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Archive for the ‘Recent Paintings’ Category

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I dare not speak much further;
But cruel are the times when we are traitors
And do not know ourselves; when we hold rumor
From what we fear, yet know not what we fear,
But float upon a wild and violent sea
Each way and none.

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 2

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The piece at the top is a new work on paper, one that I am calling Wind Tossed. It was painted this past weekend and it very much mirrors the feelings that ran through me in the studio.

Dark and turbulent, trying to find something onto which I could grab hold and find direction. A source of light for which I could set a course.

Much like the lines from Macbeth above, I felt like a cork on a wild sea, my emotions thrown in all directions and none.

Feelings of worry and concern for those I know at risk. Fearful and anxious ones, as well, for the future. My own and that of our country.

And anger. Plenty of anger. Buckets of it, most of it directed at what as I see as a betrayal of our population by our titular leaders’ denial and refusal to accept early guidance on what the health experts and intelligence community saw coming our way. Their cavalier attitude toward this pandemic in the months leading up to this was an egregious act of irresponsibility, one that borders on malevolence and criminality.

I didn’t find a lot on which I could grab in these past few days outside of the small comfort that comes in knowing we are isolated and relatively safe, with adequate supplies and each other in which we can find some support.

But,oddly enough, there is something gained from this uncertain time. I find that that this anxiety and anger turns into something much greater than both– a defiant determination to persevere.

And that, no doubt, is what I am seeing in this painting, why it speaks so clearly to me in this moment. we may be wind tossed but the skies will one day clear. The seas will settle then and we will find our way to solid ground.

I am not one to hold much certainty in anything but of this, I am certain.

 

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There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.

Jean-Paul Sartre

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This is a new painting, a large canvas measuring 30″ high by 48″ wide, that is scheduled for my annual show at the Principle Gallery, this year called Social Distancing,which is tentatively scheduled to open on June 5.

I call it And Dusk Dissolves.

It’s a very soothing painting here in the studio, with a lot of warmth and light in its colors. I believe that is because it needed to be that in this moment.

I was trying to ease my mind in some way.

Trying to push away anger and fear, to push away anxiety and despair. To find a place in which I could rest my mind, if only for a brief moment.

And I think I find that place in this piece. In it, the Red Tree feels safe and at peace.

Yet at the same time, there is a somber wistfulness in it, as though the Red Tree is already missing the day that is still just leaving, regretting what little it has done with that precious time. As the Sartre words above attest, the day is a gift that is given to us each dawn and taken away each dusk.

This day’s gift is nearly gone.

The next dawn will bring a new gift but before that sunrise arrives there is a long dark night to be endured. Lately, it is filled with restless sleep and dreams with nightmarish imagery and intense feelings of alienation and betrayal.

Though the dawn brings a sense of joy and potential that comes with it as a gift, the ever lengthening nights begin to slowly diminish this optimistic outlook.

Maybe that’s the strength of this piece, that tension between its gratitude for the gift of the day that has passed, its peaceful acceptance of the present  moment, and its apprehension of what the new day may bring.

The current time often informs and defines my own readings of my work. Sometimes the piece translates differently over time and sometimes they emote in the same way, tell me the same story. I can’t tell on this painting right now. It’s still too close, too deeply embedded.

But I have a feeling that years from now — if that turns out to be the case– I will look on this piece and remember the comfort and reassurance it offered in a terrible time.

And that will comfort me then, as well.

Have a good day. Remember, it’s a gift.

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Acquainted with the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

― Robert Frost, West-Running Brook

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The painting at the top is called Socially Distant. It’s a 20″ tall by 60″ wide canvas (much larger than it appears on the screen) that is part of my annual solo show, Social Distancing, scheduled to open June 5 at the Principle Gallery. Of course, I say scheduled because of the uncertainty for anything in the near future given our current situation.

The series of cityscapes I am doing in recent months was began just as Covid-19 was just taking hold in Asia. Not many here were following it closely or, at least, closely enough. I can say with all certainty that when I started painting these pieces they were not intended to be a commentary on this situation. I saw them as being both about its constructed form– its shapes, colors and contrasts– and the feeling of anonymity and separateness that the crowded streets and looming structures that a city offers.

