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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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“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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“And Dusk Dissolves”– At the Principle Gallery, Alexandria, VA



“I love to watch the fine mist of the night come on,
The windows and the stars illumined, one by one,
The rivers of dark smoke pour upward lazily,
And the moon rise and turn them silver. I shall see
The springs, the summers, and the autumns slowly pass;
And when old Winter puts his blank face to the glass,
I shall close all my shutters, pull the curtains tight,
And build me stately palaces by candlelight.”

Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal



I was looking at the image of this painting, And Dusk Dissolves, this morning while a song was playing and the two pieces meshed together so well. The song was Ashokan Farewell, a song written and performed by Jay Ungar, one that most widely known as the theme for The Civil War series from documentarian Ken Burns, for which it was written. It was written in 1981 but feels so authentic that most folks believe it is actually a Civil War era song.

It certainly has a strong atmosphere of its own. And I think that’s why it meshed so well with this painting which is my depiction of a deep moment of dusk. Dusk is an interesting and one of the more emotional points in any day. Symbolically, it marks the end of the workday and becomes a time to pause and reflect on the work done for that day. There is satisfaction in its accomplishments and a bit of sadness in its failures and missed opportunities. As I said, it is a time of pause and reflection as opposed to the dawn which is more forward looking, based on the potentials of the coming day.  

And night itself is a time for one to put the prior day behind them and to rest and perhaps plan for the next. Or to simply imagine a new future well beyond the next day or the day after that. To, as Baudelaire put it, build me stately palaces by candlelight.

But here I am in the dusk’s early light. The night has passed and my plans for stately palaces have faded in that first light as I focus on more pressing matters for this day. But for a moment, I can put off the day once more and look at this image while hearing those mournful tones of Ashokan Farewell again.

Take a look and give a listen for yourself. 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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“A Time For Leaving”- At the Principle Gallery, Alexandria, VA



My famous last words
Could never tell the story
Spinning unheard
In the dark of the sky

–If This Is Goodbye, Mark Knopfler



I don’t feel like saying much today so let’s move right on to the music selection for this Sunday morning. I wanted something to fit with the painting above. A Time For Leaving, which is headed down to the Principle Gallery for their upcoming small works show. I went through a lot of music but nothing jumped out at me.

There were two finalists in my mind. One was from the wonderful collaboration between Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, If This Is Goodbye. The other was a track, Leaving the Table, from Leonard Cohen‘s great final album, You Want It Darker. Both did the job for me so I decided to share both.

If you’d like, give a listen. If not, move on. Either way, try to have a peaceful day.





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“And Darkness Leaves”- At the Principle Gallery



Said it’s a mean old world, heavy in need
And that big machine is just picking up speed
And we’re supping on tears, and we’re supping on wine
We all get to heaven in our own sweet time
So come all you Asheville boys and turn up your old-time noise
And kick ’til the dust comes up from the cracks in the floor

Singing, “Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind, brother
Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind
Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more”

–Hard Times, Gillian Welch



I was listening to some music as I was going through some images early this morning while trying to figure out what to write for today’s blogpost. The song, Hard Times from Gillian Welch, came on and its chorus– Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more— really jumped out at me. Made me think of how we handle the many adversities of life.

Sometimes it’s a matter of adjusting the way we do things or changing altogether. Proactive measures.

And sometimes its a matter of waiting, just figuring that all things inevitably pass and if you can hang on, it will all eventually work out. This tends to be the way most of us get through. To use a boxing analogy, you go to the ropes and cover up, take the body blows and hope the bell rings before you fall.

This second way of coping made me think of this new piece, And Darkness Leaves, which is headed to the Principle Gallery in Alexandria for their annual holiday show of small work that opens next Saturday. There’s a lot of symbolism that you can attach to this piece but it comes down to hanging on, waiting for the dark to recede.

Waiting for that bell to ring.

It sure seems like we have taken a lot of heavy body blows as a nation in this latest round. There were moments when we seemed out on our feet and we only held up by the ropes, those institutions and laws that have been the bedrock of this nation since we were first formed. But we held on and regrouped, gathering strength and throwing some big punches of our own. 

The bell has rung and we get to face another round. Just as there is always a clearing after every storm. Just as the darkness leaves after every night and we get to face another day.

