Posts Tagged ‘Legacy’

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

I recently finished this small piece shown above, a little guy that’s only 2″ by 4″ on paper. I wasn’t — and am not yet– exactly sure what meaning it holds for me, what message, if any, it carries. It certainly felt like it had something to offer.

It might be small but it seemed like it was speaking with a much larger voice. I was mulling this over this morning when I heard a new song, Calling Me Home, from one of my big favorites, Rhiannon Giddens. It’s from a new album coming out in April. There’s a line in the song that immediately struck me:

Remember my stories, remember my songs/ I leave them on earth, sweet traces of gold

It made me think of that existential question: What is it we leave behind?

That immediately brought to mind a favorite excerpt, shown at the top, from Ray Bradbury in his sci-fi/ dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451. It’s those things to which we devote or full effort, our mind and time, that have lasting effect. Often, things that are done with no real expectation of anyone recognizing your thought or effort in doing them.

It makes me think of my pond. I can see its top now in the winter since the leaves have fallen from the trees. I built it back in the summer of 1998 during a week spent pounding the hard pan soil beneath the clay of my property on a rented Cat D9 dozer. I am not sure my brain has come to rest yet from that beating. But the thrill of seeing it fill in the rains later that summer and fall along with the many life forms that soon made it their home were as satisfying as anything I have painted. I often look at it and think that it will be here long after I am gone, supporting lives of creatures that will have no knowledge of my efforts.  

And that pleases me greatly. Even as much as any legacy my work here in the studio, if any, will have.

I think I will call this little painting Calling Me Home. Not sure it’s absolutely the title others will see but if fits for me this morning.

Here’s the song from Ms. Giddens. have a good day, 

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“The world concerns me only in so far as I owe it a certain debt and duty, so to speak, because I have walked this earth for 30 years, and out of gratitude would like to leave some memento in the form of drawings and paintings—not made to please this school or that, but to express a genuine human feeling.”

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh


Thought a good way to kick off this week might be to share a few paintings from Vincent van Gogh along with a quote from one of his letters that speaks very much to my own feelings about my own reasons for doing what I do. These are not his better known paintings, though some of you may well know these pieces. They’re pieces that speak to my own personal inclinations. You might notice that most of these paintings have his ball sun/moon.

The idea of feeling a need to leave a memento behind that expresses one’s gratitude and one’s expression of self is one that is not foreign to me. I often think about how my work will speak for me after I am gone. Actually, if it will speak into the future at all and if so, will it be an honest reflection, a true representation of my voice.

I know that an artist, for all of the ways they try to guide the narrative about their work and life, have little control on the future.

What will be, will be.

Their voice might echo but it is always just that, an echo, a one-sided conversation from the past. Hopefully, what is said in that echo reverberates and speaks to someone of that future time so that they can fully understand and connect to the feeling behind it. And if so, with the hope that they might respond to that voice in some small way that continues to give life to it.

As I said, an artist has little control over this outside of doing their work with honest efforts and emotions. It’s obvious this was the case in the work of van Gogh and we continue to have a conversation with his echoes from the past, his mementos of gratitude.

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John Liston Byam Shaw  The Flag 1918

John Liston Byam Shaw- The Flag 1918

I’ve written here about how uncertain the future is for any artist’s legacy.  I usually point out that how one’s work fares in the next few generations and beyond is out of the artist’s hands.  I can cite example after example of artists who have created brilliant work in their time yet whose names and images remain relatively unknown in this time.  Their work often goes for relatively little at auctions and is seldom spoken of, yet it is nonetheless beautiful and moving.

One fine example is John Liston Byam Shaw ( most often known as simply Byam Shaw) who was a British artist and illustrator who lived from 1872 until 1919, dying in the influenza epidemic after the first World War at the relatively young age of 46.

John Liston Byam Shaw  Boer War

John Liston Byam Shaw- Boer War

Heavily influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, Shaw produced what I consider a large and gorgeous body of work.  It is wide in the scope of its themes and imagery and when I look at the Google Images page there is one after another  of just great paintings.

The image shown here on the right, Boer War, is perhaps his best known painting.  It a war painting without the actual imagery of war, depicting the sense of loss and despair felt by those loved ones who survive the fallen.

A more obvious reference to the aftermath of war is shown in the painting at the top of this page in The Flag, a memorial piece done at the end of WW I.  I am really drawn to the use of color and tone in this painting.  Just a wonderful painting.

There are so many more that I have selected just a few that struck me.  If you look for yourself I am sure you will find some others that will do the same for you.  One of the paintings shown below, the first at the top of this group , a watercolor titled The Ballad of Luther, went to auction  in the last few years and didn’t even draw an opening bid of less than $900.

