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Archive for the ‘Biographical’ Category

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The above quote is from Wassily Kandinsky and concisely captures what might be the primary motive for my work. I think, for me, it was a matter of finding that thing, that outlet that gave me voice, that allowed me to honestly feel as though I had a place in this world. That I had worth. That I had thoughts deserving to be heard. That I was, indeed, here. 

That need to validate my existence is still the primary driver behind my work. It is that search for adequacy that gives my work its expression and differentiates it from others. I’ve never said this before but I think that is what many people who respond to my work see in the paintings- their own need to be heard. They see themselves as part of the work and they are saying, “I am here.” 

Hmmm…

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This was one of the early posts from this blog from back in 2008. It remains true to this day, nearly ten years later, as the idea of “I am here” still drives my work.

Maybe this will be one of the things we touch on this coming Saturday, August 4, at my Gallery Talk at the West End Gallery, starting at 1 PM.

Maybe. Or maybe we’ll just have a sing-along. Who knows? It’s a fluid thing.

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Tonight is the opening reception for The Rising, this year’s edition of my annual solo show at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY. The reception begins at 5 PM and runs until 7:30 PM.

My history at the West End Gallery is well documented here. I would not be sitting here this morning, writing this blog about my work and this show, if not for a meeting back in January of 1995 where Tom and Linda Gardner saw something of value in the milk crate that served as my portfolio, with pieces of cardboard and paper jutting out from it. From that first glimpse, they gave me my first opportunity and followed it up with the encouragement that allowed me to grow as an artist.

You have to understand that this came at a time not too far removed from what I will describe without hesitation as being the lowest point in my life. Their acceptance and embrace of my work was a lifesaver thrown out to a drowning man.

So when I tell you that I try with all my heart to create work for these shows that is meaningful and at the highest level at which I am capable, those are not just words.

It describes an act of gratitude. a Thank You for a life saved and reshaped.  A Thank You for the opportunity to grow and evolve as an artist, to live a life I never could have imagined all those many years ago.

I hope that the work in The Rising displays that sense of gratitude as well as the growth that came with it.

Hope you can make it out to the gallery tonight. I’ll be there.

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A few weeks back, we had the pleasure of seeing a series of three one-man shows at the Shaw Festival in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. They were written and performed by writer/actor/comedian Stephen Fry who you may better recognize from his longtime partnership with Hugh Laurie (House) in the comedy team Fry and Laurie.

The performances were based on Fry’s recent book Mythos which contains his droll retelling of the classical Greek myths. The shows were divided into different segments: God, Heroes, and Men. God dealt with the stories of Zeus and the other surrounding gods. Heroes dealt with the epic tales of Odysseus, Heracles and Theseus. The final show, Men, told the stories of men and their interactions with the gods. All were highly entertaining.

I was pleasantly surprised that during Men, Fry chose to tell the tale of Baucis and Philemon, a story that I have retold here a number of times and one which I also have used as the basis of a series of paintings over the last several years, including not too long ago with a favorite of mine, Nuptiae. It is the story of an old couple in a poor town who share their hospitality with Zeus and Hermes who have been treated poorly by all the other townspeople.

Fry’s retelling had a bit of a different ending than the version I knew, one that I believe is based more on that from Ovid and his Metamorphoses. In the version I know, the ending is a bit happier with the couple living out their lives together as priests in the temple of Zeus and together in death as two separate trees– a linden and an oak– growing from a single trunk.

Fry’s is a bit harsher, related in many ways to the biblical story of Lot and his wife. In Fry’s retelling, Zeus tells Baucis and Philemon that they shall be spared from the terrible wrath he is setting loose upon the other townsfolk. He instructs them to walk up the hill and not turn back. But hearing the great storm and the horrible sounds coming from the village, they agree to turn back to look together, whereupon they are transformed into linden and oak trees, much as Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt.

