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Archive for the ‘Neat Stuff’ Category

Received a small package the other day. On my first glance at it, I couldn’t tell where it was from. It was in packaging that was reminiscent of those used by my longtime friend in Northern Island but the hand lettering on the address was a bit more legible. The return address didn’t help. It listed a city and a postal code but no country or state.

It wasn’t until I spotted the lettering on the affixed stamps– Kiwi Stamp— that I knew from where it originated.

Ah, New Zealand.

It turns out that I had been approached a while back with an inquiry as to whether a New Zealand magazine called Tui Motu InterIslands, an independent Catholic magazine, could use one of my paintings for an upcoming issue. I had consented and had put it in the back of my mind until it appeared on Saturday.

I was pleased to see that this edition dealt with the search for truth. In fact, the title of the painting, Seeking Truth, was the same as the headline used on the cover along with its Maori equivalent, Te Rapu I te Tika. My image accompanied an article that dealt with the use of critical thinking to find truth in the flood of opinion and falsehoods that we are faced with on a daily basis. The author, Paul Tankard, makes a great point in saying that the skepticism that many people hold for journalism of any sort is as naive as those who have a blind acceptance of what they read online or in print.

The name of the American president* was mentioned several times through the issue which was not a surprise given that the subject was truth. Obviously, this manchild’s tenuous relationship with the truth ( and his love affair with misstatements, half-truths and outright lies) obviously has had a rippling effect on the rest of the world, one that has them concerned about the future viability of truth.

As the writer, Binoy Kampmark, of another article on the effects of unchecked lies stated: The tissue that binds communities matters; the untruth tears it. And a community unable to detect lies is, according to renowned US journalist Walter Lippman, one without liberty.

From here in the US to every far point on this planet, we are at a dangerous point in history. The folks in New Zealand understand this. How we see and determine the truth may well determine our future. Real engagement along with critical examination is needed more than ever if we are going to have a future based in truth.

Truth is righteousness.

So, let’s make seeking truth our mission. As my friends in New Zealand put it–Te Rapu I te Tika.

Thanks to Tui Motu InterIslands for including my work in your fine magazine. Nice to see the Red Tree in that context.

 

 

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Well, the season is upon us. I am, of course, talking about the annual appearance of multitudes of tiny toads around our property. Every year around this time, a new generation of toads emerges from our pond and begins a migration with an instinctual drive that drives in a radiating arc from the pond. These little guys, maybe about 1/4″ in size, are suddenly everywhere, thousands and thousands of them.

Maybe millions. All racing blindly to some unseen destination. I often wonder how they know when to finally stop to make a new home.

It’s really something to see, this frantic drive to survive come to life in the form of these little hopping creatures. There’s something joyful in the whole thing. On the flipside, it makes you appreciate what these toads have to endure to wind up living under a fallen tree in the woods. They are the target of a host of predators who see them as being shrimp in nature’s all you can eat buffet. There are spots where I can see several crows on the ground along our driveway next to the pond for most of the day, along with our resident flock of wild turkeys.

Plus, these tiny toads have to simply survive crossing the driveway. Going up and down our driveway becomes a long slow journey this time of the year as we creep along in our vehicles, hoping to give the little guys a chance to avoid the crush our tires. Walking to the studio starts to feel like I am walking through a minefield. As I begin to lower my foot, the ground beneath it suddenly comes alive with a bunch of these guys bouncing in all directions. The short walk through the woods becomes a halting slow slog.

I guess I could just look straight ahead and let the chips(or toads in this case) fall where they may. But I appreciate their journey, their will to survive and the benefits of the natural pest control they provide by eating so many insects. When I come across a large mature toad now, I have a lot of respect for it, knowing how much it has endured to get to this place.

Actually, on another subject, the term toady has been in the news lately as the G20 Summit is taking place in Tokyo. Our representative, the president*, has forsaken our normal role as the leader of free democracy in the world since WW II and taken a more subservient role to the autocrats and dictators he encounters. He jokes about interfering in our elections and getting rid of journalists with Vladimir Putin, a man who heads a regime known to be responsible for the deaths and disappearances of journalists as well as overt cyber warfare– an actual act of war– on our election system. He kowtows to the Saudi prince, defending him against the UN charges that he is responsible for the gruesome death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And he tries to rekindle his sophomoric bromance with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by offering to meet him for a handshake with him at the DMZ between North and South Korea.

Maybe they should meet on top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day?

So, you can see where toady might come up. It’s a term that comes from the 19th century when charlatans were traveling around the countryside peddling questionable tonics and remedies. The medicine man would first have an assistant eat a toad because they were widely believed to be poisonous. He would then drink the tonic to show it’s wondrous ability to stave off the toad’s poison.

Thus, the term toady was born.

Synonyms for the term include: sycophant, obsequious, creep, crawler, fawner, flatterer, flunkey, lackey, truckler, groveler, doormat, lickspittle, kowtower, minion, hanger-on, leech, puppet, stooge and spaniel.

They all seem to fit our fearless leader in Tokyo.

