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Running a little late this Sunday morning, so I am just going to share a little music without too much talk. Let the music talk for itself,

The song is The World (Is Going Up in Flames) from Charles Bradley, a latter day soul singer who passed away in 2017 at the age of 68. Bradley had a classic soul delivery, full-throated and with a wail that mixed pain and joy in equal measures, in the tradition of Otis Redding and others.

The song could definitely speak to the condition of the world these days, here and abroad. Here, we are approaching an endgame that many of us saw in the cards two years ago. Back in December of 2016, I wrote about how  the word kompromat would become more and more significant and little by little, revealed detail by detail, that is becoming an evident truth.

We still have the chance to quell the fire that has been raging here. Let’s hope it doesn’t all burn down before it happens.

Give a listen and have a good Sunday.

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To have a sacred place is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so, where you do not know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody or what they owe you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.

–Joseph Campbell

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I was thinking about my studio and how it shapes the work I do. It’s size sets some limitations on how large I can work and I sometimes wish I had twenty foot ceilings where I could do massive canvasses. But that mild complaint does little to take away from how wonderful a space it has been in which to work on a daily basis.

It is comfortable and warm with views that look out on a very private yard with mature trees, several huge rhododendrons and a constant parade of wildlife. It has room to work with a large, well appointed basement for framing and prepping my surfaces. One of the three bedrooms serves as a library and the other two hold paintings and papers. The stone fireplace that I face most of each day in my main space gives me an elemental, grounded feeling and the light that streams muted by the trees provides a coolness to play off the warmth of the space.

The seclusion it offers is all I could ask for. My large front window looks out on the driveway that curves gently in and whenever I see anyone coming in, it almost feels like an affront, like an invasion into my private world. A private world that is an extension of the internal one that provides the landscapes I paint. My studio complements that inner world so well, creating a sacred space for me to hopefully bring forth what I am and what I might be, as Joseph Campbell points out in the quote at the top.

It might be the one place on this earth where I feel completely at ease. Not always, but most of the time.

I thought I’d share a shot today of the studio, my sacred space, in all its cluttered glory. It has come to reflect me and I, it.

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The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

Marcel Proust

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This painting is titled To the Fields of Fortune. It’s one of those pieces that I to which I personally respond strongly. Maybe it’s the mood I feel from it or simply a chemical reaction to the juxtaposition of colors, forms and contrasts. Who really knows what truly causes a visceral reaction to art or music?

But the meaning that I attach to this painting has some influence on my reaction. I call these type of paintings my Acres of Diamonds pieces alluding to a story that I have replayed here a few times over the years. It is basically a tale of a farmer who sells his land and heads out, seeking to find his fortune in diamonds. He travels all over for years in his fuitle search, failing at each attempt until he ultimately takes his own life. Meanwhile, his original homestead turned out to be the location of the biggest diamond mine in Africa, where this story takes place.

What he sought was right beneath him all the time, if only he had taken the time to see what he had at hand.

And isn’t that too often the case with many of us? We believe that the grass is always greener elsewhere, making us think we need to seek far and wide when what we really need is with us, sometimes within us, all the time. As the author Marcel Proust states above, the real voyage of discovery comes in having new eyes to see what is already all around us.

There are diamonds waiting for us to simply bend down and pick them up, if only our eyes will see.

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This piece, along with a few other newer paintings, will be headed to the West End Gallery within the next few days.

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What was Avery’s repertoire? His living room, Central Park, his wife Sally, his daughter March, the beaches and mountains where they summered; cows, fish heads, the flight of birds; his friends and whatever world strayed through his studio: a domestic, unheroic cast. But from these there have been fashioned great canvases, that far from the casual and transitory implications of the subjects, have always a gripping lyricism, and often achieve the permanence and monumentality of Egypt.

Mark Rothko, 1965

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While not a huge fan of the paintings of Milton Avery upon my first encounters with it, I find myself respecting and appreciating his work the more I look at and read about it.

Born in 1885, Avery worked blue-collar jobs into his thirties. He felt a desire to paint and began taking classes while still toiling as a laborer, working in obscurity for many years. He moved from pure representation of his subjects to an abstracted representation built on blocks of color and a flattening of the picture plane that became his signature style. His work eventually was recognized by a wealthy collector who set out to make it better known by distributing it among various American museums.

It worked and Avery became a leading light of the early abstract movement with his abstracted takes on representation and was considered a master colorist, sometimes referred to as the American Matisse. He died in 1965 at the age of 80.

I find that there are commonalities between us that give me a better sense of his work. First, there is his late entry in the world of art and a prior existence as a blue-collar worker. I certainly can relate to that.

Then there is his use of blocks of color, especially colors that seem radical for the subject. Looking at his work, I can easily relate to how he composed his paintings, how each block of color relates to those around it.

I also like the fact that Mark Rothko pointed out the lyricism of his work which refers to the fact that his painting, even when the subject matter seems most mundane, has high emotional notes that give it great weight beyond the subject matter. That lyric quality is something I desire in my own work.

I also like some of the writings from Avery especially one quote that rings true for me:

I try to construct a picture in which shapes, spaces, colors, form a set of unique relationships, independent of any subject matter. At the same time I try to capture and translate the excitement and emotion aroused in me by the impact with the original idea.

That is exactly what I trying to do– trying to capture the excitement and emotion aroused in me— each day in the studio. I think I often use those very words when talking about my work practices.

So, these common bonds allow me me to see Avery’s work in a better light. I find myself liking the consistency of his work, how he confidently used his native voice to express himself.

Respect is now there.

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Busy today getting things around for a delivery tomorrow to my friends at the Kada Gallery in Erie. But there’s always enough time to consider a Lawren Harris painting along with a few of his words.

He’s right. Art is long. Life is short. He mentions art in the form of a picture but I believe any true artistic creation can become that highway to a universal feeling, one that lives on eternally in a  location somewhere beyond all we know.

Hmm. Think about that, will you? I got work to do and will think about it as I work.

Have a great day.

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A number of artists, take Picasso and De Chirico for examples, talk about about trying to maintain the mind of a child in order to create art. I think there is definitely something to that.

I know that I feel best about my work when kids are attracted to it and know a work is at its best when a kid gives it their approval. They look at it without preconceptions and biases, judging it solely on how it speaks to them personally. They often can read the emotional tenor and meaning of the work without needing explanation of any sort. They seem to have a built-in ability to read the innate symbolism of art.

How to stay in that dreamlike state, that mind of a child? That is the real question and I don’t know that there is an answer. Maybe not trying to answer the question is part of the answer. Just do the work with the trust that you are being open and honest without condescending your message to anyone. Perhaps then the work may approach that goal, might speak with and to the mind of a child.

Or so I hope.

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The Peace of Wild Things

 

When despair grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting for their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

–Wendell Berry

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You can’t go too far wrong on those rough days when you look to the words of Wendell Berry. It generally will provide the needed stillness to overcome the anxiety of these times.

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