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“I have been prostrated these two or three days back by my first acquaintance with Tintoretto; but then I feel as if I had got introduced to a being from a planet a 1,000,000 miles nearer the sun, not a mere earthly painter”

–John Ruskin, letter to Joseph Severn, 1843

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While in Alexandria area for my opening, we shot over the Potomac into DC for a quick visit to the National Gallery of Art. It’s always a great pleasure to wander through the marvelous collection plus this year there was the first retrospective exhibition ever staged in America of the paintings of Tintoretto, the great Venetian Renaissance painter.

Tintoretto–Self Portrait ca 1588

Now, to be honest here, I went in not knowing a lot about Tintoretto so I wasn’t overly excited. Oh, I like a number of paintings from many Renaissance painters– particularly Titian, Raphael and my favorite, Bellini. But sometimes the repetitive nature of the religious subjects of much of the work from that era overwhelms my sorrowfully short attention span. I sometimes find myself becoming bored in a gallery full of exquisitely painted panels.

But as I walked into the first gallery for this extensive exhibit, the painting at the top of this post, Spring, was the first thing to greet my eye from a distance as I stood in the doorway. I was instantly captivated. It felt out of time, as though it could be a piece from any point in known art history, its composition seeming so bold and modern. Just spectacular.

A wonderful intro to a great exhibition.

Walking through the galleries as they progressed through the stages of Tintoretto’s remarkable career, I was struck by both the size and scale along with the changes in the progression of his work. In may pieces you could see influences that would be carried forward by the generations of artists that followed him. For example, looking at the first painting below, The Creation of the Animals,I can’t help but think that William Blake references Tintoretto in some of his best known paintings.

Most of the work was very large, best suited for spaces in huge churches or palaces. The second image below, The Virgin Mary Reading, is probably anywhere from 15 to 20 feet in height and was installed opposing another piece of the same size. It had a real wow factor walking into the space. They also did a fantastic job in hanging the whole show, with long views through the many entrances framing large eye-catching works in the next gallery that pulled you along. Each gallery had its own unique feel and strength. Each gallery in itself would be a great show in many museums.

The way I often judge a museum exhibit is how small I feel as an artist coming out of it. By that standard, this was a magnificent exhibit. I understand a bit more how John Ruskin must have felt when he wrote the lines at the top of this post. But conversely, as small as it made me feel, it also made me want to be better, to strive further, to make the most of my own meager talents.

And that also makes it a great show.

If you’re in DC before July 7th, when the exhibit ends, try to make it into the National Gallery to see for yourself. It’s just plain good stuff that you may not see again here in the Americas in your lifetime.

Tintoretto- The Creation of the Animals

Tintoretto–The Virgin Mary Reading

Tintoretto- Paradiso

Tintoretto- The Conversion of St. Paul

 

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THE EVERLASTING SELF

Comes in from a downpour
Shaking water in every direction —
A collaborative condition:
Gathered, shed, spread, then
Forgotten, reabsorbed. Like love
From a lifetime ago, and mud
A dog has tracked across the floor.

–Tracy K. Smith

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Wasn’t going to write anything this morning but I stumbled across this video and poem and felt like sharing it. It’s The Everlasting Self from Tracy K. Smith, the current United States Poet Laureate. In this video, filmed just a few weeks ago, Smith reads her poem with the backing of Sō Percussion at National Sawdust, a center for the arts in Brooklyn.

The poem is a simple one at a glance. But in this performance Smith takes the few words of the verse and realigns them time and time again, constantly reconstructing the poem. It uses the same elements but each feels slightly different. It creates a meditative loop, something close to what I described in a recent post, Mantra, that was coincidentally from the same date as Smith’s performance.

This performance struck me because it reminds me of how I often see my work. They are often comprised of fragments of memory– repeated, realigned and reconstructed. They are seldom derived from groundshaking moments in my past but rather from tiny bits of small observations from distinct memories.

The way the light looked at a certain moment. A color seen decades ago. A tree I passed on a solitary walk.

Small things that make up a life.

I sometimes stop on my walk to or from the studio and look carefully around. I think to myself that if I were to die moments from now, could this be the one memory of this life I carry with me? Would I go through whatever incarnation there may be in future lives with the memory of the cool wind rustling the maple trees and and the filtered sunlight on the tall green grass beneath the trees? The richness of the color in the rhododendron flowers? The rhythmic thunk of the pileated woodpecker’s beak against a tree deeper into the forest? The rich earthy fragrance of the mud on my trail?

