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Archive for the ‘Painting’ Category

Along with the photo of the drum major that was featured in yesterday’s blog, I also came across another Alfred Eisenstadt photo. Shown above, it is of one of my painting heroes, Thomas Hart Benton, standing in front of a self-portrait. It’s a face that definitely belongs in one of his paintings. It reminded me of the post I’ve included below from a few years back that contains a video about the making of one of his famed murals. If you have ten or eleven minutes and are interested in the painstaking efforts that went into the making of this masterpiece, give it a look. 

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Thomas_Hart_Benton_-_Achelous_and_Hercules_-_SmithsonianBack in June, I wrote about going to the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum to see the painting shown above,  Achelous and Hercules, a wondrous mural from the great American painter Thomas Hart Benton.  It was commissioned to hang in a now-defunct Kansas City department store in 1947 and after the store closed in 1984 this masterpiece was given to the Smithsonian.

The photo of this mural doesn’t do it justice. Its size and scale, 5′ high and 22′ on a wide wooden panel that Benton painted in egg tempera, is lost in fitting its image on a small screen.  Take my word, it’s imposing and grand, a piece I could stand in front of for hours, losing myself in the rhythms and colors.

That being said, I came across a video taken from an old film that shows the incredibly elaborate process that Benton used in the making of this mural, which took about eight months.  It is fascinating and unusual to see a known masterpiece all the way through the process and coming together in all its stages.  It makes me appreciate this painting even more.

Here is that video.  It’s about 11 minutes long and worth the time spent.

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Truly, it is in darkness that one finds the light, so when we are in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to us.

Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)

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In the last few days I finished a small group of paintings to add to the several I had already submitted for the West End Gallery‘s annual Little Gems show that opens on Friday. I hadn’t been planning on doing these additional pieces as I have other work that needs to be started. But there was something in the original pieces that I took out last week that lit that spark that I had been futilely searching for in the first month of the year. So, I thought I had been stick with it for a bit to see where it goes.

This piece, which I call Sorrow’s Companion, is one of the new paintings to emerge. Since it’s been done, I keep coming back to this one to just peer at it, all the while trying to discern what I am seeing and feeling in it.

There’s something very sorrowful in it’s imagery. The dark clouds in the sky. The empty chair. The dead tree with the lone crow on a branch. The empty horizon. It all point to the sorrow of loss of someone or something.

Yet, despite the sense of sorrow there is dull sunlight peeking through the gray in the sky. As the 14th century German theologian Meister Eckhart pointed out in his words at the top of the page, light is found in the darkness and is always nearest in our sorrow.

The light is sorrow’s companion.

So, I see this piece as having an air of melancholy but it is an optimistic melancholy, if there can be such a thing. Maybe this comes from understanding that true sorrow comes from knowing the feeling of true love. And there is a certain joy in just having experienced that feeling that lingers through the sorrow.

Sorrow doesn’t come without joy…

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I was recently going through some old work and came across some paintings from 2002 that had slipped my mind. There were several done in the same style as the piece shown here, Night Blossom, with chunky, mosaic-like skies in deep blues and greens.  They had a dark, moody tone and a sense of weight in them that really drew me to them when I pulled them up on my screen.

It made me wonder why it was a path that I didn’t follow a bit further at that time. Maybe I felt it was too reminiscent of stained-glass. It does have that feel in the way it goes together.

Or maybe I just was headed in another direction that had a little more pull on me at the time. I was in the midst of my Dark Work in the aftermath of 9/11 which took me directly into my Red Roof series so perhaps that is the main reason for not doing more in this vein.

So, it may be as simple as it turning out to be that there is not enough time in the day to follow up on all the flares that are sent off in one’s head sometimes. Who knew?

But seeing this again and examining it closely re-ignites that flare and I see this as a new possibility in a larger scale done with skills that have evolved in the past 16 years.

And that is exciting for me.

Whether it turns outs to be what I see in my head is another thing. Sometimes those things I envision turn out much different in reality and not always in a positive manner.

We shall see…

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Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.

 Marcel Proust

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A few days back I featured a new small painting that is headed to the West End Gallery for next week’s opening of their annual Little Gems show. That piece, and never looked back…, was a stark image in tones of black and gray that was about the idea of being forced from your home, never to return. It’s a depiction of that moment of leaving and the sense of loss and abandonment that remains.

The new painting above, also headed to the Little Gems show, is another take on the idea of abandoning one’s home. This piece, One Last Look, speaks to the nostalgia that appears after time, as memories of bad times and the accompanying anxieties have faded and singular moments of happiness have grown to fill all the moments of that time.  Time has smoothed away the rough edges and we begin to think that that time, that place, was much more idyllic than it ever was in actuality.

To me, this painting speaks to that nostalgia and its idealized sense of home and youth. With nostalgia, the past seems more vivid and vibrant.

The grass was greener then, I guess.

I am reminded of a post I wrote back in 2009 where a large poll taken at that time throughout Russia named Joseph Stalin as the third greatest Russian of all time. I wrote: Despite the many millions, yes, millions of Russian citizens who were put to death by Stalin, despite the political purges and gulags and Soviet policies that caused a type of artificial famine that killed far more citizens than any natural famine more than once, the current populace said that this Man of Steel was their guy.

