Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2019

I never really knew much about the Swiss born painter Félix Vallotton (1865-1925) but I always found myself stopping whenever I came across one of his paintings, particularly those that were in the vein of the painting above, Evening on the Loire, from 1923. I loved the way he blocked in the forms in his compositions, very much in a manner that I could identify with in my own work.

But his name didn’t bring instant recognition for me, not like the big names from his contemporaries from that incredible time of change for the art world around the turn of the last century. But looking at his work, both as a painter and a printmaker, makes me wonder why this was the case. It is most distinctive work, in many ways bolder and different than that of his peers. His print series, Intimacies, from which I show a few below, is a fascinating group that I have learned was highly influential on the paintings of Edward Hopper and the films of Alfred Hitchcock. I can easily see that connection now.

Maybe his lack of of recognition came from the fact that he didn’t seek the spotlight personally or write much on his work. Doing a quick search turned up little. No outrageous quotes or wild stories.

Well, whatever the case, perhaps we will soon know a bit more about this artist as the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a large exhibit of his work, Félix Vallotton: Painter of Disquiet, opening late in October and running through the end of January in 2020. It traces his career from his association with Les Nabis, the painting group heavily influenced by Paul Gauguin and Cezanne, through his woodblock prints and his later paintings that became more like his prints, compositionally.

I am not going to go into a bio here. I just wanted to make folks just a tiny bit more aware of his work. I had a hard time stopping when I was adding images for this post. See for yourself. I know I usually see at least a few things I want to “borrow” whenever I look at it.

Félix Vallotton- The Visit 1899

Félix Vallotton- The Red Room 1898

Félix Vallotton- Interior with Couple and Screen 1898

Félix Vallotton- Interior with Woman in Red 1903

Félix Vallotton- Intimacies V: Money

Félix Vallotton- Intimacies: The Murder

Félix Vallotton- Intimacies I: The Lie

Félix Vallotton- Nuit Effet de Lune Suisse

Félix Vallotton- The Pond 1909

Félix Vallotton- Moonlight 1895

é

Read Full Post »

***********************

“I recall Gandhi said ultimately all things devolve into the political, but I’d argue that all things devolve into pro-people and anti-people. And I can pose the question, which side are you on?”

― Stetson Kennedy

***********************

I came across the above quote from the late author/activist/folklorist Stetson Kennedy (1916-2011) and it really spoke to me, especially when applied to the current affairs taking place here in this country.

Myself, I see the current administration not being particularly pro-people. They tend to be more pro-corporation, pro-wealthy, pro-white. Actually, they tend are the wrong words here– they are those things.

I would call them anti-people.

This is fairly evident especially if you are a person of color, a woman, a gay or transgender person, a non-christian, an immigrant, a poor person, a sick person, a person who likes clean water and air, a person who prefers fair and honest elections, a person who doesn’t want to have to pack a sidearm to go to the market, a person who doesn’t like their nation’s leader* cozying up to our longtime foes and slapping down our allies, a person who values education and the sciences, a person who sees the value of collective bargaining and the pure falsity of trickle down economics or someone who prefers simple truth to absolute deception.

In these times, his question is a valid one– which side are you on? If you can’t answer this simple question, we’re all in world of trouble.

That said, I thought I would share a little more info on Stetson Kennedy because I am pretty sure he’s well off most of our radars. Part of the family of Stetson hat fame, he was a folklorist, having written a well regarded book on the folklore of his native Florida, as well as a civil rights and union activist through the early part of his adult life. Unable to serve in WW II because of a back injury, Kennedy turned his efforts to righting some of the injustices and dangers he saw in his own part of the world, primarily racial hatred and inequality. He infiltrated the KKK and wrote a book, I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan, which exposed the rituals and actions of the group and that ultimately led to a governmental crackdown on it, crippling the hate group for decades to come.

An interesting part of this story is that while he was infiltrating the KKK, he was feeding code words from the group to the writers of the Superman radio show who used them in a 16 part segment on the show called Clan of the Fiery Cross. It had a huge impact in the public perception of the group and set back its recruitment and growth for decades.

No one wanted to be in a group that the Man of Steel was against. If only it were still that way.

Here are a few more words from Kennedy:

“There is more than one way to be Kluxed, and we need to think about ourselves and the kind of people we elect into public office.”

———

“The bed sheet brigade is bad enough, but the real threat to Americans and human rights today is the plain clothes Klux in the halls of government and certain black-robed Klux on court benches.”

———

“If the Bush brothers really think that women and minorities are getting preferential treatment, they should get themselves a sex change, paint themselves black and check it out.”

