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Archive for the ‘Favorite Things’ Category

There just doesn’t seem to be enough time in any day, with what seems like a thousand tasks gnawing at me to get done. A little anxious,  I am eager to get going but it is Sunday morning and my routine dictates that I dig out a song to play here on the blog.

This weeks features two versions of Bob Dylan‘s Everything Is Broken, a definite favorite of mine and a song that oddly fits almost any time and place. I chose the  first, which contains the song done by Dylan himself, because the video cracked me up. It’s done by someone from Italy, I think, who makes some interesting videos. I believe he just does it for himself and friends because none of them has a huge number of views. But his one caught my eye and makes me chuckle.

The second video is from longtime soul diva Bettye LaVette. I like to hear different takes on the same song, seeing how many artists take different approaches to the same material. Bettye’s version is pretty satisfying.

But you be the judge. Have a great day.


 

 

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Mark Twain holds great say in our area. He spent many of his summers overlooking my native city, Elmira, and the Chemung River valley at Quarry Farm, where he wrote many of his best loved books. His family plot at Woodlawn Cemetery is a tourist attraction. Maybe that’s why I’ve always felt an affinity for the man and his writing.

Or maybe it was his inability to suffer fools, most notably those with great advantages and power. The current goings-on in DC, especially with the spite and greed that is accompanying the healthcare bill, have me swearing under my breath whenever I let the subject enter my mind. Keeping it out is a full-time and exhausting job.

So, today instead of venting, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Mark Twain-isms. Though some of this lines seem ornery and misanthropic, I think they reveal great compassion and empathy for the common man. I mean that in the singular sense. I like to believe that he was as leery of organizations, clubs, populist movements and, especially, those who reign over these groups as I am.

Plus they make me smile. And I need that these days, more than ever.

 

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Real busy this morning but wanted to share some paintings and a short video/slideshow of the work of the great American Modernist painter John Marin, who was born in 1870 and died in 1953. He was a pioneer in the medium of watercolor as well as the merging of abstraction and realism in his paintings.

His transparent and translucent colors and the freedom with which he painted, along with the ever freshness of his work,  really inspired me early on. Each painting seemed to be an improvised performance, like a visual jazz riff. Though my style has diverged greatly from his, I still find myself wanting the looseness and immediacy of expression that his work so often displayed.

Take a look and a listen. The music behind this slideshow is Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose played by James P. Johnson who was a great pianist and composer, a pioneer in the stride style of jazz playing. Good stuff.

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There’s so much to be done lately. Who would have thought that painting could be a hectic occupation? That’s not how they show it in the brochures! Anyway, here’s a post from several years back with the addition of a video showing the work of another artist, Frantisek Kupka,  who slipped unseen through the radar for many people, myself included. The scope of his work and the way in which he maintains such a high level throughout is fascinating. Take a look.


Frantisek Kupka was another one of those supremely talented painters from the late 19th/early 20th century who is little known outside the world of museums these days.  You probably won’t stumble across a Kupka calendar or mousepad.  But when I  see the scope and quality of his work I wonder why he hasn’t made that leap.  I know I hadn’t heard of him when I first came across his work in a book of Symbolist paintings.  I saw this image shown here, Resistance or The Dark Idol, and was immediately struck by the tension and drama in its mysterious setting.  I was surprised when I saw his other work that was beautifully colored and striking in other ways.

Kupka- The Yellow Scale (1907 Self Portrait)

Frantisek Kupka was a Czech painter who was born in 1871 and died in 1957 in France.  His career saw his work move from the early symbolic work to pure abstraction.  In fact, Kupka is considered one of the founding members of  the group, Abstraction-Creation, that set off the abstract movement.  While I found much of his abstract work beautiful, it was the early work that really pulled me in.  It was obvious that he could have worked extraordinarily well in any style he chose.  But his relative anonymity remains a mystery to me.  Perhaps he never had that one  iconic image or series that became associated with his name.  Monet’s water lillies.  Van Gogh’s starry night.  Gauguin’s Tahiti. Whistler’s mom.

I don’t know the whys behind this.  But his talent is no mystery at all.  It is evident in every piece I have come across.

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Part of the charm of baseball for me are its mythic elements, the stories that captured my imagination as a kid.  For instance, Babe Ruth allegedly pointing to the centerfield fence to call his home run. Or Satchel Paige supposedly throwing strikes using a single gum wrapper laid on home plate as the strike zone.  Willie Mays’ fabled but very real over the shoulder catch. And Jackie Robinson stealing home in the World Series. Too many more to mention here.

This year has brought a player who may enter into that pantheon of mythic baseball lore.  Rookie Aaron Judge of the Yankees combines a physique that seems right out of tall tales with Paul Bunyan size and strength. He’s 6′ 8″ tall and weighs in the 275 pound range, the largest player by sheer body mass to ever play the game. But it is not a lumbering, heavy mass.  He is athletic and quick with a powerful and accurate throwing arm.

But it is his potent bat that has made him the big news of NY and the rest of the major leagues. He leads the American League in home runs, runs batted in, runs, batting average and walks.

All are amazing stats but it is the way in which he strikes his homers that has thrilled the crowds and made his every at bat must see viewing. His pregame batting practices are already legendary with balls flying to the deepest parts of the park where they have scattered bartenders and shattered television screens. The excitement has people coming to the games wearing costume powdered wigs and he even has a section of the stands named in his honor– the Judge’s Chambers.

