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I have a project that needs tending this morning so I am going to replay a post about a painting from the enigmatic Symbolist painter, Fernand Khnopff, whose work has been described as “visual realism combined with a mood of silence, isolation, and reverie.” It also includes an interesting video about this painting from the Khan Academy which is a great free site for well done courses and videos on a wide variety of subjects. For those of you with a lot of extra time these days, it’s worth a look.

Fernand Khnopff I Lock the Door Upon Myself

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God strengthen me to bear myself;
That heaviest weight of all to bear,
Inalienable weight of care.

All others are outside myself;
I lock my door and bar them out
The turmoil, tedium, gad-about.

I lock my door upon myself,
And bar them out; but who shall wall
Self from myself, most loathed of all?…

Christina Rossetti

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The painting at the top, I Lock My Door Upon Myself,  is from Belgian Symbolist painter Fernand Khnopff who lived from 1858 until 1921.  The title is taken from a verse of a poem, Who Shall Deliver Me? (shown in part above), from Christina Rossetti, the pre-Raphaelite poetess whose brother,  Dante Rossetti, was an influence on the work of Khnopff.

It’s a haunting painting, one that always makes me stop a bit when I stumble across an image of it. Perhaps it is the symbolist elements in it but for me it is probably the beautiful construction of forms and color that give the overall piece an almost abstract feel. Just a great image in so many ways.

I came across a video from the free educational series Khan Academy that offers a short and insightful exploration of the painting’s symbolism. Very interesting if you have five minutes or so.

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I was looking at this painting above this morning, one that resides with me now here in the studio. It’s from back in 2011 and is called Dissolve. It really spoke to me from the moment I realized it was finished and laid down the brush.

It still does.

It’s a simple piece with complex feelings, one that makes me immensely happy and slightly sad at the same time. It’s contented yet wistful and yearning, something mirrored in the beauty and solidity of the fields in the foreground set against the dissolving colors of the sky.

With it’s duality of feelings, it’s a very human piece, I guess. And that bit of humanness is what struck me this morning. While I have alternated between high and low emotions lately, looking at this painting for a bit seemed to modulate all of these feelings.  The lower ebbs are still there but there is a visible counterweight that takes away some of their depth, makes them more tolerable.

This modulating effect might be the most valuable aspect of my work, at least for myself. Without it, everything else that the work provides for me is worthless.

So, this morning I sit with this image in mind and feel… like a human. And, for the most part, that’s a good thing.

Hope you’re feelng human this morning and can find your way, perhaps with a little modulation of your own, to a good day. Here’s a song from one of my favorites, Neko Case, from a 2006 appearance on Conan. Here’s Hold On, Hold On.

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black coffee

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I’m feelin’ mighty lonesome
Haven’t slept a wink
I walk the floor and watch the door
And in between I drink
Black coffee

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In the studio early again and a little tired from riding the rollercoaster ride of recent times. Lots to do but it’s hard to getting the engine fully rolling. This thing grips tight and breaking free enough to really create is sometimes a tough task. I spoke with a gallery owner yesterday who said that one of their upcoming and much anticipated shows would be much smaller than they had hoped because the show’s artist had a hard time completing the pieces for the show because of the anxiety caused by the pandemic.

I understood that artist’s feelings completely and learning of their struggle gave me a little comfort in knowing that it wasn’t only me.

So, here I am this morning in the studio with the light outside struggling to emerge and a ball of anxiety in my gut just waiting to wake up. Much I can do but all I want to do is sip my black coffee and look out the window at the wind ruffling the limbs of the white pines above the milling deer in my yard. Maybe listen to a little Ella.

Sounds like a plan to me.

Gonna proceed with that plan now. Hope you have a plan to make your day a good one. Here’s part of a post about the song Black Coffee, along with Ella’s stellar version of it, that ran five years back. It also has a link to great poem that might help you through your day, so take a look. Or not. I don’t care about anything this morning except my cuppa black coffee.

