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“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain


These certainly is a time of mental pain.  a It’s time with a lot of moving parts, so many things with so many repercussions all going on at one time. Everything, every emotion and passion, feels heightened.

And that can be overwhelming. After all, most of us devote our lives to avoiding pain and difficult emotions.

Unfortunately, there are times when it can’t be avoided.

This is such a time.

We will all have to dig deep into our inner reserves and call on whatever courage and strength we have accumulated there. And if our reserves feel lacking, don’t despair alone. As C.S. Lewis points out above, mental pain is hard to bear and trying to go it alone makes it even more difficult. Everyone–and I mean everyone–needs help now and then so in these times of super stress, reach out and let someone know.

The exposure is often purifying.

On that note, here’s song from someone who, several years ago, I never thought I’d be playing here. It’s Sign of the Times from Harry Styles, who came to fame as part of the manufactured British boy band phenoms, One Direction. But going out on his own, he has proved himself quite a talent and this song has stuck with me from the first time I heard it a few years back.

Give a listen, reach out to friends and family and have a decent day.


 

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View of California Wildfires From Above the Clouds


“In all your years and all your travels,” I asked, “what do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned about life?”

He paused a moment, then with the twinkle sparkling under those brambly eyebrows he replied: “In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on. In all the confusions of today, with all our troubles . . . with politicians and people slinging the word fear around, all of us become discouraged . . . tempted to say this is the end, the finish. But life — it goes on. It always has. It always will. Don’t forget that.”

–Robert Frost , on his 80th birthday, speaking to journalist Ray Josephs, 1954


What a time it is.

Much of the imagery you see these days is downright terrifying and disheartening, from the apocalyptic fire scenes from the west coast to the images of clashes in the streets between protesters and police to the scenes of armed white supremacists being given virtual carte blanche treatment as they move about the country to the ugly, hateful stupidity displayed so publicly now by the president’s red hatted followers as they gather to piss and moan about “their country” being taken from them.

Oh, what a time it is.

I wish I could quote Dickens and say that it was the best of times, it was worst of times but quite honestly, where is the best of times to be found these days?

I saw the photo at the top of the California wildfires as seen from above the clouds and at first glimpse thought it was a closeup of the coronavirus. It wouldn’t surprise me if they had somehow sprang from the same Pandora’s Box and ultimately resembled one another. The destructive effect of the two on the lives of those involved is much the same, that’s for sure.

I guess I can only look to the words of Robert Frost and many others who have told us that life will go on. Even though they seem wise enough that I want to trust that they somehow know this to be true, these days I find myself doubting them. But for today, I am going to trust their judgement.

Life goes on.

Here’s the Beatles with their Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da which uses that phrase as a refrain. Keep it in mind as you hopefully have a good Sunday.


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Paul Klee- Fish Magic 1925


He has found his style, when he cannot do otherwise.

-Paul Klee


Paul Klee always seems to have something in his works and his words to which I can relate. I know these words relate to my own experience as an artist.

I do what I do. I am what I am.

I just can’t do anything else.

It can be frustrating at those times when I feel blocked and find myself wishing I was someone else with different and greater talents and skills. Or when people ask me why I don’t paint in a different way or ask me to do something outside of my artistic realm or area of interest.

So I do what I do and I live with that.

There was a scene from a PBS series years ago that I have mentioned here before  (and borrow from in what follows) that perfectly encapsulates this situation.

It was an episode of Mystery! on PBS starring Kenneth Branagh as the Swedish detective Wallander. It was an okay, nice production but nothing remarkable in the story. But there was a part at the end that struck home with me and related very much to my life as a painter. Wallander’s father, played by the great character actor David Warner ( I always remember him best for his portrayal as Evil in the Terry Gilliam film Time Bandits, was, like me, a landscape painter. Now aged and in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, his son comes to him and intimates to his father, after having recently killed a serial killer, that he can’t go on as a detective, that he can’t take the stress.

The painter tries to comfort his son then recalls how when Wallander was a boy he would ask his father about his painting, asking, “Why are they always the same, Dad? Why don’t you do something different?

