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Posts Tagged ‘Painting’

Wassily Kandinsky- Couple Riding 1906

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The true work of art is born from the Artist: a mysterious, enigmatic, and mystical creation. It detaches itself from him, it acquires an autonomous life, becomes a personality, an independent subject, animated with a spiritual breath, the living subject of a real existence of being.

–Wassily Kandinsky

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Leave it to the great Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) to so well describe that sense of life I am looking for in my work and about which I have often written here. When it is real, it takes on a life of its own. It still possesses the personality and psyche of the artist but grows, adding layers and dimensions that take it well beyond the reality of the artist.

These two sentences from Kandinsky hit the mark squarely — animated with a spiritual breath, the living subject of a real existence of being–and are just perfect for how I see this process.

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Arthur Dove- Fire at the Sauerkraut Factory

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We cannot express the light in nature because we have not the sun. We can only express the light we have in ourselves.

-Arthur Dove

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I liked this quote from the Modernist painter Arthur Dove (1880-1946) and while searching for an image of one of his paintings to accompany it, came across this painting. I liked the painting itself but it was the title that really caught my attention. It’s called Fire at the Sauerkraut Factory and was painted around 1936.

It made me wonder where this sauerkraut factory was and when it burned. Dove was born in Canandaigua, NY,  and raised in Geneva, NY, at the north end of Seneca Lake, whose south end is just a short drive from this studio. In those areas around Canandaigua and Geneva are large fields where cabbage is grown. There are, as a result, several factories in the area for the production of sauerkraut. I am not sure if it still applies but at one time this area and one village in particular, Phelps, was the sauerkraut capital of the world.

Just makes me wonder if Dove was basing this painting on a fire from the home of his youth. I was able to find an account of a large sauerkraut factory fire in that area in November of 1917. This story of the fire mentioned that the fire was fought solely with chemicals which might account for the multiple colors of the flames in Dove’s painting.

It also mentioned railroads tracks next to the factory which encumbered the firefighters. I believe the fence-like structures at the lower part  of the painting are actually railroad tracks.

Perhaps Dove, who was living in NYC at the time was visiting either his or his wife’s parents and witnessed the fire or was told about it, with the person telling the story mentioning the wild colors of the fire as the chemicals mixed with the flames.

It’s one of those tiny questions in small stories that may never have an answer. But I like to think that this might have been the story behind this painting that I like and chose to accompany a quote that I also like from the artist.

 

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Couldn’t let the day go by without mentioning that today Otis Redding would be celebrating 78th birthday if he were still alive. Unfortunately, he tragically died 52 years ago in a plane crash. Only 26 years old and filled with a world of talent and a quality in his voice that so many singers try to emulate but seem to always come up short.

I still get chills sometimes listening to his music.

The painting here, The Lost One, is included in my Icons & Exiles show now hanging at the Octagon Library at the Patterson Library in Westfield, NY. I will be giving an Art Talk there this Thursday, beginning at 6 PM.

The Lost One was painted several years ago and was an effort to revisit the Exiles series that was painted back in 1995. While I feel that this painting fits into the series, it doesn’t have the same base of emotion as the others in the series which were painted at time of personal grief. It tries but comes out on a different emotional level.

It seems you can’t simply replicate deep emotion.

But even so, I like and appreciate this piece. It has its own forlorn sadness.

That being said, let’s listen to some Otis. Here’s Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) from Mr. Pitiful himself.

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Busy this morning getting ready for two events–this coming Saturday’s Gallery Talk at the West End Gallery followed quickly in the next week by the opening of my Icons & Exiles exhibit at the Octagon Art Gallery at the historic Patterson Library.

There’s actually a lot to do for both events, even the Gallery Talk where you might think that I just show up and talk. Sometimes it sure seems that way. But I do try to organize my thoughts, to establish some sort of theme that kicks off the thing in a positive way. And for me, that is work.

So, today I am showing a piece, The Attuning, that has only been shown once. It had been in a gallery’s flat files for many years and I do not think and I do not think was ever shown fully presented in mat and frame. It probably only came out of the file a few times over the years. It appeared on their website and its colors appeared a little severe to my eye. That was how I judged the piece for all those years. It became a lesser piece for me.

But when I saw the actual piece again for the first time in six years, I realized how wrong my judgement had been. Yes, they were strong colors. But my original photo editing had skewed it away from its reality. The actual painting felt so much different than the image I had seen online. It was, in fact, much more nuanced and subtle than I had been seeing it in my mind through the years.

I saw it in the way I no doubt saw it when it was created.

I have reedited the image and it feels closer now to the reality of the painting. Glad it was able to change my mind.

That brings us to the music for this Sunday morning. It is When Your Mind’s Made Up from Irish singer/songwriter Glen Hansard. This is from Once, the 2007 film that Hansard starred in and for which he won an Oscar for his songwriting. It was later turned into a hit Broadway musical. This song was my favorite from the film, where it was performed with a backing band in a recording studio. There, the song built and built with the band coming to a large crescendo. I came across this live performance with just Glen Hansard and thought that it couldn’t possibly match the version with the band.

I was very wrong. Glad it was able to change my mind.

Give a listen and have a good day. Hope to see you next Saturday at the West End Gallery for the Gallery Talk beginning at 1 PM. Check out yesterday’s blog entry to see the painting you could win there. Plus, a few other things that I’m not going to discuss here.

