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Archive for the ‘Influences’ Category

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I perceive the world in fragments. It is somewhat like being on a very fast train and getting glimpses of things in strange scales as you pass by. A person can be very, very tiny. And a billboard can make a person very large. You see the corner of a house or you see a bird fly by, and it’s all fragmented. Somehow, in painting I try to make some logic out of the world that has been given to me in chaos. I have a very pretentious idea that I want to make life, I want to make sense out of it. The fact that I am doomed to failure – that doesn’t deter me in the least.

–Grace Hartigan
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Grace Hartigan (1922-2008) was a painter based in NYC. She often called herself a second-generation Abstract Expressionist because she used the influence of the major artists of the genre as a jumping off point for her own distinct work.
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While we certainly work in different forms of expression, I admire the strength and vibrancy of much of her work. I also like her work, such as some below from her Oranges series, that incorporate the written word, in this case the poems of her close friend, poet Frank O’Hara. And I certainly understand her own words above, especially about perceiving the world in fragments and trying to put that chaos into some coherent form of logic. And the doomed to failure part, as well.
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I think that sense of failure, that goal that always move out of reach, is the compelling part of painting. If you felt you reached that desired endpoint, there would be no point in continuing.
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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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Paul Klee/ Color


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These words from Adolph Gottlieb, the late Abstract Expressionist painter, ring true for me. I believe that art should acknowledge the presence of powerful forces that guide our lives, good or bad. As he points out, it is this awareness that fueled the myths and symbology that have lived with us since time immemorial.

For me, it is displayed in the underlying darkness of much of my work which is evident in even my most optimistic works. This darkness gives the work, at least to my way of seeing it, a sense of tension, a counterbalance that keeps the work centered. The most optimistic work still has a wariness in this darkness that acknowledges the dangers ahead and the hardships endured in the past.

Triumph of any sort is seen as a transient emotion, one that is to be savored in the moment and recalled in the future but short-lived in the present. The darkness is always hovering nearby, presenting a potential threat or a challenge or even a dramatic change that comes with both the possibility of utter defeat or a new triumph. It is this mystery that makes the darkness so appealing and necessary.

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In these crazy times, there is some comfort to be found in art. For me, the paintings of Lawren Harris always fill the bill. His work definitely represents a quality of spiritual harmony, that thing, that force, that universal mind that remains stable even as the world drastically seemingly changes before our eyes.

So, this morning I am taking a few moments and taking in his 1926 painting, Mountain Forms, shown above.

And I feel better already.

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Thought for this Sunday I’d share a painting from my upcoming solo show, The Rising, which opens July 13 at the West End Gallery.

I think this piece, a 24″ by 24″ canvas titled Never Alone, represents the theme of this show very well. The rising moon and the angular, colorful  shapes of the light of the sky creates an almost cathedral-like presence. The two Red Roof houses may be separated physically– and perhaps these days idealistically– yet they seem connected by that which is rising above them.

I’ve lived with this painting for a few months now here in the studio and it never ceases to give me pause when my eyes fall on it. I find great tranquility and comfort in it.

The song for this Sunday’s musical selection is fittingly a version of The Rising, the song written by Bruce Springsteen in the aftermath of 9/11. The lyrics describe the thoughts of a firefighter as he ascends one of the towers after being hit by a jetliner.

Can’t see nothing in front of me
Can’t see nothing coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile line

It progresses to depict the darkness that descends upon him and his subsequent resurrection in spirit with a chorus that is triumphant rather than grim. It is a grand portrayal of the selflessly heroic.

In the years since, it has become more symbolic and uplifting as it celebrates a rising of virtue to overcome impending darkness. It’s a song that definitely is right for the time and one that played a large part in my choice of title for this show. I can see it in the painting above.

This version is performed by Sting from the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors. Give a listen and have a great Sunday.

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