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The mantra becomes one’s staff of life, and carries one through every ordeal. It is no empty repetition. For each repetition has a new meaning, carrying you nearer and nearer to God.”

–Mahatma Gandhi

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I wanted part of my upcoming June show at the Principle Gallery to feature not only new growth, as the show’s title implies, but a few nods of acknowledgement back to my older work. The new painting above, one that I finished just yesterday and am calling Mantra, is such a nod.

I have periodically used multiple images in my work through the years. Some were quite large back in my earlier days, some having as many as 60+ images making up the piece. I am attracted by the look of these piece but also by the mindset required when painting them, one with a blank concentration, one that produces a repetition of thought and form.

This repetition of thought and form produces small incremental changes in each cell. Each is the same but slightly different.

That could be the mantra for my work.

Over the past twenty years of these shows, the work has always changed in small increments. Changes in colors and tones. Changes in strokes and textures. Additions and subtractions in elements and forms. Each is the same but slightly different.

Again, the mantra.

I guess that is why I chose that word mantra for the title. As Gandhi points out above, it is no empty repetition.

Each repetition is new and has its own meaning even though it is seemingly the same. Each is its own moment in time, its own coordinate on the grid of time and space.

Whether this repetition takes one closer to god, as Gandhi adds, I cannot say. I don’t know what that even means. But if it means that it brings one closer to understanding and a sense of unity with this world, then I agree heartily and this painting, this mantra, says everything I need to know.

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My new solo exhibit at the Principle Gallery , my 20th annual show there, is titled Red Tree: New Growth and opens June 7, 2019 at their Alexandria, VA gallery.  The painting above, Mantra, will be included in this show.

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“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,

There is society, where none intrudes,

By the deep sea, and music in its roar:

I love not man the less, but Nature more”

Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

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This another new painting, coming in at 24″ by 24″ on canvas, that is headed to the Principle Gallery for my annual solo show there. The show,my 20th solo effort at the Alexandria gallery, is titled Redtree: New Growth and opens on June 7. This painting is titled Solitude’s Rapture.

I don’t know if solitude is for everybody. Some people might look at this painting with a little discomfort, seeing in it isolation and loneliness. But for myself, it represents a total freedom of the self, one that allows one’s absolute truth to emerge. A freedom that allows one to experience clear glimpses of our connection with all being.

The lines above from Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage express this feeling well. Alone on a shore, one can begin to hear and converse with nature. The lap and roar of the sea becomes language as does the light of the sun and moon as it sifts through clouds above. It is in these conversations that we come to better understand that we are both small and large, insignificant yet integral.

Of  course, this is not a practical matter for most of us. I have my own little island of solitude here in my studio but I am not isolated. My regular life has me out in the world, interacting with people on a regular basis. But knowing that I will soon be back on my island where the only conversation taking place is in myself.

Hermann Hesse put it well in the excerpt below from his book, Reflections. He mentions it as being a way of bitter suffering. I suppose initially, for those who have been always in the society of others and seldom alone, this may be the case when faced with solitude. But, as he points out, when you get past that discomfort, the rewards of solitude are rapturous.

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“We must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome, we are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible. And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world, yet undisturbed by its multiplicity, for our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being.”

Hermann Hesse, Reflections

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“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

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This is a new painting, 18″ by 24″ on panel, that is headed to the Principle Gallery for my upcoming show, Redtree: New Growth, that opens June 7. It’s been one of those pieces that keeps drawing my eye in its direction here in the studio. Maybe it’s the rings of colorful flowers– part of the New Growth from the show’s title–that encircle the Red Tree that attract my eye. They have a gem-like quality in the landscape.

I have mentioned in the past how I view many of my Red Tree paintings as being portraiture as much as they are landscapes, with the Red Tree and the foreground landscape often serving as the head and shoulders of a portrayed figure.  That certainly holds true for this piece, which I have titled  The Pharaoh’s Necklace.

In this piece, I see the Red Tree as a head held high with the colorful bands around the mound– the neck here– transforming from beds of flowers into a sort of necklace like those seen of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. By the way, for your daily dose of useless facts, that type of necklace is called a usekh or wesekh.

Seeing this painting as a portrait, I see it as a portrayal of the strength and pride of someone who has, as Thoreau describes above, endeavored to live the life they have imagined in their dreams and have met with unexpected success.

More than that, it’s a painting of possibility, one that points out that we all have the potential to realize our hopes and aspirations, That is, if we can first formulate a dream. I sometimes get the feeling that many people have never given their dreams much thought.

As to those who have, I often wonder if many people actually maintain the dreams of their youth into their adulthood. If not, have they convinced themselves that these dreams were foolish and unattainable then finally ceased all pursuit? Or perhaps they had aspirations that didn’t match up with their actual strengths and abilities?

