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Archive for the ‘Early Paintings’ Category

I’ve been revisiting a lot of very old work lately here in the studio, taking little walk down memory lane. Some of the memories  are pleasant enough with “oh, yeah, I remember that” coming up periodically in my mind. Some are  cringeworthy, making me glad I moved past that time. Some please me greatly and some make me smile. Such is the case with this  little piece done in 1994.

Called Rockin’ Billy, it was done quickly in crayons. It’s rough-edged and kind of crude but has movement. I think I was listening to a bunch of old rockabilly at the time. Johnny Burnette, Warren Smith, Jerry Lee Lewis, that kind of stuff– rough-edged and a little crude with some real movement.

But I am pretty sure that this piece was a direct result of Billy Lee Riley and his distinct guitar playing, especially in a couple of my faves from that time, Flying Saucer Rock and Roll and Red Hot. Every time I stumble across this piece I have to break out the rockabilly for at least a few songs and that’s how it is on this Sunday morning. Here are those two songs from Billy Lee Riley.

Oh, what the hell, let me throw in Johnny Burnette’s Rock Billy Boogie. I can see Rockin’ Billy dancing across the stage now. Hope this helps you have your own rockin’ good time today.


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I was going through my little treasure chest the other day. It’s an old square cardboard box filled with old experiments, failures, breakthroughs and other assorted oddities from my earliest days painting. I enjoy doing this because many of the pieces stimulate some of the same sensory triggers that drove me back when they were painted, back in 1994 and early 1995. Feeling that same sensation now creates an urgency in me, one that makes me want to get back to work so that maybe I can create that same feeling in this moment.

Motivation comes in many forms. It even rises from work that I felt was not good enough to show years ago. Over the years many of these pieces have grown in my estimation and I see now how they fit into my larger body of work and how they made the transformation from borderline fire-starters to things that I value highly today.

While I do see motivation in this sometime visitation to the past, part of me wonders if there is any value in going back and experiencing these pieces once again. After all, I have moved on since that time and can’t return to the point that produced that work. The nostalgia of it makes me forget the frustration that was present at the time that came from knowing that these pieces weren’t hitting the spot I envisioned, that there was much progress to be made in my work before it would satisfy me on a consistent basis.

So maybe going back serves little purpose. Maybe it prevents one from moving on to new paths, new ideas, new work. As aviator/author Beryl Markham wrote in her memoir, West With the Night:

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.” 

She may be right. But this morning I am looking back to a place I don’t want to return to in the present moment. I know I have to move forward, have to progress. These works now belong to a past that cannot hold me back from that formidable future ahead.

And they won’t. If anything, they make me want to be better…

 

 

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Windows

 “A house without books is like a room without windows.” 
― Horace Mann

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For many years now the houses in my paintings have had no doors or windows. People often comment on this and ask why that is. But there was a period of time in the early 2000’s when there were a group of pieces that had houses sporting windows and a few doors.

The houses in these paintings had a different feel than my typical houses. They seem warmer and more human, less anonymous and less inward turned. These houses with windows most likely fit the quote above from the 19th century American educator Horace Mann, appearing to be open to the world, outward looking and conscious of and at peace with their place in the world. Most likely, there are shelves filled with books and inquisitive, reasoning people in those houses.

The presence of these windowed houses often changes the focus of the painting. Take for instance the piece at the top, Riverspirit. The Red Tree perched on a mound above the river would normally be the center of this painting’s attention.  But in this iteration, the windowed cottage takes centerstage. The emotion of the piece is directed from the point of view of the house rather than the Red Tree, strong as it might be.

It was interesting putting together this small group. The similarities in warmth and contentedness is striking. I found myself personally drawn to these pieces and wonder why more windows don’t find their way into my current work.

Maybe they will soon but for now I will enjoy these pieces for bit longer.

Heartland

Where Serenity Dwells

Where Chaos Ends

Streaming Nostalgic

The Strangest Dream

Story’s End

 

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Four Front -2003

Yeah, you read that right, I’m willing to sell off some orphans.

