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Archive for the ‘Painting’ Category

Sometimes I start paintings and somewhere along the way the piece loses its momentum. Or I lose the thread that was initially carrying me along when I started  or I just lose interest in it. The piece above on the left (sorry for the poor image!) might well be an example of all three of these things.

I started this piece a couple of years back and it seemed to just run into a brick wall. I felt like I had painted myself into a corner and didn’t see it going anywhere forward. There was a lot that I like in it. The sky, for instance, and the color of the field. But the way they came together didn’t speak to me and I felt like doing anymore would render an acceptable painting but that would be about it– acceptable.

And who wants to just do acceptable work? That’s not much of an aspiration, especially when so much of my work depends on creating my own interest and excitement in the work.

I thought there should be more to this painting than what it was showing but just couldn’t see it. So it sat. And sat and sat for month after month. I would pick it up periodically and examine it but it still had nothing to say to me as it was. It was irritating.

Then the other day I decided I was going to simply paint over it. Black it out of existence. It wouldn’t bug me anymore, at least. But the idea of blacking it out made me think about altering the whole idea of the painting. Maybe I could save that sky and incorporate it into something different.

So it moved from a landscape to a seascape. And it seems to have worked as I am pleased with the result thus far.

There is a sense of the scale and power of open water in this piece, maybe more than I have portrayed in past similarly themed paintings. I am not a sailor in any way, never been on a small boat out of sight of land but that feeling of the immensity of the ocean is one that I can easily imagine. There must be both a thrill and a terror in it. And that’s what I am getting– fear and exhilaration– from this piece as the small sailboat teeters on on the curl of a large wave.

That dichotomy of emotion, the yin/yang thing of fear and exhilaration in this case, is something often try to find in my work. And it seems to be strong here. So, maybe the years that piece spent being shuffled around my studio before its transformation were worth it.

I’ll be looking at this one for a bit longer…

 

 

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There is always hope, as long as the canvasses are empty.

–Gustav Klimt

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This quote from Klimt made me smile this morning, a little knowing smile. When I am getting ready for a show, such as I am now, the studio is initially filled with prepared empty canvasses of a wide variety of sizes, coated with layers of gesso and topped with a thick layer of black paint. They are everywhere, all propped up against any available surface that will support them.

Having them around is comforting, representing possibility. It is the hope of which Klimt speaks. Each blank canvas has the possibility of being a whole new world, a new experience, a new revelation. There is almost a hum of potential life coming from them.

But as the weeks and months pass and many of the canvasses are painted, taking on their new identities, the supply of blank surfaces dwindles down to the point where there is now only a smattering of blank canvasses scattered around the studio. It is at this point when I get anxious, most likely from no longer being surrounded by those empty surfaces that have come to symbolize hope and potential for me.

It is at this point that I can begin to see the end of this painting session, that soon I will have to stop for a bit to ready the work, to photograph, to stain frames and varnish paintings to make them presentable for the show. This makes makes me a little glum because I am usually very hyped up and wanting to do even more, to further explore all the new avenues that are opening up before me in the paintings in which I am working.

Looking around now and seeing just a few empty canvasses is a reminder of that coming point. It makes me pause in for a moment, anticipating that coming shift of gears, and for that moment I am a bit down. But reading Klimt’s words makes me smile, knowing that I just received a new shipment of canvas the other day which is waiting patiently downstairs to be prepped so that it soon can carry all my hopes and possibilities.

And the glumness fades.

 

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I have started working on some new pieces that are wet work which means I am working flat, on a table, instead of at an easel.  It’s something I don’t do as much as I used to, especially in the early years when my work was all done at a table. My work table is an old Hamilton drafting table with a 40″ by 60″ top that is a monster, built heavy with a steel spring mechanism that lifts and lowers the work surface.

This table been a good soldier over the years and has been the spot where almost all of my wet work on paper has been created. When I am spending more time at the easel it becomes a spot where I amass tubes and bottles of paint and ink, rolls of paper towel, piles of paintbrushes and bits and pieces of paper with crude drawings and scribbles notes about ideas that might someday appear somewhere. Or might not.

I was clearing a space to begin working and I really took a look at the surface of the table. It is covered with a thick vinyl mat, a once pale green sheet  that is now thickly coated with layers of paint and ink from years of use. I used to try to clean the surface periodically, scrubbing at it until much of the pigments lifted. But it has been a very long time since that last happened and it now has a deep dark hue, a mix of all the colors of my palette.

I find it very satisfying in looking at the surface. It is a visual reminder of time spent and efforts made, bringing to mind the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi which emphasizes the finding of beauty in the wear and imperfections of things.