Sorry to editorialize this morning. Now, I am off to work. Or maybe I will go out and watch these tiny toads. Either way, it’s better than being a toady.

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I pursue no objectives, no systems, no tendency; I have no program, no style, no direction. I have no time for specialized concerns, working themes, or variations that lead to mastery. I steer clear of definitions. I don’t know what I want. I am inconsistent, non-committal, passive; I like the indefinite, the boundless; I like continual uncertainty.

-Gerhard Richter

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Gerhard Richter, the contemporary German artist born in 1932, is one of those artists whose thoughts about his work have made me appreciate to his work much more fully. He has a way of putting things in terms that are accessible, not just balloons filled with pompous artspeak that says very little.  More than that, much of what he says aligns with how I see art and the purpose of art, even though our work manifests itself in very different ways. I often come something he has said or written that very much echoes my own thoughts, often in a a very similar way. For example, he speaks about the rightness of art, something I to which I also often refer.

His work has moved around through the years through his iconic abstractions to photography and photorealism painting. I tend to gravitate and think of his work in terms of his abstract work, the Abstraktes Bild series from the 1980’s and the 2010’s. I thought I’d share a few of those pieces along with some his thoughts.

At the very bottom is a piece of music from guitarist Bill Frisell. It is from a project that combined Richter’s work, specifically a large book of his art, along with an album from Frisell titled Richter 858. Each track on the album correlates to a piece of Richter’s art. The piece of music below corresponds to the painting directly above it, Abstrakte Bild 858-3. Interesting concept.

 

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I believe that art has a kind of rightness, as in music, when we hear whether or not a note is false.

-Gerhard Richter

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My paintings are wiser than I am.

-Gerhard Richter

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I would like to try to understand what is. We know very little, and I am trying to do it by creating analogies. Almost every work of art is an analogy.

-Gerhard Richter

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I believe that the quintessential task of every painter in any time has been to concentrate on the essential.

-Gerhard Richter

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The desire to please is maligned, unfairly. There are many sides to it. First of all, pictures have to arouse interest before people will even look at them, and then they have to show something that holds that interest – and naturally they have to be presentable, just as a song has to be sung well, otherwise people run away. One mustn’t underrate this quality, and I have always been delighted when my pieces have also appealed to the museum guards, the laymen.

-Gerhard Richter

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Gerhard Richter- Abstraktes Bild 858-3

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I wrote the post below about Earl Kerkam about five years ago. He is an enigmatic character, a painter praised by many of the giants of modern art yet vastly underappreciated by collectors and the general public. I thought I would revisit it today (along with adding a few more images) after going through some auction records of his work from recent years and finding that he is still tremendously undervalued. As I sometimes point out, the artist can only control his creation of the work, not how it is perceived by the outside world. Earl Kerkam is a fine example of that.

earl-kerkam1891-1965-1361546399_orgI am very interested in the painter’s painter, those artists who garner the respect and  admiration of other artists while often not attaining the same sort of attention from the general public. I try to figure out where the disconnect comes in how these artists are perceived so differently by these two groups. I recently came across a prime example by the name of Earl Kerkam, a NY painter who lived from 1891 until 1965.

Kerkam trained in some of the finest art academies here and abroad, studying for a while with Robert Henri. He showed his work in important shows alongside some of the greats of the early 20th century. His work is included in some of the great museum collections of this country. In the aftermath of his death, modern artists of huge stature such as Mark Rothko and Willem  de Kooning proclaimed Kerkam to be one of the finest painters to ever emerge from America.

earl-kerkam1891-1965self-portrait-1361546314_bYet his work is basically unknown outside a handful of art insiders. His work sells at very modest, even low, prices at auction and I doubt if anyone who reads this will have ever heard the name.

There could be many reasons for this relative anonymity. Perhaps his work is too esoteric, too caught up in the dogma of style or too personally narrow in its range of emotional impact. Perhaps his work was caught between eras, never really falling into a classification where he would be swept to the forefront of a wave. This might have something to do with it because, while his work is modern, it never really moved into the realm of the abstract expressionism that was the rage of the day.

I don’t really know and looking at his work I found myself torn between liking it in some instances and being indifferent to others. I can see how both sides, artists and the  general public, might take opposing views on his work. His work remains an enigma to me and I don’t know if I will ever see enough of it, or at least a single piece that could be called a masterwork, to make me say that he deserves to be among the beacons of mid-20th century painting or if he was simply a fine painter who garnered just the attention his work deserved. But for now, the name Earl Kerkam is at least on my radar and I will be open to finding other works from him that will move my perceptions.

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James Ensor- “Intrigue”

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The mask means to me: freshness of color, sumptuous decoration, wild unexpected gestures, very shrill expressions, exquisite turbulence.

–James Ensor

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As has been pointed out here, I have been working recently on some new work with large groups of faces, heads, masks, multitudes or whatever one sees in them. It has been exhilarating, with the work pulling me back into a rhythm where I am eager to see what the next work brings. While that is a great feeling in itself, I am still deliberating over where the work might take me, still trying to decide if it is work that is just meant to cleanse the system or if it is a new path to follow in some way.

