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Archive for the ‘Technique/History’ Category

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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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By three methods we may learn
wisdom: First, by reflection,
which is the noblest; Second, by
imitation, which is easiest;
and Third, by experience,
which is the bitterest.

Confucius

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This is another new painting, a 10″ by 20″ canvas that I am calling A Time to Reflect.  This is also going to be part of my show, Haven, that opens June 1 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria.

I had my first show at the Principle in 2000 with the Redtree show that turned out to be the formal beginning point for the image of that tree that has come to populate and define much of my work. Each subsequent year has seen some change, an addition of a new element or shade of color, that pushes the work in a slightly new direction.

For this, my 19th show at the Principle, I have made a conscious decision to have many pieces of this exhibit revert to more simplified forms, cutting away a lot of excess detail and focusing on pulling as much as I can from a sparse set of elements. To allow the color, the texture, the shapes and lines of the forms to speak clearly. Even on the recent geometric, broken sky pieces, the compositions are simply constructed which creates an abundance of space that allows the shapes and colors of the sky’s forms to carry the emotion of the painting.

This particular painting very much feels like it may have come from those earliest shows at the Principle Gallery with the addition of nearly twenty years of reflection. Hopefully, it displays the nobility of wisdom gained through reflection, as Confucius states in his words at the top.

I think you must experience all three methods to truly gain wisdom. You first learn through imitation. Then you learn even more from the failures that come with your first attempts to use this acquired knowledge. But after a time filled with many failures and a few triumphs, you come to a sort of peace with the world and are able to stop to look back with a new respect and gratitude for it all.

And in that moment of reflection, when you have shed the bitterness, recognized your shortcomings and gave thanks for your few positive attributes, maybe there is a certain nobility. And maybe then there is real wisdom.

I’m hoping to find out someday.

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Things are as they are. Looking out into it the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.

Alan Watts

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I wasn’t planning on showing this newer painting for a while. But I came across this lovely piece of music and this painting seemed to pair perfectly with it, at least to my eyes and ears.

The painting is an 18″ by 36′ canvas that I call Starmap and is part of my annual show at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria which opens June 1.

I have been working on a series of paintings like this, with blocks of color making up the sky and stars as points of light showing at the intersections of these blocks. I love working on these pieces. They require an emptying of the mind with a focus solely on what is before you. There’s this interesting sense of constant problem solving that bounces from making each form correctly and balancing that form within the whole composition. I continually go back and forth from tight focus to wide focus.

I probably can’t properly explain it but for me, it is an exhilarating process as each added form and layer of color, each poke of light from the stars, subtly transforms the piece into something more than I was expecting. It feels more complete and full than the first thoughts and brushstrokes that initiated the painting, leaving me with a giddy kind of satisfaction. I know that this has been the case thus far with each of the paintings in this series.

Now for this Sunday morning music, I thought this wonderful piece, Nocturne, from young Hungarian guitarist Zsófia Boros paired up beautifully with the feeling that this piece creates for myself. I’ve listened to it several times this morning and it just seems right.

Give a listen and have a great Sunday.

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