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Toil’s Reward

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“The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets by it but what he becomes by it.”

–John Ruskin

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John Ruskin (1819-1900) was yet another of those 19th century British jack-of-all-trades. He was an accomplished artist, social commentator, philanthropist and the leading art critic of the Victorian Age. He was also a prolific writer on a wide variety of subjects, from archaeology to ornithology and everything in between. He also wrote stinging polemics calling for needed social change in Britain at that time. He was the British equivalent of a renaissance man.

Born into a wealthy merchant family, Ruskin may not have experienced much physical labor in his life but he obviously toiled in other ways to have achieved so much in his time on this planet. I think his words above on how we are changed from toil have a certain ring of truth.

I believe there are rewards for hard work that go far beyond the immediate material compensation we receive. It forms our behaviors, our tolerances and our perception of our place in the world. It teaches us what is important and what is not. It gives us focus and discipline and the experience that may one day transform into wisdom. It gives us identity and  purpose.

And it applies for everyone, from clerks to plumbers to scientists to housekeepers. Even artists.

Hard work has been a recurring theme in some of my work over the years. It’s definitely the theme of the painting at the top, Toil’s Reward, which is included in my Moments and Color show now hanging at the West End Gallery. There’s a richness and warmth in the colors of this piece that feels like a reward in itself.

If you come out this Saturday, August 17, to see it at the West End Gallery, say around 1 PM, you can take part in my annual Gallery Talk. I promise you I will be working hard. Maybe even sweating profusely. But hopefully, you will be the one being rewarded, maybe even taking home the original painting that will be given away. Even if you don’t win the big one, there are some other smaller prizes that you have a pretty good chance of getting. And besides that, it’s usually an entertaining time.

Like they say, it’s not hard work if you like what you’re doing.

See you Saturday!

 

Struwwelpeter

I am busy this week prepping for my Gallery Talk this coming Saturday at the West End Gallery and in getting work ready for my Icons & Exiles exhibit. That will open at the Octagon Gallery at the Patterson Library in Westfield, NY next Friday, August 23, with an opening that begin at 7 PM.

The Icons & Exiles show will mainly feature paintings from my early Exiles series from 1995, my ancestral Icons series from 2016, and the Outlaws series from 2006. There will also be a small group of my more typical work as well as some oddities that don’t really fall into any of those categories.

One of these is the small painting at the top, Struwwelpeter. It was painted around the same time as the Outlaws series in 2006 but I wouldn’t consider him an outlaw in the truest sense of the word. He is more of an outcast, a young man who refused to bathe or cut his hair or trim his nails. His hair is described as standing up on his head and his nails as being long and pointy. As a result, this unkempt young man is forever unloved.

Struwwelpeter was the title character in a small book of strange and sometimes grisly cautionary children’s tales designed to warn children not to misbehave. It was put together in Germany in 1845 by Heinrich Hoffman, a doctor who assembled these stories for his three year old son. He printed a small edition and it became popular immediately. It has became a classic, remaining in print around the world since that time.

One of the more recognizable stories from the book concerns the Scissorman. This short episode warns that if young children sucked their thumbs, the Scissorman will find them and cut off their thumbs.

Do not suck your thumb!

Struwwelpeter hasn’t been seen in well over a decade so I am pleased to have him out and in public, even as slovenly as he might be. There are more oddities like him in this show, some that have shared here in the past and some never seen. It should be a fun show.

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UPCOMING EVENTS:

GALLERY TALK-This Saturday, August 10, beginning at 1 PM at the WEST END GALLERY–Good talk, some fun and prizes!

ICONS & EXILES OPENING- Friday, August 23, from 7-9 PM at the OCTAGON GALLERY at the PATTERSON LIBRARY in Westfield, NY

ART TALK- Thursday, September 12, beginning at 6 PM at Octagon Gallery, Patterson Library, Westfield, NY

GALLERY TALK- Saturday, September 21, beginning at 1 PM at PRINCIPLE GALLERY, ALEXANDRIA, VA– Details coming

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Light and Wisdom

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“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

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The painting shown above is Light and Wisdom, part of my show, Moments and Color, that is currently on the walls of the West End Gallery. It’s a personal favorite of mine and one that I think sometimes get overlooked by other work that is larger or brighter. Maybe it’s just that I see a lot of personal symbolism in it. The background of the sky resembles a maze which symbolizes the search for something, for example. And it has my recurring symbols of the Red Roofs, the path that runs toward a distant point, the guide trees that frame the scene, the far horizon and, of course, the Red Tree arriving at a moment of realization in the form of the light from the rising sun.

