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Archive for February, 2020

Ah, it’s Leap Day, that one extra day we all receive every four years. I know it’s really just an accounting adjustment and it’s a Saturday like every other Saturday. What’s to get excited about?

Well, this year seems like the perfect year to use it as a timeout, to step back from the precipice on which we find ourselves. A day to take a breath, clear our minds, and really consider how we want to go forward.

It seems that we’re in a time of craziness and just plain old fashioned bad mojo, a time that either rips us down or propels us forward in a new way.

As bad as it appears on many days lately, I see this as a opportune time for transformation. It often takes a crisis to stir people enough that they will act in ways to affect true change, to leap forward from their comfortable perches. We seem on the verge of crisis and catastrophe on a weekly, daily and even an hourly basis so maybe this is the time to take the great leap forward as a society.

Take today and think about it. Do you want to continue down the path in which we’re being led? That’s the easy way, of course. Takes no thinking. Just as a sheep doesn’t think, just follows the sheep ahead of it to either greener pastures or to slaughter.

Or are you ready to leap forward into the unknown? There are no guarantees, of course, except that it will be different from the status quo of a system in which the average person has found it harder and harder to stay afloat over the past forty years. Maybe if enough of us take that leap, we can transform it into a system that solely serves the interests of the people rather than those of corporations, lobbyists and oligarchs.

I don’t know about you but like that cat at the top, I am ready to get off this ledge and move to the next higher one.

Here’s a song from Billy Bragg, a modern day singer/songwriter/activist in the Woody Guthrie mode, advocating for social change, justice, workers’ rights and so on. I’ve been a fan of his work since his days with The Blokes back in the late 70’s. He seldom minces words and this song, Waiting For the Great Leap Forward, exhorts people to get up and become the change they desire.

That’s how change works, after all.

Give a listen. It’s one of those songs that builds and builds so hang with it for a while.

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Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have-nots
Money, we make it
Fore we see it, you’ll take it

Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life

-Gil Scott Heron, Inner City Blues ( Make Me Wanna Holler)

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I showed a painting last week in progress last week and mentioned that I was working on a series of cityscapes. This is a different painting from that series that I am calling Inner City Blue. It is 22″ wide by 28″ high on canvas.

These pieces are painted in the same way as the Multitudes series that consisted of masses of faces. I normally start at one spot and just work outward from it with little or no plan as to where it will go or how it will emerge. There’s an excitement in working this way because there is always the tension that comes from not knowing whats going to come out.

I often find myself eager with anticipation as the painting progresses. It’s still a mystery at that point and I need that. That not knowing is a big part of how I work, a driving force. I don’t think I would last long if I knew with any certainty how any painting would come out in the end.

And these cityscapes, with all their moving parts and angles and shapes and shades, are totally unpredictable. And that just engrosses me in the process, allows me to find little bits of meaning and beauty in the cracks and crevices that are being created.

Hopefully, a little bit of what I am getting from these pieces comes across to the viewer. That reaction is as unpredictable as the painting itself.

I compared these cityscapes to the Multitudes series earlier. There are similarities beyond the process. Much as I left the faces without eyes in the Multitudes pieces, I leave elements out of these cityscapes. There are no traces of people on the streets or in the windows. There is no signage, no lettering. No street lights or anything on the street. It creates a skeletal effect, showing the bones of what gives the city its appearance while leaving a void.

That void could be described as the anonymity that very large cities often provide.

You know what I mean. That sense of being lost in a throng of faceless people moving on the street. Little, if any, eye contact and as you jostle along with the crowd, your own eyes are locked on some far distant point, fending off the intrusive eyes of the street vendors, hustlers and beggars.

You try to look stoic and determined, like you’re on a mission that should not be interrupted. You’re like a silent rocket hurtling through the space between the buildings that tower above the street and each building is a new alien world to you, filled with life and lives about which you know little.

A stranger in a strange land. That feeling might be the best way to describe what drives much of my work. I often feel out of place in this world– a stranger in a strange land– and am trying to put it, in my work, into some sort of order that allows me to fit in.

Don’t know if that makes any sense. But I do like these city pieces and feel there is something in them that I need to see. So, I will keep looking for a while.

Here’s the song Inner City Blues (Make me Wanna Holler), written by Gil Scott Heron and performed by the great Marvin Gaye. I didn’t mean to borrow the title but after I had titled it I remembered that there was the song. So, here it is. Enjoy.

 

 

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“And I can’t be running back and fourth forever between grief and high delight.”

J.D. SalingerFranny and Zooey

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When I send a painting to a gallery it is with the expectation that it might very well sell.  As a result, I don’t usually announce or comment when a piece does actually go to a new home. I am usually very pleased when a sale of my work takes place. I mean, it’s my job and my livelihood plus the sale is a validation, in a way, that the work reached out beyond my own imagination and struck a chord with someone to the point that they chose to spend their hard earned money to obtain it.

What’s not to be happy about that?

But hearing that some paintings have been sold raises conflicting emotions. On one hand, I am thrilled to see the painting find a new home and to know that I can pay my bills for another month. That is a always a good thing.

But on the other hand, there are paintings that I see as being special, as being more significant to myself. Selling one of these paintings means that it is forever out of my hands, that it is no longer mine alone. Like a part of myself has been sheared off and sent away.

As a result, much like Salinger wrote above, I find myself running back and fourth between grief and high delight.

Such is the case with the painting at the top, Saints and Sinners. It’s a piece that I felt was personally among my best, one that was well beyond myself. I learned yesterday that it had sold and was very happy at first. Someone had seen that same special quality in it and was making it part of their life.