We’re still in the midst of a fight. But the darkness will inevitably leave and we’ll soon get to stand in the light once more. So keep that chorus close at hand:  hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more.

You have a good day, okay.



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“The Paragon’– Headed to the Principle Gallery



Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.

-Ian Maclaren



The quote above is often misattributed to Plato but was actually the product of Ian Maclaren which was the pen name used by Scottish minister Dr. John Watson (1850-1907) when writing his works of fiction which were highly popular in his time. Regardless of whether it was first uttered by Plato, Ian Maclaren or Peewee Herman, it’s darn good advice and applicable to any time or place. 

No matter how low you fall in your life there is inevitably someone in a far worse situation. I know from my own experience that what seems the bottom depths to me might seem a ceiling for others. Life is hard for many of us at some point in our lives but it can be extraordinarily harsh for some other folks on a regular basis, often for reasons beyond their control.

The flipside of this thought is equally as potent a piece of advice. It’s something I keep in mind constantly in loose partnership with the advice above. It would most likely be phrased: Be kind and humble, because there is always both someone worse off than you and someone far greater than you out there.

Just as there is always someone facing greater challenges than you, there is always someone who possesses more talent and ability, more intelligence, more everything than you. 

You may never know what the person in front of you in line at the supermarket is going through in their life, what struggles they might be fighting or what their special gifts might be.

So, be kind and humble. It takes so little effort, it doesn’t cost a thing, and doesn’t take anything away from yourself. In fact, it adds to who you are as a person and makes your small part of this big world a little better place.

Kindness often begets kindness, after all. And we could all use a little more kindness these days.

Amen. End of sermon.

So, let’s have a Be Kind Friday, okay?

Now kindly get out of here and have a good day. 

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You thought the leaden winter
Would bring you down forever
But you rode upon a steamer
To the violence of the sun

And the colors of the sea
Blind your eyes with trembling mermaids
And you touch the distant beaches
With tales of brave Ulysses

Eric Clapton/ Martin Sharp, Tales of Brave Ulysses



Today, I thought I’d share the new small piece above, The Voyager, which is headed down to the Principle Gallery for their annual show of small works for the holiday season. These small boat pieces are among my favorites to paint and this particular painting fits in with that trend. There’s something in the simplicity of the compositions that makes it even more fulfilling when emotion is evoked from just a few simple forms and colors.

Like a visual haiku.

For this week’s  Sunday morning music, I sought something that would pair up with this piece and decided that we would go back in time a bit, back to 1967. I thought we’d listen to some Cream this morning, from their classic Disraeli Gears album. As some of you may know, Cream was the first supergroup with members– Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker— all coming together from other highly successful bands. With their strong personalities, they only lasted a short time but produced some great and lasting music, including today’s song, Tales of Brave Ulysses

Here’s a little trivia about this song: This was earliest use of the wah-wah pedal by Clapton and the song was a collaboration between Clapton and an artist neighbor who lived in the the same building, Martin Sharp. Sharp heard that Clapton was a musician ( he wasn’t yet a legend at that point) and told him that he had written a poem that he thought might make a good song. Fortuitously, Clapton had been working on some music that was based on a current hit song that was among his favorites. The song was, surprisingly enough, Summer in the City from the Loving Spoonful.

I had to go back and listen to see if I could see the influence. It doesn’t jump out at you but it’s there, after all.

Anyway, this song became the B-side to Cream’s Strange Brew and has become a classic bit of rock history. And today it’s floating along with the The Voyager at the top. I threw in their Sunshine of Your Love from the same album mainly because it’s a favorite of mine. But it could fit this panting as well. For that matter, Strange Brew might also fit. You be the judge.

Enjoy your own voyage and have a good Sunday.



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“The Quarantine House” – Now at the Principle Gallery


“But I must go back here to the particular incidents which occur to my thoughts of the time of the visitation, and particularly to the time of their shutting up the houses in the first part of their sickness; for before the sickness was come to its height people had more room to make their observations than they had afterward; but when it was in the extremity there was no such thing as communication with one another, as before.”

― Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, 1722


I see that we, as a nation, had over 70,000 new cases of covid-19 on Friday. It made me think about how this time has changed so many things in daily lives.