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The sultry Black Coffee was written in 1948 by Sonny Burke and originally recorded by Sarah Vaughan and a few years later by Peggy Lee. There have been many, many covers of this song and most are very good. But there are four versions that really stick out for me, all very distinctly different. They are Vaughan’s original, the one from Peggy Lee, k.d. lang‘s darkly twangy version and the one I am featuring this morning from the great and grand Ella Fitzgerald.

Her version is elegantly spare with her voice and piano interweaving beautifully. It is darkly tinged but there is such strength in her phrasing that it keeps the song feeling surprisingly upbeat. Just a great, great song.

A little bit of trivia about this version: It was the favorite song of Nobel Prize winning poetess Wislawa Szymborska , who requested it be performed at her funeral. You might remember Szymborska from a blog entry here last month that featured her poem Possibilities.

So,give a listen as you sip the morning beverage of your choice. Maybe a little black coffee…

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I always play a bit of music on Sunday mornings here, usually trying to link it to whatever is going on in my little world of paint or out there in the larger world. You know, a relevant song for a new painting or for a current event that might be dominating the news.

But sometimes they are songs that I simply like, songs that have meaning for me. Songs that make me cry. Or songs that make me happy and maybe even laugh.

I didn’t want to go with songs that make me cry today. There’s been enough reason to cry lately without having to be prodded.

So, I am opting for a song or two that make me happy. Make me smile and actually chuckle. Plus, you can easily link both with the situation at hand.

Facing hardship is an integral part of the nature of being alive. Illness and injury, death, loss, failure, humiliation– we all face some or all of these things in our lives.  Some face fewer and some even more of these hardships, but none are completely exempt. While facing my share–which are no more than most– I have always found music and humor to be effective coping mechanisms.

For me, it helps sometimes to laugh at my misfortune, especially if it has come about at my own doing. Laughing makes the situation seem smaller, less momentous. Laughter actually belittles the moment. I know that in the aftermath of some of my most down moments that I have some soothing salve in laughing at myself and the moment as I lick my wounds.

So, let’s lick our wounds and have a couple of songs. Both are from Eric Idle of Monty Python’s Flying Circus fame. He wrote most of the songs that the troupe employed in their shows and movies. We were lucky enough to see him many years ago, I think it was 2000, at Carnegie Hall for a very enjoyable evening of his songs and some well known Python bits.

The first is  a beautifully shot film of a sing-along performance of Always Look on the Bright Side from the film, Life of Brian. The song has become over the years the go-to song in Britain when they are facing adversity, a screw you to the problem at hand.  In recent days, a tug on the Thames River has been blaring it from loudspeakers as it chugs up and down the waterway.

Plus, this version has pipers. What more could ask?

The song here at the bottom is The Galaxy Song from the film, The Meaning of Life. It puts the problems we face into a galactic and universal perspective.

So, give a listen. Maybe sing along and smile. But do try have a good day.


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Living in isolation has never been a great challenge for me in normal times. I thought I was a distant island that only needed a visitor every once in a while for those few things I couldn’t provide for myself. But these are not normal times and the impingement from the outer world pushes hard into my space now, disrupting the solitude that I thought was impenetrable.

Listening to the words that the great leader*** spoke yesterday, where he basically admitted that he wanted the states’ governors to bend the knee before him and had instructed the VP to not call and offer assistance to those that didn’t, made me realize that we are all islanders now.

50+ sovereign states, all fending for themselves, with a hope that exceeds reality that the unified power of the central government will offer much needed aid, will somehow favor them above the others in their time of need. We are in trouble and call out for aid to those who have a sworn duty to serve us.

Much as Puerto Rico did not so long ago in the aftermath of the historic hurricanes that ravaged that island.

We are all Puerto Rico now.

We probably should have taken the treatment Puerto Rico received, a few rolls of paper towel dismissively thrown at them along with conditioned promises of aid that were never fully realized, as an omen. We all are about to receive that same treatment and the storm that approaches this time is even larger and deadlier.

Anyway, I came across a post written for a 2013 show at the West End Gallery that featured the above painting, Islander, as its title piece. I thought the words were pertinent to this time. Its a painting that really resonates deeply with me on a personal level and one that, inexplicably at least for me, has never found a home. It still resides at the Just Looking Gallery in California, waiting patiently for someone to see what I see in it.