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John Sloan- The Wake of the Ferry I 1907

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You can be a giant among artists without ever attaining any great skill. Facility is a dangerous thing. When there is too much technical ease the brain stops criticizing. Don’t let the hand fall into a smart way of putting the mind to sleep.

John Sloan

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I am a fan many of the Ashcan painters of the early 20th century, such as John Sloan, 1871-1951, whose work is shown here. The painters in this group obviously had technical prowess but you get the feeling from their work that they often operated in that danger zone outside their facilities, relying as much on instinct in the moment as their skill to create their paintings.

As Sloan points out, technical ability is a wonderful thing but also dangerous  for the artist. I love his description of the hand’s ability putting the mind to sleep.

I know that feeling.

I often feel my best work comes from not knowing exactly how the work is going to proceed or where it will end. That sense of danger, that nervous feeling the painting is in peril of becoming included in the next garbage pickup, is a great indicator for me that my instincts are engaged., that my brain is not in the off position.

This is when good things happen, when breakthroughs are achieved, where the work moves beyond you and becomes something of its own.

But it’s all too easy to fall under the spell of your ability, to let your mind doze while your hand takes over.  But obtaining that ability takes years of work and is actually a goal. Why wouldn’t you let this gained knowledge carry your work? That’s a great question and I think every artist has to look at it on their own terms.

I look at this gained ability as tool that I have learned to use. Now, even though I know how to use this tool in a normal, predictable manner, sometimes I need to use it in way for it wasn’t intended. That’s not always the safe way to go but sometimes you find a new way.

And that’s a good thing.

John Sloan- Travelling Carnival, Santa Fe

John Sloan- The Wake of the Ferry II 1907

John Sloan- The City From Greenwich Village

John Sloan- Hairdresser’s Window 1907

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In the entry here last week where I wrote about old works I had discovered hidden away in my old studio, I mentioned that I had found that the old studio was deteriorating quickly in a visit to it last year. The roof had been breached and the pilings were beginning to fail at that time but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it was after year of exposure to the elements.

In that post I failed to mention that when I was in the studio that time I had also uncovered some other old pieces. As I scanned the damage, I went to a tall counter in the corner that was covered in debris from the collapsing ceiling and roof. Under it was a large cardboard box filled with scrap matboard. I dragged it out and discovered that behind it was a group of plywood panels bundled together.

I pulled them out and turned them around to see their surfaces. I recognized the work immediately. They were from around 1998 up to perhaps early 2000. I had bought a bunch of scrap lauan plywood from a bin at my local hardware store. They were all about 16″ by 36″ and I had sealed them with a wood primer/sealant–Kilz I believe it was– and then a layer of gesso. I had done a bunch of work on this material and many had turned out very well, making their way out of the studio and into galleries. Almost all had found homes.

But this group of four for some reason never made it out of the studio. Don’t think I ever showed them publicly, actually. And looking at them now, I can’t figure out why. Even though they showed some damage from their time under that wet counter– for example, the piece at the top shows some dark spotting on its surface that I have yet to address– these seem like strong pieces from the time frame in which they were created.

I like these four pieces. Maybe its my own personal nostalgia more than an objective evaluation of the work that makes me feel this way. For myself, I can sense the excitement I felt at the time in which I was creating this work, that feeling of discovery in each new piece. Each individual block of color seemed to have its own feel, its own voice and each piece had its own lesson to teach me.

Each day then seemed filled with new discoveries. It was an exciting time for me and I felt like an open conduit, the work pouring easily through me.

It’s a bit different now. The work doesn’t flow endlessly through my conduit now. It comes in surges, fits and starts. But it still surges on a regular basis. Most likely, the experience of having done this for so many years and the knowledge I have absorbed has tempered my response but I still feel giddy excitement and still discover new things within the work and its processes on an almost daily basis. And that is a good thing.

Maybe that is the purpose of this work now– to remind me what it was that I desired and needed to pull from my work then.

And now.

 

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I want to live alone in the desert
I want to be like Georgia O’Keeffe
I want to live on the Upper East Side
And never go down in the street

Splendid Isolation
I don’t need no one
Splendid Isolation

–Warren Zevon, Splendid Isolation

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Over the next several days I will be showing paintings from my upcoming show, Moments and Color, that opens Friday, July 12, at the West End Gallery. Today is a piece called Pondering Solitude, a 24″ by 24″ canvas, that was a favorite of mine during its time here in the studio.

Like much of my work, I can’t exactly put my finger on any one thing in this painting that makes it hit the mark for me. Maybe it’s something as simple as the color combinations or the way the light flows within the composition. Or just the simplicity of it as a whole. Or the feeling of warm solitude it emotes.

Again, I don’t know. That probably sounds strange to some of you. After all, I painted it so shouldn’t I know the entire what and why of a piece I have created? You would think so, wouldn’t you?

Oddly enough, in my best work–or at least what I feel is my best work– I have no answers. And that makes sense to me because the work is for me a way to get enough clarity to understand enough to be able to ask questions. Then, hopefully, answers emerge.

It’s hard to find answers when you don’t really know the questions.

And that is kind of the story of this piece. I see it as the Red Tree feeling a need for clarity and light, answers to questions that it can’t articulate, and finding solace in the light and warmth of its solitude.

There is more likely than not more to say here but I think I am leaving it at that for now.

I used some lyrics from the song Splendid Isolation from the late Warren Zevon above. Here is the song.

 

 

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