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All Human Beings

“True Opulence” Now at the the West End Gallery

A summer Sunday morning, the heat not yet fully realized. Quiet, not much stirring. A doe with her two fawns saunters through the shade of the yard and munches the tall unmowed grass, chewing as she lifts her head to survey the scene.

The world still feels intact in these moments. In rhythm. Sane.

But the heat builds. Noise intensifies. Animals fade into the cooler, quieter shadows of the forest.

Rhythm is lost and an air of tension fills the void.

I don’t know where I am going with this. Just an observation, I suppose.

Summer days in the time of pandemic.

These are the days when I need something to remind me of the possibility of this world. With that in mind, I am just going to go ahead and introduce this week’s Sunday morning music. It’s another new piece from composer Max Richter from his upcoming album, Voices. This piece is called All Human Beings and begins with Eleanor Roosevelt reading from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The music is set to a lovely film from Yulia Mahr.

Maybe it can keep the world, at least as I am seeing it, in rhythm for a bit today. Have a good, quiet Sunday.

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Blue Moment

“Blue Moment” – Now at the West End Gallery

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The true person is
Not anyone in particular;
But, like the deep blue color
Of the limitless sky,
It is everyone, everywhere in the world.

— Eihei Dogen, 13th Century Japanese Buddhist Priest/Poet

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Every color has its own feel, its own set of meanings that it forever carries with it. It reaches out and forms a bond with the viewer based on these sensory associations. I know, for myself, that blue carries a wide and deep set of such meanings with it, almost all positive by nature.

Soothing. Eternal. Placid.

Limitless.

I could go on with a list for quite some time. That’s probably why I usually find myself always returning to it in my work, find myself just staring not at the subject of a painting but at the color of the surface. The feel of it on my senses.

As Dogen saw in the blue of a sky, maybe there something Zen in the color, some connection to an infinite field of energy that is omnipresent, everywhere.

I don’t know for sure but I am willing to ponder the color blue a bit more this morning. Here’s a song from a while back from Chris Isaak that focuses on one facet of the blue spectrum.

Here’s Forever Blue. Have a good day.

 

Mercy

“Sovereign Solitude”- Now at the West End Gallery

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“10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction.”

― Susan Sontag

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I was going to talk about some current events– the Portland protest moms, the opening of baseball and its integration of protest within it, the return of the term Death Panels in some areas to determine who gets or doesn’t get covid-19 treatments, and so on, maybe even share comedian Sarah Cooper’s brilliant treatment of the absurd Person*Woman*Man*Camera*TV episode– but I just can’t do it this morning.

Instead, I am thinking about the words above from author Susan Sontag and it has a ring of truth for me. Some are going to respond with cruelty in any situation– we all know someone like that, don’t we?— while some will always express a form of mercy and care. The rest of us hover somewhere in the middle, sometimes going back and forth toward the two extremes.

And so long as this stays in some sort of balance, that large groups of us don’t start moving toward the side of cruelty, it remains  a tolerable situation. Livable.

I worry that the acceptance of cruelty and the rejection of mercy has become too easy a choice for too many. Too many react without empathy, without the thought of others’ struggles and without considering how their own demeaning of others ultimately demeans themselves.

I would like to say if I am not merciful that I at least lean toward the side of mercy. Maybe just being aware of these poles of reaction is a start toward a world with a bit more mercy.

As always, I don’t know.

And the world keeps turning…

Here’s a lovely piece of new music from composer Max Richter that is custom made for this discussion. It includes a thought provoking video that I conclude must have been produced before the pandemic. I think we all notice things like people riding subways without masks or people hugging a little more now.

Anyway, please take a few moments and give a listen. It might help a bit.

Carried Across

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“One way or another, all the bridges between that time and this one have been burned. Time’s a reach, too, you know, just like the one that lies between the islands and the mainland, but the only ferry that can cross it is memory, and that’s like a ghost-ship – if you want it to disappear, after awhile it will.”

Stephen King, Dolores Claiborne

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I call this piece, at 16″ by 40″ on canvas, Carried Across. Included in my current annual show at the West End Gallery, it’s a painting that brims with potential interpretations for me. The ferry between the living and the dead is the one that jumps out, of course.

