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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

I’ve been revisiting a lot of very old work lately here in the studio, taking little walk down memory lane. Some of the memories  are pleasant enough with “oh, yeah, I remember that” coming up periodically in my mind. Some are  cringeworthy, making me glad I moved past that time. Some please me greatly and some make me smile. Such is the case with this  little piece done in 1994.

Called Rockin’ Billy, it was done quickly in crayons. It’s rough-edged and kind of crude but has movement. I think I was listening to a bunch of old rockabilly at the time. Johnny Burnette, Warren Smith, Jerry Lee Lewis, that kind of stuff– rough-edged and a little crude with some real movement.

But I am pretty sure that this piece was a direct result of Billy Lee Riley and his distinct guitar playing, especially in a couple of my faves from that time, Flying Saucer Rock and Roll and Red Hot. Every time I stumble across this piece I have to break out the rockabilly for at least a few songs and that’s how it is on this Sunday morning. Here are those two songs from Billy Lee Riley.

Oh, what the hell, let me throw in Johnny Burnette’s Rock Billy Boogie. I can see Rockin’ Billy dancing across the stage now. Hope this helps you have your own rockin’ good time today.


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I am at work on a large commissioned piece. As a rule, I don’t like doing commissions because I sometimes fear the client’s aims and expectations will somehow cloud my creative process and ultimately make the painting less than it might otherwise be. And for me, trying to please someone else’s eye rather than my own is not usually conducive to good work.

And at the beginning of this particular painting, that definitely seemed the case.

I had several reference photos that were provided by the client to give me context and as general guidelines for the kind of landscape they hoped for in the painting. I don’t normally– actually, I never– work from reference photos. I don’t know why but in this case I tried to remain absolutely faithful to them.

It wasn’t good.

I spent a few frustrating days repeatedly laying out the piece then painting it over to restart again. It just didn’t move, didn’t feel alive. It made me tense and a little angry to where I finally came to a place where I determined that I was being too fixated on accuracy and was setting aside the things that I felt were important to me in my work– rhythm, line and pattern.

This was my painting so it had to excite and please me first. I made the decision to have it do just that and began making big changes that would imbue it with the things I needed to see and feel in it. I began to move things around, cutting away elements in the composition and changing the flow of the landscape.

It began to grow in a more organic and less thought out way. Each step got me more engaged and more excited, each subsequent layer of color bringing it a bit more vibrant and alive. I worked last night on it, leaving as it came to a point where it is has all its momentum steaming forward. All of it’s potential seems now evident to me and it feels like it is a balloon filled to the absolute limit, ready to burst at any instant into a mass of color and movement.

For me, this is the most exciting point of a painting. It’s there and I just have to tear away the shell that is keeping it restrained. I feel a palpable excitement looking at it this morning.

I feel good.

I can’t show you any in progress shots because I believe this is meant to be a surprise gift. So I will instead show a very old watercolor from around 1994 which acts as a segue to a little music from the venerable John Lee Hooker and a song whose title and feeling absolutely hit the mark this morning.  It’s his boogie classic I Feel Good.  I call the painting Leroi’s Yellow Guitar.

I could paint to this all day long…

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There are sensory perceptions that we carry throughout our lives.  It might be a sound, a smell, an image that once brought to mind brings forth the atmosphere and feeling of the time in which they first entered our consciousness.

The smell of a cooking turkey instantly returns me to my childhood and the farmhouse where we lived. It would be Thanksgiving and  I can see Mom’s old formal dining table with the heavy chairs that surrounded it. It’s a long table with all the extending leafs in place and it’s surface is covered with the bounty of Thanksgiving, the mashed potatoes, canned cranberry sauce, stuffing and so on. Just the tiniest whiff of a roasting turkey always — and I mean always–sends me hurtling through time back to that table.

The same is true with certain songs. Take for instance, the song In My Life from the Beatles. Hearing those opening chords always sends me back to same big old farmhouse that played such a big part in my formative years. I can see the old floral wallpaper in the living room and there’s a big console record player with cloth covered speakers on its front and two sliding panels on top that uncover a turntable on one side and the controls for a radio on the other. Those opening chords have me immediately standing in front of that record player with the light from the large windows in that room filtering through Mom’s frilled white cotton curtains. On the wall there was a reproduction of a schlocky painting — I think it was a red covered bridge–printed on thick cardboard that was bought at the Loblaws grocery store.