Would these images and sound and smells be constantly rumbling around my mind in different iterations for eternity?

This would all be okay with me.

And that’s what I feel from this lovely meditation from Tracy K. Smith. Made me feel good this morning.

Take a look and give a listen. Maybe it will do the same for you.

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“Life is like a tattoo: we have a certain space available and that’s it. The more we fill it with negative elements, the less space will be left for the positive ones. Shape your life like a work of art as you would do with your tattoos, and keep the good in it.

Shape your dreams.”

Roberto Gemori

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At the opening at the Principle Gallery on Friday, as I was speaking with some folks, I noticed a man standing just on the edge of the group, not part of it. That’s not unusual at openings. Sometimes at these things I get to tell stories about the work and people often step up to listen in. After the group departed, this man moved up and said he had something he wanted my opinion on.

His name was Kevin Jobe who explained he was a police officer there in Alexandria and said he hoped I wouldn’t be offended. He was such an affable guy I couldn’t imagine what he could do that would offend me.

He proceeded to pull up his sleeve and, lo and behold, there was the image of a Red Tree painting on his bicep. The tattoo artist had done a great job replicating the trees and other elements of my work, using their own technique for creating texture in the field rows in the lower part of the tattoo, which I really liked. It had the impact of one of my paintings for me.

I was stunned and couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I felt a bit awestruck as well as deeply honored that someone chose that image to permanently engrave on their body. I mean, how do you respond to that?

I told Kevin that I thought it was awesome. And I do. And it is.

He explained that it was still a work in process and he asked for my opinion on how he should finish the sea and sky. Not knowing the tattoo medium too well, I hesitated. It was like looking at a painting that’s it’s at a point where I am afraid of screwing it up because I am not sure which is the next right move. We discussed the possibility of using a swirled pattern in the sky, as I sometimes use in my work. The painting here on the left, Energizing Light, from a few years back has a pattern in its sky ( and possibly in the water) that I think might translate well to the tattoo without crowding out the Red Tree.

Any suggestions from my tattoo knowledgeable friends out there?

I am still very much honored by Kevin’s action though I will point out that I did feel slightly uneasy afterwards. I mean, that’s permanent! It’s not like he had a t-shirt made or carved a red tree out of an old 2×4. That’s his skin and it will most likely, pending a thresher accident on the farm, be with him forever. I have to admit that I felt a little pressure to somehow live up to Kevin’s confidence in committing that image to his skin. I worried that just meeting me might have him doubting his decision.

Hopefully, I can live up to his confidence. Thank you, Kevin, for showing me your work in progress. I am honored and still awestruck. Can’t wait to see the finished product.

On the subject, here’s a little song from the Dropkick Murphys about a tattoo. And the Roberto Gemori from the quote at the top is a well known tattoo designer.

 

 

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Many, many thanks to everyone who came out to Friday’s opening reception for my current show, Red Tree 20: New Growth, at the Principle Gallery. It was great to see so many people, some new and some that I have known for many years now. I am so grateful that people take time from busy lives to come to these events and for the warmth with which I am greeted there.

They provide me with so much inspiration, something I describe as a feeling that there are sometimes hundreds of eyes looking over my shoulder when I am working alone in the studio. Now, that could sound a bit creepy, all these disembodied eyes peering over your shoulder, but let me reassure that it is actually quite comforting. Thanks for looking over my shoulder, folks, for all these years.

And a million or more thank you’s to Michele, Clint, Taylor, Owen and Pierre for making us feel like part of their family. The past twenty years of doing these shows seem to have flown by and I have to reckon that this is because of the friendship that has always been offered by Michele and her staff. They make it seem easy.

Here’s hoping for twenty more, god willing and the river don’t rise.

For this Sunday morning music, I think it would be a crime to not play a little Dr. John who passed on to the next dimension this past week at the age of 77. He had a unique style and voice. His song, Right Place Wrong Time, is one of those touchstone songs from my youth, the kind where you can remember specific moments in your life tied to the song. I was going to play that but opted for another of his more popular songs and a favorite of mine, Such a Night.

I chose the version below because it was part of a funny segment on the early 80’s television show, SCTV, the  show that featured an incredible cast from the Second City comedy troupe including John Candy, Rick Moranis, Andrea Martin, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy and many more. This performance from Dr, John is from a show on SCTV called Polynesiantown, a send up of the movie Chinatown. It made me laugh years ago and when I saw this I decided that it would work this morning.

Give a listen and have a good day.

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If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.