It’s a meaningful piece for me and my hope is that others will see that in it as well.

I love the lines below it from T.S. Eliot, feeling that they express so well what I see in this painting. Life often feels like a constant search for some vaguely defined object– knowledge, wisdom, love, experience, etc.– that will make us somehow whole. Yet, as is often the case, we only reach wholeness within ourselves, in that place where the journey began. Maybe that is why I chose this painting for this bit of verse from Eliot– it has a sense of wholeness that has been ultimately fulfilled by realizing that the answer was in itself.

The answer, the light that illuminates our meaning, is always near, always just waiting for us to really see it for what it is.

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You can see Light and Wisdom at the West End Gallery where I will be giving my annual Gallery Talk this coming Saturday, August 17, beginning at 1 PM. As mentioned here before, the Gallery Talks always features some great conversation, some laughs, occasional tears and the pièce de résistance, a drawing for an original painting — or maybe two?–along with some other pretty neat prizes. Hope you can make it there!

Busy this morning getting ready for two events–this coming Saturday’s Gallery Talk at the West End Gallery followed quickly in the next week by the opening of my Icons & Exiles exhibit at the Octagon Art Gallery at the historic Patterson Library.

There’s actually a lot to do for both events, even the Gallery Talk where you might think that I just show up and talk. Sometimes it sure seems that way. But I do try to organize my thoughts, to establish some sort of theme that kicks off the thing in a positive way. And for me, that is work.

So, today I am showing a piece, The Attuning, that has only been shown once. It had been in a gallery’s flat files for many years and I do not think and I do not think was ever shown fully presented in mat and frame. It probably only came out of the file a few times over the years. It appeared on their website and its colors appeared a little severe to my eye. That was how I judged the piece for all those years. It became a lesser piece for me.

But when I saw the actual piece again for the first time in six years, I realized how wrong my judgement had been. Yes, they were strong colors. But my original photo editing had skewed it away from its reality. The actual painting felt so much different than the image I had seen online. It was, in fact, much more nuanced and subtle than I had been seeing it in my mind through the years.

I saw it in the way I no doubt saw it when it was created.

I have reedited the image and it feels closer now to the reality of the painting. Glad it was able to change my mind.

That brings us to the music for this Sunday morning. It is When Your Mind’s Made Up from Irish singer/songwriter Glen Hansard. This is from Once, the 2007 film that Hansard starred in and for which he won an Oscar for his songwriting. It was later turned into a hit Broadway musical. This song was my favorite from the film, where it was performed with a backing band in a recording studio. There, the song built and built with the band coming to a large crescendo. I came across this live performance with just Glen Hansard and thought that it couldn’t possibly match the version with the band.

I was very wrong. Glad it was able to change my mind.

Give a listen and have a good day. Hope to see you next Saturday at the West End Gallery for the Gallery Talk beginning at 1 PM. Check out yesterday’s blog entry to see the painting you could win there. Plus, a few other things that I’m not going to discuss here.

My annual Gallery Talk at the West End Gallery is a week away. It takes place next Saturday, August 17, beginning at 1 PM. It’s an hour of conversation about art and often much more that comes to an end with what has become a tradition– the drawing for an original painting to awarded to someone in attendance.

I have written in the past about how I sweat over the selection of the paintings for these drawings. I really want these paintings to be meaningful for myself so that it feels like I am actually making a sacrifice in letting go of the piece. To be honest, I have given away paintings in the past that I kind of regret having done so now and wish I had held on to them.

But I know that by giving those paintings away that I cherish, they most likely will have more meaning to those who receive them. And that is important to me.

Take for example the choice I have made to give away next Saturday, shown at the top. It is a painting called Night Oath from 2007. It was shown only once for a short time in a gallery before coming home to me. Never showed it again.

It always felt special to me but I knew that in its original form it was much too dark. It had great color but it didn’t pop off the surface. Over the years I have always planned to rework the painting but something always came up and the painting shuffled from spot to spot in my studio, patiently awaiting its time.

Recently, that time came. I added a lot of light and highlights to the surfaces and was smitten with the finished piece. It was the painting I always thought it should be, so much more vibrant and alive than it was for all those years in waiting.

It deserved to be seen, deserved to be part of someone’s life.

Maybe part of your life.

