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Posts Tagged ‘Alexandria VA’

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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.

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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.

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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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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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“True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written, in writing what deserves to be read, and in so living as to make the world happier and better for our living in it.”

― Pliny the Elder

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A couple of days ago I showed a painting in progress, at a point where I believe it had taken on its life force. Even though it was far from complete, it was already exuding some sort of energy.

I can’t speak for other artists but for me, that’s always a great feeling. It energizes the process, makes me eager to see it through, to discover what its final phase will reveal. There’s a sense of gliding. It feels easy and smooth with little resistance, nothing to stop you from soaring forward.

Believe me when I say this is not normally the case. No, it’s not always gliding through a cool sky. Sometimes the process is a slow trudging march forward in the pouring rain. There are multiple periods in the process where  everything goes flat and dull, including my own enthusiasm for continuing, and there seems to be no satisfying end in sight.

But the strange thing is that often both of these paths– the soaring as well as the slogging– come to the same final point. Both often result in a piece that speaks on its own, that has its own life, its own energy.

They just get there via different routes.

The beauty in both ways is that both are energizing for me. The easy way, such as this painting followed, excites me and inspires me, throwing me instantly into my next work.

It’s joyful.

The slog, on the other hand, reinforces me. It builds the confidence that I can go deep within myself and get past the next obstacle I face. To just keep moving ahead.

It’s satisfying.

This piece was, as I said, easy. It excited me and inspired me from its very beginning. There’s a cleanness in its energy, its colors and forms clear and easily read. Graceful. The inspiration I felt in painting it hangs to it still. As does its joyful feeling.

It’s what I hope for in all my work.

I call this piece In Gaudium Mundi.

The joy in the world.

It’s an 18″ by 36″ canvas that will be part of my Social Distancing show at the Principle Gallery that opens in June at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA.

Have a great day.

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When the gates swing wide on the other side
Just beyond the sunset sea
There’ll be room to spare as we enter there
Room for you and room for me
For the gates are wide on the other side
Where the flowers ever bloom
On the right hand on the left hand
Fifty miles of elbow room

50 Miles of Elbow Room, Herbert Buffum

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I have always longed for elbow room.

Huge arching domes of clear air above.

Wide open spaces for the eye to search.

Soundless vistas with not a soul to be seen.

The elbow room I long for is not that described in the lyrics of the 1930 gospel song, 50 Miles of Elbow Room, from songwriter Herbert Buffum. His version of elbow room is a placid paradise in the hereafter

Ideally, I don’t have to die to find my sought after elbow room. Of course, finding such a place might entail a little imagination along with a willingness to accept that this elbow room most likely will be located inside oneself.

Maybe that’s what I am trying to uncover with my work.

Elbow room. At least, my own little bits of elbow room.

The painting at the top is such a piece. It’s part of my aptly titled show, Social Distancing, that is still planned to open on June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. There is some doubt as to whether there will be an actual physical opening reception but there will be a show hung to be viewed so long there is– wait for it– social distancing.

This painting is titled Elbow Room, of course. It’s a return of sorts to my earlier work of the early and mid 2000’s, painted in the transparent inks I favor on paper. In a way, painting it felt like it was something inherent. Built in. Natural, like coming home, like a circle being completed.

For me, this is the hardest work to judge. It’s like looking at old family photos. You don’t look at the faces and apprise them for attractiveness or ugliness. You just see them for what you know them to be, for what they mean to you. How the outside world sees them is not important.

And this certainly feels like a family photo for me.

So, on this Sunday morning, let’s hear a bit of that song, 50 Miles of Elbow Room. I couldn’t find the original from Vaughan Happy Two. The two most significant versions are a gospel version from the Rev. F.W. McGee in 1933 and a traditional folk version from the Carter Family in 1942. The song I am playing today owes its influence to the Carter Family. It’s performed by a favorite of mine, Gillian Welch.

Have a good Sunday. Hope you find some elbow room for yourself, if that’s what you want.

 

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I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep ;
Of what may come hereafter
For men that sow to reap :
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.

Algernon Charles Swinburne, The Garden of Proserpine

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This is the last painting I finished from the group of work that is coming with me on my trip to Alexandria tomorrow, when I will be at the Principle Gallery for my annual Gallery Talk. which begins at 1 PM. I call this painting, which is an 8″ by 24″ canvas, At the End of Time.

This was a trying painting for me. It just never felt right through the whole process and at several points I was ready to trash it. But there was something in it that kept me at it, something that wouldn’t let me just black it out and build anew. It wasn’t until it was 99% complete that it suddenly transformed into a living, breathing piece with its own vitality.

I went from hating this piece to a point where I haven’t been able to look away from it for the last few days.

It seems to have a message and a sense of weary finality. The words of Swinburnes The Garden of Prosperine, an excerpt of which is shown above, mesh beautifully with this image. At least, as I see it.

I am not going to fully describe how I see this now. I don’t want to taint your own impression of this painting, if I haven’t already done so by now.

Maybe if you come to the Gallery Talk tomorrow and ask me, I will tell you the personal meaning behind some of the elements in this piece. We’ll see.

But please feel free to come to the Gallery Talk tomorrow, Saturday, September 21, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. It starts at 1 PM and after about an hour which includes some talking, assorted questions and answers, a few laughs, a couple of feats of strength, a brief operatic solo and a little soft shoe, I will be giving away some stuff, including the painting Light Emanation. Plus there are some what you might call neat parting gifts and there may or may not be an additional painting awarded.

You will have to come to find out. I am not saying for sure.

Wink wink, nudge nudge.

Seriously, hope you can make it. I advise you to get there early to beat the crowd, claim a seat and enter the drawing. We can fill the time with a little pre-Talk chat, if you like.

 

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