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Archive for the ‘Neat Stuff’ Category

I came across an article this morning that had been forwarded to me by a friend several years ago in response to a blog post.  Appearing in the online magazine Psyche, it was written by three researchers ( Julia Christensen, Guido Giglioni, and Manos Tsakiris) and was largely about how creativity and wellness were often boosted by allowing the mind to wander. It’s an interesting article that discusses the neuroscience behind their research into the wandering mind.

While those that daydream have often been chided through history as being lazy and counterproductive, there has also been a school of thought that encourages random thought and rumination. The Germans had a phrase for this, ‘die Seele baumeln lassen,’– ‘let the soul dangle.

One part of the article that struck a chord with me discusses how art causes biological responses and often serves as a prop for emotional catharsis. As they put it:

“…art can help us adapt to the immediate source of pain by acting as a prop for emotional catharsis. We all know the strange, pleasurable, consoling feeling that comes after having a good cry. This experience appears to be precipitated by the release of the hormone prolactin, which has also been associated with a boosted immune system, as well as bonding with other people. The arts are a relatively safe space in which to have such an emotional episode, compared with the real-life emotional situations that make us cry. Even sad or otherwise distressing art can be used to trigger a kind of positive, psychobiological cleansing via mind-wandering.”

I immediately responded to this point as this is something that I experience on a regular basis. I often am moved to tears by artistic stimulus while in the studio, most often in the form of music, film or the written word. It is such a common occurrence that I have come to use this response as a barometer for how emotionally invested I am in the work I am doing at that time. I have found that the work that I feel is my best comes at times when I am on this edge of induced emotional catharsis. I feel most immersed in the work at that time, both open and receptive, even vulnerable. And that is normally when I produce my best work.

It’s something that has taken place with me for decades now and it’s interesting to see that there might be a neurological component behind my response. I think I am going to go now and see if I can produce some more prolactin this morning.

Click here to go to this article. It’s a relatively short read plus there is a an audible version available on the page if you would rather listen.

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The painting accompanying this post is a small piece that I call The Daydream. It is part of my solo show, Social Distancing, that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery.

 

 

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“A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”

Jorge Luis Borges, Twenty-Four Conversations with Borges: Interviews by Roberto Alifano 1981-1983

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Marilee Shapiro Asher

Interesting article in the Washington Post yesterday about DC artist Marilee Shapiro Asher who at age of 107 is successfully recovering from a rough bout with covid-19. It was so rough that her doctor called her family saying that she would most likely not last twelve more hours. But the doctor underestimated Marilee and probably wasn’t aware she had already beaten another pandemic, having contracted the Spanish Flu in the Pandemic of 1918 at the age of 6.

That’s a great story in itself but for me, I was as interested in the fact that Marilee is still working as an artist at age 107. She began her artistic career as a metal sculptor in her 20’s and had her first show in 1938–82 years ago. Over the years she has worked in sculpture, painting, photography and now in digital art. In her late 80’s, when the physical demands of working with the large metal sculptures she was known for ( she has work in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian) became too much for her she enrolled in a digital art program. Her fellow students were almost all in their early 20’s.

She had her last show of her sculpture at the age of 100 and is looking forward now to a possible new show of her digital creations. At 107.

It’s obvious that art gives her a purpose that fuels her drive to live. It’s not an unusual story. I have encountered a number of stories of artists who have seemingly prolonged their lives through the purpose they find in their art, many productively working into their 100’s.

I find this encouraging.

Marilee had someone in the family to follow in taking up her late interest as a digital artist. Her mother, Bonnie Harris, took up painting at the age of 79 and worked at it until her death at age 92. Self taught, her folk art paintings garnered much notice and are in the permanent collection of several museums, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Smithsonian National Collection of American Art, The Phillips Collection and the Folk Art Museum.

Like I said, I find this encouraging. And these days, when there is so much happening that want to make you worry, it’s nice to know that these artist found purpose in their work and used lives that spanned the awfulness of pandemic, war and social upheaval as the inspiration and raw material for their work.

Get well, Marilee, and keep on working. Thanks for the inspiration.

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When I finished this small painting, the term Seventh Heaven quickly came to mind and bound itself to it as its title. There was a quality attached to it that evoked that phrase that I’ve heard thousands of times, mostly describing a time and place of immense satisfaction.

