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Posts Tagged ‘Red Roofs’

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“Our worst misfortunes never happen, and most miseries lie in anticipation.”

― Honoré de Balzac

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This quote from Balzac has been paraphrased and changed over the years by others to the more tidy phrase: Our worst fears lie in anticipation.

I usually don’t agree when writer’s words are changed or used to express something decidedly different from their original intention. But maybe speakers over the years have decided that our worst misfortunes sometimes do happen.

Balzac died in 1850, years before the horrors of the American Civil War, World War I and WW II, which carries its own separate list of atrocities that easily live up to the expectations of being our worst misfortunes. We have witnessed concentration camps, the slaughter of innocents in attempted genocides on several continents, extreme racial and ethnic hatred and so many other black blotches on our collective history.

And I am most likely skimming over a multitude of other examples, such as the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

Yeah, in the 170 years since Balzac’s death, we have seen ample evidence that our worst misfortunes do indeed happen.

But even so, there is truth in saying that most miseries lie in anticipation. Because for all the evidence we have of our ability to inflict the worst on each other, most times we come out on the other side without seeing the worst come to fruition.

That brings me to the new painting at the top of the page, an 18″ by 24″ canvas that is part of my upcoming solo show, From a Distance, that opens next week at the West End Gallery. The title of this piece is The Anticipation.

A lot of the work from this show is a result of my reaction to these times but this painting might best sum that feeling of queasiness and dull fear that comes in waiting for the next shoe to drop. It seems to be its own separate symptom of the pandemic, one that even those who are not yet infected experience.

It’s that feeling that you know there is a beginning and an end and, that even while we are in the midst of this thing, it will someday be over and in the past. That is the light at the end of tunnel. But you know you have to go through the rest of that tunnel, have to absorb all the worst it has to offer, in order to get to that endpoint.

So, you trudge and trudge, each step filled with a dark foreboding anticipation. In every dark shadow along your way you see a new imagined demon, one that threatens you with some awful painful fate. The light barely seems to get closer with each day’s journey and your fears grow with your uncertainty as to when– or if– you will finally emerge from the darkness.

The fear of what might happen eclipses your imaginings of hope.

That sounds dire. But remember, even with our rampant thoughts of the worst that could happen, we are still moving forward toward the light in the future and our actions as we move along can diminish or even eradicate those imagined worst outcomes.

In the waiting, our imagination may only see the worst but perhaps it is so we can act to avoid it ever coming to be.

That’s what I am seeing in this painting. There is foreboding but there is the possibility of hope in our own reaction.

So, while our worst misfortunes do sometimes happen, we do not have to willingly accept them as our fate. We have the opportunity to stand against them, to infuse light into the darkness that comes in our anticipation.

Here’s to that light…

 

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I am running a little late this morning, having slept longer than normal in that world of dreams. It’s a strange world even in normal times but lately every dream somehow seems even weirder in these even odder days. I think I would sometimes prefer the dreamless nights of the psychotic mind.

But that reason aside,  after I got here I fixated on this smaller painting above in a corner of studio. From 2009, it’s called Two Sides of Blue and there’s something in it that always gives me pause. It certainly did this morning. Made me think it might be a good piece to couple with a piece of music and the first thing that came to mind was a song from Joanna Newsom. I guess she would be called a folk harpist. I don’t know how others categorize her actually. She’s a classically trained harpist who is a singer/songwriter. It’s probably her distinctive voice, somewhat reminiscent of the plaintive flatness of old timey bluegrass singers, that makes her such a a hard artist to pigeon hole. So, why bother?

This song just feels good this morning with this painting. Maybe written by someone on one side of this blue canal. I threw in the lyrics to read along with the music.

Have a good day, folks.

This Side of the Blue

Svetlana sucks lemons across from me,
and I am progressing abominably.
And I do not know my own way to the sea
but the saltiest sea knows its own way to me.

And the city that turns, turns protracted and slow
and I find myself toeing th’Embarcadero
and I find myself knowing
the things that I knew
which is all that you can know
on this side of the blue.

And Jaime has eyes
black and shiny as boots
and they march at you two-by-two
(re-loo re-loo);
when she looks at you,
you know she’s nowhere near through:
it’s the kindest heart beating
this side of the blue.

And the signifieds butt heads
with the signifiers,
and we all fall down slack-jawed
to marvel at words!
When across the sky sheet the
impossible birds, in a steady,
illiterate movement homewards.

And Gabriel stands beneath forest and moon.
See them rattle & boo,
see them shake, and see them loom.
See him fashion a cap from a page of Camus;
and see him navigate deftly this side of the blue.

And the rest of our lives
will the moments accrue
when the shape of their goneness
will flare up anew.
Then we do what we have to do
(re-loo re-loo),
which is all that you can do
on this side of the blue.

It’s all that you can do
on this side of the blue.

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GC Myers- Night Comes OnThe post below from a few years back is very popular, receiving quite a few views each day. As I prepare to lead my annual painting workshop next week, I thought it would be appropriate to replay it here today.