In the photo at the top, I pulled out one of my old ink bottles and placed it on the surface alongside a new bottle of the same color ink. The old bottle should have been discarded years ago but I hold onto it out of some form of nostalgia. It is coated with layers of ink that have become almost black from me handling it with hands stained with many hues for a very long time. Chances are that if you saw any of my work from 2004-2012, this bottle had something to do with it.

Like the surface of the table,which you can see in the photo, the evident wear shown on the bottle speaks to me. It should be trash but it has meaning for me now, it speaks of thousand so of hours standing over that table, deeply engrossed in the work I was doing. Work that has long left me and now reveals what truths they might hold to others now.

Seeing the two bottles reminds me of seeing a war veteran who has been through every battle standing side by side on the battlefield with a raw recruit who has yet to be tested. That worn bottle was a good soldier, one whose small efforts made the larger effort possible. Hopefully, that new recruit will serve as admirably as the old vet.

I am betting it will.

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Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.

Mahatma Gandhi

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I often paint the rows of a freshly cut field in my work. While this creates an interesting visual effect with its pattern of alternating colors, it also satisfies my own need to express the importance — and necessity–of effort for myself and for my work.

I have often pointed out at gallery talks that I spend huge amounts of time alone working very hard in my studio, well over 70,000 hours over the past twenty-plus years. I usually make a joke of this, saying that I enjoy these long periods of solitude and tell people I am hard at work during my time in the studio so they will just leave me alone. Okay, there is a lot of truth there as far as not having people bother me but the fact remains that while I find my time in the studio enjoyable as well as enlightening, it does require great effort and work.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I guess that’s because there is usually a moment after finishing a piece or a group of work for a show when I stop and look at the work in its state of completion. In this moment there is a great sense of satisfaction at the result of my full efforts. And that full effort gives the results a sense of completeness and  that brings me my own sense of personal completeness, a fulfillment of some small purpose that I find necessary in order to persist in this world.

That small moment of satisfaction makes all the work, all the frustration and missteps fade away. That which should have depleted me now serves as nourishment. I find myself strengthened for another day.

Maybe that what I see in this new painting, a 24″ by 24″ canvas which going soon to Alexandria, VA for my upcoming solo show at the Principle Gallery, which opens June 7. It is called A Sense of Satisfaction, of course. It very much reflects what I have written here, with the Red Tree representing someone looking back on the results of a long day of labor. And again, they feel uplifted rather than worn down.

I know it’s not always that way. There have been times when work has been very draining, definitely in my past and occasionally even now. But knowing that special moment of satisfaction that comes along every so often is out there as a reward makes me look forward to the task and the effort ahead.

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The post above was written several years back was written about an earlier painting with similar receding fields rows in its foreground. I felt that the message from that earlier post applied equally well to the new painting at the top so I borrowed much of it for today’s post, with a few edits.

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For everyone we see and who interests us, we should create a biography of his past and future. One of the sage’s mental characteristics is his ability to dress up other people inside himself, giving them the clothes he deems most suitable for however he chooses to dream them.

Masquerades disclose the reality of souls. As long as no one sees who we are, we can tell the most intimate details of our life. I sometimes muse over this sketch of a story—about a man afflicted by one of those personal tragedies born of extreme shyness . . . who one day, while wearing a mask I don’t know where, told another mask all the most personal, most secret, most unthinkable things that could be told about his tragic and serene life. And since no outward detail would give him away, he having disguised even his voice, and since he didn’t take careful note of whoever had listened to him, he could enjoy the ample sensation of knowing that somewhere in the world there was someone who knew him as not even his closest and finest friend did. When he walked down the street, he would ask himself if this person, or that one, or that person over there might not be the one to whom he’d once, wearing a mask, told his most private life. Thus would be born in him a new interest in each person, since each person might be his only, unknown confidant. And his crowning glory would be if the whole of that sorrowful life he’d told were, from start to finish, absolutely false.

Fernando Pessoa, Masquerades

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I was looking for a piece of writing to accompany this painting, Face Off, which is from my new Multitudes series when I came across this item that was published in a 2009 issue of Harper’s Magazine from the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. I didn’t recognize the name but soon discovered that Pessoa, who lived from 1888 until 1935 when he died from cirrhosis, is considered one of the giants of Portuguese literature and poetry.

And an interesting character whose views might match up well with this painting. You see, he assumed and wrote under many different names. But these were not simply pseudonyms, were not just different names. No, they were mostly different personas as well. He termed them as heteronyms. In fact there is a list of over 80 of these heteronyms that he employed over his relatively short life.