For example, I knew at an early age that my dream of being the ace of the St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff was off the table. And I never had the nerve to be a master thief. I knew my dreams had to focus on the few qualities I possessed and prized if they were ever going to come to fruition, if I was ever going to wear my own pharaoh’s necklace.

And, thankfully, there are some days when I do feel that I am sporting my own gem encrusted usekh. Those are the good days of this life and this painting is how those certain days feel to me.

 

 

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Sometimes I start paintings and somewhere along the way the piece loses its momentum. Or I lose the thread that was initially carrying me along when I started  or I just lose interest in it. The piece above on the left (sorry for the poor image!) might well be an example of all three of these things.

I started this piece a couple of years back and it seemed to just run into a brick wall. I felt like I had painted myself into a corner and didn’t see it going anywhere forward. There was a lot that I like in it. The sky, for instance, and the color of the field. But the way they came together didn’t speak to me and I felt like doing anymore would render an acceptable painting but that would be about it– acceptable.

And who wants to just do acceptable work? That’s not much of an aspiration, especially when so much of my work depends on creating my own interest and excitement in the work.

I thought there should be more to this painting than what it was showing but just couldn’t see it. So it sat. And sat and sat for month after month. I would pick it up periodically and examine it but it still had nothing to say to me as it was. It was irritating.

Then the other day I decided I was going to simply paint over it. Black it out of existence. It wouldn’t bug me anymore, at least. But the idea of blacking it out made me think about altering the whole idea of the painting. Maybe I could save that sky and incorporate it into something different.

So it moved from a landscape to a seascape. And it seems to have worked as I am pleased with the result thus far.

There is a sense of the scale and power of open water in this piece, maybe more than I have portrayed in past similarly themed paintings. I am not a sailor in any way, never been on a small boat out of sight of land but that feeling of the immensity of the ocean is one that I can easily imagine. There must be both a thrill and a terror in it. And that’s what I am getting– fear and exhilaration– from this piece as the small sailboat teeters on on the curl of a large wave.

That dichotomy of emotion, the yin/yang thing of fear and exhilaration in this case, is something often try to find in my work. And it seems to be strong here. So, maybe the years that piece spent being shuffled around my studio before its transformation were worth it.

I’ll be looking at this one for a bit longer…

 

 

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Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.

Mahatma Gandhi

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I often paint the rows of a freshly cut field in my work. While this creates an interesting visual effect with its pattern of alternating colors, it also satisfies my own need to express the importance — and necessity–of effort for myself and for my work.

I have often pointed out at gallery talks that I spend huge amounts of time alone working very hard in my studio, well over 70,000 hours over the past twenty-plus years. I usually make a joke of this, saying that I enjoy these long periods of solitude and tell people I am hard at work during my time in the studio so they will just leave me alone. Okay, there is a lot of truth there as far as not having people bother me but the fact remains that while I find my time in the studio enjoyable as well as enlightening, it does require great effort and work.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I guess that’s because there is usually a moment after finishing a piece or a group of work for a show when I stop and look at the work in its state of completion. In this moment there is a great sense of satisfaction at the result of my full efforts. And that full effort gives the results a sense of completeness and  that brings me my own sense of personal completeness, a fulfillment of some small purpose that I find necessary in order to persist in this world.

That small moment of satisfaction makes all the work, all the frustration and missteps fade away. That which should have depleted me now serves as nourishment. I find myself strengthened for another day.

Maybe that what I see in this new painting, a 24″ by 24″ canvas which going soon to Alexandria, VA for my upcoming solo show at the Principle Gallery, which opens June 7. It is called A Sense of Satisfaction, of course. It very much reflects what I have written here, with the Red Tree representing someone looking back on the results of a long day of labor. And again, they feel uplifted rather than worn down.

I know it’s not always that way. There have been times when work has been very draining, definitely in my past and occasionally even now. But knowing that special moment of satisfaction that comes along every so often is out there as a reward makes me look forward to the task and the effort ahead.

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The post above was written several years back was written about an earlier painting with similar receding fields rows in its foreground. I felt that the message from that earlier post applied equally well to the new painting at the top so I borrowed much of it for today’s post, with a few edits.

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The way of the Creative works through change and transformation, so that each thing receives its true nature and destiny and comes into permanent accord with the Great Harmony: this is what furthers and what perseveres.

Alexander Pope

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I am moving toward final preparations for my annual show at the Principle Gallery which opens five weeks from today, on June 7th. This year’s show is titled Redtree: New Growth which references my first solo show, Redtree, at the gallery way back in 2000. I thought invoking the Redtree label was appropriate as this is going to be my 20th solo exhibit at the Principle and the Redtree has certainly remained a vital part of my work.

