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“What appears to be definite and precise does not belong to any acceptable reality. It is only the experiences, the queer previsions, the fleeting premonitions, that are real. Vague and insubstantial though they may appear to be, compared with anything else in the mists and shifting lights of Time theory, they loom up like mountains of iron ore.”

― J.B. Priestley, Man and Time



This painting is titled Shadow of the Red Eye and is part of the current Little Gems show at the West End Gallery. It’s a painting that really spoke to me when I was working on it, as well as after. It just seemed to have something to say to me the whole time.

It’s been out there in the ether for weeks now and I am still wrestling with its meaning. Some pieces are like that. Some immediately let me know what part of me, what part of my psyche and internal world, they are displaying. Positive emotions usually show themselves quickly.

Others take awhile.

They are usually darker in tone. And while their meanings may not jump out, there is a sense of certainty and reality in them. I may subconsciously try to avoid putting meaning to these pieces, not wanting to face the possible darker realities they may represent.

Maybe realities is not the right word. Or maybe I should include the word possibilities as an accomplice to realities. That would align well with the Priestley quote above which I read as being about how each of our personal realities is not just a timeline of facts and tangible data. It is not black and white. No, our reality is in shades of grays and subtle tones of black and white. It is a compilation of personal emotions and feelings in the present, interpretations and reactions to our past, and premonitions of our future. That is the reality in which we reside.

And that might be where this paintings fits in. It coincides with darker dreams I have been experiencing in my sleep lately, dreams that are a bit uncomfortable and worrisome. I wake in the morning with pangs of anxiety from them, fearful that they are some sort of premonition. Perhaps, a call out to my outer self from my inner self to pay heed to the clues it has taken notice of in the patterns and movements of the outer world. 

I am still taking this piece in so I am not really sure what it means. I hope it is not a pure premonition but is maybe more of a simple reflection of my own worries for the future. But it has a real attraction for me and maybe that comes because it feels real to me, that is has something of true meaning in it for me.

Even with my own personal uncertainty, it seems to have certainty.

Like a mountain of iron ore.

 

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I too am not a bit tamed,
I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp
over the roofs of the world.

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself




I finished this smaller piece the other day (it is headed to the West End Gallery today) and with the Red Tree appearing to hover above the Red Roofs both near and far, all I could think of were the lines above from Uncle Walt. That’s Walt Whitman, actually, but I always think of him in familial terms not that he was anything at all like my own uncles.

These lines from Song of Myself have rang in my ears for decades and are at the core of my desire to paint and in the formation of my voice as an artist.

Before I even thought of beginning to paint, I tried my hand at wood carving. I did a number of bas-relief carvings that were fairly crude in a folksy kind of way. I was untrained and just went at it, much as I did later on with my painting. I believe that the painting worked out much better but the carving had a part to play for me at the time.

One of the first things I carved was a rough-hewn face with the four lines– poorly executed– from Whitman next to it. It was nothing to write home about, carved as it was from the end of an old 2×12 pine board. I am not particularly proud of it as a piece of art but it has great meaning to me and stays near me in the studio.

I have described what these words have meant to me in the past like this:

…the four lines above have been a guiding beacon for me throughout the past 25 years as I have tried to be an artist. These words instructed me to be only myself, to openly and boldly express my feelings without fear or shame. To not hide my scars, my fears or my weaknesses because they are part of my wholeness and keep me in balance. To not be underestimated or devalued by myself or anyone else. To claim a foothold in this world and bellow out the proof of my existence in my own voice:

Here I am.

There are paintings that I do that are meant to represent this thought, paintings that are meant to be plainly expressions of that Here I am. I consider them icons in my body of work, pieces that fully represent my work and what I want from it. This painting definitely falls in that category. It’s simply put but not a simple expression.

When I look at this painting I personally see myself and all my hopes and aspirations, all that I am or desire to be.

What I hope for this painting is that someone else sees that same here I am in it for themselves, that they see in it those things that make them a whole and perfectly imperfect person with a place in this world and a voice that demands to be heard.

Is that asking too much?