It’s a good memory. I felt safe in that place, free to imagine places and adventures I hoped for in the future. It was a good place to foster some of the thoughts and observations that direct my paintings to this very day.

That’s my intro for this week’s Sunday morning music. I thought instead of playing the original Beatles version of In My Life which is understandably a favorite of mine, I would opt instead for one from Bette Midler with a beautiful accompaniment on ukelele from uke wizard Jake Shimabukuro. The feeling of his playing on this song works for me as much as the original in bringing back that earlier time and place.

Give a listen, think about some of those sensations that trigger your own memories and have a good Sunday.

 

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In the studio I have a big box that is overflowing with small flags that we have picked up at the local cemetery where we often walk. There are probably 300 to 400 of them jammed in this box.

Most are faded, dirty and ripped. Some have just come detached from their dowel from the wind and the rain. And some are shredded by the mowing crews who won’t take a moment to get off their machines to pick them up before running over them. I am sure these same guys are probably having a fit that some NFL players are silently protesting by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem.

I have been thinking over the years about incorporating them into a project but it hasn’t taken shape yet. But we continue to pick them up, often replacing them with new flags. I can’t fully explain why.

I don’t blindly worship the flag, don’t consider myself any more patriotic than the next person. I certainly don’t believe that we are in any way perfect as a nation.

Far from it. We are by definition a work in progress– so long as there is progress to made we are not done evolving as a nation.

There’s just something about seeing it being treated so badly that irks me a bit. But I don’t feel that same way at all when I see NFL players silently protesting in a dignified and respectful manner. In fact, their protests to me align perfectly with the symbol of the flag as I see it.

People have somehow come to believe, in the politicization of it, that it solely represents the troops and first responders. Well, while it does represent them it also flies as symbol for every citizen and their equal status in this nation.  Every single citizen is represented in those stars and bars. City folk, country folk, black, white, hispanic, Asian, etc– it doesn’t matter so far as that symbol is concerned. It represents us all under the defining concept of this country that we all are granted the same rights and opportunities and bear the same responsibilities.

It is not just a flag that reminds us of our past. It is our symbol of an aspiration to be ever better, to move far beyond the flaws of the past. That flag is a symbol that wants us to stand against injustices, to protest wrongs, to help the oppressed and to move us closer to what we hope is a perfect state of being.

It is in many ways a flag of protest. Almost all of the progress that has been made in this country– abolishment of slavery, workers rights, universal suffrage, civil rights and so many other things we take for granted on a day to day basis– came about as a result of citizens standing in protest to what they saw as a wrong. In fact, protest had a hand in saving the lives of troops by forcing the government to end the conflict in Viet Nam.

So, if the players’ protests bother you, ask yourself why you are so offended. Ask yourself what you have done to make this country a better place. Have you helped another American in in distress lately?

There are 3 and a half million American citizens living in Puerto Rico who are fighting for their survival and you are worried that these players in their silent protest are somehow ruining America?

Get over it.

If you love the flag and the country so much, make it better.  Recognize those things that wrong us all or help somebody. There are more US citizens in Puerto Rico than the the combined populations of Wyoming, Montana and North and South Dakota. Imagine if every citizen in those four states was on the edge of losing everything they held dear, including their lives.  Wouldn’t you want to reach out to them? Wouldn’t you want to give them the same kind of help you would want if such a thing ever came your way?

If you do think there is a difference helping those states than in extending all the assistance we can muster to Puerto Rico, you are most likely bothered by the NFL protests. In which case, maybe you should look at yourself in the mirror and acknowledge what kind of person you really are.

You might wave the flag, you might even worship the goddamn thing, but you are no patriot.

I have said my piece so let’s move on to this week’s Sunday morning music, one that is made to order for this blog entry. It’s John Prine’s classic protest song about flag wavers and their empty patriotism, Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore. It feels as relevant today as it did in 1972.

So have a good day and wrap yourself in the flag while you think about helping the American people of Puerto Rico in some way. It’s the American thing to do…

 

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Don’t have much of a chance this morning to write a proper post. Busy in a good way. But I came across this image above from the late painter Romare Bearden who lived from 1911 until 1988. I was going to say African-American painter as it does in most of his biographies but that kind of bugged me in the same way that bios often point out that an artist is a woman. Seems like they are creating a distinction and putting them into a sub-category for no reason at all, especially when the person in question is creating great work.

So I am just calling Mr. Bearden a painter.

