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Archive for the ‘Favorite Things’ Category

I recently came across yet another artist, George Ault who was new to me but whose work really sparked my imagination. Like many of the other under-recognized artists, he led a fairly tragic life, achieving bits of recognition yet struggling to ever find footing. His life was consumed by alcoholism and personal demons that led to his death at the age of 57.

Here’s a brief bio from a 1988 catalog from an exhibit of his work at the Whitney Museum of American Art:

George Copeland Ault (1891–1948) was an American painter loosely grouped with the Precisionist movement and, though influenced by Cubism and Surrealism, his most lasting work is of a realist nature.

Ault was born in Cleveland into a wealthy family and spent his youth in London where he studied at the Slade School of Art and St John’s Wood School of Art. Returning to the United States in 1911, he spent the rest of his life in New York and New Jersey. His personal life henceforth was troubled. He became alcoholic during the 1920s, after the death of his mother in a mental institution. Each of his three brothers committed suicide, two after the loss of the family fortune in the 1929 stock market crash.

Although he had exhibited his works with some success, by the early 1930’s his neurotic behavior and reclusiveness had alienated him from the gallery world. In 1937, Ault moved to Woodstock, New York with Louise Jonas, who would become his second wife, and tried to put his difficulties in the past. In Woodstock the couple lived a penurious existence in a small rented cottage that had no electricity or indoor plumbing. Depending on Louise for income, Ault created some of his finest paintings during this time, but had difficulty selling them. In 1948, Ault was discovered dead five days after drowning in the Sawkill Brook on December 30, when he had taken a solitary walk in stormy and dark weather. The death was deemed a suicide by the coroner. In his lifetime, his works were displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Addison Gallery of American Art (in Andover, Massachusetts), among others.

Though I like much of his other work, the work that interests me most are a handful of night scenes. One series of four depicts the same intersection in an area of  Woodstock, Russell’s Corners. Below are the four along with the same scene painted in daylight. You can see how the darkness of night transforms the scene, adding emotional weight and a deepened sense of mystery. I find them to be powerful images, filled with the same ominous darkness that seemed to haunt Ault.

I don’t know if his personal problems contributed to the strength of this work but it seems a shame that he never found peace in his life or in his work, although on that point I am making an assumption. Ault left a fine body of work, one that deserves a look and I am glad to have come across it.


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I completely overlooked that yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the death of the great soul singer Otis Redding. He died in a plane crash on that date in 1967 as he made his way to a show in Wisconsin, only a short time after recording his iconic (Sittin’ on)The Dock of the Bay. He was only 26 years old.

I hear that voice and it’s not the voice of a 26 year old. It’s ageless. To me, that voice is the definition of soul music. Every time I hear it is a new experience, even on those tracks I’ve heard a thousand times before. What a gift we were given in the short time he lived in this world.

Here are two of his songs from so many that I call favorites, Just One More Day and You Don’t Miss Your Water. Give a good listen– it’ll do your soul some good.

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Some days reveal their moods pretty quickly. Today is one of those days– bone cold with a slate gray sky, the first dusting of this winter’s snow on the ground. Feels somber and a little sad, even mournful, just to look out the studio window. There is a group of deer milling around out there, moving with a slowness that makes me think they feel that same somberness, sensing that the good times of summer and fall are past and that ice and snow will soon be a constant for them.

One of the first songs I clicked on this morning fell right into this mode of feeling. It’s Down By the River from Neil Young. Released in 1969, it’s a song that has been covered by a lot of people and I was close to using a live performance of it by Norah Jones and Young but the original just has the right amount of anguished beauty for this morning.

The paintings I am including here are from back in 2009 and doesn’t really adhere exactly to the mode of this post or the song but something about it seems to fit. It’s   a small group of work that dealt with tightly clusters of red roofed structures hugging a a river or canal, often with no sky visible, just a jumble of roofs and buildings. It was work that I really liked and looking at it this morning while listening to this song brought forward a whole slew of concepts that I would like to soon pursue in this same vein, perhaps on a larger scale.

Anyway, give a listen and have a good day…

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I came across the work of Lilian May Miller only recently and was instantly infatuated with her beautiful woodblock prints. The colors and compositions just ring true for me and they seem to create a bridge between the traditional and the modern forms of the woodblock art form. I am showing quite a few of her pieces here but I could easily show many dozens more.

