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“Exile on Main Street”- At the Principle Gallery



When you’re drunk in the alley, baby with your clothes all torn
When your late night friends leave you in the cold gray dawn
Whoa I just seen so many flies on you
I just can’t brush ’em off

The angels beating all their wings in time
Smiles on their faces and a gleam right in their eyes
Whoa, thought I heard one sigh for you
Come on up now
Come on up now
Come on up now

May the good Lord shine a light on you
Yeah, make every song you sing your favorite tune
May the good Lord shine a light on you
Yeah, warm like the evening sun, ah-nah-nah yeah

— Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, Shine a Light



I am in the beginning phases of my preparation for my annual shows at the galleries that represent my work. This is always a difficult period, trying to find a thread to grasp and follow. You never know where it will lead and what sort of work it will produce. That uncertainty is agonizing for me. Because so much of my livelihood depends on how these shows shake out, deciding what form the work will take is a big move.

I don’t gamble anymore but in some ways, it’s like placing a large bet. I am betting that my choice in moving ahead and the work it will produce will provide the income I need to live and will allow me to maintain my status as an artist deserving of future shows in the galleries that represent me. This decision puts a knot in my gut every year at this time. That awful feeling is the reason I don’t gamble anymore. This is the only bet I am willing to make now.

Getting to that point where I have decided what direction the work will follow is not really a process at all. It’s more like panicked examination of past work and new influences, trying to find something that grabs me, holds my limited focus and can perhaps inspire me. It can be maddening at times but it’s sometimes fun to roll back through the work from the past, to see what clicks as strongly now as it did then. There seems to always be something in doing this that reminds me of things, traits in my work, that I have put aside and no longer employ in my current work. That sometimes leads to revisiting those traits. Sometimes the results are enlightening, making me want to make it part of my process again, and sometimes I discover that the things I was doing then just don’t translate to the current moment.

That’s where I am. Seeking. Looking for a light that shines.

That brings me to today’s title.

While going through some past work, I noticed that one of my favorite pieces from the past year, Exile on Main Street, was still at the Principle Gallery. It was one of the cityscapes that were part of my annual show there, last year’s show being titled Social Distancing. I loved doing this work as well as the resulting pieces. This, as I said, was a favorite from that group. There is warmth and distance, Quiet and tension. Things I tend to see and look for  in my better works.

Naming it, I borrowed the title from the classic 1972 Rolling Stones album, Exile on Main Street. I thought a favorite song of mine from that album would fit my current process– Shine a Light. It’s credits list Mick Jagger and Keith Richards from 1972 as the songwriters but it was actually a collaboration with the late Leon Russell that came from 1968.

The song’s title was then (Can’t Seem) To Get a Line on You and dealt with the problems caused by the drug addiction of Stones’ guitarist Brian Jones. It was recorded as such for inclusion in a 1970 Leon Russell album but not released until the 1990’s. The Russell version (which included the Rolling Stones) is very similar and strong but the version from Exile on Main Street is more formed, more powerful.

I thought the song fit my process and also added a little more to the painting this morning. Give a listen and have a good day.



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The past slips from our grasp. It leaves us only scattered things. The bond that united them eludes us. Our imagination usually fills in the void by making use of preconceived theories…Archaeology, then, does not supply us with certitudes, but rather with vague hypotheses. And in the shade of these hypotheses some artists are content to dream, considering them less as scientific facts than as sources of inspiration.

-Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music in the Form – Six Lessons



I was looking through some older posts and came across the quote and painting above which caught my eye. It was probably because the painting, Archaeology: The Golden Age, was the last piece I had painted in the Archaeology series and may well be the last of that series.

It is one of those pieces that still live with me here in the studio, having never found a home. While I want it to find a place where it can satisfy someone other than myself, I am happy to have it here. From the time it was completed, I considered it one of the stronger pieces in the series. That might even be the reason it has continued to be the last in the Archaeology series.

Maybe the series had reached its potential, its endpoint, with this painting. I don’t know.

I also was captured once again by Stravinsky’s thoughts on the artistic process, how we use our imagination and what little knowledge we have to fill out the blank spots among our scattered fragments of memory to create something new. He equated it to archaeology which is a similar process, taking bits and pieces from the past and filling in the blanks with imagination and knowledge to create a theory of what might have been. 

As he says archaeology does not supply us with certitudes. There are too many voids to fill before one can deal in absolutes.

And so it is with art. Art seldom deals in strict factual representation. Art comes together as a mixture of the facts of the work, the imagination and process of the artist, and the emotions and imagination of those who take it in. 

