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Archive for the ‘Recent Paintings’ Category

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I don’t know much about sailing. I do know the difference between port and starboard but that’s just mnemonics — port has four letters like left.

But I don’t know a sloop from a schooner, a ketch from a cutter. Can barely tie my shoelaces let alone some intricate nautical knot. Never felt the spray from the waves and can only imagine the feeling of being out in the middle of the sea, alone with only a sail and the rhythm of the currents to move me.

But the lure and romance of the sailboat and the act of sailing is not lost on me. The idea of attuning oneself to the awesome natural power and grace of the waves is an enticing proposition and just watching a skilled sailor handle a boat, even from the shore, is fascinating.

It’s all there, the same elements that I most often use in my landscape paintings. Natural power and high domes of sky. Wide horizons with the rhythms of the landscape replaced by the rhythms of the waves. The same sort of quietude and focus. A sense of purpose.

I think that’s what makes my sail boat paintings some of my favorites to paint. They are a chance to exercise my own imagination in trying to envision the experience of riding the rhythms of the ocean. I have been thrilled over the years when those folks who can call themselves sailors tell me how much they like these pieces. Makes me think I must be getting some aspect of it right, even if it only comes from my imagination.

The piece above is from my upcoming show, Social Distancing, that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery. I call this painting, a 17″ by 17″ piece on paper, Running on Rhythm. Hopefully it feels right in some way for my sailing friends.

Here’s a song that is not really about sailing but it uses sailin’ in its title and chorus and is just a song that sticks with me. The song is Sailin’ Shoes from Little Feat. I am including two versions, both sung by the late great Lowell George. The first is the original from their 1972 album of the same name, a slower bluesy version. The second is from their incredible 1978 live album, Waiting For Columbus, who was by all accounts a sailor. This version is a bit more raucous and unrestrained. I like both.

Give a listen and have a good day.

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“I told myself: ‘I am surrounded by unknown things.’ I imagined man without ears, suspecting the existence of sound as we suspect so many hidden mysteries, man noting acoustic phenomena whose nature and provenance he cannot determine. And I grew afraid of everything around me – afraid of the air, afraid of the night. From the moment we can know almost nothing, and from the moment that everything is limitless, what remains? Does emptiness actually not exist? What does exist in this apparent emptiness?”

Guy de Maupassant, The Horla

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This is another new piece, a smaller painting on paper that is part of my Social Distancing show that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. I am calling this piece The Emptiness.

The title is taken from The Horla, one of the last short stories written by Guy de Maupassant, the 19th century French master of the short story. It’s a tale of horror about an alien being — an invisible organism, actually– called the Horla that comes to earth with the intention of subjugating the human race. This unseen invader has the power to enter and sway the minds of its victims. The narrator of the story describes his emotions, the vast emptiness that overtakes him, as he realizes what is happening and his powerlessness in the face of the threat.

A few years later, tragically, de Maupassant tried to commit suicide by slitting his own throat but survived, dying in a sanitarium a year later, in 1893 at the age of 42. Apparently, the emptiness of the story’s narrator was very much the same emptiness as that of  the writer.

I thought this painting would fit well into this particular show, which is concerned with social isolation, from that which has been caused by the pandemic to all other forms of isolation. For some, isolation can bring solitude. For others, it brings the emptiness that de Maupassant described.

This painting leans toward that form of isolation. Maybe it’s the bilious green of the interior walls or the spare details of the room. Or the looming moon seen through the window, a large alien eye always there, always watching.

It feels like an unusual piece for me, even though it fits neatly into my body of work. It feels complete and there’s a pleasant, even comfortable, feel to it. But it’s an uneasy comfort, maybe like that experienced by those whose minds have unknowingly been infected by the Horla.

Or maybe it’s the uneasiness that comes with the normalization and acceptance, by a lot of people, of behavior that was once considered repulsive by the majority of us. It feels like the same kind of infection of the mind is taking place. Watching this take place now must surely be like the experience of the narrator watching the Horla affect those around him.

It certainly creates its own emptiness.

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“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.

Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but
for the heart to conquer it.”

