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And Dusk Dissolves

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There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.

Jean-Paul Sartre

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This is a new painting, a large canvas measuring 30″ high by 48″ wide, that is scheduled for my annual show at the Principle Gallery, this year called Social Distancing,which is tentatively scheduled to open on June 5.

I call it And Dusk Dissolves.

It’s a very soothing painting here in the studio, with a lot of warmth and light in its colors. I believe that is because it needed to be that in this moment.

I was trying to ease my mind in some way.

Trying to push away anger and fear, to push away anxiety and despair. To find a place in which I could rest my mind, if only for a brief moment.

And I think I find that place in this piece. In it, the Red Tree feels safe and at peace.

Yet at the same time, there is a somber wistfulness in it, as though the Red Tree is already missing the day that is still just leaving, regretting what little it has done with that precious time. As the Sartre words above attest, the day is a gift that is given to us each dawn and taken away each dusk.

This day’s gift is nearly gone.

The next dawn will bring a new gift but before that sunrise arrives there is a long dark night to be endured. Lately, it is filled with restless sleep and dreams with nightmarish imagery and intense feelings of alienation and betrayal.

Though the dawn brings a sense of joy and potential that comes with it as a gift, the ever lengthening nights begin to slowly diminish this optimistic outlook.

Maybe that’s the strength of this piece, that tension between its gratitude for the gift of the day that has passed, its peaceful acceptance of the present  moment, and its apprehension of what the new day may bring.

The current time often informs and defines my own readings of my work. Sometimes the piece translates differently over time and sometimes they emote in the same way, tell me the same story. I can’t tell on this painting right now. It’s still too close, too deeply embedded.

But I have a feeling that years from now — if that turns out to be the case– I will look on this piece and remember the comfort and reassurance it offered in a terrible time.

And that will comfort me then, as well.

Have a good day. Remember, it’s a gift.

Maybe one of the good things that might come out of this crisis is that people will look at the jobs done by themselves and others in a different way.

I read a news story where they were talking with a man who had worked for a food distributor, the kind that delivers food products to stores and restaurants, for many years. He had always thought of his job as a mere job and felt that it didn’t have much consequence in the bigger picture of the world.

But now, with the crisis putting a spotlight on the importance of the food chain, he began to see that what he did had significance, that it did, indeed, make a difference. He felt a pride in what he was doing that he had never felt before. He felt that he was working with a purpose now and not just droning mindlessly along.

This new perception changed everything for him.

I mention this because I think of those people who work the many thankless service jobs that fuel our modern world and who are still at the switch today, often putting themselves at risk in the time of this virus. Firefighters and EMTs. Law enforcement and corrections officers. Mail carriers and delivery drivers. Truck drivers, warehouse workers and stock clerks.

And especially the doctors, nurses, therapists, aides, food service and cleaning people that make up our hospitals.

And perhaps the most overlooked and least appreciated, those people who work hard at the supermarkets and other stores that are still open.

One of my first jobs was working in a Loblaws grocery store, working as both a stock clerk and cashier. It made me appreciate what a thankless job it could be and I try my best to be appreciative of any cashier or anyone who has to have people in front of them constantly through the day. It’s a hard thing to do, to maintain a consistent demeanor as a wide variety of folks parade before you for hour after hour, some not so nice at all.

And to factor in the risk from this virus as they are serving these people just a foot or two away, who are unknown to them and may well be carrying it, makes their efforts seem almost heroic.

I am sure they don’t think of themselves as being heroic. Most have no choice and have to be there just to maintain their life. They just see it as doing their job.

But often heroism comes down to that simple thing– just doing your job.

Heroism doesn’t come from those seeking accolades or praise. It doesn’t come from beating down an opponent and pounding your chest.

It comes from regular people doing best what they can when they are needed in the face of a threat because they have no other choice.

And that’s what these folks are doing right now.

No doubt that some, maybe many, will contract the virus. And that makes me feel for them even more. So, if you must go to a store (do not go if you can help it!) maintain your distance and look at your cashier for a moment. Think of the risk they are taking so you can have a bit of food. Then thank them with some sincerity.

Maybe they will feel like a hero if just for a moment. Or just for one day…

Okay, that means I get to play one of my all time favorites, which I am always looking for an excuse to play. Here’s Heroes from David Bowie.

“And we can be heroes, just for one day…”

So, be careful.

Be kind.

And have a good day.

American Tune

I am without words today. It’s not that I’m not feeling a multitude of emotions or feelings. I just want to be quiet. This morning I somehow found myself listening to American Tune from Paul Simon, a song I’ve heard and enjoyed probably a thousand or more times before. But the lyrics jumped out at me this morning in a different way, like I hadn’t fully heard them all those many times before. Maybe it was just that they seemed to fit the moment so perfectly. It said everything I might have wanted to say had I had felt like talking.