But sometimes the work and the times converge. As the crisis has unfolded these paintings seem more and more prescient with their empty streets and vacant windows. The anonymity that I initially saw transformed into the social distancing required to combat the spread of this virus.

Even the colors seemed to point to this crisis. The reddish skies suggest the the warmth and fetid fertility of the hot zones that have often spawned outbreaks.

This particular painting has one differing feature from the others in the series –a lone figure standing in a second story window, just to the right of center. I wasn’t sure about this and left the figure out of the painting for weeks as I mulled it over. But as the current situation unfolded and grew, the figure loomed larger in my mind and I finally relented.

In a way, its inclusion makes the vacant city seem even emptier.

To accompany this piece, I’ve included a Robert Frost poem that I have liked for a long time, Acquainted With the Night. In this context, I especially like the last four lines of the poem and their convergence with the empty clock face high atop a tower in the center of the painting that serves as a false moon and creates a strong diagonal in the picture plane between it, the moon and the lone figure.

Take care today and have as good a day as possible.

 

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I showed a work in progress here a couple of weeks ago that featured a cityscape that I compared to a skeleton that spoke to me as I painted, telling me how to flesh it out. Above is a side by side comparison that shows where that skeleton led me.

It was one of those paintings where I find myself constantly trying to restrain myself from going too bright. As noted in recent posts, I am looking for more depth and darkness in the colors I employ right now. But I often still want to go the next higher and brighter tone. Holding back on that impulse is difficult but rewarding in the long run. Even though this is a painting with a lot of color, it is greatly restrained which allows the deeper colors hold court and show through clearly.

I was originally going to call this piece Light on Main Street. It works well but in the end I opted to adopt the title from the classic Rolling Stones album, Exile on Main Street. The reason for this change was that I saw this piece as being the view of the Exile, an important character in my work, standing on the other side of the street.

The Exile sees the blank  and anonymous eyes of the lit buildings. It’s a feeling of alienation that I described in a post last week, Inner City Blue, about another cityscape, where each building seems like its own alien world filled with lives and occurrences about which you know little, if anything.

I think this feeling of being the Exile, a stranger in a strange land, is enhanced by the reddish tones of the sky and the deep gem tones of the distant mountains.

They seem familiar but different somehow.

And it’s that familiar but different feeling that appeals to me. I think it is may be something I actively seek in my work. It might be described as a desire to have you feel the comfort of the familiar while at the same time thinking that there is something different at play.

I really don’t know for sure.

I’ve looked at this piece for a couple of weeks now and I am still taking it in. The fact that it makes me want to continue to do so is a good indicator for my personal judgement of a work. I look forward to continue doing so with this piece.

Hey, since I snagged their title, how about a track from the Stones from Exile on Main Street? Hard to decide which to use with so many great tracks from which to choose. However, I am going with a personal fave, Sweet Virginia, in honor of Virginia’s presidential primary taking place today. Plus, there’s something in it that matches up well with this painting. Can’t put a finger on it but…

Hey, have yourself a good day.

 


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Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have-nots
Money, we make it
Fore we see it, you’ll take it

Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life

-Gil Scott Heron, Inner City Blues ( Make Me Wanna Holler)

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I showed a painting last week in progress last week and mentioned that I was working on a series of cityscapes. This is a different painting from that series that I am calling Inner City Blue. It is 22″ wide by 28″ high on canvas.

These pieces are painted in the same way as the Multitudes series that consisted of masses of faces. I normally start at one spot and just work outward from it with little or no plan as to where it will go or how it will emerge. There’s an excitement in working this way because there is always the tension that comes from not knowing whats going to come out.

I often find myself eager with anticipation as the painting progresses. It’s still a mystery at that point and I need that. That not knowing is a big part of how I work, a driving force. I don’t think I would last long if I knew with any certainty how any painting would come out in the end.

And these cityscapes, with all their moving parts and angles and shapes and shades, are totally unpredictable. And that just engrosses me in the process, allows me to find little bits of meaning and beauty in the cracks and crevices that are being created.

Hopefully, a little bit of what I am getting from these pieces comes across to the viewer. That reaction is as unpredictable as the painting itself.