― Rabindranath Tagore

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This is another new painting headed to the Principle Gallery for my Social Distancing show there, opening June 5. It is 22″ by 28″ on canvas and is titled She Glides Through the Fractured Night.

Though the theme for this show concerns itself with the social distancing and isolation that we have experienced in recent months, it is also about perseverance and the will to endure. And that is what I see in this piece.

I hadn’t intended to do this type of piece for the show, with the single figure paddling a longboat under a broken sky. But I really felt a compulsion, a need for this painting, and once I set out on it, it fell into place easily, almost without effort. At every step in the process, it felt complete and ready to send out its message. It didn’t have the highs and lows that normally come in painting a piece. By that, I mean in most paintings there are phases where the piece dulls and flattens out, muddying up the destination that I had began to see in it.

No, this was an incredibly satisfying piece to paint. It just had to be done.

I think the history of what we are going through will tell two different stories: those who did what they must to endure and those felt they shouldn’t have to do anything differently in a world that has presented us with a new way of existence, at least for the short term.

Those that adapt easily to change will glide through this to the other side of this fractured night. They will endure.

I can’t say what will happen to those whose minds remain inflexible and unwilling to adapt to a new of being. Only their actions and time will write that history.

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“Beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop. And, hovering about, there are signs no one has ever read, chords no one has ever heard.”

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

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I call this painting, a 24″ by 24″ canvas, At the Edge of the World. It’s included in my annual solo show Social Distancing which opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria.

It’s an odd thing to promote a show during these strange times. While I know there will be a show, we still don’t know if there will be a reception. And even if there somehow is a reception, we don’t know what the logistics for it would be. I am pretty positive that I would not be attending in either case  which is odd as this has been an annual keystone event for me for the past 20 years.

Like many things these days, everything for the show has seemed out of rhythm and discordant.

I know getting into the groove for this show was difficult in the earlier part of this year as the pandemic took hold. I am not the kind of painter who can just fall back on my built in process and trust that it will carry me through. My process is always changing and is often quite different, even from day to day. The process used is often simply whatever is at hand that best allows me to express whatever the emotion well inside is gushing out on that given day.

For me, painting is almost always about the emotion of the moment. So, at a time when my emotions are flying all over the place, finding a painting groove took a while to locate. Before I found it, I felt like I was always fighting against myself. But now I’m in that groove and it feels good to create work that consistently meshes with my internal feelings.

We’re in a time that has shaken our rhythms and forced us to look at things in different ways, to reexamine what forces have brought us to this point and where we will be when this is all over. I think the work for this show distinctly reflects this time of social distancing and the air of anxiety and uncertainty that surrounds all of us. While some of it feels darker at first glance, there is most always a duality in the work that brings a feeling of hopeful possibility and endurance.

I know that is what I am seeing in this painting. It reflects the fact that we are at a place and time that we have never encountered before. We are at the edge of the world now. We don’t really now for sure what is in store for us beyond that visible edge. We fear the worst and hope for the best. The reality most likely is somewhere between those two poles but nobody can truly predict that future with any degree of certainty.

In this painting, I believe the focus is on the positive aspects of this near future that dwells over that edge. Much like the short snip from Murakami’s novel at the top, there is the possibility of that which is new and unknown to us. New chords to hear. New patterns to see. A new way of thinking.

This is about seeing this time as a moment of reinvention, with the possibility to forge a future that is markedly better than the past.

That’s my reading. You may see it differently and that is just as it should be.

Take care and have a good day.

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“In the life of each of us, I said to myself, there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness; we are each the uncompanioned hermit and recluse of an hour or a day; we understand our fellows of the cell to whatever age of history they may belong.”

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs

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I’ve been looking at the work for my upcoming Principle Gallery show, Social Distancing, and as the title implies, much of it is concerned with isolation. There is distance and a lot of singularity in the elements of each piece. A lone house. A single tree, One chair alone. There are landscapes without a tree or person or structure. Just the still emptiness. And even in the cityscapes of this show that seem busy and crowded with buildings and lights, it is the emptiness of the streets and the lack of figures in the lit windows that mark them.

It’s familiar territory for me, places and themes I have explored for a long time. However, this current situation brings my familiarity closer to what has become a new normal for some of us.