Miller was an interesting person as well. She was born in Tokyo in 1895 to American parents, her father a diplomat. She was enrolled in the atelier of a famed Japanese printmaker at the age of 9 and had her first exhibit at the age of 14. She shuttled back and forth between Japan and  and the United States  (where she graduated from Vassar) throughout her life, including considerable time spent in Korea when her father was stationed there for the State Department.

She saw herself as an envoy or messenger between the cultures of the East and the West. When in Japan, she dressed in a uniquely Western fashion, wearing ties and sport jackets and sporting a cropped haircut. When she made presentation back in the States, she often did so wearing traditional Japanese kimonos.

Miller achieved a degree of recognition for her work in the years leading up to World War II. However, she was devastated by the Japanese attack –which, by the way, occurred on this date in 1941– feeling that it was a personal betrayal of her love for that country. She worked for a counter propaganda unit of the Navy in 1942 until a large malignant tumor resulting from abdominal cancer was found.

She died in January of 1943 at the age of 47.

Her work and her story has slid somewhat into the ashes of art history. But much of her work remains and it doesn’t take much to see the brilliance of it at its best. It will pull its way back to light sometime soon.

This is a very quick and incomplete synopsis of her life. There was recently a more complete article on Miller on the Atlas Obscura site recently that you can read by clicking here. There is also a book, Between Two Worlds, that details her life and work.

For now, enjoy these images.

 

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Just a Little Degas

Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.

Edgar Degas
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There are so many days when I feel like I no longer know that I am doing which means, according to Degas, that I am on the right track. Right?

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Can’t get my mind organized this morning, can’t seem to want to focus on any one thing. Had a lot of ideas for the blog but just lacked the desire to follow through so I am just going to play a song this morning accompanied by a tiny painting from back around 1995 called Harlequin. I always smile when I come across this piece.

The song is a favorite of mine, Dead Flowers, from the Rolling Stones and their 1971 album, Sticky Fingers. But the version below is from the late great Townes Van Zandt. I can’t say that it’s better or worse than the Stones version but it’s one that I like very much.

So give a listen and I’ll try to get my act together this morning…

 

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It was about this time last year that I ran a post with a couple of different versions of the song, Nature Boy, the wonderful song first sung by the incomparable Nat King Cole. Maybe it is the time in which we live, with an administration that seems hellbent on decimating all conservation efforts and environmental protections, but I really felt a need to hear the original again this morning. I thought it might be a good opportunity to repost the story of the interesting man who wrote the song. 

eden ahbez with cowboy jack pattonSometimes when you look behind something that’s been in front of you for years you find out things you would have never imagined otherwise. Such is the case with the song, Nature Boy.

Nature Boy, as recorded by the great Nat King Cole, has long been one of  my favorite songs. It has a wonderful haunting melody and tells the story of a “strange enchanted boy” and his search to find love. It always has had a sort of mystical feel to me, a real oddity in the world of popular music in 1948 when Nat King Cole recorded and had a huge hit with it, staying at #1 on the charts for eight weeks.

I was going to just have a short post and put up a YouTube video of Cole’s version but in doing so I saw the name of the songwriter, eden ahbez, and was intrigued, perhaps by the lack of capitalization in his name. Doing a little research I came across some photos of him such as the one above, from the late 40’s sitting with Cowboy Jack Patton (who wrote the song Ghost Riders in the Sky) and a spaniel of some sort. I’ll let you figure out who is who in the photo.  ahbez’s long hair and attire seemed really out of place for me in thinking of 1948 so I read on.

eden ahbezeden ahbez was a real one of a kind character in the world of music and in general. You could probably guess that from the name which he adopted and wrote only in lower case letters. Born in 1908, he is regarded as the first hippie by many, a long-haired and bearded wanderer who crisscrossed the country on foot, wearing robes and sandals, maintained a vegetarian lifestyle and slept out under the stars. In fact, when Nature Boy hit the charts he and his wife were living under the first L on the Hollywood sign, which stoked a bit of a media frenzy around ahbez. He worked in and frequented a vegetarian restaurant (that’s where he met Cowboy Jack Patton, another interesting character) in 1940’s Los Angeles whose German owners preached the gospel of natural and raw foods. Their followers became known as the Nature Boys.

Not really what I was expecting from a pop songwriter in 1940’s LA. ahbez died in 1995 from injuries sustained in an auto accident. He was 87. His was a truly unique life, just waiting for a biographer to tell the story, and reading the little I discovered makes me find the song even more interesting. Hope you’ll do the same now that you know a bit more about eden ahbez

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