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Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

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“Masks beneath masks until suddenly the bare bloodless skull.” 
 Salman RushdieThe Satanic Verses

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This was a small piece that was began yesterday. I had finished a new painting that very much pleased me but left me feeling that it was not a jumping off point to immediately begin another piece in that same vein. In short, it left me feeling a bit blocked.

So, this piece, a 12″ square canvas, was started as a palate cleanser, something where I could just makes marks and shapes and color to fill some space, hoping that it somehow sparked something. This was basically how the Archaeology series began back in 2008. At the time, I was stumped and felt that I was at the end of my creative surge. I began working from a method taught by my 5th grade art teacher where we would simply take large blank sheets of paper and, using pen and ink, fill them in anyway we could. It’s something that I often turn to when I am feeling uninspired and it often bears interesting results.

Here, it started with a face, quickly slashed in with loose strokes, just trying to make a form with as little fuss or detail as possible. Then came another and another and so on. Each inspired the next. They went down in my normal red oxide at first then I went back at each face with quick, rough strokes of other colors, letting the tones and shapes play off one another. It was meant to be coarse in its execution, done fast and without much conscious thought, giving it a bit more expressionistic feel.

What they are, I don’t know. I wasn’t trying to represent anyone I knew or had seen. Just the general faces that have often popped out in my drawing over the years. But many of them have been with me for many years now. Some of them appeared when I was a small child and would try to find them in wallpaper patterns or in the edges of curtains. Everything could be made into a face, so it seemed.

And some I see as being from images culled from medieval texts, even down to the way the lips are modeled. Not done purposely, but they appear that way to me.

But most I recognize here  have been with me since my childhood, some that are friendly and some that deeply bother me, leaving me with an uneasy feeling as though I recognize them from past unpleasant personal experience.

Maybe from this life or some other earlier incarnation, if there are such things. Maybe it’s just a matter of facial and image recognition present in us all that pulls from sort of collective consciousness, that makes us respond to certain shapes and forms. Like I said, I don’t know.

Or maybe it’s just a psychological biopsy of the facets of a personality. Again, I don’t know.

But as a palate cleanser, it has served its purpose. It has amped me up a bit and I could see this small piece growing into larger painting, say 4 or 5 foot square. I could see that having a great impact on the wall, even if it’s only the wall here in the studio. But I don’t know if it will go anywhere beyond this.

Don’t even know if I will completely finish this particular or if I should even try to put eyes in the dark holes where they should be in these faces. I like the feeling that the dark pits give the piece. It gives the faces the appearance of being masks.

And maybe that is what our faces really are- masks.

As always, I don’t know if that’s true. But I do now that if this piece transforms into a larger series I will call it the Masks.

We shall see.

 

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The best reason to paint is that there is no reason to paint… I’d like to pretend that I’ve never seen anything, never read anything, never heard anything… and then make something… Every time I make something, I think about the people who are going to see it and every time I see something, I think about the person who made it… Nothing is important… so everything is important.

Keith Haring

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I can’t say that I was ever a huge Keith Haring fan. Maybe it was because his Graffiti-based Pop Art imagery seemed to be everywhere all of the time  through most of the 80’s and 90’s. It seemed like you couldn’t turn around without seeing his images. But I have to admit that I have come to have an appreciation of his work, especially the prodigious output he produced in his short life. He died at the age of 31 and created a pretty amazing body of work in the limited time he spent on this planet. Even if you don’t recognize the name, you most likely have seen and recognized his imagery at some point.

Part of my newfound appreciation comes from the fact that I am able to look at his work now and find things in it that I may be able to transfer in some way to my own work. Take for instance, the rhythms of some of his black and white pieces shown below. I see something in them that speaks to me and might work in my voice, as well.

I also like the attitude he took with the quote at the top. The idea that the importance of art comes from the fact that we see something in it that makes it important to us is a striking and sometimes abstract concept. It’s one that has struck me at times in the studio when I am suddenly hit by the absurdity of the idea that I am standing there smearing paint of a piece of board. In that moment I can’t think of a reason why I should be doing this thing.

And maybe it is that absurdity that makes it worthwhile. Perhaps to continue to do something that seems so unimportant in the grand scheme of things creates its own importance.

A sort of testimony to both the futility and significance of our existence.

And maybe that is art’s true purpose, to let us feel both humble and expansive.

Something to think about while I am wondering what the hell I am doing here in the studio today.

