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Posts Tagged ‘Painting’

Some days reveal their moods pretty quickly. Today is one of those days– bone cold with a slate gray sky, the first dusting of this winter’s snow on the ground. Feels somber and a little sad, even mournful, just to look out the studio window. There is a group of deer milling around out there, moving with a slowness that makes me think they feel that same somberness, sensing that the good times of summer and fall are past and that ice and snow will soon be a constant for them.

One of the first songs I clicked on this morning fell right into this mode of feeling. It’s Down By the River from Neil Young. Released in 1969, it’s a song that has been covered by a lot of people and I was close to using a live performance of it by Norah Jones and Young but the original just has the right amount of anguished beauty for this morning.

The paintings I am including here are from back in 2009 and doesn’t really adhere exactly to the mode of this post or the song but something about it seems to fit. It’s   a small group of work that dealt with tightly clusters of red roofed structures hugging a a river or canal, often with no sky visible, just a jumble of roofs and buildings. It was work that I really liked and looking at it this morning while listening to this song brought forward a whole slew of concepts that I would like to soon pursue in this same vein, perhaps on a larger scale.

Anyway, give a listen and have a good day…

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You see, the point is that the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.

― Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People

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This is another new painting that is headed to the Kada Gallery for my show, Sensing the Unseen, that is opening there on Friday, December 1. It is titled Resist the Dark and is 8″ by 24″ on canvas.

There are a lot of possible interpretations for this piece, the most obvious being to the current state of affairs in this country and the resistance of many citizens to the actions of this administration as they seek to strip away many protections– financial, environmental and regulatory– that seem to only benefit the wealthiest of us and leave many of us vulnerable to the whims of large corporations. You may not feel this way– and if not, I both envy and pity you– but many folks feel like this country is living under a dark cloud at this point and without resistance it will only get darker.

This resistance to an impending darkness is the most obvious reading of this piece but it can also be taken to a more personal level, one where each of us has to stand our ground again the darker impulses we see being played out every day. We cannot personally fall prey to feelings and actions borne of hatred and prejudice nor can we stand idly by while others act out their own hatreds and prejudices.

Each of us is a barrier, a dam, against the baseness and incivility that is always ready to flood over us, if given the chance. There have been breaches in the dam as of late, these darker aspects getting bolder and stronger. It grows because it is allowed to do so, because many find it easier to accept the darkness rather than stand firm and shine their light into it.

Don’t let that darkness become your darkness.

If each of us stands our ground, even when it seems we are alone in doing so, the darkness will recede and return to the far corners where it has lived in anonymous shame for so long. And that is the only place where it should exist, which is still more than anything that thrives on hatred, fear and prejudice deserves.

Okay, that’s enough for this Sunday morning. Here’s a song from the 1960’s from the late, great pianist/composer Vince Guaraldi who you most likely know from his iconic music for the Charlie Brown specials. You most likely will hear a lot of his music from  A Charlie Brown Christmas this holiday season. Unlike some holiday music, I never get tired of hearing his stuff. This song is not a holiday song however. This song, Cast Your Fate to the Wind -which seems to fits this painting- was released in 1962, winning the Grammy for Best Jazz Composition, and has been recorded many, many times by other artists. It’s a nice way to kick off a Sunday morning.

Give a listen and have a great day. And resist the darkness…

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This painting below is heading with me to the Kada Gallery as part of my upcoming show. Titled Blood and Bones, it has been shown before and has always drawn a lot of attention and commentary yet has never found a home. For me, it’s a piece that has always resonated deeply, always creating a strong response within me, one that feels deeply primal.

The blood in the title refers to the red of the ground and the way we tie ourselves to a place. The bones refer to the bare trees of winter, symbols of a passing of time and of age, that poke out of the blooded ground. An empty chair represents the ancestral memory that ties it all together.

Maybe it represents my own view on aging now, of my own desire to remain in this world even as I clearly recognize my own mortality, understanding that my remaining time here is limited.