Bliss.

But in all those times I never thought about what Seventh Heaven really meant or where it came from. It was just a phrase that was thrown around easily without thought.

Turns out it has beginnings and attachments to the ancient Greeks, the Kabbalah of Jewish mysticism and in Hindic and Islamic belief.

The Greeks’ believed there to be seven classical planets beyond our earth —Mercury, Venus, the Moon, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn— each having its own heaven.

In the Jewish Kabbalah, there are seven levels of heaven, each ruled by an angel. For example, Shamayim is the first heaven, governed by Archangel Gabriel. It is the closest of heavenly realms to the Earth; it is also considered the abode of Adam and Eve. The seventh heaven here is called Araboth. Under the leadership of the angel of Saturn, Cassiel, it is the holiest of the seven heavens, housing the Throne of Glory attended by the Seven Archangels and serves as the realm in which God dwells. Beneath the throne itself lies the abode of all unborn human souls. It is also considered the home of the Seraphim, the Cherubim, and the Hayyoth.

The Islamic seventh heaven is similar in many ways to that of the Kabbalah, comprised of a divine light that is incomprehensible to mortal man.

Hinduism divides the material universe into fourteen worlds, seven of them being upper and seven being lower. Brahmaloka is the highest of the seven upper worlds, the highest of the joyful worlds a person might attain. It is the home of Lord Brahma.

There’s more but we’re going to keep this shallow today. It comes down to all of the different forms of  Seventh Heaven denoting a place of ultimate joy.

That description fits this little piece, with its seven rows in the field of the foreground, for me.

It is a seventh heaven by itself.  Even if it brings me only a moment of bliss, that’s I all I can ask for here on this earth, I suppose.

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This piece, Seventh Heaven, is part of the Little Gems exhibit at the West End Gallery which opens Friday, February 7 with an opening reception that runs 5-7:30 PM.

 

 

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Francis Bacon- Study after Velázquez Portrait of Pope Innocent- 1953

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Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.

–Sir Francis Bacon

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There are two very different characters from history that carry the name Francis Bacon. Both are British, one a famous 20th century painter and the other a Renaissance man from the Age of Elizabeth in the late 16th/ early 17th century. The latter generally carries the Sir before his name. As I said, very different though I sometime come across a quote and have to do some checking to make sure one is not the other.

The painting Bacon was Irish born and lived from 1909 until 1992. He is best known for his dark figurative work that often contorts the features of the subjects of the work. I wrote about his studio (seen below) in an early post here. It was a spectacular mess, with piles of papers and paints and all sorts of detritus. Whenever I think my studio is an unworkable mess, I think of Bacon’s studio and suddenly mine doesn’t seem all that bad. His studio was such a spectacle of disarray that it was moved from where had been in London to a Dublin museum space, The Dublin City Gallery. There it was meticulously reconstructed to its former fabled jumble.

Francis bacon- Reece Mews Studio

Now, the other Francis Bacon, Sir Francis Bacon, lived a life of great achievement from 1561 to 1626. As a statesman, he served as the Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Great Seal for Elizabeth I. He is perhaps better known as a philosopher and scientist, considered the father of the modern scientific method as well the father of empiricism.

One of the more famous stories of his life revolve around his death. While traveling, he was supposedly having a debate with a companion over his theory that animal meat could be frozen as a means of preservation, something unheard of at the time. Stopping at a farm they were passing, Bacon is said to have contracted the pneumonia which caused his death as the result of trying to freeze a chicken by stuffing its carcass with snow and ice.

What a way to go. But next time you pull your Swanson Chicken Pot Pie from the freezer, you might want to thank (or curse– it’s a frozen pot pie, for god’s sake) Francis Bacon. I mean, of course, Sir Francis Bacon.

The next time you have a nightmare with a screaming Pope, you can thank the other.

 

Francis Bacon- Three Studies Of George Dyer, 1966

 

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Arthur Dove- Fire at the Sauerkraut Factory

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We cannot express the light in nature because we have not the sun. We can only express the light we have in ourselves.

