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Archive for the ‘Biographical’ Category

“Light and Wisdom”- Currently at the West End Gallery

“If outer events bring him to a position where he can bear them no longer and force him to cry out to the higher power in helplessness for relief, or if inner feelings bring humiliation and recognition of his dependence on that power, this crushing of the ego may open the door to grace.”

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“Every test successfully met is rewarded by some growth in intuitive knowledge, strengthening of character, or initiation into a higher consciousness.”

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“The source of wisdom and power, of love and beauty, is within ourselves, but not within our egos. It is within our consciousness. Indeed, its presence provides us with a conscious contrast which enables us to speak of the ego as if it were something different and apart: it is the true Self whereas the ego is only an illusion of the mind.”

― Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton


I was surprised to find I have never mentioned Paul Brunton here. I came across his work many years ago in a moment of serendipity at perhaps the lowest point in my life. I don’t think I am exaggerating in saying that without that encounter with his books, I most likely would not be sitting here this morning, writing this blog. Might not be an artist.

Might not even be. Period.

Paul Brunton (1898-1981) was a British writer who traveled to India in the aftermath of his service in World War I and encountered Hindu/Buddhist mysticism for the first time. He wrote several best selling books on his experiences that more or less brought Hindu/Buddhist to the west for the first time.

His magnus opus was published series of 16 of his notebooks, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, containing observations and experiences. These were the books of Brunton’s that I first came across. As I said, I was at my bottom at that point and my mind was spiraling. I opened one of his notebooks and immediately found something, a short paragraph with his observation on the ego, that seemed to describe where I was at that point, something that I could latch onto.

That simple moment was a huge spark of hope. A beam of light.

I looked at the title page and saw that it was published by a organization located not too far from where I live now, my home area. I was across the country at that time and it was as though these words and that address near my home were telling me that what I needed, what I sought, was at hand, was inside me all the time.

That’s the short version of the story and it will have to suffice for today. I just thought Paul Brunton deserved a mention. He’s part of my path, my story, and when I look at pieces like the one at the top, Light and Wisdom, his words often jump to mind for me. I know that when I get spinning out of control, his words are gentle reminder of where I am now, where I have been in the past and what I was, what I am and what I want to be. 

Was, Am, Will Be.

Just keep trying and have a good day.

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I have always had a passion for the beautiful. If the man in me is often a pessimist, the artist, on the contrary, is pre-eminently an optimist.

—Jules Breton (1827-1906)


Just a short one today. I’ve used the quote above from artist Jules Breton once before here but it was with another of his paintings. The piece above of his, Le Soir (The Evening), is in the permanent collection of our local art museum, the Arnot Art Museum. It was an important painting for me, really one of the first real pieces of art with which I interacted as a kid.

In junior high school, I would sometimes ride home after school with my father. The junior high I attended was just down the street from the Sheriff’s Department where he worked and the museum was just one block over from that. So, between the end of the school day and my dad’s shift, I had an hour or two to explore a little, trying to stay out of trouble as best I could. Not always successful on that front but I won’t go into that part of the story right now.

Most days I found myself at the Steele Memorial Library which was at that time housed in a beautiful old Carnegie-endowed building. It had such warmth and was a great place to spend several hours at a time searching the stacks. Some days, however, I found myself at the Arnot Art Museum which was not yet expanded. It’s collection wasn’t large but it was quite good, with plenty of classic European paintings from well known artists of the mid and late 19th century. It was the type of work that a wealthy collector of that time would acquire on his yearly sojourn to the continent.

This piece from Jules Breton then dominated the front parlor of the museum, as it still does today. I knew nothing of art then, had only been in one museum at that point. Well, two if you count the Baseball Hall of Fame. But even with that lack of knowledge, this painting spoke volumes to me. The glow of that sun going down behind that far horizon. The tired laborers getting ready to head home from a long day in the fields. The gorgeous blend of colors that made up that sky. 

And the sense of space. It was simple and elegant. Quiet but forceful.

It was the first painting that spoke to me, the first that offered me possibilities beyond my own meager knowledge and limited opportunities. It made me think. And feel.

It remains an important piece for me. So, to see the words of Breton and whole-heartedly agree with them as an artist feels almost like coming full circle back to this painting and the small spark it kindled in me as a kid. It took a while for the spark to grow but it was always there after that.

Okay, that’s enough for today. Maybe too much.

Have a good day. 