–Stetson Kennedy, 2004


That brings us to this Sunday morning music. It’s, believe it or not, a song called Stetson Kennedy from one of my favorite albums, Mermaid Avenue, from the collaboration of Billy Bragg and Wilco in creating songs from a group of previously unrecorded Woody Guthrie lyrics. Guthrie was friend of Kennedy and when Kennedy ran for the governorship of Florida in 1952 — which he lost and for which he was vilified and basically ran out of the state– Guthrie wrote the lyrics for a campaign song that never came about. Bragg and Wilco did it many years later, in 1997. I liked this song before I knew Stetson Kennedy was particularly the line:

I ain’t the world’s best writer nor the world’s best speller
But when I believe in something I’m the loudest yeller

Give a listen and have yourself a decent Sunday. And, hey, pick a side, will ya’?

Read Full Post »

Below is a post from about five years back that very much speaks to the role of anxiety in the work of many artists, myself among them.

Henry Moore Sculpture*****************************

It is a mistake for a sculptor or a painter to speak or write very often about his job. It releases tension needed for his work.

Henry Moore

*************

Came across this quote from the great British sculptor Henry Moore and it struck me on two accounts, both in the words about an artist talking too much about his job and the other in the need for tension. I am aware and worry about both things quite often.

Talking and writing about my work has been a normal thing for me for many years now and, on one hand, I think it has helped me express myself in many ways. The writing and speaking acts as a confessional in which I can air out my anxieties and that, in itself, often reveals new insights that send me in new directions. But on the other hand, I have often feared that my willingness to be transparent will detract from my work in some way. In times when I am less than confident, I fear that my words will somehow expose me as a fraud or, at least, point out the more obvious flaws in my character or deficiencies as an artist.

Even as I write this, I am questioning the very act of doing so.

But I do it. And will probably continue to do so. It’s become part of who I am at this point, even on those days when I find myself questioning what I am or the wisdom in writing or speaking about it.

As for tension being needed for the work, that is something I have believed for a long time. Tension pushes me, makes me stretch forward out of my comfort zone. Tension has been the igniter for every personal breakthrough in my work, creating an absolute need to find new imagery or new ways to use materials.

There are times when I feel that I have become too comfortable in the materials and processes that I use and that people have become too accustomed to seeing my work. I feel stagnant, stalled at a plateau. It is in these times when tension, even fear, begins to build in me and I begin to scan in all directions for a new way of seeing or a new material in which to work.

The tension becomes a burning need to prove myself.

This tension is not a comfortable thing. But I know it is a necessary condition in order for my work to continue to grow, which is what I want and need. To the casual observer it would seem to be a good thing as an artist to reach a point where you are comfortable and satisfied in what you are doing.

I can see that.

But when that tension is absent my drive to express, to create, is stifled. My work dulls and becomes somewhat hollow. Fortunately, seeing this in my work sets off some sort of alarm and I begin to worry. And the tension begins to build once more.

And both comfort and satisfaction are gone.

And I am happily alone with my anxiety.

Odd as it may seem, I see that anxiety as a path forward or an open door to be found. It ultimately reveals something.

And if so, I will no doubt be here, for better or worse, writing about it.

Read Full Post »

*************************

“A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.”

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)

*************************

Days are strange now as once hidden secrets come out into clearer sight. They will become even stranger.

With a sense of strangeness in the air, it’s a good day to just look at a few photos from the late photographer Diane Arbus to try to draw out the secrets hidden in them. How we look at her photos of the marginalized folks among us probably speaks more to our own secrets than it does about those of her subjects.

For what it’s worth, I think the photo of the kid, at the bottom of the page here, speaks volumes in representing how many of us are feeling.

I am that kid.

Read Full Post »

Over the last couple of weeks, I watched the documentary series, Country Music, from documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. As is the case with most of Burns’ work, it is extremely well done and deeply researched. I can’t say I learned a lot of new info from it but it was fun to again see many of the old films from the early legends.

Every documentary takes a position and holds its own perspective on its subject in telling its story. This one certainly did and I imagine a lot of fans of the current country music scene, which to my ear is more akin to the pop/rock music of the 1970’s and 80’s, were disappointed that Burns didn’t focus on their contemporary heroes. But Burns showed the continuum of country music, which carries that expression of authenticity that marked country music in its truest earlier form, moving into the genre we today call Americana. As a fan of that raw expressive quality found in the real traditional country music of years ago, I was glad to see this observation from Burns.

One of the lessons I learned from this series is that if a majority of people in the country music industry tell you to not do something, you must really be on to something big. Two of the primary artists they focused on, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, both fell into this category. I’ve talked about my affection for Cash many times here, including his amazing late in life work that was the result of working with Rick Rubin, a rap/hard rock producer who encouraged Cash to be true to his authentic self in these late recordings. Cash’s family and many in the country music field warned him not to work with Rubin but Cash went ahead and made several successful, both commercially and artistically, albums. I believe they are as close to real art as you will find in country music and they remain an incredible final testament to his life.

