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Archive for April, 2020

I am running a little late this morning, having slept longer than normal in that world of dreams. It’s a strange world even in normal times but lately every dream somehow seems even weirder in these even odder days. I think I would sometimes prefer the dreamless nights of the psychotic mind.

But that reason aside,  after I got here I fixated on this smaller painting above in a corner of studio. From 2009, it’s called Two Sides of Blue and there’s something in it that always gives me pause. It certainly did this morning. Made me think it might be a good piece to couple with a piece of music and the first thing that came to mind was a song from Joanna Newsom. I guess she would be called a folk harpist. I don’t know how others categorize her actually. She’s a classically trained harpist who is a singer/songwriter. It’s probably her distinctive voice, somewhat reminiscent of the plaintive flatness of old timey bluegrass singers, that makes her such a a hard artist to pigeon hole. So, why bother?

This song just feels good this morning with this painting. Maybe written by someone on one side of this blue canal. I threw in the lyrics to read along with the music.

Have a good day, folks.

This Side of the Blue

Svetlana sucks lemons across from me,
and I am progressing abominably.
And I do not know my own way to the sea
but the saltiest sea knows its own way to me.

And the city that turns, turns protracted and slow
and I find myself toeing th’Embarcadero
and I find myself knowing
the things that I knew
which is all that you can know
on this side of the blue.

And Jaime has eyes
black and shiny as boots
and they march at you two-by-two
(re-loo re-loo);
when she looks at you,
you know she’s nowhere near through:
it’s the kindest heart beating
this side of the blue.

And the signifieds butt heads
with the signifiers,
and we all fall down slack-jawed
to marvel at words!
When across the sky sheet the
impossible birds, in a steady,
illiterate movement homewards.

And Gabriel stands beneath forest and moon.
See them rattle & boo,
see them shake, and see them loom.
See him fashion a cap from a page of Camus;
and see him navigate deftly this side of the blue.

And the rest of our lives
will the moments accrue
when the shape of their goneness
will flare up anew.
Then we do what we have to do
(re-loo re-loo),
which is all that you can do
on this side of the blue.

It’s all that you can do
on this side of the blue.

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Art is interested in life at the moment when the ray of power is passing through it.

—Boris Pasternak

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I think Boris Pasternak (author of Doctor Zhivago) is really spot on with with this terse definition of art. Art at its core is, for me, an attempt to affirm our existence and the existence of that life force within us.

I really like that term that Pasternak uses here– ray of power. That description of the force that drives all living things jibes well with that animating force that I try to find in my own work, that indeterminate quality that makes a static thing seem to take on a life of its own.

How and if it comes through in the work is the interesting thing for me. Sometimes, despite my extreme efforts, I cannot find that life force. Maybe I should say I can’t find force this because of my extreme efforts instead of despite. Sometimes it seems as though trying to consciously find that thing prevents it from being found, as though the energy expended in searching creates a cloud that somehow obscures that which is sought.

It often finally appears when I finally let go of the search and don’t focus on finding anything. I just let my mind wander free and lose myself in the process of actually painting– the colors, lines and forms before me.

And suddenly there it is.

It’s as though you don’t find it. It finds you.

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The bit of writing above is from five years ago but I thought I’d share it along with a glimpse at a corner of my studio from this morning. The 18″ wide by 36″ high canvas on the easel was started yesterday and reminded me of this post. It is obviously a work in progress not nearly close to any sort of finish. But even as it was forming in its earliest stages, it was displaying a strong life force.

That is not always the case. Sometimes a piece takes days, going through several frustrating stages where it flattens and has all the life force of a dead fish before finally bursting to life.

Bit in this case, it came together quickly and without a lot of thought or wringing of hands. It just pushed itself onto the canvas. Maybe it is the slashing strokes that make up the sky. There’s a lot of energy in those slashes and the way their colors react to one another.

Maybe this piece will be called Rays of Power?

We’ll see.

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“Some people think only intellect counts: knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it. But the functions of intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion, and empathy.”

― Dean Koontz

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I’ve never read a Dean Koontz novel and don’t really know much about his work, outside of them mainly being in the thriller/horror genres. And though I couldn’t find which book the words above were from,  I liked his pointing out that so many of the qualities of the intellect that we admire mean little if they are not accompanied by compassion and empathy.

I’ve been writing this blog for over eleven years now (yikes!) and over that time I have often written about what I see as an empathy deficit in this country. Too many of us tend to not be able to recognize the hardships and problems of others, to see only how things relate to us personally. We seem to, more and more, have an inability to imagine how it might be to walk a mile in the shoes of someone else.

Maybe it’s always been that way and I’m just a little late to the show. That could well be the case. But I don’t think so. There’s been an increase of self-centered behaviors and a coarsening of our attitude towards others that is easily observable. Someone acting like a participant on an ugly reality TV show that would have once appalled us is now acceptable behavior..

It’s all I-got-mine now. Winners and losers. Chumps and champs.

