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Mae Belle Brown

I was going to write today about Memorial Day since we are in that holiday weekend. But something last night set me thinking about our old beagle, Mae Belle Brown, and I thought I would memorialize her in some small way here instead.

I have mentioned that my home and studio is set at the edge of a forest which means that we are daily witnesses to a constant parade of wild creatures of all sorts. It’s a virtual Peaceable Kingdom, if you’re familiar with the famous folk paintings of Edward Hicks. On any given day, we see dozens of different sorts of birds, waterfowl and large and small animals.

Just yesterday, I watched three adorable and fluffy fox kits rolling around after they emerged from under a shed of ours above our house in the woods. Then I watched as several wood ducks from our pond came down my studio driveway to munch on a handful of corn I had thrown out  for the wild turkeys, of which one tom stood several yards away from the ducks, his feathers all puffed out and his wattle fully expanded in regal display. And just a few more feet from the ducks stood a mother doe who was nibbling at the same bit of corn.

Just a short while earlier, this doe had rousted two small young bucks who regularly relax and drowse in the juniper bushes next to my studio window. I call them my studio interns and they are very young, most likely recently evicted from their family unit when the new fawns arrived. In time, as the fawns get stronger, they will rejoin the family unit. But for now, they are just biding their time, feeling a little untethered as they are not really sure what to do.

It might have been this same mother doe who I had watched, earlier in the morning, with her newly born fawn in our front yard. As she nursed her fawn, another equally young fawn emerged from the woods. The doe sniffed at the fawn. But it was pretty obvious this was not her own baby and the fawn moved on into the brush at the edge of the woods. A short bit later another doe came through searching for it.

Later in the day, at this same spot, we watched as one of these does pursued a raccoon on the ground. The raccoon moved quickly to a tree and scurried several feet up on one side of a larger tree while the doe waited on the other side of it.  She moved around and the coon went a bit further, just out of reach. When the doe moved around to the other side, the coon descended and headed through the brush. The doe was quickly right behind it and the coon went up another tree. This went on for a while, with the coon holding tight to the tree as the doe stood waiting patiently below it, a kind of Mexican standoff between the two. Eventually, the raccoon was able to make a getaway.

Watching this reminded me of a similar incident that occurred with our old beagle Mae Belle Brown many years before. It was in this same spot that she had encountered a similar mother deer. Unfortunately, unlike the raccoon, she couldn’t climb a tree.

Now, Mae Belle was a beagle we had rescued a few years prior to this incident. A friend had told me that there was an old beagle at the local shelter that I should see as she knew I had a fondness for beagles. When I went to the shelter and asked about the dog, the caretaker said she was somewhere around the place, just wandering on her own in the hallways between the kennels. Just then she came around the corner and I was stunned at her appearance.

She was the most pitiful thin I had ever seen.  The was small and old, very very gray, all the beagle colors washed almost completely out of the her face and back. And that back, it was so swayed downward, the weight of her little bulbous belly dragging it low. This was all set on four tiny skinny legs that gave her the appearance of a short bratwurst sausage set on four tiny chicken legs. No, not even chicken legs. More like chicken wings or quail legs. What a pathetic sight it was to see this gray little sausage on quail legs waddle down the hall.

They had found her behind a local Pizza Hut, snuffling around the dumpster and nobody had come forward to claim her. She smelled almost as bad as she looked, the kind of odor that came with rot and decay. I left and went home, pretty sure this wasn’t the girl for me. But the thought of that poor little thing just gnawed at me through the day. I came to the conclusion that if we didn’t take her in, nobody would. I told myself that she was in such poor shape we would most likely act as a sort of hospice for her. Maybe we have her for six months or a year.

So, that afternoon she came home with me. We found that her teeth were a horror show, mostly rotted to the gums which were also in terrible condition. In fact, there were points where you could see completely through the rot in her gums to the roots of her teeth and beyond into her mouth. The roof of her mouth was rotting as well. It was a wreck.