Along with the post below, I have included a version of Simon and Garfunkel‘s classic I Am a Rock. This video features the lyrics which is a way I have been listening to a lot of music lately. Times of crisis make me look harder for connecting threads of meaning. Whether they are there is another thing.

Give a look and have a good day on your little islands.

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I am an islander.

But I don’t live on an island. Never have and probably never will.

No, my island is a metaphorical place, one that exists in the creative ether of my mind. An island that is completely apart from and immune to the outer world that exists across the deep surrounding waters. Self-sustaining and self-ruled, a blank slate on which I can create my own reality.

It’s a place free from the ire and pettiness of others. Free of strife and injustice. and filled with the quiet of solitude. Filled with color, warmth and emotion.

An island of creation and peace.

But there is a paradox in being an islander. While trying to remain separate, it becomes abundantly clear that we can never really exist as totally independent from the outer world. Actually, to the islander those bonds to the outside world become even more apparent and important. The isolation only serves to heighten our recognition of our inclusion and connection to the world. You begin to recognize them as lifelines, bringing those things to the island that you cannot create in yourself.

Try as one might, one can never live in isolation from their own humanity. I think the best you can do is to create an island that you can visit periodically to revitalize yourself. And that’s what I believe I see in the work for this show– paintings that take me away for a short while from the outer world and place me on that peaceful island.

For that short time, I am truly an islander.

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No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

–John Donne, Meditation XVII, 1624

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I am without words today. It’s not that I’m not feeling a multitude of emotions or feelings. I just want to be quiet. This morning I somehow found myself listening to American Tune from Paul Simon, a song I’ve heard and enjoyed probably a thousand or more times before. But the lyrics jumped out at me this morning in a different way, like I hadn’t fully heard them all those many times before. Maybe it was just that they seemed to fit the moment so perfectly. It said everything I might have wanted to say had I had felt like talking.

There are three versions of the song here at the bottom from Paul Simon. The first was recorded just a few days ago for ‘Til Further Notice which is presenting virtual performances by different recording artists for the duration. The sound on this is not great but it’s certainly a heartfelt performance. The second is from a television performance from 1974, not long after he first introduced the song. The bottom version is one with the lyrics, which I suggest, even though it starts abruptly and has a number of grammatical errors in its transcription. Seeing these lyrics while hearing the song emphasizes the power of the words.

Sure worked for me. Hope you take a moment and listen.

Be good. Be careful. Have a good day.

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Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
But I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
or driven to its knees
But it’s all right, it’s all right
We’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
we’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what went wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all, I’m trying to get some rest

Paul SimonAmerican Tune



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Harald Sohlberg-Night 1904

 

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I was in the studio even earlier than normal this morning. I watched the news for a bit only to hear that some hospitals in the NYC/ Tri-state area were already near the point where doctors were going to have to decide who would be put on a ventilator and who would not. Basically, who would live and who would die. And the soulless clown in charge keeps saying that Ford and GM are manufacturing thousands of these much needed items when, in fact, they are not and that he wants to end the shutdowns in a week or so. He is willing to sacrifice lives, perhaps large numbers of them, for a stock market bump and for the fiscal wellness of multinational corporations that were as recently as a month or two ago sitting on a mountain of cash, something like $1.7 trillion.

It’s okay to let grandma die alone in a hospital so long as there’s a profit to be made.

I had to turn the news off and find something to quell my rising ire. 

Something tranquil and far removed from this horror show.

I thought I’d share a post from several years ago about a somewhat overlooked artist with whom I feel a real kinship, Harald Sohlberg, sharing many of his artistic goals and way of looking at the landscape. Like him, I seek consistency and a union of pictorial and spiritual values.

I’ve added a number of images to the original post. Take a look. Hopefully, you’ll find some tranquility in them. Have a good day.

