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Georgia O'Keeffe- Blue and Green Music



Lots to do this morning so I am just going to share a favorite painting from Georgia O’Keeffe and a piece of music whose composition was influenced by that same painting.

The painting is Blue and Green Music which was painted by O’Keeffe during her years in New York, somewhere around 1920. It is her attempt at translating music into visual form. I think it works on that level but even without knowing that this was her aim, I would be enthralled by this piece. The use of contrasts of colors, light and dark, and hard and soft edges along with the rhythmic curl of the bright organic form that occupies the center of the picture makes this an absolute feast for the eyes.

Or, maybe I should say, a symphony for the eyes.

I know that it sets off all sorts of sparks in me.

The piece of music is titled, of course, Blue and Green Music, and is a composition from the contemporary composer Samuel Hazo. I believe this piece is from somewhere around 2010 or 11. From the number of videos of this piece on YouTube, I would guess this has become a popular piece for high school and college concert bands and orchestras.

It’s a lovely piece of music. Taking a few minutes to listen while pondering Georgia O’Keeffe’s brilliant creation is not a bad way to kick off the morning.



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Fly Over



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Wasn’t going to write anything this morning. Words just don’t seem to want to come. Recently, I have been thinking in shapes with dreams that have me working on puzzles that involve shapes and forms. The neat thing is that in the dreams I sometimes solve them with a logic that seems much better than the one I possess in waking hours.

If only I could dream while I’m awake.

Oh, wait, I already do that.

I thought I would instead share two pieces that I did over a few days back in 2017 based somewhat on the Aboriginal art of Australia. I am a fan of that work and wanted to try to consciously incorporate some of its elements in my work. That led to these two pieces.

I never showed them in any public forum and the one below, a 12″ by 36″ piece on panel hangs in a bedroom/storage area here in the studio. I never felt they were enough of mine, that they were too derivative of the Aboriginal work. And that’s not fair to either of us.

Plus, as a result, they never fully fit into my body of work or, at least, in a way, that felt natural or organic to me. I would always see them as Aboriginal based and maybe a little too forced.

But the funny thing is that I always enjoy looking at these pieces when I do so without taking my own bias into account. The textures, rhythms, and colors create a reaction that satisfies me in some way.

Makes me want to fly. Not way up in the clouds. Just a couple of hundred or so feet in the air so that I could see the rolls and rhythms of the land in bit and pieces. There used to be an ultralight that would periodically fly by on its way to a seldom used airstrip down the road. I would see the pilot– is that what they’re even called?– as the putt-putt sound of his small engine reached my ears. He seemed to be hanging in the air in a lawn chair strapped under a wing as he chugged along at considerably less than supersonic speeds. Looked to be about 45 MPH to my eye.

I always envied that guy.

But I never wanted to do that because I knew I would surely suffer some sort of hypnotic state while staring at the ground and the patterns. Most likely, I would just end up putt-putting my way into a bloody face plant with the ground while in such a stupor.

I’ve done that before, from a ladder at a mere 16 feet or so. I still periodically see the wet earth racing up to meet my face. Once is enough and I don’t really feel the need to do it from a higher point. Even so, there are moments when I yearn to fly low and slow, to see the fields and farms and streams and ponds lay out beneath me.

So I imagine. And dream. And paint.



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Hey, today is the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh, who was born on this day back in 1853. I thought it might be fitting to rerun a post from several years back about Van Gogh’s self portraits and the lessons they offer.



van gogh self-portraitI showed this short video here about six years back, in 2010. It’s a compilation of morphing self portraits from Vincent Van Gogh put together by video maker Phillip Scott Johnson that I found intriguing then and now.

It’s a short piece, less than a minute in length, and it’s interesting to see how the familiar views of Van Gogh relate to one another and how his appearance or, at least his perception of it, changed through the years. For me, Van Gogh’s self portraits are among the most revealing and compelling of any artist. His state of mind is evident in each piece, with some showing a vibrant, seemingly healthy man and others showing the more tortured Van Gogh that we tend to think of as the man.

Seeing them together as in this video allow you to see the changes in the man and in his art that take place over time. Interesting.

I also found it interesting now because I have been spending some time recently looking at my own older work in a different way. I am often not looking at the pictures as whole images. Instead, I have been looking at the individual marks I am using in each and seeing how it has changed through the years. Or how it has stayed the same in some cases.

