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“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” 

 G.K. Chesterton

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This is a new painting from my upcoming solo show, Haven, at the Principle Gallery. It’s 12″ by 24″ on canvas and is titled Hope Rising.

There are a number of pieces from this show that lean towards darker and deeper hues than much of my other work.  Generally, when these colors have appeared in the past it was the result of being in what I perceived to be perilous times.

Such is the case with this work for it feels as though we live in a time of dragons.

But as Chesterton points out, the lesson to be gleaned from the fairy tales is that while we may live among dragons, they are not invincible. They are always defeated by forces of goodness and righteousness.

I get that feeling of hopefulness from this painting. It feels like a quiet moment when the fear brought on my the dark of night is alleviated by the reflected light of the moon that announces that there is a new day soon arriving.

The dragons can be held at bay and the darkness will only be a temporary condition if we hold tight to what is true and right.

The light of truth ultimately overcomes the false light offered by the dragon’s fire.

And that is not only in fairy tales.

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Let me issue this disclaimer right off the top: I have little to no interest in the private lives of the British Royal Family. While I do admire the steadiness, stamina and steely strength of the Queen, the antics of her extended family does little for me.

That being said, I found myself in the studio yesterday morning with the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on the television. I was doing some photo-editing so I left it on, listening and periodically taking a look.

Nobody does pomp and pageantry like the Brits and I have to admit, it was a pretty impressive spectacle with a perfect day and a fairy tale setting. To sum up: I was glad I watched a bit of it.

I found it to be a lovely break from what is taking place in this country. It was nice to see an American represented to the world that did not embody the Ugly American posture that has been embraced here as of late. Markle seemed the embodiment of those positive American qualities that have made us a leader around the world: diversity, openness, kindness and a forward looking youthful vigor.

Unfortunately, these are qualities that don’t leap to mind when thinking of this nation’s leadership or much of the countryitself at this particular moment.

So, it was nice to be reminded of what we are at our core and to see it be warmly embraced. Like I said, a nice break from the new normal here.

There were a lot of highlights but the photo at the top catches my favorite moment as I saw it on the television. As the bride came to entrance of the chapel, she paused and a fanfare of horns announced her. The scene showed the brides face along with that of one of the two twin pages who were carrying her gown’s train. As the horns blasted his face broke into a huge grin showing his missing front teeth. That show of innocent youthful glee just made my day.

Other highlights: The sermon from American Bishop Michael Curry was also powerfully positive and energetic, pleading for a future based on love and compassion. Again, qualities that seem to be now lacking. The young Britiish Cellist  Sheku Kanneh-Mason displayed an elegant virtuosity.

My favorite was from the London-based Kingdom Choir who performed a delicate and powerful version of the pop/ R n’ B classic Stand By Me, written and originally performed by the late Ben E. King. It was a brilliant selection as it is a song filled with symbolism. It is at its heart a great love song. Yet it also is a wider call for unity and strength in the face of adversity. The beautiful simplicity of the lyrics say it all:

If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
Or the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry
No I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

So, for this Sunday morning music let’s listen to the Kingdom Choir’s performance. I have also added another version of the song produced by Playing For Change. It is a charitable organization that records street and native performers around the world with proceeds going to build music and art schools around the globe. This is a great version of the song.

Have a good Sunday…


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I felt deep within me that the highest point a man can attain is not Knowledge or Virtue or Goodness or Victory but something even greater, more heroic and more despairing: Sacred Awe!

Nikos Kazantzakis

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I was all set to write something this morning about stupidity. I noticed that a post I wrote a year ago, On Stupidity, has been getting a large number of views lately. It is about the danger of stupidity, about how even the very highly educated can be stupid, especially in highly charged times when they can fall prey to social and political movements. This coincided with recent thoughts I have been having about how we have devalued intelligence and reason in this nation in recent times, to a point of vilifying the cerebral and elevating moronic behavior.

I was deflated by the whole thing and decided I needed to focus on something other than that, something that dealt with something far more uplifting. I came across the words above from author Nikos Kazantzakis from his book Zorba the Greek. It’s part of a scene where the narrator, a young, bookish Greek man is asked by Zorba, a raw and raucous peasant, to explain the meaning of the stars and the universe that they are sitting beneath. The narrator tries unsuccessfully to put this idea of  Sacred Awe into a form that Zorba will understand. While he doesn’t understand the given explanation, Zorba does recognize the depth of the mystery that he senses in that night sky.

