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If only someone else could paint what I see, it would be marvelous, because then I wouldn’t have to paint at all.

Alberto Giacometti
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This quote from the great sculptor/painter Alberto Giacometti reminds me of a bit of advice I’ve attempted to pass on for a number of years: Paint the pictures you want or need to see.
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This idea that I wasn’t finding what I sensed I needed to see drove me early on and still does today.
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It makes me wonder if I had been aware of someone painting the pictures that I now paint when I was first starting out, would I be painting now? Would there be a need?
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Even though I want to say that, yes, I would definitely still be painting, I really can’t fully say that mainly because the little spark of doubt it creates makes me think it might well be true. But, of course, it would have to fully satisfy my need and maybe no one artist could do that. Or maybe even seeing that needed work might spark a new need, a further boundary.
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Hmm. Something to chew on this morning. Now, I best get to work. If no one else will paint the pictures I need to see, I better get going.
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Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity. I don’t see a different purpose for it now.

Dorothea Tanning
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Doing research for this blog, I run into so many artists that work well into their nineties and beyond that I begin to get hopeful for my own longevity. I try to see if there is some sort of common denominator among them, something that might be a key to their long careers and lives.
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There seems to be among many, at least to my eye, a constant striving for growth and change in their work. There are often new subjects, new styles, new mediums and new processes. But a constant state of wonder.
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Dorothea Tanning is one such example. Born in 1910, she worked until late in her life and died at the age of 102 in 2012. Her work changed throughout her career, having multiple phases, but always remained her own. I am only showing a few of her pieces here, a few that immediately grabbed me this morning, along with a short video with a bit of an overview. Like many artists I show here, I don’t know a lot about her work but hope to use this as an introduction.
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Hopefully, in forty years or so, I will still be following Ms. Tanning’s example. But most likely only if I try continue to attempt to grow. Because as Dorothea Tanning also said: It’s hard to be always the same person.

Tanning, Dorothea

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I perceive the world in fragments. It is somewhat like being on a very fast train and getting glimpses of things in strange scales as you pass by. A person can be very, very tiny. And a billboard can make a person very large. You see the corner of a house or you see a bird fly by, and it’s all fragmented. Somehow, in painting I try to make some logic out of the world that has been given to me in chaos. I have a very pretentious idea that I want to make life, I want to make sense out of it. The fact that I am doomed to failure – that doesn’t deter me in the least.

–Grace Hartigan
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Grace Hartigan (1922-2008) was a painter based in NYC. She often called herself a second-generation Abstract Expressionist because she used the influence of the major artists of the genre as a jumping off point for her own distinct work.
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While we certainly work in different forms of expression, I admire the strength and vibrancy of much of her work. I also like her work, such as some below from her Oranges series, that incorporate the written word, in this case the poems of her close friend, poet Frank O’Hara. And I certainly understand her own words above, especially about perceiving the world in fragments and trying to put that chaos into some coherent form of logic. And the doomed to failure part, as well.
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I think that sense of failure, that goal that always move out of reach, is the compelling part of painting. If you felt you reached that desired endpoint, there would be no point in continuing.
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When less than four years old I was standing with my nurse, Mary Ward, watching the shadows on the wall from branches of an elm behind which the moon had risen. I have never forgot those shadows and am often trying to paint them.

-Samuel Palmer

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I have long admired the work of the British painter Samuel Palmer (1805-1881).  He is sometimes called the British Van Gogh even though he painted much of his work much of his work before Van Gogh was even born. There’s a wonderful darkness underlying much of his work that no doubt relates to the shadows from his childhood that he mentions in the quote above. Interesting how things from our childhood that might be easily overlooked or downplayed affect us throughout our lives.

His compositions have a very unique quality, one that strives to create a sense of fullness in the view he is revealing. It is very stylized and personal, more so than most artists of the first half of the 19th century. His often condensed compositions create an air of unreality but nevertheless make sense and translate easily in the journey from the eye to the brain. This really appeals to my own sense of composition and I find myself relating easily to his work, almost sensing how he was putting his pieces together.