Don’t worry, I’m not really a heartless bastard. I’m talking about a handful of my paintings that have shuffled around the country over the years and somehow found their way back to the studio. I consider these paintings my orphans.

A Time For Reflection-2002

There is a special small group of paintings that are accompanying me tomorrow when I head down to Alexandria for my Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery. They are primarily older pieces that, while I like having them around here in the studio, I would like to have a home where they can get the attention that I feel they deserve from fresh and appreciative eyes that look at them on a regular basis.

A home where they can do the job they were meant to do, to fulfill their purpose

Some of these paintings in their first trips through the galleries were saddled by framing that didn’t suit the work. Tow had thick, heavy frames and extra wide mats that created a distraction from the actual work and overwhelmed the images.

A couple are favorites of mine that just never caught the right person’s eye.

And a couple have been with me for so long that I can’t figure out why they’re still here. For instance, the painting at the top of this page, Four Front from back in 2003, falls into this category.

These paintings are only going to be there for my time in the gallery on Saturday and are specially priced. If they don’t find a new home, they come back to the orphanage–er, studio.

Look at these little guys and tell me that they don’t deserve a home to call their own.

You Can Win This Painting!

So, try to get into the Principle Gallery tomorrow, Saturday, September 16. The orphans will be on display along with new work from the studio. The Gallery Talk begins at 1 PM and concludes with a free drawing for those in attendance for the painting shown here, The Warmth of Breath. Plus, there are a few more surprises that I don’t want to divulge here.

I am anticipating a good time with good questions and a lively conversation so I am hoping you can take part tomorrow. I suggest getting there early for a good seat. Plus, you can take a look at my orphans. Look forward to seeing you there!

In the Window: The Vigil 2005

In the Eye of Grace- 2006

No Mail- 2010

Call to Waking- 2011

The Journey- 2006

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Memento mori-remember death! These are important words. If we kept in mind that we will soon inevitably die, our lives would be completely different. If a person knows that he will die in a half hour, he certainly will not bother doing trivial, stupid, or, especially, bad things during this half hour. Perhaps you have half a century before you die-what makes this any different from a half hour?

Leo Tolstoy

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I am bringing a group of selected paintings with me to this Saturday’s Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery that will only be available for that day.  Going through a few paintings I came across the painting above that has lived a quiet life with me for many years now.

It is a 16″ by 20″ oil on canvas painted in early 2001. Titled Blaze a Trail it was hanging in the Principle Gallery on September 11, 2001, that sad day that still haunts our country these sixteen years later. I don’t like to commemorate it outside of thinking about the tragedy of the lives lost that day. But for some reason this painting reminds me of that day, even more so that the work that emerged in the time after the tragedy that was a direct reaction to it.

It has become a sort of memento mori  for me, a reminder that we never know when death may visit each of us. Maybe that’s why it has spent it’s life with me–since soon after September 11th so it’s about 16 years now– with its face to the wall, away from my eyes. When I would go through the stack that held this piece I would shuffle by it quickly, hardly taking it in as though I just didn’t want to see it.

But for this show I pulled it out and left it so that I couldn’t help but see it on a regular basis. At first, I felt a mild discomfort with it that tainted how I saw it. But the more I looked at it, the more I was able to look past the day I had attached to it and see what I saw in it before that day. Ans I saw that there was much to like. I liked the rhythm of it, in the bend of the tree and the roll of the landscape. I liked the darkness behind the orange in the foreground.

Most of all, I liked seeing the dislodged paint brush bristles that were embedded in the paint of the sky. I ran my fingers over them this morning while looking at the painting and it touched me that they were a direct link back to when I was working on it in the months before September 11, a time that seems ages ago and naively innocent now. Those bristles were of that time and touching them made me remember how very good and creatively energetic I felt in those days.

And in that instant, this piece no longer felt like a memento mori reminding me of  our mortality. No, it felt much more akin to its title, Blaze a Trail. It felt like a celebration of  life and embracing fully the time that remains.

It is now for me as much a memento vitae– a remembrance of lifeas it was a memento mori.

