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Archive for the ‘Process’ Category

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“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.

Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but
for the heart to conquer it.”

― Rabindranath Tagore

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This is another new painting headed to the Principle Gallery for my Social Distancing show there, opening June 5. It is 22″ by 28″ on canvas and is titled She Glides Through the Fractured Night.

Though the theme for this show concerns itself with the social distancing and isolation that we have experienced in recent months, it is also about perseverance and the will to endure. And that is what I see in this piece.

I hadn’t intended to do this type of piece for the show, with the single figure paddling a longboat under a broken sky. But I really felt a compulsion, a need for this painting, and once I set out on it, it fell into place easily, almost without effort. At every step in the process, it felt complete and ready to send out its message. It didn’t have the highs and lows that normally come in painting a piece. By that, I mean in most paintings there are phases where the piece dulls and flattens out, muddying up the destination that I had began to see in it.

No, this was an incredibly satisfying piece to paint. It just had to be done.

I think the history of what we are going through will tell two different stories: those who did what they must to endure and those felt they shouldn’t have to do anything differently in a world that has presented us with a new way of existence, at least for the short term.

Those that adapt easily to change will glide through this to the other side of this fractured night. They will endure.

I can’t say what will happen to those whose minds remain inflexible and unwilling to adapt to a new of being. Only their actions and time will write that history.

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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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“True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written, in writing what deserves to be read, and in so living as to make the world happier and better for our living in it.”

― Pliny the Elder

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A couple of days ago I showed a painting in progress, at a point where I believe it had taken on its life force. Even though it was far from complete, it was already exuding some sort of energy.

I can’t speak for other artists but for me, that’s always a great feeling. It energizes the process, makes me eager to see it through, to discover what its final phase will reveal. There’s a sense of gliding. It feels easy and smooth with little resistance, nothing to stop you from soaring forward.

Believe me when I say this is not normally the case. No, it’s not always gliding through a cool sky. Sometimes the process is a slow trudging march forward in the pouring rain. There are multiple periods in the process where  everything goes flat and dull, including my own enthusiasm for continuing, and there seems to be no satisfying end in sight.

But the strange thing is that often both of these paths– the soaring as well as the slogging– come to the same final point. Both often result in a piece that speaks on its own, that has its own life, its own energy.

They just get there via different routes.

The beauty in both ways is that both are energizing for me. The easy way, such as this painting followed, excites me and inspires me, throwing me instantly into my next work.

It’s joyful.

The slog, on the other hand, reinforces me. It builds the confidence that I can go deep within myself and get past the next obstacle I face. To just keep moving ahead.

It’s satisfying.

This piece was, as I said, easy. It excited me and inspired me from its very beginning. There’s a cleanness in its energy, its colors and forms clear and easily read. Graceful. The inspiration I felt in painting it hangs to it still. As does its joyful feeling.

It’s what I hope for in all my work.

I call this piece In Gaudium Mundi.

The joy in the world.

It’s an 18″ by 36″ canvas that will be part of my Social Distancing show at the Principle Gallery that opens in June at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA.

Have a great day.

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Art is interested in life at the moment when the ray of power is passing through it.

—Boris Pasternak

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I think Boris Pasternak (author of Doctor Zhivago) is really spot on with with this terse definition of art. Art at its core is, for me, an attempt to affirm our existence and the existence of that life force within us.

I really like that term that Pasternak uses here– ray of power. That description of the force that drives all living things jibes well with that animating force that I try to find in my own work, that indeterminate quality that makes a static thing seem to take on a life of its own.

How and if it comes through in the work is the interesting thing for me. Sometimes, despite my extreme efforts, I cannot find that life force. Maybe I should say I can’t find force this because of my extreme efforts instead of despite. Sometimes it seems as though trying to consciously find that thing prevents it from being found, as though the energy expended in searching creates a cloud that somehow obscures that which is sought.

It often finally appears when I finally let go of the search and don’t focus on finding anything. I just let my mind wander free and lose myself in the process of actually painting– the colors, lines and forms before me.

And suddenly there it is.

It’s as though you don’t find it. It finds you.