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“The tides of time should be able to imprint the passing of the years on an object. The physical decay or natural wear and tear of the materials used does not in the least detract from the visual appeal, rather it adds to it. It is the changes of texture and colour that provide the space for the imagination to enter and become more involved with the devolution of the piece. Whereas modern design often uses inorganic materials to defy the natural ageing effects of time, wabi sabi embraces them and seeks to use this transformation as an integral part of the whole. This is not limited to the process of decay, but can also be found at the moment of inception, when life is taking its first fragile steps toward becoming.”

Andrew Juniper, Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence


The photo at the top is the floor of our garden shed. It’s a simple structure that we bought new probably 35 years ago. Over the years, the once pristine plywood floor has darkened, taking on a smooth rich patina on the parts that have not pitted or worn away from decades of comings and goings.

It’s a beautiful thing and I often find myself stopping while I’m in there, which is every day, just to take some small pleasure in looking at its worn surface. The fact that it took time and innumerable footsteps to smooth and wear down the surface adds to my appreciation. It’s not something that could be replicated easily. Oh, you could try but it would lose that organic depth that comes with time.

Just a bit of the wabi-sabi of things around us. That’s the Japanese concept of finding beauty in the imperfection and natural wear shown by things.

And I guess that applies to people, as well. I know I am fascinated in seeing how folks age, how their faces and bodies reflect the life they have lived. There is beauty in the lines on the face or the graying of one’s hair.

Of course, I am talking about other people. I don’t find any beauty at all in my wrinkles or my whitened and thinning hair. In fact, I close my eyes now when I walk past my bathroom mirror out of the fear that some old man will jump out of it at me. 

Nah, that’s not true. As much as I would sometimes like to have the smooth skin and the darker, fuller head of hair of my youth, I am satisfied, even pleased, in seeing the wear and tear written on my features. I see a small scar high on my forehead and remember the wound that left it so well. 

It was many years ago and I was playing with my Magpie, our highly charged husky-shepherd, chasing her around our yard. As I pursued her, I went through some low hanging branches on a birch tree next to the deck I was building off the back of our home. Midway through, as I ducked my head lower to avoid the sweep of the branches, I slammed it suddenly into a deck board that I had not yet cut off. I was knocked on my back and could feel the instant throb of pain on my forehead from the blow.

Maggie was on me in an instant, licking and urging me to get up and play some more. I laid there on the ground on my back and just laughed as hard as I could while the blood trickled down my forehead. I tend to laugh at my own misfortune, especially when it is of my own doing, which is almost always the case.

Maybe there is a bit of wabi-sabi in our laughter? Maybe it comes from the recognition of our imperfections, our humanness, in those moments?

And even while I was there on the ground, that same garden shed was not far away, its floor not yet so deeply darkened or worn. It didn’t yet have the accumulated memory of its being written on its surfaces. It was newer but it certainly wasn’t as beautiful.

And maybe that’s the attraction of this concept of wabi-sabi for me, that the wear and tear that appears is evidence of our being here, that we existed in this place and in this time. It’s much the same way in which I view my work, my paintings. Evidence that I was here, that my hand made these things and in some way my voice was heard.

That I, like that garden shed and its floor, had a purpose in this world.

Appreciate and enjoy the wabi-sabi in your own life.

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My Dad, right, with Jesse Gardner


Since my dad died last week I have been thinking a lot about his life and his influence– and sometimes, lack of influence– on my life. Just trying to see if I can recognize those sometime intangible things he might have passed on. It’s not an easy task because he was not a sentimental person in any way and the idea of him trying to consciously pass on words of advice to any of his kids is unthinkable.

I wish he had because he had a lot of traits that, when I really think about it, are worth passing on.

For example, I don’t ever remember seeing him exhibit fear. I am not saying he was fearless. Who truly is? I think he just faced it and reacted to threats in a in a different way than myself. He was more than likely to react to danger with confidence and an anger directed at the imminent threat. Direct with no overthinking involved. More fight than flight.

Man, I wish I had that trait.

And I don’t remember him worrying or, at least, expressing his worries outwardly. He must have had worries, right? But he never sat wringing his hands while wailing about what might come. It was more of a just-take-it-as-it-comes attitude. 

Man, I wish I had that.

There are a lot of other little things, good and bad, that I could go over but I just wanted to contemplate what he might have really said if asked to give advice to his kids. I doubt that it would have looked anything like the list below that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his daughter in 1933, which was coincidentally the year my dad was born.