Next Saturday I will part with it and it will begin a new life somewhere outside my studio. I am excited by the thought that this painting might take on new meaning for someone else. I make my living  and get great gratification in selling my work but the simple act of transferring a meaningful painting in these events is a special moment for me. There’s a certain freedom that comes in letting things go. That may be what defines the spirit of generosity. I don’t know.

Whatever the case, please come on out to the West End Gallery next Saturday, August 17 for the Gallery Talk and a chance to make Night Oath part of your life. Plus, there are some other little surprises so definitely try to make it.The Talk begins at 1 PM and, as I’ve noted before here, try to get there a bit early to get a seat– it fills up pretty quickly! Maybe we can have a pre-Talk chat.

Place of Sanctuary

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“The whole value of solitude depends upon oneself; it may be a sanctuary or a prison, a haven of repose or a place of punishment, a heaven or a hell, as we ourselves make it.” 

― John Lubbock, Peace and Happiness

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I had never heard of John Lubbock before coming across the short quote above. He was one of those interesting 19th century British characters, a titled member (1st Baron Avebury) of a wealthy banking family who made great contributions to the advancement of the sciences and math as well as to many liberal causes.

For example, it was John Lubbock who coined the terms Paleolithic and Neolithic in describing the Old and New Stone Ages, as well as helping to make archaeology a recognized scientific discipline. As a youth he was a neighbor to Charles Darwin and was heavily influenced by the older scientist, who he befriended. He also worked with Darwin as a young man and championed his evolutionary theories in his later adulthood. He was obviously a man who used his position and access to higher knowledge to add to both his own intellect and that of our our collective body.

That being said, his words this morning gave me pause.

I have generally viewed solitude as a sanctuary, even in the troubled times of my life. It was a place to calm myself, to gather my thoughts and clearly examine what was before me.

I crave solitude so the idea that for some this same solitude could feel like a hell or a prison seemed foreign to me. What differentiates one’s perception of such a basic thing as the solitude in being alone? How could my place of sanctuary be someone else’s chamber of horrors?

If you’re expecting me to answer, you’re going to be disappointed because I can’t really say.  I would say it might have to do with insecurity but I have as much, if not more, uncertainty and insecurity than most people. We all have unique psychological makeups and every situation, including that of solitude, is seen from a unique perspective.

This is also the basis for all art. What else could explain how one person can look at a painting and see an idyllic scene while another can feel uneasy or even offended by the same scene?

Now, the painting at the top, titled A Place of Sanctuary, is a piece that very much reflects this sense of finding haven in solitude. For me, it is calming and centering, a place and time that appeals to my need for sanctuary.

Someone else might see it otherwise. They might see something remote, alien and unsettling in it.

I may not understand it but that’s okay, too. So long as they feel something…

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This post originally ran in 2018. The painting, A Place of Sanctuary, is currently on view at the West End Gallery as part of my solo exhibit, Moments and Color, which runs until August 30.

I briefly mentioned a few weeks back, in a post about the discovery of some lost work in my crumbling old studio, that I was preparing some work for a small solo show at a public space in western New York, out near the shores of Lake Erie. Well, here’s a little more on that show.

Patterson Library, Westfield, NY

The show takes place at the Octagon Art Gallery located in the historic and beautiful Patterson Library in Westfield, NY, which is a village in Chautauqua County, not far from the well known lake with the same name and its famous Chautauqua Institution. It’s an area known for its vineyards filled with the Concord grapes that have been made into Welch’s Grape Juice at a plant there since 1897.

Exiles: Cain 1995

The library is a gorgeous Beaux Arts structure from the early 20th century and the gallery is, as its name implies, a large octagon shaped space. When I first agreed to this show last year, I wasn’t overly thrilled about doing a small show in a distant library. But visiting the space changed my mind. It’s a great space and environment with a history of some very fine exhibitions. I began to see it as an opportunity to display the work from some earlier series that have seldom, if ever, been displayed. There is a large group of pieces from my very early Exiles series, several from my later Outlaws series, and all my ancestral Icons from 2016 along with a number of other anomalies that I feel fit into place with these guys. There will also be a few examples of my trademark work as anchors.

The show is called Icons & Exiles and it opens Friday, August 23 and is on display there until September 20. There is an opening reception on the evening of Friday, August 23,that runs from 7-9 PM. There will be an Art Talk in support of the show on Thursday, September 12 beginning at 6 PM.

I’m actually kind of excited for this show now. It will be great to see these pieces fully presented together for the first time. So, if you find yourself out in Western NY near the shores of Lake Erie, stop in and take a look. I think it will be an interesting show.

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