I immediately thought looking at this new painting that it fit into this category, that the Red Tree here represented my own need to let out my barbaric yawp, to announce my existence in this world. I am calling it I Sound My Barbaric Yawp.

It might not be quite as roughly finished as the carving but the yawp is the same.

Sound your own yawp in the world today. Have a good one.

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“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451



I recently finished this small piece shown above, a little guy that’s only 2″ by 4″ on paper. I wasn’t — and am not yet– exactly sure what meaning it holds for me, what message, if any, it carries. It certainly felt like it had something to offer.

It might be small but it seemed like it was speaking with a much larger voice. I was mulling this over this morning when I heard a new song, Calling Me Home, from one of my big favorites, Rhiannon Giddens. It’s from a new album coming out in April. There’s a line in the song that immediately struck me:

Remember my stories, remember my songs/ I leave them on earth, sweet traces of gold

It made me think of that existential question: What is it we leave behind?

That immediately brought to mind a favorite excerpt, shown at the top, from Ray Bradbury in his sci-fi/ dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451. It’s those things to which we devote or full effort, our mind and time, that have lasting effect. Often, things that are done with no real expectation of anyone recognizing your thought or effort in doing them.

It makes me think of my pond. I can see its top now in the winter since the leaves have fallen from the trees. I built it back in the summer of 1998 during a week spent pounding the hard pan soil beneath the clay of my property on a rented Cat D9 dozer. I am not sure my brain has come to rest yet from that beating. But the thrill of seeing it fill in the rains later that summer and fall along with the many life forms that soon made it their home were as satisfying as anything I have painted. I often look at it and think that it will be here long after I am gone, supporting lives of creatures that will have no knowledge of my efforts.  

And that pleases me greatly. Even as much as any legacy my work here in the studio, if any, will have.

I think I will call this little painting Calling Me Home. Not sure it’s absolutely the title others will see but if fits for me this morning.

Here’s the song from Ms. Giddens. have a good day, 



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If you only had brain in your head you would be as good as man as any of them, and a better man than some of them. Brains are the only things worth having in this world, no matter whether one is a crow or a man. 

― L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz



Watched the end of the impeachment trial yesterday. Sad day for this country and for every American as the former president* was acquitted.

Acquitted but not exonerated in any way.

It was actually more of an embarrassing day for republican voters who see themselves as being American first then republican. I believe there are a few still remaining out there. These folks witnessed and understood the criminality– which their party leader readily admitted was present in the words and actions of the president– that put our democracy in peril, knew that it went against everything that our country once claimed as virtues.  But they saw the majority of their craven senators say that it didn’t matter, that their partisanship and short term self-interest was more important than doing what was right for the future of our nation.

These senators seem intent on following the road to disgrace to its bitter end.

Their votes to acquit made this political in a proceeding that, at its heart, was not apolitical. It was necessary and for the majority party to have not went down this path would have been betraying their sworn oaths to the Constitution and to the future generations of this country. The House Managers laid out a compelling and convincing evidentiary argument that won the day.

57-43 is a victory in a way. It was an acquittal but, as I said, not an exoneration. No innocence was implied or proven. The majority of the country recognizes and approves of the guilt attached to this vote. I say majority because the 57 senators who voted to convict represent 76.7 MILLION MORE Americans than the 43 dissenting senators.

The people know. 

Let’s move on now to the Sunday morning music for this week. I was working on the small painting at the top the page yesterday while listening to the impeachment proceedings. I don’t know what made the idea of a person standing in the field as scarecrow come to mind but it appeared around the time the voting was taking place. I can’t quite put my finger on the feeling I get from it or its origin but it seemed to fit the moment.

Maybe it cam from the quote at the top from L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz? If they only had a brain…

The piece itself reminded me of the old John Cougar Mellencamp song, Rain on the Scarecrow, from 1985. He started his career with the cheesy stage name of Johnny Cougar before attaching his actual Mellencamp last name and eventually getting rid of the Cougar altogether.

In 1985, he was still John Cougar Mellencamp. He had a great trio of albums in the late 1980’s starting with this album, Scarecrow, followed by The Lonesome Jubilee and Big Daddy. They were all strong. complete albums. This song has been a favorite from when I first heard it back then. I also want to note that John Mellencamp is a talented painter as well.