But after only a few moments, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach and a sense of loss came over me.

Even this morning, I am a little sad about it being gone forever.

Almost grief.

I say almost because, as grief goes, this is way down on the list of things that might cause one to grieve. For most people, especially non-artists, this sound ridiculous, I know.

So, let’s just call this artistic grief.

Don’t worry. I’m okay. I am not wearing black or tearing up this morning. I sold a painting, for chrissakes.

I am very happy about that but will still miss it, that’s all.

Okay, back to work. Maybe this next piece will be a worthy replacement.

Or better…

 

 

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I ran the post below several years back and thought it deserved another look. As I say, it is advice from poet e e cummings to aspiring poets on becoming nobody-but-yourself, advice anyone can use for whatever creative path they might want to follow. I know it always makes me want to feel and work and fight a little bit harder. Take a look:

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Whenever I am asked to speak with students I usually tell them to try to find their own voice, to try to find that thing that expresses who they really are. I add that this is not something that comes easily, that it takes real effort and sacrifice. The great poet e e cummings (you most likely know him for his unusual punctuation) offered up a beautiful piece of similar advice for aspiring poets that I think can be applied to most any creative discipline.

Or to anyone who simply desires to feel deeply in this world.

I particularly like the line: To be nobody-but-yourself -in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

That line alone speaks volumes.

Take a moment to read this short bit of advice and see what you think– or feel.

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A Poet’s Advice To Students

(e e cummings)

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words.

This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself -in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else -means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

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“The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;
And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.
But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;
And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless.
Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”
Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.”
For the soul walks upon all paths.
The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.”

― Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

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A new painting, a 24″ by 24″ piece on canvas that I call Seeking Depths.

I am starting to make progress on  work for my two main annual shows, the first at the Principle Gallery in June and the second at the West End Gallery in July. I am working on several different modes for these shows, ranging from a series of cityscapes such as the one featured in progress here last week  to revisiting the sparse ink landscapes on paper of my early work along with new paintings that are at the current end of  my painting continuum. The overlying theme for these shows is that the work will be mainly seeking to find inward depth in the picture plane and a deeper atmospheric presence.

This piece is a pretty good example of what I am looking for in the current work. There is optical depth into the canvas. The colors are darkly deep and rich. The atmosphere that moves across the depths of the painting, from the sky to the foreground, is an essential element of the painting here with  its own weight and dimension, not just a background on which everything rests.

I am looking forward to how these groups of work progress together. Having determined a direction, I now feel refreshed and eager to move ahead at a reckless pace– my favorite way to work.

We shall see what it brings…

 

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Stuart Davis- Swing Landscape 1938

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For a number of years Jazz had a tremendous influence on my thoughts about art and life.

-Stuart Davis

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I wrote yesterday about how as an artist I am influenced by many things other than the paintings of other artists. I thought I’d share some paintings from artist Stuart Davis (1892-1964) whose work itself is considered a huge influence on the Pop Art movement of the 1960’s. I’ve been a fan of his for many years, particularly after seeing how his work evolved through his career from a Robert Henri trained Modernist whose early work echoed the influence of Van Gogh through a Picasso inspired Cubist period into his own style with its own vocabulary that was largely inspired by the Jazz of the time.

I also always keep something in mind he said when I am at work: Always remember that in a painting, color has a position, and a place, and it makes space. As a result, I try to make color a vital element in my paintings, sometimes more important than the actual subject of the painting.

But, this morning let’s just look at a few of Davis’ Jazz inspired paintings and take a look and a listen to the great Duke Ellington‘s Jazz classic Take the A Train. I get the feeling Stuart Davis might have painted a bit to this track.

I am not sure but the video here looks to be a Soundie, which were short, well produced music films that were played on video jukeboxes in bars and clubs the late 1940’s. They mainly featured popular black Jazz musicians, giving these often musicians, who really didn’t have an many outlets for their music as their white counterparts, an exciting venue that really spread the popularity of their music.


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Joni Mitchell- The Mountain Loves the Sea- watercolor 1971

Over the years, I have often been asked about influences on my work and I often list several artists that I feel pushed me in certain directions. Then I also point out that there have been influences that fall outside of the painter mode. For example, literature, poetry and film come immediately to mind. Then there’s pop culture such as cartoons and comics, television and so much more. I’ve mentioned that there was a Coca Cola tv ad back in the 80’s that featured saturated colors– reds and golds– that stuck in my mind for years before I began painting.

There are so many contributing sources of inspiration.

I mention this today because as I was looking for a piece of music to play this  morning, I came across the old Joni Mitchell album from 1974, Court and Spark. It was a great album, one that I loved even as a teenage boy. I had not listened to it in years but each of the songs was imprinted in me by this time.

I also hadn’t looked closely at its album cover for many, many years though it was a beautiful cover, cream colored with a small watercolor painting, The Mountain Loves the Sea, that Joni Mitchell had painted a few years before, tastefully in its center. It had a simple elegance that I recognized, again even as a teenage boy. But it was just one of those things that, because I had seen it so many times before, I didn’t look with any attention at all.

But I looked closer today at the painting in the cover’s center and was surprised at how much my own work sometimes held echoes of this little painting. I would never thought of Joni Mitchell as an influence beyond her music but looking at this little image made me rethink that.

Maybe it was just one of those little things that push you without your knowledge in one direction or another. Influences that you internalize and can’t recognize or name until you come face to face with them. We all have them, those small things we take in and blend together to make us who we are.

I am glad this was one of those things for me. So, let’s give a listen to the title track from Court and Spark.

Have a great Sunday.

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