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Archive for the ‘Technique/History’ Category

Last week a notification came up on my Facebook feed of a painting of mine that was being offered for sale locally. It wasn’t the best of photos but I immediate recognized the painting. It was from back in 1999 and was titled Black Opal Night. The price was very reasonable and I immediately contacted the seller, offering to buy the painting back.

In our back and forth, she asked why I was buying this painting back. It seems that artists buying their work back is not a normal thing.

I replied that it was from the years between 1996 and 2000, a five year period that was pre-Red Tree and an evolutionary step to my subsequent work. It was also a time from which I have practically no remaining work and would love to have a few more pieces. I have been very fortunate in that almost all of the work from that time have found new homes. The few that remain with me are pieces that most likely should have never left the studio in the first place. They have major flaws– poor color quality, composition balances that seem off a bit and so on– which I would now consider disqualifying, that would keep me from showing it publicly.

I may have been a little less discerning in earlier times.

This piece, from what I could see in the photo and could glean from my memory of it, didn’t seem to fall into this category.

Another part of wanting to acquire this piece was that my documentation at the time was pre-digital and spotty. I most likely have slides of this piece but the slide itself is most likely poorly shot. And a poorly photographed slide is still a poor image when transferred to a digital format, which is still an iffy process for me. It would be good to see a painting from the time and get proper photos. I have to admit that the photo here was taken through glass so it is not a perfect image. But it works.

So I picked this up over the weekend and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. First, the image itself looked new even though the frame, a blue-green color that I no longer use, was a bit less fresh looking. It was definitely of the time. I could see where I was at the time from a process standpoint, how I was still embracing techniques that are now deep embedded.

I often speak at gallery talks about the 60 or 70 thousand hours spent in the studio over the past two decades. This piece was from the beginning of that time and offered a glimpse of how the work had evolved and changed. This piece was pushing at the edges of my abilities at the time which gives it an excited feel. I can almost feel my excitement in painting it from the time. There are surface flaws that are integral to the energy of this painting that give it a rawness that I think was a big part of the strength of that early work.

That rawness is something I don’t see as much in recent work. Oh, the excitement is still there but the expression of it is more refined, more controlled. And looking at this painting makes me wonder if I am pushing myself enough. Am I staying too far inside the lines? How do I regain that raw energy?

And maybe the answers to these questions are the real reasons for me re-acquiring this painting. Even though it’s simply an older painting in my body of work, it has given me so many things to ponder.

Let’s see where it goes from here.

 

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I was not sure where I was going, and I could not see what I would do when I got there. But you saw further and clearer than I, and you opened the seas before my ship, whose track led me across the waters to a place I had never dreamed of, and which you were even then preparing to be my rescue and my shelter and my home.

― Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

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Well, my annual show at the West End Gallery comes down in just a few days. This year’s edition is called The Rising and Thursday is the last day to see the show.

It is a show in which I feel a real sense of pride. When I am prepping for a show, my goals for it are often vague and undefined. I feel that I want certain things for it and from it but when I try to verbalize these goals, the words evade me. I find myself like the sailor in the Thomas Merton quote above: I was not sure where I was going, and I could not see what I would do when I got there. 

I knew it was going somewhere. I just didn’t know where. I let intuition and reaction guide me and it often worked out fine.

But this show, much like my June show at the Principle Gallery, felt more preordained and focused and less haphazard in it’s final edited version, the one that hit the walls of the galleries. I still allowed for the role of intuition and the unconscious in the process of painting each piece. That is a necessity.

But where I could make conscious decisions, I did just that. I chose to simplify forms and chop out the fussiness of detail. Deepened colors. As much as I like them and appreciate their popularity, I reduced the number of small paintings and went with works that were a bit larger. It streamlined the look of the show on the wall, made it feel less cluttered, and gave each piece a bit more room in which to expand.

They weren’t big things but enough to make the work in the exhibit to be presented with fuller impact. I felt like this and the Principle Gallery show were my most mature and complete exhibits to date.

The response to the show has been great which is gratifying on many levels. A number of the original paintings from the show have flown the coop to their new homes but there are a few replacements that I feel fill the void they leave behind. One new piece is shown above. It’s Star Navigator, a 24″ by 8″ canvas that feels very much like it jibes with the words of Merton at the top.

