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Slaughter-House Five

 

“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: ‘if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five, 1969

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The above was written almost 50 years back by Kurt Vonnegut. I first read my now worn copy of Slaughter-House Five about 45 years ago and re-read it a number of times in the years that followed though it has been decades since I last read it. When I came across the excerpt above this morning I realized how much it informed and shaped my views on the world.

And how little this country had changed in the 50 years since.

If anything, this loathing of the poor or just those who may not be doing as well as ourselves has accelerated as the sheer numbers have grown due to a population that is now roughly 70% larger than in 1969. It provides some explanation for how the poor and middle-classes could somehow stand behind that thing now lurching around our White House. He is everything they would normally detest: a privileged, loud, rude elitist who flaunts his good fortune and mocks and derides those he sees as being beneath him. Who brags about dining and playing golf with the wealthiest people and hates to shake the hands of the common folk out of fear of their germs. An amoral man who is a known liar and a cheat, especially when it comes to bullying those with little sway who have worked for him.

The why of this is in Vonnegut’s words. It’s the same dynamic that allows people to get angry at the supermarket when they see someone in line ahead of them, especially a person of color, using food stamps. You can see them seething, almost mouthing the words welfare queen. These same people would have no problem with a man, especially a white man in an expensive suit, accepting billion dollar checks as a bail-out for the mistakes of these same men.

Maybe that is what we are seeing, common folks glorifying their betters, as Vonnegut put it. Except this person, this so-called leader, is not their better. He is a glaring symbol of the very worst of their qualities. He is well beneath them if they would only look beyond the cheesy gold patina.

To put it crudely: a gold-plated turd is still just a turd.

And even more than that, he is compromised and beholden to several other nations now.

And these same folks, by extension, are compromised as well. They have forsaken their principles and beliefs for empty promises that were never meant to come true. They would turn their head to corruption and possibly murder so that a wealthy man in a nice suit could make some more money.

It was true in 1969 when Slaughter-House Five came out. It’s true today.

Time to read the book again.

Art here tomorrow. Promise.

 

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Hesitating Beauty

 

Going to keep it simple this morning and just play this week’s Sunday morning music. It’s off the collaborative albums , Mermaid Avenue, from Wilco and Billy Bragg, where they took never recorded Woody Guthrie lyrics and set them to music. I’ve played a number of the songs from these albums over the years but somehow missed this favorite. It’s about a Hesitating Beauty named Nora Lee and I’ve included the lyrics below. The painting above is a piece from 2003 called Rarity of the Moment that seems to have that same feeling of unfulfilled desire as the song.


 

“Hesitating Beauty”

 

For your sparkling cocky smile I’ve walked a million miles

Begging you to come and wed me in the spring

Why do you my dear delay

What makes you laugh and turn away

You’re a hesitating beauty, Nora Lee

 

Well I know that you are itching to get married, Nora Lee

And I know how I’m twitching for the same thing, Nora Lee

By the stars and clouds above we could spend our lives in love

You’re a hesitating beauty, Nora Lee

 

We can build a house and home where the flowers come to bloom

Around our yard I’ll nail a fence so high

That the boys with peeping eyes cannot see that angel face

My hesitating beauty Nora Lee

 

Well I know that you are itching to get married Nora Lee

And I know how I’m twitching for the same thing Nora Lee

By the stars and clouds above we can spend our lives in love

If you quit your hesitating, Nora Lee

 

We can ramble hand in hand across the grasses of our land

I’ll kiss you for each leaf on every tree

We can bring our kids to play where the dry leaves blow today

If you quit your hesitating, Nora Lee

 

Well I know that you are itching to get married, Nora Lee

And I know how I’m twitching for the same thing, Nora Lee

By the stars and clouds above we could spend our lives in love

If you quit your hesitating, Nora Lee

Will Barnet/Age

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Painting is almost like a religious experience, which should go on and on. Age just gives you the freedom to do some things you’ve never done before. Great work can come at any stage of your life.

–Will Barnet

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I have known the work of Will Barnet for many years and usually immediately recognize his work. But what I didn’t know was that the work that I associate with him is only the most recent work from a career that spanned eighty years.