But the one offered up above, taken from a Stephen King novel, probably meshes best with my personal view of this painting.

We are always losing people as age takes its toll. Apart from just the loss of that person and all that that entails, we also lose a bridge to their experiences and the memories they held of them. Personal histories, lesser known details and larger myths are often lost in the void as this bridge collapses.

That came to mind in a very personal way the other day as I was able to visit my father for the first time in four months.His nursing facility had instituted a process that allowed one family member to visit a resident under very strict guidelines and I was able to see him in an outdoor courtyard, under an open tent. The process has since been put on hold as a staff member tested positive for the virus.

But sitting there with him was difficult. He was in a large reclining wheelchair and his head was bandaged in a turban-like manner to cover the wound and infection on the side of his head. He was way gone from the fentanyl and morphine he is given to ease the pain, his eyes only fluttering open for milliseconds at any given time. The nurse tried to point me out but he wasn’t able to move his focus my way.

I sat there for a bit just watching him. His hands went to his head covering in a rhythmic way, running his fingers lightly over the cotton mesh that held it in place. At one point he removed his mask and, with eyes completely closed, held it out in front of him while neatly folding it up. He then tried to out it in his pocket under the blanket that covered him. He then checked his wristwatch which was completely covered by the protective arm coverings he wears to prevent him from picking at the sores on his arms. He did this, too, without opening his eyes but seemed to be satisfied and let his head drop back to the one side where fell naturally.

I chuckled lightly at that. But having him there in front of me, still alive but so very far away at the same time, reminded me of all the stories and memories that are lost to us now. The good and bad, the funny and the tragic, the day to day reminiscences– all gone and inaccessible. I have known this for some time as we have witnessed the progress of his dementia but there was a finality in that visit.

It was like I had made that crossing on that ferry and had returned with a still empty chair.

Over the years, I have often regretted the lost opportunities in seeking out the stories and memories that bind us to our preceding generations. This is made especially clear when I work on genealogy and come across episodes or people that I would love to know more about. How they really were, how they talked, the little foibles and details that made them human that can’t be captured in documents or news reports.

That is the stuff of memory.

Maybe that should be the subtitle for this piece– Carried Across ( The Stuff of Memory).

Okay, here’s a song to go along with this painting, an attachment I made yesterday when the song came up on my playlist. It’s The Passenger from the godfather of punk, Iggy Pop. It’s a great tune, one that seems to be a staple for every alt-rock singer that comes along to cover.

Iggy Pop is an interesting and often downplayed character in the annals of rock music. One of my favorite memories of him was his appearance in 1977 on the Dinah Shore show where he sat down with the always hospitable Dinah Shore, David Bowie and Rosemary Clooney to talk about cutting himself with a broken bottle as part of a performance. It came out years later that he and Dinah Shore– who had an extremely long list of relationships and hookups through the decades– were an item for a bit. But seeing him on a show singing Fun Time on the same show where Rosemary Clooney sings Come On-a My House is everything you could hope for on a 1970’s daytime talk show.

One more little factoid: The sons of comedian Soupy Sales were members of Iggy’s band at that time. Younger readers are probably asking who the hell is Soupy Sales. Ask your parents or grandparents before those bridges burn down.

Anyway, here’s The Passenger. Have a good day if you can.

Nestledown

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“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

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This painting, Nestledown, 18″ by 26″ on paper, is part pf my current show at the West End Gallery, It has the feel of some of my older work with its simple design and spew lines at the edges where the paint has broke free of the picture plane. This gives it a feeling of finding a place of comfort in my eyes, one of security where you can let down your guard a bit.

This feeling is enhanced for me by the multicolored patches of color in the foreground. While they remind me of a patchwork quilt there is something else in the quality of the color that heightens the feeling, something I couldn’t put my finger on for quite some time after I painted this piece. It came to me the other day when I was looking at a book of work by the painter Egon Schiele.

This piece reminded me of one of his paintings, Agony, from 1912, shown here on the right. It shows a person wrapped in a patchwork quilt with a monk laying next to them, his own robe serving as blanket of comfort. As soon as I saw this piece I saw how the oranges, yellows, and reds of its quilt related to the colors in my painting. They provided much the same service in both paintings, creating warmth and security.