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Was looking through some images of work from around 2006 and 2007 and came across this painting, The Middle Way. It really jumped out at me so thought I’d share it along with a blogpost from back in 2009 about a Henry Miller essay. The painting and the essay seem to fit together well.

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    From the very beginning almost I was deeply aware that there is no goal. I never hope to embrace the whole, but merely to give in each separate fragment, each work, the feeling of the whole as I go on, because I am digging deeper and deeper into life, digging deeper and deeper into past and future. With the endless burrowing a certitude develops which is greater than faith or belief. I become more and more indifferent to my fate, as a writer, and more and more certain of my destiny as man.

      – Henry Miller, Reflections on Writing

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This is a fragment of an essay, Reflections on Writing, from a book of essays, The Wisdom of the Heart, by Henry Miller, the great and controversial author. When I was young his books such as Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn were still being characterized as “smut” and many libraries didn’t have them on their shelves for fear the morality police would swoop in and raise a fuss. Probably many only know the existence and influence of his books from their use in a memorable Seinfeld episode, the one with Bookman the library cop whose hard-boiled dialogue still makes me hoot.

For me, I wasn’t so much attracted to his books by the raciness of the stories but rather by his way of speaking through his words and expressing views that I found at once to be compatible with my own. He observed and said the things that I  wished I could say with a voice and power I wished I possessed. I can pick up one of his books and open to a page anywhere in the book and read and be fascinated without knowing the context of what I’m reading, just from the sheer strength of his writing’s voice.

I see a lot of things in this particular essay that translate as well for painting or any other form of creation. It opens:

Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery. The adventure is a metaphysical one: it is a way of approaching life indirectly, of acquiring a total rather than a partial view of the universe. The writer lives between the upper and lower worlds: he takes the path in order to eventually become that path himself.

Substituting artist for writer, I was immediately pulled in. The path he refers to is the path I often refer to in my paintings, the path we all walk and struggle along on, trying to find the middle way between these upper and lower worlds.

It’s a good essay and one I recommend for anyone who creates in any form and struggles with the meaning of their work beyond its surface. For anyone seeking that path…

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In these gaudy times, we think we will shortly reach the point where everything is known, but the fact is we are ignoring the essential, which is love of all living things, of all beauty both visible and hidden.

–Georges Rouault (France, 1871- 1958)

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Looking at the work of Georges Rouault, I am as excited by it now as when I first encountered it many years ago. It is fearlessly painted and brimming with the fervor with which he imbued all his work. It makes me want to do better, makes me want to make marks that are absolute expressions and proof of my being in this world.

Inspiring stuff, indeed.

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The American poet Mary Oliver died yesterday at the age of 83. I can’t claim to know much about poetry but I always found her work engaging and enlightening. There was a plain-spoken quality to her work that gave her musings the feel and clarity of newfound wisdom. She is gone but her voice will carry on. Here’s a post from a couple of years ago that was about the relationship of a painting of mine to one of her better known poems, Wild Geese.

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GC Myers- The Singular HeartYou do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

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A while back, a person interested in my work sent me the poem above, Wild Geese.  It was written by the esteemed Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver. This person wanted to know if I would be interested in translating this poem into into one of my paintings for them. I replied that when I had some time I would gladly do that as I think the poem strikes a chord that very much resonates in my work.

After a short while, this person contacted me again and said they had been looking at my work and had found a painting that they felt captured the spirit of the poem. The painting is the one shown at the top, The Singular Heart.

I was thrilled by the choice. It had the feeling and message of the poem without being absolutely literal.  It’s exactly how I wanted to portray it. And the message and title of the painting fell perfectly in line with Oliver’s poem.  The Red Tree stands, singular and alone, with the realization that it has a unique place, as does every being, in the family of things.

I told this person a bit about this painting and an experience I had with it that stuck with me.  Once it hung in my home area gallery, the West End Gallery, and I met with a local college art class there. One of the questions was which of the pieces there was my favorite. I normally don’t answer that question because I have always felt that any painting that I decide to show has something unique to it, some quality that makes it special to me. Kind of like a parent with their kids.

But on this occasion I didn’t hesitate and pointed at this painting.  I told them if I were to try to describe in one painting what I wanted to say with the body of my work and what I hoped for myself as a person, that this piece would summarize it perfectly.

