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Archive for the ‘Early Paintings’ Category

Was looking through some images of work from around 2006 and 2007 and came across this painting, The Middle Way. It really jumped out at me so thought I’d share it along with a blogpost from back in 2009 about a Henry Miller essay. The painting and the essay seem to fit together well.

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    From the very beginning almost I was deeply aware that there is no goal. I never hope to embrace the whole, but merely to give in each separate fragment, each work, the feeling of the whole as I go on, because I am digging deeper and deeper into life, digging deeper and deeper into past and future. With the endless burrowing a certitude develops which is greater than faith or belief. I become more and more indifferent to my fate, as a writer, and more and more certain of my destiny as man.

      – Henry Miller, Reflections on Writing

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This is a fragment of an essay, Reflections on Writing, from a book of essays, The Wisdom of the Heart, by Henry Miller, the great and controversial author. When I was young his books such as Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn were still being characterized as “smut” and many libraries didn’t have them on their shelves for fear the morality police would swoop in and raise a fuss. Probably many only know the existence and influence of his books from their use in a memorable Seinfeld episode, the one with Bookman the library cop whose hard-boiled dialogue still makes me hoot.

For me, I wasn’t so much attracted to his books by the raciness of the stories but rather by his way of speaking through his words and expressing views that I found at once to be compatible with my own. He observed and said the things that I  wished I could say with a voice and power I wished I possessed. I can pick up one of his books and open to a page anywhere in the book and read and be fascinated without knowing the context of what I’m reading, just from the sheer strength of his writing’s voice.

I see a lot of things in this particular essay that translate as well for painting or any other form of creation. It opens:

Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery. The adventure is a metaphysical one: it is a way of approaching life indirectly, of acquiring a total rather than a partial view of the universe. The writer lives between the upper and lower worlds: he takes the path in order to eventually become that path himself.

Substituting artist for writer, I was immediately pulled in. The path he refers to is the path I often refer to in my paintings, the path we all walk and struggle along on, trying to find the middle way between these upper and lower worlds.

It’s a good essay and one I recommend for anyone who creates in any form and struggles with the meaning of their work beyond its surface. For anyone seeking that path…

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My annual show at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, Virginia, opens on Friday, June 7th. This year is my 20th solo show there, something that seemed out of the realm of possibility when this run began with the first Redtree show back in 2000.

Nothing seemed guaranteed at that time.

I was still a fairly new artist at that point, showing my work publicly for barely five years with the last two years as a full-time artist. Still had that new artist smell. I understood that the Principle Gallery was taking a chance on me and that this show was a great opportunity for me as an artist. Solo shows in great galleries don’t just come to artists on an everyday basis and the success or failure of such a show could dictate how my career moved on from that point. I knew that all too well.

I remember my trepidation in the months before that first show as I prepared for it. I was operating in abject fear of my own failure was having trouble visualizing what success this show would even resemble. My final goal for the show ended up being that I simply hoped to not be embarrassed.

Fortunately, it turned out to be very successful. That led to the next year and the next and so forth. There have been varying degrees of success with the shows along the way but one thing that seldom changes is the absolute fear of failure that comes with each show. So, here I am, twenty years in, and still feeling that same ball of anxiety in my gut. If anything, it might even be worse because I see this as a personal landmark of sorts. I want it to be a show worthy of twenty years invested by the gallery.

I’ve been looking at some of he work from those earliest Principle Gallery shows, trying to see similarities and differences between the work then and now. To see how it has changed, to see what has been gained and lost. One that struck me this morning was the piece above from 2001 called Symphony to Joy. It’s a piece with what I would term great organic appeal. I mean that it in the sense given by the linework within the piece and the way the colors and forms play off one another. It just seems very natural.

Maybe I shouldn’t try to explain such things.

But what I am looking at is how I can regain that natural feel, that organic sense present in the painting. Twenty years of painting have straightened some lines, taken some spontaneity out of some color choices, and softened some rough edges. Experience and knowledge has taken the place of the urgency of the pure emotion found in these early pieces.

I sit here this morning anxiously wondering how to find a way to merge the experience with that emotional urgency. Hope I can figure it out before June 7th.

