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Archive for the ‘Influences’ Category

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“The whole value of solitude depends upon oneself; it may be a sanctuary or a prison, a haven of repose or a place of punishment, a heaven or a hell, as we ourselves make it.” 

― John Lubbock, Peace and Happiness

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I had never heard of John Lubbock before coming across the short quote above. He was one of those interesting 19th century British characters, a titled member (1st Baron Avebury) of a wealthy banking family who made great contributions to the advancement of the sciences and math as well as to many liberal causes.

For example, it was John Lubbock who coined the terms Paleolithic and Neolithic in describing the Old and New Stone Ages, as well as helping to make archaeology a recognized scientific discipline. As a youth he was a neighbor to Charles Darwin and was heavily influenced by the older scientist, who he befriended. He also worked with Darwin as a young man and championed his evolutionary theories in his later adulthood. He was obviously a man who used his position and access to higher knowledge to add to both his own intellect and that of our our collective body.

That being said, his words this morning gave me pause.

I have generally viewed solitude as a sanctuary, even in the troubled times of my life. It was a place to calm myself, to gather my thoughts and clearly examine what was before me.

I crave solitude so the idea that for some this same solitude could feel like a hell or a prison seemed foreign to me. What differentiates one’s perception of such a basic thing as the solitude in being alone? How could my place of sanctuary be someone else’s chamber of horrors?

If you’re expecting me to answer, you’re going to be disappointed because I can’t really say.  I would say it might have to do with insecurity but I have as much, if not more, uncertainty and insecurity than most people. We all have unique psychological makeups and every situation, including that of solitude, is seen from a unique perspective.

This is also the basis for all art. What else could explain how one person can look at a painting and see an idyllic scene while another can feel uneasy or even offended by the same scene?

Now, the painting at the top, titled A Place of Sanctuary, is a piece that very much reflects this sense of finding haven in solitude. For me, it is calming and centering, a place and time that appeals to my need for sanctuary.

Someone else might see it otherwise. They might see something remote, alien and unsettling in it.

I may not understand it but that’s okay, too. So long as they feel something…

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This post originally ran in 2018. The painting, A Place of Sanctuary, is currently on view at the West End Gallery as part of my solo exhibit, Moments and Color, which runs until August 30.

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“…that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.”

–Ray Bradbury, The October Country

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Every so often you come across something from your distant past that has long passed from memory.  It could be a book, a song, a photo or some small insignificant memento, something once cherished but now tucked away in the piling up of time. Coming across such a thing after so many years illuminates how much that thing meant to you. In some cases, being able to look back at the years allows  you to see that it actually influenced your way of thinking and, therefore, your life.

That’s how I felt this morning when I came across the short prologue, shown here at the top, to the 1955 book of short stories from Ray Bradbury, The October Country. I probably read this book last in the late 1970’s at a time when I devoured most of Bradbury’s books. They were all great and interesting reads and Bradbury had a poetic nature to go with his active imagination, one that sometimes found feelings of isolation and fear at the edges of the mundane.

I don’t know how I reacted when I read the words above forty years ago but reading them now, I felt like he was describing me. Or at least, describing the occupants of the world I depict in my paintings, those folks who, by extension, are built from parts of myself.

They are definitely the autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts.

Lingering in twilight, tucked in dark niches inside, facing away from the sun.

The painting at the top, Dark Eye of Quiet, is a new painting that is part of my current show at the West End Gallery. When I read Bradbury’s prologue to The October Country, I could see in this piece how his words, perhaps unbeknownst to me, had stayed with and filtered through me over the time. It’s a painting that aptly illustrates this point, from its title to the doorless and windowless houses that reside in shadow, seeming to be avoid the gaze of the dark sun. It has the wistful isolation of a Bradbury story.

I went through a stack of old paperbacks in a closet and dug out my dog-eared copy of the The October Country. Leafing through it, I saw a few titles in the list of contents that I had circles eons ago. I don’t remember doing this, of course, but I obviously saw something in it that made me do this. One was titled The Wind and turning the pages to that story I was greeted by a black and white illustration for the story from artist Joe Mugnaini.

I didn’t recognize or remember it but even so, it had a familiarity that made me smile.

