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“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

― Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

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These words above from an Oscar Wilde prose piece seems to fit this new painting, To the Far Reaches, perfectly. Well. at least, in my eyes.

Those who dream often take journeys that carry them beyond the far reaches of our reality. Guided by their imagination like sailors are led by the light from the sun and moon, they are rewarded by wonders in these fantastical worlds that only they will ever see.

But this same imagination that gives them such rewards, also allows them to foresee the far reaches of reality before it actually comes to bear in this world. While mingling their imagination with a bit of knowledge of the world and its patterns to foresee the potential outcomes of the near future can sometimes be a reward when those future skies are bright, it can be a great punishment in times ahead that fall under dark skies.

It may cause the dreamer to question their own vision, their own imagination. They may stop telling others of their vision and may try to quell their journeying altogether. Or perhaps go even further beyond the far reaches of reality, into a world of pure imagination.

Or they may stay true to their imagination and speak even louder with the hope that they can avoid the darkness ahead and that they will once again be rewarded with new and brighter dawns ahead.

That’s the choice I would prefer they make– to keep speaking of what they see ahead and to keep pushing forward because as Carl Sagan once said: “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.

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This painting, To the Far Reaches, 8″ by 24″ on canvas, is part of this year’s edition, From a Distance, of my annual solo show of new work at the West End Gallery. The show opens this Friday, July 17. The show is hung and in place so you can stop in at the gallery now to get a preview of what I think is a very strong show.

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“That is how I experience life, as apocalypse and cataclysm. Each day brings an increasing inability in myself to make the smallest gesture, even to imagine myself confronting clear, real situations. The presence of others — always such an unexpected event for the soul — grows daily more painful and distressing. Talking to others makes me shudder. If they show any interest in me, I flee. If they look at me, I tremble. I am constantly on the defensive. Life and other people bruise me. I can’t look reality in the eye.”

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

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The painting above is from my new solo show, From a Distance, that is now hanging at the West End Gallery. The show officially opens Friday, July 17, but can be previewed beforehand. Jesse and Linda are doing a marvelous job in maintaining a safe yet welcoming environment for those that come to the gallery during these times. They have been extremely conscientious and have fastidiously followed the most stringent protocols to ensure the safety of their patrons so if you can, please stop in to see the show.

This piece, 22″ wide by 36″ high on wood panel, is titled In These Times. I think most people will see an air of warmth and friendliness in this painting that is welcoming. The sun here gives this painting a sense of communion, a sense of certainty, with the greater powers of the universe. There is comfort to be found in this piece but there is also an accompanying darker edge that lulls underneath everything. Maybe this comes in the  treatment of the sun’s rays, those squiggly fragments of radiating lines that counter the certainty of the sun with an uncertainty and foreboding. It creates a sense of remoteness, one that keeps the viewer at a distance even as they attempt to get closer.

At least, that’s how I am seeing this piece. It feels easy and simple at its surface but it has many undercurrents. Hard to get a handle on. I think that’s how I came to the title, In These Times. It seems to echo the feelings of this complex and treacherous time for myself and it makes it perhaps the most autobiographical piece in the show, the one that mirrors most my current state of being.

These is a time of great trial that is sending many of us to the far reaches of our personalities. Every trait in us, good or bad, seems to respond at amplified levels. There is little middle ground remaining for anything and we retreat to our own zones of comfort.

I know when I read the passage above from the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, who I wrote of last year, I saw in it my own reaction. My default reaction to the world is one of withdrawal but I normally tolerate and enjoy many interactions. But these times have amplified that feeling of withdrawal in myself and Pessoa’s words echoed very much my current feelings. The remoteness seems deeper now with an added layer of defensiveness and, like Pessoa, I find myself much more uncomfortable speaking with people.

Even writing this brings on an increased level of anxiety. So, I am going to stop now.

As I said, this is a painting that has much more going on than you might ascertain with a cursory glance.

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We starve, look at one another short of breath,
Walking proudly in our winter coats,
Wearing smells from laboratories,
Facing a dying nation of moving paper fantasy,
Listening for the new told lies with supreme visions of
Lonely tunes.
Somewhere, inside something, there is a rush of
Greatness.

— The Flesh Failures ( Let the Sunshine In), Hair

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The new painting above, World O’Wonder, is part of my new show at the West End Gallery that opens this week. It’s a 36″ by 36″ canvas that has a lot of oomph, a bold presence on the wall that proclaims the day. For me, I see it as a symbol of innate strength, the Red Tree serving as a fearless greeter of the new, one who see the beauty that abounds even in times of great difficulty.