-Emile Zola

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The show is hung in the gallery. I am relieved and anxious, same as always. It’s been twenty years of doing this, of sweating out–or maybe it’s bleeding out –work for my annual show at the Principle Gallery. It’s always hard but I don’t want to imply that it’s harder than any other job. Every job, every career has its good and bad parts.  You can only hope that the good parts far outweigh the bad.

I think my job does, most times.

I was asked this past week in an interview for a regional magazine how and why I came to be an artist. I think I said that I just wanted to have my voice heard in this life. I wish I had added that I wanted to do all I can to put out work that will hopefully live beyond the limitations of my own worldly life, as well. Just so someone somewhere someday will know that I existed and thought and felt. That I laughed and cried.

That I had a voice that needed to be heard at times.

Maybe that’s what Zola meant by living out loud– needing to be heard.

These kind of thoughts always populate my mind when my shows roll around because in so many ways, I feel exposed and vulnerable on those walls. Defenseless against all judgement and criticism.

But after so many shows, I am almost numb to these fears and doubts. I know my own voice now and trust that it is real. It’s all I have to offer of value and it is that that allows me to live out loud. Like Georgia O’Keeffe said: I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free. 

That said, I think this is a very strong group of work, one that carries my voice well enough to remind me that I truly exist.

Hope you can make it to the show. Whether you can or can’t, below is a slideshow preview of the show.

There is also a very nice article and interview at PrincipleArtTalk, the blog of the Principle Gallery, about this show and some of the new work. You can go to that article by clicking here.
Celebrating 20 Years of the Red Tree

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I am traveling down to Alexandria, VA today to deliver the paintings for my annual solo show at the Principle Gallery. This year’s show is my twentieth there and the title, Red Tree 20: New Growth, reflects the voyage from that first show, Redtree, back in 2000. There are a lot of things in this show that make feel this a special show so I am especially eager to see how the work looks in the gallery space.

Because I don’t have any time to write a post this morning, I am sharing a link from yesterday’s blog post from Linda Leinen, my friend from the gulf coast of Texas and a long time reader of my blog. Linda’s blog, The Task at Hand, is always thoughtful and beautifully written so I was thrilled when she devoted some of her wonderful talents to some of my work, rolling it seamlessly into a post about her own experiences coming across chairs– and the red bench above– in her travels.

So, please click here and go to Linda’s site for an enjoyable read and while you’re there check out her page, Lagniappe, where she shares her photos of the wildlife, wild flowers and other aspects of her Texas home along with great short essays and poetry. It’s one of my favorite sites.

And if you’re in Alexandria, stop into to see the work. Hope you’ll enjoy what you see.

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“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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The painting at the top is a new piece that is included in my solo show, Red Tree 20: New Growth, that opens June 7 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. It is titled To Stand in Beauty and is 18″ by 24″ on canvas.

Beauty was the first thing that came to mind when I began looking for a title for this painting. It seems like a fitting representation of the old adage that we should stop and smell the roses.

As Goethe points out above, worldly cares often threaten to obliterate our sense of the beautiful. That may never be more true than it is in these days as there is so much anger, hatred, stupidity, and frustration on public display now. Many of us find ourselves focusing on all that is wrong in this world and in the process forgetting the beauty that often surrounds us.

The beauty of a blooming flower.

The romance of a beckoning horizon.

The graceful strength of a tree trunk.

The awe of a rising mountain.

The lure of a winding path.

I am looking out my studio window from my seat at the moment and a deer is looking back at me from the lawn. Beyond him I can see a couple of wild turkeys strolling up the driveway in front of one of the large rhododendrons that line it. The rhododendron is finally flowering fully, adding a gorgeous splash of color among the greens and grays that surround them. In the distance I can see the mass of yellow irises that are blooming on the edge of the pond. And while I was looking to the distance, a small buck with velvet covered antlers just beginning to develop walks across my line of sight. And above it all. I can hear the chirp of the bird nesting above my front door.

It’s a beautiful moment, one that I all too often overlook, especially when I first come into the studio. I check the news, read emails, begin figuring out what to write for this blog and what my painting agenda might be for the day. And the rush of the day sometimes blots out the beauty that surrounds me.

But this painting, especially this morning when I am in the final frantic steps of putting the work for the show together so that it can be delivered tomorrow, has reminded me to stop and consider things of beauty instead of news or emails or whatever bothersome tasks lie ahead.

And it has made a difference. Goethe was correct, there is beauty to be found in music, poetry and fine pictures as well in simply looking out at the natural world for a moment.

We can all stand in beauty if we choose to look.

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