But here’s Rain on the Scarecrow to go along with the new piece at the top which is simply called Scarecrow.

Be careful out there and have a good day.



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To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see over-all patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or, at least, the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology, or in states of mind that allow us to travel to other worlds, to rise above our immediate surroundings.

We may seek, too, a relaxing of inhibitions that makes it easier to bond with each other, or transports that make our consciousness of time and mortality easier to bear. We seek a holiday from our inner and outer restrictions, a more intense sense of the here and now, the beauty and value of the world we live in.

― Oliver Sacks. New Yorker article 2012



I was thinking this morning about how I would describe the painting at the top, Steady As She Goes. It is included in the Little Gems show at the West End Gallery which opens today. 

At first, I was thinking about sailing but I really don’t much about that subject. I can try to imagine the thrill of the open water, the feeling of untiy with the natural world, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the same as the real experience.

I began to wonder what was the underlying appeal of sailing, of open water. All that came to me was the word escape.

That made sense. You’re free from the ties that bind out there, subject, of course, to the whims of Mother Nature. We can never free ourselves from her her apron strings.

Yes, escape. And that representation of escape might be the appeal of these boat paintings even for us non-sailors. 

I searched for  a few words from others to describe that and came across the excerpt from a 2012 article in the New Yorker from the late Oliver Sacks, who wrote about how we need some form of escape from the day-to-day, an outlet where we are free from the restrictions set upon us by others. 

I was torn between the Sacks excerpt and these words from the great Graham Greene:

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.

It seemed a little more pointed at creative types but made great sense to me. My work certainly does provide me with an escape route from the stresses and pains of the real world. 

I wasn’t sure which quote to use but, in the end, I guess I opted for using both.  After all, this is my blog and I can do what I want. I make the rules.

Maybe this is, in itself, a form of escape?

Maybe I should take up sailing. Since it’s about 8° this morning, that seems unlikely anytime soon. So, let’s listen to a favorite song from Lyle Lovett. It’s If I Had a Boat from his epic 1988 album Pontiac. I listened to this album over and over back then and it was a means of escape at times. It still holds up beautifully to this day.

Hope you find your own escape route and have a good day.



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“The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd – The longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these half-tones of the soul’s consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are.”

― Fernando Pessoa



This is another piece from the Little Gems show that opens Friday at the West End Gallery. Its title is What Might Have Been which comes from the feeling of regret or nostalgia or, at least, retrospection that I feel in it. Those are feelings that I think most of have dealt with in some form. Hopefully, they don’t overwhelm our lives in the present.

For all my psychological foibles, glitches and tics, I don’t live with a lot of regrets. I understand that the consequential decisions– good and bad– that I have made in my life were my decisions and were made with the belief that I had the best information available in making those decisions. Of course, I was wrong in some cases, but that doesn’t change the fact that I accept the blame and responsibility for the results that came from my decisions. 

I am here now and that’s all that matters. 

Spending too much time on what ifs and what might have beens seems like a giant waste of time and energy. And the amount of time and energy I wasted early in my life might be the main regret I have when looking back. So why waste more looking back and fretting over it?

But I have to admit that I do look back. It’s not out of remorse or nostalgia. It’s more out of curiosity, to discover the patterns and flows that brought me to this point. To observe and learn the lessons that are undoubtedly there so that I don’t repeat the mistakes and can possibly build on the successes.

And to try to figure out where I came from and who and what I am.

That is, of course, my perspective on the past and on this painting. It’s based on my own life and experiences.

Your own experiences might draw you closer to the past, might fill you with more regrets and remorse for what has taken place in that past. We all deal with the world and our place in it in our own way and if revisiting your past fills your days, it is not my place to tell you to not do that. That is your decision. 

But I would advise you to try to live at least equally in the present time, trying to leave the traumas behind and to glean some lesson from that past to bring forward with you to make your future days more livable. 

Funny how a small painting can open so many gateways to thought. There’s so much more I could write about what I take from this simple little painting based on the cues it engages within me. And, if it is a successful piece that comes to life, it engages the feeling and minds of others.

