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Posts Tagged ‘MUltitudes’

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“Our civilization is flinging itself to pieces. Stand back from the centrifuge.” 

Ray BradburyFahrenheit 451

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I have completed a number of paintings in my Multitudes (or Masks or Faces or whatever the hell I am going to call them) series in the past couple of months and I still can’t quite put my finger on what they truly are or what purpose they serve for myself. As I’ve said, many of these faces have lived with me for most of my life.

They are absolutely familiar. Maybe even going to the base of the word, they seem like family.

The overall effect from these pieces for myself is not a stirring of one single emotion. They are a compendium of feelings. Some are benign and some are very kind faces. Some are worried and fearful. Some seem lost in thought and some just seem lost. Some are angry and some even contain a bit of menace and hatred.

The massing of them tends to balance the emotions for me.

This seems less so in the piece shown above, an 18″ by 18″ canvas that I originally called The March. It’s a piece that I find very appealing in so many ways, especially in the glow its colors produce in any kind of light. The colors, especially the orange/red of the flags, seem to pop off the surface and at a glimpse it seems almost festive. Maybe a celebratory parade?

But the more I look, the more it frightens me, seemingly capturing some innate dread of mine. I see in it a reflection of some of the craziness that is in great abundance around the world at this juncture in time. Waking this morning to hear of the 49 people slain by a white supremacist as they worshipped in their mosques in New Zealand only reinforces this sense of dread and looking at this piece, I see in it the willingness of people to join in, to sacrifice self and sense to become part of a mass movement to march under a banner that divides more than it unites.

The joy and snap of the banners that I first saw in this painting have become something else. They now represent a emboldened expression of feelings and beliefs that is sanctioned by the crowd. Most had been rightfully restrained in shame for decades and centuries but have now been unleashed. They now seem to me like banners of ignorance and stupidity, of racial hatred and blind allegiance to dead ideals.

It was never intended to be so. I just painted it as it came to me, delighting in the colors and forms as they came together. It came easily and freely, giving me great pleasure and joy as I painted it.

But now when I look at the faces and bodies with their uniform shade of color, I see a parade of old white men marching to protect that which they see as their god given sense of entitlement. Even the poorest among this crowd believes that the earth is their’s alone, that they reign supreme over all races and species. In it I see this crowd as believing this is their last ditch effort to maintain this imagined supremacy. That now is the time to take this world back.

And in the world outside this painting, I sense the same. It is a worrisome and dangerous time. We must be vigilant against this parade of fools. And after writing this this morning, maybe that is what the title should be.

Parade of Fools– that will be its title, after all.

Funny how the perception of a piece can change with time and circumstance.

 

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“The muses are ghosts, and sometimes they come uninvited.”

Stephen KingBag of Bones

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Finished this piece up a week or so back. The final product was never imagined beforehand. It was intended to be a canvas filled with faces but somewhere along the line something changed. Maybe, like the Stephen King words above, it was the uninvited act of a ghostly muse that caused this painting to form.

Who knows?

I do know that when I stepped back feeling that I was done, the whole of it surprised me very much. Mainly because it very much attracted me and raised so many questions, both about what the painting was and where it fit in my body of work.

I could even say it perplexed me. Part of me felt that it wasn’t even my painting, that it belonged to someone else’s mind. It was so unlike my other work that I wondered if this simply a one off event, something that pops up, maybe with the help of some vaporous muse, and never comes around again, or if it was a new direction that had pushed its way into my consciousness.

I can’t say but it sure keeps me looking its way.

It has some size at 24″ high by 30″ wide which gives it even more oomph in the room. I know that in a studio that is filled with new work, it dominates my eye every time I turn its way. There is a confectionary quality to it that passes on a delight of sorts to myself as I look at it. But it also has an ominous feel that makes me wonder where this ship is going and from where it came.

It feels as though there is a lot of mystery here, questions that will never be answered.

It’s been a struggle trying to pin down a title for this piece. I am leaning towards Ghost Ship. Thinking of a boat floating aimlessly on the sea that is empty but for the host of spirits of past travelers that hang on, their stories waiting to be told. Sounds right to me at the moment.

All in all, it pleases and perplexes. I am glad to have it with me for the next few months so that I can better consider its meaning for myself. It might be one of those pieces that is meant only for me.

Who knows?

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Funny how the mind works sometimes.

Lately I’ve been showing some paintings from a new series that features masses of faces. Last week I wrote that these groups of faces reminded me of the artifact from the subterranean layers from my Archaeology series. I thought that was a new observation as was the whole idea of this series.

But yesterday I was going through a bin of old work that I haven’t looked through in years and came across the piece shown above. It was done in the early days of 2008 when I was trying to break from a painting funk as I prepared for my annual show at the Principle Gallery that June. The Red Tree had been firmly entrenched as my trademark in the eight prior shows and I felt that it was boxing me in and that I was running out of gas.

It was becoming harder and harder to create the excitement in myself from the work that was needed to make it come alive.

So I turned to a task that a 5th grade art teacher had given me years before. He gave us large sheets of paper and told us to simply fill them, in pen and ink, with anything that came to mind. It could be simple shapes but he suggested making it a junkyard of objects. So I would start at the bottom of the page, drawing things piled on top of other things until the page was full.

It was an exercise that became a regular thing with me in adulthood as I would doodle this way in the margins of newspapers and in journals. Being blocked as I was back in early 2008, I pulled out a Sharpie and many sheets of watercolor paper. I spent a week or so just filling these sheets and at the end of that time the idea of the Archaeology series evolved from this work.