I compared these cityscapes to the Multitudes series earlier. There are similarities beyond the process. Much as I left the faces without eyes in the Multitudes pieces, I leave elements out of these cityscapes. There are no traces of people on the streets or in the windows. There is no signage, no lettering. No street lights or anything on the street. It creates a skeletal effect, showing the bones of what gives the city its appearance while leaving a void.

That void could be described as the anonymity that very large cities often provide.

You know what I mean. That sense of being lost in a throng of faceless people moving on the street. Little, if any, eye contact and as you jostle along with the crowd, your own eyes are locked on some far distant point, fending off the intrusive eyes of the street vendors, hustlers and beggars.

You try to look stoic and determined, like you’re on a mission that should not be interrupted. You’re like a silent rocket hurtling through the space between the buildings that tower above the street and each building is a new alien world to you, filled with life and lives about which you know little.

A stranger in a strange land. That feeling might be the best way to describe what drives much of my work. I often feel out of place in this world– a stranger in a strange land– and am trying to put it, in my work, into some sort of order that allows me to fit in.

Don’t know if that makes any sense. But I do like these city pieces and feel there is something in them that I need to see. So, I will keep looking for a while.

Here’s the song Inner City Blues (Make me Wanna Holler), written by Gil Scott Heron and performed by the great Marvin Gaye. I didn’t mean to borrow the title but after I had titled it I remembered that there was the song. So, here it is. Enjoy.

 

 

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“And I can’t be running back and fourth forever between grief and high delight.”

J.D. SalingerFranny and Zooey

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When I send a painting to a gallery it is with the expectation that it might very well sell.  As a result, I don’t usually announce or comment when a piece does actually go to a new home. I am usually very pleased when a sale of my work takes place. I mean, it’s my job and my livelihood plus the sale is a validation, in a way, that the work reached out beyond my own imagination and struck a chord with someone to the point that they chose to spend their hard earned money to obtain it.

What’s not to be happy about that?

But hearing that some paintings have been sold raises conflicting emotions. On one hand, I am thrilled to see the painting find a new home and to know that I can pay my bills for another month. That is a always a good thing.

But on the other hand, there are paintings that I see as being special, as being more significant to myself. Selling one of these paintings means that it is forever out of my hands, that it is no longer mine alone. Like a part of myself has been sheared off and sent away.

As a result, much like Salinger wrote above, I find myself running back and fourth between grief and high delight.

Such is the case with the painting at the top, Saints and Sinners. It’s a piece that I felt was personally among my best, one that was well beyond myself. I learned yesterday that it had sold and was very happy at first. Someone had seen that same special quality in it and was making it part of their life.

But after only a few moments, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach and a sense of loss came over me.

Even this morning, I am a little sad about it being gone forever.

Almost grief.

I say almost because, as grief goes, this is way down on the list of things that might cause one to grieve. For most people, especially non-artists, this sound ridiculous, I know.

So, let’s just call this artistic grief.

Don’t worry. I’m okay. I am not wearing black or tearing up this morning. I sold a painting, for chrissakes.

I am very happy about that but will still miss it, that’s all.

Okay, back to work. Maybe this next piece will be a worthy replacement.

Or better…

 

 

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“The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;
And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.
But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;
And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless.
Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”
Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.”
For the soul walks upon all paths.
The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.”

― Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

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A new painting, a 24″ by 24″ piece on canvas that I call Seeking Depths.

I am starting to make progress on  work for my two main annual shows, the first at the Principle Gallery in June and the second at the West End Gallery in July. I am working on several different modes for these shows, ranging from a series of cityscapes such as the one featured in progress here last week  to revisiting the sparse ink landscapes on paper of my early work along with new paintings that are at the current end of  my painting continuum. The overlying theme for these shows is that the work will be mainly seeking to find inward depth in the picture plane and a deeper atmospheric presence.

This piece is a pretty good example of what I am looking for in the current work. There is optical depth into the canvas. The colors are darkly deep and rich. The atmosphere that moves across the depths of the painting, from the sky to the foreground, is an essential element of the painting here with  its own weight and dimension, not just a background on which everything rests.

I am looking forward to how these groups of work progress together. Having determined a direction, I now feel refreshed and eager to move ahead at a reckless pace– my favorite way to work.

We shall see what it brings…

 

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