And a fine one at that, one whose work always jumps into my eyes. Just plain good stuff.

Anyway this image has been sticking in my mind for about a week now and I thought it would be a great companion to some music for this Sunday Music by the one and only B.B. King. Especially since the central figure in the painting looks a little like B.B. King. I somehow have only played one song by him in all these years on this blog and it is definitely time to correct that oversight.

I came across his Live at the Regal album as a teenager and it just destroyed me. It was a live performance from the Regal Theater in Chicago from 1964 and it is one of the great live recorded performances ever put down on vinyl, regardless of genre. It just reels and rocks and is filled with classic after classic tunes from B.B., Lucille–the only guitar whose name you probably know– and a band that kicks it big time. As with Romare Bearden’s painting, it’s just plain good stuff.

Take a listen to the great Sweet Little Angel and have yourself a good–no, a great– Sunday.

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There are a lot of things swirling around in my mind this morning, most of them well outside my little inner world of color and form. But distant as they are they all have reverberations that shake my safe haven. For instance, there is the pissing match taking place between two spoiled, erratic, impetuous egotists that imperils the safety and stability of the world. I’m talking, of course, about Kim Jong Un of North Korea and that other guy from America.

Or take the impending senate vote on healthcare, the Graham-Cassidy bill. It is a total trainwreck of a bill, one that will strip coverage from those who can least afford to lose it and one that is opposed by literally hundreds of professional groups representing doctors, nurses, patient advocates, insurers and those seeking to fight deadly diseases such as the American Cancer Society. The scoring on it thus far has been atrocious and there is scant evidence of it having any positive effect yet it still somehow has a chance of passing mainly to people (and I use that term lightly here) like Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa who said in a call with the Des Moines Register:

“You know, I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered. But Republicans campaign on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign.That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.”

So, he is saying that, despite the fact that he knows how egregiously this bill affects millions of citizens now and in the future or how it is being recklessly rushed through the process, it is more important to just pass something so that he can tell a small group of core supporters that they did something. Even something so damaging and senseless that many of those same supporters will no doubt be hurt deeply by this action.

I don’t think that will go into the textbooks as a prime example of statesmanship.

I didn’t want to write about this crap this morning. It’s too maddening but it can’t be ignored. We have done that for far too long, letting those who have been paying attention take over the writing of the script that we are all forced to play out.

So, while I am angrily paying attention I found myself focusing on the painting above from the late Will Barnet, who died in 2012 at the age of 101. It’s an earlier work of his titled Old Man’s Afternoon from 1947. I just loved the rhythm and color of it. Plus, it immediately took my mind off those things above.

Maybe it will work for you. Plus, to accompany it, here’s the song Colours from Donovan from way back in 1965. It can’t be over 50 years old, can it. Geez…

Have a great day.

 

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I am kind of at ease this morning. It’s nice to not have any big obligations directly ahead of me after finishing yesterday’s Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery. It lets me unwind from the anxiety that those kind of events create, the kind that is always there even though I try to appear at ease when speaking in front of groups of people. Fortunately, the folks who come to my talks are really good people who make it as easy as possible.

I want to thank everyone who came out on such a gorgeous day with so many other things going on to spend a little time with me at the talk. It was wonderful speaking with so many friends that I only get to see once in a great while and to meet so many new people. It was a good day all the way around and I hope everyone there felt that the time was spent well. I’ve said this before but their willingness to open themselves to me makes it easy to open myself up to them.

And that is a gift to me.

Speaking of gifts, of course, the highlight of the talk came at the end when I get to share a gift or two with them. I can’t explain how much pleasure I get out of this part of the talk. I’m sure other artists think I am crazy for giving away my work but the way I look at it is that it’s just a small pay back for all they have given me. Without their support, without their encouragement and interest through the decades, there is no telling where I would be or what I might be doing. Of if I would even be at all.

So, in my eyes I am playing with house money and just sharing a bit with my friends. Thank you so much to everyone at the talk yesterday and thanks to my good friends at the Principle Gallery– Michele, Clint, Pam, Taylor and Pierre– for allowing me to be a part of their wonderful gallery. I am so grateful–thank you.

Now for this Sunday’s musical selection I was looking at the new painting above, Back in Time, and wanted an old song. While shuffling through older music I settled on the old folk tune, House of the Rising Sun. This version from the great Odetta came late in her life and delivers to the song great weight and grace. Just a great performance.

Enjoy and have a great day.

And thank you…

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