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I have been thinking about the work of the German painter George Grosz, who was born in 1893 and died in 1959. Maybe it’s the tone of these recent days in this country, darkly ominous and tinged with potential violence, that bring his work to mind. His work definitely dealt with the tenor of his time, mirroring the mood of  the two world wars and the rise of fascism in Europe and Hitler in Nazi Germany to which he was a witness. I thought I would replay an earlier blog post about Grosz that ran six years back. I’ve added a few more examples of his work as well as a video slideshow. The music in it is Andre Rieu playing a selection from The Merry Widow which adds a slightly lighter touch to the film.

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I woke up in the dark this morning after a fitful night of sleep filled with horrible dreams.  I don’t want to go into the details but they were awful and constant, each sweeping from desperate scene into yet another.  Dark and tinged in deep colors of black and red.  Hopeless in the scope of their finality and, though I am hesitant to use the word, there was a sense of apocalypse.  I was shaken.  I’ve had many horrifying dreams over the years but they seldom felt so vast and desperately final.

 As I trudged down to pick up my newspaper I tried to sort out the dream and try to find an equivalence in imagery that I know that captured in some way the feel of these dreams.  As I neared the studio the dark paintings of George Grosz done in Germany in the years before World War I came to mind.  They were forebodingly dark and angry and just the overall look of them made me think of the darkest corners of man’s mind.  The red tones and the way they filled the picture plane along with the chaotic nature of the compositions brought to mind the nightmarish feel of my dreams.

Grosz’s work changed over the years, especially after fleeing Hitler’s Germany, moving to the New York in the 1930’s where he lived until the late 1950’s when he returned to Berlin, dying there in 1959.  His American work is often considered the wekest of his career, less biting and more esoteric.  There were exceptions during the war such as 1944’s  Cain, Or Hitler in Hell, shown here, which reverts back to the colors and nightmare feel of his early work.  Very powerful work that may not sooth one’s soul but rather documents the darker aspects of human existence.

I don’t know if my own nightmares have an effect on my work.  Perhaps they come out in work that seems the antithesis of them, work that seeks to calm and assure.  I don’t really know to be honest.  I know that I want to put last night’s visions behind me.  To that end, I think I should get to work and let my nightmares only dwell in the work of Grosz for now.

 

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Let Us Now Praise...

 

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

      – Thomas Edison

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I was going through old blog posts recently and I noticed that I had used the painting above a number of times in my earliest posts. It’s part of my Exiles series from back in 1995 and is titled Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, borrowed from the title of a group of Depression-era photos of sharecroppers in the American dust bowl shot by photographer Walker Evans.

I never really wrote about this painting except in what I saw as it’s similarity to what I saw in those photos of Depression era workers. I always felt a connection to this piece but thought it was an outer connection, one that simply had to do with my reaction to form and color and not with anything I might see of it in myself.

Maybe that was my hope.

But it is a painting that I find has more meaning for me than I might want to let on. It’s a piece to which I always return, again and again, to study closely. While I sometimes see it as apart from me, more and more as I live with it, part of me feels like I am that man, standing alone in his landscape.

A sometimes self portrait.

It’s not a flattering self portrait. I used to see this figure as sad or regretful, world weary. But that has changed over time.  There is some sadness, some regret but more than anything, I now see him as resigned, neither happy or sad. He is in his place with work behind him and much more work to do. It still has a weariness in it, but not from a physical standpoint. It is more a sense of tiredness from working to stay ahead of the world’s constant encroachment, the world’s constant erosion. But while it appears tired there is also a sense of implied strength and determination to stay on task.

The hand here is important to me, a symbol of the bond of a working mind and working hands. Ideas set in motion and realized.

It’s a painting that means more and more to me as times passes and the world works its erosive qualities on my self and my world, my landscape. Maybe I am that dirt farmer, looking back with pride in his work along with an apprehension that it will someday be carried away like dry soil in the wind.

I am not going to be around Sunday so here’s a little music for the morning, a day early. It fits pretty well in tone and substance to the painting above. It’s the immortal Otis Redding with I’ve Got Dreams to Remember.

Have a good weekend.

 

 

 

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Rouault

Georges Rouault -Christ in the Suburbs 1920-24I am a believer and a conformist. Anyone can revolt; it is much more difficult to obey our inner promptings.

Georges Rouault

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I’ve been a big fan of French painter/printmaker Georges Rouault  (1871-1958) from the moment many years ago when I stumbled across Miserere, a book of of his deeply expressionistic etchings.  The title translates as Mercy and it contained raw and expressive work that dealt with deeply  personal and religious themes along with those inner promptingsas he calls them in the quote above. It was  a work that was very influential on my early Exiles series.

His entrance into the world of art was serving, at the age of fourteen, as an apprentice glass painter and restorer which shows itself in his mature work which resembles leaded glass windows with its dark dividing lines and glowing colors that feel sometimes as though they are lit from behind with the light shining through. Both are qualities that excited me and made me want to emulate in my own work. Not to mention the purity a of the emotional feeling throughout.

Now, if only I can obey my own inner promptings…

This is kind of a replay of a blog entry from a couple of years back. I changed some of the wording and added a video that better shows the work of Rouault. Here is that video with more of his work:

Georges Rouault Sunset 1937georges-rouault-christ-and-the-fishermen-1939-Georges Rouault The Old King

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I may be an admitted liar but I swear this is the truth: I had a good time at yesterday’s Gallery Talk at the West End. Plus, I think most everybody there did as well. At least, nobody threw anything or cursed at me or stormed out of the gallery. But even beyond those low standards, most everyone seemed pleased with what I will label as an enjoyable hour or so spent talking about art and other things.