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There’s a good possibility that you haven’t heard of Harald Sohlberg, a Norwegian painter who lived from 1869 until 1935. I know he was not on my radar until I stumbled across a few of his images. In fact, there is not a lot of info about him outside of a short perfunctory bio.

This kind of stumped me but it wasn’t until I came across the short essay shown below that this made sense, giving me a lot more insight into the man behind the work. I particularly identified with his connection with the landscape and his feelings as expressed in the final paragraph where, as an old man, he desired that people see his work not for the simple scenes they seemingly portrayed but ” for the pictorial and spiritual values on which I have been working consistently throughout the years.”

As an artist, that is your greatest hope– that people will look beyond the surface and see the emotional and spiritual content that the artist uses as a catalyst. Take a moment and read this essay from a 1995 exhibit at the National Academy of Design in NYC that featured the work of Sohlberg and Edvard Munch. At least take a moment to give these few Sohlberg’s paintings a good look.

In an obituary, Pola Gauguin [son of Paul Gauguin and a painter and art critic of the time] wrote that as an artist, Harald Sohlberg was alone and forgotten: “A name which was famous in its day.” Now that Sohlberg was dead, Gauguin thought, “the coldness which he helped surround it with, will thaw.” Sohlberg’s isolation was partly the tragic result of his wholehearted endorsement of the myth of genius as formulated by Romanticism and adopted by the Symbolists. Like Munch, he was obsessively preoccupied with denying that the influence of other contemporary artists had been important to him. He dissociated himself from the discussion about where he belonged in the history of art, relegating the origins of his artistic awakening outside of art to his own psyche.

Sohlberg wrote that his form sprang forth subconsciously from his first awareness of the landscape. The difference in texture of the sky and earth gave him a sense of standing on a heavy and firm planet gazing out into boundless space. He attributed the simple forms and great lines of his pictures to this first awareness of the landscape. The point of departure was the personal experience. Thus, the artist’s experience of his subject preceded the picture. Sohlberg was preoccupied with the concrete local landscape that surrounded him and his emotional reaction to it. The place, in itself, was charged with meaning. For this reason, where he sought his subjects was important. He experienced the landscape in Norway as nature in strong and intense moods and gave form to the echoes of these moods in his mind. He agreed with many of his generation who, taking their point of departure in Andreas Aubert’s writings about Norwegian art, were of the opinion that there existed distinctive, Nordic colors, clear and strong colors created by the clear, intense light of the North. Once artists realized this, it would be possible for an independent Nordic art to develop. Sohlberg believed that, along with the unique construction of the Nordic landscape, local color ought to result in a style of its own. Experience and interpretation of nature determined the choice of colors. For Sohlberg, the main color should assemble the picture and be as strong as possible.

The function of line in painting according to him was to express feelings. It could be lonely, down to earth, or melancholy. It could be willful and persevering as required. It should be developed according to the nature of the subject and the artist’s dialogue with nature. Because the picture was bound by a perceived reality, Sohlberg paid tribute to reality by portraying it naturalistically. But his gaze carried with it the legacy of picture formulas that transformed and adapted nature. He was an artist who rarely put a stroke on the canvas before the picture was clear to him in his imagination. As an artist, he was a substitute viewer. What interested him was his own experience and interpretation, regardless of how naturalistic his pictures appeared to be. Ideally everything in the picture was controlled by his will.

As an older man, Sohlberg longed for confirmation that the public saw the values he wished to impart: “it is probably true that for simple and naive reasons my works have aroused sympathy. But I maintain that they have by no means been properly understood for the pictorial and spiritual values on which I have been working consistently throughout the years.” The quotation contains three words which are keys to an understanding of Sohlberg: “Pictorial,” “spiritual,” and “consistently.” The pictorial is means for expressing the spiritual, and one was obliged to stick to the spiritual values one held true.

– From Ivind Storm Bjerke, Edvard Munch, Harald Sohlberg: Landscapes of the Mind

Harald Sohlberg-A Street in Oslo 1911Harald Sohlberg-Night in the Mountains 1914Harald Sohlberg- After The Snowstorm Harald Sohlberg-Storgaten_Røros_1904

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