The Masquerades of which he wrote above seems to be a description of his own world and life. He appears, from what little bit I have been able to find out about him in a short time this morning, to have been a man of masks.

And that’s an interesting premise, this idea of wearing a different mask for each new encounter with those we meet in our lives, giving each a bit of ourselves that might be unique to that person alone. It has the effect that while many may know us, might recognize the mask we are wearing at any given moment, none might truly know our totality.

There might be no one who would know and recognize our true unmasked face.

In a way I think that is an apt description of how I see the Multitudes series. Each face in these crowds might well be a mask of my own, one that I might have worn around others at points in my life. Angry times. Desperate times. Goofy times and times of absolute stupidity and ignorance. Lonely times. Ugly and shameful times.

As I have aged, the masks I wear seem more and more representative of my real face though I believe they are often still distorted.

Maybe that is what this series represents for me– a shedding of old masks. Maybe even old lives.

I don’t really know. Maybe you get to the point that you become the mask and the mask becomes you.

Hmm…

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I have a large painting on the easel I want to get to this morning. It’s at a point of transformation which is always exciting and just looking at it now, I am eager to see where it goes. But I wanted to share a post from back in 2012 about a painting done in 1997 or 1998 that has occupied an important place in my heart and mind for a long time. I think it’s a good example of the how an artist’s work often lives with the artist after it has found a new home.

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I was going to write about something different but came across this older image and completely lost my train of thought, this piece replacing everything that I had been thinking. Some pieces have that effect. It’s a smaller painting, maybe 6″ square, that sold many years ago when I was first showing my work at the Principle Gallery in the mid-1990’s. Though not large, this painting has lived in a larger sense in my thoughts ever since.

It’s titled Beauty Scorned and is a relatively simple piece. But there’s something in the washed out quality of the colors and in the the bend of the twisting tree trunk that really speaks to me in a very poignant way, as though it is a pure physical expression of some deep emotion.

Beauty and sorrow.

For me, I see this as being about perceptions of beauty and acceptance. About how we often conform, like the other trees which are so much alike here, and step back from that which is different, seeing not the beauty in it but scorning it because it is unlike us.

The beauty is in its difference.

I remember when I did this piece, feeling that this was symbolic of my own work at that time. It was often quite different from the work of other painters with which I showed and I was still unsure of the validity of my own voice, often feeling that my work was somehow inferior because it wasn’t painted in the same manner, didn’t have the same look as these others. At the time, I felt like my work and my voice was truly tied to this twisting tree and those who dismissed it because it had a different look were missing the beauty and emotion that it may hold.

Just seeing it again summons all of these thoughts in a rush of feeling. It remains a potent piece for me for this reason. It also has a sad memory in it.  When I see this piece I am always reminded of the couple who purchased it and were avid and encouraging collectors that I always looked forward to seeing at shows. They had a knack for choosing work to which I was most keenly attached. This couple later divorced and the wife would still come to the shows, always so happy for and encouraging of my work. Tragically, she passed away in a plane crash this past year [2012] and now, instead of seeing the scorning of beauty in this piece as I once did, I now see the beauty of this young lady’s spirit.

It’s a different painting for me now but no less potent.

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Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm. Philosophies fall away like sand, creeds follow one another, but what is beautiful is a joy for all seasons, a possession for all eternity.

Oscar Wilde

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This is another new painting, a 24″ by 24″ canvas, slated to be part of my show, Redtree 20: New Growth, at the Principle Gallery, opening June 7.

I call this painting Meet Me in the Garden (At the End of the World). I know that sounds like an ominous title but I loved the way it came off the tongue with a rhythm that feels like it comes from a song. It works for me and I believe it aligns well with the painting and with the words above from Oscar Wilde.

Even though there might be nothing left to us but desolation and wilderness, even though our time here might seem at an end, beauty remains a constant.

It is a reminder of all that is meaningful in this world after everything else is stripped away.

It is our bond with both our humanity and whatever spiritual presence that might exist in the universe. To feel it, to be moved by beauty, is to be in communion with both.

Those who do not recognize or feel beauty, or deny beauty, live only partial lives, like half-filled glasses. I pity those people. They are missing the best part of this life.

Pontificating about something as subjective as beauty might be a lot to put out there before 7 AM and later in the day I may want to change these words in some way. But I believe, for the most part, that the greatest gift we receive as humans is to be emotionally moved by the beauty we witness in the world around us as well in the arts and literature we produce.

This painting reminds me that my time here is limited and being so, what better way should it end than when I am surrounded by the beautiful colors in a garden of flowers?

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