I don’t know if I can briefly explain what I mean. But I think the poem below from Ezra Pound captures what I see and what I think this painting clearly says to me.

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Ancient Music

Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm.
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm. 

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing: Goddamm. 

Goddamm, Goddamm, ’tis why I am, Goddamm,
So ‘gainst the winter’s balm. 

Sing goddamm, damm, sing Goddamm.
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM. 

Ezra Pound

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The poet Robert Frost wrote a wonderful preface to the 1939 edition of his collected poems. It was titled The Figure a Poem Makes and it described how he viewed his process of unveiling the true nature of his work. Reading it, I was struck by the similarities between his work as a poet and how I view my work as painter.

For example, the following paragraph-I have highlighted individual lines that jumped out at me. I probably could have highlighted them all:

It should be of the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same as for love. No one can really hold that the ecstasy should be static and stand still in one place. It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life–not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion. It has denouement. It has an outcome that though unforeseen was predestined from the first image of the original mood-and indeed from the very mood. It is but a trick poem and no poem at all if the best of it was thought of first and saved for the last. It finds its own name as it goes and discovers the best waiting for it in some final phrase at once wise and sad-the happy-sad blend of the drinking song.

A painting often begin in delight. A certain tone of color, the way a line bends, the manner in which a brushstroke reveals the paint or in how the contrast of light and dark excites the eye.  The delights pull you in and keep you engaged and it is not until you have finished that you are able to understand the sum of these elements, to detect the wisdom, the meaning, behind it all. It is only then that you know what you have uncovered and how it should be named.

The work itself, if left to its own means, knows what it is and will tell you.

Then there is this gem of a paragraph:

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. For me the initial delight is in the surprise of remembering something I didn’t know I knew. I am in a place, in a situation, as if I had materialized from cloud or risen out of the ground. There is a glad recognition of the long lost and the rest follows. Step by step the wonder of unexpected supply keeps growing. The impressions most useful to my purpose seem always those I was unaware of and so made no note of at the time when taken, and the conclusion is come to that like giants we are always hurling experience ahead of us to pave the future with against the day when we may want to strike a line of purpose across it for somewhere. The line will have the more charm for not being mechanically straight. We enjoy the straight crookedness of a good walking stick.

I have often spoke of the need to be have my emotions near the surface when I work, to always need to feel excited and surprised by what I am working on. To recognize things I never knew as being part of me. If I am not moved by the thing I am working on at any given time, how can I expect others to be moved by it? This paragraph speaks clearly to my experience as an artist.

Then there is the final sentences of the essay:

Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting. A poem may be worked over once it is in being, but may not be worried into being. Its most precious quality will remain its having run itself and carried away the poet with it. Read it a hundred times: it will forever keep its freshness as a petal keeps its fragrance. It can never lose its sense of a meaning that once unfolded by surprise as it went.

My translation of this, as a painter, is that the work must be free to move and grow of its own volition. It tells you where it wants to go and, if you don’t constrain it and try to push it to a place where it was not intended to go, will reveal its truth to you. If you can do that, it remain always fresh, always in the present and always filled the excitement and surprise that it contained in that burst when it was created.

I don’t want to bore you too much. It’s a great essay and is a valuable read for anyone who makes art in any form. You can see ( and download) the whole book, The Collected Poems of Robert Frost, with this essay in full by clicking here.

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Mesmerized

I was looking for an image to pair with the music I want to share today  and thought this old piece might work since I’ve been showing a lot of older unseen work lately. It’s a watercolor piece from 1995 or 1996 that I never felt secure enough about to show, one with a guitar dominating the front of the picture plane and a dark character propped in the doorway.

There are a few things wrong with this piece, most notably the way the fretboard  just ends at the body of the guitar. And the dark character is just, well… a little strange. He’s either smoking a cigarette or has been recently on fire–which might explain his charred appearance– and is still smoldering.

But even with these obvious flaws, for some reason I still find myself looking fondly at this piece and liking it. Still not sure about showing it to anybody but liking it, nonetheless.

