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Archive for the ‘Favorite Things’ Category

One of the benefits that come from writing this blog for nearly 12 years now is that on those days when I am super busy and have to get to work early, I can go into the archives and pull out a favorite. Below is a such a favorite from back in 2013, made doubly so in that it is in itself a reposting of an even earlier entry from 2009. Give a look ( and a listen) if you have a few minutes.

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farmer[2013]– Yesterday, I checked my blog with a search to see if I had ever written here before about that day’s subject, Long John Baldry. I found that I had only mentioned him once in a post from back in 2009. I read the older blog and it made me chuckle. It was titled You Can’t Judge a Book… from a song that Baldry had once covered and had to do with how our preconceptions are often wrong about people. It immediately brought to mind something that had happened over the weekend here at the studio.

My niece, Sarah, brought a friend and her husband to visit the studio from their NYC home. Sarah didn’t share much about her friend outside of saying that they danced together and that she was a filmmaker for one of the large big-name auction houses in NYC.  I had no idea about what her husband did for a living. That was the extent of my knowledge outside of knowing they had been married the year before in New Orleans.

But they arrived and we had a wonderful visit. Both were charming and inquisitive, asking real questions and relating their own experiences in response to my answers. They were easy to speak with and made me feel comfortable in describing my work and process, not something that a lot of people can do easily. We visited for a couple of hours and they headed back to the city.

During our visit we learned a bit about the friend’s husband, whose name I won’t use out of respect for their privacy.  He was in the music business in some fashion, performing as a DJ, and had spent a lot of time touring here and abroad. He also was working on soundtracks for films. When I asked what sort of music he worked in, he said, in an almost apologetic way, that it was mainly rap and hip-hop. The manner of his response struck me in a curious way. He went on to explain that it was the music of when and where he grew up, in the neighborhoods of NYC. Again, this was said in an apologetic manner.

I didn’t think much about it until after they left and I decided to see if I could find out more about his music.  Googling him, I discovered that he had a prodigious reputation in the rap genre, with over twenty years in the business as a DJ and producer for a pretty big name rapper. He had recently started his own record company and had released an album  of his work only weeks before our meeting. I watched a couple of videos of his work and listened to several songs.

I am not an authority on rap/ hip hop in any form but this was powerful stuff. I was really impressed and thought back to his apologetic description of his work.

I understood it then.

He didn’t want to be judged and was trying to make it easy for me to not judge him. I mean, here I was, a middle-aged white guy with gray hair out in the country— not exactly a prime candidate for a hip-hop connoisseur. He had surely heard the venom directed toward his musical genre before from people who looked like me.

So, he judged me before I could judge him. I understood that.  It’s most likely what I would have done had I been in his place. My only regret is that it robbed me of an opportunity to ask the many questions that I formed in looking up his work after they had left the studio. It would have been fascinating to compare our creative processes, to see how he synthesized his influences. I got the impression from our talk that, though we worked in vastly different environments with disparate influences, we both working on a similar creative rhythm, expressing emotion within the framework of our own personal environments.

Well, the next time we will both know and won’t worry about judging one another. Here’s the original post from back in 2009:

I’ve just put the final details on a couple of paintings that will be part of my solo show at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. The show opens June 12th and I’m scheduled to deliver the work to the gallery a week before so I’m in the final stages of preparation. This is my tenth one-man show at the gallery and before that I did two shows as part of a group of painters from the Corning , NY area that was dubbed the Finger Lakes School.  

I particularly remember one moment from the first show with that group. There was a pretty good crowd and several of us from the group mingled, answering questions and such. I had a small break in the conversation and I heard a female voice from behind ask her companion where we were from. Her friend answered that we were from the Finger Lakes region in New York, pointing out that it was a pretty rural area with a lot of wineries and farms.

“Well, you know, they do look like farmers,” she replied.

I think I did a spit take. Over the years I often think back to that lady’s comment and sometimes laugh. Maybe we shouldn’t have all worn our overalls and straw hats that night. It just reminds me how people judge others by that initial glimpse and how often they end up being wrong. Actually, I’ve come to the conclusion that, in the end, I would prefer being mistaken for a farmer than an artist anyhow. Offhand, I can think of more positive attributes for the farmer. So, if you can make it to the opening look for the guy who looks like a farmer…

That brings me to a song, You Can’t Judge a Book, that was originally written by blues great Willie Dixon and made popular by Bo Diddley. This is a personally favorite version from Long John Baldry, one of the pioneers of the British blues/rock movement in the early 60’s and a guy who had real panache. Give a listen and be careful before judging someone, okay?