I’ve always said that my painting for me was a continuum that, while changing all the time, always seemed the same to me– always in the present. But looking at it in this manner I am finding that my mark-making does change periodically which fundamentally changes the way a picture is painted and how it emerges in the end.

It’s not something I often think about– I just paint in whichever way the moment strikes me. Sometimes it is dependent on the condition of the brush or the weight and quality of the paint I am using. As a brush ages and wears, especially with the rough treatment given to them by me, it makes a more and more distinct mark that I find appealing. Looking back, I can often tell when I am using fresh or old brushes.

So, I watched this film in the same way and it is fascinating to just look at Van Gogh’s mark-making throughout without focusing on the faces. It is varied and each differing style serves the image in different ways. Some marks are wildly expressive and others small and quietly acting in service to the greater whole.

As I said, it’s less than minute and interesting even if you don’t give a damn about the mark-making part of it.



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Sometimes the horizon is defined by a wall behind which rises the noise of a disappearing train. The whole nostalgia of the infinite is revealed to us behind the geometrical precision of the square. We experience the most unforgettable movements when certain aspects of the world, whose existence we completely ignore, suddenly confront us with the revelation of mysteries lying all the time within our reach and which we cannot see because we are too short-sighted, and cannot feel because our senses are inadequately developed.  Their dead voices speak to us from nearby, but they sound like voices from another planet.

–Giorgio de Chirico

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I am busy this morning but wanted to share a post from several years ago about painter Giorgio de Chirico. I thought I’d run it again today with the addition at the bottom of one of his more famous paintings and a short MoMA video about it. The idea that is presented about the metaphysics contained in dealing not with “perceived reality” but a “reality imagined” and of creating “a plausible representation of a believable and negotiable space” rang a bell for me as that is the space where I try to operate. Take a look.


 

de chirico_mysteryA turning point for me when I was first stumbling around with my own painting was when I encountered the work of Giorgio de Chirico, an Italian painter of darkly toned metaphorical works. He lived from 1888 until 1978 but was primarily known for his early work from 1909-1919 which is called his Metaphysical PeriodMetaphysics is  devoted to the exploration of what is behind visible reality without relying on measurable data.

His work from this defining ten year period is very mystical.

De Chirico’s work after 1919 became much more based in reality and far more traditional. This later work was less colorful, less symbolic, less powerful and way more mundane. It is definitely the work from the earlier Metaphysical period that defines him as the artist as we know him today.

I was immediately drawn to that early work. It was full of high contrast, with sharp light and dark. The colors were bold, bright and vibrant, yet there was darknessde-chirico-the-great-tower implied in them. The compositions were full of interesting juxtapositions of forms and perspectives, all evoking a sense of mystery. It was a visual feast for me.

At that time in my own painting, I was still painting in a fairly traditional manner, especially with watercolors. That is to say that I was achieving light through the transparency of my paint, letting the underlying paper show through. It was pretty clean which was fine. But it wasn’t what I was looking for in my work.

Seeing de Chirico’s paintings made me realize what I wanted.  It was that underlying darkness that his work possessed. It was a grittiness, a dark dose of the reality of our existence. I immediately began to experiment with different methods that would introduce a base of darkness that the light and color could play off.  Plus, his ability to create a reality that seemed possible and recognizable but seemed filled with mystery  was something aspired for in my own pieces.

Working with this in mind, my work began to change in short order and strides forward came much quicker as a result of simply sensing something in de Chirico’s work that wasn’t there in my own.

Perhaps that is what is meant by metaphysical…

 

de-chirico




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I wasn’t going to comment on the current controversy swirling around the six Dr. Seuss books that are slated to be removed from publication. But hearing so much outrage and misinformation about culture wars and cancel culture from the right who portray this as some act of big government or some other unseen they who controls everything. It made me want to at least point out a few things.

The six books have been pulled from printing by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the foundation that oversees his estate and legacy. There is no they making them do this nor is there censorship taking place. In fact, the company that publishes and distributes the books has stated they would still publish them if Dr. Seuss Enterprises so wished. It was a move endorsed by the Geisel family ( Dr. Seuss’ name was Theodor Geisel) who felt that this was the proper time to take these particular six books out of print because of the racial insensitivity of the stereotypical images that each contained. All were from early in the career of Dr. Seuss as a children’s book author at a time when he was transitioning from having been an editorial cartoonist. At that time, much of this imagery was still, unfortunately, regularly seen through the pages of newspapers across this land. As Geisel aged, his views became more and more progressive and he himself regretted those images though no malice had been implied originally.