I wasn’t surprised by seeing this link. I have long admired the work of Schiele, especially the way he treated his colors, imbuing even the brightest colors with dark undertones. This creates a depth and gravity of feeling that transcends the color itself. This is something I attempted to adapt for my own process many years ago, something that I consider a major turning point in the evolution of my work.

This painting wasn’t consciously in mind when I painted Nestledown but it certainly echoed somehow in memory. And finding comfort in times of trial and agony is a thread that runs through this show. It’s something that hits close to home  both as a nation, as we suffer through the multitude of ills that plague us at present, and as an individual as my family deals with the last days of my father’s life.

We all just want to find a bit of comfort, a place where we can nestle down.

Two Fingers

In the last few days, there was a video from the Portland protests that showed a confrontation between a single protester clad in a sweatshirt and a baseball cap standing against several stormtroopers (how can they not be called that?) in full tactical gear, armed with batons and semi-automatic weapons while brandishing canisters of pepper spray.

This lone protester did nothing provocative, showed no aggression at all. In fact, he stood like a tree. He was a large guy and one of the stormtroopers stepped up to him and absolutely wailed on him, taking a stance like he was Mickey Mantle at the plate with legs spread wide and delivering several full swings with his baton to the legs and body of the protester, who stood stoically still without flinching as he absorbed the blows. Another trooper moved in with pepper spray and shot two huge bursts at point blank range into the protester’s face. At that point the protester wheeled around and walked away, defiantly raising both hands above his head to give the stormtroopers the finger with both hands.

It was like something out of a Marvel movie, Captain Portland, as he came to be called on social media.

Turns out that guy was a 53 year old Portland resident and graduate of the US Naval Academy named Chris David. He had wrestled for the Naval Academy and served in the Navy after his graduation. He was angered by the actions of the stormtroopers he had witnessed on the media and decided that he needed to face them directly so he could ask them face to face if they believed in their oath to the Constitution. At the protests, he stated the troopers emerged en mass from the Federal Building and immediately surged into the crowd. He observed that they had no discernible strategy or maneuvers that suggested that they had any knowledge of crowd control. He said they appeared to just be guys with sticks hitting whatever was in their path. Scared guys, as he noted, who were actually inflaming violence rather than controlling it.

It was a mesmerizing image, this large middle-aged bear of a man in a white sweatshirt and shorts facing several fully armed troopers and taking their heavy blows without flinching. I can imagine that the trooper swinging the baton was shaken that he couldn’t move this guy. The image of Chris David calmly walking away ( face on fire from the pepper spray and a hand so broken it will require surgery) while brandishing that symbol of angry defiance reminded me of another image, one that I saw as a child that has stuck with me for 52 years.

It was this photo taken by photographer Perry Riddle at the protests surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It shows a group of protesters with a shirtless young man at the center giving the camera the finger with a gusto and anger that encapsulated the rage that was taking place at that time.

I was nine years old and saw the large full page photo in a Life magazine at our home. I didn’t exactly know the meaning or the actual wording behind “the finger” at that time but I sure knew that it was a symbol for expressing your anger at someone. The photo really burned its way into my memory and over the years I had futilely searched for it before giving up on ever finding it.

But seeing Chris David’s fingers of defiance sent me on a search for it yesterday morning. Within several minutes I finally uncovered one image of it with a caption with the name of  the photographer, Perry Riddle, and the name of the young man, Frank C. Plada, who it added was later killed in Viet Nam.

There had to be a story behind this Frank Plada and his death in Viet Nam. I did a search and turned up next to nothing. I finally did a search on a newspaper archive and came up with one story from 1978 that ran in the Chicago Sun Times. It finally shed some light on that angry young man who had been living for the past fifty years in my mind with his finger in full FU mode.

It turns out that Frank Plada wasn’t even originally a protester that night. He was just a 17 year guy, a junior high dropout fro m Chicago who had been knocking around at odd jobs, who went downtown to go to the movies. But seeing how the demonstrators were being treated by the police that night inflamed his anger. He joined in and was beaten, tear-gassed, and arrested for his trouble that night.