I found an image of it online and am sharing it here. Maybe it was not only Bradbury’s words that influenced me forty some years back?

The mind works in weird and wonderful ways, eh?

 

 

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John Sloan- The Wake of the Ferry I 1907

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You can be a giant among artists without ever attaining any great skill. Facility is a dangerous thing. When there is too much technical ease the brain stops criticizing. Don’t let the hand fall into a smart way of putting the mind to sleep.

John Sloan

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I am a fan many of the Ashcan painters of the early 20th century, such as John Sloan, 1871-1951, whose work is shown here. The painters in this group obviously had technical prowess but you get the feeling from their work that they often operated in that danger zone outside their facilities, relying as much on instinct in the moment as their skill to create their paintings.

As Sloan points out, technical ability is a wonderful thing but also dangerous  for the artist. I love his description of the hand’s ability putting the mind to sleep.

I know that feeling.

I often feel my best work comes from not knowing exactly how the work is going to proceed or where it will end. That sense of danger, that nervous feeling the painting is in peril of becoming included in the next garbage pickup, is a great indicator for me that my instincts are engaged., that my brain is not in the off position.

This is when good things happen, when breakthroughs are achieved, where the work moves beyond you and becomes something of its own.

But it’s all too easy to fall under the spell of your ability, to let your mind doze while your hand takes over.  But obtaining that ability takes years of work and is actually a goal. Why wouldn’t you let this gained knowledge carry your work? That’s a great question and I think every artist has to look at it on their own terms.

I look at this gained ability as tool that I have learned to use. Now, even though I know how to use this tool in a normal, predictable manner, sometimes I need to use it in way for it wasn’t intended. That’s not always the safe way to go but sometimes you find a new way.

And that’s a good thing.

John Sloan- Travelling Carnival, Santa Fe

John Sloan- The Wake of the Ferry II 1907

John Sloan- The City From Greenwich Village

John Sloan- Hairdresser’s Window 1907

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“You must study the Masters but guard the original style that beats within your soul and put to sword those who would try to steal it.”

El Greco

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These words from El Greco (1541-1614) certainly were reflected in the influence his work had down through the ages. Many artists through the ages have appropriated his compositions and rendered them in their own original styles. Picasso, for example, was influenced by the elongated figures of El Greco. His View of Toledo is considered one of the first paintings solely focused on landscape, as well as the first cityscape. Below, you might be able to see a connection between it and Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

For myself, in the painting here at the top, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, a massive painting that is about fifteen foot tall, I was struck by the gold clad figures (St. Stephen and St. Augustine) at the bottom who are lowering the dead aristocrat into his tomb. The colors and positions of the figures had me seeing them as figures in a Gustav Klimt painting.

Looking at the detail below, I could see them as being influences on his The Kiss. I don’t know whether they were an influence, but it certainly jumped into my mind. If so, kudos to Klimt for translating it into his own original style that beats within his soul, as El Greco may have put it.

And that is what influence should be. It is not trying to replicate, to copy, another’s work. It is in taking it in and synthesizing it using one’s own unique voice. I think every artist does this in some form. You just may not immediately notice it in the very good ones.

Detail from “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz”

“View of Toledo” and “Starry Night”

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Got way too much stuff to get at it this morning to write. But I thought I’d share a post from back in 2010 that I like a lot. Take a look.

Southern Gardens- Paul Klee

I was asked yesterday if I talked to my paintings.

Interesting question.

I talk to animals. I talk to trees and plants. I talk to my car. I talk to my studio, which actually has a name. I talk to ghosts, present or not. Whether any of these things or beings listens is another matter.

But talk to my paintings?

It immediately brought to mind a section of a famous lecture that I had been reading recently and had really resonated with me. It was On Modern Art,  delivered in the 1920’s by Swiss artist and a personal favorite of mine Paul Klee:

May I use a simile, the simile of the tree? The artist has studied this world of variety and has, we may suppose, unobtrusively found his way in it. His sense of direction has brought order into the passing stream of image and experience. This sense of direction in nature and life, this branching and spreading array, I shall compare with the root of the tree.

