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Posts Tagged ‘Painting’

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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Paul Gauguin- The Painter of Sunflowers 1888

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What still concerns me the most is: am I on the right track, am I making progress, am I making mistakes in art?

-Paul Gauguin

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I am in the last day of prep before I deliver my show to the West End Gallery. I am in my 25th year at this gallery where I first started publicly showing my work and this is what I believe to be my 18th solo exhibit. But even with all that experience there is always an element of doubt present when I am getting ready to deliver paintings to a gallery.

It’s just a natural state of being. At least, for me.

I used to worry that my own judgement of the work was flawed and that this would be obvious once it was hung on a wall outside my studio. My inadequacy would be on public display for all to see.

That feeling never fully goes away and on these last days of prep, this insidious doubt always creeps back in.

But time has made me adhere to the words above from Paul Gauguin, under his 1888 painting of Vincent Van Gogh.

You do what you can do. You try to do a bit better each time. You discard those things that don’t work and grow the things that do.

And you live with that.

Okay, got lots to do this morning so I am out of here. And I think I am leaving my doubts right where they are. Don’t need them today.

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And now the mystery masked man was smart
He got himself a Tonto
‘Cause Tonto did the dirty work for free
But Tonto he was smarter
And one day said, “Kemo sabe
Kiss my ass I bought a boat
I’m going out to sea”

Lyle Lovett, If I Had a Boat

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The painting at the top is a new one, a 12″ by 24″ canvas, that I am calling Breakout. It’s headed to the West End Gallery as part of my upcoming solo show, Moments and Color, that opens in a couple of weeks, on July 12.

These boat paintings might well be my favorites to paint. I think it’s the simplicity in the design that makes this so. There are so few elements that I have to really focus on subtleties of color and shape to create a sense of motion and emotion in the work. Everything has to be right, has to be properly harmonized with the whole.

That sounds kind of nebulous, I know. But a line straying here or there can make you question the credibility of the whole thing and keep you from allowing your mind to fully embrace the piece. For example, while I don’t know a thing about how waves  break on the sea, I feel that the curves of the wave have to make sense. They must have that sense of rightness that I often mention here, the one that allows your brain to easily absorb what is being communicated.

Wow, that sounds even more nebulous.

Let’s just leave it as this: I like these paintings and the exhilaration of freedom they possess. I am not a sailor but I certainly understand the primal appeal and romance of feeling yourself in harmony with the great forces of the wind and water.

Here’s a favorite song from so long ago. God, it’s hard to believe it is over thirty years old. It’s If I Had a Boat from Lyle Lovett‘s wonderful 1987 album, Pontiac. It’s a song that has always had a great calming effect for me and it pretty much fits the feeling I get in this painting.

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Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Leonard Cohen, Dance Me to the End of Love

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The painting above, 8″ by 16″ on canvas, is a smaller piece headed to my upcoming solo show at the West End Gallery. The intertwined trees in this piece refer back to my Baucis and Philemon paintings which are are symbolic representations of the Greek myth of the poor elderly couple who show the god Zeus unlimited kindness when he shows up in their village dressed as a beggar. He spares their lives alone when he destroys the village and rewards them with an eternity bound together as two trees on a hill.

This piece definitely reminds me of the tale. Maybe it’s the deep and dark threat that is posed from the clouds. Perhaps these clouds represent the wrath of Zeus while the clearing sky on the horizon represents eternity.

I don’t know for sure.

But it is a striking piece, one that is very simple to take in yet has the depth I want for it.

I am calling it Dance Me to the End of Love after the song chosen for this Sunday morning music. It is from Leonard Cohen from 1984. Interestingly, the song has Greek roots, its composition following that of a Greek folk dance performed through the centuries by members of the butcher’s guilds. It is often referred to as the Hasapiko, translating to the Butcher’s Dance.

So, give a listen. Have a good day, okay?

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Moments and Color, my annual solo exhibit at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY, opens on Friday, July 12 with an opening reception running from 5-7:30 PM. It is, as always, open to the public.

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