That’s probably unfair. My dad was obviously no F. Scott Fitzgerald. But then again, I doubt that Fitzgerald could throw a decent knuckleball.

What advice would you pass on to a young person?

Here’s Fitzgerald’s list:


Things to worry about:

Worry about courage
Worry about Cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship
Worry about…

Things not to worry about:

Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions

Things to think about:

What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:

(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?

–F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1933, Letter to his Daughter


 

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Inertia


“Nothing is more obscene than inertia. More blasphemous than the bloodiest oath is paralysis.”

Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer


The painting at the top hangs in my studio and has been a favorite of mine since it was painted five years back. Every day, I find myself often looking over at it. There’s something in it that satisfies or completes something in me. It’s 24″ by 24″, so it’s not a small piece, but I think it’s not large enough to fully transmit what is has to offer. I often wonder how it would feel as a much larger painting, say 6′ by 6′ or even larger.

These thoughts went through my head this morning before 6 AM as I found myself, coffee in hand, turning to gaze at this piece. I realized then that I couldn’t remember the title of this painting that I look at with intention each and every day. I don’t think of it in terms of its title given to it years ago.

Now, it just is. It exists free of words for me. It is defined by the moment and the circumstance in which I am seeing it.

But I had to get up this morning and go over to it and peek at the back of the painting to see its given name: October Sky.

How fitting, I thought. It’s what I might have called it this morning. That mood that produced it back in 2015 was here in 2020, as odd as it is to think that anything could be similar in any way in this most unusual year. 

I went back to my desk and continued to stare at October Sky, thinking that I should be working on a larger version, if only for myself. I could start it today.

But I probably won’t.

I’ve been ensnared in a state of inertia for a while. Been hard to get started and even harder to finish things. I have personal projects around the studio and home to still finish, commissions to work on, new work to begin and a plethora of other things in the hopper. But getting up a head of steam to simply take that first step seems so difficult right now. It feels like paralysis of some sort, one that paralyzes the mind and not the muscles.

I can’t fully pinpoint the cause behind this though there are certainly a lot of possible contributing factors. Just opening your eyes these days is an existential threat to one’s peace of mind. I don’t even think I need to find the cause.

I just need to take that first step forward and I know from past experience that the dullness of mind and body will quickly fade. It’s just getting to the point of taking that step. It’s like I am waiting for something to happen right now and am afraid to be distracted even if that distraction is my own wellbeing.

Now, that sounds more ominous than it is, I am sure. I know I will soon be past this and the work will be flowing, that the synapses will be snapping and shooting off like fireworks. In fact, I think just writing this indicates that I am nearing the end of this malaise, this paralysis of the soul.

I am signing off now. I want to look again at October Sky. Maybe today’s the day I start a larger version. Or just take a first step toward something, anything else. I think there’s something pretty damn good in there just waiting to come out so maybe it’s time to get moving.

Sounds like a plan. Let’s get to the day and make it count.

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“Sublime”– Currently at the Principle Gallery, Alexandria


WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

–Mary Oliver


It’s been my privilege and good fortune to spend much of my life among the trees. I have climbed and played on them as a child and there are many memories of specific trees from my childhood. I have planted multitudes of trees and nurtured them.  I have lived under their watchful cover and have built a studio among them where I worked for many years. In fact, much of my livelihood has been derived from a certain Red Tree.

Throughout it all, there has been a sense of them as beings, unlike us humans but living beings nonetheless. I think that sometimes that we are the aliens living among their native race here on earth. I also like to think that I have a neighborly friendship of sorts with the trees around me. An understanding it might be called.

I try to not harm them and try my best to protect them, That it is becoming harder as invasive species become more and more prevalent. The ash trees in our area are on their last legs, for instance, from the emerald ash borer beetle. It is tragic to see them begin to fail from the onslaught of the beetles. But they maintain their stoic dignity until the bitter end, as they slowly dissemble with their upper limbs falling first. Eventually, all that remains is a tall sheared off trunk standing as a memorial to the life that once stood proudly in that space.

I do mourn for the trees. There is a white pine that stands by our drive. It is probably 25-30 years old and watching its growth over the years has been a delight as it grew large and full in that time. But this year, this goddamn 2020, its needles suddenly went brown and it died quickly and completely. Each time, we pass it as we go down our drive, I feel a great sense of loss, a deep bite of anguish over the fact that it died on my watch.

