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“How fathomless the mystery of the Unseen is! We cannot plumb its depths with our feeble senses – with eyes which cannot see the infinitely small or the infinitely great, nor anything too close or too distant, such as the beings who live on a star or the creatures which live in a drop of water… with ears that deceive us by converting vibrations of the air into tones that we can hear, for they are sprites which miraculously change movement into sound, a metamorphosis which gives birth to harmonies which turn the silent agitation of nature into song… with our sense of smell, which is poorer than any dog’s… with our sense of taste, which is barely capable of detecting the age of a wine!

Ah! If we had other senses which would work other miracles for us, how many more things would we not discover around us!”

Guy de Maupassant, The Horla

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Yesterday I finished the painting above, a 12″ square canvas that is scheduled to head to the Kada Gallery in Erie for my show, Sensing the Unseen, that opens there on December 1. It’s a piece that feels faithful to the theme of the Kada show– that there are energies and forces swirling around us that are imperceptible to our senses. I’ve often felt that one of the purposes of art is to give these forces shape and form.

To make the unseen visible.

And I think this painting is a good example of that thought. Its simple forms, lack of detail and sparse narrative elements might seem an unlikely setting for the unveiling of  hidden forces.

Or maybe these things make it the perfect setting for doing such a thing. Distraction is stripped away. The whiteness of the moon at the horizon becomes a central point of focus. The lightness of the landscape (is that snow?) and the path push the eye further inward, past the windowless houses that seem to act as boundary markers between the known and the unknown. There is a created sense of depth and space that belies the tight dimensions of the picture plane. It all makes you feel as though there is something ponderous, something that begs to be known in that space.

Even the color creates a mysterious paradox. It feels cold with the whiteness of the snow and the moon (or is it a sun?) yet the underlying magenta makes it feel warm. It seems perilous and cold yet still feels warm and inviting. It pushes away and pulls in.

Or it’s just a simple little snowy landscape.

I chose its title, Mystery of the Unseen, from the paragraph at the top taken from a short story, The Horla, from the French master of the short story, Guy de Maupassant. It’s a horror story describing how an unseen alien force– an extraterrestrial– inhabits a man, controlling his mind with the intent of conquering humanity. It was the last story he wrote before being committed to a sanitarium, where he died.

I guess that’s the dark side of the unseen.

Hardly the feeling I experience in this painting.

 

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“As he was about to climb yet another dune, his heart whispered, “Be aware of the place where you are brought to tears. That’s where I am, and that’s where your treasure is.” 

― Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist

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This is another new painting, 4″ by 18″ on paper, that is part of the new group of paintings that will be coming with me to the Principle Gallery on Saturday, where I will giving my annual Gallery Talk beginning at 1 PM.

I call this piece All the Treasure of the World. It’s a continuation of the theme that I featured here a few weeks back in an entry about Acres of Diamonds, the story of an African farmer who sold his land to seek wealth far and wide without realizing that the actual treasure was in his original land.

The difference here is that the definition of treasure is altered from wealth in the form of diamonds and gems to the real treasure that is contained in personal contentment and a deep emotional bond with one’s life and the surrounding world.

Instead of mining for diamonds and gold, one sees the wealth found in being able to watch a cloud lazily meander across the sky.

In the beauty of a field filled with flowers or the gentle curve of a path that takes you home.

In the tears that come with memories of joy or sadness. The tears that come from the recognition of one’s own humanity.

Maybe that’s a lot to ask for in a simple painting but I see these things in this piece. And I feel better for it, understanding in a way where the real treasure lies.

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GALLERY TALK

at the

PRINCIPLE GALLERY

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 16 AT 1 PM

GOOD TALK, PAINTINGS, PRIZES AND MORE!

WIN A PAINTING!

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The past is our definition. We may strive with good reason to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it. But we will escape it only by adding something better to it.

Wendell Berry

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I finished this 40″ by 16″ canvas just the other day, readying it to take with me to the Principle Gallery for my Gallery Talk on Saturday. It was one of those times where the painting itself felt good and invigorating, to the point that I wished there was more to do when I was done with the painting.

Everything came easily and every stroke seemed to add something evident and valuable to the piece. There was no struggle to try to determine what path to follow- it all was there waiting for me to simply take action.

That’s a rare and wonderful moment, at least in my experience.