I think it might be one of the more optimistic pieces from the show. Having works that have a forward looking stance, a sense of hope despite the prolonged battering we’re enduring at present, was important, both for my vision of the show and for my own attitude in the studio. Like anybody, I need to believe that, even though each day seems to bring a wave of foreboding darkness, there is some form of good, now and in the future. Something that tells me that we have the strength to endure the forces of hatred, cruelty and ignorance that seem so publicly on display in recent times.

I do believe we have that strength and I see it all over this painting. Beauty and goodness exists in this world, much more than the ugliness that rules the day. Like the lyrics above say: Somewhere, inside something, there is a rush of Greatness.

Before settling on this week’s Sunday morning music, I did the normal run down the rabbit hole, going through all sorts of artists,genres and time frames before finally coming to this song, The Flesh Failures ( Let the Sunshine In) from the 1968 Broadway hit, Hair. It matched up well with what I was seeing in World O’Wonder.

It’s an interesting song for me. It’s such a powerful song yet it hasn’t been covered by other artists nearly as much as many other songs from the Hair soundtrack. There are only a few covers out there and none match the original for my tastes. When I was reading the lyrics along to the song it struck me that David Bowie would have crushed this song. The cadence,rhythm, and phrasing of it sound as though it could have been one of his songs. Too bad we’ll never get to hear that.

Anyway, keep your eyes to the beauty around you, stand strong and actively fight for a better future. And have a good Sunday. Give a listen.

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A clammy Saturday morning and my mind seems a bit foggy and tired. I’ve sat here for awhile now and I don’t feel like writing a damn thing. Don’t want to talk about anything. Don’t want to gripe about the goings on in the world or hear any more news this morning. Don’t want to talk about my work or myself, that’s for sure.

Just want to let my mind wander a bit.

Or not. Maybe just stare at the wall.

Or play some mindless scales on the guitar.

Anyway, here’s an old favorite of mine from  Howlin’ Wind, the 1976 debut album from Graham Parker. Great album. This song is Don’t Ask Me Questions and has been a constant refrain in my head since that time whenever I come across those days where I am tired and don’t want to be bothered by questions and chit chat.

Let’s just say that it has received a lot of airtime in my head over those many years.

I am pairing it with a new piece at the top that’s part of my upcoming show at the West End Gallery. Hey, I may not want to talk but a guy still has to eat. It’s called Play For Light, something I am hoping to accomplish this morning.

Wishing you all a good day.

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“After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.”

― Mark Twain, Diaries of Adam & Eve

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This is another painting, 20″ by 34″ on wood panel, from my show at the West End Gallery which opens next week. This painting is titled Conubialis, which is basically Latin for marriage. Its pronunciation more or less sounds like connubial bliss which I suppose is the most desired state of marriage. As someone who has been married for eons, it sure presents a far more positive scenario than wedded rancor.

This would be considered one of my Baucis and Philemon paintings, which I first did a decade ago ( they recently celebrated their twentieth) for a couple celebrating the tenth anniversary of their own wedding. It is based on the Greek myth of the aged poor couple who welcome Zeus and Hermes into their humble home. The gods had been unceremoniously rebuffed by the wealthier residents of the village and Zeus was ready to ravage the place. But he was moved by the charity and generosity exhibited to the guests, as well as the love the elderly couple displayed for each other. After their visit, when Zeus  brought devastation to the village, he spared their home and granted them two wishes. For the first, he transformed their home into a temple where they lived out the rest of their lives. For the second wish, for which they asked that they remain together for eternity, Zeus made it so that when they died each became separate trees growing from a single trunk  that would live forever on a hill overlooking the village.

It’s a lovely story and I really enjoy painting these pieces with their interwoven trees. This one in particular was a joy. It had a richness and glow from the beginning that it maintained throughout the process which is a rarity. Usually, there are phases in the process of each painting where everything dulls and goes flat. But this painting came to life immediately and it maintains that glow on the wall now.

I came across the words from Mark Twain ( who wrote many of his books not too far from here) and they seemed to be the right gravity for this piece. Plus, they seemed to match up with the feel of the painting which has its own Garden of Eden thing working for it.

I was also thinking of using one from the ever witty P.G. Wodehouse who wrote in his story, Mostly Sally, concerning marriage : “And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”

That made me laugh but I could see, even with my pea sized brain, that there was a grain of truth in it. Ideally, a relationship that lasts becomes a true union, much like those twisting trees, where each brings to it strengths that fills in for the others weaknesses.

So, maybe both quotes work equally well for this piece. But even without the words, I am finding myself continuing to enjoy the glow from this piece.

All I could ask from it.

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“You know that great pause that comes upon things before the dusk, even the breeze stops in the trees. To me there is always an air of expectation about that evening stillness.”

H.G. Wells , The Time Machine

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The painting shown here, about 15″ x 24″ on paper, is titled Working to Stillness. It is included in my upcoming solo exhibit, From a Distance, that opens next Friday, July 17, at the West End Gallery.