I am still deciding if I will bring this piece with me. I have mixed feelings. We’ll see…

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I’ve written about some of the orphans,  as I call those paintings that find their way back to me eventually, never finding a permanent home after showing in most of the galleries that show my work. Fortunately, it’s a fairly small group so I can recall most of the details about each of these pieces, even the older ones. But the painting above has been floating around in my space like a mysterious satellite for so many years now that I have lost all recollection of it.

In fact, I can find nothing about this painting in any of my files. No title. No numbering or date. No photos.

Nothing.

It has been living in a horrible frame that I would be embarrassed to show in public, one that I tried to transform by adding layers of gold paint. That was a bad idea. It made the whole thing, painting included, look absolutely awful. I am relatively sure I never exhibited this painting as a result of how it looked in that terrible frame. At least, there are no records of it being shown.

It’s a 16″ by 20″ canvas and I think that it is from around the year 2000. I say that because it doesn’t have my normal layers of textured gesso under the paint and it is done in oil paints rather than acrylic, which would have been from that timeframe.

I had avoided this painting for years in the studio. I kept it facing away in a small stack against a wall so that I wouldn’t be forced to look at the monstrosity it was in that frame. But recently, curiosity had me pull the piece out. I tried to separate the painting from the frame in my mind but the stink of the frame still overwhelmed me.

If I was going to actually see that painting I had to take it out of that frame.

And I was pleasantly surprised when I did that. Oh, it’s not like I found a lost masterpiece. But freed from the shadow of the unsightly frame, I recognized that it was a good piece, one that would definitely fit within the tone and scope of my work from the time in which I believed it was painted.It wasn’t ugly at all. In fact, I began to grow quite fond of it in its liberated state.

It was like turning over a photo that has been face down in a drawer for years and seeing something that surprises you in a pleasant way, reconnecting you with something you had pushed deeply into the recesses of your memory.  It’s that image that has been hidden for many years where you get to see it anew with a different perception based on personal growth and change.

It’s the same image from the same time but you see it differently.

So I brought it out into my painting space and I look at it now and again. And it pleases me to know this orphan once again.

 

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“I feel I change my mind all the time. And I sort of feel that’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being – to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don’t contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you’re not thinking.” 

― Malcolm Gladwell

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I am using these words from Malcolm Gladwell today because it fits well with my feelings on the painting I am showing here. By that I mean that this is a piece on which my mind has changed over the years, from feeling it was okay at first to loathing to grudging acceptance to now actually liking it quite a bit.

It’s a small painting, something like 7″ by 8″ on paper,  from 2006 that is titled In the Eye of Grace. When I first finished this piece it felt pretty good and evoked an emotion that hit a mark for me. It wasn’t blessed with that initial giddy excitement that often comes when finishing a painting but it felt right. It was good and I felt confident in showing it in the galleries.

So it was framed and sent out. It never found a home and came back to me a year or two later where it has been ever since. After being with it for a while, I began to actually dislike this painting. It bugged the hell out of me and I could never determine why that was the case.

I finally decided that it might be the way it was framed, set in a very wide mat and an extra heavy wide frame. It was a cumbersome setting for a small piece and I began to realize that I didn’t like– actually, I hated– the grandiose feeling of the frame for such a quiet small painting. It was like having a small simple gem placed in the middle of an overly large and ornate setting. Overwhelmed and eclipsed.

So I began to accept that I was letting my judgement be swayed by its setting. I no longer cringed when I came across it in the studio. It felt okay enough.

But in the past several months I placed this painting, still in its fat frame, in a place where I saw it while doing my morning workout. I began to really look at it and my doubts and distaste faded away. It was like I had disregarded the title I had given the painting years ago, In the Eye of Grace. It did have a simple grace that was easy to overlook.

It became a favorite in my morning ritual. I determined that I would change the frame to one that would let its grace shine through a little more easily. It’s funny how things sometime change, how even my own perception of a piece of myself can transform in several directions through the years even while that piece of self remains the same.

We are sometimes strange creatures living with moments of grace that we fail to see…

 

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