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My days, my years, my life has seen up and downs, lights and darknesses. If I wrote only and continually of the ‘light’ and never mentioned the other, then as an artist, I would be a liar.

–Charles Bukowski

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This is a painting, Sleepwalk, from back in 2002. It is part of what I call my Dark Work which was when I first began working on a black painted surface. The idea was to make the blackness part of the painting, to give the painting the darkness against which I could set the contrast of the light.

Like the poet Charles Bukowski says above, I felt that in order to be honest as an artist I had to incorporate my own darkness in my work. Utilizing the darkness kept the perceived optimism of the work from wandering into the territory of cockeyed Pollyanna-ism. It provided contrast in the form of a sense of reality, a basis for validating the optimism of the light and the color.

Light needs dark, plain and simple.

The Dark Work was very important for me and I continue to paint using the same process and techniques I developed in that time. This particular piece has lived with me for many years now and I love pulling it out to study it from time to time. There always seems to be something new to focus on. A brushstroke. A section of the texture. The transition of one color into another.

It provides lessons that memory has long forgotten as I continue my own sleepwalk through this life.

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Came across this old piece, an early attempt from 1994 before I was showing my work in public. It’s painted in way, a direction I never followed much further but it is a piece that always makes me stop.  Don’t know where it came from or why I painted it. Don’t know why I gave him some sort of seaman’s cap and striped shirt. I loosely refer to this as the Sea Dog.

I don’t think there was a narrative at all. It just came. But after 24 years or so, it has developed a story, of a sort, for me. I see him as sailor in an exotic South Seas port city on a misty and mysterious night. A scuffle, a knife fight and a man falls down dead on the dark, wet streets. He flees the port and begins on building a new life with a new identity.

For a minute this morning, I saw him as a young Santa.

Maybe that’s Santa’s backstory? A murderous sailor redeemed?

I don’t know about that. But, hey, you never know.

That brings me to a Christmas song. Well, kind of a Christmas song, one that’s keeping in the spirit of a Killer Kringle. It’s from  John Prine, and it’s Christmas in Prison. It’s been a favorite of mine for decades so I was surprised that I haven’t played it here yet, after ten years of this blog.

Well, today’s the day. Give a listen and don’t mind the subject or title too much. It’s actually a beautiful song. It could be Santa singing, in different circumstances.

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I was in my basement earlier moving some things around, trying to get somewhat organized, when I came across a box with a handful of giclee prints of my work  from 2001. I hadn’t went through this box in a while so took a few minutes to see what was there.

My eyes settled for a bit on the piece shown above, titled Give the Wind Its Due. I’d looked at it many times over the years but it was always for but an instant, just in quickly passing over it. But this morning, I took a minute and really looked. It tried to remember what I could of it from back in 2001. It was a large painting, I remember that, measuring 36″ high by 48″ wide on birch panel.

It was painted with oils rather than acrylic. I used oils as often as I would use acrylics around that time. I transferred almost solely to acrylics in the next few years, that medium better matching my technical and thought process. I found that I was too impatient to wait to get the effects I wanted with oils. The quicker drying time of acrylics allowed me to dive back in sooner while I was still focused in on what I was seeing and where I saw it going.

But this piece oil worked well as it was. It still worked and stood out for me now. Hopefully, whoever has ownership of this piece thinks so, as well. Unfortunately, I have no idea where the original painting is. Like this piece, there are many paintings that will be forever lost to me. I would love to see some of these earlier pieces just to examine the surfaces closely. Look at the edges and how the colors layer together.

In looking, I try to remember what I was doing then that I don’t do now, sometimes from just forgetting how it was done in that particular moment. I sometimes have memory problems when it comes to procedural items.

There are maintenance things that I have to do every year around the house or studio and I often have to go to the printed directions because my memory refuses to hold those details. Unfortunately, this also sometimes extends to my own work procedures. Revisiting older work sometimes is like looking at those printed directions and I find myself saying to myself, “Oh, so that is how I did that!

I find that there’s a lot to be learned from looking back periodically.

Maybe that applies to life as much as art. Or maybe not.

I can’t really say.

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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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