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Archive for June, 2019

I am buried in work right now as I prepare for my upcoming annual solo show at the West End Gallery in Corning.  This year’s show is titled Moments and Color and opens on Friday, July 12, with an opening reception that runs from 5-7:30 PM. I will be providing more details on the show and the work in it over the coming weeks.

There will also be a Gallery Talk taking place on Saturday, August 17 beginning at 1 PM. There will be, of course, plenty of details on this talk beforehand as it is generally a pretty popular and entertaining event. If you’ve come to one, you know what I mean.

The piece at the top is one of the larger paintings in the show, coming in at 30″ by 40″. It was going to be titled In the Gardens of Splendor but I have settled now on Moments and Color: Big Placid. [ Note: Actually, there was a bit of confusion and this painting is titled Moments and Color: Big Placid (In the Garden of Splendors) which is a mouthful. But then again, it’s a big painting]

So, mark your calendars and pardon me– I’ve got lots of work to get done!

 

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Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.

-Voltaire

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[I watched a few minutes of interviews with some backers of our president* at his rally last night. I was struck by their absolute confidence even as they spoke words that were far removed from reality. This certitude worries me. How do you establish a working relationship with someone who simply denies all tangible proof that is contrary to their beliefs? It reminded me of this post from five years ago. My uncertainty now is much as it was then.]

Much of my work seemingly has a journey or a quest as its central theme. But the odd thing is that I don’t have a solid idea of what the object is that I am seeking in this work. I have thought it was many things over the years, things like wisdom and knowledge and inner peace and so on. But it comes down to a more fundamental level or at least I think so this morning. It may change by this afternoon.

I think I am looking for an end to doubt or at least coming to an acceptance of my own lack of answers for the questions that have often hung over us all.

I would say the search is for certainty but as Voltaire points out above, certainty is an absurd condition. That has been my view for some time as well. Whenever I feel certainty coming on in me in anything I am filled with an overriding anxiety.

I do not trust certainty.

I look at it as fool’s gold and when I see someone speak of anything with absolute certainty–particularly politicians and televangelists– I react with a certain degree of mistrust, probably because I see this absolutism leading to an extremism that has been the basis for many of the worst misdeeds throughout history. Wars and holocausts, slavery and genocide–they all arose from some the beliefs held by one party in absolute certainty.

So maybe the real quest is for a time and place where uncertainty is the order of the day, where certainty is vanquished. A place where no person can say with any authority that they are above anyone else, that anyone else can be subjugated to their certainty.

To say that we might be better off in a time with no certainty sounds absurd but perhaps to live in a time filled with absolute certainty is even more so.

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This is my busiest point of my year. It is the short turnaround period between my two annual shows, the one currently hanging at the Principle Gallery and the one at the West End Gallery that opens this year on Friday, July 12. I try to have much of the work for the West End show ready before the Principle Gallery show but there is still a lot of painting to be done. As a result, every day between the two shows is packed.

It’s crazy busy but in some ways it is my favorite time of my year. The work comes in large bursts of energy and there is little time to think about it or worry about it or do much of anything else. It just comes out.

Of course, there are days when it all seems to crash a bit. Like the other day when nothing seemed to work for me. I couldn’t get the clean color I wanted and my hands seemed to belong to someone else for awhile as I lost my touch with the brush. It was frustrating all the way around that day and it made me panic a bit. But the next day everything was back to normal and the work was back at full roar. Even the work from the ugly day before was rehabilitated.

All this being said, my original intent was to say that I was much too busy to write anything today and would instead just play a video of a song. Maybe one that could get my motor running this morning.

So here it is, She’s Drunk All the Time, from Tim Timebomb and Friends. Actually, Tim Timebomb is Tim Armstrong who formed the L.A. ska punk band Rancid in the 90’s. His bandmates here are from the Interrupters who had a song that I featured on this blog last month. It’s a fun, high energy song that is a good kickoff to what I hope will be a fruitful day.

Hope yours is as well.

 

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Beauty should be shared for it enhances our joys.
To explore its mystery is to venture towards the sublime.

-Joseph Cornell
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Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) was a self taught assemblage artist known for his shadowbox pieces. I have always found his work fascinating. There’s a feeling of ultimate mystery in many of the pieces, one that makes me feel as though I am looking at something that is both familiar and alien. Like seeing a sentence in a foreign language where you can pick out a word or two but can’t grasp the meaning of the whole.
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And the sages of the subway sit just like the living dead
As the tracks clack out the rhythm, their eyes fixed straight ahead
They ride the line of balance and hold on by just a thread
But it’s too hot in these tunnels, you can get hit up by the heat
You get up to get out at your next stop, but they push you back in your seat
Your heart starts beatin’ faster as you struggle to your feet
Then you’re outta that hole and back up on the street…

–Bruce Springsteen, It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City

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The other day, I was working on another of the Multitudes pieces, a 12″ square canvas that was featuring a halo or at least a gold orb hanging over one of the faces. The painting started with this central haloed character and the rest of the faces grew out from it. The faces other than the one with the halo were originally going to be many shades of blues and purples but while I was working, a song from Bruce Springsteen‘s first album in 1973, Greetings From Asbury Park NJ, came on.