Maybe that’s the purpose of art, to create a shorthand of emotion that speaks to a wide variety of people and their own distinct experiences without relying on the specificity of language.

I don’t know. I have work to do so I am not going to dwell on it now. 

Have a good day.



The quote at the top is from the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, whose work I have only become aware of and a fan of in the past few years. I have written about him a couple of times here, most notably in reference to my Multitudes series a couple of years back.

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Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

The Ballad of East and West, Rudyard Kipling



Showing another new Little Gem from the West End Gallery show, this one titled Across the Divide.

The title refers to the the river that separates the two opposing shores. There is a political commentary implied in the blue and red of the two shores representing the colors of the political divisions here in the US.

There’s a lot of talk about the need for unity, about how we need to come together as a nation, but it seems as though there is a wide and mighty river between us, one that may never be traversed.

Like the opening line from the Kipling poem– and never the twain shall meet.

I would like to think that there is common ground that we share as citizens of this nation but it’s had to see at the moment. That river looks pretty darn wide.

I was about to start on a spiel about the need for compromise but I am going to skip it. Most of you out there who read this are intelligent people who understand compromise and how important its place is in big country with a wide variety of people. You know that everybody doesn’t get exactly what they want all the time, that we all have to sacrifice at some point for the greater good.

Sometimes we give and sometimes we get, depending on our needs and situations. 

And that is a simple, workable concept until you factor in ignorance, racial hatred, and greed.

Then things go awry and you get to this point where we are now, with a wide and deep river running between us. 

I still have hope and I see it in this piece. There’s too many things here that unite us if we only allow to set aside our biases, judgements, and prejudices.

I know that’s asking a lot but is it, really?

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So don’t be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don’t know what work they are accomplishing within you?

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet



Funny how often the words of the poet Rilke mesh with the message I am seeing or hoping to see in a painting of mine. It’s certainly the case in this new smaller piece, Standing in Shadow, that is part of the Little Gems show at the West End Gallery that opens this Friday.

For me, the message I wanted to distill here was that we all live in the shadows of places, people, and events. Even the past and the future cast a shadow on our lives in the forms of regret and fear, among many others. 

In a way, we are shaped by shadows, depending on how we react to them. In the best case, we seek to step beyond them, to find a place in the light where the only shadows present are those we cast in our wake.

That is where the words of Rilke come into play. It is while we are in the shadows, that we must use those feelings that thrive within us there, the anxiety and pain and other deep emotions, to find a way forward.

To use the shadows as building blocks toward the light. 

I’ve discussed this here before, this idea that it is most often that our hardships form our character and that our creations ultimately– and hopefully– reflect that character. I’ve always thought that the appeal of my work was in the shadows that came through in my work. I am not talking about physical shadows though they sometimes are manifested as such in the work. It’s more in the underlying darkness, the acknowledgement that there is dark behind the light. That even the optimism and hope carried in the work is tempered with a wary eye cast toward the shadows.

Our hardships do, as Rilke points out, accomplish work within us. That’s not easy to see when you’re deep in the shadows. But once one recognizes that the shadows are the place where the deepest emotions are spawned, that one can use these feelings as a way to the light, that it is the place where creation is born, it becomes a less scary place. 

At least that’s how I am reading this, in both Rilke’s words and in this painting.

I could be wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time and it certainly won’t be the last.

Maybe you will see it differently with the benefit of your own shadows. That’s how it should be.

Have a good day.

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“Come Days of Color”- Now at the West End Gallery



Not knowing how near the truth is, we seek it far away.

― Hakuin Ekaku



Wise words from Hakuin Ekaku, the 18th century Japanese Zen Buddhist master. You have probably heard of his famed kōan (a short story, statement, or question meant to test a Zen student’s progress) that basically asks: What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Heady stuff. But today we’re focusing on two of his thoughts, the one at the top and this gem:

At this moment, is there anything lacking? Nirvana is right here now before our eyes. This place is the lotus land. This body now is the Buddha.

