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Being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you.

–Eckhart Tolle
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This new painting has been sitting within my sight for several days now. I can only speak for myself but I find it really easy piece in which to withdraw, imagining myself in that place, in that moment under that sky. There’s a sense of ease and comfort in it for me.

It just feels right.

Yet there is something enigmatic about it. While there is an air of easiness and acceptance in the painting, there is also a feeling that there is some sort of questioning taking place.

Perhaps a wondering of the why’s and what’s and how’s of this universe and our place in it?

Or the existence of a god or gods? Or the nature of good and evil?

Or perhaps something less weighty.

But even with this questioning there is still a great calmness and ease, as though the Red Tree in this time and place knows that having those answers would not make this particular moment any better.

And perhaps in that moment when a question does not require a response, an answer shows itself.

Perhaps…

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This painting is 18″ by 36″ on canvas and is titled, not surprisingly, The Ease of Not Knowing. It is going to the Principle Gallery as part of my show, Haven, that opens there on June 1.

 

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How often have I found that wanting to use blue,

I didn’t have it so I used a red instead of the blue.

 

–Pablo Picasso

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This year’s edition of the Genius series begins this coming Tuesday on the National Geographic Channel. This well done series premiered last year with a season dramatizing the life of Albert Einstein. This year it focuses on the life of Pablo Picasso, with Antonio Banderas portraying the artist. Given Picasso’s knack for pushing boundaries and stirring the pot, it could be an entertaining series.

He is probably the most quoted of artists, though many things are mistakenly attributed to him. It’s a case that if it sounds interesting and you’re not sure who might have said it, you credit him or Shakespeare or Lincoln or some other iconic figure.

But I have a feeling that the quote I chose here today is actually his. I can’t see Lincoln saying it.

I certainly know the circumstance to which he refers.

Been there, done that.

In a pinch, you just make do with what you have because you can’t always wait until you have perfect conditions, all the materials you desire and a moment of inspiration are in complete alignment. Sometimes inspiration is there and you don’t have what you would ideally want to use but you still want to make that mark.

A number of years back, I was having some real back problems. I had to that point always painted in a standing position but the pain forced me to sit. I found that there were points where I would reach for a color that I would normally use in certain instances and find it out of reach, across the room. Instead of straining out of my seat and limping to get it, I would take whatever was within my reach and try to either replicate the color or completely substitute another color.

In many ways, it was a good experience. Where I had used reds before, there were blues or greens. Turquoise tended to turn to purples and maroons.

Because my work doesn’t depend on accuracy in depicting natural color, it actually stretched the work a bit more and reinforced that idea that one must make do with what one has at hand. It’s something I have often tried to impress on young artists, that they should never use not having everything they think they need to start as an excuse to not start.

If they have a real creative urge, then they will make do, they will find a way.

The results may exceed what their mind had imagined.

 

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This morning, I am taking the advice below from Ray Bradbury and simply doing things.I can tell you from my own experience that his words ring true. All too may times I have started a painting based on an idea, some novel concept that was I believed to be well thought out. Those paintings are usually the ones that die on the easel. The best work, the stuff that seems to have its life force, comes outside of thought. So, my thinking goes on a hiatus starting now. Here’s a replay of a post from several years back on the subject.
ray-bradbury-on-creativity-famous-quotes

I came across this quote from famed sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury on a post on the  TwistedSifter site that featured quotes on creativity. This struck close to the bone for me as I have proudly not thought for years now. I have long maintained that thinking usually inhibits my work, making it less fluid and rhythmic.

It’s a hard thing to get across because just in the process of doing anything there is a certain amount of thought required, with preliminary ideas and decisions to be made. I think that the lack of thought I am talking about, as I also believe Bradbury refers, is once the process of creating begins. At that point you have to try to free yourself of the conscious and let intuition and reaction take over, those qualities that operate on an instantaneous emotional level.

I can tell instantly when I have let my conscious push its way into my work and have over-thought the whole thing. There’s a clunkiness and dullness in every aspect of it. No flow. No rhythm. No brightness or lightness. Emotionally vacant and awkward. Bradbury’s  choice in using the term self-conscious is perfect because I have often been self-conscious in my life and that same uncomfortable awkwardness that comes in those instances translates well to what I see in this over-thought work.

So what’s the answer? How do you let go of thought, to be less self-conscious?

I think Bradbury hits the nail on the head– you must simply do things. This means trusting your subconscious to find a way through, to give the controls over to instinct.

And how do you do that? I can’t speak for others but for myself it’s a matter of staying in my routine. Painting every day even when it feels like a struggle. Loading a brush with paint and making a mark even when I have no idea at hand. Just doing things and not waiting for inspiration.

You don’t wait for inspiration– you create it.

So, stop thinking right  now and just start doing things.

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If isolation tempers the strong, it is the stumbling-block of the uncertain.

–Paul Cezanne
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I spend a lot of time alone in the isolation of my studio. Fortunately for me, it is the place in the world where I am most comfortable and feel completely myself.

It is the place where I can feel unrestrained to free the mind and go wherever it takes me. The place where I can shed the uncertainty I find in the outer world and feel free to daydream. The place where I can summon up pictures that exist only inside myself. A place to study. To listen. To see.