A great songwriter with an unusual vocal delivery, Willie Nelson was always a poor fit with the country music industry in Nashville. In the 50’s and 60’s, he tried to conform but it just never came out right. He was the perfect round peg in square hole world. He wrote a number of songs that became hits for others but he himself released a series of mediocre, standard country albums that did not sell well or open any eyes anywhere.

So he retreated to Texas and just began to be Willie, recording and performing in a completely natural manner without any thought as to how he should look or sound compared to others. His work from that time on had that authentic feel that’s the defining quality of real country music.

I’ve been a fan since The Red Headed Stranger, sparse concept album that, with its cinematic feel, tells the story of a cowboy who kills his wife and her lover then goes on the run in a search for redemption. It came out in 1975 and there wasn’t anything that was like it in any way. His songwriting and choice of material was pitch perfect and he harnessed that unusual voice in a way that perfectly captured feeling and emotion of the songs.

Since that time he has continued to make great music, even now in his mid 80’s. He’s worked with a wide variety of artists from many different genres of music and has released a number of great albums including one of my favorites, Teatro, from 1998.

This is really just a long excuse for me to play one of my faves from that album, Darkness On the Face of the Earth. Oh, what the heck, let me throw in Can I Sleep In Your Arms from The Red Headed Stranger. I can just shut up now and, if you like, you can give a listen. If you get a chance, take a look at Ken Burns’ documentary on the PBS site. Have a great day.


Read Full Post »

************************

“And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others. And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

Haruki MurakamiKafka on the Shore

***********************

And it begins.

Many of us believe it should have started long ago. The foreboding darkness has been hovering around us for some time now but maybe Fate wasn’t ready to unleash the fury of the storm until this precise moment in time.

Part of me is relieved, even happy, to have this beginning because I know we must endure the storm if we are to get past this somehow. But part of me fears what it may bring, what damage the aftermath might reveal.

And another part is sad because it is a storm of our own making. For too long we have neglected our duties as citizens, distracted by those shiny things and flashing images that fill our modern lives. It was too easy to let others choose the direction in which this country would go.

Unfortunately, those who took control made a beeline for that place where the darkest clouds sit. That location where they could operate in obscuring shadows, that place from where an angry storm would no doubt come.

And that is the place where we are now. And a mighty storm has begun there.

We will get through it. And years from now, we will hopefully have vague memories of it and the toll it will take on us. But, as Murakami writes above, we will be somehow transformed coming out the other side. We will be forever changed, perhaps in ways we could never foresee.

And this change, this transformation we are about to undergo, is a scary thing for many of us. The optimistic part of me wants to believe we will be better for it, that we will shore up those supporting foundations of our democracy that have been eroded through attacks and neglect in recent times. But the darker, more pessimistic part of me sees us coming out in a world that thrives on the uglier aspects of ourselves– greed and hatred and anger.

I get the feeling that when we come out of this, we will have more fully embraced our better angels or our darker angels. I am not a religious person but I pray that we fall toward those angels of light.

Read Full Post »

***********************************************

“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”

Aleksandr I. SolzhenitsynThe Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956

********************************

The term crossing the Rubicon generally means passing the point of no return, putting into action a series of events that cannot be undone. It originated from 49 BC when Julius Caesar was at that time the governor under the Roman Empire of the region of Gaul that is now northern Italy. He had gained a tremendous amount of strength as a conquering military commander during his term. He feared that he would be prosecuted for the crimes committed during his campaigns when his term as governor ended and the Roman Senate ordered him to disband his army.

He was ordered to return to Rome with the warning that he was not to bring his army across the Rubicon River which formed the northern boundary between Rome and Gaul. To do so would be considered an act of treason and insurrection. It would amount to a declaration of war on the empire.

Julius Caesar is believed to have said, The die is cast, as he and his troops waded across the shallow river, an act that led to the Roman civil wars and eventually to his brief reign as a dictator ruling Rome. It ended, of course, with his assassination in which he was stabbed 23 times  by a group of Roman senators.

Here in this country, have we crossed our own symbolic Rubicon during the past week or so? I have thought that line was crossed several times in the past three years but these most recent actions by Individual 1 seem even more outrageous and dangerous to both this nation and the safety of the world as a whole. This person sees himself and those protecting him as being above all laws and he feels free to use the vast power of this nation for his personal protection, advancement and enrichment.

This person believes himself to be a sort of omnipotent Caesar rather than a president representing all the people of this country.

The die seems cast now, for sure. There is no turning back and lines have been drawn. There is no neutrality. Those who remain silent are complicit with these actions. They are enabling the destruction of true justice in this time and in times to come. The words at the top from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his book The Gulag Archipelago are a warning to us based on hard earned experience. It is not mere speculation.

It seems we have crossed our own Rubicon here. We are required to speak up now.

We may not get another chance.

Nor may future generations.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: