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I was going to write something altogether different this morning, something angry and sharply pointed. But I found that the prospect of doing so just made me angrier with the realization of the probable futility of it. Seems like just more words to be thrown on the heap of the web’s virtual Tower of Babel, too many to be heard with any clarity or understanding. Maybe that’s the problem– though we basically engage in the same written language, many of us speak in contexts and understandings so different from one another that it makes us seem as though we are talking to each other in wildly different tongues.

And that brings me to my standard stock answer: I don’t know.

So, I am going to play a song that came on yesterday and piqued my interest while I was matting the painting shown here, one I call The Coming Together. It is headed to the Principle Gallery for my 21st annual solo show there, which opens next Friday, June 5. This year’s show is called Social Distancing.

The song that played yesterday was Cross of Flowers from singer/songwriter Jeffrey Foucault. I was very much in the same state of mind as I am this morning, a little world weary and a little down in spirit. This song, in the moment, seemed to both capture that feeling and relieve it just a bit. A small iota of catharsis, enough to lighten the load for a few moments.

It also seemed to capture the feeling I get from this painting. It’s a nod to a handful of similar pieces I did early in my career, with woven plant stems and flowers cutting through the picture plane like pole with colors radiating out from the sides of the painting’s central core.

These works are more about the forms and the color than the reality of the plants. There’s no basis in reality for the botanical aspects of the plants or flowers so don’t ask me. I just paint them in a way that please me, one that satisfies what I want to see in that moment. Though imaginary, it has its own organic growth.

I think that’s why I enjoy painting these pieces. They just become what they are. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Makes me wonder why I didn’t paint more of these. Maybe the scarcity keeps the wonder of painting them fresh?

Again, I don’t know.

For god’s sake, don’t ask me any questions this morning. I am going to give a listen again to the song and look a little bit longer at this painting. Sip my coffee and chill for a few minutes. I suggest you do the same.

It’ll do you good.

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In the morning they return
With tears in their eyes
The stench of death drifts up to the skies
A soldier so ill looks at the sky pilot
Remembers the words
“Thou shalt not kill.”
Sky pilot,
Sky pilot,
How high can you fly?
You’ll never, never, never reach the sky.

–Sky Pilot, Eric Burdon and the Animals

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I watched a National Geographic documentary this past week, Heroes of the Sky: The Mighty Eighth Air Force, about that unit’s service during WW II. While it is a story that has been well documented and one with which I was familiar, it was well done and served as a reminder of the horror of war and the great loss it inflicts on those who serve and sacrifice. Fitting stuff for a Memorial Day weekend.

The 8th was based in England during the war and was the group responsible for the many US missions into continental Europe, including raids into Germany. Early on, when they first began sending raids into France and then Germany, their bombers were escorted by British fighter planes until their own planes, the P-47’s, were ready for service. However, the P-47’s had a major liability, a limited range. This meant that they could only escort the bombers so far into Europe before having to turn and head back to refuel which left the bombers exposed for the approach to their targets sites.

This fact meant that the casualties suffered in those early sorties were staggering. Hearing the numbers now, with hundreds of planes and thousands of airmen lost in a single month, one is left to wonder if we would have the stomach to bear such a sacrifice now, even in the face of the possibility of being defeated and overtaken by a cruel Nazi/Fascist regime?

I certainly don’t know the answer to that question, especially in these changed times where the minds of many could be swayed via divisive misinformation into an acceptance of the beliefs of those regimes we might otherwise be opposing. After all, even during WW II the Nazi cult had plenty of supporters here in the states, Americans who by race or belief fell under their spell.

I hope we never have to find out. And I suspect we won’t.

My belief is that those who seek to rule over us in a repressive fascist state have long realized that such a thing cannot be achieved via direct war and conflict. No, it will be an insidious and incremental effort, one that seek to infiltrate our branches of power and sources of info, seeking to control the power of the nation by dividing the people into many opposing factions, thereby confusing and thwarting their will to resist. Any sort of national unity would be fractious, at best.

Even a military that is massive and powerful would not be able to stop such an effort. In fact, it might act as a sort of tranquilizer, making the citizens believe that so long as they have such a powerful force protecting them they would be safe and secure, that there would be no possibility of any sort of attack on their country.

I fear that it is already well underway. The tools to do so are in place and easily accessible and it seems that we have the mentality and an environment that is ripe for such an effort.

Look at how easily minds are now swayed into disbelieving facts and accepting ridiculous conspiracy theories. Would it be a stretch for these same minds to fall into the belief that maybe a fascist regime would be acceptable, even preferable?

I hope I am way off base here, that it is just the product of a runaway imagination. But on this Memorial day weekend, it’s something I want to consider and keep in mind, if only for the responsibility we bear for those who have fallen in combat in our past against the forces of tyranny, despotism, and hatred.

We owe that to those who have sacrificed their lives for this nation. We, the living, are their witnesses. We bear testimony to their efforts, their experience and their existence.

For me, that’s the part of Memorial day I try to keep in mind. Hope you will at least consider it this weekend.

For this week’s Sunday morning music, here’s Sky Pilot from Eric Burdon and the Animals. From 1968, it’s one of those songs that holds lots of different meanings. At its core, it’s about a chaplain who blesses troops before they set out on a mission then goes to bed awaiting to learn their fate. It’s an interesting song, set into three parts and including a variety of sounds and effects. You’ve even got some bagpipes playing Garryowen thrown in along the way.

Have a good day.

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“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.

― Kurt Vonnegut

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The words above are from the book God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater from the late Kurt Vonnegut. They are are spoken to the infant twins of a neighbor as part of a baptismal speech from Eliot Rosewater, the book’s protagonist.

It seems like a ridiculous bit of advice to speak over infants at a religious ceremony but the sentiment is striking in its simplicity and practical application.

In nearly every instance, kindness will make the situation better.

I don’t know why I am writing this today. Maybe it’s the shrill ugliness of our society at the moment, marked by naked tribalism and selfish greed.

Or maybe its our attack mentality that has become the norm, one where reason and logic are thrown aside and replaced with insults and slurs.

These negative aspects, the hatred and selfishness we are so often displaying, are not sustainable for us as a society. They are the signs of an undisciplined and unprincipled people.

On the other hand, kindness is a sustainable and enduring principle of guidance. It builds up, not tears down. A hand up, not a push down.

Like I said, I don’t why I am writing this. Maybe the thought was that we– maybe just I– needed a reminder that a little kindness does more for the world that all the ugly words spoken with hatred by one person toward another.

So, this is your reminder. We have a short time on this world. Don’t waste your time here being mean-spirited and vengeful.

Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself.

This made me want to hear a little Otis Redding this morning. Try a Little Tenderness. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Have a good and kind day.

 

 

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I don’t know much about sailing. I do know the difference between port and starboard but that’s just mnemonics — port has four letters like left.

But I don’t know a sloop from a schooner, a ketch from a cutter. Can barely tie my shoelaces let alone some intricate nautical knot. Never felt the spray from the waves and can only imagine the feeling of being out in the middle of the sea, alone with only a sail and the rhythm of the currents to move me.

But the lure and romance of the sailboat and the act of sailing is not lost on me. The idea of attuning oneself to the awesome natural power and grace of the waves is an enticing proposition and just watching a skilled sailor handle a boat, even from the shore, is fascinating.

It’s all there, the same elements that I most often use in my landscape paintings. Natural power and high domes of sky. Wide horizons with the rhythms of the landscape replaced by the rhythms of the waves. The same sort of quietude and focus. A sense of purpose.

I think that’s what makes my sail boat paintings some of my favorites to paint. They are a chance to exercise my own imagination in trying to envision the experience of riding the rhythms of the ocean. I have been thrilled over the years when those folks who can call themselves sailors tell me how much they like these pieces. Makes me think I must be getting some aspect of it right, even if it only comes from my imagination.

The piece above is from my upcoming show, Social Distancing, that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery. I call this painting, a 17″ by 17″ piece on paper, Running on Rhythm. Hopefully it feels right in some way for my sailing friends.

Here’s a song that is not really about sailing but it uses sailin’ in its title and chorus and is just a song that sticks with me. The song is Sailin’ Shoes from Little Feat. I am including two versions, both sung by the late great Lowell George. The first is the original from their 1972 album of the same name, a slower bluesy version. The second is from their incredible 1978 live album, Waiting For Columbus, who was by all accounts a sailor. This version is a bit more raucous and unrestrained. I like both.

Give a listen and have a good day.

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“When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.”

Wisława Szymborska, Poems New and Collected

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“When I pronounce the word Silence, I destroy it…”

I love that line from the late Nobel Prize winning poet Wisława Szymborska. It so well sums up my own forays into writing as a young man when I found myself trying futilely to write about silence and places of silence. My words always seemed to defeat my purpose.

You can’t really write about silence.

Using words to describe silence is like using hate to demonstrate love or war to peace.  It doesn’t really work well.

No, you can’t write about silence.

You can only be silent.

Silence is a way of being.

That brings me to the painting shown above called Song of Silence.

This painting, Song of Silence, is being included along with a small group of vintage pieces in my upcoming show, Social Distancing, that opens at the Principle Gallery on June 5. Most of the early work for this show comes the mid 1990’s but this is the latest of the vintage pieces, from 2007.

It is a fairly large piece at 32″ x 32″ on paper and its size seems to accentuate its quietness. I did a number of similar pieces in the mid 2000’s and they were some of my favorites to paint. There was something special in the delicacy and restraint of these pieces. Their simplicity would lead you to believe they were simple to paint but capturing such an ephemeral feelings with minimal elements made them real challenges. Anything even slightly askew could make the whole thing fall apart.

For me personally, when these pieces worked, when they came together in that special way, they felt like magic. They transported me to a different state of being, to that place of silence, if only for a few short moments.

This is one of those pieces for me.

It’s been quite a while since I exhibited this type of work and I am eager to see what sort of response this brings in the gallery.  We’ll see.

The title, Song of Silence, seems like it might contradict my words at the beginning of this post but wordless music often has the ability to convey silence. As an example I am including a selection below from one of my favorite pieces of music, Tabula Rasa, from composer Arvo Pärt that I believe does this effectively. This music, as performed by violinist Gil Shaham, served as a large influence on much of my early work.

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I am putting the finishing touches on the work for my upcoming show, Social Distancing, that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. In addition to the new works, I am putting together a small group of what I would call vintage work, early paintings from the 1990’s and a couple from the early 2000’s. Most of these haven’t been shown in over twenty years, if they have even been shown at all. I chose this time to share these pieces because I felt they fit well with the theme of this show, which is the isolation brought on by the covid-19 crisis.

The piece at the top is one that I am still trying to decide if it will be part of the show. It’s called Dance of Joy from 1996. It has been hanging in my studios for over twenty years now, from my first rustic studio that is in the process of being absorbed into the forest floor to my current more spacious and well appointed digs.

You wouldn’t think that you would include a piece called Dance of Joy in a show devoted to social distancing but I think you have to include the more hopeful and happy aspects, as well. After all, those moments still exist for most of us even in this state of suspended animation in which we now exist. The things that brought me joy before this still bring me joy now and almost all of them don’t depend on any changes in my form of isolation.

But beyond that aspect, I found an interpretation in the painting that I am sure wasn’t intended when it was first painted. I think at that time I saw the trees as dancers celebrating the rise of the red sun in a bacchanalian manner. But looking at this piece yesterday, I saw it an the dance of joy when we finally overcome the virus, that time when we find a way to safely control and manage, if not eradicate, it. I saw the red disc not as a sun or a moon on the rise but as the virus on the decline.

That will bring a time for dances of joy, a time to celebrate those times of shared communal enjoyment.

Until that time, we must be patient and careful in order to contain the damages and the deaths caused by this virus. But we can still do our dances of joy until we experience that real bacchanal that will hopefully come sooner than later.

For this Sunday morning’s musical selection, I am turning to the world of Klezmer music and the acclaimed clarinetist Giora Feidman.  Feidman is an Argentine born Israeli who is considered the King of Klezmer.  He was chosen by Steven Spielberg to perform the clarinet solos for his film Schindler’s List. The song I have chosen is titled, The Dance of Joy. But you knew that, right?

I love the infectious ( bad choice of word) energy of klezmer and this song has it at its highest level. I can see the trees in this painting moving wildly to this music. So, give a listen and try to find some moments of joy today, something that makes you do your own dance of joy. Have a good day.

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I posted this photo of my studio cat, Hobie, yesterday and she drew quite a bit of attention on social media. Thought I would say a few words about this girl who has been my studio assistant for somewhere around ten years now.

Like I said in the posting, she is a perfect assistant. She is undemanding in every aspect except her occasional need for periodic rubs and a treat or two throughout the day. She is also neat and has never once taken to scratch at any of the canvasses or frames scattered around the studio.

She is thoughtful. When I come into the studio each morning, if she has caught a mouse she leaves it as a love gift for me in front of my easel. That’s the first place I check when I come into this space. Stepping on a dead mouse is not a pleasant experience, certainly not  something I want to do again anytime soon.

I call her presents love gifts because she absolutely loves me. When I first enter the studio kitchen each morning, the first thing that occurs is our ritual greeting. It consists of me getting down on the floor and laying with her with her  for several minutes. She circles me and rubs against me then flops on her side in front of me for an extended pet, a tremendously loud purr emanating from her all the time.

I usually serenade her with a song at this point, which she also seems to like for some reason, even with my awful voice. A longtime favorite has been the version of She’s Some Kind of Wonderful from Grand Funk. She’s also partial to Cole Porter tunes.

I was going to tell how she came to be a full time live-in assistant and house cat that no longer goes outside but it’s a longer story than I am willing to tell right now. She doesn’t even seem to want to go out side now, like she knows how tough it is to be on your own out there in the woods and fully appreciates what sweet gig she has now. One where she can demand rubs and kisses and tasty treats. One where she can roll on any pile of papers that she finds.

As I said, she’s perfect for the situation. She’s super smart, understanding, undemanding, affectionate and fully satisfied with her life now. Just a great girl and a wonderful companion.

I am including a song, Walking My Cat Named Dog, from the 1960’s from folksinger Norma Tanega. I came across it when I was looking up the name of the song that opens the TV show What We Do in the Shadows which is a goofy mockumentary style show about a group of real vampires living on Staten Island. It’s based on a film of the same name from filmmaker Taika Waititi who also made a favorite movie of mine, JoJo Rabbit. It’s a show that often makes me laugh out loud but the opening theme always catches my attention. It has a great sound.

Looking it up, I found that it’s  called You’re Dead from Norma Tanega. Looking her up, I found that she was discovered as a singing camp counselor in the Catskills and is best known for the song Walking My Cat Named Dog. It’s a song that I can’t quite remember but it sounds familiar, definitely a product of mid 60’s radio. But more than that, it reminds me of Hobie who I have often felt had a dog vibe to her. Maybe it’s her unconditional love and she doesn’t seem seem as aloof as some other cats. I don’t know why but I often think of her as my dogcat. My cat named dog.

Anyway, here is that song along with You’re Dead. Pet your cats and dogs. And your fish and your snakes and your turtles. And your horses and llamas.  Goats and pigs, too. Whatever. Have a good day.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4jUZ-Ex1k0

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