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Whenever I am asked to speak with students I usually tell them to try to find their own voice, to try to find that thing that expresses who they really are. I add that this is not something that comes easily, that it takes real effort and sacrifice. The great poet e e cummings (you most likely know him for his unusual punctuation) offered up a beautiful piece of similar advice for aspiring poets that I think can be applied to most any discipline.

Or to anyone who simply desires to feel deeply in this world.

I particularly like the line: To be nobody-but-yourself -in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.  That line alone speaks volumes and no doubt resonates with anyone in a creative field.

Take a moment to read this short bit of advice, substituting words describing your chosen discipline wherever the word poet (or a word describing poetry) is used, and see what you think– or feel.

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A Poet’s Advice To Students

(e e cummings)

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words.

This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself -in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

 

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Well, this was a tough decision.

I finally chose the painting to be given away at my Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery this coming Saturday. It’s Light Emanation, a 16″ by 20″ painting on canvas that has plenty of real meaning for me, always making me stop to consider it when I come across it. It’s a strong and distinct piece, one that is a deserving choice.

I can tell because it hurts to let it go.

Hope you’ll come out to the Principle Gallery this Saturday, September 21, for your chance to win this painting. The Talk begins at 1 PM. I suggest getting there a  little early to secure your seat and get signed in to win. I want to add that there is an additional surprise for this Talk that I will not be disclosing here on the blog. You will have to come to see it but I will say that it is well worth coming for. So, try to make it if you can!

Below is the blog entry I wrote about Light Emanation a few years back:

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We are not separated from spirit, we are in it.

Plotinus

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I call this new painting, a 20″ by 16″ canvas,  Light Emanation.   Emanation is a word that is defined in one sense as an abstract but perceptible thing that issues or originates from a source.  It’s a term that the 3rd century philosopher Plotinus used to describe the manner in which all matter is descended from the One, the transcendent and formless force that has always been and will always be.  We see its emanation– its reflection– in things we associate with terms such as Good and Beauty.

I can’t fully explain the concept of Plotinus’ philosophy here.  I honestly don’t fully understand it myself.

But  the idea that we are all somehow comprised and descended from light has long been an idea that has lived within me.  We react to light and the colors that come from it in ways that go beyond this world, in ways that somehow link us to something we feel is greater than ourselves.  Perhaps the One to which Plotinus alludes.

As it is with so many things, I don’t know for sure.  I only know that those rare moments in my life that have felt transcendent have always been associated with a mysterious quality of light, one that  satisfies and comforts me in a way in which I didn’t even realize I was in need.

I see that feeling of oneness with the light  in this painting.  It has a mysterious comfort in it that reminds me of my own moments.

And that is all I ask of it…

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“The whole value of solitude depends upon oneself; it may be a sanctuary or a prison, a haven of repose or a place of punishment, a heaven or a hell, as we ourselves make it.” 

― John Lubbock, Peace and Happiness

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I had never heard of John Lubbock before coming across the short quote above. He was one of those interesting 19th century British characters, a titled member (1st Baron Avebury) of a wealthy banking family who made great contributions to the advancement of the sciences and math as well as to many liberal causes.

For example, it was John Lubbock who coined the terms Paleolithic and Neolithic in describing the Old and New Stone Ages, as well as helping to make archaeology a recognized scientific discipline. As a youth he was a neighbor to Charles Darwin and was heavily influenced by the older scientist, who he befriended. He also worked with Darwin as a young man and championed his evolutionary theories in his later adulthood. He was obviously a man who used his position and access to higher knowledge to add to both his own intellect and that of our our collective body.

That being said, his words this morning gave me pause.

I have generally viewed solitude as a sanctuary, even in the troubled times of my life. It was a place to calm myself, to gather my thoughts and clearly examine what was before me.

I crave solitude so the idea that for some this same solitude could feel like a hell or a prison seemed foreign to me. What differentiates one’s perception of such a basic thing as the solitude in being alone? How could my place of sanctuary be someone else’s chamber of horrors?

If you’re expecting me to answer, you’re going to be disappointed because I can’t really say.  I would say it might have to do with insecurity but I have as much, if not more, uncertainty and insecurity than most people. We all have unique psychological makeups and every situation, including that of solitude, is seen from a unique perspective.

This is also the basis for all art. What else could explain how one person can look at a painting and see an idyllic scene while another can feel uneasy or even offended by the same scene?

Now, the painting at the top, titled A Place of Sanctuary, is a piece that very much reflects this sense of finding haven in solitude. For me, it is calming and centering, a place and time that appeals to my need for sanctuary.

Someone else might see it otherwise. They might see something remote, alien and unsettling in it.

I may not understand it but that’s okay, too. So long as they feel something…

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This post originally ran in 2018. The painting, A Place of Sanctuary, is currently on view at the West End Gallery as part of my solo exhibit, Moments and Color, which runs until August 30.

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“…that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.”

–Ray Bradbury, The October Country

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Every so often you come across something from your distant past that has long passed from memory.  It could be a book, a song, a photo or some small insignificant memento, something once cherished but now tucked away in the piling up of time. Coming across such a thing after so many years illuminates how much that thing meant to you. In some cases, being able to look back at the years allows  you to see that it actually influenced your way of thinking and, therefore, your life.