He said he could never explain. Each morning when he began to paint, he would tell himself that maybe today he would do a seascape or a still life or maybe an abstract, just splash on the paint and see where it takes him. But then he would start and each day he would paint the same thing- a landscape. Whatever he did, that was what came out. He then said to his son, ” What you have is your painting- I may not like it, you may not like it but it’s yours.

That may not translate as well on paper without the atmospheric camera shots and the underscored music but for me it said a lot in how I think about my body of work. Like the father, I used to worry that I would have to do other things- still lifes, portraits, etc.- to prove my worth as a painter but at the end of each day I found myself looking at a landscape, most often with a red tree.

As time has passed, I have shed away those worries. I don’t paint portraits. Don’t really paint still life. I paint what comes out and most often it is the landscape. And it usually includes that red tree that I once damned when I first realized it had became a part of who I am.

I realized you have to stop damning who you are…

 

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A Year of Augusts

pablopicassoskeleton******************

Your willingness to wrestle with your demons

will cause your angels to sing.

August Wilson

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Aah, September 1, 2020.

In most years, this would be a day where I begin to feel some sort of relief from the grim cruelty of August, my least favorite month. That is putting it mildly because, truth be known, I hate August. It’s something I’ve written about before here on the blog, as seen in the enclosed posts below. It seems to seep out every five years and since its last appearance there have been several more other awful Augusts to further make my case against it.

The funny thing is that this year I wasn’t even cognizant of my deep hatred for August. Oh, it was as difficult and stressful as all Augusts are for me. Instead, I realized that my recognition of it was hampered by the fact that this entire year has been comprised of Augusts. Every month has been filled with the same sort of tension and uncertainty that normally mark Augusts for me.

March was an August, April was an August and so on.

So, though we have passed the threshold into September, I don’t feel the same sort of relief it might bring in a normal year. This is obviously no normal year. It might say September on the calendar, but this year it’s just another goddamn August.

Man, what I would give for a year with one August. Or better yet, none.

From August 12, 2015:

As the post below from back in August of 2010 points out, most years I struggle with the month of August and this particular one is no different.  The doldrums set in and I am filled with an anxiety and a stifling restlessness that combine to create a sense of desperation within me. If I hadn’t experienced this before, this feeling would seem unbearable.

But it’s not something new so I realize that it’s just a matter of hanging on and letting it pass, all the while trying to pull something from it that will show itself in my work. I have found that such keen desperation is often the source of great work, much as playwright August Wilson a fitting first name!— points out so eloquently in the quote above. So, while I find myself fighting through the cruel days and demons of August, I do so as I listen for the song of angels to begin.

And from experience, I know they will begin soon enough. Sing, angels, sing!

From August 18, 2010:

This print from Picasso [ Above] very much sums up my feelings for the month of August. 

I have never been a fan of August. Memories of the so-called dog days of summer spent as a child. Hot from a relentless sun. Bored. Burnt grass crunching underfoot. The coming school year hanging overhead like the sword of Damocles.

August has always had a faint aura of death around it for me. I remember the death of my grandfather in ’68. My beloved dog Maggie years later. Several friends over the years, from a variety of causes. Elvis. The bright glare of the August sun seeming to taunt the grief of the moment.

August.

We were watching something on television the other night, perhaps Mad Men– I can’t really remember. Anyway, the character in the scene that was on said, “I hate August.” 

It made my ears prick up and I couldn’t help but mutter, “I’m with you there, brother.”

August.

Well, I’ve got a lot to do this August  morning. It takes a lot of work to keep busy to ward off the cruelty of  August…

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In the dark times / Will there also be singing? / Yes, there will also be singing. / About the dark times.

–Bertolt Brecht

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Didn’t really want to say much today. I did enough of that on Saturday, enough that I couldn’t imagine anyone would want to hear much more from more for a while. But I thought I would share the post below from over 10 years back about the song Pirate Jenny from The Threepenny Opera. I heard it early this morning and it reminded me of the story I told on Saturday about pretending to be a pirate in the woods alone. Maybe the draw in wanting to be a marauding pirate was much the same as it was for Jenny– a desire from a powerless person for control and power of some sort.

