Color Vibration

Color which vibrates just like music, is able to attain what is most general and yet most elusive in nature.

– Paul Gauguin


I came across this line that Gauguin had written in a letter to the poet Andre Fontainas and it reminded me of how I often compare painting to music, how I try to find that  rhythm, maybe the vibration to which Gauguin alludes, in my work that has the same effect on the viewer’s unconscious mind as does music. That thing that would make my work, like music, communicable across all boundaries. Something that would easily be absorbed as an emotional response without first having to dissect it intellectually, like music that you hear for the first time and react to without thinking, often finding it still vibrating in your mind for days and weeks afterward.

It’s a grand aspiration and I am never sure if I ever reach that goal. But I do keep hoping and trying.

I chose the painting above to illustrate this post because I like the simplicity and harmony of it. Titled Ever, it’s a 15″ by 18 ” piece on paper that is as much an abstraction, with its spare forms and lines, as it is a depiction of reality. My hope is that the color and harmony of this piece creates a vibration or rhythm that overcomes the unnaturalness of it, allowing it to make an emotional  contact before the mind finds some intellectual objection.

Again, a grand aspiration.

Reading back over this, I have to say that I don’t sit before my easel or table and ponder these concerns before I start to work. I often only think about these matters when I come across a quote or a line like the one above from Gauguin. These words often make me wonder about my own aspirations for my work, what they are and how they compare to the painters of the past whose work I admire. I guess I am looking for a commonality in our views that connects us somehow, even though our work may not reflect this bond.

Another grand aspiration.

The entry above was first posted here back in 2011. I chose to run it again today because as I prepare for my show that opens in a bit over two weeks I find myself seeing the importance of  color in my work, even more than form and subject. It has it’s own feeling, its own rhythm and harmony– the vibration described above. It propels the work and makes certain pieces resonate like visual music.


Omega Tree

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. 


Every beginning has an end. Every end is a new beginning.

Those are the thoughts that come to mind for me when I look at this new painting that I am calling Omega Tree which is part of my show, Sensing the Unseen that opens on December 1 at the Kada Gallery.

It’s a paradoxical feeling, one that is saddened by the ending of one thing yet also gladdened by the start of another. And I see that here as my eye moves upward from the bottom. There are bare purplish mounds that would normally support other trees in much of my work, something that hints of something missing. Something has happened that has taken away those other trees.

Going up through the picture, the ground is covered with snow. Wintry and cool, the end of the growing year and the precursor to the coming spring. And atop the highest mound stands a single tree that has persevered. It is an evergreen whose end has not yet come and it is a beginning to something new in this place.

And at the top is the moon/sun that seems to us endless. Yet we know that it also has an ending at some point well beyond our own. For now, it witnesses our new beginning in this place.

It’s an odd little piece, this 16″ by 8″ canvas. It feels like a warning of some kind of environmental catastrophe while simultaneously reminding us that we have a place in the cycle and rhythm of the universe. A cool foreboding of an end along with a warm greeting to a new beginning.

Buried in my work right now and there doesn’t seem to be enough time for much of anything beyond it for the next few weeks. So I miss some things here and there. But I did remember, a couple of days ago, to think about my mom on the date that marked the 22nd year of her death. I’m not going to get sentimental here. It’s an unfortunate fact that most of us experience our parents’ passing at some point so my bit of sadness is no greater or different than that of most other folks.

But I do miss her. She was a mass of paradox, battle-hardened tough but also fragile and generous to a fault. Uneducated but hardly unintelligent. Stubborn but always changing. Deeply private and funny. I wish I could have seen her live into old age–it would be wonderful to sit with her once more and have a cup of her coffee. Ask her all the questions that went unasked, tell her all the things that went unsaid.

But life is like that, leaving us a handful of memories to recall when we need them. It’s been good doing just that this morning.

Here’s a song form her favorite singer, Eddy Arnold. I remember the album cover this song comes from like it is burnt into my memory. The song, fittingly, is You Still Got a Hold on Me. The painting at the top is named after my mom-it’s called In the Window: Flower of Doreen.

Have a great day…

The Dead Milkmen

One of my favorite headstones in the local cemetery that we walk in on many days is one that belongs to a man who died at the age of 38. It gives his name and the years in which he lived, 1902-1940, and the simple proclamation:

Grade A Milkman.

I smile every time I look at that stone and find myself wondering how others might reduce the whole of their life into such a short expression that seemed to say so little but maybe said volumes about that person.

But I also find it reminding me of a punk rock group that I listened to a bit back in the mid-80’s, The Dead Milkmen. I  believe they are still around but at the time they carved out a small niche for themselves with goofily humorous and often politically incorrect songs. I laugh and cringe simultaneously while reading some of the titles. And I believe that was (is) their goal. I’ll let you look them up for yourself if you’re so inclined.

I know that this is probably a most inappropriate post for Veteran’s Day. Apologies for that but sometimes you have to laugh to keep yourself from crying. And today I prefer laughter.

I thought I’d share one of my favorites, Stuart.  I think this guy sat next to me on several bus rides. Based on some of the things he says, he’s probably in Congress by now.


Waking up this morning to find the first snow of the year on the ground. Not much, only a dusting, but enough to shine brightly through the darkness at 5:30 AM. Walking over to the studio, I was thinking about the snow scenes that I’ve been painting recently as a loose series. I normally only do these snow paintings once in a while but this series has felt great as I have been doing them, pulling me in immediately in the process. They have a mesmerizing effect that seems to come from the subtlety of the colors underlying the surface.