Ironically, instead of continuing to protest as you might think someone would whose image was viewed as a symbol of those Chicago protests, Plada enlisted in the US Army in the fall of 1968. He felt that he was going to be drafted so decided to enlist and do his three years. Get it over with.

But, contrary to the caption  on the photo, Frank Plada did not die in Viet Nam.

Well, not all of him.

While there, he contracted malaria and was treated with drugs. He also added a heavy diet of amphetamines and a heroin addiction that followed him home after his three years were up. The drugs and his experiences in Viet Nam took a heavy toll on him. He began experiencing seizures and had other health problems related to his addiction and PTSD. On January 1, 1976, Frank Plada died in his sleep. His family reports that the doctors said that it was not an overdose, though he had a low level of methadone in his blood from addiction treatment. They said he had experienced severe lung damage and they had simply collapsed in his sleep.

Frank Plada was 24 years old at the time of his death.

I was glad to finally see the photo again and to know the real story behind that angry young guy in the white pants who was throwing up his finger at the powers that be. The actual story is a sad tale, one that could probably be applied to any number of young men of that era. Knowing the story of Frank Plada tempers my memory of that Chicago photo a bit.

So, there are two images, 52 years apart. Their fingers may be the only thing that links the two but both gave it in dissent to the injustice they were witnessing.

These fingers, that urge to rebel against authoritarianism, might very well be that part of the American character that will ultimately save us.

Good on you, Chris David. Rest in peace, Frank C. Plada.

Fire and Ice

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“We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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I wasn’t going to use the Goethe quote above because I couldn’t locate the source for it. But it made me both chuckle and nod in agreement so I thought I would go with it as is. It would, after all, explain so much of what is taking place at the moment.

The idea that we are a mental asylum and that perhaps those crafts we call UFOs are merely flying rubber rooms on the way to deliver some new batch of lunatics to us answers so many questions. If you watched the Chris Wallace interview with the president*** over the weekend, you might well believe that Goethe was on to something, such was the level of insanity on display. How someone could watch that, especially in the context of what is currently taking place in this country, and not feel that we are on the brink of sheer madness is beyond my comprehension.

The inmates have taken over the madhouse.

And adding to the situation is the fact that the madhouse is on fire. There’s an overwhelming summer heat all over the country that feels even more intense when you add to it the fires of anger and passion that are lighting up the streets of this country.

It certainly sets the tone for the events that will likely take place in the coming months. I am not looking forward to it but it can’t be avoided or ignored. In fact, doing so will only make it worse, will empower the inmates who have taken over the now burning madhouse to act even crazier. Nothing worse than a lunatic being egged on to even greater lunacy.

Yeah, this madhouse is on fire and the inmates in charge have no plans or desire to put it out.

So, I am sitting in the heat dreaming of coolness and hoping that there’s not a fleet of UFOs on the way to drop off a new batch of  crazies on us. The painting shown at the top, Fire and Ice, helps somewhat. It’s from my current West End Gallery show and is a piece that really helps me cool the heat from my own fires.

I will definitely need it.

Now let’s go back to a calmer time, say 1968. Nothing much happening back then. Here’s a song from that time that year that made sense then and sure seems to fit in at this point. It’s Fire from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. If nothing else, this slice of vintage video from the British TV program the Top of the Pops will make you smile.

It’s on fire out there. Try to stay cool. In all ways.

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Like much of this country, I am bracing for the heat we’re expecting today. I don’t have much to say this morning. Just want to veg out a bit. Read some things I haven’t been able to get to. Listen to some music I haven;t heard in a long time. Look at some photos.

You know, just avoid the sun and stay cool.

So, I am going to get at it. Here’s a little music for this steamy Sunday. It’s a song from Dwight Yoakam, someone whose songwriting and performance seldom disappoints. He holds a unique niche in American music, country but outside the popular genre. He did an acoustic album of his greatest hits all the way back in 2000 that’s a wonderful piece of work. Hearing the songs sung with only a stark guitar accompaniment really emphasizes the structure and strength of the compositions. This song, Throughout All Time, is from that CD. I am throwing in A thousand Miles From Nowhere from the same CD just for good measure.

