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Archive for the ‘Early Paintings’ Category

 

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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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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