It is my my university, my library, my theatre, my monastery and my place of refuge.

My haven.

When I am out of the studio, I am all the while trying to get back to it.

When others come into my studio, the dynamic of that place changes and I feel myself suddenly self-conscious and a bit uncomfortable, like I am standing in someone else’s home.

The visitors’ eyes become my eyes and I notice things I never see on a day to day basis. The cat hair on the floor that needs to be swept up. The paint splatters on the wall or a fingerprint in paint on the wall switchplate. The windows that need cleaning. The piles of papers that I have been meaning to go through for too many months.  The paintbrushes soaking in murky water scattered throughout the place or the start of a not-too-good painting that will most likely never see the outer world.

In that moment, my perfect castle of isolation becomes a hovel of uncertainty.

But the castle remarkably reappears once I am alone again. The uncertainty recedes and I begin to feel myself once more.

My isolation is my default state of being.

I understand exactly what Cezanne is saying at the top. I have been more comfortable alone than in the company of others since I was a child. I don’t know if that is a strength or just a neurotic peccadillo. But I know that if I ever find uncertainty in my isolation, I will have lost my footing in this world.

But, thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet…

 

 

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I am sure there are plenty of artists who would argue this point made by Jackson Pollock. Like religion, many would most likely defend their chosen means of expression as the best.

But I think he is saying there is no one right way, no one technique that ranks above all others in issuing an artist’s statement. Each artist’s individual voice comes through their own chosen technique. Their statement–their statement of belief, if you will– arrives via that technique.

I know that’s been my experience. I am generally looking for a statement of some sort from an artist in their work, something that displays their own truth regardless of how it is expressed.

Something that makes me feel the need to look at it.

It can be in any style, stretching from the most refined painting created by a classically schooled artist down to an untrained folk artist who uses their local mud as their painting medium because that is all that is at hand. So long as each is earnestly created (and that is an important distinction) and provokes a true emotional response, any and all technique is valid.

To bring it back to the religious analogy, the earnest belief of the lone person sitting in a decrepit hut somewhere may be as valid as that of  a priest in the grandest cathedral.

Art, like religion, is diminished when we fail to see the validity of all other voices.

 

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It is better to have your head in the clouds, and know where you are, if indeed you cannot get it above them, than to breathe the clearer atmosphere below them, and think that you are in paradise.

–Henry David Thoreau

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This is a new painting, titled Aurae, that is part of my upcoming June show at the Principle Gallery. It has a real presence in a space, mainly to its strong colors and its sheer size, 36″ by 36″. I know that it’s a piece that my eyes keep coming back to during the day as I am working in the studio and with each look comes a deep and satisfying pang.

Pang.

I don’t know what that even means except that it feels good.

I guess it also means that it feels right and true.

Core. Essential.

I just feel a pang inside, in that area between my head and my heart, when I look at it.

Aurae is the plural of aura and it refers to the pale blue aurae that runs around each cloud. These blue aurae were actually never meant to be so visible. They were meant to be a step to another upcoming layer (or layers) that would have undoubtedly altered the final painting from what you are seeing. But once they were in place, they suddenly made the piece jump to life. The whole piece seemed to speak at that point and I knew I couldn’t cover these aurae with more paint.

But aurae also refers to the general atmosphere that surrounds the central Red Tree here. It’s an atmosphere of completeness, of self-knowledge.  Or as Thoreau said in the words at the top, of knowing where you truly are as a human.

I am going to stop talking about it. The more I write, the less I seem to be saying.

Let’s just go with pang.

 

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When you think of painting as painting it is rather absurd. The real world is before us – glorious sunlight and activity and fresh air, and high speed motor cars and television, all the animation – a world apart from a little square of canvas that you smear paint on.

–Wayne Thiebaud

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These words from the great contemporary painter Wayne Thiebaud ring completely true for me. I have talked and written many times before about those moments in the studio when I suddenly find the whole idea of painting, of smearing paint on some surface, completely absurd. The whole idea of making these two-dimensional things that represent inner feelings about the outer world seems suddenly abstract and, to be honest, a little ridiculous.

It’s a little like waking up one day to find yourself standing in your yard with a forked stick in your hand. You began by thinking it was a divining rod that would mysteriously lead you to something valuable but in that moment you realize you’re just a fool standing in your yard with a stick.

Believe me, there are days when I feel like a fool standing in a room with a stick in my hands. Of course, my stick has bristles with paint on them but it might as well just be a stick in those moments.

But somehow that feeling passes and I find myself immersed back in my own little world and that stick returns to being a divining rod.

Wayne Thiebaud has long been a favorite of mine.  Most people associate his name with his paintings of  cakes, ice cream and confections with their bold colors and beautiful thick brushstrokes. They are wonderful but for me, his most striking work are his landscapes, often set from a high perspective.  They have such great color and their compositions feel as much like abstraction as they do realism.

Just plain good stuff.

I always feel inspired by this work, moving me to try to find that same balance in my own work.

Here’s a video of his confectionery works, which is, as I said, his more popular work. I haven’t found video with his landscapes but this is still a good intro to his best known work.

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