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Posts Tagged ‘Music’

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Living in isolation has never been a great challenge for me in normal times. I thought I was a distant island that only needed a visitor every once in a while for those few things I couldn’t provide for myself. But these are not normal times and the impingement from the outer world pushes hard into my space now, disrupting the solitude that I thought was impenetrable.

Listening to the words that the great leader*** spoke yesterday, where he basically admitted that he wanted the states’ governors to bend the knee before him and had instructed the VP to not call and offer assistance to those that didn’t, made me realize that we are all islanders now.

50+ sovereign states, all fending for themselves, with a hope that exceeds reality that the unified power of the central government will offer much needed aid, will somehow favor them above the others in their time of need. We are in trouble and call out for aid to those who have a sworn duty to serve us.

Much as Puerto Rico did not so long ago in the aftermath of the historic hurricanes that ravaged that island.

We are all Puerto Rico now.

We probably should have taken the treatment Puerto Rico received, a few rolls of paper towel dismissively thrown at them along with conditioned promises of aid that were never fully realized, as an omen. We all are about to receive that same treatment and the storm that approaches this time is even larger and deadlier.

Anyway, I came across a post written for a 2013 show at the West End Gallery that featured the above painting, Islander, as its title piece. I thought the words were pertinent to this time. Its a painting that really resonates deeply with me on a personal level and one that, inexplicably at least for me, has never found a home. It still resides at the Just Looking Gallery in California, waiting patiently for someone to see what I see in it.

Along with the post below, I have included a version of Simon and Garfunkel‘s classic I Am a Rock. This video features the lyrics which is a way I have been listening to a lot of music lately. Times of crisis make me look harder for connecting threads of meaning. Whether they are there is another thing.

Give a look and have a good day on your little islands.

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I am an islander.

But I don’t live on an island. Never have and probably never will.

No, my island is a metaphorical place, one that exists in the creative ether of my mind. An island that is completely apart from and immune to the outer world that exists across the deep surrounding waters. Self-sustaining and self-ruled, a blank slate on which I can create my own reality.

It’s a place free from the ire and pettiness of others. Free of strife and injustice. and filled with the quiet of solitude. Filled with color, warmth and emotion.

An island of creation and peace.

But there is a paradox in being an islander. While trying to remain separate, it becomes abundantly clear that we can never really exist as totally independent from the outer world. Actually, to the islander those bonds to the outside world become even more apparent and important. The isolation only serves to heighten our recognition of our inclusion and connection to the world. You begin to recognize them as lifelines, bringing those things to the island that you cannot create in yourself.

Try as one might, one can never live in isolation from their own humanity. I think the best you can do is to create an island that you can visit periodically to revitalize yourself. And that’s what I believe I see in the work for this show– paintings that take me away for a short while from the outer world and place me on that peaceful island.

For that short time, I am truly an islander.

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No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

–John Donne, Meditation XVII, 1624

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Ah, another St. Patrick’s Day.

No parades this year with the drone of pipe bands and local fire departments showing off their freshly shined trucks while kids aboard them throw fistfuls of candy at the yelling crowds. No raucous drunk buses trekking from pub to pub filled with folks in plastic Kelly green derbies and Kiss Me I’m Irish t-shirts. No restaurants, firehalls or Hibernian Centers packed with revelers chowing down on their corned beef and cabbage and pints of Guinness.

No, this is not a year that will be tipped toward the louder side of this holiday. Instead, it will be one that leans toward the more somber and melancholy side of the Irish character, which is never far from the louder and more sociable part.

For me, moving to this more melancholy part is not a challenge. It usually brings memories of my mom, who has been gone nearly 25 years now, to the forefront. This would have been her 88th birthday. St. Patrick’s Day and her are permanently connected in my mind, down to the color green that I associate so much with her memory.

It’s the cool green of damp ferns, bright and vibrant in the yellow of the sun yet more fully beautiful and rich in the blue darkness of the shadows.

I stopped for just a moment now and a flood of memories came over me. That made me even more melancholy because they were so many of the same memories that I have been relishing for years now while I know there are so many more that are deeply tucked away in the folds of time and mind, hidden so that they would most likely be forever lost to me.

So, try your best to enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day this year, be it with a pint and a song or a tear and a memory. Or both.

Here’s a bit of Irish from the Chieftains, who we lucky enough to see at Carnegie Hall on St. Paddy’s Day many years ago.  Wonderful show. These are two songs with Morning Dew in their titles that are distinctly different. The first is the instrumental The Morning Dew which has the feel of march and the second, the wistfully sad song of memory, May Morning Dew.