We are creatures of desire and envy. We want constantly what others have, somehow thinking it offers us some intangible that will somehow provide us with lasting happiness. We envy other places, seeing in them qualities that we believe are lacking in those places we now occupy and believing that those places will provide a higher level of happiness or contentment.

But is happiness better found in more things or in far flung places? As Hakuin points out, in this moment, is there anything lacking? What prevents you from knowing what your happiness or what your truth might be?

Those two things–truth and happiness– are interior qualities. No place or thing can provide lasting truth or happiness. The secret is in not straining for these things but in recognizing that they are at hand, available if only you open yourself to them.

You may still want to to improve things in your life, acquire things or even physically move. But remember that they are not the way to contentment because it is already here, wherever that might be.

I write these words as a reminder to myself. I am as susceptible as anyone to falling to the lure of thinking that I can find happiness in external things and places. But a simple reminder helps me remember the happiness found in simple things, in recognizing the good things present in the humblest moments.

I thought about just that the other day. I was trudging through the mud outside my studio, a common thing at this wet time of the year. At first, it made me cringe and grump about it for a bit. Then I wondered why it bothered me so. It was part of the place that is a very important piece of my life and simply a product of the ever changing seasons. Soon it would be dry and grass would again be growing. I changed my point of view and felt a pang of happiness in that wet moment.

Contentment.

Simple things are not necessarily small things.

And vice versa.



This post ran on the blog several years ago but I thought it matched up well with the new small painting at the top, Come Days of Color. which is part of the upcoming Little Gems show at the West End Gallery. The exhibit opens Friday, February 12.

I see much of the message of this post in this painting, about fully appreciating the fullness and beauty of all things within your reach. We often see the days of our lives as drab and dreary but there is great color to be found if only we attempt to see the beauty contained in all things.

Hope you see some color in your days. Have a good one.

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“Memory and Return”- At the West End Gallery



It was odd getting up this morning and not staggering out the door to climb on my tractor to plow. It was almost becoming habit. Not having to do so felt liberating and it was nice to relax as I walked over to the studio under a still hanging half-moon that made the icy surface of the deep snow sparkle.

It was nice image. It made me wonder if these sort of images linger in our subconscious, becoming enmeshed and part of who we are.

They say that your life flashes in an instant in your mind’s eye just before you die. Would these be one of those images that would flash before my eyes when my time comes? Would they be random moments that didn’t even register in our conscious mind, hidden clues to who we are that lay deep in our brains waiting for the final moment to reveal themselves?

Or would they be those moments and faces and places that we do remember consciously, that we have already placed in our memory as being important?

I find myself often wondering about what sort of imagery, if any, would be there. Sometimes I will stop in the woods on those seemingly perfect days when the temperatures are pleasant and the sky peeking through the trees is that rich color of placid blue. Looking up, I will think to myself that if this were the last image in the final flash of my life, I would be okay with that.

And if not, it’s a perfect moment of calm in the present moment. Win-win as they say.

I guess I won’t know the answer to my questions until that last moment so I most likely won’t be able to write about them here. I just hope I am satisfied with what I am shown.

It would be awful if I were to end up like the Albert Brooks character in his film Defending Your Life who has to make the case after his death, using flashbacks to vital points in his life, that his time on Earth was well spent and that he was worthy to move on to the next world. His flashbacks focused, to great comedic effect, on his many fears and his weaknesses. 

I was hoping for something a little more zen, perhaps even answers to what the meaning might be for this particular life on this strange spinning planet.

But you get what you get, I suppose. We most likely have to do our own editing now, while we have the opportunity, if we want to be pleased when that flash comes before our eyes. 

That brings me to the painting at the top, an 8″ by 8″ piece called Memory and Return that is part of the West End Gallery’s annual Little Gems show of new small work, that opens next Friday, February 12. This piece has that feel of an image that might flash in my mind during that final slideshow of my life.

I don’t exactly know why.

While I am hoping the rest of the film will reveal the answer, I am mainly hoping I don’t see this film for some time to come. 

Here’s a lovely rendition of a favorite song that continues this theme. The song is In My Life from the Beatles and this version is from Diana Krall.

Give a listen, then go work on your own film and have a good day.



 

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