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Truly, it is in darkness that one finds the light, so when we are in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to us.

Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)

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In the last few days I finished a small group of paintings to add to the several I had already submitted for the West End Gallery‘s annual Little Gems show that opens on Friday. I hadn’t been planning on doing these additional pieces as I have other work that needs to be started. But there was something in the original pieces that I took out last week that lit that spark that I had been futilely searching for in the first month of the year. So, I thought I had been stick with it for a bit to see where it goes.

This piece, which I call Sorrow’s Companion, is one of the new paintings to emerge. Since it’s been done, I keep coming back to this one to just peer at it, all the while trying to discern what I am seeing and feeling in it.

There’s something very sorrowful in it’s imagery. The dark clouds in the sky. The empty chair. The dead tree with the lone crow on a branch. The empty horizon. It all point to the sorrow of loss of someone or something.

Yet, despite the sense of sorrow there is dull sunlight peeking through the gray in the sky. As the 14th century German theologian Meister Eckhart pointed out in his words at the top of the page, light is found in the darkness and is always nearest in our sorrow.

The light is sorrow’s companion.

So, I see this piece as having an air of melancholy but it is an optimistic melancholy, if there can be such a thing. Maybe this comes from understanding that true sorrow comes from knowing the feeling of true love. And there is a certain joy in just having experienced that feeling that lingers through the sorrow.

Sorrow doesn’t come without joy…

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Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.

 Marcel Proust

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A few days back I featured a new small painting that is headed to the West End Gallery for next week’s opening of their annual Little Gems show. That piece, and never looked back…, was a stark image in tones of black and gray that was about the idea of being forced from your home, never to return. It’s a depiction of that moment of leaving and the sense of loss and abandonment that remains.

The new painting above, also headed to the Little Gems show, is another take on the idea of abandoning one’s home. This piece, One Last Look, speaks to the nostalgia that appears after time, as memories of bad times and the accompanying anxieties have faded and singular moments of happiness have grown to fill all the moments of that time.  Time has smoothed away the rough edges and we begin to think that that time, that place, was much more idyllic than it ever was in actuality.

To me, this painting speaks to that nostalgia and its idealized sense of home and youth. With nostalgia, the past seems more vivid and vibrant.

The grass was greener then, I guess.

I am reminded of a post I wrote back in 2009 where a large poll taken at that time throughout Russia named Joseph Stalin as the third greatest Russian of all time. I wrote: Despite the many millions, yes, millions of Russian citizens who were put to death by Stalin, despite the political purges and gulags and Soviet policies that caused a type of artificial famine that killed far more citizens than any natural famine more than once, the current populace said that this Man of Steel was their guy.

Some of those polled had lived through the Stalin era but time, and a little more food and comfort now, had eroded the memory of the hardship, the famines and the purges. In fact, Putin had began extolling the virtues of Stalin about that time and many of these people felt the country needed that type of autocratic leader again. In Putin, they– and, unfortunately, we as well– may have found him.

We all often fall prey to this sort of nostalgia, our memories holding onto a few events of happy triumph here and there through time and discarding the much more numerous days and weeks and months of chaos or drudgery that many of us live through.

Nostalgia is like a beautiful double-edged sword– both wonderful and terrible. Such things should be handled with care.

 

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This new small painting is titled and never looked back… and is headed to the annual Little Gems show at the West End Gallery. It’s a piece that reminds me of the Depression era and the Dust Bowl refugees who forced from their homes by a hostile environment and a pitiless economy, leaving all they ever knew behind. I can only imagine the feelings of loss, the anxiety, the confusion and the anger that must have been constantly running through these people’s minds.

To have to leave one’s home– and never look back.

I know this is hardly a happy subject to face on a Sunday morning but I worry that we will someday soon face the same sort of situation. It has happened in one instance recently, if you consider the many people of Puerto Rico who have lost everything in the past year and how they have been forced to leave their island home. They are the current modern day Okies.

You may say this an unfounded worry, given the strength of our economy. And you’re probably right, at least for the short term.  But with the deregulation taking place in the financial sector, the shredding of the social safety net and unparalleled wealth inequality– a mere 6 people have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the global population, 3.7 billion people– we are setting the stage for a huge economic crash when the economy eventually sputters, as it will given its cyclical nature.