There are three versions of the song here at the bottom from Paul Simon. The first was recorded just a few days ago for ‘Til Further Notice which is presenting virtual performances by different recording artists for the duration. The sound on this is not great but it’s certainly a heartfelt performance. The second is from a television performance from 1974, not long after he first introduced the song. The bottom version is one with the lyrics, which I suggest, even though it starts abruptly and has a number of grammatical errors in its transcription. Seeing these lyrics while hearing the song emphasizes the power of the words.

Sure worked for me. Hope you take a moment and listen.

Be good. Be careful. Have a good day.

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Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
But I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
or driven to its knees
But it’s all right, it’s all right
We’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
we’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what went wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all, I’m trying to get some rest

Paul SimonAmerican Tune



Harald Sohlberg-Night 1904

 

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I was in the studio even earlier than normal this morning. I watched the news for a bit only to hear that some hospitals in the NYC/ Tri-state area were already near the point where doctors were going to have to decide who would be put on a ventilator and who would not. Basically, who would live and who would die. And the soulless clown in charge keeps saying that Ford and GM are manufacturing thousands of these much needed items when, in fact, they are not and that he wants to end the shutdowns in a week or so. He is willing to sacrifice lives, perhaps large numbers of them, for a stock market bump and for the fiscal wellness of multinational corporations that were as recently as a month or two ago sitting on a mountain of cash, something like $1.7 trillion.

It’s okay to let grandma die alone in a hospital so long as there’s a profit to be made.

I had to turn the news off and find something to quell my rising ire. 

Something tranquil and far removed from this horror show.

I thought I’d share a post from several years ago about a somewhat overlooked artist with whom I feel a real kinship, Harald Sohlberg, sharing many of his artistic goals and way of looking at the landscape. Like him, I seek consistency and a union of pictorial and spiritual values.

I’ve added a number of images to the original post. Take a look. Hopefully, you’ll find some tranquility in them. Have a good day.

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There’s a good possibility that you haven’t heard of Harald Sohlberg, a Norwegian painter who lived from 1869 until 1935. I know he was not on my radar until I stumbled across a few of his images. In fact, there is not a lot of info about him outside of a short perfunctory bio.

This kind of stumped me but it wasn’t until I came across the short essay shown below that this made sense, giving me a lot more insight into the man behind the work. I particularly identified with his connection with the landscape and his feelings as expressed in the final paragraph where, as an old man, he desired that people see his work not for the simple scenes they seemingly portrayed but ” for the pictorial and spiritual values on which I have been working consistently throughout the years.”

As an artist, that is your greatest hope– that people will look beyond the surface and see the emotional and spiritual content that the artist uses as a catalyst. Take a moment and read this essay from a 1995 exhibit at the National Academy of Design in NYC that featured the work of Sohlberg and Edvard Munch. At least take a moment to give these few Sohlberg’s paintings a good look.

In an obituary, Pola Gauguin [son of Paul Gauguin and a painter and art critic of the time] wrote that as an artist, Harald Sohlberg was alone and forgotten: “A name which was famous in its day.” Now that Sohlberg was dead, Gauguin thought, “the coldness which he helped surround it with, will thaw.” Sohlberg’s isolation was partly the tragic result of his wholehearted endorsement of the myth of genius as formulated by Romanticism and adopted by the Symbolists. Like Munch, he was obsessively preoccupied with denying that the influence of other contemporary artists had been important to him. He dissociated himself from the discussion about where he belonged in the history of art, relegating the origins of his artistic awakening outside of art to his own psyche.

Sohlberg wrote that his form sprang forth subconsciously from his first awareness of the landscape. The difference in texture of the sky and earth gave him a sense of standing on a heavy and firm planet gazing out into boundless space. He attributed the simple forms and great lines of his pictures to this first awareness of the landscape. The point of departure was the personal experience. Thus, the artist’s experience of his subject preceded the picture. Sohlberg was preoccupied with the concrete local landscape that surrounded him and his emotional reaction to it. The place, in itself, was charged with meaning. For this reason, where he sought his subjects was important. He experienced the landscape in Norway as nature in strong and intense moods and gave form to the echoes of these moods in his mind. He agreed with many of his generation who, taking their point of departure in Andreas Aubert’s writings about Norwegian art, were of the opinion that there existed distinctive, Nordic colors, clear and strong colors created by the clear, intense light of the North. Once artists realized this, it would be possible for an independent Nordic art to develop. Sohlberg believed that, along with the unique construction of the Nordic landscape, local color ought to result in a style of its own. Experience and interpretation of nature determined the choice of colors. For Sohlberg, the main color should assemble the picture and be as strong as possible.

