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Archive for the ‘Early Paintings’ Category

Looking through some older work, I came across this piece from January of 1995. It was from a time just before I first showed my work publicly. It seems like just yesterday in some ways but a hundred years ago in others. I was just finding voice in my work but still had some work to go before I  could fully utilize it.

This is called Outside Shakeytown and it’s obviously watercolor on paper. Shakeytown was the name I used sometimes at that time for a mythical dark and dank town that hovered under dirty gray skies and sooty foundries and factories. It is a name that could be used in place of any number of small Rust Belt cities and towns that have seen industries disappear over the past 40 or 50 years. These often impoverished towns often still have shuttered factories that stand like ugly monuments to a long gone past as they struggle to find a new identity in a modern world.

It can be a compelling setting, one filled with deep darkness that give rise to startling and dramatic contrasts. One of the birthplaces of art.

This piece is a favorite of mine, one that checks a lot of boxes in a list of what I want to see in my work. It always sends off sparks within me when I pull it out. For me, it acts as sort of a creative terminus from which all sorts of paths depart.

And like the beginning of any journey, it fills me with excitement and a bit of dread.

And those are good starting points for new work.

While I never had plans of showing this publicly, I had to laugh when I looked this morning and noticed that I had signed it twice. The one on the left is the original and the one on the right is from what I think is a much later date when I must have not noticed the other signature. They are both in pencil so I could just erase one but I am going to leave it as it. That way, a couple of hundred years in the future maybe someone will stumble across it– in a gallery or a junk shop or a junk heap, who knows?–and will wonder what was meant by the two signatures.

I won’t be there but I can chuckle at the possibility of it now.

And these days, here in Shakeytown, that’s a good thing.

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I have been going through my files lately, trying to find some misplaced or lost images and somewhat organize twenty plus years of chaos. I came across this video which I thought I had shared at some point but couldn’t find any evidence anywhere of having done that. So I guess today is a good time to do so.

This slideshow is a group of the images from my Exiles series set to one of my favorite pieces of music, Gymnopédie #1 from composer Erik Satie. I believe this was put together back in 2006.

I’ve written about the Exiles series a number of times here. It was created around the time of my mom’s death back in November of 1995 and focused on how I saw her suffering in the last several months of her life as lung cancer ravaged her body. It’s a personal series, one that was important to me in many ways.

This film is flawed and doesn’t contain all the series images but it captures the series perfectly, at least in how I saw it then and see it now.

 

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I call this painting Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a title I used for a few paintings from my early Exiles series, in which this piece is included. I seldom show this piece and am not sure if it has ever appeared here. While I like this piece for a variety of reasons– for instance, I love the sky and hill colors– I never felt it was up to the same level as the other work in the Exiles series. I felt that it was more flawed than the others and too forced, not as organically formed as much of the other Exiles.

But every time I pull this piece out I feel a small sense of satisfaction in it and maybe that it needed to be aired out. I want to play a song today and thought this would be a good opportunity to let this little guy get out a bit. We’ll see.

The song is Work Song. It was written by the brother of jazz great Cannonball Adderly and was originally performed by him as an upbeat  jazz piece. But it has been interpreted by a number of artists over the years, some to great effect. Others, not so much to my taste. But one of my favorites is from one of my  guilty pleasures, Tennessee Ernie Ford.

He certainly doesn’t seem like a “cool” choice if you remember his public persona in the 50’s and 60’s as the goofily naive but affable hick from Bristol, Tennessee. I enjoyed that caricature as kid it was his music that hooked me. He had a deep and mellow voice and a knack for choosing songs and arrangements that fit him perfectly. His series of country boogies were great and his 16 Tons is a classic. His version of this song is a great interpretation, spare and deep felt.

I couldn’t find a decent video of this song so here is the track alone:

Here’s another version that is a different interpretation from a band called The Big Beats with vocalist Arlin Harmon. I don’t have a lot of info on either though from what I can glean Harmon was a highly esteemed singer out in the Northwest. It’s a solid rocking performance with a different flavor. Give a listen.

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Going to keep it simple this morning and just play this week’s Sunday morning music. It’s off the collaborative albums , Mermaid Avenue, from Wilco and Billy Bragg, where they took never recorded Woody Guthrie lyrics and set them to music. I’ve played a number of the songs from these albums over the years but somehow missed this favorite. It’s about a Hesitating Beauty named Nora Lee and I’ve included the lyrics below. The painting above is a piece from 2003 called Rarity of the Moment that seems to have that same feeling of unfulfilled desire as the song.