I know that I sound like a bummer filled with gloom and doom. I don’t mean it that way. I am just sending out a cautionary note that if we continue to ignore the lessons of the past, we will relive them. Not necessarily in the same way. We may not be Okies jammed into old trucks, heading out west to pick fruit. I don’t have the imagination to think what our lives might be in the next critical situation that comes our way. But I do know that it won’t be good unless we begin working now to avert the worst of it.

Okay, enough. Today’s Sunday morning music is a classic Dust Bowl era song from Woody Guthrie that was in my mind when I was finishing up this painting. It’s title is I Ain’t Got No Home in This World Anymore.

In the 1950’s, Guthrie lived in public housing in Brooklyn that was built with public funds by a NY developer by the name of Fred Trump – yeah, that guy’s father. Guthrie noticed the fact that people of color were not allowed in that development and later wrote new verses for this song that called out the racism of Old Man Trump, as he called him. This discrimination throughout Trump’s network of developments persisted for nearly 25 years until a Civil Rights lawsuit was brought by the Federal authorities and was settled in the late 70’s. Here’s a link to an article outlining more of the details.

Like I said, we relive the past.

Give a listen and have a good Sunday.

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There can be no failure to a man who has not lost his courage, his character, his self respect, or his self-confidence. He is still a King.

Orison Swett Marden
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It’s fitting that one of the only things I’ve actually finished in this new year should be a painting that I see as a personal motivator. This new piece is a 30″ by 20″ canvas that I am calling Still a King for the time being.

The title is taken from the quote at the top from Orison Swett Marden, who was a writer in the late 19th and early 20th century who focused on inspiring people to make the most of their lives in business. This was the time of Horatio Alger and many rags-to-riches stories, with the world exploding with invention and innovations. Marden was an early self-help writer, trying to motivate would-be entrepreneurs to make the most of their opportunities.

I periodically go through crises of confidence, some shallow and short-lived while others are deeper and a bit more difficult from which to escape. I have observed that when I feel my self-confidence is nowhere to be found, my courage and self-respect are also missing in action. In these deeper ruts, I can only hope my character is strong enough to carry me up and out, at least to a point where those other attributes decide to rejoin the struggle.

When they all come back together I know I will be okay.

And it is that moment that I see in this painting. The Red Tree in this piece represents the coming together of those four qualities: courage, character, self-respect and self-confidence. The path to this point winds through a landscape that goes up and down until it comes to a higher point and the realization that it is still a king , even if its realm is only its own little landscape.

Anyone with those attributes can– and should– walk as a king.

Or a queen.

There was definitely male dominance in the time of Marden and he probably gave little thought to the idea that these concepts, simple and universal as they may seem, would apply to a woman. But times have changed and are still changing, thankfully. There is still male dominance in most fields but if women can hold on to and display their  courage, character, self-respect and self-confidence, they will be queens.

I’ve been an artist long enough to see this evolution take footing in the art world. In recent years, there are more and more women artists coming to the forefront. For me, much of the most interesting work I see is created by women and, more often than not, it is the result of seeing themselves as courageous rulers of their own realm.

And that is a very good thing.

Which leads me to one last epigram from Orison Swett Marden that I think also applies to this painting and what I written here:

Nothing else so destroys the power to stand alone as the habit of leaning upon others. If you lean, you will never be strong or original. Stand alone or bury your ambition to be somebody in the world. 

Now, I only have to put these words into action. Wish me luck…

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First thing on this Sunday morning, I would like to send out many thanks to Kathy and Joe at the Kada Gallery for hosting my current show as well as to everyone who took the time on a busy Friday evening to come out to attend the opening on Friday evening.

It was good to see and talk with many wonderful folks again and meet many new ones, as well. The response to the work was strong which is gratifying because even though I might feel the show was good that means little unless people react positively to the work.

So, thank you to everyone involved.