I hope you can make it out to the West End Gallery in the next few days, if you haven’t had a chance to see The Rising.

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If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

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The painting, Apex, as shown above on the left had been bouncing around galleries for quite a few years. It was one of those pieces that kind of gnawed at me after awhile. There was so much that I liked about it and it felt complete yet I began to feel that something was lacking.

The color bothered me. It looked washed out and pale. Now, I have done pieces with that sort of color and it can be very effective but in this instance the lack of intensity in the colors seemed to handicap the whole painting. The more I looked at it over the years, the more I saw the blue of the sky looking dull and lifeless.

And it felt like the trees on the ascending path were too sparse. I don’t know much about musical composition, can’t tell a quarter note from a half note, but when I looked at the hill with the trees I felt like I was looking at a piece of music and some of the notes were missing. It wasn’t saying what it should be saying.

And the central character, the Red Tree at the top, felt dark and small, not bursting forward as it should, at least in my mind.

The whole thing just felt like it was on life support– barely alive but but with no vigor, no spark.

But it was still alive and there seemed to be something in it that really pulled me in, I decided I needed to intervene, to either reinvent it or completely kill it. So I went in and deepened the colors of the sky and the hill dramatically. This created a nice contrasting tension and made the tree that were added to the upward path stand out more. The Red Tree grew larger, brighter and bolder while the clouds in the sky slimmed a bit.

It was  dramatic transformation. It was like Charles Atlas’ 97-pound weakling transforming, with the aid of his patented Dynamic Tension, into a beefy he-man who takes on the beach bully and gets the girl. I know that last sentence means next to nothing to those of you under the age of fifty but if you ever saw those old magazine ads, you’ll get it. You can click here to go to an old blog entry that shows that ad.

That might be a goofy comparison but as I sit here and look at the transformed painting, it’s hard to imagine that that it once was that old version of itself.

And it all came about thanks to Dynamic Tension. Thanks, Charles Atlas!

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This reinvented painting will be with me at my Gallery Talk at the West End Gallery in Corning this coming Saturday, August 4. The talk begins at 1 PM and it should be a good time. In addition to the great conversation and plenty of prizes, I have also procured a monster truck act– Truckasaurus Rex— as well as a T-shirt cannon.

Okay, maybe that’s not quite accurate. Or true in any sense of the word. You’ll have to come see for yourself. 

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Charles Burchfield- Sun and Rocks- Albright-Know Art GalleryAn artist must paint not what he sees in nature, but what is there. To do so he must invent symbols, which, if properly used, make his work seem even more real than what is in front of him.

–Charles Burchfield

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I am a big fan of the work of Charles Burchfield (1893-1967), a western  New York painter who lived and painted in the Buffalo area for most of his life. His work was decidedly visionary in its scope, taking the environment that he knew around western New York and embellishing it with a life force and energy that he sensed beneath the surface. That’s what he was referring to in the quote above– taking what you see around you and not simply recording it but painting how it moves you emotionally. To me, his work is as emotionally charged in the same way as that of Van Gogh.

Charles Burchfield- An April Mood- Whitney Museum of American ArtCreating symbols, as Burchfield refers to in the quote, has been a big part of my work. I have long emulated his use of creating a visual vocabulary that moved through a body of work. It becomes a sort of language of its own  that people who take it in and understand it find easy to read and absorb as they move from picture to picture. Those who can’t read it find less in the images and feel less drawn into them. In an earlier post featuring Burchfield, I wrote about an artist friend who just didn’t get Burchfield’s work in any sense.  He just one of those people who couldn’t read the language clearly written in the work.

I also have been influenced by the way Burchfield would constantly go back to earlier work and use it as a new starting point, as though the added knowledge gained through the years would take this work in a new direction. I often do the same thing, constantly revisiting images and motifs from years ago looking for a thread or path to follow anew.

Even this post is a revisitation, going back and looking at an influence, trying to pull that original inspiration from it. With Charles Burchfield, that’s always an easy thing to accomplish.

Charles Burchfield- Childhood's Garden

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Then very slowly I go to slightly lighter colors until little by little, the forms begin to take shape and I start to see what is happening. Since I never plan in advance, I simply let myself be led by instinct, taste and intuition. And it is in this manner that I find myself creating visions that I have never before imagined. And little by little certain color effects develop that excite me and I find the painting itself leading me on and I become only an instrument of a greater, wiser force…or being…or intelligence than I myself am.

