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If only someone else could paint what I see, it would be marvelous, because then I wouldn’t have to paint at all.

Alberto Giacometti
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This quote from the great sculptor/painter Alberto Giacometti reminds me of a bit of advice I’ve attempted to pass on for a number of years: Paint the pictures you want or need to see.
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This idea that I wasn’t finding what I sensed I needed to see drove me early on and still does today.
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It makes me wonder if I had been aware of someone painting the pictures that I now paint when I was first starting out, would I be painting now? Would there be a need?
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Even though I want to say that, yes, I would definitely still be painting, I really can’t fully say that mainly because the little spark of doubt it creates makes me think it might well be true. But, of course, it would have to fully satisfy my need and maybe no one artist could do that. Or maybe even seeing that needed work might spark a new need, a further boundary.
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Hmm. Something to chew on this morning. Now, I best get to work. If no one else will paint the pictures I need to see, I better get going.
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Been raining for a couple of days now, often in loud and long downpours. Looking out from my studio, I can see the run-off creek that runs through my property, normally dry at this time of the year. It’s gushing brown now, nearly overtopping the large culvert into my studio, and has a roar that fills the woods.

Down the length of the long driveway into my property, the water runs on it like it’s a newly minted stream while beside the driveway the creek rushes well outside its banks, meeting the driveway water and merging into a mass that covers everything. The end of our drive looks like a  large, moving pond.

There are a few younger deer playing in the now hard rain, running through the heavy, muddy overflow coming off my pond. The ground is soft and giving underfoot, like walking on a sponge.

We’re fortunate in our location. High enough to avoid real flooding and far enough away from the water coming out of the creeks and run-offs that run through the property. A lot of other folks won’t be so fortunate and will most likely have to face a long clean up after the flash flooding that is taking place. A day or two more and we might be into heavy river flooding and that’s real trouble.

Hopefully, tomorrow will bring some sun, some relief. But for now, I’ll watch the water run brown with the deer splashing through it. A bit of a watered-in day, as my friends in Texas might call this.

Here’s a great version of the Bob Dylan song Down in the Flood from the bluegrass legends, Flatt and Scruggs. Enjoy and stay dry.

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Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity. I don’t see a different purpose for it now.

Dorothea Tanning
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Doing research for this blog, I run into so many artists that work well into their nineties and beyond that I begin to get hopeful for my own longevity. I try to see if there is some sort of common denominator among them, something that might be a key to their long careers and lives.
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There seems to be among many, at least to my eye, a constant striving for growth and change in their work. There are often new subjects, new styles, new mediums and new processes. But a constant state of wonder.
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Dorothea Tanning is one such example. Born in 1910, she worked until late in her life and died at the age of 102 in 2012. Her work changed throughout her career, having multiple phases, but always remained her own. I am only showing a few of her pieces here, a few that immediately grabbed me this morning, along with a short video with a bit of an overview. Like many artists I show here, I don’t know a lot about her work but hope to use this as an introduction.
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Hopefully, in forty years or so, I will still be following Ms. Tanning’s example. But most likely only if I try continue to attempt to grow. Because as Dorothea Tanning also said: It’s hard to be always the same person.

Tanning, Dorothea

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Frankie and Johnny is an old American traditional murder ballad. What an odd term, murder ballad. It sounds like it should be American and it certainly has been well adapted here. But it does have roots going back to 17th century Europe. It just came here as part of our immigrant tradition.

Anyway, Frankie and Johnny is one of our best known murder ballads, one with a history that some says goes back to the 1830’s. It tells the story of a woman who is wronged by her philandering man and vents her anger by killing him.

The artist Thomas Hart Benton illustrated the murder scene in a print (at the top of the page) as well as part of his epic American mural located in the Missouri State House in Jefferson City. In the photo below, you can see it just above the doorway.

As a song it has been recorded by several hundred different artists in a wide variety of genres. I was reminded of my favorite version the other day when it came on my dad’s radio when I was visiting him the other day. This version from the great Sam Cooke was one that I listened to incessantly when I was a kid. The lyrics and Cooke’s vocal inflections are engraved in my memory bank. I believe that if I ever suffer from the dementia that affects my dad I would remember this song and Cooke’s take on it.

It is a tremendous version of a great song that builds and builds to a roaring crescendo. Cooke definitely puts his own signature on this song, as he did on just about everything he ever sang. This has stuck in my head for the last few days.