That brings me to this painting, a 36″ by 36″ canvas that I am calling Sacred Awe. It is part of my solo show, Haven, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, opening June 1.

This piece has been hanging in the studio for several months now and I have spent a fair amount of time in the space of this painting. Like Zorba, it is a painting that begs for an answer to the mystery of the stars and the constellations that swirl above. Yet all that is given in response is a sense of awe and nothing more.

And nothing more is needed.

Sacred Awe elevates the mind, stimulates the senses and is the beginning of all art and poetry. In it we connect to a mystic continuum that sees us as small as particles of dust and as large as the great waves of light that pass through the vastness of space.

It is all and it is nothing.

There’s a great meditative  and mysterious quality in this painting, at least for me. It both pleases and puzzles me.

A fitting response to sacred awe.

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Ralph Fasanella- May Day -1948

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Today, May 1, is May Day. Some folks see it as a festival of spring  that began as an ancient pagan celebration, complete with May Poles, May Queens and May Baskets. Others recognize it as a day celebrating laborers, trade unions and the working class, otherwise known as International Workers’ Day.

I think that labor unions have been integral to the rise of the American middle class and to many things that we now take for granted. Things like eight hour workdays, weekends, child labor laws, workplace safety, minimum wages, health insurance, paid vacations, retirement pensions and on and on. Things that provide a sense of comfort, security and self-worth for working folks.

I believe that the demise of unions goes hand in hand with the growing chasm in income inequality between the owners and the workers of this world. The owners had the shrewdness and the resources to mount a sustained campaign over the years that constantly painted unions in an unflattering light, to the point that many workers began to side with the owners, often against their own self interest.

It’s the same kind of thought control that makes workers believe that big tax breaks and other benefits reserved for owners will have a magical trickle down effect and will somehow enrich their own lives.

Unfortunately, human nature overrules trickle down economics every time. The benefits that the people in  labor unions fought and died for — yes, died for— are soon under attack from owners who need more and more and more. The labor battles will no doubt have to be fought again at some point and lord knows what ugliness will come from that.

The painting shown at the top and a favorite of mine, is titled May Day and is in the collection of the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown. I thought it was a fitting image for today. It was painted in 1948 by a favorite artist of mine, American folk artist Ralph Fasanella, who I have written about here a number of times. He was a labor organizer in the 30’s and 40’s when the workers’ movement was making the powerful strides that created the mythic middle class that inhabited the America of the 1950’s. I am not going to spend a lot of time describing his career here but will point out that his work often portrayed labor and workers.

It is powerful stuff, to say the least, and pertinent both for its own time and now.

Here is the description for the painting from the museum’s website:

Ralph Fasanella was born in New York City to Italian immigrant parents. He spent his youth helping his father on his ice delivery route, and absorbed the streets, tenements, and people that would later inspire his art. His mother, a literate and socially conscious woman, introduced Fasanella to antifascist and trade union causes. He eventually became a union organizer until he began to paint in 1945. Fasanella was an acclaimed “primitive” painter in the 1940s, and then painted in obscurity for 25 years until his “discovery” in 1972. May Day represents Fasanella’s attempt to capture the spirit of the workers’ movements of the 1930s, focusing upon the huge May Day parades that annually drew up to 200,000 demonstrators to Union Square in New York City. At the left, marchers pour out of the crowded streets and tenements and descend upon New York’s Union Square. Their large banners proclaim support for organized labor and racial unity under the overarching cause of “Peace, Democracy, Security.” At the head of the parade is a magnificent horse-drawn float, complete with May Pole and women in ethnic costumes. The marchers pass a reviewing stand with a backdrop that serves as a shrine to labor heroes. Across a colorful bed of flowers lies the artist’s utopian vision at the right. It is a place where workers, liberated from the burden of twelve- and sixteen-hour shifts, have the freedom to pursue cultural and recreational activities.

 

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The musical Hair opened on Broadway on this date 50 years ago, back in 1968. I grew up listening to this album and most of the songs feel like they are ingrained somehow in my DNA. Hailed as the American tribal love-rock musical, it was a groundbreaking show with songs that permeated the culture and helped define the era. Aquarius certainly feels like that time and that year.

And what a year 1968 was, here and around the world.

There were the tragic assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F. Kennedy in April and June.

