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Posts Tagged ‘Principle Gallery’

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If isolation tempers the strong, it is the stumbling-block of the uncertain.

Paul Cezanne

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I was looking for some words to start this post about the new painting at the top, The Isolation, when I came across this quote I had used in a post here a few years back. It seemed to fit my feeling for this piece as did the post attached to the quote. So I am rerunning that today as well. This painting, an 8″ by 24″ canvas, is part of my solo show, Social Distancing, that opens next Friday, June 5, at the Principle Gallery.

A lot of people currently are experiencing more isolation that they might otherwise normally have to endure. I think it must really shake up their sense of certainty in the world. If they weren’t uncertain going into this episode, they most likely became so during their time of isolation.

I have been fortunate in that I enjoy this feeling of isolation. Thrive on it, actually. I don’t know that this is sign of strength or of some sort of neurosis. But I know that it is place where I experience certainty of any sort on a regular basis. Oh, there are still moments of uncertainty even there but far less than I am in the outer world.

Here’s the post from a few years back:

I spend a lot of time alone in the isolation of my studio. Fortunately for me, it is the place in the world where I am most comfortable and feel completely myself.

It is the place where I can feel unrestrained to free the mind and go wherever it takes me. The place where I can shed the uncertainty I find in the outer world and feel free to daydream. The place where I can summon up pictures that exist only inside myself. A place to study. To listen. To see.

It is my my university, my library, my theater, my monastery and my place of refuge.

My haven.

When I am out of the studio, I am all the while trying to get back to it.

When others come into my studio, the dynamic of that place changes and I feel myself suddenly self-conscious and a bit uncomfortable, like I am standing in someone else’s home.

The visitors’ eyes become my eyes and I notice things I never see on a day to day basis. The cat hair on the floor that needs to be swept up. The paint splatters on the wall or a fingerprint in paint on the wall switchplate. The windows that need cleaning. The piles of papers that I have been meaning to go through for too many months. The paintbrushes soaking in murky water scattered throughout the place or the start of a not-too-good painting that will most likely never see the outer world.

In that moment, my perfect castle of isolation becomes a hovel of uncertainty.

But the castle remarkably reappears once I am alone again. The uncertainty recedes and I begin to feel myself once more.

My isolation is my default state of being.

I understand exactly what Cezanne is saying at the top. I have been more comfortable alone than in the company of others since I was a child. I don’t know if that is a strength or just a neurotic peccadillo. But I know that if I ever find uncertainty in my isolation, I will have lost my footing in this world.

But, thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet…

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Charles C Mulford Grave Alexandria VA National Cemetery

I am very busy getting ready for my annual show at the Principle Gallery. Unlike the prior 20 shows, this year’s show will be different in many aspects, from the many precautions that I will have to take in delivering the work to the fact that there won’t be an actual opening reception this year. There’s a lot I am going to miss from this year’s show. But as I prepare, I am reminded of an entry I wrote  about a small family connection with that city that was revealed to me several years back. Felt like it was worth replaying on this Memorial Day.

I’ve been going to Alexandria, VA, a lovely and historic town that hugs the Potomac River just a few miles below Washington DC, for a long time, often several times a year. Outside of my link with the Principle Gallery and the relationships that have grown from that, I never thought I had a connection of any sort with that area.

Col. Eleazer Lindsley

Col.Eleazer Lindsley

But, as many of you who read this blog on a regular basis already know, I am an avid genealogist. I have documented some of my ancestral discoveries in a series of paintings, Icons, like the one shown here on the right, that I hope to get back to soon. While going through one of my lines earlier this year I came across a great-grand uncle by the name of Charles C. Mulford, who was the great grandson of Colonel Eleazer Lindsley who is my 7th-great grandfather, shown here in the Icon painting on the right.

Mulford was born in nearby Lindley in 1821 and lived a quiet life as a farmer until the Civil War broke out. Serving for the 6th Regiment of the NY Heavy Artillery, he saw combat in battles at Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, the Wilderness, Totopotomy and Petersburg.  At the Battle of Petersburg, Mulford was shot in the upper  thigh and, during his hospitalization, contracted typhus and died in early July of 1864.

It was the same sort of tragic ending that many of my ancestors met while serving this country. But the interesting detail in the account was that he had died in Alexandria at the Fairfax Seminary hospital and was buried in the National Cemetery not too far from the gallery.

So Friday morning when I went out for coffee at a local cafe that I frequent when I am  in town I decided to seek out my great-grand uncle. Under threatening skies, I strolled the few blocks to the cemetery that is tucked quietly among neighborhoods filled with townhouses. It only took a few moments to find the grave, sitting in the first row facing a  stone wall.

The marble headstone was well weathered as you can see at the top of the page. I stood there for quite a while. I wondered if any others had looked closely at that stone in recent years, had uttered the name over that grave.

It’s a small thing but just standing in front of that stone for  a few minutes was very calming for me, especially on the day of an opening when I am normally very anxious. Just knowing that he and I shared a tiny bit of DNA and a common beginning had meaning for me, connecting to me to my family, our history as a nation and to Alexandria, as well. I felt like I belonged in so many ways.