The music I wanted this to accompany is from Australian fingerstyle guitarist Alan Gogoll who is being hailed for his technique that creates bell-like harmonic tones. I came across a couple of his videos and was drawn in by the way the filming focused on his hands. I am fascinated by watching the hands of musicians when they play and his technique has a grace and poetry in the movement of his hands.

He also has a series of short Instagram videos and one very long Youtube video in which the camera is inside the guitar facing out through the sound hole. You see his fingers picking and the vibration patterns of the strings as each string is plucked. Called Stringscapes, they are pretty mesmerizing.

I am showing a short song called Mulberry Mouse first, followed by the Stringscapes video. As I said, this video is long, coming in at 28 minutes. But it is worth at least taking a look for a minute or two. Or longer. Actually, while I was writing this I took a look and about four minutes passed. I said they were mesmerizing.

You can see more on Alan Gogoll’s website by clicking here.


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The Studio Barn at Sunny Point

As had been mentioned here in the recent past, I will be leading a workshop next week at Sunny Point on the shores of beautiful Keuka Lake here in the Finger Lakes of New York. Sponsored by the Arts Center of Yates County, this is a two day workshop that runs from about 9 AM until 4 PM on September 28 and 29, Thursday and Friday of next week.

This is my third workshop here and in the first two years we focused on my watercolor based method which is what I call a reductive process. You put paint on then take much of it off, creating the edges and transparency that define this style. It was a lot of fun and a little messy.

This year we are going to be working on what I call an additive process which starts with a dark surface, in this case a textured canvas with a layer of black paint. Layers of paint are added, each layer defining form and creating light. The piece at the bottom is an example of the kind of work we’ll be doing. It’s typically a bit slower process with a little more control, more meditative in approach. But we are going to be moving along at a pretty good pace which should make for some interesting work.

It should be a good couple of days in a great environment with the lake just paces away and the glorious fall foliage ablaze on the surrounding hills. All that with some hard work, good fun and a few surprises along the way. I don’t know how many more times I will be doing this type of event so if you would like to share some time painting with me, come on up.

More info can be had by clicking here.

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“I feel I change my mind all the time. And I sort of feel that’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being – to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don’t contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you’re not thinking.” 

― Malcolm Gladwell

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I am using these words from Malcolm Gladwell today because it fits well with my feelings on the painting I am showing here. By that I mean that this is a piece on which my mind has changed over the years, from feeling it was okay at first to loathing to grudging acceptance to now actually liking it quite a bit.

It’s a small painting, something like 7″ by 8″ on paper,  from 2006 that is titled In the Eye of Grace. When I first finished this piece it felt pretty good and evoked an emotion that hit a mark for me. It wasn’t blessed with that initial giddy excitement that often comes when finishing a painting but it felt right. It was good and I felt confident in showing it in the galleries.

So it was framed and sent out. It never found a home and came back to me a year or two later where it has been ever since. After being with it for a while, I began to actually dislike this painting. It bugged the hell out of me and I could never determine why that was the case.

I finally decided that it might be the way it was framed, set in a very wide mat and an extra heavy wide frame. It was a cumbersome setting for a small piece and I began to realize that I didn’t like– actually, I hated– the grandiose feeling of the frame for such a quiet small painting. It was like having a small simple gem placed in the middle of an overly large and ornate setting. Overwhelmed and eclipsed.

So I began to accept that I was letting my judgement be swayed by its setting. I no longer cringed when I came across it in the studio. It felt okay enough.

But in the past several months I placed this painting, still in its fat frame, in a place where I saw it while doing my morning workout. I began to really look at it and my doubts and distaste faded away. It was like I had disregarded the title I had given the painting years ago, In the Eye of Grace. It did have a simple grace that was easy to overlook.

It became a favorite in my morning ritual. I determined that I would change the frame to one that would let its grace shine through a little more easily. It’s funny how things sometime change, how even my own perception of a piece of myself can transform in several directions through the years even while that piece of self remains the same.

We are sometimes strange creatures living with moments of grace that we fail to see…

 

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