The function of line in painting according to him was to express feelings. It could be lonely, down to earth, or melancholy. It could be willful and persevering as required. It should be developed according to the nature of the subject and the artist’s dialogue with nature. Because the picture was bound by a perceived reality, Sohlberg paid tribute to reality by portraying it naturalistically. But his gaze carried with it the legacy of picture formulas that transformed and adapted nature. He was an artist who rarely put a stroke on the canvas before the picture was clear to him in his imagination. As an artist, he was a substitute viewer. What interested him was his own experience and interpretation, regardless of how naturalistic his pictures appeared to be. Ideally everything in the picture was controlled by his will.

As an older man, Sohlberg longed for confirmation that the public saw the values he wished to impart: “it is probably true that for simple and naive reasons my works have aroused sympathy. But I maintain that they have by no means been properly understood for the pictorial and spiritual values on which I have been working consistently throughout the years.” The quotation contains three words which are keys to an understanding of Sohlberg: “Pictorial,” “spiritual,” and “consistently.” The pictorial is means for expressing the spiritual, and one was obliged to stick to the spiritual values one held true.

– From Ivind Storm Bjerke, Edvard Munch, Harald Sohlberg: Landscapes of the Mind

Harald Sohlberg-A Street in Oslo 1911Harald Sohlberg-Night in the Mountains 1914Harald Sohlberg- After The Snowstorm Harald Sohlberg-Storgaten_Røros_1904

Half Measures

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The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.

–Winston Churchill

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For many of you Breaking Bad fans out there, the term half measures immediately brings to mind a pivotal episode in the series where Walter White realizes that when you’re dealing with deadly people and things, half measures have no place and will most likely get you killed.

And that is what we have been witnessing in the efforts to combat the coronavirus, so far as the steps taken by the president** and his gang of yes men– half measures.

Even yesterday, with the virus constantly gaining more and more footholds, cases and deaths mounting, the markets plummeting, and the experts warning that the most extreme steps must be taken, he stood before the nation and said that while he had signed the order for the Defense Protection Act, which gives the government tremendous powers to compel private companies to produce materials necessary supplies for this effort, he was not implementing it. He said he wanted to keep it for when we really needed it.

That’s like having a new rope in your hands and there’s a person drowning in the water near you and saying, ” I don’t want to use this now because I might need it later.”

That kind of holding a little back for later is fine under normal circumstance but when someone is in dire need it amounts to a half measure.

Now is not a time for half measures, not a time to let some folks drown while you still have that rope in your hand.

I can’t really explain why he won’t commit to full measures at this point other than to say that by doing so he commits to taking responsibility for those actions. It would assert the powers of the federal government and that would take away his ability to lay off blame on the many governors who have been the real leaders in this effort.

The whole thing would become his baby. And there is no way he can accept that sort of responsibility. Not now. Not ever.

But what he fails to understand is that in this sort of situation, the more he tries to evade his duty and responsibility, the more it becomes solely his baby, whether he likes it or not.

You might think I am being unfair in my criticism of the president** because of my intense dislike of him on almost every level, something I will not deny. You might think I should keep my mouth shut and give him a chance, especially in such a time of crisis.

To that I say, “That’s crazy.”

This has nothing to do with my dislike of this person. I am basing it not on that but on the fact that he is in the driver’s seat and I’m just a passenger in a speeding bus as he steers it toward the edge of steep mountain road. He is distracted (texting furiously as he steers) and doesn’t seem fully committed as we hurtle toward the precipice.

Yeah, I’m going to speak up. The time for patience, of waiting to see how he’s doing is past. I want someone to jerk his ass out of the driver’s seat and start steering this thing in a responsible manner, away from that deadly edge.

If you watched his briefing yesterday, I don’t see how you would view it much differently. If you watched him and were not disturbed and a little frightened or you somehow found comfort in his tirades and over the edge rambles, often about his own woes, I fear we are lost. He is a half-step from wearing a uniform with a chestful of medals and ribbons, demanding that the obsequious flunkies around him call him Generalissimo.

The time is now. Not later.

It is time for this person to fully commit to doing everything in the many powers given to him in his position to take this on for the benefit of all the people and not himself, his family or his cronies. It is time to act like there is no tomorrow and throw away the idea of half measures. ‘

As Churchill states in the words at the top: we are entering a period of consequences.

We should pay special attention to his words of warning because, more than ever, they apply at this moment in time.

Now is the time for full measures.

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They who have been bred in the school of politics fail now and always to face the facts. Their measures are half measures and makeshifts merely. They put off the day of settlement, and meanwhile the debt accumulates.