After a bit, after unsuccessfully trying to treat her with antibiotics, we went to another vet who convinced us that she was in good enough condition, despite the fact that they estimated her age at 11 or 12, to undergo dental surgery. They extracted all her teeth except for her 8 molars that were in decent condition and one single lower canine in the front. It was a great success. Her mouth cleared up well and the odor went away forever. There was an article on dental surgery for dogs in the local paper that featured her story. Our little star.

Through the years we had her, she had all sorts of setbacks. She had come to us with infections in her ears that resulted in pebbly concretions that would periodically give her small seizures. We were able to clear those up. Then once she has an episode where she somehow sprained her little rat tail. She couldn’t wag her tail without extreme pain and when she had to defecate, it was a horrible experience. She would squat and squeal as she released her load. The vets said there was little to be done but give it time so for weeks we watched helplessly as this poor little girl would squeal each day.

That brings us back to her encounter with the mama deer. It was in early June. Mae Belle was in the yard just snuffling around as she had often done before. She seldom ventured more than fifty feet from the house. In fact, she was normally eager to get back to her bed. We were reading the paper that morning when suddenly there was terrible wail from outside. Going to the door I could see Mae Belle down in the yard in front of our house, on a wide path between two patches of woods that led to our pond. Maybe 100 feet away. She was on her back and a deer was jumping up and down on top of her, trying to stomp her into the ground. I ran screaming at the deer and was within ten feet or so before she sensed my coming. At that point, I was afraid I was going to have to tackle her but thankfully, she fled into the woods.

Mae Belle was again a wreck. Her belly was cut open and she was in shock. We wrapped her up sped her to the emergency vet. They were able to stabilize her and bandage her up cuts. She had twelve breaks in her ribs. When we took her home the next day, she was sore but able to move around. She recuperated surprisingly fast, open sitting at the open doorway of our home with her bandage her midsection, growling lowly whenever a deer cut through the yard.

I did some research and found deer attacks on dogs are surprisingly common. especially in the spring when the does are protective of their fawns. In fact, that same day, a friend who lives several miles from us, watch as their neighbor’s dog was chased and cornered by their garage by a deer. No injuries in that case but it happens on a regular basis. So, watch your dogs if there are deer around your home this time of the year.

Despite all her physical problems and injuries, Mae Belle had a great five years with us. She actually seemed to get younger with each passing year and displayed more and more vigor, joy, and satisfaction as the time went on. She would do a little dance of joy when being fed, where she would dance and bounce from side to side on those little chicken wing legs, a big grin on her toothless mouth.

What a baby doll. It hurt like hell when we had to put her down after a chronic illness quickly knocked her for a loop. But that time we had initially thought would be a short time to comfort her turned into a wonderful five years for us both. One of my favorite memories of her sleeping next to me with her little chicken legs wrapped around my thigh.

If you get a chance to someday adopt an older dog, do it. Their love and gratitude is such a tangible thing that it far overshadows the inevitable sorrow that comes with their passing.

All that came back to me yesterday watching that deer harass that poor raccoon not ten feet from where Mae Belle had been attacked. I know that Memorial Day is about honoring those that have given their lives in service to our nation but today I am honoring Mae Belle for all that she gave to us. The photo at the top is Mae Belle near the end of her time with us. That sweet little snausage.

Have a good day.

 

Welcome to Earth

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“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.

― Kurt Vonnegut

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The words above are from the book God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater from the late Kurt Vonnegut. They are are spoken to the infant twins of a neighbor as part of a baptismal speech from Eliot Rosewater, the book’s protagonist.

It seems like a ridiculous bit of advice to speak over infants at a religious ceremony but the sentiment is striking in its simplicity and practical application.

In nearly every instance, kindness will make the situation better.

I don’t know why I am writing this today. Maybe it’s the shrill ugliness of our society at the moment, marked by naked tribalism and selfish greed.

Or maybe its our attack mentality that has become the norm, one where reason and logic are thrown aside and replaced with insults and slurs.