And there was great peace in that moment.

So, besides the many paintings that I know populate the homes of Alexandria and the friends that I have made there, a small part of my past will always reside in that city. I finally feel truly connected there.

Some extra info:  Charles Mulford was the first cousin of  General John E. Mulford (my first cousin 6 generations removed) who was President Lincoln‘s Commissioner of Exchange which meant that he arranged for the exchange of prisoners during the war. He is shown below in uniform in a photo from Matthew Brady.Gen John E. Mulford Matthew Brady Photo Richmond VA

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I don’t know much about sailing. I do know the difference between port and starboard but that’s just mnemonics — port has four letters like left.

But I don’t know a sloop from a schooner, a ketch from a cutter. Can barely tie my shoelaces let alone some intricate nautical knot. Never felt the spray from the waves and can only imagine the feeling of being out in the middle of the sea, alone with only a sail and the rhythm of the currents to move me.

But the lure and romance of the sailboat and the act of sailing is not lost on me. The idea of attuning oneself to the awesome natural power and grace of the waves is an enticing proposition and just watching a skilled sailor handle a boat, even from the shore, is fascinating.

It’s all there, the same elements that I most often use in my landscape paintings. Natural power and high domes of sky. Wide horizons with the rhythms of the landscape replaced by the rhythms of the waves. The same sort of quietude and focus. A sense of purpose.

I think that’s what makes my sail boat paintings some of my favorites to paint. They are a chance to exercise my own imagination in trying to envision the experience of riding the rhythms of the ocean. I have been thrilled over the years when those folks who can call themselves sailors tell me how much they like these pieces. Makes me think I must be getting some aspect of it right, even if it only comes from my imagination.

The piece above is from my upcoming show, Social Distancing, that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery. I call this painting, a 17″ by 17″ piece on paper, Running on Rhythm. Hopefully it feels right in some way for my sailing friends.

Here’s a song that is not really about sailing but it uses sailin’ in its title and chorus and is just a song that sticks with me. The song is Sailin’ Shoes from Little Feat. I am including two versions, both sung by the late great Lowell George. The first is the original from their 1972 album of the same name, a slower bluesy version. The second is from their incredible 1978 live album, Waiting For Columbus, who was by all accounts a sailor. This version is a bit more raucous and unrestrained. I like both.

Give a listen and have a good day.

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“I told myself: ‘I am surrounded by unknown things.’ I imagined man without ears, suspecting the existence of sound as we suspect so many hidden mysteries, man noting acoustic phenomena whose nature and provenance he cannot determine. And I grew afraid of everything around me – afraid of the air, afraid of the night. From the moment we can know almost nothing, and from the moment that everything is limitless, what remains? Does emptiness actually not exist? What does exist in this apparent emptiness?”

Guy de Maupassant, The Horla

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This is another new piece, a smaller painting on paper that is part of my Social Distancing show that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. I am calling this piece The Emptiness.

The title is taken from The Horla, one of the last short stories written by Guy de Maupassant, the 19th century French master of the short story. It’s a tale of horror about an alien being — an invisible organism, actually– called the Horla that comes to earth with the intention of subjugating the human race. This unseen invader has the power to enter and sway the minds of its victims. The narrator of the story describes his emotions, the vast emptiness that overtakes him, as he realizes what is happening and his powerlessness in the face of the threat.

A few years later, tragically, de Maupassant tried to commit suicide by slitting his own throat but survived, dying in a sanitarium a year later, in 1893 at the age of 42. Apparently, the emptiness of the story’s narrator was very much the same emptiness as that of  the writer.

I thought this painting would fit well into this particular show, which is concerned with social isolation, from that which has been caused by the pandemic to all other forms of isolation. For some, isolation can bring solitude. For others, it brings the emptiness that de Maupassant described.

This painting leans toward that form of isolation. Maybe it’s the bilious green of the interior walls or the spare details of the room. Or the looming moon seen through the window, a large alien eye always there, always watching.

It feels like an unusual piece for me, even though it fits neatly into my body of work. It feels complete and there’s a pleasant, even comfortable, feel to it. But it’s an uneasy comfort, maybe like that experienced by those whose minds have unknowingly been infected by the Horla.

Or maybe it’s the uneasiness that comes with the normalization and acceptance, by a lot of people, of behavior that was once considered repulsive by the majority of us. It feels like the same kind of infection of the mind is taking place. Watching this take place now must surely be like the experience of the narrator watching the Horla affect those around him.

It certainly creates its own emptiness.

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“When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.”

Wisława Szymborska, Poems New and Collected

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“When I pronounce the word Silence, I destroy it…”

I love that line from the late Nobel Prize winning poet Wisława Szymborska. It so well sums up my own forays into writing as a young man when I found myself trying futilely to write about silence and places of silence. My words always seemed to defeat my purpose.

You can’t really write about silence.