Give a listen. We’ll call today Murder Ballad Friday.


 

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When less than four years old I was standing with my nurse, Mary Ward, watching the shadows on the wall from branches of an elm behind which the moon had risen. I have never forgot those shadows and am often trying to paint them.

-Samuel Palmer

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I have long admired the work of the British painter Samuel Palmer (1805-1881).  He is sometimes called the British Van Gogh even though he painted much of his work much of his work before Van Gogh was even born. There’s a wonderful darkness underlying much of his work that no doubt relates to the shadows from his childhood that he mentions in the quote above. Interesting how things from our childhood that might be easily overlooked or downplayed affect us throughout our lives.

His compositions have a very unique quality, one that strives to create a sense of fullness in the view he is revealing. It is very stylized and personal, more so than most artists of the first half of the 19th century. His often condensed compositions create an air of unreality but nevertheless make sense and translate easily in the journey from the eye to the brain. This really appeals to my own sense of composition and I find myself relating easily to his work, almost sensing how he was putting his pieces together.

Many of you have probably never heard of Samuel Palmer but he certainly has had my attention and respect for some time. Here’s a short video of his work and a few more of my favorite pieces.

The Harvest Moon: Drawing for ‘A Pastoral Scene’ c.1831-2 Samuel Palmer 1805-1881 Purchased 1922 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03699

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You can’t force inspiration. It’s like trying to catch a butterfly with a hoop but no net. If you keep your mind open and receptive, though, one day a butterfly will land on your finger.

–Chuck Jones
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I came across the quote above from the great animator/artist Chuck Jones and it made me think of a blog post I wrote back in 2009, citing him as an influence. Nine years later, I still feel that way as strongly as ever. I still see hints of his landscapes in my own. His strong visuals, along with those of the early Max Fleischer Popeye cartoons, really imprinted on me. I thought it deserved a second run. Actually, I just wanted to show Marvin the Martian again.
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Marvin the Martian and Daffy
I have cited artists here who have been influences on my work, people who are often giants in the world of art and sometimes lesser known but equally talented artists. But sometimes you overlook the obvious, those ones who have always been right in front of you.

What's Opera DocLast night [from 2009], TCM honored the great cartoonist Chuck Jones by showing a documentary and some of his landmark cartoons starring Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck. He also did the Roadrunner/ Wile E. Coyote cartoons as well as the seminal holiday favorite, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. His work was and is a vivid part of an incredible number of people’s childhoods. His What’s Opera Doc? with Bugs and Elmer in a Wagnerian setting with a tragic ending is classic and might be the only exposure to higher culture that many viewers may get.chuck_jones-opera-set

For me, I was always so drawn to the color quality that Jones had in his cartoons as well as the way he interpreted the landscape with a form of artistic shorthand that cut out extraneous detail yet never took away from the feeling of place, unlike some of the lower quality cartoons from Hanna-Barbera in the early 60’s. Don’t get me wrong. I loved those cartoons as well but even as a kid I was really distracted by the poor quality of the landscapes that scrolled continuously behind their characters. With Chuck Jones, it always felt fresh and real, as though there was thought given to every detail in every frame. Who else could put imagery like the above scene from What’s Opera Doc? before the eyes of impressionable children? Probably only the artists from Disney can match Jones’ work at Warner Brothers, but that’s another post.

His work also treated you, as a kid, like you had intelligence. They were smart, clever and nuanced. They never talked down to you.

For a kid this was potent stuff. Scratch that- it’s just potent stuff. Period.

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The artist has to transcend a subject, or he loses the battle. The subject wins.

 

Fritz Scholder
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Fritz Scholder (1937-2005) was an Native American painter. I wasn’t going to use the Native part because he had claimed at one point in his career that he was not an Indian painter nor would he ever paint Indians. Much of his work adhered to that idea but his work, in many cases, definitely reflected his experience as a Native American. His work followed the modern trails of painters like Francis Bacon and Willem de Kooning but certainly expressed his personal viewpoint and experience. It’s great work that I always enjoy taking in.
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The subject matter in his work is strong but Scholder seems to have won the battle, to have transcended pure subject. His words above are important for artists in any genre to keep in mind. I know that that this act of transcendence is something I aspire to whenever I am before the easel.
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Sometimes I win and sometimes I don’t.
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