It feels like it was our responsibility. We are the caretakers for our trees. Or rather, we serve the trees so that they can complete their destiny on their land.

That being said, the poem at the top from Mary Oliver certainly rings true for me as it recognizes the profound gift that trees often offer to those of us lucky enough to spend time and share space with them.

Here’s lovely reading of the poem from Amanda Palmer.


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Paul Klee- Fish Magic 1925


He has found his style, when he cannot do otherwise.

-Paul Klee


Paul Klee always seems to have something in his works and his words to which I can relate. I know these words relate to my own experience as an artist.

I do what I do. I am what I am.

I just can’t do anything else.

It can be frustrating at those times when I feel blocked and find myself wishing I was someone else with different and greater talents and skills. Or when people ask me why I don’t paint in a different way or ask me to do something outside of my artistic realm or area of interest.

So I do what I do and I live with that.

There was a scene from a PBS series years ago that I have mentioned here before  (and borrow from in what follows) that perfectly encapsulates this situation.

It was an episode of Mystery! on PBS starring Kenneth Branagh as the Swedish detective Wallander. It was an okay, nice production but nothing remarkable in the story. But there was a part at the end that struck home with me and related very much to my life as a painter. Wallander’s father, played by the great character actor David Warner ( I always remember him best for his portrayal as Evil in the Terry Gilliam film Time Bandits, was, like me, a landscape painter. Now aged and in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, his son comes to him and intimates to his father, after having recently killed a serial killer, that he can’t go on as a detective, that he can’t take the stress.

The painter tries to comfort his son then recalls how when Wallander was a boy he would ask his father about his painting, asking, “Why are they always the same, Dad? Why don’t you do something different?

He said he could never explain. Each morning when he began to paint, he would tell himself that maybe today he would do a seascape or a still life or maybe an abstract, just splash on the paint and see where it takes him. But then he would start and each day he would paint the same thing- a landscape. Whatever he did, that was what came out. He then said to his son, ” What you have is your painting- I may not like it, you may not like it but it’s yours.

That may not translate as well on paper without the atmospheric camera shots and the underscored music but for me it said a lot in how I think about my body of work. Like the father, I used to worry that I would have to do other things- still lifes, portraits, etc.- to prove my worth as a painter but at the end of each day I found myself looking at a landscape, most often with a red tree.

As time has passed, I have shed away those worries. I don’t paint portraits. Don’t really paint still life. I paint what comes out and most often it is the landscape. And it usually includes that red tree that I once damned when I first realized it had became a part of who I am.

I realized you have to stop damning who you are…

 

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“At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say,—’Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson


In my Gallery Talk I spoke about the struggle to go inside myself to create in these crazy days. The outer world and its many problems seems to be keeping me from the inner. It’s a frustration that more or less paralyzes me, requiring me to go put in a lot of extra effort just to get down to work.

I am trying to reconcile this, to somehow get past this feeling.

I came across this snippet above from Emerson and it reminded me that I am the one letting the outer world in. Oh, I know you can’t keep it completely out but I was the one opening the door and inviting it in. I was the one who listened to it as it went on about its problems and thought I could somehow help it out, foolish as that idea seems when I write it out. I went, as Emerson writes, into their confusion.

It also reminds me that I get to choose how I respond to the outer world. And being paralyzed is not a choice. It’s a refusal to choose.

So, I choose to shed the paralysis, to get back to work, to explore those inner paths once more. It’s my choice and what I do.

We all have that power to choose how we react to our own forms of paralysis, fear, anger, frustration and so many other negative aspects of our world. Most likely you don’t need to hear this. You probably know this as well as I. But I know I sometimes fall out of rhythm and have to be reminded once in a while.

The painting at the top is from a few years back and lives now with me in the studio. It’s one of those pieces that really hit high notes personally for me right from the moment it took form on the easel. It’s one of those pieces that surprises me in that it hasn’t yet found a home but also please me because I get to live with it for a bit longer. I thought it echoed with the words of Emerson today. It originally echoed with the words from the Rudyard Kipling poem after which it is named, If.

I was going to include the poem here in print but here’s a fine reading of it by actor John Hurt complete with the words shown. And some powerful black and white images.

Have a good day and choose well.


 

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A Year of Augusts

pablopicassoskeleton******************

Your willingness to wrestle with your demons

will cause your angels to sing.

August Wilson

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Aah, September 1, 2020.