I told this person that I felt it was perfect choice and was pleased when they chose this painting to represent the poem in their home. It means a lot when any painting finds a home but is even more special when I know that it resonates on many levels with its owner, that it goes deeper than the surface.

Here’s a clip of Mary Oliver reading her poem, Wild Geese:

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Came across this post from six years back this morning and it made me stop. Reading it again, I realized it was what I was looking for this morning– a reminder of the why, the motivation behind what I am trying to do here in the studio. Thought it was a worth running here again.

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All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
And I intend to end up there.

— Rumi, 13th century Persian poet

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The other day, while going over some very early posts from this blog, I came across this short poem from Rumi.  It had been passed on to me by my friend Scott Allen from the Cleveland area after my 2008 show at the Kada Gallery. He told me that it was what he himself had felt in my work. The poem had, I’m sorry to confess, slipped my mind over the years and coming across it again immediately rekindled my  original reaction to it. Then and now, I felt as though this little wisp of a poem captured the motivation behind what I was trying to do in my work.

Like Rumi’s voice in this poem, I have spent most of my life in an existential quandary, filled with doubts about who I am and what I should be doing. I often felt like a stranger in a strange land, ill at ease in my surroundings and feeling, like Rumi, that my soul is from elsewhere. Initially, I felt as though my uncertainties and doubts could be allayed externally. I was simply not in the right physical location. But it was apparent after a time that it was not an external problem. Regardless of the location, I would not be at ease on the outside until I sought and found where I needed to be internally.

That’s where the act of painting came in and to fill this void in my life. If life were an ocean, painting gave me a hope, an endpoint for which to navigate. Without it, I would still be rudderless in an ocean of doubt. With it and through it, I feel that my soul is headed in the right direction.

I don’t know exactly why I feel the need to share this intimacy with you this morning. Perhaps that openness is part of the journey or even the destination. But for me, seeing this poem again reconnected me to the journey at a point when it felt as though I was going slightly off course. Sometimes in the process of seeking one forgets why they set out on the journey in the beginning. And that why, that motivation, sometimes needs to be revisited during the journey. It gives the destination definition and immediately puts you back on course.

This morning, I feel like I am sailing on smooth seas again, knowing why I am going forward.

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A Way to Work

I have been saddled with a chest cold for several days that is severely limiting my activities and making work feel like a real chore. In need of a little pick-me-up I came across this very early post from back in 2008 that is a good reminder of what I consider my work ethic. Reminds me that I need to dig a little deeper on days like this. See what you think:

997-341-labor-to-light-4001This is a piece called “Labor to Light”, a smaller piece that is at the West End Gallery in Corning. It features one of what I call my icons, the field rows running back to the horizon. To me, they represent the act of labor and the results derived from it.  The ability to work hard has been very important to me in this career and something I stress to kids whenever I get to talk to them.

I remember years ago reading an interview with author John Irving (of “The World According to Garp” and “The Cider House Rules” fame) where he talked about his work routine. He talks quite a bit about wrestling in his writing as he was a high school and college grappler and he used a wrestling analogy to describe how he approached his writing.

He said that if he aspired to compete and win at the highest level as a wrestler, which would be an Olympic or world  champion, he would have to train harder and longer than the men he would be competing against. If a wrestler in Bulgaria or anywhere else in the world was training 7 hours a day, he would need train at least that much and maybe more. He knew he would be basically competing against every wrestler in the world.

He then turned this mindset to writing.

His writing became a competitive effort of Olympic proportion, where he saw himself as competing with every other writer in the world for each reader that came into a bookstore. If you were buying someone else’s book, you weren’t buying his and in his mind, he had lost. So he began to train himself as a writer with the same effort as though he were an Olympic athlete, writing 7-8 hours per day, forcing himself to forge ahead even on days when it would be easy to just blow it off and do anything else.

When I read this it struck a chord. I realized that in order to reach my highest level I would have to be willing to devote myself to working harder and longer than other artists and be willing to spend more time alone, away from distraction. It would require sacrifice and hard, focused labor. But Irving’s example gave me a path to follow, a starting point.

I have since realized that there is a multitude of talented people out there, many with abilities and knowledge far beyond mine. But art is often more than sheer ability. It is the communication of an idea, a feeling, to others. And to do this successfully with your art you need to push that ability fully, in order to go beyond what your mind sees as an endpoint. I see this as my goal everyday in the studio. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I come up short but I’m out there competing everyday.

Thanks, John Irving

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