I don’t know.

But here’s the post and at the bottom are two versions of the song, one a classic theatric version from Anne Kerry Ford and then a version from Nick Cave in collaboration with punk vocalist Shilpa Ray. There are tons of great versions out there, as there always are for great songs, and I almost threw in Nina Simone’s  strong live interpretation of it. Hope you find one that works for you.

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Bea Arthur as the original Lucy Brown

It’s one of those cases of one thing reminding you of something else.  I heard Bobby Darin’s swinging version of Mack the Knife yesterday and there’s a line that ends with and Lucy Brown.  One of those parts of a song that your mind is somehow attuned to and always hears whenever the song is played.

Anyway, it immediately reminded me of  seeing Bea Arthur, of Maude and Golden Girls fame, a number of years back in a one-woman show on Broadway of personal stories and song.   Going in, I knew only a little of her career outside the TV roles so I didn’t have high expectations.  I was pleasantly surprised by a great show.

I didn’t know much of her Broadway career and didn’t know she originated the role of Lucy Brown in the original Broadway version of The Threepenny Opera back in the ’50’s.  She told several great tales about the show and then did a stirring version of the The Pirate Jenny.

I’m embarassed to say that I didn’t know much at that time about The Threepenny Opera or Brecht or Kurt Weill.  Had never heard the song  Pirate Jenny and it’s story of a cleaning woman who daydreams of rising from her life of powerless drudgery to become a powerful and cruel pirate.  Great song with great imagery and Bea Arthur’s version was wonderful.  Angry.  You could feel her desire for retribution for every time she was wronged by those who simply overlooked her and  took her for granted.  It was a very powerful song and one that became and remains a personal favorite.

Anyway, here’s a very good version of The Pirate Jenny from singer Anne Kerry Ford:

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“Heart of Light”- To Be Awarded At This Saturday’s Virtual Gallery Talk

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“A fight is going on inside me,” said an old man to his son. “It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other wolf is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The same fight is going on inside you.”

The son thought about it for a minute and then asked, “Which wolf will win?”

The old man replied simply, “The one you feed.”

Wendy Mass, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

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This is a battle that I know well. I don’t know about you but I suspect many of you have witnessed this same conflict within yourselves.

Experience has taught me that, indeed, feeding and nurturing one wolf makes it stronger so that the other one that is not fed slinks into the background. That other evil wolf remains always just far enough away in the shadows, however, waiting for a sliver to fall its way that will strengthen it, allowing it to once more fight for dominance.

Which wolf are you feeding today?

This is a roundabout way of getting to the painting shown at the top, It’s a 12″ by 12″ piece on canvas called Heart of Light. and is one of the 2 paintings to be given away at the end of my Virtual Gallery Talk that will be streaming online from the West End Gallery this coming Saturday. The Talk begins at 1 PM EST and runs until 2 PM. Details on registering for the drawing will be forthcoming tomorrow or Wednesday.

I would like to think I am feeding my good wolf with this but it seems pretty arrogant to call this annual giving away of a painting an act of generosity.

And that is feeding that evil wolf.

Maybe I believe I am feeding my good wolf because it brings me joy to express in this small way the gratitude I feel for those folks out there that have allowed me to have this life an artist, one that allows for my many shortcomings.

Who knows?

Good wolf or bad, I know that this painting will be given away on Saturday. Hope you will be there.

In the meantime, feed your good wolf well. I will try to do the same.

 

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In Radiance

“In Radiance”- Now at the West End Gallery

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Change the focus of the eye. When you have done that, then the end of the world as you formerly knew it will have occurred, and you will experience the radiance of the divine presence everywhere, here and now.