I could lie here (as I have been known to do on occasion) and say that it was It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City. That would make for a nice tidy little tale.

But it was actually Spirit in the Night. At first I thought that maybe I should use that title for this piece. It would work pretty well, especially with the dark blues and purples. But  instead I instantly saw in my head the title from another song from that album, It’s Hard to Be a Saint. It fit even better. The painting already had a saintly halo, for god’s sake. So I decided to go back at the surrounding faces and give them a green, jaundiced tone. Give them a uniformly alien appearance that would contrast against the lightness of the haloed one.

It works for me, at least. You may or may not like it and, again, that’s okay.

Anyway, here’s the song that gives this painting its title. It’s early Springsteen so its densely worded in its lyrics, the thing that really attracted me to his work at first. Many of the songs from his first albums felt more like short stories or novellas than songs. As his work evolved, his best work moved from this sense of literature with intimate, wordy description to one that felt more cinematic, with broader, sweeping vistas. I like both styles but this early work still appeals deeply to something in me.

Give a listen and have a good Sunday. And a good Father’s Day.

 

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“I was a man who thrived on solitude; without it I was like another man without food or water. Each day without solitude weakened me. I took no pride in my solitude; but I was dependent on it. The darkness of the room was like sunlight to me.”

Charles BukowskiFactotum

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A bit of beauty from Ella on a cool gray morning as I bask in the solitude that serves as my sunlight. Have a great day.

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“I have been prostrated these two or three days back by my first acquaintance with Tintoretto; but then I feel as if I had got introduced to a being from a planet a 1,000,000 miles nearer the sun, not a mere earthly painter”

–John Ruskin, letter to Joseph Severn, 1843

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While in Alexandria area for my opening, we shot over the Potomac into DC for a quick visit to the National Gallery of Art. It’s always a great pleasure to wander through the marvelous collection plus this year there was the first retrospective exhibition ever staged in America of the paintings of Tintoretto, the great Venetian Renaissance painter.

Tintoretto–Self Portrait ca 1588

Now, to be honest here, I went in not knowing a lot about Tintoretto so I wasn’t overly excited. Oh, I like a number of paintings from many Renaissance painters– particularly Titian, Raphael and my favorite, Bellini. But sometimes the repetitive nature of the religious subjects of much of the work from that era overwhelms my sorrowfully short attention span. I sometimes find myself becoming bored in a gallery full of exquisitely painted panels.

But as I walked into the first gallery for this extensive exhibit, the painting at the top of this post, Spring, was the first thing to greet my eye from a distance as I stood in the doorway. I was instantly captivated. It felt out of time, as though it could be a piece from any point in known art history, its composition seeming so bold and modern. Just spectacular.

A wonderful intro to a great exhibition.

Walking through the galleries as they progressed through the stages of Tintoretto’s remarkable career, I was struck by both the size and scale along with the changes in the progression of his work. In may pieces you could see influences that would be carried forward by the generations of artists that followed him. For example, looking at the first painting below, The Creation of the Animals,I can’t help but think that William Blake references Tintoretto in some of his best known paintings.

Most of the work was very large, best suited for spaces in huge churches or palaces. The second image below, The Virgin Mary Reading, is probably anywhere from 15 to 20 feet in height and was installed opposing another piece of the same size. It had a real wow factor walking into the space. They also did a fantastic job in hanging the whole show, with long views through the many entrances framing large eye-catching works in the next gallery that pulled you along. Each gallery had its own unique feel and strength. Each gallery in itself would be a great show in many museums.

The way I often judge a museum exhibit is how small I feel as an artist coming out of it. By that standard, this was a magnificent exhibit. I understand a bit more how John Ruskin must have felt when he wrote the lines at the top of this post. But conversely, as small as it made me feel, it also made me want to be better, to strive further, to make the most of my own meager talents.

And that also makes it a great show.

If you’re in DC before July 7th, when the exhibit ends, try to make it into the National Gallery to see for yourself. It’s just plain good stuff that you may not see again here in the Americas in your lifetime.

Tintoretto- The Creation of the Animals

Tintoretto–The Virgin Mary Reading

Tintoretto- Paradiso

Tintoretto- The Conversion of St. Paul

 

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THE EVERLASTING SELF

Comes in from a downpour
Shaking water in every direction —
A collaborative condition:
Gathered, shed, spread, then
Forgotten, reabsorbed. Like love
From a lifetime ago, and mud
A dog has tracked across the floor.

