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We would rather be ruined than changed

We would rather die in our dread

Than climb the cross of the moment

And let our illusions die.

 

–W.H. Auden

Epilogue, The Age of Anxiety

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These words were written by poet W.H. Auden in the aftermath of World War II in his Pulitzer Prize winning poem The Age of Anxiety, a work that later was translated into music in the form of a symphony by Leonard Bernstein  and ballet by Jerome Robbins. I didn’t know much about this work when I stumbled across this short passage and I don’t suppose that its acclaim or history have much to do with the the thought it provokes.

Reading these four lines immediately brought to mind the transitional phase we’re moving through. It is a time fraught with fast moving change and many of the ideals and beliefs that we held onto as absolutes seem fragile and illusory now, if not completely destroyed. It probably felt much like this to many of those who lived through the war years of the 30’s and 40’s. It must feel as though you were attached, with no control at all, to the back of an angry beast who is rampaging. Beliefs are shattered and all you have to hold onto is your fear.

It seems like many of the groups vying to gain power over the direction of the rampaging beast that is this nation lend credence to the words above. They fear and despise the idea of change, even inevitable change, and would rather see the whole shooting match go up in smoke rather than alter their illusions of what we once were or what we could be in the future.

I know this sound somewhat cryptic and I don’t want to blurt out the obvious here right now. Just a thought that rose from the four simple lines above.

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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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I was looking for something this morning and came across the above quote from Andrew Wyeth which really rang true for me.

I am in the midst of working feverishly towards my June 1 show at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. my 19th solo show there. I’ve done over 50 solo exhibitions over the years so you would think that I would be over any uneasiness that comes with showing my work. But I still get that terrible queasy feeling in my gut whenever I first see each show hanging. It really is a feeling much like Wyeth describes, like standing there with no clothes on.

The worst of these feelings came at my first show at the Principle Gallery back in 2000. It was called Red Tree, which was the real introduction of the that signature tree that populates much of my work. I had only been working as a full-time artist for two years and had only two small solo shows at regional art centers under my belt at that point, so I had no expectations for such a show. But I had developed a solid base of collectors at the Principle since I began showing there in early 1997 and they felt I might do well with a show.

I understood at the time that this was a wonderful opportunity and put a lot of pressure on myself to put everything I could into that show. The rustic studio that was my home for the first ten years that I worked as an artist was much smaller than my current studio so when the show was done every space in it was filled with new work. I couldn’t get a real idea of how the show might look together, especially since this was pre-digital for me, all my work documented in slides rather than JPEGs.

I felt good about the work but maybe I was just being delusional. It happens.

So on the day of the opening we first walked into the gallery several hours before the reception and the then burnt orange walls of the gallery were filled with these paintings. There was a dizzying vibration to it that gave Cheri and I both an overwhelming feeling of nausea. It was like the inner self that I tried to keep hidden from the world was suddenly splashed through the gallery and I was trapped there amidst it, like someone standing naked in a dream with no way to escape and nothing with which to cover up.

Thankfully, that night exceeded all my expectations. If it had not, I don’t know that I might even be writing this blog now or where I would be in my career. If it had not done well, that horrible feeling would surely have stayed with me forever. As it is, it still visits me with every show but to a lesser degree and for shorter time span.

I suppose you get used to public nudity after a time.

 

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Woke up late this morning, at least by my standards. I bolted awake directly coming out one of those weird dreams that seem like something out of a dystopian novel like 1984 or Brave New World.

Or taken from any recent newspaper.

I wanted to go back to sleep just to try again, maybe come out this sleep with something better. Second times a charm, you know.

But I couldn’t so I headed over to the studio for my morning rituals. But that feeling from my dreams lingered, like a foreboding prophetic omen that is always at the edge of my thoughts and my vision.

I have a floater in my right eye that sometimes, when I am looking straight ahead, will dart across the far right periphery of my field of vision. It’s been there a while now but I often still finding myself jerking my head reflexively to see what is there. Of course, there is never anything there yet its continued presence gives me an unsettling feeling as though something could be there when I look the next time.