So much isolation, which I know is so difficult for so many of us. Economic pain from job losses and businesses closing. And those that do have jobs continue along with the nagging fear that they are putting themselves at risk every day. 

And that is without even mentioning the actual virus and its effects on the afflicted and their families.

It made me wonder how this compared to other times and other pandemics. I did a little skimming of A Journal of the Plague Year, written in 1722 by the author of the better known Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe. It tells in journal form the story of a man’s life in 1665 in London when the bubonic plague, the Black Death, ferociously struck that city. That particular episode of the Black Death killed over 100,000 Londoners which was abut a quarter of the population at the time. And that was not even close to being the worst case of the Plague. It literally killed hundreds of millions of people throughout Europe and Asia in the centuries when it was at its peak and it still persists in places where conditions allow it to continue. No herd immunity here, folks.

But looking through Defoe’s book and reading sections made me think how horrible it must have been at that time. To be afflicted often meant being boarded in your home. There would be no contact with the outside world. No internet, no cellphones, no Netflix or Instacart or Door Dash deliveries. You would be completely cut off and alone with your painful imminent death as your companion.

It’s a terrifying prospect. I don’t mean to bring you down with this but I just found it interesting. It made me realize how fortunate we are to have the technological connections that we have. I don’t say that easily because I often find myself damning the persistent and invasive nature of the technology even as I use it.

At least now we can get information, as poor and misinformed as it sometimes is. But imagine being ill, sitting in a dark, boarded up home without any idea what might be taking place outside those walls. No news of possible cures or therapies. No idea of whether this would ever end, that relief might come before death. 

I have a hard time imagining the horror of that situation. Nothing in my life, nor in probably most of yours out there, has prepared me for that.

There was another paragraph that sounded familiar:

“But it was impossible to beat anything into the heads of the poor. They went on with the usual impetuosity of their tempers, full of outcries and lamentations when taken, but madly careless of themselves, foolhardy and obstinate, while they were well. Where they could get employment they pushed into any kind of business, the most dangerous and the most liable to infection; and if they were spoken to, their answer would be, ‘I must trust to God for that; if I am taken, then I am provided for, and there is an end of me’, and the like. Or thus, ‘Why, what must I do? I can’t starve. I had as good have the plague as perish for want. I have no work; what could I do? I must do this or beg.”

It made me think again about those folks who have no choice but face the possibility of infection, about those business owners who are at risk at losing everything they have worked much of their lives for. It also reminded me of the foolhardy people who think they are somehow beyond the reach of the virus, that they do not have to concern themselves with the welfare of others. 

I am sure there were those same fools during the Black Death.

I don’t know that there’s a point here except to say that I am grateful for being able to ride this out in this era with our technologies, connections and conveniences rather than any of the pandemics from the past. All things considered, we are fortunate. Maybe not too smart but fortunate.

Perhaps two hundred years in the future some person going through a new pandemic of that time will look back on this in some digital archive and say, “Man, I am so glad I didn’t have to live back then!”

And hopefully, they will also be grateful for their own situation.

Be grateful for what you have and have a good day, folks. To that end, here’s a little William DeVaughn with one of my faves.

 

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“Life Pop”- Now at the Principle Gallery


“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”

― Noam Chomsky


I thought I would focus on being optimistic today.

It’s hard these days but it’s a necessity if you want to ever live in the future of your own desires. Planning and preparation are acts of optimism, carried out with the belief that you will be able to have a say in that future.

I have to admit though that my own optimism, my own capacity for looking and planning forward, has lessened over the course of this year. The future just didn’t seem so sure on most days. 

At least, a future with which I was comfortable and at least somewhat satisfied.

But like the words above from Noam Chomsky point out, you have to have some belief that you can shape the future and make it better, even if only in the smallest way.

This sort of optimism is a statement of responsibility.

It says, “I will.”

And that short phrase is enough to begin the process of moving toward that desired future.


Note: Speaking of planning ahead, a film from one of my favorite creative teams, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is on TCM tonight at 10 PM. It’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, from 1943. It’s a film I wrote about here back in 2009.  Like all of the Powell and Pressburger movies, such as The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, it’s beautifully crafted and thought provoking. The beginning sequence is ahead of its time, feeling like a modern music video. Worth a watch.

Have a good day.

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