–Joseph Campbell
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Change the focus of the eye.
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Is that the purpose of art? It makes sense. Through the years, many artists have talked about painting beyond what is there, painting the invisible, the intangible.
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To make the viewer see the ordinary in a new or extraordinary way.
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Sounds easy enough, right?  Well, it can be done but you don’t always find the divine radiance of all things. That can be frustrating and unfulfilling. But on those times when you do, you understand what Joseph Campbell was describing. And it drives you on.
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Change the focus of the eye. It most likely applies to life in general, as well. I will have to try that.

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“Trinity Isle”- Now at the West End Gallery

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I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.

—Lao Tzu

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Too tired today. It’s been a combo fatigue, both physical and mental, that has been building and really hit this morning. That just woke up but want to take a nap fatigue.

I think I am going to take a short break, a few days off to not think about stuff, to not worry about things that are out of my control. To not push. To not write.

Catch up on some reading. Listen to some music. Maybe focus on the words of Lao Tzu.

Simplicity. Patience. Compassion.

Or is it Simplicity- Patience-Compassion-Camera-TV?

See? I need a few days off.

We’ll see how it goes.

Stay cool and take five, okay? Here’s Dave Brubeck with his always cool Take Five. See you in a few days.

 

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“Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?”

Lawrence Durrell, Justine

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I have found that this painting serves me as a reminder to seek silence. To stay silent. To quiet my inner voice. To slow down and listen to the silence.

I know all this but have to be reminded. Life speeds you up, makes you raise your volume in order to be heard. And your inner voice gets even louder in frustration.

You forget to be quiet. Forget to read the silence.

We went up the hill last night to a spot away from the forest that swallows us and only gives a partial view of the night sky. Up on the hill the night sky opened for us and we were able to finally spot the Comet Neowise as it hurtled across the sky. Once found, you could see it faintly in the dark sky but when you looked through the binoculars you could see it plainly with its tail a slash of bright light behind giving it a sense of great speed.

Standing in the dark stillness, I got a sense of having seen a time machine cut through my world. Who might have stood in this place 4000 or so years ago and seen this comet? Or who might stand in this spot 6800 years from now, when it is next scheduled to appear here, and wonder that same thing?

It was a beautiful sight and there was the feeling of being able to see the magnitude of the universe set against our own smallness. It was sobering in the silence and the black of night though it was not sobering in a scary way. There was almost comfort in simply knowing our place, in knowing that we were part of this great puzzle, however small a piece we may be.

The feeling I find in the painting above is much the same.

This piece is titled Tempus Quietis, Latin for a time for rest, and it is sized at 18″ by 24″ on paper. It is, of course, part of my show, From a Distance, that opens tomorrow at the West End Gallery.

I am going to take a hint from this piece and stay quiet. Have a good day.

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“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

― Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

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These words above from an Oscar Wilde prose piece seems to fit this new painting, To the Far Reaches, perfectly. Well. at least, in my eyes.

Those who dream often take journeys that carry them beyond the far reaches of our reality. Guided by their imagination like sailors are led by the light from the sun and moon, they are rewarded by wonders in these fantastical worlds that only they will ever see.

But this same imagination that gives them such rewards, also allows them to foresee the far reaches of reality before it actually comes to bear in this world. While mingling their imagination with a bit of knowledge of the world and its patterns to foresee the potential outcomes of the near future can sometimes be a reward when those future skies are bright, it can be a great punishment in times ahead that fall under dark skies.

It may cause the dreamer to question their own vision, their own imagination. They may stop telling others of their vision and may try to quell their journeying altogether. Or perhaps go even further beyond the far reaches of reality, into a world of pure imagination.

Or they may stay true to their imagination and speak even louder with the hope that they can avoid the darkness ahead and that they will once again be rewarded with new and brighter dawns ahead.

That’s the choice I would prefer they make– to keep speaking of what they see ahead and to keep pushing forward because as Carl Sagan once said: “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.

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This painting, To the Far Reaches, 8″ by 24″ on canvas, is part of this year’s edition, From a Distance, of my annual solo show of new work at the West End Gallery. The show opens this Friday, July 17. The show is hung and in place so you can stop in at the gallery now to get a preview of what I think is a very strong show.

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