In a stormy election season, the 1968 Democratic Convention  was an eight-day violent skirmish in the streets of Chicago between police and protesters. Ultimately, Richard Nixon was elected president.

Here and around the globe, student anti-war protesters filled the streets and sometimes, as in the cases of Columbia University and Howard University, took over and occupied buildings.

North Korea captured the American surveillance ship the USS Pueblo and held its crew prisoner for 11 months. North Korea released the crew but kept the ship. It is now an exhibit Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang.

There was the Tet Offensive and the My Lai Massacre in Viet Nam.

You had the Prague Spring that results later in the year with the Russians marching into Czechoslovakia to exert their control.

Before the opening of the 1968 Mexico Olympics, students protested in the streets that the money spent by the country for the Olympics would be better put to use in much needed social programs. The protesters were surrounded by the army and fired on, killing over 200 students and injuring over 1000 more.

The Olympics themselves were memorable with Bob Beamon soaring to an unfathomable record in the long jump. And, of course, there was the iconic image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium for the medal ceremony for the 200-meter run. Bare-footed with their heads cast downward, both raised gloved fists in the Black Power salute.

That would be enough for most years– maybe most decades. But there was even more that I don’t have time to go in here that make it one of the most chaotic and super-charged years in our history.

And among all that, the subversive sound of Hair played on. Well, it’s been fifty years and the world seems to have rotated back to find us in a similar time of chaos.

Some things never change, I guess.

So, for this week’s Sunday morning music I thought something from Hair would be fitting. So many great choices  but here are a couple of  better known selections, both of which became hits for artists that covered them in the following years. The first is Easy To Be Hard which was hit for Three Dog Night. The second is the title anthem which was #1 hit for The Cowsills.

Give a listen and have a good Sunday.


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I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
–Ozymandias, PB Shelley
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If you have ever been to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, you have no doubt seen the painting above. I’ve only been there once and the image of this painting and its strong presence in the space really sticks in my mind. It was painted in 1863 by artist Elihu Vedder, an American expatriate who lived and worked in Italy for over 60 years.

Its title is The Questioner of the Sphinx and it shows a man listening intently at the lips of the ancient monument with the hope, no doubt, of hearing some eternal truth. The skull in the sand makes clear that the Sphinx will not easily relinquish its secrets. The kneeling listener is said to represent man’s futile desire to find immortality.

With the still sand covered Sphinx and the scattered toppled columns, the painting presents us with echoes from ancient history of once mighty empires that are long fallen and forgotten. It is reminiscent of Shelley’s great poem, Ozymandias, shown above, that speaks to the hubris and folly of those who think they can lord over this world.

This was painted at a time when the US was in the midst of the Civil War and there was great doubt as to whether the county would be able to endure the struggle. The US was not an empire at that point. It was still young and finding its way but we still represented a great triumph of democracy, a country ruled by its people and  not kings or dictators or despots– a rarity in the whole of history. But in that civil war we found ourselves in an existential crisis, a tipping point, that put us in peril of being consigned to the dustbin of history before we even grew into any form of our potential.

I write about this painting this morning because it feels to me that we are again at a tipping point, divided in many ways as a country. It feels like there is going to soon be some sort of revelation that is either going to set us on a course that will either allow us to continue to grow our American experiment or will cause us to plummet into a darker and much more dangerous future.

It all hinges on people who are ethical and principled standing up and doing what is right and exposing the truths of our time.

But in the meantime, I find myself feeling like that man with his ear anxiously pressed to the lips of Sphinx.

 

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Three Base Hit- James Daugherty 1917

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Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.

George Will

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Opening day yesterday and baseball is off and running. This whole damn place might seem ready to go up in flames any minute now but for a few hours every day or so, all seems right in the world. Hey, baseball even gives me a place to find common ground with George Will.

For a Yankees fan, yesterday’s opening day was all that could they could hope for as Giancarlo Stanton, one half of their Twin Towers along with Aaron Judge, quickly put to rest any fears that he would wither under the pressure of playing for the Yanks. In the first inning, on the second pitch he saw, he crushed a home run to right center. Then he bookended the day with an even longer blast to center in the ninth as the Yanks cruised to the win.

And I had a great day in the studio, to boot.

And all was right in the world for a few hours.

Here’s a song I played here a couple of years back, one of my favorite baseball songs. It’s Baseball Boogie from Mabel Scott. Batter up!

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