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Archive for July, 2019

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“…that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.”

–Ray Bradbury, The October Country

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Every so often you come across something from your distant past that has long passed from memory.  It could be a book, a song, a photo or some small insignificant memento, something once cherished but now tucked away in the piling up of time. Coming across such a thing after so many years illuminates how much that thing meant to you. In some cases, being able to look back at the years allows  you to see that it actually influenced your way of thinking and, therefore, your life.

That’s how I felt this morning when I came across the short prologue, shown here at the top, to the 1955 book of short stories from Ray Bradbury, The October Country. I probably read this book last in the late 1970’s at a time when I devoured most of Bradbury’s books. They were all great and interesting reads and Bradbury had a poetic nature to go with his active imagination, one that sometimes found feelings of isolation and fear at the edges of the mundane.

I don’t know how I reacted when I read the words above forty years ago but reading them now, I felt like he was describing me. Or at least, describing the occupants of the world I depict in my paintings, those folks who, by extension, are built from parts of myself.

They are definitely the autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts.

Lingering in twilight, tucked in dark niches inside, facing away from the sun.

The painting at the top, Dark Eye of Quiet, is a new painting that is part of my current show at the West End Gallery. When I read Bradbury’s prologue to The October Country, I could see in this piece how his words, perhaps unbeknownst to me, had stayed with and filtered through me over the time. It’s a painting that aptly illustrates this point, from its title to the doorless and windowless houses that reside in shadow, seeming to be avoid the gaze of the dark sun. It has the wistful isolation of a Bradbury story.

I went through a stack of old paperbacks in a closet and dug out my dog-eared copy of the The October Country. Leafing through it, I saw a few titles in the list of contents that I had circles eons ago. I don’t remember doing this, of course, but I obviously saw something in it that made me do this. One was titled The Wind and turning the pages to that story I was greeted by a black and white illustration for the story from artist Joe Mugnaini.

I didn’t recognize or remember it but even so, it had a familiarity that made me smile.

I found an image of it online and am sharing it here. Maybe it was not only Bradbury’s words that influenced me forty some years back?

The mind works in weird and wonderful ways, eh?

 

 

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In the Hans Christian Andersen story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, the emperor was overly concerned his public appearance. Playing on this, two swindlers come into the kingdom and convince the emperor that they are the most magnificent tailors he has ever encountered. These faux tailors tell him that they can weave the most magnificent cloth and make him a remarkable suit of clothing. They say it will be invisible to those who are unusually stupid, incompetent or unfit for the positions they held.

The emperor goes big for this idea, thinking that such a suit of clothing will enable to determine who is wise and should be trusted and who is stupid or unfit and should not be trusted with any position of power. He employs the tailors at great expense to weave the cloth and make him the clothes.

Looms were set up and remained empty even as the swindling tailors said the fabric was being made on them. The emperor sent many ministers and other officials to check on the progress of the suit and the swindlers would take them to the loom where they would exult over the nonexistent fabric. They would describe the beauty of the colors and the pattern and the officials stood in rapt attention, nodding and oohing and aahing even as their own eyes told them that nothing was there.

Not a single person would say that there was nothing there. Nobody wanted to be marked as stupid or unfit in the eyes of the king.

The weavers brought the clothing to the king and convinced him that the suit was so light that it felt like wearing nothing at all. When the emperor cried that there was nothing there, they called in his court and, being afraid to be seen as either a fool or unfit, they exclaimed how marvelous the clothing appeared on the emperor. Emboldened by the silence of his court, the emperor decided to parade his new suit through the streets.

The people of the kingdom had heard of the amazing fabric that would be invisible to the stupid and the incompetent. So as the emperor strode naked before them, they cheered with rousing approval.

That is until a small child exclaimed, “ But he hasn’t got anything on!”

The crowd tried to shush the child but soon a whispered buzz was going through the crowd. The child was right!

The crowd cried in unison, “He hasn’t got anything on!”

The emperor shivered and blushed.  Knowing that it was true, he continued his parade with his toadies holding up his nonexistent train behind him as he marched.

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It’s a great story, one we all have heard in some form. It is a tale that can be applied to the current occupant* of the white house and the political party that is acting like the emperor’s court. Except in this case, the tale is in reverse.

Here, the occupant* is wearing an outfit cut from a fabric that his courtiers are pretending is invisible.

It is a special fabric, woven with stupidity and fear. These two things are the warp and weft of the fabric that makes up all the things that comprise the evils of this world– racism, superstition, envy and greed.

The occupant* proudly wears his suit made from the loudest shades of stupidity and fear and uses it to determine who he trusts–those who claim they see nothing.

They are kind of like Sargent Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes– I see nothing! At best, seemingly benign but, in actuality, enabling the awfulness taking place.

And for those who say, “For god’s sake, trust your eyes! He wears that awful fabric and is preening in it like a prize hen!“?