Things change through time. Just because certain viewpoints were once widely seen and accepted doesn’t mean that they will stand the test of time. The fact that there was a time not so far in the past when we widely believed that owning another person was okay, that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, that children doing dangerous work in mines and factories six days a week was fine and dandy, that being gay was a mental illness, and so on doesn’t give any validation to those viewpoints.

We evolve, hopefully in a better direction.

This doesn’t detract from the popularity, influence, or availability of Dr. Seuss. The Grinch will still try to ruin every Christmas in Whoville. Sam will still be yakking about his green eggs and ham. They will still hopping on Pop.

Little has changed. It was a small change meant to protect his legacy made by his company. As is their prerogative. Nobody forced them to do this. No cancel culture. No cancellation nor censorship. 

In fact, it was actually a pretty savvy business move since the huge overreaction from those who don’t take a moment to really understand the situation has them rushing out to buy Dr. Seuss books before they are all cancelled. A huge group of his books have surged to the top of the bestseller lists. Much like gun sales surge when any mention is made of gun regulation.

I might have to claim that my work is being cancelled. Not a business strategy I had contemplated before but who knows? Who would I talk to about that?

So, take a deep breath, take in the facts and please try to refrain from being instantly outraged and frustrated at any sort of change. Kind of like a Neanderthal trying to use an ATM.

Oops. Sorry to all my Neanderthal friends out there. You know who you are.

Dr. Seuss’ work has been a part of my world for much of my life and his influence shows through every so often in my own, mostly in a subconscious way. Here’s a post from back in 2010 about a painting that I see every day here in the studio and have for about 20 years now.



Yesterday’s post about the 50th anniversary of Green Eggs and Ham  by Dr. Seuss made me think about a piece that I’ve had hanging around my studio for the past decade. It’s a painting that I did in 2001 that I call Red, Hot and Blue.  It’s an oil on panel piece that is pretty big, almost 5 1/2′ tall in its frame. It could be a small door. It showed in a few galleries after it was first painted and never found a home so it retired to my studio, to keep me company.

I mention it  because it was been called the “Dr. Seuss painting” by several people who saw it when it was hanging in the galleries. They saw something in the way the trees were shaped and colored that gave them the appearance of a Seuss character. I had no thought of Seuss when I painted the piece but when I heard these comments I began to see it. 

The expressive sway of the trees as though they were dancing. The bright primary colors- the red of the foliage and the bright blue of the trunk. Even the two trees in the background added to the Seuss-y feel.

The foliage actually looked like the endangered Truffala trees from Seuss’ cautionary fable about the environment, The Lorax

It was not intended but it made sense. Seuss’ books were about communicating by giving strange creatures and other things we often see as objects, such as trees and flowers, human qualities.  His characters moved with a rhythm that made them feel alive. Just what I was trying to do with my painting.

I’ve often felt that we best see and better understand things that possess human qualities. I remember being taught that the Native American tribes in the area where I grew up gave names to local hills based on the human qualities they had. It made an impression and started me looking for the human form in all things. 

The curve of a tree trunk. The roll of the land. The fingers of clouds in the sky.

To communicate.

So, while it was never intentional, this painting was very much a product of the influence of Dr. Seuss and others. When I look at it today, I don’t see the name I gave it.  I see it as that “Dr. Seuss painting”.

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Been thinking about what drives people to extremism, about how seemingly normal people can take on attitudes and perform actions that seem completely out of character for them. The kind of thing we’ve seen in recent years here where people retreat into online venues that echo back their fears and prejudices in a way that magnifies them beyond all reality. That online virtual world of fear and hatred eventually finds its way out into the real world and an extremist mob is formed. Such was the case on January 6.

This all reminds me of a post from back in 2009 that I reran in 2017. It seemed like a good time to run it again. It features Henry Fonda who, for me, is the voice of the American conscience on film. His characters in Young Mr. Lincoln, The Grapes of Wrath, 12 Angry Men, My Darling Clementine, Mr. Roberts and the film featured below, The Oxbow Incident, were men of character, principle, and great conscience.

They tried to do what was right even when it went against the mob. Even when its futile.

I urge you to watch the short clip from the film. It speaks volumes. Then and now.



The Oxbow IncidentI don’t like crowds.