Yeah, eighty years spread over nine decades.

To give an idea of the span of his career, as a child automobiles and aeronautics were in their infancy and he actually saw John Singer Sargent working on the murals at the Boston Public Library. At his death, we were on the verge of private space flight and self driving cars. Imagery is now transmitted instantly around the globe via the internet.

A small computer chip can practically hold all the content of the Boston Public Library.

Barnet, born in 1911 and died in 2012 at the age of 101, knew from an early age that he wanted to be an artist. What I admire is that his career followed a series of radical transitions throughout his career, constantly changing but always maintaining his own voice and maintaining a high level on consistent quality.

But more than that was need to continue his work. On the day he died, he had worked on a large ambitious painting of his granddaughter.

It’s a fascinating evolution, one that greatly interests me at the current stage of my career. Seeing painters such as Barnet painting to such an advanced age while still evolving is inspiring, giving me hope that I can continue on the path I am on for decades to come.

Obviously, I am showing only a tiny portion of his work here. Below is a video of the work that first made me aware of Barnet. The others are a selection from various periods just to give a sample of the range his career encompassed.

Will Barnet- Martha and Her Cats- 1984

Will Barnet

Will Barnet- Abstract Composition – 1957

Will Barnet – Big Duluth- 1960

Will Barnet- Early Spring- 1977

Will Barnet- Father and Parrot- 1948

Will Barnet- Play- 1975

Will Barnet- Children Drawing- 1946

Will Barnet- Idle Hands- 1935

Will Barnet- February- 1980

I Don’t Care Much

I don’t care much.

Actually, I do care. That’s just the title of a song that is a favorite of mine. It’s from Cabaret but it does have relevance for our current time. The play dealt with people who turned a blind eye to the growing authoritarian regime that was taking over Germany in the 1930’s. The cabaret was a symbol for those people who just didn’t want to take a side, didn’t want to think about right or wrongs. People who just wanted to have a good time and hope that things would just work out without them.

Wanted to believe that they didn’t have to care much.

That belief, thinking that one could just ignore the coming atrocity without being touched, proved to be less than effective. Ask the 60 or 70 or 80 million folks who died in WW II.

Let’s not make that same mistake. As appealing as it might seem, you cannot hide and just think that things will work out. There is a great darkness clouding our planet right now, one that is built on the aspirations of authoritarian regimes. The murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and how our administration responded so pitifully yesterday is yet another omen of this creeping darkness.

You must stand against these dark changes because they are taking place at an ever accelerating rate and the window for putting a brake on a would-be authoritarianism is closing. And those who stand with the authoritarians will do most anything to keep their march of darkness moving forward.

Life might be a cabaret but the there is a price to be paid. Vote. Get involved. Make your voice heard.

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The painting at the top is an older painting from 2001 called Three Before the Storm. It fits my mood today. Here’s the song I Don’t Care Much performed by Alan Cumming as the Emcee.

Prodigal

Last week a notification came up on my Facebook feed of a painting of mine that was being offered for sale locally. It wasn’t the best of photos but I immediate recognized the painting. It was from back in 1999 and was titled Black Opal Night. The price was very reasonable and I immediately contacted the seller, offering to buy the painting back.

In our back and forth, she asked why I was buying this painting back. It seems that artists buying their work back is not a normal thing.

I replied that it was from the years between 1996 and 2000, a five year period that was pre-Red Tree and an evolutionary step to my subsequent work. It was also a time from which I have practically no remaining work and would love to have a few more pieces. I have been very fortunate in that almost all of the work from that time have found new homes. The few that remain with me are pieces that most likely should have never left the studio in the first place. They have major flaws– poor color quality, composition balances that seem off a bit and so on– which I would now consider disqualifying, that would keep me from showing it publicly.

I may have been a little less discerning in earlier times.

This piece, from what I could see in the photo and could glean from my memory of it, didn’t seem to fall into this category.

Another part of wanting to acquire this piece was that my documentation at the time was pre-digital and spotty. I most likely have slides of this piece but the slide itself is most likely poorly shot. And a poorly photographed slide is still a poor image when transferred to a digital format, which is still an iffy process for me. It would be good to see a painting from the time and get proper photos. I have to admit that the photo here was taken through glass so it is not a perfect image. But it works.