This Sunday morning music is a song you most likely haven’t heard from an artist whom you also are probably not aware. It’s titled Pawky and is from the late Dorothy Ashby who was a jazz harpist who is considered one of the most unjustly under loved jazz greats of the 1950’s. I came across her and this track in particular the other day by chance. And it pleased me greatly.

This song has a kind of 50’s jazzy, witchy feeling, like it should have been in the soundtrack of the movie Bell, Book and Candle, the 1958 film about modern day witches in Greenwich Village, starring Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak and Jack Lemmon. But it was not in the film though I think the title theme poaches elements from this song a bit.

Now, pawky is a British word that means shrewd, tricky or slyly humorous.  I chose the painting here, Pax Domum, that is part of the Kada show not because of the word’s definition but because there is something witchily atmospheric in the sky that reminds me of the sound of this song. Take a look and a listen and see if you agree.

Oh, have a good Sunday.

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What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.

Thomas Merton

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Tonight is the opening for my new show at the Kada Gallery. The piece above, The Night Run, is part of the show and a piece that really connected with me as I was painting it.

Part of that connection comes from the juxtaposition of color and contrast in it and the visceral response those elements bring in myself.

But part , perhaps the biggest part, of this connection comes from the symbolism of the sailboat cutting through waves and darkness, trying to find a suitable place to land guided by a source of light that often is obscured or disappears completely. But when this light breaks through, the destination becomes clear and apparent. The journey takes on a purpose.

That is a fitting metaphor for how I see my life as a painter. There are many days when it seems that I am sailing in total darkness and have no idea where I am headed or if I am even moving in any direction at all. I feel small and at the mercy of the deepness of the dark and the power of the waves that push against me.

But on better days, when the light breaks through, I feel strengthened and my sails fill, sending me gliding ahead. It’s so easy and refreshing then and I feel strong, vital. The journey seems to have purpose at that instant.

That speaks my experience but I think it also applies to many of us in all walks of life. I believe very few of us feel as though we are sailing in clear skies and on calm seas on most days. Most of us don’t even have a destination plotted out.

Now, the hard part is at something like an opening when the painting is right there saying all these things and I am standing there, alongside it. These are inner feelings and it’s not always easy speaking to these in a public setting, not knowing sometimes who you are speaking with or if they simply like the colors. Or boats.

But I try to gauge their connection and if they seem truly interested and ask, I will tell them what the work means to me, letting them know that to me they are more than mere scenes made from paint smeared on a surface. No, I view them as a vital part of my journey, a log of where I have been and where I am going.

So, that’s what I am doing this morning before I head out for tonight’s opening– readying myself to speak about such things on whatever level might be needed.

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Hope to see you tonight at the Kada Gallery. The opening reception for the show, Sensing the Unseen, runs from 6-9 PM. The show hangs in the gallery until January 3, 2018.

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For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves…

Hermann Hesse, Trees: Reflections and Poems

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The painting at the top is titled The Spirit Tree and is part of my show, Sensing the Unseen, that opens tomorrow at the Kada Gallery. It is 11″ by 15″ on paper.

Trees have always held a firm spot in my heart as symbols of strength, wisdom and calm perseverance. My early memories of childhood often revolved around the black walnut trees in our yard and the hardwoods on the hill behind it. When I was among those trees I felt at home, safely in a realm that moved at pace that was beyond our own idea of time. Ageless.

Even now while the world teeters on the edges of chaos, walking among the trees is a source of great comfort, letting me know that as dire as it may seem this period of time is but a hiccup in the great continuum of the time of trees.

And that is how I look at this piece and the central tree. It stands strong and with an air of ageless wisdom, creating a band of light between the darkness of the earthly dwellings and that of the foreboding sky. As Hesse wrote above, like the most penetrating preacher.

That piece of writing at the top is from Hermann Hesse is from an essay in his book, Trees: Reflections and Poems. It’s a piece of writing that I adore and have posted here before. To read the longer version of this essay  click here.


Sensing the Unseen is now hanging at the Kada Gallery in Erie. The show opens with a reception tomorrow, Friday, December 1, running from 6-9 PM. I will be there to answer your questions or just shoot the breeze. I look forward to seeing and meeting you there.

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