These negative aspects, the hatred and selfishness we are so often displaying, are not sustainable for us as a society. They are the signs of an undisciplined and unprincipled people.

On the other hand, kindness is a sustainable and enduring principle of guidance. It builds up, not tears down. A hand up, not a push down.

Like I said, I don’t why I am writing this. Maybe the thought was that we– maybe just I– needed a reminder that a little kindness does more for the world that all the ugly words spoken with hatred by one person toward another.

So, this is your reminder. We have a short time on this world. Don’t waste your time here being mean-spirited and vengeful.

Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself.

This made me want to hear a little Otis Redding this morning. Try a Little Tenderness. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Have a good and kind day.

 

 

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I don’t know much about sailing. I do know the difference between port and starboard but that’s just mnemonics — port has four letters like left.

But I don’t know a sloop from a schooner, a ketch from a cutter. Can barely tie my shoelaces let alone some intricate nautical knot. Never felt the spray from the waves and can only imagine the feeling of being out in the middle of the sea, alone with only a sail and the rhythm of the currents to move me.

But the lure and romance of the sailboat and the act of sailing is not lost on me. The idea of attuning oneself to the awesome natural power and grace of the waves is an enticing proposition and just watching a skilled sailor handle a boat, even from the shore, is fascinating.

It’s all there, the same elements that I most often use in my landscape paintings. Natural power and high domes of sky. Wide horizons with the rhythms of the landscape replaced by the rhythms of the waves. The same sort of quietude and focus. A sense of purpose.

I think that’s what makes my sail boat paintings some of my favorites to paint. They are a chance to exercise my own imagination in trying to envision the experience of riding the rhythms of the ocean. I have been thrilled over the years when those folks who can call themselves sailors tell me how much they like these pieces. Makes me think I must be getting some aspect of it right, even if it only comes from my imagination.

The piece above is from my upcoming show, Social Distancing, that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery. I call this painting, a 17″ by 17″ piece on paper, Running on Rhythm. Hopefully it feels right in some way for my sailing friends.

Here’s a song that is not really about sailing but it uses sailin’ in its title and chorus and is just a song that sticks with me. The song is Sailin’ Shoes from Little Feat. I am including two versions, both sung by the late great Lowell George. The first is the original from their 1972 album of the same name, a slower bluesy version. The second is from their incredible 1978 live album, Waiting For Columbus, who was by all accounts a sailor. This version is a bit more raucous and unrestrained. I like both.

Give a listen and have a good day.

The Emptiness

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“I told myself: ‘I am surrounded by unknown things.’ I imagined man without ears, suspecting the existence of sound as we suspect so many hidden mysteries, man noting acoustic phenomena whose nature and provenance he cannot determine. And I grew afraid of everything around me – afraid of the air, afraid of the night. From the moment we can know almost nothing, and from the moment that everything is limitless, what remains? Does emptiness actually not exist? What does exist in this apparent emptiness?”

Guy de Maupassant, The Horla

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This is another new piece, a smaller painting on paper that is part of my Social Distancing show that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. I am calling this piece The Emptiness.

The title is taken from The Horla, one of the last short stories written by Guy de Maupassant, the 19th century French master of the short story. It’s a tale of horror about an alien being — an invisible organism, actually– called the Horla that comes to earth with the intention of subjugating the human race. This unseen invader has the power to enter and sway the minds of its victims. The narrator of the story describes his emotions, the vast emptiness that overtakes him, as he realizes what is happening and his powerlessness in the face of the threat.

A few years later, tragically, de Maupassant tried to commit suicide by slitting his own throat but survived, dying in a sanitarium a year later, in 1893 at the age of 42. Apparently, the emptiness of the story’s narrator was very much the same emptiness as that of  the writer.

I thought this painting would fit well into this particular show, which is concerned with social isolation, from that which has been caused by the pandemic to all other forms of isolation. For some, isolation can bring solitude. For others, it brings the emptiness that de Maupassant described.