-Arthur Dove

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I liked this quote from the Modernist painter Arthur Dove (1880-1946) and while searching for an image of one of his paintings to accompany it, came across this painting. I liked the painting itself but it was the title that really caught my attention. It’s called Fire at the Sauerkraut Factory and was painted around 1936.

It made me wonder where this sauerkraut factory was and when it burned. Dove was born in Canandaigua, NY,  and raised in Geneva, NY, at the north end of Seneca Lake, whose south end is just a short drive from this studio. In those areas around Canandaigua and Geneva are large fields where cabbage is grown. There are, as a result, several factories in the area for the production of sauerkraut. I am not sure if it still applies but at one time this area and one village in particular, Phelps, was the sauerkraut capital of the world.

Just makes me wonder if Dove was basing this painting on a fire from the home of his youth. I was able to find an account of a large sauerkraut factory fire in that area in November of 1917. This story of the fire mentioned that the fire was fought solely with chemicals which might account for the multiple colors of the flames in Dove’s painting.

It also mentioned railroads tracks next to the factory which encumbered the firefighters. I believe the fence-like structures at the lower part  of the painting are actually railroad tracks.

Perhaps Dove, who was living in NYC at the time was visiting either his or his wife’s parents and witnessed the fire or was told about it, with the person telling the story mentioning the wild colors of the fire as the chemicals mixed with the flames.

It’s one of those tiny questions in small stories that may never have an answer. But I like to think that this might have been the story behind this painting that I like and chose to accompany a quote that I also like from the artist.

 

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For how can you compete,

Being honor bred, with one

Who were it proved he lies

Were neither shamed in his own

Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;

William Butler Yeats,

From To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing

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I can’t say that I am a big Bill Kristol fan, the conservative political analyst, but yesterday he deftly used the excerpt above from a W.B. Yeats poem to describe the Mueller hearing of the day before. It so well described an honorable man dealing with the current occupant of the white house* and his minions in congress* that I wanted to know a bit more about that particular piece of verse.

It turns out that the poem from which those lines come is titled To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing that was included in a small volume of poems called Poems Written in Discouragement 1912-13.

The poem is at the bottom of the page and at first I thought it referred to someone in Yeats’ universe, a writer or artist or playwright, who had put their all into their work for years and years only to never be recognized for that work while others– who this person at least equals in talent and effort– gain greater recognition. That seems like a logical interpretation.

Turns out there is a different story behind the poem.

It has to do with an Irish art dealer named Hugh Lane who was trying to establish a public art gallery that would bring modern art of that time to Dublin at the beginning decades of the 20th century. He proposed to give the city his collection of 39 modern masterworks from Renoir, Manet, Degas, Monet, Daumier, Pissarro and Morisot so that they might establish a museum/gallery. The painting at the top from Renoir, The Umbrellas, was part of his collection.

To that time, Dublin had yet to display the new art of the age and its city fathers and religious leaders were not swayed by the offer. They viewed the new art as being decadent and with an air of libertinism to it. This turned into a heated public battle in which Yeats and others in the Irish artistic community fought to bring the new art culture to the country. They eventually lost and the collection ended up in the possession of the National Gallery of Great Britain after Lane died in the sinking of the Lusitania by German U-boats in 1915. He was returning from NY where he had sold two great pieces to what would become the Frick Collection. The Lusitania was only eleven miles from the Irish coast.

The battle for Hugh Lane’s collection has been fought continuously for the past century between the National Gallery and the Irish government. There are a lot more details so I am not going to get into the whole affair here. There is great article in the Guardian that goes into everything that transpired.

I just find it interesting how Yeats could turn a poem that dealt with the loss of a public debate about art and philanthropy into a poem that feels like it could be applied to many people who are in creative fields and may never realize the recognition their work may well deserve.

Or to a prosecutor dealing with shameless liars.

Here’s the whole poem:

To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing

 

Now all the truth is out,

Be secret and take defeat

From any brazen throat,

For how can you compete,

Being honor bred, with one

Who were it proved he lies

Were neither shamed in his own

Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;

Bred to a harder thing

Than Triumph, turn away

And like a laughing string

Whereon mad fingers play

Amid a place of stone,

Be secret and exult,

Because of all things known

That is most difficult.

–William Butler Yeats, Poems Written in Discouragement 1912-1913

 

 

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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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