Using words to describe silence is like using hate to demonstrate love or war to peace.  It doesn’t really work well.

No, you can’t write about silence.

You can only be silent.

Silence is a way of being.

That brings me to the painting shown above called Song of Silence.

This painting, Song of Silence, is being included along with a small group of vintage pieces in my upcoming show, Social Distancing, that opens at the Principle Gallery on June 5. Most of the early work for this show comes the mid 1990’s but this is the latest of the vintage pieces, from 2007.

It is a fairly large piece at 32″ x 32″ on paper and its size seems to accentuate its quietness. I did a number of similar pieces in the mid 2000’s and they were some of my favorites to paint. There was something special in the delicacy and restraint of these pieces. Their simplicity would lead you to believe they were simple to paint but capturing such an ephemeral feelings with minimal elements made them real challenges. Anything even slightly askew could make the whole thing fall apart.

For me personally, when these pieces worked, when they came together in that special way, they felt like magic. They transported me to a different state of being, to that place of silence, if only for a few short moments.

This is one of those pieces for me.

It’s been quite a while since I exhibited this type of work and I am eager to see what sort of response this brings in the gallery.  We’ll see.

The title, Song of Silence, seems like it might contradict my words at the beginning of this post but wordless music often has the ability to convey silence. As an example I am including a selection below from one of my favorite pieces of music, Tabula Rasa, from composer Arvo Pärt that I believe does this effectively. This music, as performed by violinist Gil Shaham, served as a large influence on much of my early work.

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I am putting the finishing touches on the work for my upcoming show, Social Distancing, that opens June 5 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. In addition to the new works, I am putting together a small group of what I would call vintage work, early paintings from the 1990’s and a couple from the early 2000’s. Most of these haven’t been shown in over twenty years, if they have even been shown at all. I chose this time to share these pieces because I felt they fit well with the theme of this show, which is the isolation brought on by the covid-19 crisis.

The piece at the top is one that I am still trying to decide if it will be part of the show. It’s called Dance of Joy from 1996. It has been hanging in my studios for over twenty years now, from my first rustic studio that is in the process of being absorbed into the forest floor to my current more spacious and well appointed digs.

You wouldn’t think that you would include a piece called Dance of Joy in a show devoted to social distancing but I think you have to include the more hopeful and happy aspects, as well. After all, those moments still exist for most of us even in this state of suspended animation in which we now exist. The things that brought me joy before this still bring me joy now and almost all of them don’t depend on any changes in my form of isolation.

But beyond that aspect, I found an interpretation in the painting that I am sure wasn’t intended when it was first painted. I think at that time I saw the trees as dancers celebrating the rise of the red sun in a bacchanalian manner. But looking at this piece yesterday, I saw it an the dance of joy when we finally overcome the virus, that time when we find a way to safely control and manage, if not eradicate, it. I saw the red disc not as a sun or a moon on the rise but as the virus on the decline.

That will bring a time for dances of joy, a time to celebrate those times of shared communal enjoyment.

Until that time, we must be patient and careful in order to contain the damages and the deaths caused by this virus. But we can still do our dances of joy until we experience that real bacchanal that will hopefully come sooner than later.

For this Sunday morning’s musical selection, I am turning to the world of Klezmer music and the acclaimed clarinetist Giora Feidman.  Feidman is an Argentine born Israeli who is considered the King of Klezmer.  He was chosen by Steven Spielberg to perform the clarinet solos for his film Schindler’s List. The song I have chosen is titled, The Dance of Joy. But you knew that, right?

I love the infectious ( bad choice of word) energy of klezmer and this song has it at its highest level. I can see the trees in this painting moving wildly to this music. So, give a listen and try to find some moments of joy today, something that makes you do your own dance of joy. Have a good day.

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“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.

Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but
for the heart to conquer it.”

― Rabindranath Tagore

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This is another new painting headed to the Principle Gallery for my Social Distancing show there, opening June 5. It is 22″ by 28″ on canvas and is titled She Glides Through the Fractured Night.

Though the theme for this show concerns itself with the social distancing and isolation that we have experienced in recent months, it is also about perseverance and the will to endure. And that is what I see in this piece.

I hadn’t intended to do this type of piece for the show, with the single figure paddling a longboat under a broken sky. But I really felt a compulsion, a need for this painting, and once I set out on it, it fell into place easily, almost without effort. At every step in the process, it felt complete and ready to send out its message. It didn’t have the highs and lows that normally come in painting a piece. By that, I mean in most paintings there are phases where the piece dulls and flattens out, muddying up the destination that I had began to see in it.

No, this was an incredibly satisfying piece to paint. It just had to be done.

I think the history of what we are going through will tell two different stories: those who did what they must to endure and those felt they shouldn’t have to do anything differently in a world that has presented us with a new way of existence, at least for the short term.

Those that adapt easily to change will glide through this to the other side of this fractured night. They will endure.

I can’t say what will happen to those whose minds remain inflexible and unwilling to adapt to a new of being. Only their actions and time will write that history.

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