It’s as much alchemy as it is archaeology.

Whatever it is, I am happy to deal in this strange world of imagination, one that often offers me more questions than answers.

Reading the older post this morning also reminded me of an old Jethro Tull tune that I haven’t heard or thought of in many years. Probably decades. Here’s a blast from the past, as the old AM deejays used to say. This is Living in the Past.

Have a good day.



 

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“Keep Your Distance’– Now at the Principle Gallery, Alexandria, VA



If I cross your path again,
Who knows where,
Who knows when
On some morning without number,
On some highway without end
Don’t grasp my hand and say
“Fate has brought you here today”
Oh fate is only fooling with us, friend

–Richard Thompson, Keep Your Distance



Yesterday was a good day in that the first covid-19 vaccine hit the streets. A glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel, but we still got some distance to cover before we get out of it. It is important that we don’t relax and begin to think that the answer is here , that we’re all suddenly safe. It will be months, possibly 6 or 8 months, before the vaccine has hit enough people to begin to think we’re in the clear.

And in that time there is still peril. So, we must keep doing whatever we can to mitigate the risk. And that mainly comes from wearing masks and keeping your distance. It may not be convenient or to our liking but it’s not too much to ask, in the big scheme of things. Let’s do it for a little longer and not drop our guard when the end may be in sight.

In this spirit, I thought I would revisit a painting is currently at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. I first showed it here the morning after I completed it, on the day March when the reality of the pandemic hit and everything began to shut down. Not more than an hour or two after I ran a blog entry about this painting, I visited my dad for what would end up being the final time before his nursing facility shut down. 

The painting is called Keep Your Distance and is an homage of sorts to my earlier work, especially that from around 1997 to 2001. It was in that timeframe that the Red Tree first emerged and my compositions often revolved around a solid block of color dominating the foreground separated by a thin line of unpainted surface  from a large sky. It is a simple composition that whose depth and emotion is modulated within its color, texture, and the subtle positioning and interrelationship of its forms.

Sometimes, it is the simplest compositions that I believe display the truest emotions and the greatest depths. But it takes emotional commitment to instilling those things within few forms that make up a simple composition. Even the seemingly empty parts of the composition have to carry some emotional value.

In other words, simple ain’t always so simple.

And I think that is what I like so much about this piece. It speaks reams of meaning to me without hiding it behind excess detail. It wants to be read, to be heard, to pass on whatever individual message it holds for the viewer. 

I named it Keep Your Distance. We were just learning the intimate details of the virus and the idea of social distancing was taking hold. This piece had a feeling of distance and isolation within it so it felt right. Actually, it’s a title that I may have used without the events of the time.

The title comes from a favorite Richard Thompson song of the same name. I have played that song here several times over the years but I thought today I’d play a cover I hadn’t heard until this morning. It’s from country artist Patty Loveless. Though traditional country music is in my wheelhouse, I  am not a huge modern country music fan. But I have a lot of respect for Patty Loveless.

I saw her perform back January of 2002 at Radio City Music Hall when she was part of the Down From the Mountain tour that came out of the film O Brother Where Art Thou? It was just months after the attacks of 9/11, another time of crisis in this country, and I remember how strangely quiet the city was at that time. Traffic was light and car horns were almost nonexistent. It felt like a bizarro world version of NYC. I remember having the doorman at the hotel sincerely thanking us for staying there as it was pretty lightly occupied.

But it was a great show and Patty Loveless did herself proud. Around that time, she had released an album called Mountain Soul that was a return to her traditional mountain music roots which melded well with the rest of the artists on that bill. I came away really impressed with her voice and her stage presence. So, I was pleased when I came across this version of a favorite song. It’s a little more countrified than the original but, like all great songs, it works in many genres.

Give a listen and have a great day. But remember to keep your distance, okay?



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“I rejoice in the knowledge of my biological uniqueness and my biological antiquity and my biological kinship with all other life forms. This knowledge roots me, allows me to feel at home in the natural world, to feel that I have my own sense of biological meaning, whatever my role in the cultural, human world.”

― Oliver Sacks, The River of Consciousness



This painting shown here, The Kinship, is headed out to the West End Gallery this weekend along with several new smaller pieces. I generally try to get some small work out there this time of year and I thought I’d include this piece .

This painting is a couple of years old and has been a favorite of mine since it was painted. It has wonderful quiet and harmony along with a visual pop that appeals to my eye. But more than that, it never fails to set my mind to wondering about things as I attempt to interpret the elements of this image.