Have a good day.

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It seems a little silly to write about my work while what is happening in the outer world beyond my studio goes on. I would prefer to give air to my anger at the gross incompetence and irresponsibility displayed by our government in its handling of the current crisis. Or to voice my anxiety for the health of my family and friends, as well as my own. Or my fears about the almost certain loss of the better part of my livelihood for at least the near future. And maybe well beyond.

Who knows how this ultimately shakes out?

So, writing about painting seems grossly insignificant, even trivial, at the moment.

But it’s what I do.

I am painting diligently now with the hopes that soon there will be a return to normalcy.

It’s what I do.

It also keeps me from thinking too much about the current situation, keeps me as sane as I can be. Now, where that falls on the sane to insane spectrum, I can’t tell you. But while it provides me with an escape route, the outer world often finds its way in.

Take the piece at the top, a new painting on paper that’s 18″ by 24″. It’s a real throwback to my earlier work with transparent color washes with hard edges and a sparseness of detail. Painting it was a joy, like meeting an old best friend once more and recognizing all those things that made that person important to you at one time. There was an inherent comfort in it for me, one that allowed me to forge ahead, finding focus even though my mind was still partially distracted.

The sky in these works always seem to dominate whatever element I choose to serve as the central character in the composition, here the house and the adjacent Red Tree. This domination provides evidence for me of our frailty, our relative smallness in the greater scheme of things in this world, in this universe. But at the same time it provides affirmation of my own existence, standing alone under the dome of the sky.

It just felt good. Feels good. The image above is not perfect, needs a little tweaking as I just noticed a shadow on the foreground. But for the moment, it’s good enough. But even though it, for the most part, takes me away from the now, the current situation always seems to creep back in. When I was finishing this piece the idea of social distancing as a way of mitigating exposure to the virus was on my mind. This piece, like much of my work, has a sense of isolation.

I decided to call it Keep Your Distance, the title taken from a Richard Thompson song from one of my favorite albums, Rumor and Sigh.

Here’s the song. Give a listen and keep your distance, okay?

 

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Garnet Mimms

When I was about eleven, I remember getting the posthumous album, Pearl, from Janis Joplin. This was pre-boombox and Walkman, the era where vinyl still ruled the musical roost and eight-track and cassette tapes were the new pretenders to the throne. My copy of Pearl was on tape cassette and I listened to it incessantly on a little personal tape recorder, the kind someone might have used for dictation. Even with the limits of the technology, Janis’ album was a revelation, especially for a kid living out in the country who spent much of his time alone.

What I didn’t know until yesterday is that a couple of tracks from that album were songs that were originally performed by one artist, an early Soul and R&B artist by the name of Garnet Mimms. I was listening to a quirky local channel that plays a weird mix of old music, a station that I sometimes jokingly call Offbrand Radio because they often play versions of hit songs performed by artists other than the hitmakers. I often find myself scratching my head wondering why a certain song that I’ve heard and enjoyed a thousand times before just doesn’t sound right. Or is suddenly downright awful.

But every so often things go the other way and I am thrilled with what I am hearing.

Such was the case yesterday. The song Cry Baby which Janis immortalized on Pearl with a scorching rendition came on the radio but it was man’s voice. I prepped myself to laugh or yell “Why would you do that?” at the radio. But it was good. Really good.

I Shazammed the song to find out who it was because this channel almost never identifies the singers or bands it plays and found that it was a name I was not aware of– Garnet Mimms. I did a quick search on him and was shocked and a little ashamed that I had never heard of him. Along with Cry Baby, Mimms also did the song My Baby from Pearl. Several other songs were minor hits in the early 60’s and later were covered by the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and many others.

Listening to many of his songs, I was really pleased with the high level of quality in his performances and in the songs themselves. Great stuff.

Reading his bio, Garnet Mimms, who is 86 now, had a lot of success before retiring from music in the 1980’s and turning to a life of ministering the gospel to incarcerated prisoners. But even with his success and the fact that he is often cited by those familiar with his work as the first Soul singer, the equal of legends like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson and an influence on singers the likes of Janis Joplin and Otis Redding, his name is not well known. As one pop music critic wrote, Garnet Mimms is “criminally underappreciated.”