–Henry David Thoreau

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I want to go out in the countryside
Oh sit by the clear, cool, crystal water
Get my spirit, way back to the feeling
Deep in my soul, I want to feel
Oh so close to the One, close to the One
Close to the One, close to the One
And that’s why, I keep on singing baby
My hymns to the silence, hymns to the silence

Van Morrison, Hymns to the Silence

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Let’s take it easy this Sunday morning. You don’t need to hear my rants and most likely want to find a bit of normalcy and respite from the constant stream of what seems to only bad news. I’ve been trying to find new ways at looking at this whole thing, trying to find some little bits of good among the bad.

For instance, one upside to this whole thing is that we will be spared the anguish of the school shootings that most certainly would have occurred had this stoppage not taken place. It’s a shame that they could only be halted by a different horrific crisis but it is good to not have to face another senseless tragedy taking place in our schools.

Another good thing: less traffic. Fewer cars on the roads means fewer accidents and traffic deaths. That’s a good thing. Plus it’s less pollution and it’s certainly quieter on the whole.

That’s the one thing– the silence that has taken hold in many of our cities– to which that I have seen a lot of people comment on social media. For some, it’s creepy and scary. Too apocalyptic, I guess.

But to some, it’s been a revelation, a reintroduction to that now alien world of quiet. I have read people commenting on being able to clearly hear the sound of the birds and the wind moving through the trees and buildings, all without the cacophony and buzz of the modern mechanized world that has become our constant companion.

When I go out at night, the sound from the nearby road that was usually busy and producing a steady rumble of background sound is now absolutely quiet for long stretches of time.

It’s glorious and calming, even knowing the reason for it being this way.

So, for all the bad things we’re facing, try to find something good to latch onto and hold tight. For a start, there’s always music. Let’s listen to a bit of Van Morrison and his song Hymns to the Silence.

Have the best Sunday possible. And be careful out there.

 

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The painting at the top is titled The Questioning, a 30″ by 30″ canvas that is currently at the West End Gallery.

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“In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence… In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.”

Laurence J. Peter, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong

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For those of you too young to have been around back then, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong was a book from Dr. Laurence J. Peter that came out in 1969 and was a huge bestseller. It was one of those books and ideas that became ubiquitous in their time. It seemed like everywhere I looked back then, that book cover was staring out at me from book racks in every grocery store, card shop and bus station.

Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something, even then.

In the book, a blend of practical business management principle and mild satire, Peter described every organization as a pyramidal hierarchy in which each member was eventually promoted up the pyramid to a position where they would be proven to be incompetent. The real work of the organization was always done by those within the pyramid who had not yet risen to their own personal level of incompetence.

Those not yet proven to be incompetent were like the mortar that strengthened and bonded the blocks of the pyramid.

It was one of those ideas that seemed so simple that it was hard to believe that nobody had voiced it in that way before. And just looking around at almost any organization, private or public, seemed to offer ample proof of its validity.

Why am I talking about this? I think anybody who has been closely following the US government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis could easily see it as the principle in action.

It is one of the first things that jumps to mind when watching the daily press briefings lately. They are maddeningly difficult to watch with their evasions, lack of information, blame placement, contradictions, empty promises and self-congratulatory puffery often along a raft of outright lies.

Not a shred of reassurance anywhere to be found. For me, it almost always brings on an unpleasant mix of disgust and rage combined with dread.

The dread can be explained by another line from Peter’s book: “Any government, whether it is a democracy, a dictatorship, a communistic or free enterprise bureaucracy, will fall when its hierarchy reaches an intolerable state of maturity.” 

That maturity is the point when most of the level of the hierarchy have been filled with incompetents and this administration has spent much of the last three-plus years removing apolitical professionals who had been competently handling many important positions within the pyramid. These are the people who had yet to reach their own level of incompetence, people were doing the real work that kept the governmental pyramid standing. In their place, they inserted political lackeys, people ill-equipped to handle even the most mundane requirements of their posts let alone a global crisis that requires the ultimate in competence from every level of the pyramid.

Watching closely as I have, it sure feels to me like every position in that pyramid is so packed with incompetence that there is little, if any, room left for the still competent to do the dirty, real work required to keep the pyramid standing.

Thus, the dread.

Here are a couple of other little snips from The Peter Principle that one might think were written solely for the here and now:

“Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.”

“Incompetence plus incompetence equals incompetence.”

“If two wrongs don’t make a right, try three.”

I know that writing this doesn’t accomplish anything. But it’s something I have to do once in awhile if only to try to organize what I am seeing in a way that I can comprehend so I can figure out how to look to the future.

And I do still look to the future, even with a little hope. But that hope is my own and owes nothing to the efforts of these incompetents who sit atop the crumbling pyramid.

Hey, have a great day! And be careful out there.

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