Maybe it’s just some sort of neurosis like agoraphobia or maybe it’s just having developed a sense of uneasiness from seeing how individual people could react differently after becoming part of a group.

It always confounded me from an early age how the dynamics of a group could change the behavior of an individual person, bringing out characteristics that might be undetected in one-to-one interactions. It’s as though the protection of the group brings out extreme attitudes that would otherwise be stifled. The whole moral compass is pushed further from the center and whatever sense of conscience that is present becomes diluted.

I was reminded of this feeling when I saw a short film about the actor Henry Fonda that talked of the parallels between his character’s experience  in the movie The Oxbow Incident , where his character was the lone voice of reason against a mob that lynches three men without evidence of their guilt and those of a being witness to a horrific episode as youth in Nebraska.

As a 14 year-old boy in Omaha, Nebraska in 1919, he witnessed a mob storm the courthouse that was located across the street from his father’s printing business. They  were inflamed by allegations made by a white woman that she had been assaulted by a black man. A suspect had been taken into custody and was in the courthouse. The mob, whose size was estimated to be between 5000 and 15000 people, exchanged gunfire with police in which two of the mob were killed.

The mayor of Omaha tried to intervene  and was beaten and himself lynched before being saved. The suspect was not so lucky.

The accounts of this mob rule are horrific. Fonda carried this memory with him for the rest of his life and it informed many of the roles he had over his career. In The Oxbow Incident his character confronts the lynch mob afterward in a bar and reads them a letter written by one of the hanged men to his wife.  I could go on and on but I think the clip says it all…



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I too am not a bit tamed,
I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp
over the roofs of the world.

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself




I finished this smaller piece the other day (it is headed to the West End Gallery today) and with the Red Tree appearing to hover above the Red Roofs both near and far, all I could think of were the lines above from Uncle Walt. That’s Walt Whitman, actually, but I always think of him in familial terms not that he was anything at all like my own uncles.

These lines from Song of Myself have rang in my ears for decades and are at the core of my desire to paint and in the formation of my voice as an artist.

Before I even thought of beginning to paint, I tried my hand at wood carving. I did a number of bas-relief carvings that were fairly crude in a folksy kind of way. I was untrained and just went at it, much as I did later on with my painting. I believe that the painting worked out much better but the carving had a part to play for me at the time.

One of the first things I carved was a rough-hewn face with the four lines– poorly executed– from Whitman next to it. It was nothing to write home about, carved as it was from the end of an old 2×12 pine board. I am not particularly proud of it as a piece of art but it has great meaning to me and stays near me in the studio.

I have described what these words have meant to me in the past like this:

…the four lines above have been a guiding beacon for me throughout the past 25 years as I have tried to be an artist. These words instructed me to be only myself, to openly and boldly express my feelings without fear or shame. To not hide my scars, my fears or my weaknesses because they are part of my wholeness and keep me in balance. To not be underestimated or devalued by myself or anyone else. To claim a foothold in this world and bellow out the proof of my existence in my own voice:

Here I am.

There are paintings that I do that are meant to represent this thought, paintings that are meant to be plainly expressions of that Here I am. I consider them icons in my body of work, pieces that fully represent my work and what I want from it. This painting definitely falls in that category. It’s simply put but not a simple expression.

When I look at this painting I personally see myself and all my hopes and aspirations, all that I am or desire to be.

What I hope for this painting is that someone else sees that same here I am in it for themselves, that they see in it those things that make them a whole and perfectly imperfect person with a place in this world and a voice that demands to be heard.

Is that asking too much?

I immediately thought looking at this new painting that it fit into this category, that the Red Tree here represented my own need to let out my barbaric yawp, to announce my existence in this world. I am calling it I Sound My Barbaric Yawp.

It might not be quite as roughly finished as the carving but the yawp is the same.

Sound your own yawp in the world today. Have a good one.

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I’m helplessly and permanently a Red Sox fan. It was like first love…You never forget. It’s special. It’s the first time I saw a ballpark. I’d thought nothing would ever replace cricket. Wow! Fenway Park at 7 o’clock in the evening. Oh, just, magic beyond magic: never got over that.

― Simon Schama



Maybe it takes the words of an esteemed British historian like Simon Schama to best describe the grand attraction of a ballpark when first seen in the waning light of the day, with the lights making the green grass and bright white chalk lines of the field pop into your eyes. I remember that feeling at Shea Stadium in the late 60’s, going up the darkened ramp from the concourse to the stands, emerging into a burst of deep colors and lights along with the buzz of the crowd increasing with each step forward.

