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“I was a man who thrived on solitude; without it I was like another man without food or water. Each day without solitude weakened me. I took no pride in my solitude; but I was dependent on it. The darkness of the room was like sunlight to me.”

Charles BukowskiFactotum

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A bit of beauty from Ella on a cool gray morning as I bask in the solitude that serves as my sunlight. Have a great day.

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“I have been prostrated these two or three days back by my first acquaintance with Tintoretto; but then I feel as if I had got introduced to a being from a planet a 1,000,000 miles nearer the sun, not a mere earthly painter”

–John Ruskin, letter to Joseph Severn, 1843

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While in Alexandria area for my opening, we shot over the Potomac into DC for a quick visit to the National Gallery of Art. It’s always a great pleasure to wander through the marvelous collection plus this year there was the first retrospective exhibition ever staged in America of the paintings of Tintoretto, the great Venetian Renaissance painter.

Tintoretto–Self Portrait ca 1588

Now, to be honest here, I went in not knowing a lot about Tintoretto so I wasn’t overly excited. Oh, I like a number of paintings from many Renaissance painters– particularly Titian, Raphael and my favorite, Bellini. But sometimes the repetitive nature of the religious subjects of much of the work from that era overwhelms my sorrowfully short attention span. I sometimes find myself becoming bored in a gallery full of exquisitely painted panels.

But as I walked into the first gallery for this extensive exhibit, the painting at the top of this post, Spring, was the first thing to greet my eye from a distance as I stood in the doorway. I was instantly captivated. It felt out of time, as though it could be a piece from any point in known art history, its composition seeming so bold and modern. Just spectacular.

A wonderful intro to a great exhibition.

Walking through the galleries as they progressed through the stages of Tintoretto’s remarkable career, I was struck by both the size and scale along with the changes in the progression of his work. In may pieces you could see influences that would be carried forward by the generations of artists that followed him. For example, looking at the first painting below, The Creation of the Animals,I can’t help but think that William Blake references Tintoretto in some of his best known paintings.

Most of the work was very large, best suited for spaces in huge churches or palaces. The second image below, The Virgin Mary Reading, is probably anywhere from 15 to 20 feet in height and was installed opposing another piece of the same size. It had a real wow factor walking into the space. They also did a fantastic job in hanging the whole show, with long views through the many entrances framing large eye-catching works in the next gallery that pulled you along. Each gallery had its own unique feel and strength. Each gallery in itself would be a great show in many museums.

The way I often judge a museum exhibit is how small I feel as an artist coming out of it. By that standard, this was a magnificent exhibit. I understand a bit more how John Ruskin must have felt when he wrote the lines at the top of this post. But conversely, as small as it made me feel, it also made me want to be better, to strive further, to make the most of my own meager talents.

And that also makes it a great show.

If you’re in DC before July 7th, when the exhibit ends, try to make it into the National Gallery to see for yourself. It’s just plain good stuff that you may not see again here in the Americas in your lifetime.

Tintoretto- The Creation of the Animals

Tintoretto–The Virgin Mary Reading

Tintoretto- Paradiso

Tintoretto- The Conversion of St. Paul

 

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“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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Above is a new painting, a larger one at 30″ by 48″ on canvas, that is part of Red Tree 20: New Growth, my annual solo show that opens this coming Friday at the Principle Gallery. With its size and deep coloring, it presents a strong and striking image in person. Along with that strength, looking at it, the feeling that came to me was one of hope. There’s a sense of journey in this, a movement through dark and possible peril towards light and the possibility of tranquility. That brought about the title To the Gardens of Hope.

In short, hope is the thing that drives us through the dark.

In dark times we must hold on to hope, to have a goal of light that drives us to action. Too often we think of hope and dreams in passive terms. But hope without action is futile, a lazy daydream that will never grow in the gardens of light.

Hope combined with action is a potent force.

Maybe that is why the words above from the first book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy seem to mesh so well with how I see this painting. That story certainly had existential peril and darkness. But throughout the tale there was always an end goal that gave hope. And plenty of action was required to get to that goal, to overcome the darkness with light. This concept was not in mind during the painting but now that I think of it, this could be from one of the kingdoms or shires of those books.

That concept can also be summed up in four short lines below from the poet Langston Hughes. Without hope and dreams, we have no will to act and are, as he describes, broken-winged birds.

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     “Hold fast to dreams,     

For if dreams die    

                    Life is a broken-winged bird,     

That cannot fly.”     

       ― Langston Hughes

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So, in perilous times, when darkness seem pervasive, hope has a place for those willing to step forward and move toward the light.