That ease of process normally shows in the final product. It doesn’t seem worked over and has a freshness in its color and line rhythms. I think that holds for this painting, at least to my eyes which I admit may be somewhat biased.

The meaning that I have attached to this painting adds to to my pleasure in it. A lot of what I see can be gleaned from the words at the top from poet Wendell Berry. I see this as about how one rises above their environment, their past, their failures, their shortcomings and the examples set by those around them.

Betterment.

Trying to be better at whatever they choose, be it their jobs or relationships or their knowledge of the world around them.

Just being a better person, allowing yourself to rise to new heights where you can see beyond the encroachment of the past and the obstacles of the present.

I call this painting Above and Beyond.

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Sat here this morning trying to figure out what song I would play for this Sunday and found myself going down a deep rabbit hole on YouTube, bouncing from genre to genre with songs that dealt with the weather, given the focus in recent times with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and little brother Jose, tagging along for the ride. There was Stormy Monday, Gloomy Monday, Stormy Weather, Blowin’ in the Wind, Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Who’ll Stop the Rain, Have You Ever Seen the Rain and on and on. It was dizzying, so much that it made me shuck the whole idea of weather when I was listening to Like a Hurricane from Neil Young.

The version was from his 1979 Live Rust album, one that I love but haven’t heard in some time. Just hearing that song made me want to hear his Hey Hey, My My which has the line: rust never sleeps.

There’s just something about that simple line.

I thought it fit well with this new smaller painting shown here, enough that I am now calling it Rust Never Sleeps. Headed with me to the Principle Gallery for next Saturday’s Gallery Talk, it reminds me of an old photo that is always aging, losing its color as it fades away, the subtle tones turning to a sepia-like color. Tucked away in some place out of sight, it is always breaking down and only comes to life when you come across it at some distant point in the future. And even then it may only be as faded a memory as the photo itself.

So I’ll watch the hurricanes rage and think about old photos and fading memories.  Hey hey, my my…

I’m playing both versions of Hey Hey, My My from the Live Rust LP. The first is the straighter version, closer to the original released song with an acoustic guitar. The second is the heavier electric version. God, I forgot how much I liked this song!

Weather aside, try to have a good Sunday.

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The painting shown here is new and will be accompanying me next Saturday, September 16, to the Principle Gallery for my annual Gallery Talk there. It’s 11″ by 15″ on paper and is called The Understanding.

It’s a piece that that has really appealed to me in the studio over the past few weeks as I have been able to take it in. It has a sense of what I think is understanding in it. Not knowledge or wisdom but simple understanding. Just a moment of self-realization of knowing that you are a part of this world, a piece of the puzzle. There are no answers attached but there is solace in knowing that you have a place in this world in which to stand just as you are. A sense of belonging without answers or wisdom or any knowledge of the world beyond that which immediately surrounds you.

I was trying to find a piece of writing that fit this thought and came across the following from the classical Greek philosopher Socrates. It very much summed up what I was thinking as a result of this painting. Plus, as an artist, I have sometimes been given the benefit of attributes that I haven’t earned simply because people see my own desire for those things in my work. I want wisdom, I want inner peace and goodness but, to be honest, I don’t know how to get to that point and may not even know those things when I come across them.

As Socrates says:  I am strongly convinced that I am ignorant of what I do not know.

That’s understanding.

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“I examined the poets, and I look on them as people whose talent overawes both themselves and others, people who present themselves as wise men and are taken as such, when they are nothing of the sort.

From poets, I moved to artists. No one was more ignorant about the arts than I; no one was more convinced that artists possessed really beautiful secrets. However, I noticed that their condition was no better than that of the poets and that both of them have the same misconceptions. Because the most skillful among them excel in their specialty, they look upon themselves as the wisest of men. In my eyes, this presumption completely tarnished their knowledge. As a result, putting myself in the place of the oracle and asking myself what I would prefer to be — what I was or what they were, to know what they have learned or to know that I know nothing — I replied to myself and to the god: I wish to remain who I am.

We do not know — neither the sophists, nor the orators, nor the artists, nor I— what the True, the Good, and the Beautiful are. But there is this difference between us: although these people know nothing, they all believe they know something; whereas, I, if I know nothing, at least have no doubts about it. As a result, all this superiority in wisdom which the oracle has attributed to me reduces itself to the single point that I am strongly convinced that I am ignorant of what I do not know.”

