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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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“Culmination”- Now at the West End Gallery



Each man is always in the middle of the surface of the earth and under the zenith of his own hemisphere, and over the centre of the earth.

-Leonardo da Vinci



As we count down the last four days of this excruciatingly long year of 2020, I was looking for a a painting that had to do with the endpoint of things. I immediately thought of the piece shown here, Culmination, that is currently at the West End Gallery.

Its title came about because I saw the path in it as being the trunk of a tree with the paths going off each side as its limbs. The Red Tree at the top was the endpoint of this tree much like each of us are in our own genealogies.

Genealogically, each of us sits at the very top of a pyramid where everyone below us in that pyramid has endured wars, illnesses, pandemic and plague, persecution and imprisonment, and even slavery and holocaust just to get us to this place and time. We are the culmination, the very pinnacle of our family tree. 

For now.

Eventually, we are just part of the trunk with a branch that goes on and on. Or one that breaks off and abruptly ends.

I thought this piece would fit well with the end of this year. So many of the things that came to bear in this strange and awful 2020 were the culmination of events, lives, and organisms that developed and grew– and often worsened– in the years and decades before.

They all seemed to converge to make this year feel like an endpoint, a culmination of some sort.

For some, it was the ultimate endpoint, maybe the end of days as the evangelicals call them. For some, it felt like the end of democracy was all too close to its end here. And this year certainly felt like it marked the end of civil discourse and civility in general.

And of course, for hundreds of thousands of families, the pandemic brought an end to the lives of all too many loved ones. 

2020 was a year that sits atop a pyramid of horrors and atrocities. Hopefully, as it draws to a close later this week, it’s a position it maintains for a long time to come. The year that pushes it further down this monstrous pyramid is not one I wish to endure.

Have a good day, okay?

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We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past, like ancient stars that have burned out, are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about every day, too many new things we have to learn. New styles, new information, new technology, new terminology … But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone.

― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore



Murakami’s words above are a continuation of yesterday’s theme, how early memory embeds deeply and remain with us forever. It’s one of those obvious truths that becomes more and more evident as the years pile up. I’ll probably revisit some deep recollections today, as I usually do around this time every year.

Polishing the touchstone.

Here’s a warm wish to all of you for a happy holiday. May you assist your young ones in creating their own touchstones of happiness or even create a new one for yourself.

Here’s a Christmas tune that goes back to the basis for the day, Christmas Must Be Tonight, from The Band. As with most everything they did, it feels right.

Stay safe out there. Merry Christmas.



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Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.

-Jorge Luis Borges



It’s that time of the year when the young build up their stores of memories and the older folks delve into their own storage for past remembrances from this same time many years ago.

The memories that the young will bank this year will be so different from our own memories of holidays past that many of us may pull out this week or the next. And how could they not be different? The world is forever changing, for good or bad. But the relationships of families and friends remain constants so while circumstances and surroundings may change, the base on which memories are built remains much the same.

So these memories being formed in the next week or so will likely be as rich for these young people fifty years from now when they find themselves watching the youth of that time creating their first deep memories. These may end up being the richest they know because this year with all its awfulness created hardships that in many cases illuminates the good that is embedded in our lives, good that is often overlooked in the rush of life.

This year gave us time to reflect on such things and to see that our time here is all we really possess.

If you’re looking for a silver lining to a very dark cloud, maybe that’s it. Maybe time is, in the end, that substance, as Borges writes, of which we are made, that thing that sweeps us along and inevitably consumes us.

This seems a little more evident this time of year as I revisit my own richly detailed memories of this season from many decades ago. There are many remembrances from the intervening years but they most often lack the depth and detail of those early ones and some even have faded into seeming non-existent. Some are there but remain hazy, as though they don’t belong to me, like I am looking at the memories from another life. Like I was a different person at that point.

And maybe I was. Perhaps that’s another thing that comes with being made from time– it changes and as a result, we cannot help but change, as well.

Time…

Here’s a song about time. It’s not a holiday song but it is a great, great song from Tom Waits. I feel a bit sacrilegious in playing anything other than Waits’ iconic version but this one is lovely. Plus to add a festive touch, it is performed by a giant tragic clown who strokes his sleeping French bulldog as he sings. It’s a nice performance by Puddles Pity Party of a song that always slows my heartbeat a bit. I particularly always seem to hear the line And the things you can’t remember tell the things you can’t forget/That history puts a saint in every dream even when the song is playing in the background.