It was magic beyond magic.

Baseball is back this week, with Spring Training beginning. For me, baseball is the canary in the coalmine. It felt odd and out of place last year with a raging pandemic and the country ripped apart by culture wars and the political apocalypse of an election that felt as existential as any we have had in recent times. Baseball was still there in a weird bubble that took away much of what made it important as a cultural touchstone.

It felt sporadic and detached.

Like most of us.

But it is coming back, as it always has each February, and with it comes the hope that we are nearing a point where we can sometime soon return to a form of normalcy. Where kids can experience that burst of color and light for themselves, can root loudly for slick fielding infielders and hard hitting sluggers. Where old farts like me can revel in the cyclical nature and routine of the game along with its esoteric details, its poetry, and its history. That

Author Michael Chabon, in his book Summerland, put words to my own feelings the game and how it echoes and rhymes with day to day life:

 The first and last duty of the lover of the game of baseball,” Peavine’s book began, “whether in the stands or on the field, is the same as that of the lover of life itself: to pay attention to it.

I have had trouble immersing myself in spectator sports this past year with all that is happening. But the start of Spring Training offers renewed hope. And that hope is a big part of the game. While personal glory and team victory are the goal, baseball is a game about how one copes with failure. It is a game of humility. The greatest players of all time failed more than they succeeded and most players go through their careers without winning the World Series. 

The hope is that if you give it your best effort, this pitch might be the big pitch or this catch will be the big catch. This hit might be the big hit.

This year might be the year.

It is a grand metaphor for the hardship and grace of life that repeats itself 162 times a year. Like life, it offers us everything if only we pay attention.

Pay attention and have a good day.

Here’s a favorite baseball tune from Mabel Scott to kick off the season:



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So don’t be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don’t know what work they are accomplishing within you?

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet



Funny how often the words of the poet Rilke mesh with the message I am seeing or hoping to see in a painting of mine. It’s certainly the case in this new smaller piece, Standing in Shadow, that is part of the Little Gems show at the West End Gallery that opens this Friday.

For me, the message I wanted to distill here was that we all live in the shadows of places, people, and events. Even the past and the future cast a shadow on our lives in the forms of regret and fear, among many others. 

In a way, we are shaped by shadows, depending on how we react to them. In the best case, we seek to step beyond them, to find a place in the light where the only shadows present are those we cast in our wake.

That is where the words of Rilke come into play. It is while we are in the shadows, that we must use those feelings that thrive within us there, the anxiety and pain and other deep emotions, to find a way forward.

To use the shadows as building blocks toward the light. 

I’ve discussed this here before, this idea that it is most often that our hardships form our character and that our creations ultimately– and hopefully– reflect that character. I’ve always thought that the appeal of my work was in the shadows that came through in my work. I am not talking about physical shadows though they sometimes are manifested as such in the work. It’s more in the underlying darkness, the acknowledgement that there is dark behind the light. That even the optimism and hope carried in the work is tempered with a wary eye cast toward the shadows.

Our hardships do, as Rilke points out, accomplish work within us. That’s not easy to see when you’re deep in the shadows. But once one recognizes that the shadows are the place where the deepest emotions are spawned, that one can use these feelings as a way to the light, that it is the place where creation is born, it becomes a less scary place. 

At least that’s how I am reading this, in both Rilke’s words and in this painting.

I could be wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time and it certainly won’t be the last.

Maybe you will see it differently with the benefit of your own shadows. That’s how it should be.

Have a good day.

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kandinsky

 



Lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and… stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to ‘walk about’ into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?

Wassily Kandinsky



Still working on getting my creative engines revved up and ready to go. Normal for me at this point n the year. One thing that usually helps me in these times is turning to the words and works of Wassily Kandinsky.

Several years ago in a short post here, I shared the quote above and a great little film from Alfred Imageworks that features an animation of the elements from some of Kandinsky’s great paintings as well a film from 1926 of Kandinsky creating a drawing with these same elements.

These always seem to help me in some way that I can’t quantify. Maybe I should take Kandinsky’s advice and stop thinking on this.

Anyway, thought they’d be worth revisiting today before I get down to real work.

Take a look if you are so inclined and then have yourself a good day, again, if you are so inclined.

STEREOSCOPIC FOR EXHIBITION – KANDINSKY from Alfred Imageworks on Vimeo.



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