He hits the ball with incredible power and the crack of the bat is startlingly sharp, with a thunderclap to it unlike almost any other player. His home runs leave the park at ultra high velocity and go ridiculous distances. Yesterday, he hit a ball at Yankee Stadium close to 500 foot that had the other players as well as the announcers in sheer awe.  He is simply hitting balls to places where they have never been hit before, even in batting practice. As Paul O’Neill said, it’s like he’s a big man playing in a Little League field.

I have to say that he has ignited that excitement in the game that I had as a kid where every game, every at bat has the possibility of the amazing or the transcendent taking place. Something that would tie your experience of it to the great myths of the game.

Now, the realistic part of me, that awful adult part, knows that the odds are that someday soon this torrid pace may slow and he will return to the ranks of the merely good ball players. Baseball is a humbling game for players and fans alike. But for know, Aaron Judge is playing the game like he’s in a comic book, like he’s King Kong swinging Thor’s Hammer at the plate. And that makes this middle-aged boy very happy. It’s a great diversion away from these troubling times.

Whenever he comes to the plate, I always think of this song from the 60’s. It was a minor hit in 1968 from Motown’s Shorty Long, who died the following year in a boating accident. I was just a kid at the time, idolizing Cardinal pitcher Bob Gibson, himself a mythic character, but I remember this song well. Can’t go wrong here, Motown soul with the Funk Brothers laying down a great backing track. Courts in session, here come the Judge…

 

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Quiet morning and I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out what I want to play today for this Sunday morning music break. Spent a lot of time listening to a lot of different things. I would say it was too much time spent but it’s been enjoyable just taking the time and focusing on the music rather than having it as a background sound while I work.

And I think there are benefits in just really zoning in on the music without distraction, hearing the edge of the notes and the path of the rhythm. The individual elements become clearer and stronger, something that is often lost when there are a thousand other thoughts and sensations running through the mind. When I’m in the studio sometimes the sounds in the background become a drone that becomes a thread that interweaves with whatever thoughts are guiding the task at hand.

And that’s a shame because I know that I often miss the crucial part of the music in this miasma of thought, the part that inspires, that takes you to another place and time. The transcendent part.

This morning I’ve chosen the jazz standard ‘Round Midnight performed by its composer, the legendary Theloni0us Monk. I’m no jazz aficionado. Can’t tell you a lot about the history of the genre or the importance of different tracks or performances or even who ranks highest among those who do know. But I do know that Thelonious Monk has iconic standing in jazz, as does this song. This is a performance by Monk and his quartet from 1966.

I can only say that I like what I like. It’s my main criteria for judging most everything. Sometimes it goes along with the consensus of the experts and sometimes it just suits my own tastes. Here, I think it’s just plain good stuff that I can listen to with pure focus. Have a listen and hopefully you will have great day afterward.

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Sometimes, after reading and listening to the news in the morning, I find myself feeling frustrated, angry, incredulous, despondent and helpless. It’s been that way for the last 20 years but more so in the past year as I see the tribalism of today’s politics take us so far from the ideals of democracy for the people. There’s more and more sheer greed and self-service  without even the pretext of trying to hide it and the basis for legislation seems to be based not on the greater good but on how high a level of spite it can reach.

And the right’s constant kowtowing to the corporate and financial gods makes me feel downright queasy because my years on this planet have taught me that a top down approach– the trickle down effect, if you prefer–is only a pretext for allowing the wealthiest of us to gain more and more wealth with an unenforceable promise that they will freely spread the wealth to a population that has been made dependent to their whims. It is a ridiculous concept as an economic theory and has never shown itself to benefit anyone other than those holding the most wealth.

So , yesterday while the world sat mesmerized while a little more kerosene was thrown on the dumpster fire that is our president, the Republicans in congress voted to repeal most of the banking regulations, Dodd-Frank, that were enacted in the aftermath of the economic meltdown of 2008. It would allow the big banks to resume the activities that led to that crisis, allowing them to make risky bets with the knowledge that the taxpayer’s will be there to pay for their losses.

So, again, this morning I find myself frustrated, angry, incredulous, despondent and helpless.

I decided to walk around my studio and look at some of the things on the wall.  Maybe I could find something there that would placate the feelings, give me a different place in which to put myself. I settled in a corner of my main painting space (shown here on the right) where I have a very large painting of mine with four smaller painting above it. It’s a group of work that means a lot to me in several ways. A couple are early pieces, one is a favorite from my Outlaws series, and the last just seems to settle me down when I am upset.

That would be Realm of Thought, shown at the top. It’s from 2003 and has been hanging with me in my workspace for most of that time. I don’t think it’s necessarily my best work and there’s nothing about that I find remarkable or beyond me, as I have sometimes described. But it has an unusual knack for centering me, focusing my attention on the ethereal  rather than the worldly.

And that makes it special for me.

I definitely needed it this morning. And, as it always has, it gave what I asked from it. It eased that knot that was tied in my guts. It slowed my mind’s racing pace and for a moment I felt myself in the slightly cool yet warm air atop that knoll.

It was good. It was needed.

I have a feeling that I will be revisiting that location much more in the coming months. But at least is there for me.

 

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