It was a great turnout and it was good to see so many old friends along with many new faces. I want to extend a very heartfelt thank you to all in attendance. I know that there are a lot of other things that you could have been doing on a nice summer weekend day and the fact that you chose to spend it listening to me blather on is something I do not take for granted.

Thank you for your great warmth,openness and acceptance. And your great questions and observations. These are things that make standing up there in front of you much easier even in those moments when I am struggling to say something.

I hope you found it worth your time and hope that you will come back again next year.

I will work on new material. A little hint: it may involve tap-dancing.

Or not.

Thank you.

Okay, let’s have this week’s Sunday Morning Music. I have chosen an old Kinks song from back in 1968 that I think fits today’s entry. It’s their classic Days.
Have a great day of your own.

 

 

 

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Maybe it’s a morning for daydreaming. There’s a sharp crispness in the air this morning that reminds me of autumn mornings, gloriously cool and bright. But we’re lingering in July with the gauzy summer days of August still before us, so there is still a bit of time before those fall mornings arrive. So I’ll daydream of those days ahead.

I guess this leads me to today’s musical selection. I thought I’d carry on the daydreaming theme with a classical piece from Claude Debussy. It is titled Reverie which is just another way of saying daydream.  I chose this version from Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra because it features a nice slideshow of Maxfield Parrish paintings, all of which easily fall into the category of daydreams.

Give a look and a listen. Let your mind float for a bit and have a good day.


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I first read the poem The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats over forty years back and it left a mark. Cut and scarred me. Its first verse still resonates in my mind, especially that last line– the best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity. It just reeks of the current political bog in which we are mired.

After putting the final touches on the piece above, a 12″ by 36″ canvas, I began examining the painting, trying to discern what it held for me. Immediately, the image from Yeats’ poem came to mind of a world in disarray,  spinning out of control in dark chaotic clouds and rising tide that overtakes and drowns all hopes.

But instead of Yeats’ forewarning that the center ( or centre, as is in his Irish version) cannot hold, I saw the Red Tree standing strong and resolute against the troubles swirling around it.  It holds tight to its core, not allowing the madness surrounding it to overtake it or alter those values of goodness that it holds dearly as definitions of its own humanity. It will die before it will succumb to becoming part of the blood-dimmed tide, as Yeats put it.

I am calling this painting The Center Holds.

I think this is a strong piece although I am not sure the photo above captures everything in it, its depth and contours. It’s coming with me to the West End Gallery for my Gallery Talk there next Saturday, August 5. Stop by and check it out for yourself.

Meanwhile, here’s Yeats’ The Second Coming:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.                                                                                                                                                                               .
Surely some revelation is at hand; 
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi 
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep 
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? 

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I wrote about late artist Dale Nichols (1910-1995) a few years back after being completely charmed by his paintings of snowy scenes from his home state of Nebraska. In that blog entry I mentioned that there wasn’t a huge amount of info on the artist. The only book was a book that accompanied a show of his work from back in 2011 at a small but not unimportant museum, the Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art, in his hometown of David City, Nebraska. I was shocked to find that this book was selling for $458 on Amazon which is a testament to the lack of literature on this wonderful artist. Happily, I found a copy at a normal price at the museum’s online gift shop.

I came across a nice short called The Forgotten Artist from Nebraska public television that features Nichols’ work and the Bone Creek Museum. It is a charming look at his work and the relationship he had with his niece. I thought I’d rerun the article I ran earlier along with the video. Maybe it will help make Dale Nichols a little less forgotten.

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Dale Nichols- Company for SupperMost likely prompted by the recent weather here as well as a desire to try a slight change of palette, I have been doing a small group of snow paintings recently.  I thought I would look at several other artists, especially those with a distinct personal style,  to see how they handle snow in their work.  One of the artists whose snow works really stuck out  was Dale Nichols, who was born in Nebraska in 1904 and died in Sedona, AZ in 1995.  He is considered one of the American Regionalists,  that loosely defined group of painters whose work  for which I have long expressed my admiration.

Dale Nichols- After the Blizzard 1967His biography is a bit sparse with but Nichols lived a long and productive life, serving as an illustrator, a  college professor and the Art Editor of the Encyclopedia Brittanica.  He also spent a lot of time in Guatemala which resulted in a group of work with Meso-American forms that is quite different from his Regionalist work.

But Nichols is primarily known for his rural snow scenes and it’s easy to see why.  The colors are pure and vivid.  The snow, put on in multiple glazed layers with watercolor brushes has a luminous beauty.  The stylized treatment of the crowns of the bare trees adds a new geometry to the paintings.   There is a pleasant warmth, a nostalgic and slightly sentimental glow, to this work even though they are scenes that depict frigid winters on the plains of Nebraska.  Free of all angst, they’re just plain and simple gems.

You can see a bit more of Dale Nichols other work on a site  devoted to him by clicking here.

Dale Nichols- The SentinelDale Nichols- Silent Morning 1972Dale Nichols- Mail Delivery 1950Dale Nichols- Bringing Home the Tree

 

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