But today’s snow also reminded me of a couple of works from a favorite of mine, Grant Wood. I thought I’d revisit an entry from back in 2011 where I wrote about his winter scenes. I added a couple more images along with a bit of music title Grant Wood from the Turtle Island String Quartet that pays tribute to the artist.


January– Grant Wood

I’ve expressed my admiration here for the work of Grant Wood more than once.  I find his imagery compelling, especially the way he creates mood and tension in what seem to be typical, mundane scenes.  His paintings and lithographs often have a wonderful rhythm throughout them that sings to me.  I see these qualities captured beautifully in a series of stone lithographs he created that capture the feeling of the winter months in quiet and moody tones.  The subtle shifts in the grays of the ink recreate the seasonal sense of atmosphere, a point illustrated wonderfully in this piece shown above, January.

February- Grant Wood

This print on the left, February, was completed in 1941 and has an ominous yet beautiful quality about it. I love the rhythm in its simple composition, from the patterned fields of the farm in the background to the placement of the dark figures of the horses to the three strands of barbed wire that cross the picture plane.  The way the dark horse in the foreground plays off the graded darkness in the right of the sky.  Just beautiful.

Maybe the foreboding nature of this print was an omen of Wood’s own death from pancreatic cancer the very next February.  He was born in February and died in February, one day short of his 51st birthday.  I am staggered by the work Grant Wood created in his relatively short life and wonder what might have been had he lived to a ripe old age.  I guess that doesn’t matter when he left such a rich legacy behind as it was.

Below, March is tour de force for the kind of rhythmic elements I’ve been describing.  The sway of the farm structures and the bare tree at the top of the frame.  The wagon and draught horse  riding in on the point of the winding path. The roll of the hills and the staccato rhythm of the fenceposts running upward.  Great stuff.  Instant inspiration…

March- Grant Wood

Just a Little Klee

I paint in order not to cry.

–Paul Klee


I am getting stuff around to speak with a few classes of second graders this morning at a local school this morning. I had a wonderful experience speaking with third graders earlier in the year so I am looking forward to speaking with these kids. There is something energizing in the way they express themselves, appearing as it does without a whit of pretense. When they show interest or a sense of wonder, you know that it is the real thing.

And after a lifetime of dealing with adults where most interactions contain a lot of guarded words and expressions, it’s refreshing to deal with a group of kids who respond instantly and honestly.

I think at that age they have a desire to be heard. And that is something I understand and can relate to. I was somewhere around their age when I first had thoughts of being an artist and it came from my own desire to be heard and taken seriously.

We’ll probably talk about that. Should be fun.

At the top is a piece from one of my favorite artist, Paul Klee (1879-1940) along with a quote that I also understand from personal experience.

I don’t know that we’ll be talking about that this morning.

Have a good day.


The waves broke and spread their waters swiftly over the shore. One after another they massed themselves and fell; the spray tossed itself back with the energy of their fall. The waves were steeped deep-blue save for a pattern of diamond-pointed light on their backs which rippled as the backs of great horses ripple with muscles as they move. The waves fell; withdrew and fell again, like the thud of a great beast stamping.

― Virginia WoolfThe Waves


I was planning on showing this painting, The Green Wave, at some point in the future. It’s from French painter Georges Lacombe  (1868-1916) who was part of Les Nabis, a painting group heavily influenced by the work of Paul Gauguin. I am a big admirer of many of the painters, including Lacombe,  associated with this group.

As I said, this was planned for sometime in the future but yesterday’s results in elections around the country prompted me to want to show it today. It was heartening, a big ray of light in the darkness, to have the people of Virginia show up in a big way and make a big statement against what has been happening this past year carrying the Dems to statewide victories. They rejected Ed Gillespie‘s attempt at copying 45*’s  playbook of divisive rhetoric, giving Ralph Northam a landslide victory in the race for governor and won the majority of the down ballot races.

And it wasn’t just Virginia. Across the country Dems, Independents and disillusioned Republicans made very much the same statement– what is happening is not who we are. Longtime GOP seats were flipped in places that were thought to be bulletproof. If the members of the GOP in the house and senate don’t take notice and begin to act responsibly and in the best interest of the country and their true constituents– not the fat cat donors who line their pockets– they most likely will be swept away by this same wave when it comes around next year.

I can’t think of much, if anything, to say positively about the person who some call our president. But I do thank him for waking people up, for making so many more people take an active interest in what has been taking place while we all allowed ourselves to be distracted. They have been energized and yesterday’s victories demonstrates that real results can occur with focused resistance.

And that will only serve to strengthen the resolve of those who are going to make up the coming wave. This wave cracked the seawall. That was shown yesterday but a bigger wave is out there, restlessly waiting to unleash its full fury.

Like a great beast stamping.

A year ago on this day, that election left many of us thinking that this country was beyond saving, that we had succumbed to our lowest qualities. Hatred. Greed. Selfishness. Fear.

But people have come together to take action and to make their voices heard. So be encouraged this morning  but do not relax, don’t think your responsibility has ended in one day or one small act. You snooze, you lose.

Instead, be even more involved. Double your efforts. Add your full force to the gathering wave and let everyone know what is coming.

Like a great beast stamping.


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