Socrates

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Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it.

Thomas Merton
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I am doing my annual Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery next Saturday, September 16.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this will be fifteenth year for this talk at the Principle.  One of the challenges in doing a talk like this year after year is keeping it fresh and interesting so that every version has something new to offer. A new story. A new idea about the work. A new thought on perception and art. Just something new.

It’s sometimes difficult and I have found that some years are more successful than others in accomplishing this goal. It seems that the ones where I am at my most open and honest are the ones that flow and resonate best. And those ones seem to come when I am most at peace with myself, comfortable in my life of solitude.

At the moment, I feel pretty good and expect that to show in the upcoming talk but time has taught me that this inner peace can evaporate in mere moments. But for now, all signs indicate a good talk.

As with all of my talks, there is some conversation,hopefully some laughs and a few prizes at the end. Plus, I generally try to bring a small group of new work and a few hand-picked pieces from the studio that are available only on the day of the talk. Many of these are pieces that I feel have been overlooked and have meaning for me. having them at the talk allows me to talk a bit about them and give a little insight into how I view them. Context, I guess.

One of the new paintings is the small piece at the top, 4″ by 7″ on paper, with a title, Deepen the Present, that is taken from the Thomas Merton quote above. I like the thought behind his words, that solitude is not something that you can plan for in the future, that it must be taken hold of in this present moment.

And why wouldn’t you? The future is a perilous voyage away, with no guarantees. The present is at hand with all you need. Find your solitude now.

Hoping you can get into the Principle Gallery for the talk…

 

 

 

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I have been working on some new small pieces. When I finished this piece, which is 2″ by 6″ on paper, and was trying to read what I was seeing in it, I immediately thought of the blog entry below from several years back. The article and the painting both deal, as I see them, with how we often look for answers from far outside ourselves and fail to see the riches and possibilities that surround us in plain sight. I call this painting In the Gem Fields.

“The more intensely we feel about an idea or a goal, the more assuredly the idea, buried deep in our subconscious, will direct us along the path to its fulfillment.”

—Earl Nightingale

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It’s funny sometimes what you take from an experience in your life.  At one point in my life I was in the retail car business, working at a Honda dealership both as a salesman and a finance manager.  In order to keep their sales staff engaged and excited about pushing their product, the management there would periodically send us to seminars with industry-specific motivational speakers and would also have sets of motivational tapes from other speakers that they would encourage us to listen to in our free time.

One of the sets of tapes was from a famed motivational speaker named Earl Nightingale who had a deep and engaging voice that added a serious dimension to whatever he said.  As I listened to his tapes, it was easy to feel my interest growing as he told his little tales and his lessons began registering within me.

One of his stories was a short retelling of a classic lecture  called Acres of Diamonds from Russell H. Conwell (1843-1925), an interesting fellow who was a baptist minister, a lawyer, a philanthropist and the founder and first president of Temple University.  The lecture, one that Conwell delivered over 5000 times during his lifetime, made the point that the riches we seek are often right in our own backyards.  His tale is of an African farmer who sells his farm in order to go in search of diamonds and finds nothing but failure that ends with his suicide.  Meanwhile, the man who took over the farm found an abundance of diamonds and ended up with one of the largest diamond mines in Africa.

There were a lot of lessons to be learned from this tale but primarily  what I took away  was that I must leave the car business–it was not my backyard.   It was the place to which I had come in search of my own diamonds.  I had not even, at that point, began to search my own backyard. I am not sure if that was the message that management had been hoping would sink in.  Or maybe it was.

The other part of Nightingale’s message was that you had to set a course, aim for a destination.  Everything was possible if you knew where you wanted to go and truly set your mind to it.  He gave a laundry list of great human accomplishments that were achieved once we put our minds and wills in motion towards their fulfillment.  That resonated strongly with me.  I had seen many people over the years who seemed deeply unhappy in their lives and most had no direction going forward, no destination for which they were working.  Aimless, they drifted like a rudderless boat on the sea, going wherever the strongest current took them without having any influence over this motion.

If you can name it, you can do it in some form.

As I said, it’s funny how things influence you.  It’s been about twenty five years since I heard those words but they still resonate strongly with me, even now.  I try to be always conscious of the goals I set, knowing that the mind and the universe will always try to make a way for the possibility of achievement.

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