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The bit of writing above is from five years ago but I thought I’d share it along with a glimpse at a corner of my studio from this morning. The 18″ wide by 36″ high canvas on the easel was started yesterday and reminded me of this post. It is obviously a work in progress not nearly close to any sort of finish. But even as it was forming in its earliest stages, it was displaying a strong life force.

That is not always the case. Sometimes a piece takes days, going through several frustrating stages where it flattens and has all the life force of a dead fish before finally bursting to life.

Bit in this case, it came together quickly and without a lot of thought or wringing of hands. It just pushed itself onto the canvas. Maybe it is the slashing strokes that make up the sky. There’s a lot of energy in those slashes and the way their colors react to one another.

Maybe this piece will be called Rays of Power?

We’ll see.

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Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have-nots
Money, we make it
Fore we see it, you’ll take it

Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life

-Gil Scott Heron, Inner City Blues ( Make Me Wanna Holler)

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I showed a painting last week in progress last week and mentioned that I was working on a series of cityscapes. This is a different painting from that series that I am calling Inner City Blue. It is 22″ wide by 28″ high on canvas.

These pieces are painted in the same way as the Multitudes series that consisted of masses of faces. I normally start at one spot and just work outward from it with little or no plan as to where it will go or how it will emerge. There’s an excitement in working this way because there is always the tension that comes from not knowing whats going to come out.

I often find myself eager with anticipation as the painting progresses. It’s still a mystery at that point and I need that. That not knowing is a big part of how I work, a driving force. I don’t think I would last long if I knew with any certainty how any painting would come out in the end.

And these cityscapes, with all their moving parts and angles and shapes and shades, are totally unpredictable. And that just engrosses me in the process, allows me to find little bits of meaning and beauty in the cracks and crevices that are being created.

Hopefully, a little bit of what I am getting from these pieces comes across to the viewer. That reaction is as unpredictable as the painting itself.

I compared these cityscapes to the Multitudes series earlier. There are similarities beyond the process. Much as I left the faces without eyes in the Multitudes pieces, I leave elements out of these cityscapes. There are no traces of people on the streets or in the windows. There is no signage, no lettering. No street lights or anything on the street. It creates a skeletal effect, showing the bones of what gives the city its appearance while leaving a void.

That void could be described as the anonymity that very large cities often provide.

You know what I mean. That sense of being lost in a throng of faceless people moving on the street. Little, if any, eye contact and as you jostle along with the crowd, your own eyes are locked on some far distant point, fending off the intrusive eyes of the street vendors, hustlers and beggars.

You try to look stoic and determined, like you’re on a mission that should not be interrupted. You’re like a silent rocket hurtling through the space between the buildings that tower above the street and each building is a new alien world to you, filled with life and lives about which you know little.

A stranger in a strange land. That feeling might be the best way to describe what drives much of my work. I often feel out of place in this world– a stranger in a strange land– and am trying to put it, in my work, into some sort of order that allows me to fit in.

Don’t know if that makes any sense. But I do like these city pieces and feel there is something in them that I need to see. So, I will keep looking for a while.

Here’s the song Inner City Blues (Make me Wanna Holler), written by Gil Scott Heron and performed by the great Marvin Gaye. I didn’t mean to borrow the title but after I had titled it I remembered that there was the song. So, here it is. Enjoy.

 

 

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“And I can’t be running back and fourth forever between grief and high delight.”

J.D. SalingerFranny and Zooey

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When I send a painting to a gallery it is with the expectation that it might very well sell.  As a result, I don’t usually announce or comment when a piece does actually go to a new home. I am usually very pleased when a sale of my work takes place. I mean, it’s my job and my livelihood plus the sale is a validation, in a way, that the work reached out beyond my own imagination and struck a chord with someone to the point that they chose to spend their hard earned money to obtain it.

What’s not to be happy about that?

But hearing that some paintings have been sold raises conflicting emotions. On one hand, I am thrilled to see the painting find a new home and to know that I can pay my bills for another month. That is a always a good thing.

But on the other hand, there are paintings that I see as being special, as being more significant to myself. Selling one of these paintings means that it is forever out of my hands, that it is no longer mine alone. Like a part of myself has been sheared off and sent away.