Is it the kinship associated with family and ancestry? The family tree is obvious here. Maybe the Red Chair sees its familial connection to the past in the form of the Red Tree?

Or is it a molecular kinship with all things in this world and universe? The sort that finds us wondering if the atoms and molecules which make us up were once part of a star that once lit the night sky, a great tree that loomed in the ancient forests or a mighty river running from high in the mountains down to the sea. Or perhaps a simple pile of manure? Or were they once part of all these things and more?

Or is it a spiritual kinship with all living things? The kinship of survival and struggle. We all — animals, insects and plants–respond to our will to live. We all seek food and water and the warmth of another.

And light.

The interesting thing abut this piece for me is that I seldom see it in the same way. It depends on the day and my own state of mind at the moment. This morning it struck me with what I would call its primary interpretation, that of family and ancestry. The relationship between the wooden chair and the living tree sticks out this morning, makes me think of my own relationship with the trees in the forest around my home and studio.

I wonder if the comfort I have always felt in the woods stemmed from the relationship my ancestors had with the forests of their times? Many of my ancestors were loggers and lumbermen, spending most of their lives toiling in the woods of the Adirondacks or northern Pennsylvania. Some had died in those woods, killed by falling trees or in log flumes. I often think of those folks when I am walking through the woods so the idea of that sort of kinship makes sense.

Well, whatever the case, this piece has once more made me think this morning. And that’s all I can ask of it.

Think about your own connections, your own kinships today. And have a good day.

 

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“Riding It Out”- Now at the Principle Gallery



“Speak, roofless Nature, your instinctive words;
And let me learn your secret from the sky,
Following a flock of steadfast-journeying birds
In lone remote migration beating by.
December stillness, crossed by twilight roads,
Teach me to travel far and bear my loads.”

― Siegfried Sassoon



Just wanted to share the new painting at the top, Riding It Out, which is currently at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA as part of their Small Works show which officially opens this coming weekend. I thought the short verse from the late British poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) was fitting for this piece.

I have to admit I knew nothing of Sassoon or his work except that which I have looked up after coming across this short piece. He was an interesting character. Before World War I, he was sort of a idler of the near upper class, primarily spending his time playing cricket and writing verse. He opposed the war at its onset but served and was highly decorated for his almost suicidal courage, earning the nickname Mad Jack.

However, his writing did not glorify war or its combatants. He was deeply affected by the horrific nature of war, the senseless brutality, the foolish jingoism that enabled it and the way people fetishized it. His verses on about the war were raw and brutal in their own way and he was recognized as one of the great war poets. One of his most famous poems, Atrocities, has the narrator coming across a man in a bar bragging about his exploits, how he killed German prisoners, when he knows the man to have been a coward who faked illness whenever the orders were dangerous and was eventually sent home. His disgust at the man is almost palpable.

But his words here, while not concerned with war, deal with endurance and match the tone of this painting as I see it. From adversity and challenge, we lean how to bear our burden. We learn how to endure. That’s how I see a lot of my boat and wave paintings, as being about being challenged in the moment and persevering.

Something many of us face every day with our own waves, our own challenges. Hope you ride yours out today.

Have a good one.

 

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“Its was one of those events which at a crucial stage in one’s development arrive to challenge and stretch one to the limit of one’s ability and beyond, so that thereafter one has a new standard by which to judge oneself.”

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day



This large painting, something like a 18″ by 42″ oil on wood panel, has been hanging in my studio for quite some time now. It’s become like a permanent fixture on a wall in one of the rooms here in the studio, to the point that it sometimes surprises me when I take a moment to stop and take it in.

It’s called Challenger which came from my memories of the Challenger explosion in early 1986. I was ill with salmonella poisoning, laying on my couch in a feverish state with severe stomach cramping. I was in kind of a haze watching that day which added to the horror of the whole tragedy. I remember the brightness of that day with the light of the winter sun streaming through our windows. It just seemed too bright and positive a day for such a thing. That memory of the light still remains with me.

When first painted fifteen years later, I didn’t mean for this piece to represent that day, wasn’t looking to make a tribute of any kind. There was just something in the light and sky of this painting that brought me back to that day. I began to see the Red Tree and its posture as a sign of fortitude and determination, a symbol of the continuance of our journey even after taking such a hard blow.

Our own challenge.

We may very well be at our best when we face challenges. Any challenge, whether it is one which is taken on voluntarily or one which is forced upon us, requires us to call on all our strengths and creative powers in order to succeed because if we know beforehand that our success is guaranteed, it’s not really a challenge, is it?