Many of you have probably never heard of Samuel Palmer but he certainly has had my attention and respect for some time. Here’s a short video of his work and a few more of my favorite pieces.

The Harvest Moon: Drawing for ‘A Pastoral Scene’ c.1831-2 Samuel Palmer 1805-1881 Purchased 1922 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03699

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Paul Klee/ Color


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Art is the soul of a people.

Romare Bearden
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Getting ready for tomorrow’s 1 PM Gallery Talk at the West End Gallery in Corning. There are a few new paintings that I am framing today to bring along  with me. I am also getting some other things together that will no doubt show up including the painting, Pipedream, that will be given away at the end of the talk.
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I’ve also been running things through my mind that I want to discuss. One thing I will try to touch on is the purpose of art. That’s where the quote above from the late American painter Romare Bearden comes in. In a very concise manner, it sums up the importance of art.
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Win This Painting! –“Pipedream”

Art, in all forms, is our soul, our collective spirit and memory. It is the expression of our values and beliefs. It completes our humanity.

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Without art, we are less human. We are without our soul.
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Okay, maybe that will be a subject. I never fully know until I am standing there, trying to look composed while my anxiety causes my mind to shoot off fireworks inside my skull. But I do know that we will talk about something and tell some stories. You know, it might very well be interesting, even fun. Plus, there are prizes! What’s not to like?
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So, if you’re in Corning tomorrow around 1 PM, stop in at the West End Gallery and join in the conversation. Maybe you’ll take something home you were not expecting.

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If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

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The painting, Apex, as shown above on the left had been bouncing around galleries for quite a few years. It was one of those pieces that kind of gnawed at me after awhile. There was so much that I liked about it and it felt complete yet I began to feel that something was lacking.

The color bothered me. It looked washed out and pale. Now, I have done pieces with that sort of color and it can be very effective but in this instance the lack of intensity in the colors seemed to handicap the whole painting. The more I looked at it over the years, the more I saw the blue of the sky looking dull and lifeless.

And it felt like the trees on the ascending path were too sparse. I don’t know much about musical composition, can’t tell a quarter note from a half note, but when I looked at the hill with the trees I felt like I was looking at a piece of music and some of the notes were missing. It wasn’t saying what it should be saying.

And the central character, the Red Tree at the top, felt dark and small, not bursting forward as it should, at least in my mind.

The whole thing just felt like it was on life support– barely alive but but with no vigor, no spark.

But it was still alive and there seemed to be something in it that really pulled me in, I decided I needed to intervene, to either reinvent it or completely kill it. So I went in and deepened the colors of the sky and the hill dramatically. This created a nice contrasting tension and made the tree that were added to the upward path stand out more. The Red Tree grew larger, brighter and bolder while the clouds in the sky slimmed a bit.

It was  dramatic transformation. It was like Charles Atlas’ 97-pound weakling transforming, with the aid of his patented Dynamic Tension, into a beefy he-man who takes on the beach bully and gets the girl. I know that last sentence means next to nothing to those of you under the age of fifty but if you ever saw those old magazine ads, you’ll get it. You can click here to go to an old blog entry that shows that ad.

That might be a goofy comparison but as I sit here and look at the transformed painting, it’s hard to imagine that that it once was that old version of itself.

And it all came about thanks to Dynamic Tension. Thanks, Charles Atlas!

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This reinvented painting will be with me at my Gallery Talk at the West End Gallery in Corning this coming Saturday, August 4. The talk begins at 1 PM and it should be a good time. In addition to the great conversation and plenty of prizes, I have also procured a monster truck act– Truckasaurus Rex— as well as a T-shirt cannon.

Okay, maybe that’s not quite accurate. Or true in any sense of the word. You’ll have to come see for yourself. 

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