Have a good day. Enjoy your time here.



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Practice giving things away, not just things you don’t care about, but things you do like. Remember, it is not the size of a gift, it is its quality and the amount of mental attachment you overcome that count. So don’t bankrupt yourself on a momentary positive impulse, only to regret it later. Give thought to giving. Give small things, carefully, and observe the mental processes going along with the act of releasing the little thing you liked.

–Robert A.F. Thurman, American Buddhist author/professor



I like this bit of advice.

Give away things that mean something to yourself, something to which, as Thurman points out, you have a mental attachment that must be overcome. That’s always been the yardstick I use when giving away work at my talks or simply as a gift. It has to be something that hurts a bit to give away, something that you just want to hold onto a bit longer. 

But giving away the valued things of self brings on a feeling of magnanimity in myself, a feeling that seems so much larger and grander than that which usually comes along with clinging onto something. The feeling of generosity is warm and encompassing, like a field of fully opened sunflowers reaching toward the sun. On the other hand, miserly stinginess feels cold and all balled up, like a raisin sitting on a frigid garage floor.

And you most likely will find that the more that you give away, your desire to cling on to these things will fade away.

Let me clarify: I am not saying that you should give away all you have. Again, as Thurman also points out, don’t bankrupt yourself on a momentary positive impulse. First of all, a large or expensive gift doesn’t necessarily have any emotional attachment. Sometimes a small but thoughtful thing, even something that might appear trivial to someone from the outside, holds the most lasting meaning.

So, don’t equate price with meaning. But give when you can or when it it is needed and don’t be afraid to give of yourself, even if it’s only a few sincere words on a piece of paper. Those always ends up being the gifts that hold the most meaning for both the giver and the receiver.

But you probably knew this, right? So let’s listen to a song with a similar message from JD McPherson and his fun holiday album, Socks, from a few years ago. This is All the Gifts I Need.

Have a great day.



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“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”

― Edgar Allan Poe, Eleonora



This is another new small piece that is headed to the West End Gallery this weekend. I am finally hitting some responsive chords in my work and feeling a new creative flow building which is reassuring. This recent work has felt great coming out, free and easy without having to stuggle, and I think it shows in the work itself.

It’s all work that appeals to my own sense of what I want to see. 

Maybe what I need to see right now.

That I can’t answer. But this feels good and right so I am pretty happy in the moment.

I am calling it Hold Back the Night after a  favorite song from the 70’s, a cover by Graham Parker and the Rumour of the song of that title which was originally recorded by the Trammps a few years earlier. Very upbeat which matches my current view for my work in the near future.

As I said, pretty happy in the moment.

Of course, tomorrow might be a different story. So, for today, I am going to take in the colors and forms and sing along with Graham. Hope you’ll do the same. Have a good one but be careful out there.



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“The Walking Man I” — Alberto Giacometti



Artistically I am still a child with a whole life ahead of me to discover and create. I want something, but I won’t know what it is until I succeed in doing it.

–Alberto Giacometti



The short statement above from the late artist Alberto Giacometti perfectly captures a feeling that has been with me for a long time now.

Now well into middle age, I have been a professional painter now for over twenty five years and have did okay with my career in art. I do what I want basically, earn a decent living, get some recognition here and there and have established my own little niche with my work.

It’s a decent place to be at this point in my career and a lot of young artists would love to be in my position.

But most days, even when I feel the tiredness from the wear and tear of the years weighing on me physically, I still feel new to this whole art thing, like I have just scratched the surface with my work. As Giacometti points out, I feel like there is a whole life, an endless horizon, ahead of me that is filled with all sorts of new possibilities.

New forms, new expressions, new inspirations, new voices and more– all yet unseen and unknown. Just something.

And again like Giacometti, I feel a huge gnawing desire to find that something but don’t have a clue as to what it might yet be.