From the root the sap flows to the artist, flows through him, flows to his eye. Thus he stands as the trunk of the tree. Battered and stirred by the strength of the flow, he guides the vision on into his work. As, in full view of the world, the crown of the tree unfolds and spreads in time and space, so with his work.

Nobody would affirm that the tree grows its crown in the image of its root. Between above and below can be no mirrored reflection. It is obvious that different functions expanding in different elements must produce divergences. But it is just the artist who at times is denied those departures from nature which his art demands. He has even been charged with incompetence and deliberate distortion.

And yet, standing at his appointed place, the trunk of the tree, he does nothing other than gather and pass on what comes to him from the depths. He neither serves nor rules–he transmits. His position is humble. And the beauty at the crown is not his own. He is merely a channel.

This very much sums up how I’ve always felt about art, especially my place as an artist– a mere channel or transmitter.  And when I look at my paintings, the crown of my tree, it is not in the form of a conversation so much as listening to what the paintings have to tell me. I paint because I question and, at best, the paintings provide some answers and insight that I might not find or see otherwise.

So, do I talk to my paintings? Not so much. But do they talk to me? Yes. And I do my best to listen…

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“I have always said that you do not see a thing until you look away from it. In other words, an object or a fact in nature has not become itself until it has been projected in the realm of the imagination.

~ Marsden Hartley

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Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) is a favorite of mine both for his paintings and his words, which often express thoughts about painting that ring true for my own experience. For example, I love this quote above. Some of the strongest images for me are those that are taken at a glance, sometimes while driving down the highway at 70 miles per hour.

If the imagery strikes me in a powerful way, my mind immediately starts breaking down the image into a sort of shorthand, blocking in the forms and organizing them in a way that registers deeply. It is simplified but contains the elements and the effects that struck me. Sometimes I will move my arms while doing this, trying to create a muscle memory of the rhythm of that which I am seeing in my mind.

The image is thus entered into my imagination. Everything else around it that is not part of image that spoke out to me seems to not exist in that moment. It s a funny process and is deeply ingrained to the point that I don’t even think about it but for this reminder from Hartley.

Got to get to work. Have a great day.

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Hello Dali

 

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The fact I myself do not understand what my paintings mean while I am painting them does not imply that they are meaningless.

–Salvador Dali

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Been writing this blog for over ten years now and this is the first post about him so you might understand when I say that I am not the biggest fan of the work of Salvador Dali, the famed Spanish Surrealist painter who died in 1989 at the age of 85. His work was always visually interesting, sometimes in a disturbing fashion, and was painted in a high traditional manner. Some of it is beautiful work. But it just never fully clicked with me. Some pieces I liked very much and others left me completely cold.

I will say that for me and many people of my age, he was the face of art, being one of the few artists who sought (and found) attention on television. If you had asked me at the age of 12 how an artist might act, I would most likely have described the wild antics of Dali that I had observed on a variety of shows of that time. He was always eccentric bordering on a lunacy that, even as a kid, I could never decide was real or contrived.

And maybe it is this public persona, the one that had him seemingly mugging and posing for attention at every opportunity, that tainted how I looked at his work. Sometimes it seemed like his paintings were doing the same– just trying too hard. A little too engineered and manipulative. Nowadays, I try now to set aside that image of his persona and focus now on each painting individually. It allows me to fully enjoy the work that speaks to me and to simply take in the others.

I also enjoy some of his writings, which are often more lucid and focused than his public appearances. For example, I like his feelings as expressed above about the meanings of his work as well as this other short observation:

If you understand a painting beforehand, you might as well not paint it.

Both quotes could apply to my feelings about my own work.  I have often felt that the best and most alive work is produced when there is no contrivance, no clever idea at the beginning of how I can manipulate a response from the viewer. Almost as though there is an absence of forethought, a void that allows the subconscious mood at the moment to dictate in color and form without the dull, wooden clutter of thought out cleverness.

Sometimes, I find that the paintings that I expect the least from when beginning often produce the most when done.

You might disagree with this. Your argument might be valid. I will not argue the point and can only speak for myself and my experience.

I apologize for not going into more detail on Dali’s career here but there is a ton of material out there that anyone can easily find. I thought I’d just share a few words and images for you to consider. You make your own judgments.

 

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