There is no getting away from that.

But the addition of New Growth is important, both for this show and for myself as an artist. The Redtree is still present in my work but there is also a need to evolve it, to keep moving away from any sort of static position. A need to not settle for what I am now but, instead, to aspire and move to become something more.

Change and transformation, as Pope put it.

There is a constant need to have that which he describes as my true nature and destiny move closer to that Great Harmony.

There are moments when I am at work when I feel I am close to that point, that I am looking at my real essence, my true nature. They are rare moments but there in no mistaking those instances of clarity. I have felt that a few times in prepping this show and am grateful for these occurrences because even though they are fleeting, they leave me with a desire to push my own boundaries and expectations.

Looking back on the prior 19 Principle Gallery shows, I can see evidence of other times when I was experiencing this same feeling. They showed themselves as moments of growth that standout to me. There were years that stand out for me, where the work jumped forward in bounds. And there were years where there was an evident pause in the growth of the work, where I almost seemed to be complacently resting.

Maybe a bit too satisfied with where I was? Probably. Or maybe I was wary of moving because I was afraid there was nowhere to go, that I was as far in my journey as I was able to go? I can’t say for sure.

But this year’s Principle Gallery show challenged me. That is was my 20th show there seemed like such a milepost for me that I became concerned that it was becoming an endpoint with nothing beyond it. That produced an almost feverish desire to create work of a truly essential nature.

I won’t know whether I actually succeed in this quest for a few years as I am too enmeshed in the work now to be objective. But I feel as strongly about this work as any I have ever done and if my emotional reactions to it are any indicator, it will age well.

The painting at the top is the title piece for this show, Redtree: New Growth. A 36″ by 24″ canvas, it has a sharpness and clarity that just feels right for the moment. This painting aligns perfectly, at least in how I view it, with Pope’s words above.

It furthers and perseveres.

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For everyone we see and who interests us, we should create a biography of his past and future. One of the sage’s mental characteristics is his ability to dress up other people inside himself, giving them the clothes he deems most suitable for however he chooses to dream them.

Masquerades disclose the reality of souls. As long as no one sees who we are, we can tell the most intimate details of our life. I sometimes muse over this sketch of a story—about a man afflicted by one of those personal tragedies born of extreme shyness . . . who one day, while wearing a mask I don’t know where, told another mask all the most personal, most secret, most unthinkable things that could be told about his tragic and serene life. And since no outward detail would give him away, he having disguised even his voice, and since he didn’t take careful note of whoever had listened to him, he could enjoy the ample sensation of knowing that somewhere in the world there was someone who knew him as not even his closest and finest friend did. When he walked down the street, he would ask himself if this person, or that one, or that person over there might not be the one to whom he’d once, wearing a mask, told his most private life. Thus would be born in him a new interest in each person, since each person might be his only, unknown confidant. And his crowning glory would be if the whole of that sorrowful life he’d told were, from start to finish, absolutely false.

Fernando Pessoa, Masquerades

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I was looking for a piece of writing to accompany this painting, Face Off, which is from my new Multitudes series when I came across this item that was published in a 2009 issue of Harper’s Magazine from the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. I didn’t recognize the name but soon discovered that Pessoa, who lived from 1888 until 1935 when he died from cirrhosis, is considered one of the giants of Portuguese literature and poetry.

And an interesting character whose views might match up well with this painting. You see, he assumed and wrote under many different names. But these were not simply pseudonyms, were not just different names. No, they were mostly different personas as well. He termed them as heteronyms. In fact there is a list of over 80 of these heteronyms that he employed over his relatively short life.

The Masquerades of which he wrote above seems to be a description of his own world and life. He appears, from what little bit I have been able to find out about him in a short time this morning, to have been a man of masks.

And that’s an interesting premise, this idea of wearing a different mask for each new encounter with those we meet in our lives, giving each a bit of ourselves that might be unique to that person alone. It has the effect that while many may know us, might recognize the mask we are wearing at any given moment, none might truly know our totality.

There might be no one who would know and recognize our true unmasked face.

In a way I think that is an apt description of how I see the Multitudes series. Each face in these crowds might well be a mask of my own, one that I might have worn around others at points in my life. Angry times. Desperate times. Goofy times and times of absolute stupidity and ignorance. Lonely times. Ugly and shameful times.

As I have aged, the masks I wear seem more and more representative of my real face though I believe they are often still distorted.

Maybe that is what this series represents for me– a shedding of old masks. Maybe even old lives.

I don’t really know. Maybe you get to the point that you become the mask and the mask becomes you.

Hmm…

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