This painting leans toward that form of isolation. Maybe it’s the bilious green of the interior walls or the spare details of the room. Or the looming moon seen through the window, a large alien eye always there, always watching.

It feels like an unusual piece for me, even though it fits neatly into my body of work. It feels complete and there’s a pleasant, even comfortable, feel to it. But it’s an uneasy comfort, maybe like that experienced by those whose minds have unknowingly been infected by the Horla.

Or maybe it’s the uneasiness that comes with the normalization and acceptance, by a lot of people, of behavior that was once considered repulsive by the majority of us. It feels like the same kind of infection of the mind is taking place. Watching this take place now must surely be like the experience of the narrator watching the Horla affect those around him.

It certainly creates its own emptiness.

Song of Silence

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“When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.”

Wisława Szymborska, Poems New and Collected

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“When I pronounce the word Silence, I destroy it…”

I love that line from the late Nobel Prize winning poet Wisława Szymborska. It so well sums up my own forays into writing as a young man when I found myself trying futilely to write about silence and places of silence. My words always seemed to defeat my purpose.

You can’t really write about silence.

Using words to describe silence is like using hate to demonstrate love or war to peace.  It doesn’t really work well.

No, you can’t write about silence.

You can only be silent.

Silence is a way of being.

That brings me to the painting shown above called Song of Silence.

This painting, Song of Silence, is being included along with a small group of vintage pieces in my upcoming show, Social Distancing, that opens at the Principle Gallery on June 5. Most of the early work for this show comes the mid 1990’s but this is the latest of the vintage pieces, from 2007.

It is a fairly large piece at 32″ x 32″ on paper and its size seems to accentuate its quietness. I did a number of similar pieces in the mid 2000’s and they were some of my favorites to paint. There was something special in the delicacy and restraint of these pieces. Their simplicity would lead you to believe they were simple to paint but capturing such an ephemeral feelings with minimal elements made them real challenges. Anything even slightly askew could make the whole thing fall apart.

For me personally, when these pieces worked, when they came together in that special way, they felt like magic. They transported me to a different state of being, to that place of silence, if only for a few short moments.

This is one of those pieces for me.

It’s been quite a while since I exhibited this type of work and I am eager to see what sort of response this brings in the gallery.  We’ll see.

The title, Song of Silence, seems like it might contradict my words at the beginning of this post but wordless music often has the ability to convey silence. As an example I am including a selection below from one of my favorite pieces of music, Tabula Rasa, from composer Arvo Pärt that I believe does this effectively. This music, as performed by violinist Gil Shaham, served as a large influence on much of my early work.

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nope

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Earlier, I began to write about the huge amount of sloppy thinking being displayed lately by many people. You know what I mean, those people who grasp at the first meme or video clip or article that confirms what they want to believe the truth should be. They react in a visceral manner and immediately pass it on, not considering its veracity, source, or the context in which it is presented. They do no research at all and just take its credibility as a given.

As I wrote, I asked myself if this sloppy thinking was a product of ignorance or apathy. My answer of “I don’t know and I don’t care” made me think it would be best to save this subject for another day.

So, moving on, I read the other day that a lot of people are struggling with the isolation because they find there is actually more intrusion into their private time by their commitments to video chats and things of that sort with friends, family and co-workers. The article mentioned that their inability to say NO was a real issue for these folks, who felt an obligation to accept every invitation to participate.

It reminded me of an article that I ran years ago and again four years back about the necessity of saying NO. This is one of the first pieces of advice I offer to young artists when I speak with them, telling them there are sacrifices and choices that need to be made in order to succeed. One of those  choices is how you spend your time. My advice to them is that just learning to honestly say NO will make their artistic path easier and their lives infinitely better.