As someone who works in a creative field, that is something I can understand and appreciate. Being criminally underappreciated may be the next best thing to being celebrated at the highest levels. There’s evidence for people to find. The work is still there and it is consistent and timelessly strong enough to still turn heads.

Criminally underappreciated.”

I can only hope that someone will someday say that about my work.

So, while I am ashamed that he has been off my radar for so long, it is my great pleasure to play a couple of songs from Garnet Simms here for this Sunday’s morning music. First up is his version of Cry Baby and then A Quiet Place, which is a title that meshed well with my own work.


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I don’t have much to say today. Oh, I have plenty to say but I am going to spare you having to hear it. I just want to get to work this morning seeing as it’s March 1 which translates to me as march forward as I prep for my annual shows. It’s total immersion time.

So, let’s keep it short today. I want to show a coupling of a song and a painting which I think works well together. The painting is above and is titled Blaze. It’s one of those pieces that have somehow found their way back to me and this one always confounds me. It felt so right and easy– graceful–off the hand. Even now, I always stop and look at this piece for the longest times, wondering why it is here. I guess it just hasn’t met its rightful partner yet.

The song that I matched up with Blaze is Wild Is the Wind from Nina Simone. It was originally recorded by Johnny Mathis for a movie of same title in the 1950’s. It’s a little overproduced for my taste but the song is undeniably strong. Nina Simone took it and made it into a spare and special song. It was used as the title track for her 1966 album which is considered one of the greatest albums of the 1960’s, remarkable in a decade filled with legendary albums. David Bowie also is noted for performing this song, which was done as a tribute to Simone.

Give a listen and have a good day.
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Joni Mitchell- The Mountain Loves the Sea- watercolor 1971

Over the years, I have often been asked about influences on my work and I often list several artists that I feel pushed me in certain directions. Then I also point out that there have been influences that fall outside of the painter mode. For example, literature, poetry and film come immediately to mind. Then there’s pop culture such as cartoons and comics, television and so much more. I’ve mentioned that there was a Coca Cola tv ad back in the 80’s that featured saturated colors– reds and golds– that stuck in my mind for years before I began painting.

There are so many contributing sources of inspiration.

I mention this today because as I was looking for a piece of music to play this  morning, I came across the old Joni Mitchell album from 1974, Court and Spark. It was a great album, one that I loved even as a teenage boy. I had not listened to it in years but each of the songs was imprinted in me by this time.

I also hadn’t looked closely at its album cover for many, many years though it was a beautiful cover, cream colored with a small watercolor painting, The Mountain Loves the Sea, that Joni Mitchell had painted a few years before, tastefully in its center. It had a simple elegance that I recognized, again even as a teenage boy. But it was just one of those things that, because I had seen it so many times before, I didn’t look with any attention at all.

But I looked closer today at the painting in the cover’s center and was surprised at how much my own work sometimes held echoes of this little painting. I would never thought of Joni Mitchell as an influence beyond her music but looking at this little image made me rethink that.

Maybe it was just one of those little things that push you without your knowledge in one direction or another. Influences that you internalize and can’t recognize or name until you come face to face with them. We all have them, those small things we take in and blend together to make us who we are.

I am glad this was one of those things for me. So, let’s give a listen to the title track from Court and Spark.

Have a great Sunday.

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The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.

–Flannery O’Connor

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I think you could probably substitute artist in for writer in the words above from author Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) without changing the gist of the thought too much. All art, and literature certainly falls into that category, is about transforming the now of the creation– the time and place— into something beyond that moment, into something timeless–the eternity to which O’Connor refers.

Finding that intersection where those two things come together is, as she points out, not such as easy thing to accomplish. And almost every instance the artist will never know if they have come to those crossroads that moves their work into the realm of the eternal.

I guess the finding is immaterial without the seeking. And seeking without any assurance of finding something that will ever reveal itself to you is an act of faith, a belief that there something eternal worth seeking.

I don’t know what else to call it. You keep trying. You think it is near sometimes but when you finally come to it, you’re not sure enough of what you’re experiencing to stop seeking.

Does one ever know when they have come to that crossroads?

That being said, here’s this week’s Sunday morning music from a longtime favorite of mine, Tracy Chapman. I think her body of work sometimes get overlooked in the deluge of the new but every time I come back to her, I wonder how I have let her slip out of mind. Here’s a song that fits the subject here, Crossroads, to accompany the painting at the top, Beyond the Crossroads, from back in 2004.

Have a good Sunday, okay?

 

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