I debated quite a bit over the title. I had read a letter of advice from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke that spoke of the great movements of activity that take place within us when we are still, sometimes resulting in great works at a later time. That made me think of making the title this painting Working From Stillness rather than To.

But I thought of the stillness that comes at the end of those days of great activity, of toil both physical and mental. When the tasks have been completed and set aside for the day, there is a sense of relief and satisfaction that sets upon the body and mind. Stillness arrives.

It’s a good feeling for me and one that I look forward to most days. I often think of my days as working to this stillness.

This piece captures that feeling for me. It has great warmth and an abundance of strength. I think I used the term muscularity when I was talking about it when I delivered the show to the gallery yesterday. It has that kind of physicality to it. I don’t know how to really describe what I mean by that but it sounds right. Maybe it comes from what I see as the strength of the colors and forms in this piece.

Whatever the case, it’s a piece that has great and undeniable presence in its setting. Maybe that’s the part that speaks most to me in these times where we all feel a need to have our voices heard. This one demands that its voice be heard.

Even in its stillness.

 

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“Our worst misfortunes never happen, and most miseries lie in anticipation.”

― Honoré de Balzac

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This quote from Balzac has been paraphrased and changed over the years by others to the more tidy phrase: Our worst fears lie in anticipation.

I usually don’t agree when writer’s words are changed or used to express something decidedly different from their original intention. But maybe speakers over the years have decided that our worst misfortunes sometimes do happen.

Balzac died in 1850, years before the horrors of the American Civil War, World War I and WW II, which carries its own separate list of atrocities that easily live up to the expectations of being our worst misfortunes. We have witnessed concentration camps, the slaughter of innocents in attempted genocides on several continents, extreme racial and ethnic hatred and so many other black blotches on our collective history.

And I am most likely skimming over a multitude of other examples, such as the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

Yeah, in the 170 years since Balzac’s death, we have seen ample evidence that our worst misfortunes do indeed happen.

But even so, there is truth in saying that most miseries lie in anticipation. Because for all the evidence we have of our ability to inflict the worst on each other, most times we come out on the other side without seeing the worst come to fruition.

That brings me to the new painting at the top of the page, an 18″ by 24″ canvas that is part of my upcoming solo show, From a Distance, that opens next week at the West End Gallery. The title of this piece is The Anticipation.

A lot of the work from this show is a result of my reaction to these times but this painting might best sum that feeling of queasiness and dull fear that comes in waiting for the next shoe to drop. It seems to be its own separate symptom of the pandemic, one that even those who are not yet infected experience.

It’s that feeling that you know there is a beginning and an end and, that even while we are in the midst of this thing, it will someday be over and in the past. That is the light at the end of tunnel. But you know you have to go through the rest of that tunnel, have to absorb all the worst it has to offer, in order to get to that endpoint.

So, you trudge and trudge, each step filled with a dark foreboding anticipation. In every dark shadow along your way you see a new imagined demon, one that threatens you with some awful painful fate. The light barely seems to get closer with each day’s journey and your fears grow with your uncertainty as to when– or if– you will finally emerge from the darkness.

The fear of what might happen eclipses your imaginings of hope.

That sounds dire. But remember, even with our rampant thoughts of the worst that could happen, we are still moving forward toward the light in the future and our actions as we move along can diminish or even eradicate those imagined worst outcomes.

In the waiting, our imagination may only see the worst but perhaps it is so we can act to avoid it ever coming to be.

That’s what I am seeing in this painting. There is foreboding but there is the possibility of hope in our own reaction.

So, while our worst misfortunes do sometimes happen, we do not have to willingly accept them as our fate. We have the opportunity to stand against them, to infuse light into the darkness that comes in our anticipation.

Here’s to that light…

 

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I want to be, all of a sudden
Every wave and undertow
I want to float
Everywhere I go

Lisa Hannigan, Undertow

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I debated yesterday over playing the song I eventually chose, Push the Sky Away from Nick Cave, or a song from Lisa Hannigan, Undertow. It was a tough choice. Hannigan’s Undertow features some beautifully delicate vocals that have a haunting quality.

Both songs actually have that haunting quality and both stayed with me all day while I worked.

So, since I am still very busy with prep work for the West End Gallery show, I thought I’d play Undertow this morning, as a kind of Sunday Morning Music addenda.

The painting at the top, In a Warm Breeze, is from the West End show. It has a nautical theme which I guess links it in a way to the song. But it also has a calm and quiet way about it while still having a layer of passion, of desire, in its undercurrent.

As its undertow, I guess. Whatever the case, it’s a piece that I like very much, one that gives me a sense of peacefulness that I really appreciate these days.