Well, you know the drill.

Attack and demean. Distract, divide and dehumanize.

At least, that is how it goes for now. As the occupant* consolidates his blindly loyal toadies into the justice and intelligence communities, the penalties may very well become much more harsh than they already are.

That child who dared to state the obvious might very well end up in a “camp” somewhere.

Trust your eyes, people. This emperor, our occupant*, is wearing the cloth of a racist and a would be tyrant.

 

 

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John Sloan- The Wake of the Ferry I 1907

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You can be a giant among artists without ever attaining any great skill. Facility is a dangerous thing. When there is too much technical ease the brain stops criticizing. Don’t let the hand fall into a smart way of putting the mind to sleep.

John Sloan

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I am a fan many of the Ashcan painters of the early 20th century, such as John Sloan, 1871-1951, whose work is shown here. The painters in this group obviously had technical prowess but you get the feeling from their work that they often operated in that danger zone outside their facilities, relying as much on instinct in the moment as their skill to create their paintings.

As Sloan points out, technical ability is a wonderful thing but also dangerous  for the artist. I love his description of the hand’s ability putting the mind to sleep.

I know that feeling.

I often feel my best work comes from not knowing exactly how the work is going to proceed or where it will end. That sense of danger, that nervous feeling the painting is in peril of becoming included in the next garbage pickup, is a great indicator for me that my instincts are engaged., that my brain is not in the off position.

This is when good things happen, when breakthroughs are achieved, where the work moves beyond you and becomes something of its own.

But it’s all too easy to fall under the spell of your ability, to let your mind doze while your hand takes over.  But obtaining that ability takes years of work and is actually a goal. Why wouldn’t you let this gained knowledge carry your work? That’s a great question and I think every artist has to look at it on their own terms.

I look at this gained ability as tool that I have learned to use. Now, even though I know how to use this tool in a normal, predictable manner, sometimes I need to use it in way for it wasn’t intended. That’s not always the safe way to go but sometimes you find a new way.

And that’s a good thing.

John Sloan- Travelling Carnival, Santa Fe

John Sloan- The Wake of the Ferry II 1907

John Sloan- The City From Greenwich Village

John Sloan- Hairdresser’s Window 1907

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Fallin’ into your passing hands
Please don’t destroy these lands
Don’t make them desert sands
Come tomorrow, will I be older?
Come tomorrow, may be a soldier
Come tomorrow, may I be bolder than today?

Yardbirds, Shapes of Things

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Running late this morning and feeling a little gauzy. Is that a thing? It’s kind of like hazy but not that far. Distracted? Just plain tired? I don’t know. I searched for a while and couldn’t find anything for this week’s Sunday morning musical interlude until I came across this classic track from the Yardbirds back in 1966.

It’s Shapes of Things with some great guitar work from Jeff Beck. It helped me burn off a layer of gauze and I feel a little more fleshy. Is that a thing?

The painting at the top, Tangled Light, hangs in my studio. It’s what I consider a personal piece and it hangs with another similarly done piece. Together they make up one of my favorite pairings. They make me feel fleshier, I guess?

Have a good day,

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For how can you compete,

Being honor bred, with one

Who were it proved he lies

Were neither shamed in his own

Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;

William Butler Yeats,

From To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing

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I can’t say that I am a big Bill Kristol fan, the conservative political analyst, but yesterday he deftly used the excerpt above from a W.B. Yeats poem to describe the Mueller hearing of the day before. It so well described an honorable man dealing with the current occupant of the white house* and his minions in congress* that I wanted to know a bit more about that particular piece of verse.

It turns out that the poem from which those lines come is titled To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing that was included in a small volume of poems called Poems Written in Discouragement 1912-13.

The poem is at the bottom of the page and at first I thought it referred to someone in Yeats’ universe, a writer or artist or playwright, who had put their all into their work for years and years only to never be recognized for that work while others– who this person at least equals in talent and effort– gain greater recognition. That seems like a logical interpretation.

Turns out there is a different story behind the poem.

It has to do with an Irish art dealer named Hugh Lane who was trying to establish a public art gallery that would bring modern art of that time to Dublin at the beginning decades of the 20th century. He proposed to give the city his collection of 39 modern masterworks from Renoir, Manet, Degas, Monet, Daumier, Pissarro and Morisot so that they might establish a museum/gallery. The painting at the top from Renoir, The Umbrellas, was part of his collection.

To that time, Dublin had yet to display the new art of the age and its city fathers and religious leaders were not swayed by the offer. They viewed the new art as being decadent and with an air of libertinism to it. This turned into a heated public battle in which Yeats and others in the Irish artistic community fought to bring the new art culture to the country. They eventually lost and the collection ended up in the possession of the National Gallery of Great Britain after Lane died in the sinking of the Lusitania by German U-boats in 1915. He was returning from NY where he had sold two great pieces to what would become the Frick Collection. The Lusitania was only eleven miles from the Irish coast.