I turn for a bit of advice from art history going back to James Ensor (1860-1949), who I featured here a few years back with a post about his famed  painting Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889.  Ensor was well known for his paintings featuring groups people wearing contorted and strange, even grotesque, masks. Many were based on the masks seen at the carnivals and festivals of the time in his native Belgium.  But seen out of context, they were pretty controversial, as you might imagine, in the late 1800’s, given the subject matter and the rough method of much of his painting. This was around the time that the work of the Impressionists was still considered scandalous so you can imagine how the image of a soldier with a skull for a face embracing a maiden with a gigantic nose mask might play.

It’s fascinating work. Wish I could tell you more but the images themselves tell me a lot and inform my own work by providing fresh inspiration for new work. Just looking at this work this morning has me itching to get to the easel.

Take a look at some of the work of James Ensor and see if it does anything for you.

Ensor- “Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889”

Ensor- “Portrait of the Artist Surrounded by Masks”

James Ensor- Squelette Arretant Masques

James Ensor- Old Lady with Masks

James Ensor – ” Death and the Masks”

James Ensor- “Strange Masks”

James Ensor- “Masks Confronting Death”

James Ensor- “The Despair of Pierrot”

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No matter how individual we humans are, we are a composite of everything we are aware of. We are a mirror of our times.

Louise Berliawsky Nevelson

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I am always intrigued by the images I see of the work of Louise Berliawsky Nevelson (1899-1988) who emigrated to the US from Ukraine in the early part of the 20th century. She is best known for her sculpture that is comprised of found objects assembled in large, monumental wall pieces that are often painted in monochromatic tones. There is visual excitement provided by the various shapes of the many bits and pieces contained within the sculptures. They are familiar forms, often dissembled furniture elements, that take on a new meaning in the work.

It makes me want to try to do that sort of thing but the pull is not strong enough to ever get me to actually try. It’s interesting work that makes me try to see a meaning within it that fits my own vision and needs. But I can never quite see a way where it can do what I need it to do for myself. I take that as a sign that it is not my form of expression.

Plus, from a pragmatic standpoint, it looks like it would be a nightmare to dust.

Nevelson’s words above resonate with me. As humans, we are composites of everything we take in. Likewise, artists express this humanness in their work, mirroring their feelings taken from these influences.

I know this is definitely true for myself. I generally can’t help but reflecting my feelings on the world around me. I would think to try to not do so would make one’s work cold and distant. Inhuman.

And that takes us away from the purpose of art as expressions of our humanity.

So, to my artist friends out there, take in all you can and let the world know how you feel it. It’s the human thing to do.

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It’s fitting that on the day of the annual Academy Awards that this week’s Sunday morning musical selection be taken from a movie, a scene from a film directed by the great Stanley Donen, who died yesterday at the age of 94.

Unless you’re a big fan of films you might not know the name but you most likely know his work. It started back in 1949 with his direction of the musical On the Town with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. He went on to direct some of the greatest musicals of the 1950’s– Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Funny Face, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees and Royal Wedding, the film that had Fred Astaire dancing on the walls and ceiling of a room. I note this because Donen  directed Lionel Richie’s Dancing on the Ceiling video 35 years later with many of the same effects.

In a long and interesting career, he also directed non-musical films that I have really enjoyed over the years, films like Indiscreet, The Grass is Greener, Charade, Arabesque and Two For the Road. He even directed one of my favorites, the 1967 cult classic Bedazzled with Dudley Moore as the hapless fool who strikes a deal ( and is constantly baffled by his end of the deal) with the devil played brilliantly by Peter Cook.

But more than any other film, Donen is known for his direction of Singin’ in the Rain from 1952, often called the greatest movie musical of all time. It’s a film I could watch time and time again, always finding something new to focus on- the fantastic dancing, memorable songs, fast paced comedy, and beautiful production with those saturated MGM colors that always excite my artistic senses. I am showing two clips from the film both from a fantasy segment, Broadway Melody, featuring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse.

The first, Gotta Dance, has the up and coming Kelly running into and immediately falling for gangster’s moll Cyd Charisse. I love this scene for the rough set design and color employed with the dark reds of the backdrop making Charisse’s brilliant green dress shoot off the screen. That and the sensual dancing between her and Kelly. Just a great scene.

The second is the Broadway Melody Ballet. Kelly after earlier encountering Charisse has gone on to stardom and comes across her and her gangster boyfriend again. It transitions into a dreamlike ballet sequence with a surreal set design that has always fascinated me. It has steps that are camouflaged with colors that appears as soft strips that converge in a vast soft pastel desert. I actually used the concept and color in a few early pieces. Also notable is Charisse’s transition from the hardened moll into a softer dream figure in the sequence.

Take a look if you like. Sadly, you won’t see this kind of thing again but thanks to Mr. Donen and others this great work is still there to be enjoyed.

Have a good Sunday.


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