–Tracy K. Smith

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Wasn’t going to write anything this morning but I stumbled across this video and poem and felt like sharing it. It’s The Everlasting Self from Tracy K. Smith, the current United States Poet Laureate. In this video, filmed just a few weeks ago, Smith reads her poem with the backing of Sō Percussion at National Sawdust, a center for the arts in Brooklyn.

The poem is a simple one at a glance. But in this performance Smith takes the few words of the verse and realigns them time and time again, constantly reconstructing the poem. It uses the same elements but each feels slightly different. It creates a meditative loop, something close to what I described in a recent post, Mantra, that was coincidentally from the same date as Smith’s performance.

This performance struck me because it reminds me of how I often see my work. They are often comprised of fragments of memory– repeated, realigned and reconstructed. They are seldom derived from groundshaking moments in my past but rather from tiny bits of small observations from distinct memories.

The way the light looked at a certain moment. A color seen decades ago. A tree I passed on a solitary walk.

Small things that make up a life.

I sometimes stop on my walk to or from the studio and look carefully around. I think to myself that if I were to die moments from now, could this be the one memory of this life I carry with me? Would I go through whatever incarnation there may be in future lives with the memory of the cool wind rustling the maple trees and and the filtered sunlight on the tall green grass beneath the trees? The richness of the color in the rhododendron flowers? The rhythmic thunk of the pileated woodpecker’s beak against a tree deeper into the forest? The rich earthy fragrance of the mud on my trail?

Would these images and sound and smells be constantly rumbling around my mind in different iterations for eternity?

This would all be okay with me.

And that’s what I feel from this lovely meditation from Tracy K. Smith. Made me feel good this morning.

Take a look and give a listen. Maybe it will do the same for you.

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“Life is like a tattoo: we have a certain space available and that’s it. The more we fill it with negative elements, the less space will be left for the positive ones. Shape your life like a work of art as you would do with your tattoos, and keep the good in it.

Shape your dreams.”

Roberto Gemori

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At the opening at the Principle Gallery on Friday, as I was speaking with some folks, I noticed a man standing just on the edge of the group, not part of it. That’s not unusual at openings. Sometimes at these things I get to tell stories about the work and people often step up to listen in. After the group departed, this man moved up and said he had something he wanted my opinion on.

His name was Kevin Jobe who explained he was a police officer there in Alexandria and said he hoped I wouldn’t be offended. He was such an affable guy I couldn’t imagine what he could do that would offend me.

He proceeded to pull up his sleeve and, lo and behold, there was the image of a Red Tree painting on his bicep. The tattoo artist had done a great job replicating the trees and other elements of my work, using their own technique for creating texture in the field rows in the lower part of the tattoo, which I really liked. It had the impact of one of my paintings for me.

I was stunned and couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I felt a bit awestruck as well as deeply honored that someone chose that image to permanently engrave on their body. I mean, how do you respond to that?

I told Kevin that I thought it was awesome. And I do. And it is.

He explained that it was still a work in process and he asked for my opinion on how he should finish the sea and sky. Not knowing the tattoo medium too well, I hesitated. It was like looking at a painting that’s it’s at a point where I am afraid of screwing it up because I am not sure which is the next right move. We discussed the possibility of using a swirled pattern in the sky, as I sometimes use in my work. The painting here on the left, Energizing Light, from a few years back has a pattern in its sky ( and possibly in the water) that I think might translate well to the tattoo without crowding out the Red Tree.

Any suggestions from my tattoo knowledgeable friends out there?

I am still very much honored by Kevin’s action though I will point out that I did feel slightly uneasy afterwards. I mean, that’s permanent! It’s not like he had a t-shirt made or carved a red tree out of an old 2×4. That’s his skin and it will most likely, pending a thresher accident on the farm, be with him forever. I have to admit that I felt a little pressure to somehow live up to Kevin’s confidence in committing that image to his skin. I worried that just meeting me might have him doubting his decision.

Hopefully, I can live up to his confidence. Thank you, Kevin, for showing me your work in progress. I am honored and still awestruck. Can’t wait to see the finished product.

On the subject, here’s a little song from the Dropkick Murphys about a tattoo. And the Roberto Gemori from the quote at the top is a well known tattoo designer.

 

 

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One part of my show that opened Friday night (and continues to hang through the month and into July) at the Principle Gallery was the first public exhibition of the Multitudes series that consists of masses of faces. The response to these pieces was very strong, more than I had anticipated with a couple of the pieces finding new homes. I knew that the potential sales aspect of this series might take a bit of time at the start just to get viewers acclimated to the work. But  I wasn’t confronted by anyone who felt uneasy by them and that is a victory of sorts. At least, a good first step.

I was pleased with the way these pieces blended in with the more typical body of my work. I think that plays well into the idea that we are all prisms with multiple facets that are not visible to everyone at all times. While this work may not have been evident before, it was still there in place. As much a part of who I am as any other piece in the body of my work. Just a different aspect.

Below is a slideshow of the pieces at the show.

https://spark.adobe.com/video/zyiabQaWWtnmm

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