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exANll1Mk7o

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Édouard Vuillard – Landscape at Saint-Jacut

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To say that a thing is beautiful is simply an act of faith, not a measurement on some kind of scale.

–Édouard Vuillard

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If you asked me about my favorite painters, Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940) is not a name that would come to mind. In fact, I never even gave much thought to his work and didn’t have much of an opinion on it. I knew a little bit about the interior scenes for which he is well known but if you asked me to name or even describe his best known work, I would be at a loss.

But the more I look and the more I see of his work, the more of a fan I become of Édouard Vuillard. There is such a wide array of style in the body of his work that shows his exploration and growth.

The interior scenes I once shrugged over now seem to be wonderfully dense explorations into abstraction, pattern and color. There is so much to latch onto in each piece that a cursory glimpse doesn’t often suffice. I now see his work with a bit of a sense of awe and can honestly take that leap of faith and say that I see them as beautiful.

I even like a few of the things from him I have read, like the words at the top. Beauty is indeed subjective, not measurable with any set scale. My sense of beauty may well differ from yours. You may be moved by things that do nothing for me and vice versa. I don’t know that there is any one things, any one piece of art, that is absolutely beautiful to everyone.

Maybe there is. Who knows? Certainly not me.

He also wrote: I do not belong to any school, I simply want to do something that is personal to my self

These words depict that need to create something that is only mine, not something instantly attributable to a school or movement or any other artist, that has always been the driving force behind my own work. I don’t know that I have always been successful but I can say that Vuillard definitively did create a distinct body of art, beautiful work that is all his own.

Just good stuff. Here are a few examples from a sea of choices.

 

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Blue II- Joan Miro

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The picture should be fecund. It must bring a world to birth.

-Joan Miro

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This is a thought that I often keep in mind. Art succeeds when it creates its own reality, when it brings a world to birth in the mind of those who behold it. The artist’s own belief in the reality of that new world is a large determinant in whether this birth takes place.

For myself, I almost always feel like I am taken to a different world, one as real as the world I inhabit in my human skin, by whatever is on the surface before me.

That is, when it works. Sometimes it is difficult to climb into that new world and that new reality that wants to be born on the surface is nothing more than a lifeless mishmash of paint blotches and lines. That is frustrating, to say the least.

But when it works, it is an easy glide into that new world with its own atmosphere and landscape, so familiar yet new and fresh in the nose and to the eye. It’s a thrill just to be in there for that time when taking on its lifeform.

Joan Miro (1893-1983) did such a thing with such ease. I am showing his Blue triptych today. I find it interesting how intimate and alive they feel as single images on a screen where their scale fades away. These could easily be small paintings. But when you see them as they are in the two photos below, you can see their size and how it magnifies their lifeforce.

They are a world unto themselves.

Take a look for yourself. I have also included a video of Dave Brubeck’s Bluette below that is played over a slideshow of Miro’s work.

Just good stuff.

 

 

Joan Miro Blue I

Joan Miro Blue III


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The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.

–Flannery O’Connor

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I think you could probably substitute artist in for writer in the words above from author Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) without changing the gist of the thought too much. All art, and literature certainly falls into that category, is about transforming the now of the creation– the time and place— into something beyond that moment, into something timeless–the eternity to which O’Connor refers.

Finding that intersection where those two things come together is, as she points out, not such as easy thing to accomplish. And almost every instance the artist will never know if they have come to those crossroads that moves their work into the realm of the eternal.

I guess the finding is immaterial without the seeking. And seeking without any assurance of finding something that will ever reveal itself to you is an act of faith, a belief that there something eternal worth seeking.

I don’t know what else to call it. You keep trying. You think it is near sometimes but when you finally come to it, you’re not sure enough of what you’re experiencing to stop seeking.

Does one ever know when they have come to that crossroads?

That being said, here’s this week’s Sunday morning music from a longtime favorite of mine, Tracy Chapman. I think her body of work sometimes get overlooked in the deluge of the new but every time I come back to her, I wonder how I have let her slip out of mind. Here’s a song that fits the subject here, Crossroads, to accompany the painting at the top, Beyond the Crossroads, from back in 2004.

Have a good Sunday, okay?

 

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The Classic Bob Gibson Followthrough

This is an edited version of a blog entry from way back in 2009:

It’s that time of the year.

Catchers and pitchers are reporting to spring training. Baseball is in the air. Is there any better time of the year?

Baseball has always held a special place for me. Oh, I was no more than an average player– decent bat, lousy arm and a so-so glove– but there was pure magic in seeing the heroes of my youth and hearing the stories of the early legends of the game.