Here’s that article about the power in that word NO:

noThere’s an interesting article on the website Medium by tech pioneer Kevin Ashton (best known for coining the phrase “the internet of things“) called Creative People Say No. In it he talks about how productive creatives —productive is the key word here–  understand the limitations of their time here and as a result weigh every request for their time against what they might produce in that time. It immediately struck a chord with me as I have known for many years that my time as both a living human and artist are limited and that for me to ever have a chance of capturing that elusive intangible answer that goads me forward, always just a step ahead of me and just out of sight, than I have to mete out my time judiciously. We have X numbers of hours and doing something other than that which I recognize as my purpose  represents a real choice.

no 2Ashton echoes my own feelings when he  writes:  Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation.

So, over the the last 15 years, I have wrestled over every choice that takes time away from the studio, in most cases declining invitations to all sorts of functions and putting off travelling and vacations. Even a morning cup of coffee with friend or family requires serious debate. For a while I thought I was agoraphobic but I know that’s not the case. I just view my time here on Earth as extremely limited and shrinking at a constant rate with each passing day

no 1It reminds me of a conversation I had with a painter friend a number of years ago. He had brought up the name of a well-known artist whose work he admired who was incredibly productive. My friend bemoaned the fact that he himself wasn’t as productive and wondered how this person could do so much.  In the conversation he told me about all the activities that his life held– traveling , classes, music sessions with friends and time with his kids. I couldn’t bring myself to point out that he would have to start sacrificing something in order to be as productive as this other artist. It was obvious that his X amount of hours were spent differently than the other artist, who I should point out also had a studio staff with a manager and several assistants to boost his productivity. My friend made the choices that he felt were right for him and who could argue that his kids didn’t deserve even more of his time?  

I think of this conversation quite often when I am faced with a choice other than spending time in the studio. Even writing this blog entry is gnawing at me because it has exceeded the amount of time I want to spend on it this morning. That being said, I am going to stop right here and get back to that thing that I feel that I have to do.

Read the article. It’s a good essay.

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I am putting the finishing touches on the work for my upcoming show, Social Distancing, that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. In addition to the new works, I am putting together a small group of what I would call vintage work, early paintings from the 1990’s and a couple from the early 2000’s. Most of these haven’t been shown in over twenty years, if they have even been shown at all. I chose this time to share these pieces because I felt they fit well with the theme of this show, which is the isolation brought on by the covid-19 crisis.

The piece at the top is one that I am still trying to decide if it will be part of the show. It’s called Dance of Joy from 1996. It has been hanging in my studios for over twenty years now, from my first rustic studio that is in the process of being absorbed into the forest floor to my current more spacious and well appointed digs.

You wouldn’t think that you would include a piece called Dance of Joy in a show devoted to social distancing but I think you have to include the more hopeful and happy aspects, as well. After all, those moments still exist for most of us even in this state of suspended animation in which we now exist. The things that brought me joy before this still bring me joy now and almost all of them don’t depend on any changes in my form of isolation.

But beyond that aspect, I found an interpretation in the painting that I am sure wasn’t intended when it was first painted. I think at that time I saw the trees as dancers celebrating the rise of the red sun in a bacchanalian manner. But looking at this piece yesterday, I saw it an the dance of joy when we finally overcome the virus, that time when we find a way to safely control and manage, if not eradicate, it. I saw the red disc not as a sun or a moon on the rise but as the virus on the decline.

That will bring a time for dances of joy, a time to celebrate those times of shared communal enjoyment.

Until that time, we must be patient and careful in order to contain the damages and the deaths caused by this virus. But we can still do our dances of joy until we experience that real bacchanal that will hopefully come sooner than later.

For this Sunday morning’s musical selection, I am turning to the world of Klezmer music and the acclaimed clarinetist Giora Feidman.  Feidman is an Argentine born Israeli who is considered the King of Klezmer.  He was chosen by Steven Spielberg to perform the clarinet solos for his film Schindler’s List. The song I have chosen is titled, The Dance of Joy. But you knew that, right?

I love the infectious ( bad choice of word) energy of klezmer and this song has it at its highest level. I can see the trees in this painting moving wildly to this music. So, give a listen and try to find some moments of joy today, something that makes you do your own dance of joy. Have a good day.

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