It will be interesting to see how people react to the work now as opposed to how they have in the past. After all, each of us relates to our isolation and solitude in different ways. For some it is maddening with the sense of imprisonment. For others, it is liberating in a way, freed from social obligations and niceties, free to do things for themselves without guilt.

Unfortunately, for both there is a dark cloud of potential danger hovering always nearby. It’s creates a strain that is difficult in human terms but, in the artistic sense, this adds a desired tension, one that evokes some sort of emotional response.

And in the piece above, Sequester’s Moon, it is the slate blue darkness of the sky and clouds that evokes this tension. With a different sky, this piece might feel pastoral and idyllic. With this sky, some might see it as the scene as ominous. Or they might see the house as a safe place amidst the dangers.

Myself, I see it as a safe place. A place to expand, not contract. I am much like Sarah Orne Jewett’s character above who, in their isolation and solitude, identifies easily with the hermits and recluses of past ages.

So, here in my hermit’s cell of isolation, I am going happily back to work now.

Have a good day.

 

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I call this painting Hunkered Down. It’s about 17″ square on paper and is part of my solo show, Social Distancing, that opens in just over a month on June 5th at the Principle Gallery.

Choosing the title for this piece, or for the show for that matter, was not a difficult task. Hunkered down is the term that most often jumps to mind when I think of this time of keeping socially distant.

The fact that this is the normal form of existence for me made it even easier.

Avoiding people and not having to go anywhere is something I have practiced for decades. I never thought of wearing a mask but like the idea of the vague anonymity it provides. Now that it’s acceptable and required, I might continue to wear one even after this thing someday subsides.

That is, if I ever leave my property again.

That’s a big if.

This piece is a return to my older style in transparent inks, more spare in detail which allows the primary elements, the simple forms of sky and land, to carry the larger part of the emotional load. This lack of detail brings a quietness to the whole that speaks volumes, at least for me.

The first song that came to  mind when I thought of an accompaniment to this painting was an old favorite from Elvis Costello, Almost Blue. There are several versions of the song that I like so I had some choices. I have played a wonderful version that is an absolute favorite from late jazz great Chet Baker here before so I decided to play a nice simple and spare performance of the song by Elvis himself from a 2005 radio broadcast. I also threw in a version that I also like very much from, Diana Krall, who also happens to be his wife.

Have a good Sunday. Be careful out there, okay?

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Loneliness clarifies. Here silence stands
Like heat. Here leaves unnoticed thicken,
Hidden weeds flower, neglected waters quicken,
Luminously-peopled air ascends;
And past the poppies bluish neutral distance
Ends the land suddenly beyond a beach
Of shapes and shingle. Here is unfenced existence:
Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.

― Philip Larkin, The Whitsun Weddings

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A newer painting, this one on paper called The Quarantine House, that is part of my upcoming show, Social Distancing, at the Principle Gallery. The show is tentatively scheduled to open on June 5. There is, of course, uncertainty about how it might proceed given the current circumstances.

Uncertainty is a common companion for most of us these days. In regular times in the past, there were types of uncertainty that I was comfortable with, having developed a tolerance of sorts for them. You know, things like belief systems, confidence in my own abilities and those sorts of things. In fact, preparing for my annual shows was one of the coping mechanisms that built up that tolerance..

It gave me a defined task and a dead focus on that task. Certainty.

It was a certainty that pushed all other uncertainty to the back of my mind, out of sight and rendered harmless.

But now, there is a constant uncertainty that runs through these days. I still have the task but it feels less defined, less certain. And that dead focus that has sustained me in the past now feels like it is being restrained. Or held captive.

Like it is the one being confined to that quarantine house. It knows there is work to be done but the uncertainty has brought it to a standstill in the dragging minutes and hours of its confinement. It looks around for something that will feed it but all it see are the corners of its confined space and out the windows nothing but endless plains and distant horizons.

That dead focus feeds on certainty and it feels a bit starved at the moment.

I know that dead focus will leave the quarantine house eventually, that it will find its way to sustenance of some sort. A small bit of certainty will whet its appetite and soon, it will once again be ravenous for all the time it can consume.

But for now, I just have to wait it out with that uncertainty as a housemate here in the studio.

 

 

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