I remember my grandmother telling me of going with my grandfather to New York City on their honeymoon in 1921 and seeing Babe Ruth play with the Yankees. Ruth hit a double and a triple as she recalled.

I remember sitting with my grandfather, the mythological Shank, so called for the holds he would apply to his opponent’s legs during his time as a professional wrestler, and watching the World Series in the afternoons of 1968. I had my tonsils out and was still recuperating and we watched the St. Louis Cardinals play the Detroit Tigers, who won the series. It was great watching with my grandfather plus I was introduced a player who became one of the heroes of my youth, Bob Gibson, the Cardinal’s pitching ace.

Gibby was it for me. The toughest guy out there, one whose competitive fire was, and is, legendary. So dominating as a pitcher that baseball changed the mound height because they felt the hitters needed help since he was practically unhittable. I read his early autobiography, From Ghetto to Glory, numerous times as a kid and that made him an even bigger hero to me. He was eloquent and college-educated, a rarity for ballplayers of that era, and his story was compelling, going from abject poverty onto college then a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters then on to baseball stardom.

He remains a hero.

Baseball was always played at our house. My dad was a pretty fair pitcher who had promise as a youth. In subsequent years, I have uncovered numerous news stories in old newspapers about his exploits on the mound and in the field. But later, as a dad, he would occasionally play catch with me and my friends. Eventually, he would break out his knuckleball, a pitch he was known for in his younger days. It was practically uncatchable, having a spectacular drop that would appear to be entering your glove only to end up hitting you in the stomach. Or lower. I was never able to master the pitch but still appreciate the awkward grace and dance of a well thrown knuckler.

Other times, I would pitch to him and he would hit flies to my brother in the outfield. Periodically, he would hit hard liners back at me. They would bang off me or make me dive out of the way and he would cackle. I would then try to drill him with the next pitch, which would make him laugh even more because he had gotten my goat.

I would calm myself and wait until he would pitch to me, waiting for the perfect pitch when I could send a hard line drive back at him, making him duck or dive. At such times, after having to jump out of the way or  defend himself with his glove, he would yell out a Hey! and give me a harsh look. Then he would usually laugh because he knew that I was just paying him back for his earlier actions. Payback was just part of the game.

Even my work has been somewhat affected by my experiences with the game. I remember the first time coming out of tunnel during a night game at Shea Stadium in the late 1960’s and seeing the field spread out before me. I was stunned by the colors that were so rich and lush under the warmth of the lights. It was a feeling that I think I wanted to replicate in some manner which ultimately led me to art.

Over the years baseball has become my calendar for the passing of the year and is a comforting friend on the days when the world seems ready to implode. I am still captive to the numbers and legends of baseball, one of those romantics who see poetry in a game based in tradition.

To that end, here is a wonderful version of Take Me Out to the Ballgame from Harpo Marx, played on I Love Lucy. It is delicate and graceful.  It’s the essence of the memory of baseball for me…

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Love, whether newly born, or aroused from a deathlike slumber, must always create sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance that it overflows upon the outward world.

–Nathaniel Hawthorne

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A few choice words for this Valentine’s Day from Nathaniel Hawthorne, who is not someone who normally comes immediately to mind when one thinks of love and romance. But creating sunshine and filling the heart with radiance,as he put it, is not the province of any one writer.

I have plenty to do so I am going to keep this short today. Here’s a wonderful version from the immortal Nat King Cole performing the classic Embraceable You, written by George Gershwin back in 1928. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day. Or if the holiday doesn’t really move you, enjoy your Friday. Either way, it’s a win.

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Thought I’d share the film that won the Academy Award last night for Best Animated Short Film. It is titled, Hair Love, and was written and directed by Matthew A. Cherry, and co-produced with Karen Rupert Toliver.  I saw it yesterday morning on CBS Sunday Morning and thought it was absolutely charming and sweet.

I think we need both of those two things and the humanity they represent, even if it is only for the 7 minutes of this short film.

I didn’t watch the Oscars last night. Since I don’t see many movies at the theater these days, usually waiting until they move to streaming services, I am usually not in any position to root for any one movie. In fact, of this year’s crop of Best Film candidates, I have only seen one, Jo Jo Rabbit, which I thought was marvelous. Both laugh out loud funny and moving, it is one of my favorite films in many years.

But I look forward to seeing the others, particularly Parasite, the Best Film winner from South Korea and the first to ever win as a foreign language film, and 1917, set in WW I. Seems like quite a good crop of films this year.

But for now, from Sony Pictures Animation, take a look at Hair Love. Hope it gets your week off to a good start.

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