Our president*** is but an ugly reminder of this new normal. A symptom that was inevitable.

You see it in his self-aggrandizing attitude and his “the world revolves around me” narcissism. But it’s his total lack of empathy that irks me the most, personally. For example in the totality of his daily briefings during the covid-19 crisis, he has devoted less than 4 1/2 minutes out of more than 28 hours to expressing any concern for the individuals who have fell victim to the virus. Most often, his time was spent patting himself and those around him on the back, saying what a terrific job he is doing.

Little mention of the lives ended or of those living, the families and friends, who have been affected by these deaths.

It’s not that he didn’t have an opportunity. Between March 26 and April 26, one month, approximately 54,000 Americans perished due to the virus. That is an enormous tragedy for these families, for the health workers, for their friends and for this nation. Each of these 54,000 is a story, a life filled with moments of love and laughter, sadness and loss.

He is without empathy, without true concern for his fellow humans. He doesn’t have the ability to place himself in the shoes of others, to a walk a mile in any other person’s shoes.

Whatever it takes, whatever it costs in human terms, to stroke his huge fragile ego is never too much. Take the West Point grads, for example. They have long been dispersed from the campus and plans were under way for a remote virtual commencement ceremony. But this selfish thing decided, without consulting the Army officials, that he would be speaking at the commencement in June. As a result, 1000 grads are going to have to return to West Point, be tested there for the virus then be placed in quarantine for 14 days on campus, all for the vanity of this thing and the fawning adulation he craves so much.

He doesn’t give a damn for the peril in which he places anyone, for the lives he burns through. We are all expendable accessories to him.

Not lives. Not families. Not individuals with feelings and futures.

No, we are assets to be used. Fodder.

Okay, I got off on a tangent there. But it still is in line with the message this morning. We can only measure our success and survival to the extent that it reaches down to the most vulnerable among us. In order to do that, we must be able to see the struggles of others, to envision ourselves in those  same struggles.

We don’t have a leader than can do that so it’s up to us to make the difference needed.

Let’s try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes for once.

Here’s an old song from Joe South from back around 1970. You don’t hear much about Joe South anymore but he had a nice string of hits in the late 60’s/early 70’s. I always liked this song. Here’s Walk a Mile on My Shoes.

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Dr. Seuss- Gosh Do I Look As Old As All That

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Say what you mean and act how you feel,

because those who matter don’t mind,

and those who mind don’t matter.

Dr. Seuss

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I think these words about sincerity from the wonderful and wise Dr. Seuss are good advice for just about anybody.  For myself, I pass this advice on to young artists. Make your own meaning and feeling the focus of your work…

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I ran the short post above several years ago and it resonated with me again this morning. For one thing, it reminded me of how much the imagery and messaging of Dr. Seuss influenced and informed my own perspectives and art. I never thought about it at the time I started drawing and painting but his way of representing the landscapes of his worlds very much infiltrated my own way of looking at my own inner worlds. I see the bendy curves of his trees and smile because I see them in many of my own Red Trees.

The other reason this older post resonated with me were his simple words about honestly saying what you mean and acting how you feel. There are many days when I am trying to write this blog and I feel inhibited by not wanting to offend anyone with my own personal views. I have many times set aside posts that I deemed potentially too offensive. But more and more, I am less shy about sharing my honest opinions for just the reasons that the good Dr. points out: those that matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.

And that also translates to my work. I am also less shy in sharing work that moves outside my comfort zones for this same simple reason. I figure if I am being honest and sincere in my work and in my opinions, what do I have to fear from the opinions of others?

So, thanks for that Dr. Seuss, wherever you may be. Your words and art and storytelling have changed the worlds of many, myself included.

Here are a few more of his paintings that weren’t in the original post:

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When the gates swing wide on the other side
Just beyond the sunset sea
There’ll be room to spare as we enter there
Room for you and room for me
For the gates are wide on the other side
Where the flowers ever bloom
On the right hand on the left hand
Fifty miles of elbow room

50 Miles of Elbow Room, Herbert Buffum

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I have always longed for elbow room.

Huge arching domes of clear air above.

Wide open spaces for the eye to search.

Soundless vistas with not a soul to be seen.

The elbow room I long for is not that described in the lyrics of the 1930 gospel song, 50 Miles of Elbow Room, from songwriter Herbert Buffum. His version of elbow room is a placid paradise in the hereafter

Ideally, I don’t have to die to find my sought after elbow room. Of course, finding such a place might entail a little imagination along with a willingness to accept that this elbow room most likely will be located inside oneself.

Maybe that’s what I am trying to uncover with my work.

Elbow room. At least, my own little bits of elbow room.

The painting at the top is such a piece. It’s part of my aptly titled show, Social Distancing, that is still planned to open on June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. There is some doubt as to whether there will be an actual physical opening reception but there will be a show hung to be viewed so long there is– wait for it– social distancing.