As a result, much like Salinger wrote above, I find myself running back and fourth between grief and high delight.

Such is the case with the painting at the top, Saints and Sinners. It’s a piece that I felt was personally among my best, one that was well beyond myself. I learned yesterday that it had sold and was very happy at first. Someone had seen that same special quality in it and was making it part of their life.

But after only a few moments, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach and a sense of loss came over me.

Even this morning, I am a little sad about it being gone forever.

Almost grief.

I say almost because, as grief goes, this is way down on the list of things that might cause one to grieve. For most people, especially non-artists, this sound ridiculous, I know.

So, let’s just call this artistic grief.

Don’t worry. I’m okay. I am not wearing black or tearing up this morning. I sold a painting, for chrissakes.

I am very happy about that but will still miss it, that’s all.

Okay, back to work. Maybe this next piece will be a worthy replacement.

Or better…

 

 

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Watching the painter painting
And all the time, the light is changing
And he keeps painting
That bit there, it was an accident
But he’s so pleased
It’s the best mistake, he could make
And it’s my favourite piece
It’s just great…

Kate Bush, from the song “An Architect’s Dream” 

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I’ve been working on a group of cityscapes recently but I am not prepared to show them yet, wanting to see what direction they are sending me first. But I thought I would share a quick photo of the one I am currently at work on.

A work in progress.

It’s at the stage that is probably my favorite of all the stages that a painting inevitably passes through on its way to becoming a finished work. It is basically done from the standpoint of its composition. All the elements are blocked in and it is already beginning to impart whatever it has to share to me, its only viewer to this point. The bits of color set against the monochromatic red oxide skeleton of the piece provide bursts of contrast and add depth into the picture plane.

This stage is, except for that final moment when the piece comes to life near the end of the process, always exciting for me. It is like a human skeleton come to life as I build it, telling me aloud where I should be working on it next. It points out how much potential the painting contains, where I should focus my attention and where it can expand its feeling with multiple layers of color.

Most of the time I quietly listen to this talking skeleton and heed its directions to me.

But sometimes I want to tell the skeleton to just shut up stand still for a minute because maybe you’re done as is, Mr. Bones.

Yeah, sometimes I like the work so much at this point I want to stop and just let it be. I worry that by adding more layers of paint that I will cover its essence as I see it at this point. Make it something less than its potential.

But I never just let it be. I don’t know that I have the guts to work that way, to show it as it stands. Or have the ability to stop seeing more in it and needing to continue working at it.

This piece may be as close to just stopping as I get. I could see it being finished with just a few touches to the sky and the moon. Maybe a little more work in leveling out some of the rough spots.

Or not.

I don’t know.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see if this skeleton gets fleshed out.

Here’s the song, An Architect’s Dream, from Kate Bush that provided the lines at the beginning of this post.

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This is my busiest point of my year. It is the short turnaround period between my two annual shows, the one currently hanging at the Principle Gallery and the one at the West End Gallery that opens this year on Friday, July 12. I try to have much of the work for the West End show ready before the Principle Gallery show but there is still a lot of painting to be done. As a result, every day between the two shows is packed.

It’s crazy busy but in some ways it is my favorite time of my year. The work comes in large bursts of energy and there is little time to think about it or worry about it or do much of anything else. It just comes out.

Of course, there are days when it all seems to crash a bit. Like the other day when nothing seemed to work for me. I couldn’t get the clean color I wanted and my hands seemed to belong to someone else for awhile as I lost my touch with the brush. It was frustrating all the way around that day and it made me panic a bit. But the next day everything was back to normal and the work was back at full roar. Even the work from the ugly day before was rehabilitated.

All this being said, my original intent was to say that I was much too busy to write anything today and would instead just play a video of a song. Maybe one that could get my motor running this morning.

So here it is, She’s Drunk All the Time, from Tim Timebomb and Friends. Actually, Tim Timebomb is Tim Armstrong who formed the L.A. ska punk band Rancid in the 90’s. His bandmates here are from the Interrupters who had a song that I featured on this blog last month. It’s a fun, high energy song that is a good kickoff to what I hope will be a fruitful day.

Hope yours is as well.

 

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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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