Give a listen to Lisa Hannigan and her Undertow, recorded in May at the National Gallery of Ireland. Have a good and hopefully calm day.

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But I know that nothing which truly concerns man is calculable, weighable, measurable. True distance is not the concern of the eye; it is granted only to the spirit.

–Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Airman’s Odyssey

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I stumbled across the line’s above in a beautiful passage from a book, Airman’s Odyssey, from Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  He was an author/poet best known for his classic The Little Prince as well as a pioneering aviator. He died in 1944, while flying for the Free French Air Force in World War II.

In this passage de Saint-Exupery writes about how flying at high altitudes, landmarks on the ground become mere dots and all sense of distance fades away, is lost. He describes how in his blindness to those places, those dots lost in the distance, his thirst for feelings and sensations attached to those dots grows.

Those barely visible dots become much like smells and sounds and other sensations that reawaken memories and new tracks of thought in the imagination. It is in this vast expanse of nothingness that he realizes that everything that we seek is not to be found by moving across wide physical distances but by simply  spanning the distances within ourselves.

As I said, it’s a beautiful passage and it goes well beyond what I describe here. But for my purposes I am focusing on this part of the passage, that we often seek things in the distance that we desire when what we really need has already crossed all distances and, in fact, dwells within us.

We always see the dots in the distance and can easily attach great and better things to those dots. But while doing so, we often overlook the fact that we have those same things at hand right now.

We so often desire what we already have.

The recent isolation brought on by the pandemic here has created a sense of distance in many of us. That’s understandable. It has kept us away from many people, places and events, those things that have normally made up our day to day lives. But they now are dots to us and we long to cross that distance to return to that time and place.

For many, this desire to cross that distance has been consuming. But for some, looking inward has diminished that desire and they have found that they can find what they need where they are in the moment. The dot is just a dot now.

I think this idea that we have what we need, that we are equipped to survive and even thrive despite the distances imposed upon us, might be the theme for my upcoming solo show that opens on July 17 at the West End Gallery. The show is titled From a Distance as is the painting here at the top, a 30″ by 48″ canvas.

I can easily see this theme play out in this painting. Wherever we are, in any time and situation, we have the ability to find forms of beauty within and around ourselves. That is an important thing to remember, especially when we find ourselves staring at those dots in the distance.

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Let’s go fly a kite
Up to the highest height!
Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring
Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear
Oh, let’s go fly a kite!

–Let’s Go Fly a Kite, Richard and Robert Sherman

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I thought it might be time start showing some work from my upcoming solo show, From a Distance, that opens July 15 at the West End Gallery in Corning. There are definitely different takes on a variety of themes in this show so deciding which piece should kick off the process was tough. But given the many current events– or should I say disasters?– taking place in this country, I thought the painting here at the top would be a gentle starter.

The idea of flying a kite seems so much more preferable than going into the closet and screaming into the darkness.

The title of this piece is Let’s Go Fly a Kite, borrowed, of course, from the song of that name from the 1964 Walt Disney film, Mary Poppins. It’s a wonderful song that aptly captures the idea of putting aside your problems and releasing yourself to soar with your kite high above and far removed from worldly problems. I hope that is what one gets from this piece, whose image is sized at 10″ by 16″ and framed and matted at 16″ by 22″.

I never saw Mary Poppins as a kid nor did I read the books. I came to both in middle age, actually. But even so, the magic of both remained intact.  a few years back I came across a large single volume that contained all of author  P.L. TraversMary Poppins books and decided that it might be worth reading. I am glad I did. It was funny and touching and engaging on many levels. Just a great read. Made me regret not being interested in them as a kid.

I thought I would share the song here but decided to not show the one from the film. Instead, I am taking the version from another Disney film, Saving Mr. Banks. This film, starring Emma Thompson as author P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, is the story of how Disney wooed the crusty Travers who was dead set against him making her book into a movie. She steadfastly opposed every and any change to her baby and thought the idea of a Disney musical treatment of her story was beyond the pale.

This version comes at a point in the Saving Mr. Banks film where she is near making a decision to withhold the filming rights from Disney. She is called into the work studio of the Sherman Brothers, the legendary songwriting team that wrote  many of the best known Disney tunes along with scores of other songs for other artists. Up to this point, Travers has been disdainful of their work that they have previously presented her for the film and in a final attempt to sway her, they perform the song Let’s Go Fly a Kite for her.

It’s a lovely turning point in the film and a nice version of the song as well. So, for a while at least, put aside thoughts of pandemics, of racial divides, of a treasonous and derelict president and all the other horrors that come as part and parcel of the current apocalypse, and think about the giddy thrill of watching your kite take to the air.

Soar with it for a bit. Or a little longer, if need be.

 

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