face overwhelming odds.

So have a great Sunday and a Memorial Day filled with some appreciation of what the day really encompasses.

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This post originally ran several years back but its message is the same as I would convey today.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_0h1StPJBM

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Another Memorial Day weekend has come. Not going to ramble on much this morning about the meaning of the holiday. Just going to show a photo and play a song, Fortunate Son, that is about the injustice of wars where the young and the poor pay the price by fighting and dying in wars waged by rich old men who shelter their own children from having to pay that same price.

The photo above, from the National Library of Medicine, feature five Civil War veterans who lost limbs in combat. I guess in their own way, they are fortunate in their own way by simply being able to come out of the war only missing limbs. That was probably small comfort to them.

Here’s the 1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival song, Fortunate Son, performed by John Fogerty along with Dave Grohl and the Sound City Players. It’s a very good version and a message that still resonates after 50 years.

Have a good day.

 

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Wasn’t going to write anything today as I have a full schedule in prepping work for delivery of my June Principle Gallery show combined with my visit to see my dad at the local nursing facility where has lived with his dementia for most of the last three years. But I began listening to some music and when Heroes from David Bowie came on, it made me scroll back through some older posts and I came across the one below.

Heroism is a term that has been warped a bit by our fascination with comic book heroism. On a Memorial day weekend, we should be reminded that many of the people who we memorialize for their service and sacrifice didn’t have superhero qualities. They were no different than anyone else when faced with adversity and danger– scared, confused and wishing it was all over. But heroism comes in fighting through these emotions and simply doing the task that is required of them. To simply do the right thing and take responsibility for those things before them that they can control. To unselfishly serve in the moment.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Doing one’s duty without giving thought to how the outcome might affect you is a rare thing. I guess that is why we celebrate holidays devoted to service and heroism.  And it’s especially rare in these perilous times where a single, simple act of heroism from a small handful people in congress could completely change the direction in which this country is headed.

That might be too much to ask of them. Heroism is not for everyone, I suppose. But for the rest of us, let us put aside our selfish concerns and serve someone and something greater than ourselves. Just do what is right. Then we can all be heroes.

Here’s the post from several years back:

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Arthur Ashe HeroismKeeping up the theme that was the subject of an earlier post this week, I decided that for this Sunday morning’s musical selection I would play a lovely version of Heroes from David Bowie. It’s an acoustic version (with Gail Ann Dorsey accompanying him on vocals and bass) from a 1996 performance at the Bridge School Benefit, an annual concert began by Neil Young to benefit the Bay Area school that helps kids with severe speech and physical impairments. In that context, the song takes on additional layers of meaning as you see the many parents in the audience with their children, many cradling them.

Heroism.

Looking for an image to illustrate this post, I did an image search by punching in the word hero. It was all superheroes and warriors which saddened me because I know that heroism is something far more than that. It’s about doing those things that need to be done, about taking responsibility in order to serve a purpose beyond your own needs. We think of it as a rare thing but it is evident every day in the actions of those people who give so much of themselves to others.

For me, an example of this came to me in a very personal way. When my mother was struggling in the last months of her battle with cancer, I visited her for  last time. Her and my father had been together for about 46 years at that point, years which could be described as turbulent at best. For such a long married couple, they had an odd love/hate relationship which had them always on the edge of huge screaming  battles that were fraught with violence. They were terrible things to see and even as a child I often wondered why they remained together. But they did and as she neared the end of her life, Dad became her cook, her maid, her nurse, and her driver to the many treatments that made up the last months of her life. Her everything.

When I made my last visit, I noticed a photo on her bedside table. It was photo of the two of them together from several years before, standing at some Florida site drenched in sun. On the cheap little frame, underneath my father was a word formed in simple block letters, those kind of press-on letters that you rub on from a sheet.

It was the word Hero.

Now, at that point in my life I didn’t see my father in heroic terms. Far from it. No, he was and is a very flawed human being with many traits that are far from any definition of heroism. But in this case, he took on the form of a hero for my mother and in that moment, looking at that photo, for myself as well. I realized that the word was not about great accomplishment but rather about following that need to serve another and just doing the right thing in a moment of need.

So it can be for everyone, as the song says :

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day

I finally came across the  quote at the top from the late Arthur Ashe that seemed to best fit the thought .

Have a great Sunday. Be a hero to someone today.

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