But since then I had completely forgot that I has did one of these sheets with simply drawn faces. It’s not particularly great in any way. It is rough and sloppy but I can see in it the beginnings of the Multitudes series. Around that time, I was drawing faces with a blunt Sharpie, trying to create an expressive face with as few lines and detail as possible. Here’s are two examples from that time taken from an old art business calendar that used as a sketchbook.

So, the idea that I am currently chasing is not new at all. It was forgotten, sitting in some far corner of my mind, biding its time until I was ready for it. Apparently that time has come.

Funny how the mind works sometimes.

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Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.

Charles MacKay,

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

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I am still in the midst of a frenzy of faces.

I call this group of work, like the newer painting above, a 20″ by 20″ canvas, Masks or Multitudes. This particular piece is still untitled although I am seeing it as The Crowd for the moment.

Still not sure what the meaning is behind these pieces.

Maybe there is no meaning. Maybe they are just familiar shapes and it is a matter of color and form that is attracting me.

Maybe attracting is the wrong word because it is not really attraction that has me painting them. A better word might be compelling. I feel compelled to paint these at this time.

Why is another thing altogether.

On one hand, I see it in the terms of Walt Whitman‘s voice in Song of Myself, as I wrote here recently– I am large, I contain multitudes. In this rationale, the faces are part of me, individual pieces of a whole. It makes sense as I have been seeing these faces all my life. They seem part of me.

Maybe that is what these paintings are.

But then sometimes I see something different in them and think that they are quite something else. Something less benign. Something more strange.

Strange because I have become more and more averse to crowds, especially the collective behavior of crowds. While I try to subscribe to Will Rogers‘ mantra of I never met a man I didn’t like, I find myself leery of crowds. I would change Roger’s line a bit, to something more like I never met a crowd I liked with one caveat–I only feel somewhat comfortable with crowds at my gallery talks or openings. I don’t fear and sort of understand the common denominator of those groups.

But mob thought in general worries and alarms me. It seems too easy for one to be swept up in the frenzy of a mob, to sacrifice aspects of yourself for a collective aspect that might not normally be seen in you when you as an individual.

That might even apply to the overall intelligence of a crowd. You would think the level of intelligence would rise with the inclusion of more minds but actually it seems to lower to compensate for the common denominator. As the late writer Terry Pratchett put it:  The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.

As a result the crowd is subject to manipulation, to being led astray from what the individual knows is right when they really consider it in solitude. It becomes easy to believe things that might otherwise seem ridiculous or outrageous.

We have plenty of examples of that in our current state of affairs here in the USA.

Sometimes I see this work in that way, as representing the mob. But then again when  look deeper and see the faces individually, they seem less threatening and more along the lines of Whitman’s thought.

I just don’t know. That they compel me might be all I can say with any certainty. I find myself being both uneasy and comforted by this work. And there’s something to be said for that paradox and contrast. They are important aspects of art, the part that imparts meaning.

Hope that is what I am looking at.

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Walt Whitman: Song of Myself, Part 51

 

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them.

And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?

Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,

(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?

Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

 

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The image shown on the right is another new painting, a 36″ by 18″ canvas that is part of a new group that has drawn a great deal of my attention lately in the studio. They are large groups of faces that are painted in an almost subconscious manner, with little if any forethought given as to how they relate to the surrounding faces. They emerge from dashes of paint and quickly rendered shapes that cause me to simply find human form in them.

It is very intuitive work. It reminds me very much of the process involved in painting the subterranean artifact layers in my Archaeology series. Just make a mark then transform it into something tangible, something possible.

I have known most of these faces for forty or fifty years. They have lived in me, have emerged periodically on bits of paper, on journal pages and in the margins of the newspaper. Some have shown themselves individually in some of my work through the years– the Exiles, Outlaws and Icons series for example.

But they all seem familiar to me. Some possess a pleasant and friendly aura and others much less so. Some are ugly and bitter in appearance. Some even seem evil and worry me a bit, causing me to ask if they are all just variations of my own self.

I don’t really know.

Part of me says yes. I was instantly reminded of the line from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself  (shown above):  Do I contradict myself?/Very well then I contradict myself,/(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Whitman’s grand poem had him speaking as the voice of the collective consciousness of mid-18th century America, a voice that encompassed all sorts of people and attitudes that make up the stewpot that is this country, then and now. As an artist, the hope is that your own work taps into that same vein, that it speaks to connects with the wider spectrum of people. So, in doing this, in attempting to access this collective multitude, to pull them all from your own inner self.  To do so, you have to find that part of yourself that is part of all of them.

Can it be hope and love? Fear and anger? Or just the emotion of being?

I don’t really know.

What I do know is that there is something in this work that seems right for the moment.  Seeing these groups of faces had me wondering how this had slipped by me for so long. It feels natural, like it should have been part of my work for some time now.

So how had I not did this before? I think the answer is that I needed to develop the skills and visual vocabulary to do these pieces in a way that used the faces in the most impactful way. If I had did this years ago, I think it would have been lacking the color, rhythm and forms needed to make them effective. Those are all things that have come from years and many tens pf thousands of hours in the studio. For me, these paintings are a great coupling of subject-these crude faces– and those elements– color, rhythm and form. I find myself attracted as much by the colors and shapes as I am by the individual faces.

I am considering calling this group Multitudes from the line from Uncle Walt. Or it might still be Masks from the for the appearance the faces have with their dark eyelessness.

I am still trying to figure this out so excuse this off the cuff writing. There are a lot of thoughts emerging and growing even as I write this so I reserve the right to change to contradict myself at some later point. Like Walt, if I contradict myself, so be it — I am large, I contain multitudes.

 

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