That was the same feeling that I had when I was first experimenting with painting years ago. I had a hazy vision in the recesses of my mind that I wanted to pull out but didn’t truly know what it was or what it might look like until it had emerged. When it did finally come out, I instantly recognized it for what it was and what it could mean for me. I ran with the inspiration from it for many years.

But at some point during these years, I began to sense that another vision of the same sort resides somewhere down there in my mind, one that had yet to be found. One that I won’t know until it comes out.

So, though I am a sometimes tired middle-aged guy, I know that I am still a child artistically, one who still sees the whole wide world and all its potential before him.

I work and wait in anticipation that this child’s voice will someday be heard.

 

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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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A Day of Gratitude



“In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison



Thanksgiving 2020. Not a year that we want to really celebrate, is it? 

There were lots of tough days this past year for many people and there are certain more to come in the next few months.

But Thanksgiving, perhaps more so for this year, is a day of pause. Today, we get to take a brief moment to reflect on our past and present because that is where gratitude and love reside. Our fears and worries for a harsh near-future are temporarily set aside and we express our thanks for those folks who have made our lives possible, who have lifted us up, who have enriched our world.

This year we must make sure to include those often overlooked doctors, nurses, and all other healthcare workers. They are doing tough and remarkable work right now while putting their own health at risk every day. They are being asked to give so much right now and deserve our thanks and appreciation.

I have a long list of other folks that I could list here. My life, like all others, is the result of the assistance, guidance, encouragement, and love given to me by others.

Without these people and the many things they have given me, my life would no doubt be like an empty and dark room without windows. With them, it is a bright and airy room filled with windows that open to new and wondrous landscapes. The gratitude I feel now in the present moment for what they provided me in the past gives me greater hope for the future. 

And maybe that’s the lesson of thanksgiving, that by recognizing our gratitude and debt for what others have given us up to now we can then see that we have the ability to get through anything the future holds for us. 

And that’s saying a lot. 

Have a Good and Hopeful Thanksgiving. 

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“How can it be that I’ve never seen that lofty sky before? Oh, how happy I am to have found it at last. Yes! It’s all vanity, it’s all an illusion, everything except that infinite sky. There is nothing, nothing – that’s all there is. But there isn’t even that. There’s nothing but stillness and peace. Thank God for that!”

― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace



Yesterday was one of those hard days in the studio. Nothing seemed to work. I felt like I was breaking in a new sets of hands and eyes and my mind was bouncing off the walls instead of locking in on the surface on which I was working. It was frustrating and I found myself early in the afternoon with a burning ball of anxiety in my gut, exactly the opposite feeling that my work normally produces in me.

It was just a slog. It reminded me of some of those days when I worked in construction and things weren’t going well. I remember standing in mud and falling snow early in the morning with a day of hefting chimney blocks up a ladder ahead of me. I was filled with a tired kind of dread.

I wanted to be anywhere but there but that wasn’t an option. So, I just put down my head and slogged onward and upward. God, what  long and awful days those sometimes were. Cold. Wet. Aching and tired with a simmering anger of dissatisfaction just below the surface. 

My life is different now. I am not cold and wet. Well, most days, at least. And I ache in different ways and my tiredness is different as well. But I still have days of simmering dissatisfaction and anxiety.

Yesterday was one of those. A log, as I said.

I took a break in the afternoon and took a walk in the cold wintry air. Walking among the trees of the local cemetery under a slate colored  high sky changed my focus. It took a while but after some time it got better. Cleared the debris that was cluttering my mind. Then, it wasn’t a matter of trying to force something out of me now.

Just being alive under that  the air of that infinite sky among the silence of the graves.

Just a small thing but it changed so much. It settled me and made me feel more connected to the world.

And that’s a good thing. It’s always good to put a slog day behind me.

Makes me look forward to being at work today. 



The painting at the top is a 12″ by 12″ canvas from several years back called Placidarium. I chose it because its feeling, for me, represents what I am shooting for in my days in the studio. A placid place with color and space for the mind to explore. The fact that it it here in the studio is a mystery to me. It’s one of those pieces that felt right from inception to completion. Even now, it brings me a great deal of satisfaction to take it in. But that’s how it is sometimes– the pieces that resonate most with me are often the last to leave me now.

And that’s okay because it means I get to live with them a bit longer.

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