This painting is titled Elbow Room, of course. It’s a return of sorts to my earlier work of the early and mid 2000’s, painted in the transparent inks I favor on paper. In a way, painting it felt like it was something inherent. Built in. Natural, like coming home, like a circle being completed.

For me, this is the hardest work to judge. It’s like looking at old family photos. You don’t look at the faces and apprise them for attractiveness or ugliness. You just see them for what you know them to be, for what they mean to you. How the outside world sees them is not important.

And this certainly feels like a family photo for me.

So, on this Sunday morning, let’s hear a bit of that song, 50 Miles of Elbow Room. I couldn’t find the original from Vaughan Happy Two. The two most significant versions are a gospel version from the Rev. F.W. McGee in 1933 and a traditional folk version from the Carter Family in 1942. The song I am playing today owes its influence to the Carter Family. It’s performed by a favorite of mine, Gillian Welch.

Have a good Sunday. Hope you find some elbow room for yourself, if that’s what you want.

 

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A few days ago, a good friend introduced me to a singer/songwriter I had never heard, a fellow by the name of Dan Reeder. My friend had stumbled on this fellow and had discovered that he was on Oh Boy Records, the label that John Prine recorded on and founded almost forty years ago. That this Reeder follow was Oh Boy was enough to make me want to give it a listen.

Glad I did.

It’s considered “outsider modern folk” which is probably an apt description of John Prine’s music as well. You can hear echos of the John Prine influence in his music but he definitely has his own frank perspective on the world.

The song I am showcasing is Clean Elvis just because it made me smile — not always an easy things these days– plus I wanted to show the old painting at the top, a favorite of mine called Elvis in the Wilderness from 2006, I think. Part of the Outlaws series. It’s one of those pieces I wish I had never let go.

I am also throwing in a lovely, gentle song called Maybe that has a real Prine feel in its tone and message.

So, give a listen. And to my old pal Clifford who lives out in the greater Amesbury area, thanks for the intro to Dan Reeder. I have a feeling he will be on my playlist for some time to come.


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There could be only one result  . . .  If men insisted on being free from the burden of a life that was self-dependent and also responsible for the common good, they would cease to be free at all. Responsibility was the price every man must pay for freedom. It was to be had on no other terms.

Edith Hamilton, The Echo of Greece [1957]

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Spent the last hour scouring the websites online trying to find some Clorox suppositories.

Or some sort of light bulb I could swallow that would cleanse my innards with its light and heat. I tried it with one here in the studio but burned the hell out of my lips before I could get it down my gullet.

Should have used an LED, I guess.

I thin I’m going to give up for now. Maybe I’ll try again later, after I get a rubdown at Fat Gert’s Massage Hut, a few frames at the Bowlarama and a quick touch up of the tattoo of Robert E. Lee holding a Confederate Flag that adorns my backside. I need to have more white added to Lee’s beard and a little more red on that rebel flag.

In reality, my head just hurts from the sheer amount of stupidity and reckless irresponsibility we’re witnessing in this country, from the alleged leader** of the country to the morons trying to block hospital entrances in protest over the fact that they can’t get their roots dyed or eat fajitas at Chili’s.

They scream out that it’s their liberty, the freedom to do whatever the hell they want to do with no responsibility to anyone or anything but their needs and desires.

It’s a most self-centered reading of that word, freedom. It might have been applicable ages ago, in the time of the Neanderthals or other ancient times but even then, freedom entailed a certain degree of responsibility to the clan or tribe in order to survive and to maintain safety and order.

Freedom always coexists with a responsibility for the common good of whatever form of society in which one lives. It doesn’t supersede it.

Without maintaining the common good of all those in that society, all freedoms were at peril. As the classicist author and educator Edith Hamilton points out in writings on the Athenian empire’s fall: When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.

I understand that we all want this to be over, that people with the attention spans of fruit flies will get crazy anxious to get things moving. But no matter the amount of  Magical Thinking that flows through the addled mind of the president**,  our wishes and desires do not affect not how pandemics resolve themselves.

It takes time and concerted efforts to come up with real solutions based on sound science. It requires the smartest, most capable people trying to balance the common good with allowable liberties.

There are no shortcuts. You can’t say, “Screw this thing, I am going to do what I want to do and anybody that doesn’t like it can go to hell.

That attitude might work in some situations and might even be recommended in some.

But this ain’t one of them.

Now is a time of responsibility, of possibly sacrificing our selfish desires for the common good. I know that’s asking a lot in a country that is led by perhaps the most selfish human alive on this planet but it’s the only way out of this, short of being willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands more people, maybe your family and friends among them, so that you can feel like a free man in ‘murica.

Okay, I actually feel better after spewing that out. Here’s an old song, The Road to Hell, from an album of the same title in the late 80’s from Chris Rea that fills the bill this morning. It was pretty good album, one that I revisit every now and then.

Give a listen and if you can find those Clorox suppositories– well, you know what to do with them.

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