I am pretty sure I have never shown this painting here before. It’s one of those paintings that I can’t judge objectively. It’s certainly not a great piece based on some standards but the inherent meaning in it makes it a memorable piece for me, at least. 

It’s one of those pieces that I am glad never found a home outside this studio. I see it as a reminder to continue to push myself to set new and higher standards, to accept the failures when they come and not be too satisfied with any successes.

To face every day as a challenge to be overcome.

And in the times, when it’s so easy to fall prey to the paralysis of angst and worry, I can use the push it provides. 

Good luck in facing your own challenge today.



PS:  My memory is fading, obviously. I actually did write about this painting before, back in 2016. However, that post focused on the piece’s strengths and weaknesses and didn’t go into the meaning behind it for me. 

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“Real Power”- At West End Gallery



I was just going to post a song as I do every Sunday and be done with it this morning. Then I came across this post on Twitter from a longtime RN working in a small Plains community that both broke my heart and angered me. Her name is Jodi Doering and she is from Woonsocket, South Dakota, a state which saw an almost 70%  Covid-19 positivity rate this past week. This is what she wrote last night:

I have a night off from the hospital. As I’m on my couch with my dog I can’t help but think of the Covid patients the last few days. The ones that stick out are those who still don’t believe the virus is real. The ones who scream at you for a magic medicine and that Joe Biden is going to ruin the USA.

All while gasping for breath on 100% Vapotherm.

They tell you there must be another reason they are sick. They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that “stuff” because they don’t have Covid because it’s not real.

Yes. This really happens. And I can’t stop thinking about it.

These people really think this isn’t going to happen to them. And then they stop yelling at you when they get intubated. It’s like a fucking horror movie that never ends. There’s no credits that roll.

You just go back and do it all over again. Which is what I will do for the next three nights. But tonight. It’s me and Cliff and Oreo ice cream. And how ironic I have on my “home” Hoodie.

The South Dakota I love seems far away right now.

It made me sad because I so appreciate the work done by nurses and aides in the healthcare system. It is difficult, crucial, and dangerous work that often comes without thanks or any acknowledgement of appreciation. They are under fire, putting their own lives at risk every day while helping others, from this pandemic and their task is only going to get more difficult in the coming weeks as the cases pile up. These huge numbers we are seeing across the nation will be followed a few weeks later with equal jumps in deaths and hospitalizations. The fact that these folks in healthcare are facing such dire prospects just breaks my heart. I have read and seen numerous such testaments of nurses crying as they suit up with their PPE to head into work. The emotional toll being paid by these people is yet to be seen.

But it also made me angry because of the sheer selfishness and stupidity of those people who refuse to believe that this pandemic is real and that they have any obligation to take any measures at all to protect themselves and others. They are part of a large segment of our population that has chosen to reject any objective reality that doesn’t suit their own desires or beliefs.

This is not an organic thing that just happened. It was originally fostered as a political tool that preyed on low information voters, bombarding them with falsehoods, misinformation and disinformation. It was so effective that they could create complete fields of belief and disbelief in the people that were targeted. But once this wave of selfish stupidity is unleashed, it becomes unmanageable and irreversible.

Kind of like putting the toothpaste back into the toothpaste tube. 

My anger stems from the utter irresponsibility of those who sought to enable and profit from this behavior. It also extends to the danger that this irresponsibility has wrought. It has created dangers for us in so many ways. It imperils our health, both physically and mentally. It imperils the validity and credibility of our electoral system.

Jodi Doering, like so many other healthcare workers sharing similar experiences, is a real person who is shouldering a great burden. Not a bot spreading disinformation. The pandemic is a real and deadly threat that we cannot pretend doesn’t exist. Nor can they ignore the very real results of our election. You cannot simply wish away these things away. If that is inconvenient to you or upsets you, that is simply too bad right now.

This selfish stupidity must come to an end. I don’t know how and that makes me crazy because of the fear and anxiety it creates in me because I know this group can be made to believe anything and accept any form of behavior.

That has been amply demonstrated.

There’s way too much toothpaste out of the tube now.

Okay, I have vented. I wish I had more answers than concerns for you.

