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Time is short this morning but I wouldn’t miss posting a bit of music on this Sunday morning. It’s a song from Sean Rowe that speaks very much to the desire that some artists have, myself included, to leave something behind. To leave a reminder, even a small one, that they existed and created in this world. That they had eyes and ears and a voice and a mind of their own. That they felt something, that they dreamed in this world.

The song is To Leave Something Behind and with his powerful voice, Sean Rowe certainly creates something here to leave behind. Give alisten and have a great day.

 

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“You must study the Masters but guard the original style that beats within your soul and put to sword those who would try to steal it.”

El Greco

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These words from El Greco (1541-1614) certainly were reflected in the influence his work had down through the ages. Many artists through the ages have appropriated his compositions and rendered them in their own original styles. Picasso, for example, was influenced by the elongated figures of El Greco. His View of Toledo is considered one of the first paintings solely focused on landscape, as well as the first cityscape. Below, you might be able to see a connection between it and Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

For myself, in the painting here at the top, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, a massive painting that is about fifteen foot tall, I was struck by the gold clad figures (St. Stephen and St. Augustine) at the bottom who are lowering the dead aristocrat into his tomb. The colors and positions of the figures had me seeing them as figures in a Gustav Klimt painting.

Looking at the detail below, I could see them as being influences on his The Kiss. I don’t know whether they were an influence, but it certainly jumped into my mind. If so, kudos to Klimt for translating it into his own original style that beats within his soul, as El Greco may have put it.

And that is what influence should be. It is not trying to replicate, to copy, another’s work. It is in taking it in and synthesizing it using one’s own unique voice. I think every artist does this in some form. You just may not immediately notice it in the very good ones.

Detail from “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz”

“View of Toledo” and “Starry Night”

I have a large painting on the easel I want to get to this morning. It’s at a point of transformation which is always exciting and just looking at it now, I am eager to see where it goes. But I wanted to share a post from back in 2012 about a painting done in 1997 or 1998 that has occupied an important place in my heart and mind for a long time. I think it’s a good example of the how an artist’s work often lives with the artist after it has found a new home.

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I was going to write about something different but came across this older image and completely lost my train of thought, this piece replacing everything that I had been thinking. Some pieces have that effect. It’s a smaller painting, maybe 6″ square, that sold many years ago when I was first showing my work at the Principle Gallery in the mid-1990’s. Though not large, this painting has lived in a larger sense in my thoughts ever since.

It’s titled Beauty Scorned and is a relatively simple piece. But there’s something in the washed out quality of the colors and in the the bend of the twisting tree trunk that really speaks to me in a very poignant way, as though it is a pure physical expression of some deep emotion.

Beauty and sorrow.

For me, I see this as being about perceptions of beauty and acceptance. About how we often conform, like the other trees which are so much alike here, and step back from that which is different, seeing not the beauty in it but scorning it because it is unlike us.

The beauty is in its difference.

I remember when I did this piece, feeling that this was symbolic of my own work at that time. It was often quite different from the work of other painters with which I showed and I was still unsure of the validity of my own voice, often feeling that my work was somehow inferior because it wasn’t painted in the same manner, didn’t have the same look as these others. At the time, I felt like my work and my voice was truly tied to this twisting tree and those who dismissed it because it had a different look were missing the beauty and emotion that it may hold.

Just seeing it again summons all of these thoughts in a rush of feeling. It remains a potent piece for me for this reason. It also has a sad memory in it.  When I see this piece I am always reminded of the couple who purchased it and were avid and encouraging collectors that I always looked forward to seeing at shows. They had a knack for choosing work to which I was most keenly attached. This couple later divorced and the wife would still come to the shows, always so happy for and encouraging of my work. Tragically, she passed away in a plane crash this past year [2012] and now, instead of seeing the scorning of beauty in this piece as I once did, I now see the beauty of this young lady’s spirit.

It’s a different painting for me now but no less potent.

Walker Evans/Artist

 

Floyd and Lucille Burroughs; Walker Evans (American, 1903 – 1975); 1936

 

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Whether he is an artist or not, the photographer is a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts.

Walker Evans

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I am a big fan of the photos of Walker Evans. Some of my early Exiles paintings were inspired by his Depression era work, many of which were captured in a landmark book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,. Written by James Agee, the book is a document of the two men’s journey through the American south during that trying time.

I came across this quote from Evans and it made me appreciate his work even more. The idea that the eye traffics in feelings and not in thoughts is a simple one but it cuts right to the truth as any artist knows it to be. Art, whatever medium in which it takes place in, comes far before thought. It is that reaction, that feeling that hits you before your brain even begins to fully process what you are seeing that is the engine of art.