I still prefer the version I first knew but it was great to hear a variation on this story. That is the beauty of storytelling and art– it takes what we believe we know and reflects it back at us in a different and sometimes revelatory manner.

The painting at the top is a new painting from my West End Gallery show that opens tomorrow, Friday, July 13. Titled The Belonging, it is a 36″ by 24″ painting on canvas that is my most recent interpretation of the Baucis and Philemon myth– the version I knew before the Mythos shows.

These pieces may be my favorite to paint. The intent to paint them, that beginning point in their creation, has a certain feeling that pleases me and sets the tone for the whole piece. The paintings that spring from this starting point seldom disappoint me or fall short of what I hope to see. This piece very much lived up to the story for me and is one that never failed to stop and make me look when it was with me in the studio. The combination of the story and the colors, shapes and textures of the painting come together, for me at least.

Hope you can come out and see for yourself at the West End.

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When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.

― Ralph EllisonInvisible Man

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I think of many of the paintings that I do with the Red Tree situated very much front and center as being a portrait of sorts. I see a face and head and shoulders set against the background. Sometimes I see the familiar faces of others in them and sometimes they feel like self-portraits.

I definitely this painting, a 36″ by 36″ painting on canvas that is titled Find Your Light, see as a self-portrait. If someone asked for my picture I would prefer giving this image rather than an actual photo of myself. Maybe I am being vain in thinking that it resembles any part of me but I can at least hope it represents the better part of me because there is a lot that l like in this painting.

I like the field of colors that acts as a garment shrouding the chest and neck of this portrait. I like the burst of brightness that comes from the center set against the multitude of deeper colors that surround it. And I like the bands of blue-green hills that seem like a coat loosely draped on the shoulders of the portrait’s subject. And the layers of color within the clouds and the soft glow of blue that surrounds them.

All these things combined with the impact of the painting’s size give it a quality that appeals to me, one that feels like a sense of self being clearly and confidently stated. That’s a quality that I hope for myself and for my work. I guess that is why I see it in some way as a self-portrait.

Maybe you see yourself in it? That would equally please me.

This painting, Find Your Light, is now hanging at the West End Gallery as part of my solo show, The Rising, which opens Friday, July 13.

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Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.

 

Edgar Degas
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I have always loved this quote from the great Edgar Degas. It has meaning on a couple of different levels for me. First, it speak to the sheer difficulty of the process of creating a painting. If you look at it as a purely mechanical process– step 1, step 2, step 3 and you’re done— it does seem exceedingly simple.
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But art is not purely craft. There is an intangible element that gives it meaning for both the maker and those who take it in after it is made. Tapping into that intangible is the difficult part. Some days it is near impossible and makes what is seen as a pretty easy job most difficult.
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Been there, done that.
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The second meaning I get from Degas’ quote is how others view this job. I know folks who can only view art as a hobby and if you’re working as an artist, you’re just fooling around with doodles and such. They often don’t see it as work at all. They don’t understand the effort that is required to have a career as an artist.
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The long hours alone. The sacrifices you make to be able to have enough time. The often sheer frustration that comes in creating work. The many hours spent doing unseen and boring things like framing and varnishing that are required to make the work presentable. The agony of having to constantly self-promote in order to keep your name out in the public eye. The pain of having your work– your creation and your voice— ignored, outright rejected or under-valued, not to mention the self-doubt that comes along with these things. I am sure there are a bunch of other crappy things that are just slipping my mind at the moment.
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This isn’t a whine fest. Every business has its own challenges and I am sure anyone who is self-employed can see their own situation in many of these things. I understand and accept these pitfalls. They don’t detract from my view of this career at all. I just want people to understand that an artist’s life is not unlike their own with most of the same challenges and problems. It may seem easy, even romantic, but that is just the view from far outside.
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That being said, I wouldn’t trade this job for any other. Thanks for allowing me to think that.