The battle for Hugh Lane’s collection has been fought continuously for the past century between the National Gallery and the Irish government. There are a lot more details so I am not going to get into the whole affair here. There is great article in the Guardian that goes into everything that transpired.

I just find it interesting how Yeats could turn a poem that dealt with the loss of a public debate about art and philanthropy into a poem that feels like it could be applied to many people who are in creative fields and may never realize the recognition their work may well deserve.

Or to a prosecutor dealing with shameless liars.

Here’s the whole poem:

To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing

 

Now all the truth is out,

Be secret and take defeat

From any brazen throat,

For how can you compete,

Being honor bred, with one

Who were it proved he lies

Were neither shamed in his own

Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;

Bred to a harder thing

Than Triumph, turn away

And like a laughing string

Whereon mad fingers play

Amid a place of stone,

Be secret and exult,

Because of all things known

That is most difficult.

–William Butler Yeats, Poems Written in Discouragement 1912-1913

 

 

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Got up late this morning and thought I’d save some time by rerunning an older post that has a piece of music.

I grew up in a time without computer screens, smartphones, video games or much of anything else in the way of distraction.  I’m not saying that we used to go down to the quarry to throw rocks at the dinosaurs but, compared to the multitude of options available to a kid today, it was relatively spartan. We lived in the country where for years we only had two TV channels and FM radio was in its infancy, at least in our area. I’m not sure we even had an FM radio. So, the local AM radio stations filled the bill.

At that time, our local AM channels were one-size-fits-all affairs, playing every genre of music in a grand mishmosh. You might go from hearing the Rolling Stones or the Doors to Nat King Cole to the Temptations to Patsy Cline and back to Chuck Berry in a matter of twenty minutes. It made for very eclectic listening.

The one I usually listened to was WENY and at the time my favorite DJ was a guy named Paul Leigh, who also hosted a late Saturday night movie on  WENY’s sister TV channel. On that, Leigh played his alter ego, the Undertaker, and played schlocky monster movies. He was entertaining for a 12 or 13 year old kid and had a pretty sharp wit for a DJ in a small market. He was always running call-in contests and on one night I was lucky (and persistent) enough to be the 20th or whatever caller.  I won a stack of 25 albums and picking them up at the station, I thought I was in pig heaven.

Of course, they were just getting rid of all the promos albums from record companies that had come their way. Almost all of them never made it on the air, most being pretty bad while some were just not the taste for a teenager. I remember there was an Ornette Coleman LP that was a very conceptual jazz thing that sounded like squawks and buzzes to my ears at the time.  Actually, it still sounded that way to me every time I’ve pulled it out over the years. But there were a few gems in there.

One was this self-titled first album from David Bromberg.  It was produced by George Harrison who appears on the very enjoyable song below, The Holdup.  Several of the songs are Bromberg’s interpretation of blues and traditional classics mixed in with some wonderful originals, including the strange and haunting Sammy’s Song. I still listen to it on a regular basis and it has always held up through the many years.

Bromberg’s an interesting guy, a folk guitar wiz who basically quit the business for several years in the 1990’s to learn the art of violin making. He returned to playing and touring but still maintains a violin shop in Wilmington, Delaware. He seems like a  man who lives life on his own terms. A rare and wonderful thing.

Give a listen to The Holdup and have a good day.
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Light of Day

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I always have a curious sort of feeling about some of my things – I hate to show them – I am perfectly inconsistent about it – I am afraid people won’t understand – and I hope they won’t – and am afraid they will.

–Georgia O’Keeffe

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I came across this quote from Georgia O’Keeffe and it made me smile. I think I know exactly what she meant.

An artist is always in constant state of self-editing, constantly putting out to the world the work they believe best represents them. It is their public face. But this public face usually can’t fully represent the artist as a whole because in this self-editing there is always work that falls into the territory to which O’Keeffe referred.

I think every artist has work they may never show to the world. Some is flawed, some is just plain crap and some is just too personal, showing aspects of the artist that don’t necessarily coincide with the public face they have worked diligently to create. I know that I have a lot of this work, much of it in the flawed and plain crap categories. More than likely, most of it will never see the light of day.

But the longer I do this, I understand that it is all part of who I am as an artist. I become less wary of showing the good and the bad of what I do and have done. Take the piece at the top. It’s another found piece from my old studio, about 17″ square on paper.

At the time I painted it, I made the decision that it didn’t fit in with the face of the work I was putting out then. It was too sloppy, too raw. But almost 20 years later, it is this very rawness that makes me want to show it.

I can see plainly the urgency that was present when it was painted. It shows in the bellies that jut out from each side vertical edges, from the masses of spews that burst from its top. Even the surface of the tree shows me signs of this urgency.

It’s a flawed painting but it is fully alive and that’s all I am looking for in the work. Why wouldn’t I want to let it see the light of day?

 

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