 

“Hesitating Beauty”

 

For your sparkling cocky smile I’ve walked a million miles

Begging you to come and wed me in the spring

Why do you my dear delay

What makes you laugh and turn away

You’re a hesitating beauty, Nora Lee

 

Well I know that you are itching to get married, Nora Lee

And I know how I’m twitching for the same thing, Nora Lee

By the stars and clouds above we could spend our lives in love

You’re a hesitating beauty, Nora Lee

 

We can build a house and home where the flowers come to bloom

Around our yard I’ll nail a fence so high

That the boys with peeping eyes cannot see that angel face

My hesitating beauty Nora Lee

 

Well I know that you are itching to get married Nora Lee

And I know how I’m twitching for the same thing Nora Lee

By the stars and clouds above we can spend our lives in love

If you quit your hesitating, Nora Lee

 

We can ramble hand in hand across the grasses of our land

I’ll kiss you for each leaf on every tree

We can bring our kids to play where the dry leaves blow today

If you quit your hesitating, Nora Lee

 

Well I know that you are itching to get married, Nora Lee

And I know how I’m twitching for the same thing, Nora Lee

By the stars and clouds above we could spend our lives in love

If you quit your hesitating, Nora Lee

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Last week a notification came up on my Facebook feed of a painting of mine that was being offered for sale locally. It wasn’t the best of photos but I immediate recognized the painting. It was from back in 1999 and was titled Black Opal Night. The price was very reasonable and I immediately contacted the seller, offering to buy the painting back.

In our back and forth, she asked why I was buying this painting back. It seems that artists buying their work back is not a normal thing.

I replied that it was from the years between 1996 and 2000, a five year period that was pre-Red Tree and an evolutionary step to my subsequent work. It was also a time from which I have practically no remaining work and would love to have a few more pieces. I have been very fortunate in that almost all of the work from that time have found new homes. The few that remain with me are pieces that most likely should have never left the studio in the first place. They have major flaws– poor color quality, composition balances that seem off a bit and so on– which I would now consider disqualifying, that would keep me from showing it publicly.

I may have been a little less discerning in earlier times.

This piece, from what I could see in the photo and could glean from my memory of it, didn’t seem to fall into this category.

Another part of wanting to acquire this piece was that my documentation at the time was pre-digital and spotty. I most likely have slides of this piece but the slide itself is most likely poorly shot. And a poorly photographed slide is still a poor image when transferred to a digital format, which is still an iffy process for me. It would be good to see a painting from the time and get proper photos. I have to admit that the photo here was taken through glass so it is not a perfect image. But it works.

So I picked this up over the weekend and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. First, the image itself looked new even though the frame, a blue-green color that I no longer use, was a bit less fresh looking. It was definitely of the time. I could see where I was at the time from a process standpoint, how I was still embracing techniques that are now deep embedded.

I often speak at gallery talks about the 60 or 70 thousand hours spent in the studio over the past two decades. This piece was from the beginning of that time and offered a glimpse of how the work had evolved and changed. This piece was pushing at the edges of my abilities at the time which gives it an excited feel. I can almost feel my excitement in painting it from the time. There are surface flaws that are integral to the energy of this painting that give it a rawness that I think was a big part of the strength of that early work.

That rawness is something I don’t see as much in recent work. Oh, the excitement is still there but the expression of it is more refined, more controlled. And looking at this painting makes me wonder if I am pushing myself enough. Am I staying too far inside the lines? How do I regain that raw energy?

And maybe the answers to these questions are the real reasons for me re-acquiring this painting. Even though it’s simply an older painting in my body of work, it has given me so many things to ponder.

Let’s see where it goes from here.

 

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Ten Years

In the hubbub of the last few weeks, I lost sight of the fact that this past late September marked ten years that I have been writing this blog.  The first Redtreetimes showed up on September 19, 2008. It was very short and featured two of my earliest paintings. The first contemporary piece of mine from that time to debut here was the 2008 painting above, Coming to a Realization, on the next day.

There have been almost 3000 posts in those ten years. Occasionally I riff back through the online archives and am proud of some of the posts and disappointed by others. But the one thing I think it has been is consistent. I don’t cringe at the opinions I have expressed and am not embarrassed or ashamed by the personal flaws I sometimes expose. If anything, the blog has served in much the same way as my work in giving voice and form to the fact that I exist, that I am here in this place at this time.

Has it been worth the time and effort? I think so but there are days when I really can’t be so positive about that. It might look like there should be little effort in throwing this together each morning but that is an illusion. If there are 3000 posts then I figure I’ve spent at least 3000 hours. Most likely much more when you factor in the posts that are written only to be sent to the trash, never to see any other screen but mine. There have been plenty of those.

Or the many posts that takes multiple hours to write. Writing is real toil to me and it often takes much longer than you would think for me to squeeze out a couple of hundred words. And I can’t help but think how long it might take if I took the time to reread and edit them before posting them.

But overall, I think this blog has been a great supplement to my work. It has exposed a lot of people in far flung locations to my paintings and the stories and thoughts behind them.

In the past, the gallery system provided the background stories and ideas behind an artist’s work to the public. I am fortunate in that I have worked with galleries that still do much of that for me. But that is a rarer quality today as many brick and mortar galleries struggle. So more and more, it is important for an artist to be proactive and take matters into their own hands and do things like social media and blogs.

I can’t say if this increased exposure on the net has increased the sales of my work. I believe it has. More importantly, it has helped shape the way in which I see my own work and how I want it presented to the outside world. It has introduced me to many folks who provide valuable feedback and sometimes thought provoking opinions. This has no doubt shaped the work as well.

I want to send a hearty Thank You to those of you who still pop in and out after all these years to check out my work or the work of others. I try to keep it interesting and show a broad range of material without becoming too esoteric or deep. I think fully it reflects the thought I expressed here years ago, that like a river I may appear to be a mile wide but am mostly only inches deep.

Take that for what you will. And thanks, again.

 

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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

*******************

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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