Some of those polled had lived through the Stalin era but time, and a little more food and comfort now, had eroded the memory of the hardship, the famines and the purges. In fact, Putin had began extolling the virtues of Stalin about that time and many of these people felt the country needed that type of autocratic leader again. In Putin, they– and, unfortunately, we as well– may have found him.

We all often fall prey to this sort of nostalgia, our memories holding onto a few events of happy triumph here and there through time and discarding the much more numerous days and weeks and months of chaos or drudgery that many of us live through.

Nostalgia is like a beautiful double-edged sword– both wonderful and terrible. Such things should be handled with care.

 

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Visible things can be invisible. However, our powers of thought grasp both the visible and the invisible – and I make use of painting to render thoughts visible.

― René Magritte

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It’s an interesting thought, that our power of thought grasps both the visible and the invisible.

I, a seemingly visible thing, have sometimes felt invisible.

And I have sometimes seen things that turned out to not be there at all.

Thought is a magical thing.

And maybe that is why some folks paint, to attempt to capture those things they think they see and to take away their own invisibility.

Gotta chew on that one for a while…

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This new small painting is titled and never looked back… and is headed to the annual Little Gems show at the West End Gallery. It’s a piece that reminds me of the Depression era and the Dust Bowl refugees who forced from their homes by a hostile environment and a pitiless economy, leaving all they ever knew behind. I can only imagine the feelings of loss, the anxiety, the confusion and the anger that must have been constantly running through these people’s minds.

To have to leave one’s home– and never look back.

I know this is hardly a happy subject to face on a Sunday morning but I worry that we will someday soon face the same sort of situation. It has happened in one instance recently, if you consider the many people of Puerto Rico who have lost everything in the past year and how they have been forced to leave their island home. They are the current modern day Okies.

You may say this an unfounded worry, given the strength of our economy. And you’re probably right, at least for the short term.  But with the deregulation taking place in the financial sector, the shredding of the social safety net and unparalleled wealth inequality– a mere 6 people have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the global population, 3.7 billion people– we are setting the stage for a huge economic crash when the economy eventually sputters, as it will given its cyclical nature.

I know that I sound like a bummer filled with gloom and doom. I don’t mean it that way. I am just sending out a cautionary note that if we continue to ignore the lessons of the past, we will relive them. Not necessarily in the same way. We may not be Okies jammed into old trucks, heading out west to pick fruit. I don’t have the imagination to think what our lives might be in the next critical situation that comes our way. But I do know that it won’t be good unless we begin working now to avert the worst of it.

Okay, enough. Today’s Sunday morning music is a classic Dust Bowl era song from Woody Guthrie that was in my mind when I was finishing up this painting. It’s title is I Ain’t Got No Home in This World Anymore.

In the 1950’s, Guthrie lived in public housing in Brooklyn that was built with public funds by a NY developer by the name of Fred Trump – yeah, that guy’s father. Guthrie noticed the fact that people of color were not allowed in that development and later wrote new verses for this song that called out the racism of Old Man Trump, as he called him. This discrimination throughout Trump’s network of developments persisted for nearly 25 years until a Civil Rights lawsuit was brought by the Federal authorities and was settled in the late 70’s. Here’s a link to an article outlining more of the details.

Like I said, we relive the past.

Give a listen and have a good Sunday.

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It is not a matter of painting life. It’s a matter of giving life to a painting.

-Richard Diebenkorn

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I am going through a period where I am struggling to find focus. My ability to concentrate seems limited and everything, even small tasks, seem like huge distractions which I allow to take over much of my day. Even writing a short blog entry has become an epic struggle to complete, taking twice as long as normal to write a few lines that say little.

It’s frustrating and a little scary, with a nagging fear that this will become the new normal, that every task will become a struggle. I worry that the spark that has sustained me for the past two decades has somehow diminished.

I’ve been through these episodes before, as I’ve noted here in the past. I can’t say that this is any worse than any of those although it probably seems that way while I’m in the middle of it. I’ve always been able to muddle through it and have usually come out at the other end back in form, the spark in full blaze.

But part of me worries that this time might be a different thing. Maybe it’s watching my father living a shallow existence with his dementia in a local nursing home. I find myself worrying that my current lack of concentration might morph into the same short attention span that bedevils him.

I tell myself that this a baseless fear but when you’re running on a low spark, your confidence in your own beliefs and strengths becomes a bit strained. Fears, once unthinkable, become plausible.

So, trying to find inspiration, I spend some mornings looking at the work of other artists and reading a bit about how they perceived their work and how they coped with the struggles they faced. I’ve been a fan of Richard Diebenkorn’s work for some time, especially his Ocean Park series. Ocean Park #79 is shown at the top. I was looking at some of his work this morning and reading a few short quotes from him. The one at the top resonated because it reminds me of what I am trying to do.

Another, about the beginning of his process, also spoke to me: Of course, I don’t go into the studio with the idea of ‘saying’ something—that’s ludicrous. What I do is face the blank canvas, which is terrifying. Finally I put a few arbitrary marks on it that start me on some sort of dialogue. I need a dialogue to get going.

That is where I am right now. I am trying to start a dialogue, a conversation, with a blank surface. The problem is that on some recent mornings I feel as blank as the empty canvas. That doesn’t make for sparkling dialogue.

But I keep trying because it is what I do. And I have to believe that the spark is there, waiting to spring into a full blaze. Maybe it’s today…

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