So I picked this up over the weekend and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. First, the image itself looked new even though the frame, a blue-green color that I no longer use, was a bit less fresh looking. It was definitely of the time. I could see where I was at the time from a process standpoint, how I was still embracing techniques that are now deep embedded.

I often speak at gallery talks about the 60 or 70 thousand hours spent in the studio over the past two decades. This piece was from the beginning of that time and offered a glimpse of how the work had evolved and changed. This piece was pushing at the edges of my abilities at the time which gives it an excited feel. I can almost feel my excitement in painting it from the time. There are surface flaws that are integral to the energy of this painting that give it a rawness that I think was a big part of the strength of that early work.

That rawness is something I don’t see as much in recent work. Oh, the excitement is still there but the expression of it is more refined, more controlled. And looking at this painting makes me wonder if I am pushing myself enough. Am I staying too far inside the lines? How do I regain that raw energy?

And maybe the answers to these questions are the real reasons for me re-acquiring this painting. Even though it’s simply an older painting in my body of work, it has given me so many things to ponder.

Let’s see where it goes from here.

 

Marianne von Werefkin

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Art lives and dies in the unique heart of he who carries it, just as all feelings only live and expand in the souls of those who feel them. There is no history of art — there is the history of artists.

Marianne von Werefkin

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Marianne von Werefkin is a name that often catches my eye when I am digging around for art online. It always stands out even though I don’t have any knowledge of her work so at some point I finally looked closer at her work. And, like so many little known artists that I come across, I have to say I was pleased by the work I found.

Marianne von Werefkin Self Portrait

She was born in Russia in 1860 and died in Switzerland in 1938. Throughout her life she was associated with several important painting groups and movements in Europe though she never achieved widespread recognition for her work, certainly nothing close to that of her peers such as Kandinsky and Klee. It was difficult for a woman to stand out in the male dominated world of art at that time. Fortunately, that has been changing over the past century though I am sure not as quick as it should.

I am very taken with much of her work, especially the compositions and the way in which she expresses her self in forms. I also have enjoyed a few quotes and other writings she left behind, which like her compositions line up with my own viewpoints.

Here are a couple of other examples;

All bores me in the world of facts, I see an end, a limit to all things and my heart thirsts for the infinite and for eternity.

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The artist is the only one who detaches himself from life, opposes his personality against it, he is the only one who orders things as he wishes them to be in place of things as they are. Thus, for him life is not a fait accompli, it is something to remake, to do again.

I know I am not giving you a lot of info here today outside a few quotes and images. But take a look and in it strikes you, dig a bit deeper for yourself. I think you will be rewarded. I see her work as just good stuff. And for me, that is a high compliment.

DGA510708 The Black Women, by Marianne Werefkin (1860-1938), gouache on cardboard, 1910; (add.info.: The Black Women, 1910, by Marianne Werefkin (1860-1938), gouache on cardboard.
Artwork-location: Hanover, Sprengel Museum Hannover (Art Museum)); De Agostini Picture Library / M. Carrieri; out of copyright

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The true use of art is, first, to cultivate the artist’s own spiritual nature.

–George Inness
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I am always thrilled with the paintings of George Inness, an American painter who lived from 1825 until 1894. He died in Scotland where it is said upon viewing a spectacular sunset, threw his hands in the air and said, “My God! oh, how beautiful!” He then fell to the ground and passed away a few minutes later
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He obviously lived and died for the spiritual nature of his landscapes.
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I believe he was perhaps the most influential American painter of the 19th century. His work was groudbreaking at the time and his use of light and color created landscapes filled with a powerful spiritual element.
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I feel a sense of spiritual awakening in much of his works. He moved beyond mere depiction, adding poetry to his landscapes. They feel imbued with an inner light, one that hints strongly to the spiritual.
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You be the judge. Here are just a few of my favorites.

Working Title/Artist: George Inness: Autumn OaksDepartment: Am. Paintings / SculptureCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date:
photography by mma, Digital File ap87.8.8.tif
retouched by film and media (jnc) 8_30_12

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