As I said, legacy is out of the hands of the artist.  All they can do is to make an effort to produce work that fills their own need for expression and emotion.  I think Byam Shaw definitely did this and that is enough, especially for those fortunate enough to find his work.

John Liston Byam Shaw  The Ballad of Luther 1918

John Liston Byam Shaw – The Ballad of Luther

John Liston Byam Shaw Queen of Hearts

John Liston Byam Shaw- Queen of Hearts

John_Liston_Byam_Shaw_This is a heart the queen leant on  Marriage Procession Arthur Guinever

John Liston Byam Shaw-This is a heart the queen leant on / Marriage Procession Arthur and Guinevere

John Liston Byam ShawQueen Mary and Princess Elizabeth Entering London

John Liston Byam Shaw-Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth Entering London


John Byam Liston Shaw- Now is the Pilgrim Year Fair Autumn’s Charge

John Liston Byam Shaw  Rising Spring

John Liston Byam Shaw- Rising Spring

John Liston Byam Shaw -Illustration for Old King Coles Book of Nursery Rhymes

John Liston Byam Shaw -Illustration for Old King Coles Book of Nursery Rhymes

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Annie Louise Swynnerton -Sense of Sight 1895At this last gallery talk at the West End Gallery, I was asked about what I thought my lasting legacy would be, the questioner commenting that they thought my work would continue to live on.  Although I was flattered by the thought, I quickly downplayed the idea of such a thing, saying that an artist has little, if any control, over how their work will be perceived in the future.  I said that I have seen so much incredible work over the years from long dead artists whose name or body of work has little or no recognition today.  They may have had acclaim in their time or locality but didn’t have the legs to make it through time intact.

Annie Louise Swynnerton -Joan of ArcComing home after that, it didn’t take long to make a quick search and find an artist whose work I felt was powerful and compelling but had little in the way of modern acclaim.  Her name was Annie Louise Swynnerton who was born in Manchester, England in 1844 and died in 1933.  She lived much of her adult life in Italy married to sculptor Joseph Swynnerton and  prospering as a renowned painter during the Victorian era, not a small feat for a female in that time.  Her work was collected widely ( John Singer Sargeant purchased her painting The Oreads, which is now in the Tate) and in 1922  she became the first female associate of the British Royal Academy since the 18th century.  Altogether, a large career for the time, especially  for a  feminist and suffragette.

Annie Louise Swynnerton -The LetterMaybe Annie Louise Swynnerton doesn’t belong completely in the category of the unknowns, given her presence in a number of museum collections.  But perhaps she aspired for more, maybe even deserved more with her obvious talents.  What keeps the name of one artist on the minds and lips of newer generations of viewers while some equally talented artists fade from sight?

It’s something that the artist can’t control or fully manage.  I know that the only control I have over the future is to maintain a sense of continuity and consistency in my work, giving future generations a coherent body of work to which my name might be attached.





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Albert York Grey Cow in Landscape with PondA friend sent me a New York Times obituary from the other day of a somewhat obscure painter.  The headline read, “Albert York, Reclusive Landscape Painter, Dies At 80” and told of the life and death Albert York, “a painter of small, mysterious landscapes who shunned the art world yet had a fervent following within it.”

I’m not sure if my friend forwarded this because it ‘s an interesting read or if he saw similarities between York and me.  But reading it made me think about my own form of increasing  reclusiveness and its effect on my career and beyond.

I used to worry about what sort of legacy, if any,  I would leave behind with the work I’m doing.  I guess that’s only normal when you feel you’re putting everything you have into something.  Much like a business owner who works his whole life growing and nurturing his business wants to believe that his toil will leave an enterprise that lives on past him.  Nobody wants to believe their very best will leave no footprints in the sands of time.

As an artist, these footprints are left through the recognition of your work.  This involves putting your work out there, pushing it and promoting it, making it known to those in the art world.  Sometimes doing good work will be enough but that is a rarity. It is a very social game in most cases, with careers advanced primarily through contacts begetting contacts.  The socially aggressive, those who seek to mingle with the art crowd, are rewarded.

I realized years ago that relying on leaving any sort of artistic legacy through these means was futile for me.  I don’t mingle well, haven’t been to anything resembling a party, outside of a few openings at my local gallery, for many years.  I don’t make contacts well.  Barely keep up with my best friends and family.  I can’t remember the last time I went to a movie, let alone a party.  I seldom like to venture beyond my normal routine or the end of my driveway.

I now realize this who I am and as such, have severe limitations on how I can affect the legacy of my work.  I will never be the insider, the social gadfly who constantly self-promotes.   I thought I could do that at one point but I know now that it’s not for me.  This blog is as close as I get to self-promotion these days.  I can only do what I do and that is paint and try to keep slogging ahead, hoping a footprint or two remains behind.

So, Albert York, my best wishes for you on your new endeavor.  Your work seems to have left a footprint…

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