–Eyvind Earle

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I wasn’t going to post anything as my time is very short this morning. But I took a minute and pulled down a book from my shelf and gave it a quick look. It was one of a beautiful two book set of the works and writings of Eyvind Earle, the late artist/illustrator who is best known as one of the lead artists for several of the early animated classics from Walt Disney.

There’s much I am drawn to in the graphic works from Earle– the colors and the rhythm of his landscapes, for example. But today I came across the short piece of writing above that I had somehow overlooked before that gave me some insight into my attraction.

As he described his process, I was struck by how similarly we describe how we work such as not planning anything in advance, working from light to dark colors and following the excitement of certain colors until the work seems to be taken out of our hands.

Until we become instruments.

I have described the process and the final creation as being beyond me, the whole of the piece being more than the sum of of all the parts I call myself. I have also described the sense of purpose I feel from these pieces, how I feel connected to something greater. I can’t ever recollect using that term, instrument, before.

It sounds a little presumptuous but it does align with what I have described in the past. And to see that Eyvind Earle felt much the same way about his work  is comforting, especially on those mornings when I feel far removed from anything close to a greater force. Just knowing that the work might take me to that point where I transform into an instrument for something beyond myself makes the day seem easier to begin.

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Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.

–Stephen Hawking

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I’ve been working on a series of paintings recently for my June show at the Principle Gallery that feature fragmented skies with stars appearing at their junctures. Some are very geometric and angular while some– like the one, In the Stars, shown here–have more organic shapes with more randomness in their arrangement.

Both satisfy some part in me, in their creation and in the appreciation for them I feel once they reach a point of completion. Maybe it’s that there is a meditative stillness in both aspects. Painting them definitely creates a deep sense of quietude for me that I also find in studying them after they are done.

It is the kind of stillness that spurs wonder and curiosity, the kind that makes one look into the night sky with hopes that extend beyond our present time and place. Are we alone in this vast universe or are we the end-product– the flowers, perhaps — of one of those shining stars?

I don’t know and most likely will never know. But I will always have the need to wonder…

 

 

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I am really busy this morning but wanted to replay the post below from a few years back. I am currently at a point where I am just emerging from a period of great uncertainty and doubt, which had me questioning the path I had followed. But with each painting comes a bit more confidence, a bit more energy and a renewed sense of purpose. It makes me realize once more that the work itself is a sort of perpetual motion machine– it produces energy beyond that put into it.
The trick is in simply trusting the work and just doing it. Which is what I must do right now.

Paul Gauguin- Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?What still concerns me the most is: am I on the right track, am I making progress, am I making mistakes in art?

Paul Gauguin

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At one of my gallery talks a year or two ago, I was asked about confidence in my work. I can’t remember the exact wording but the questioner seemed to imply that at a certain point in an artist’s evolution doubts fade away and one is absolutely certain and confident in their work.

I think I laughed a bit then tried to let them know that even though I stood up there and seemed confident in that moment, it was mere illusion, that I was often filled with raging doubts about my voice or direction or my ability. I wanted them to know that there were often periods when I lost all confidence in what I was doing, that there were days that turned into weeks where I bounced around in my studio, paralyzed with a giant knot in my gut because it seemed like everything I had done before was suddenly worthless and without content in my mind.

I don’t know that I explained myself well that day or if I can right now. There are moments (and days and weeks) of clarity where the doubts do ease up and I no longer pelt myself with questions that I can’t answer. Kind of like the painting at the top, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, the masterpiece from Paul Gauguin. Those are tough questions to answer, especially for a person who has little religious belief.

And maybe that’s the answer. Maybe my work has always served as a type of surrogate belief system, expressing instinctual reactions to these great questions. I don’t really know and I doubt that I ever will. I only hope that the doubts take a break once in a while.

There was another quote I was considering using for this subject from critic Robert Hughes:

The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is given to the less talented as a consolation prize.

I liked that but it felt kind of self-serving, like saying that being aware aware of your own stupidity is actually a sign of your intelligence. I would really like to believe that all those times when I realized I was dumb as a stump were actually evidence of my brilliance. I think many of us can  claim that one.

Likewise, if Hughes is correct  then I may be one of the the greatest artists of all time.

And at the moment, I have my doubts…

 

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