Let’s hear a song. I am going with a song from AC/DC. Well, a version of an AC/DC song. It’s Thunderstruck, one of the biggest hits from the Aussie rockers. But his version is from Steve’n Seagulls, a Finnish– yeah, from Finland!– bluegrass group that has made a name online for themselves with their quirky videos set in a rural Finnish setting of their covers of hard rock classics. For example, this video has over 112 million views so maybe you’re already aware of it. But it’s a great, energetic way to kick off this Sunday, especially given what I wrote above.

If you can cure selfishness and stupidity, please do. For the rest of you, have the best Sunday you can muster.



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Journey of Light



The Dark of Night is a temporary condition.
It always departs.
The Darkness remains only if we refuse to open our eyes.
Open your eyes.
Look for the Light.
And if there is no Light, Become the Light.



I often don’t show some of the commissioned work that I do. I don’t really know why but that’s just the way it usually works out.

But I thought the two paintings above that I recently completed for a couple in Arizona deserved to be shared. I really enjoyed working on these paired pieces, titled Journey of Light, at a time when I needed some joy. It seems like carving light out of the blackness of the treated canvas was just the symbolic gesture I personally needed to restore my faith in things I know to be true.

Sometimes simply doing the  work has that way of reinforcing those beliefs as well as the confidence I require to continue.

And the fact that they went beyond my expectations in doing so makes me appreciate them even more. So, maybe I am being a bit too proud in showing them, but I thought they needed to be seen. Plus, they paired well with some words that I wrote back in late 2016 that I also felt deserved to be shared. 

So, keep your eyes open. Become the light, folks.

Have a good day.

 

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“The word was born in the blood, grew in the dark body, beating, and took flight through the lips and the mouth. Farther away and nearer still, still it came from dead fathers and from wondering races, from lands which had turned to stone, lands weary of their poor tribes, for when grief took to the roads the people set out and arrived and married new land and water to grow their words again. And so this is the inheritance; this is the wavelength which connects us with dead men and the dawning of new beings not yet come to light.”

― Pablo Neruda



Found myself awake early this morning. So many things racing through my head that it was hard to focus on trying to sleep. Big things and little things- a gnawing worry for this country and tiny nagging reminders of things that need to be done soon. All things that couldn’t be resolved at 2 AM in the woods where I live.

Then it struck me that it was around this time of the morning that my mom died 25 years ago on this very date.

Geez, 25 years come and gone. And there I was, in bed thinking of her death. 

I tried to dredge up memories of her, hoping that it would drown out the other things in the background of my mind, all screaming for attention or at least equal air time. Some memories came easily. Those are the ingrained ones that have become part of the synapses.

But I tried to dig deeper and there were only shadows of memories. Not real recollection. Maybe not even real. I don’t know for sure and most likely never will.

25 years has a way of changing things in your mind.

So, I tried focusing on the traits that I may have inherited from her, some good and some bad. Some neither. They just are what they are.

Some made me laugh. Some made me cry.

Laughter and tears. Quite the inheritance.

There are certainly worse things in this world.

It made me think in bed of the painting above that I recently took out to the West End Gallery. Called From Whence I Came, it’s part of my Archaeology series from back in 2008. I think this piece was only shown once in a gallery before it came back to me. For some unknown reason, it found its way to the back of a closet, where it has been residing for the past 12 years. I pulled it out a few weeks back and it was like seeing it for the first time again. 

It made me think of all the choices and serendipity that it took for me to arrive at this place in the world. It’s the same for all of us. We’re all products of the decisions and events that took place throughout the history of man on this planet. One person succumbing to a virus instead of surviving it a thousand years ago and our whole history as a person would be different. 

We’re all the spearpoints, the leading edges, the very top of the pyramids of all that came before us. We were brought to this point by the bones and blood of thousands of lives before us.

All their strength. All their vulnerability.

I don’t know where I want this to go. Just thinking out loud, I guess, between the laughter and the tears.

Gotta go. Have a good day, folks.

 

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Thought I’d rerun this post from last year. I can always listen to The Revelator and it seems appropriate to the moment.


 

**********************

Darling remember, when you come to me
I’m the pretender; I’m not what I’m supposed to be
But who could know if I’m a traitor?
Time’s the revelator

Gillian Welch, The Revelator

***********************

I came across an image of the painting at the top, a piece from 2006 called What Is True that holds a lot of meaning for me, and it set me thinking.

Truth is patient. It waits for the light of a sun that sometimes travels through the vastness of space and time, millions and millions of light years, to shine on it.

Time always finds truth at some point and when it shine its light upon it, there is revelation.

Every day is filled with revelation, so it seems.

Time and truth are coming together.

Here’s a favorite song of mine from Gillian Welch, The Revelator.


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