It is the feeling that bring on real thought afterwards. Allan artist can hope for their work.

I like seeing it put that way. And Mr. Evans certainly trafficked in feelings as the artist and joyous sensualist he was.

Here are just a tiny bit of his works.

 

Digital Photo File Name:DP264548.TIF
Online Publications Edited By Michelle Ma for TOAH 11_23_15

 

 

Three Farmers

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I never made a person look bad. They do that themselves.

-August Sander

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I came across a video this morning that I want to share. It is a PBS produced film called What This Photo Doesn’t Show and delves into the backstory and meaning of the photo shown here, Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, taken by the German photographer August Sander in 1914.

It’s an a provocative photo, one that provides plenty of material for one to create narratives in their imagination. So, to learn more about the young men and the story behind the photo adds an additional layer of interest.

August Sander (1876-1964) was considered the most important German photographer of the of the early 20th century. Sander was widely recognized for a collection of portfolios of his portraits taken over a couple of decades. Titled People of the 20th Century, it contained hundreds of his photos that documented a wide spectrum of the German people of that era, from the working classes to the more privileged classes to the homeless and forsaken.

He also produced a book in 1929, Face of Our Time, that contained a group of 60 of these portraits. Under the Nazi regime a few years later, this book was banned and the printing plates for it destroyed. He was allowed to continue working as a photographer but kept under the radar. His son, as a Socialist, was sentenced to ten years in a German prison, where he died in 1944, near the end of his sentence.

That same year, 1944, a bombing raid destroyed Sander’s studio, destroying many of his negatives. Two years later, an accidental fire destroyed the remaining archived negatives of his work. It was said there were around 40,000 negatives at that time. Sander basically stopped working as a photographer at that time until his death in 1964.

The August Sander Archive, even with the great loss of the fires, contains about 5000 photos and 11,000 negatives.

If you have about 9 minutes, take a look at this video. I think you’ll find it interesting and informative.

 

Watching the news and I can feel my blood pressure rising as I sense both my dread and rage. I am not going to vent here.

What’s the sense in that? You have eyes and ears. You’re witness to a new dark chapter being written in our history. If you read it as I do, you feel the same dread and anger. If you’re pleased with what is happening, then most likely you’re not reading this nor would my words mean anything to you as your version of what you believe is the truth no doubt diverges from my own.

Lately, I keep coming back to a passage from a 1995 book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, from scientist Carl Sagan.  The book was a defense of science and rationality and an indictment of pseudo-science and religious extremism. He had a premonition for the future and it appears that the pattern he was seeing at that time is coming to bear now.

“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”

A celebration of ignorance.

That may be the defining term for this age.

I’m going to let you chew on that while I try to calm myself with a little music from a long time ago. It’s Itchycoo Park from the Small Faces in 1967. The frontman for the band at that time (pre-Rod Stewart) was Steve Marriott. Probably not a name many of you know but he was highly influential in the history of modern rock and roll. For example, Robert Plant was an ardent Marriott fan sometimes errand boy for the band. He and Led Zeppelin owe a lot to the stylings of Marriott, who died at the age of 44 in 1991.

Anyway, it’s a favorite song and one that eases my mind a bit on days like this. Give it a try for yourself.

 

 

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A tree against the sky possesses the same interest, the same character, the same expression as the figure of a human.

Georges Rouault

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Georges Rouault (1871- 1958) has been a favorite of mine for a long time and the quote above certainly falls in line with my own feelings about the image of a tree. I have used the tree, the Red Tree to be more exact, for the past twenty years as a surrogate for the human figure in my paintings. You could pretty much insert a human figure in place of the Red Tree in many paintings and not lose much of the emotional content of the painting.

It would be a different painting, that’s for sure. The presence of the figure would focus everything on the specific human aspects portrayed in it. Is it a man or a woman? A child? Tall or short? Thin or wide? The interpretation of the painting becomes much more narrowly defined.

Using the Red Tree, on the other hand, allows for a broader reading, allows the viewer to see it in whatever terms they desire. It can be their own surrogate in the landscape. Or it can take on the characteristics of someone with meaning for them or someone expressing feelings that they share.

Or it can simply be a tree.

So, while I like being able to give the viewer those choices,I see the trees in my work, as Rouault says, as having the same interest, the same character, the same expression as the figure of a human.

Wouldn’t have it any other way.

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