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Archive for the ‘Influences’ Category

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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Diego Rivera- Zapatista Landscape 1915

 

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As an artist I have always tried to be faithful to my vision of life, and I have frequently been in conflict with those who wanted me to paint not what I saw but what they wished me to see.

–Diego Rivera

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Big fan of the work of Diego Rivera (1886-1957), the great Mexican painter/muralist and husband of Frida Kahlo. There is much I love in his work such as the way his colors harmonize and soar off the surfaces, the sheer brilliance of his compositions, the scale and breadth of his murals and the fact that his work was beautiful and powerful in whatever genre or style he chose at any given moment. He was also fearless in expressing his political and philosophical beliefs in his work, often becoming a strong element in his work.

I also admire his absolute devotion to his own voice in his work, as noted in the quote above. He painted his own vision, not what others desired him to see. That’s a big thing for any artist and not something easily done. Too often artists try to work for the approval of other eyes, for people who want their work to remain as they have always known it.

It’s understandable from the perspective of a viewer to want an artist to remain in that space that first attracted the viewer. They know and like the work as it is and perhaps can’t imagine it becoming more than it is if it somehow evolves or changes. Or they fear it will become less or something that doesn’t speak to them in the same way. As I said, it’s understandable.

But from the artist’s point of view this present a threat in that this may stop them from expanding their creative vision. They begin to be afraid to go off their own beaten path, to try new things, to move out of their comfort zone to challenge themselves, and to grow their self-created universe. They remain in a known space and may never know how expansive their vision might be if they only tried.

From what I know, Diego Rivera always moved to new creative spaces with his work. He painted with his own voice, even in his commissioned murals. I still stumble on pieces of his that surprise me.

A true inspiration.

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Diego Rivera’s Mural at the City College of San Francisco

Detroit Institute of Arts Mural Segment

Diego Rivera- Flower Seller

Diego Rivera- The Alarm Clock

Diego Rivera- Nocturnal Landscape 1947

Diego Rivera- Symbolic Landscape 1940

Diego Rivera- View of Toledo 1912

Detroit Institute of Arts Mural Segment

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….This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body….

—Walt Whitman, Preface to Leaves of Grass

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I have always been moved and inspired by the writings of the American poet Walt Whitman. I can find something that speaks directly to me in almost everything of his I come across. For me, he remains one of the most intriguing and unique characters in the American experience in so many ways.

This comes across in the photos of him, including the remarkable portrait above that was taken by the great American painter Thomas Eakins in 1891, a year before Whitman’s death. It has a remarkable feeling of earned wisdom and understanding.

I had always felt a familial bond with him anyway, having called him Uncle Walt for as long as I can remember. He seemed like he was the wise old uncle I wanted growing up, someone who watched over me and imparted bits of wizened advice to me from time to time. So with this great reverence for the man, you can imagine how excited I was when my genealogy revealed that we were related.

Not an uncle.

Cousins.

Okay, 6th cousins. We share a grandparent going back to the early 1600’s, five generation before Whitman and nine generations before me. So, that makes us 6th cousins, 5 generations removed.

That’s like being in the furthest reaches of relationship in the game of 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Sure, we’re related by these tenuous bonds but it is so far removed that it is academic at best. There are probably several hundred thousand, if not a million or more, people with this same bond. So it is certainly no big deal. Interesting but absolutely meaningless and without value.

But when I read a line from Whitman that makes my heart race a bit, that makes my brain and soul stir, I have to admit that it makes me happy that we share that silly, insignificant bond.

I just call him Cousin Walt now.

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I have made a great discovery. I no longer believe in anything. Objects don’t exist for me except in so far as a rapport exists between them and myself. When one attains this harmony, one reaches a sort of intellectual non-existence, what I can only describe as a sense of peace, which makes everything possible and right. Life then becomes a perpetual revelation. That is true poetry.

Georges Braque

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Just about anything I read  from Georges Braque (1882-1963) makes me stop and think. I am still trying to digest this. In one moment it makes perfect sense and aligns with my own thoughts while the next it confounds me, like I’ve turned down a street that is totally unrecognizable. Not sure which way to turn.

But there is something in the pondering that makes me think it might be worthwhile.

Braque had a pretty amazing career, moving from Impressionism to Cubism to Fauvism and Expressionism with his own unique voice. Here are some of my favorites.

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It is my dream to create an art which is filled with balance, purity and calmness, freed from a subject matter that is disconcerting or too attention-seeking. In my paintings, I wish to create a spiritual remedy, similar to a comfortable armchair which provides rest from physical expectation for the spiritually working, the businessman as well as the artist.

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–Henri Matisse

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I have read (and shared) a different translation of the quote above from the great Henri Matisse. It aligns perfectly with my own hopes for my work and stands almost as a credo. At the end of the day, I am trying to create work that allows any viewer, no matter how much or how little they know about art, to withdraw into their own inner space while at the same time feel a sense of communion with a greater whole. To move into a place that feels safe and comforting.
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A spiritual remedy, as he calls it.
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It’s not something you can have in mind, however. It only comes in the process, as the thoughts that may have been pressing on my mind are set aside and my own emotions are leveled off to a state of calm. It has to be my own spiritual remedy before it becomes that of anyone else.
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When it happens, it is a lovely thing and the world seems somewhat right.

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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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