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Perhaps I am doomed to retrace my steps under the illusion that I am exploring, doomed to try and learn what I should simply recognize, learning a mere fraction of what I have forgotten.

Andre Breton

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I was looking at this painting, Rest Stop, here in the studio this morning just before I came across the quote above from the French writer and founder of Surrealism Andre Breton. The two things, the image and his words, merged for a moment in my mind.

I saw the Red Chair, as I often do, as a form of memory, a place to stop in order look back in time and retrace my steps just as Breton wrote. The idea that I might be searching for lessons and meaning from the past that somehow escaped my recognition in those past moments sounds right as well.

Maybe more than the future or the present, the past and our perceptions of it are great fodder for an artist who is searching for meaning in this life and in their work. They see the present and the future as ultimately products of the past. Some lessons have been learned and some mistakes repeated, but the past seems to always echo forward in time for that artist.

And that’s what I see in this painting. The Red Chair is at a small clearing where it can stop to consider the path it has already traveled as well as the path that is ahead. The trunks of the trees surrounding it obstruct its view so that it has no idea of where it may be headed. The Red Chair uses the present as a rest stop to try to envision a future scouring its memory of the past for clues that might help it imagine and structure that future.

This painting, for me, is very much about that part of the artistic process which means, at its core, it is part of the human process. We all formulate our futures with our memories of the past. Most of us do it without much conscious thought, assuming that the lessons of the past have already been incorporated into our present. Hopefully, some of us will take the approach of the Red Chair and sit for a short rest in the present to consider the past and the future as one.

Perhaps there are lessons still to be learned and messages still unrecognized. That is certainly what I am seeking as an artist.

 

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It’s Father’s Day and, quite honestly, it’s a bittersweet thing for me. My dad is still alive and spends his days and nights in a local nursing facility, as he has for the last couple of years. He has Alzheimer’s dementia but still recognizes me and remembers quite a lot most of the time so long as he isn’t under stress. He has little idea of time and place right now. When I visit him today he won’t remember if I was there yesterday and an hour after I am gone will forget I was there today.

Our conversations are short and feel almost scripted.

How long did it take you to get here?

How old are you?

How old am I?

You still driving the same car?

Where do you live?

What’s the weather like?

Is there snow out there?

That last one always makes me laugh as he has a large window in his room with a great view of the local hills and the city along with the river that winds through it and all of its bridges. He asked me that question yesterday after I told him it was going to be 80 degrees. He seldom gets up and looks out the window. He has little interest in anything outside his room.

I wish I could go off on a long description of all the things I got from my dad, pieces of advice and gems of wisdom, but there wasn’t much passed along directly. Sure, there is the swearing and a few other things that I would prefer to keep to myself. I am sure there are things I do that are direct reflections of him and his influence, some good and some bad. But it was never consciously passed along. Much of what I got from him came in the form of genetics and in object lessons where my observations often led me to avoid emulating much of his behavior.

But, even though he was flawed as a father and remains a faded shadow of the man he once was, he remains my dad.

For this Sunday, here’s song, All Around You, from Sturgill Simpson, accompanied by the Dap-Kings, the horn section that had previously backed soul singer Sharon Jones before her death in late 2016. I am not a fan of a lot of modern country music– so much of it sounds like formulaic 1980’s pop/rock to me– but I do like Sturgill Simpson. There’s a certain authenticity in his work that feels like it is in a natural progression from early traditional country music, even when he’s covering a Nirvana song such as In Bloom.

When things aren’t going well I sometimes find myself singing the chorus from his You Can Have the Crown. I won’t repeat the chorus here but it and the rest of the song always make me laugh. I think it’s a song my dad would like.

The song All Around You is about advice being passed on from a father to his young son, that there is a universal heart that contains a love with the ability to transcend the hatred, meanness and stupidity that currently surrounds us. The video is quite well done and makes quite a political statement for the times.

Take a look and have a good Father’s Day.


 

 

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