Uncomfortable dream or terrible omen? I’m rooting for uncomfortable dream but who knows what our subconscious is up to these days.  So much of the info, the indicators, the patterns it selects to process from the outside world enter without our knowledge.

It all reminds me of the image at the top, a painting from back in 1996 or thereabouts. I can’t locate a slide of this piece but came across an old photocopy yesterday and was really taken with it. It’s called Strange Victory II designed as a kind of companion to Strange Victory which was an early painting that I showed here and was based on a favorite poem of mine with that title from Sara Teasdale.

There is a lot that I like in this painting– the subtlety of the colors, the textures and the contrast of the figure and the tree against the backdrop. It is so simply constructed but has a fullness that is often elusive to me as an artist.

I think it’s a great companion piece for this week’s Sunday Morning Music. This week I chose Don’t Give Up, the Peter Gabriel song from back in the 1980’s. This version is from Willie Nelson accompanied by Sinead O’Connor, from his 1996 album, Across the Borderline. I think it’s a first rate cover of the song and I can envision the image of this painting when I listen to it.

Take a listen and have good day and better dreams.

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I was recently going through some old work and came across some paintings from 2002 that had slipped my mind. There were several done in the same style as the piece shown here, Night Blossom, with chunky, mosaic-like skies in deep blues and greens.  They had a dark, moody tone and a sense of weight in them that really drew me to them when I pulled them up on my screen.

It made me wonder why it was a path that I didn’t follow a bit further at that time. Maybe I felt it was too reminiscent of stained-glass. It does have that feel in the way it goes together.

Or maybe I just was headed in another direction that had a little more pull on me at the time. I was in the midst of my Dark Work in the aftermath of 9/11 which took me directly into my Red Roof series so perhaps that is the main reason for not doing more in this vein.

So, it may be as simple as it turning out to be that there is not enough time in the day to follow up on all the flares that are sent off in one’s head sometimes. Who knew?

But seeing this again and examining it closely re-ignites that flare and I see this as a new possibility in a larger scale done with skills that have evolved in the past 16 years.

And that is exciting for me.

Whether it turns outs to be what I see in my head is another thing. Sometimes those things I envision turn out much different in reality and not always in a positive manner.

We shall see…

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Can’t get my mind organized this morning, can’t seem to want to focus on any one thing. Had a lot of ideas for the blog but just lacked the desire to follow through so I am just going to play a song this morning accompanied by a tiny painting from back around 1995 called Harlequin. I always smile when I come across this piece.

The song is a favorite of mine, Dead Flowers, from the Rolling Stones and their 1971 album, Sticky Fingers. But the version below is from the late great Townes Van Zandt. I can’t say that it’s better or worse than the Stones version but it’s one that I like very much.

So give a listen and I’ll try to get my act together this morning…

 

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Dragged out and looked over this older painting this morning. It’s from 1995 and is called Sky and Submission. It was a favorite when I did it and it still rings very true for me. The composition is sparse and it’s color is very delicate in nature– I had to adjust it a bit to make it show properly on the screen– but there is something powerful in it as a whole.

It reminds me of  the feeling of looking out at the ocean. Maybe for us who live and were raised inland, away from the seas, seeking the far horizon in our landscapes is the equivalent. Watching the roll of the land and how it comes up to meet the sky raises many of those same feelings, creating a sense of awe in us of the great power and vastness of the world and our own smallness in relation to it.

Funny the things a small bit of paint on a piece of paper can make one think. Worse things to think on a Sunday morning, I suppose.

This piece reminded me for some reason of a song I played last year about this time, Reign O’er Me, from The Who’s Quadrophenia, which has been performed several times in the last month as the rock opera it was intended to be, with full orchestration. Last month it was at the Metropolitan Opera House in NYC.

I spent the better part of the last hour watching videos shot by audience members from this show with tenor Alfie Boe singing the lead. Even with a handheld smartphone’s recording limitations, they really show the power of the music and the performers. I am showing Reign O’er Me and a personal favorite 5:15 from that show back in October. Take a look and have yourself a good Sunday.


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