In most years, this would be a day where I begin to feel some sort of relief from the grim cruelty of August, my least favorite month. That is putting it mildly because, truth be known, I hate August. It’s something I’ve written about before here on the blog, as seen in the enclosed posts below. It seems to seep out every five years and since its last appearance there have been several more other awful Augusts to further make my case against it.

The funny thing is that this year I wasn’t even cognizant of my deep hatred for August. Oh, it was as difficult and stressful as all Augusts are for me. Instead, I realized that my recognition of it was hampered by the fact that this entire year has been comprised of Augusts. Every month has been filled with the same sort of tension and uncertainty that normally mark Augusts for me.

March was an August, April was an August and so on.

So, though we have passed the threshold into September, I don’t feel the same sort of relief it might bring in a normal year. This is obviously no normal year. It might say September on the calendar, but this year it’s just another goddamn August.

Man, what I would give for a year with one August. Or better yet, none.

From August 12, 2015:

As the post below from back in August of 2010 points out, most years I struggle with the month of August and this particular one is no different.  The doldrums set in and I am filled with an anxiety and a stifling restlessness that combine to create a sense of desperation within me. If I hadn’t experienced this before, this feeling would seem unbearable.

But it’s not something new so I realize that it’s just a matter of hanging on and letting it pass, all the while trying to pull something from it that will show itself in my work. I have found that such keen desperation is often the source of great work, much as playwright August Wilson a fitting first name!— points out so eloquently in the quote above. So, while I find myself fighting through the cruel days and demons of August, I do so as I listen for the song of angels to begin.

And from experience, I know they will begin soon enough. Sing, angels, sing!

From August 18, 2010:

This print from Picasso [ Above] very much sums up my feelings for the month of August. 

I have never been a fan of August. Memories of the so-called dog days of summer spent as a child. Hot from a relentless sun. Bored. Burnt grass crunching underfoot. The coming school year hanging overhead like the sword of Damocles.

August has always had a faint aura of death around it for me. I remember the death of my grandfather in ’68. My beloved dog Maggie years later. Several friends over the years, from a variety of causes. Elvis. The bright glare of the August sun seeming to taunt the grief of the moment.

August.

We were watching something on television the other night, perhaps Mad Men– I can’t really remember. Anyway, the character in the scene that was on said, “I hate August.” 

It made my ears prick up and I couldn’t help but mutter, “I’m with you there, brother.”

August.

Well, I’ve got a lot to do this August  morning. It takes a lot of work to keep busy to ward off the cruelty of  August…

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I have heard the big music
And I’ll never be the same

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I was looking for a song to play this morning and I thought about a favorite track from an album, A Pagan Place, from back in the 1980’s from the Irish group The Waterboys. I was surprised to discover that in the nearly 12 years I’ve been doing this blog that the song hasn’t somehow surfaced.

The song is The Big Music and it’s about hearing a song or piece of music that just opens you up. Shakes up your whole world and changes how you see everything in it. Maybe even alters your whole life path.

It’s a song that really speaks to me. Growing up in the country at a time before digital broadcasts, satellite television and streaming services, we had two TV channels so reading and listening to music filled the void for a kid who was eager to learn about the world.

We had a big box of singles from the late 50’s and early 60’s that had by a cousin and somehow ended up with us. It had tons of good stuff including early rock from Elvis, lots of surf music from the likes of Jan and Dean and the Surfaris, goofy novelty songs and lots of pop chart hits that feel pretty dated today, such as Heart from Kenny Chandler, a song I listened to hundreds of time back then.

Plus, my sister was an avid music fan so there were always plenty of early Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan singles on the record player. That first ringing chord of A Hard Day’s Night still thrills me in the same visceral way that I remember feeling as a kid.

Through those formative years, there were plenty of songs that hit me hard and opened up the world for me in small ways. Too many to list, actually. But I don’t know that I can mark one song that was that single defining moment. The Big Music for me.

Well, maybe it was from the first time I saw Springsteen back in 1977. The show and sound was unlike any other rock show I had seen up to that point. I wrote about that show in one of my favorite blog entries and mentioned his performance of It’s My Life,a song that was originally recorded by The Animals. That song and performance changed a lot of things with repercussions that echo through my whole life.

When I think about it, I doubt that I would be writing this today without that song at that moment.

So, I guess that would be my Big Music moment. Do you have a Big Music moment or one big song that just does it for you?

Here’s the song, The Big Music, from The Waterboys. Have a good Sunday.

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