That’s only my take on this painting. You might well see it in different terms and that is, as always, as it should be.

This painting along with the rest of the show will be hung today in the Alexandria gallery. Hope you get a chance to stop in and see it. If you’re around Old Town Alexandria on Friday evening, I will be at the gallery for the opening reception which runs from 6:30-9:00 PM. Come in and say hello. I look forward to it.  

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“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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The painting at the top is a new piece that is included in my solo show, Red Tree 20: New Growth, that opens June 7 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. It is titled To Stand in Beauty and is 18″ by 24″ on canvas.

Beauty was the first thing that came to mind when I began looking for a title for this painting. It seems like a fitting representation of the old adage that we should stop and smell the roses.

As Goethe points out above, worldly cares often threaten to obliterate our sense of the beautiful. That may never be more true than it is in these days as there is so much anger, hatred, stupidity, and frustration on public display now. Many of us find ourselves focusing on all that is wrong in this world and in the process forgetting the beauty that often surrounds us.

The beauty of a blooming flower.

The romance of a beckoning horizon.

The graceful strength of a tree trunk.

The awe of a rising mountain.

The lure of a winding path.

I am looking out my studio window from my seat at the moment and a deer is looking back at me from the lawn. Beyond him I can see a couple of wild turkeys strolling up the driveway in front of one of the large rhododendrons that line it. The rhododendron is finally flowering fully, adding a gorgeous splash of color among the greens and grays that surround them. In the distance I can see the mass of yellow irises that are blooming on the edge of the pond. And while I was looking to the distance, a small buck with velvet covered antlers just beginning to develop walks across my line of sight. And above it all. I can hear the chirp of the bird nesting above my front door.

It’s a beautiful moment, one that I all too often overlook, especially when I first come into the studio. I check the news, read emails, begin figuring out what to write for this blog and what my painting agenda might be for the day. And the rush of the day sometimes blots out the beauty that surrounds me.

But this painting, especially this morning when I am in the final frantic steps of putting the work for the show together so that it can be delivered tomorrow, has reminded me to stop and consider things of beauty instead of news or emails or whatever bothersome tasks lie ahead.

And it has made a difference. Goethe was correct, there is beauty to be found in music, poetry and fine pictures as well in simply looking out at the natural world for a moment.

We can all stand in beauty if we choose to look.

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Edible Sendak

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Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.

–Maurice Sendak

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He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.

I love this little episode from Maurice Sendak. Reinforces my own faith in the judgement of children when it comes to art. Their reactions are pure and unadulterated– with the emphasis on the adult portion of that word. Kids look at things without pretensions and preconceived notions of what art is or is not. I am happiest when a kid reacts strongly to my work.

If only I could paint something that some kid would love enough to eat…

 

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The Wheatfield -1929- Raoul Dufy

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I don’t follow any system. All the laws you can lay down are only so many props to be cast aside when the hour of creation arrives.

Raoul Dufy (1877-1953)

 

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I can’t say I am the biggest fan of the paintings of Raoul Dufy or his younger brother, Jean Dufy (1888-1964) , French painters who were popular in the first half of the 20th century. It’s not that I don’t find them attractive and pleasant. While I particularly like the painting at the top , The Wheatfield, from 1929, they just don’t speak to me deeply.

But I like and agree with Raoul’s words above. Rules and systems may be fine and necessary up to a point. The trick comes in knowing when to blow past the limitations that they set on your work. When it comes down to making a piece work and come to life, rules and systems are often set aside. Whatever it takes to create rhythm, energy, and harmony within the painting becomes acceptable.

Casting aside rules is often the beginning of a new artistic freedom. It’s like taking off the training wheels and feeling the fear and freedom of being out there on your own.

Got to go try to break some rules right now. Have a great day.

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It seems at times I should be a composer of sounds, not only of rhythms and colors. Walking under the trees, I felt as if the color made sound.

Charles E. Burchfield

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I have featured the work of one of my favorite painters, Charles Burchfield, here a number of times. He is one of those artists whose work attracts me in a very big way yet I never feel that I am able to pull anything from it that will end up in my own work. It’s that distinct in its voice.

My affinity for his work also extends to his thoughts on his work, including the words above. Like Burchfield, I often equate color and form with sound and vice versa. What I might consider my best work has, for me, the quality of music. I don’t know if it’s apparent to anyone but me but I often see some of my paintings as songs with rhythm and lines of melody. I am pretty sure Burchfield felt the same.

Much to do this morning getting work ready for my Principle Gallery show so I am cutting this short. But please take a stroll though some of Burchfield’s work. Listen well because there is music to be heard.

 

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