I am including an image above from my West End show that I think fits nicely with this song. It’s one of my Baucis and Philemon pieces called Island of Bliss.

Have a good Sunday.


Angels Reach

Well, the show at the West End Gallery opened yesterday.

Out of an abundance of caution, I was not there. I wasn’t going to be able to be there for the whole opening which was spaced over seven hours, allowing only ten attendees at any one point. I decided it would be better to free up the space so others could see the show in safety. It wasn’t an easy decision and I fretted over it all day, on a day– the opening of a show– when I normally fret at a pretty high level. It made for a hard day on an already difficult day.

It just seemed like one of those days where everything is out of rhythm, down to the smallest details. Several things in the household were out of whack as well. I am not going to bore you with my whining on all the details. I’ll just say that yesterday was like the emotional letdown I typically experience in the weeks after a show compressed into a few hours, all taking place before the show’s opening was even complete.

Then I heard that Ruth Bader Ginsburg‘s cancer had reemerged and she was undergoing treatment. This as unmarked forces in combat gear were deployed by the DHS on the streets of Portland, Oregon, and were forcibly abducting and removing protesters in unmarked vehicles. These were not raging riots in any form. This was just intimidation and use of undue force all under the guise that they were there to keep people from tagging federal buildings with graffiti. The head of the DHS later told NPR that planned on employing this strategy of putting troops on the streets of American streets all around the country soon. It’s a treacherous ploy that allows them to skirt the objections of mayor and governors with the excuse that they are protecting federal property.

Then I later discovered that Congressman John Lewis, an eloquent advocate and giant of the Civil Rights movement had died.

The day just kept giving its awful gifts.

I am hoping today is a better one indeed. It’s got to be, doesn’t it?

I am employing another painting from the West End Gallery show. It’s called Angels Reach. I am not going into what I see in it or what is has to offer me. I will  just come out and say that this is a favorite of mine and this morning I really need to see something that makes me feel good.

Well, if not good at least a bit better than yesterday.

Many thanks to those of you who came out to the West End Gallery yesterday. And special thanks to Jesse and Linda at the gallery who have put in many, many hard hours of work in making the gallery work in these difficult times. I can’t express the gratitude I feel for you all.

Even though there are three Red Trees in this painting, I attach this song, a longtime favorite, to this painting in my head. Maybe that’s why I call this painting a favorite, as well. Give a listen and try to make your day a good one.


This year’s edition of my annual solo exhibit, From a Distance, opens today at the West End Gallery in Corning.

As I’ve noted here recently, this year marks 25 years that I have been showing my paintings at the West End. It’s been a long trek from that day in early 1995– I believe it was late January– when I came into the gallery with a milk crate that served as my portfolio, roughly stuffed with bits of painted paper and cardboard. I was hoping for a critique and had no expectations or hopes that that particular day would ever lead to a satisfying career that has spanned 25 years (thus far) and 50+ solo exhibitions that have sent my work around the country and the world, as well.

Funny how one day, one positive reaction, can change your life.

In all those years, this show certainly has the oddest feel for me. It is very bittersweet. There is that celebratory feel that comes with marking 25 years at the gallery, highlighted by what I feel is one of my strongest shows there.

But I am saddened that I won’t be able to fully witness how people see the paintings, to talk with them and describe, person to person, some of the stories and meanings behind them. That’s a big loss for me, personally. I usually pull enthusiasm for moving forward out of these shows and I can already feel the loss.

But that is just another thing to deal with in a year filled with challenges for us all. In big picture terms, it’s pretty small so I choose to focus on the celebratory parts of this show and the work itself. As I said, I believe it is a very strong show and there are so many pieces that I could easily call my favorites.

I hope you get a chance to stop in at the West End Gallery and take in the exhibit. Jesse and Lin have done their usual masterful job in putting the work together and are taking great care to make the experience as safe and comfortable as possible.

Here’s a slideshow of the show — set to a wonderful version of Work Song from Vince Guaraldi — just to give you some glimpses.  Thanks!

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