That’s how I felt this morning when I came across the short prologue, shown here at the top, to the 1955 book of short stories from Ray Bradbury, The October Country. I probably read this book last in the late 1970’s at a time when I devoured most of Bradbury’s books. They were all great and interesting reads and Bradbury had a poetic nature to go with his active imagination, one that sometimes found feelings of isolation and fear at the edges of the mundane.

I don’t know how I reacted when I read the words above forty years ago but reading them now, I felt like he was describing me. Or at least, describing the occupants of the world I depict in my paintings, those folks who, by extension, are built from parts of myself.

They are definitely the autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts.

Lingering in twilight, tucked in dark niches inside, facing away from the sun.

The painting at the top, Dark Eye of Quiet, is a new painting that is part of my current show at the West End Gallery. When I read Bradbury’s prologue to The October Country, I could see in this piece how his words, perhaps unbeknownst to me, had stayed with and filtered through me over the time. It’s a painting that aptly illustrates this point, from its title to the doorless and windowless houses that reside in shadow, seeming to be avoid the gaze of the dark sun. It has the wistful isolation of a Bradbury story.

I went through a stack of old paperbacks in a closet and dug out my dog-eared copy of the The October Country. Leafing through it, I saw a few titles in the list of contents that I had circles eons ago. I don’t remember doing this, of course, but I obviously saw something in it that made me do this. One was titled The Wind and turning the pages to that story I was greeted by a black and white illustration for the story from artist Joe Mugnaini.

I didn’t recognize or remember it but even so, it had a familiarity that made me smile.

I found an image of it online and am sharing it here. Maybe it was not only Bradbury’s words that influenced me forty some years back?

The mind works in weird and wonderful ways, eh?

 

 

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There are in every man, always, two simultaneous allegiances, one to God, the other to Satan. Invocation of God, or Spirituality, is a desire to climb higher; that of Satan, or animality, is delight in descent.

–Charles Baudelaire

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The words above from the poet Baudelaire sum up the paradox of our existence, at least in the way it seems to me. We are creatures forever torn between opposing forces.

Good and evil. Love and hate. Desire and indifference. The physical and the spiritual.

It’s something that I try to represent in much of my work in terms of contrasts of dark and light. The warmth and coolness of colors. High and low tones.

Showing the contrast of the light of hope alongside the darkness of despair.

This newer piece, an 18″ by 24″ canvas, seems to follow Baudelaire’s words quite literally. Titled The Calling Out, the Red Tree here seems to have climbed to the loftiest point to appeal to a higher source as represented by the light emanating from the sun. There is a great, enveloping warmth in this painting but  for me, it is the underlying darkness that makes this piece effectively come alive.

Even the sun has a darker tone than the light it emits. This unnatural sun gives the piece an almost ominous feel but it is that same contrasting light coming from it that brings a redeeming sense of hope to the painting. It lives firmly between the darkness and light much like man according to Baudleaire’s words.

And that is where I want my work to live: Seeking the light but ever aware of its own darkness.

That, of course, is just how I see it. You might well see it in different terms and that is, as always, as it should be.

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The masses do not see the Sirens. They do not hear songs in the air. Blind, deaf, stooping, they pull at their oars in the hold of the earth. But the more select, the captains, harken to a Siren within them… and royally squander their lives with her.

–Nikos Kazantzakis

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I am still working on the Multitudes paintings with their masses of eyeless faces. It’s work that is consuming, acting as a siren of sorts, drawing me to it and keeping me from moving on to other things. It is much like author Nikos Kazantzakis describes above.

It reminds me also of a newer painting shown at the top that was finished just before jumping into the Multitudes pieces. It is a 24″ by 18″ canvas that I am titling Call of the Siren. It incorporates the Red Tree and the Red Roofs along with a band of color at the bottom that represents the sea.

This bottom section has a pattern that seen with the vertical piers of the dock creates a pattern that feels Greek to me. It wasn’t intended and I can’t say if this pattern, as I see it, is really Greek in origin. But it feels that way to me and perhaps brings the thought of the Sirens of Greek mythology to mind when I look at this piece.

Another thing I note in this painting is the the massed buildings of the town seem to form a fence It is another barrier, beyond the sea journey that brought them here, that must be overcome for those who are called by the Sirens. And once one has made it over wide waters and through treacherous cities, there is still a hill to be climbed.

The Sirens never makes things easy.

I know this to be true– I’ve royally squandered much of my life chasing their song.

 

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“The sun –the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man–burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory. Through costly-coloured glass and paper-mended window, through cathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray.”

― Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

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I guess it’s wishful thinking to be discussing a painting based on light and warmth on a day when we are just beginning to feel the brunt of the bitter cold that has swept down from the polar regions. It’s below 0° right now and it won’t get much above that for the next few days around here. Brrr! So the hope contained in a rising sun and the light and heat from it becomes something to really think about.

The painting above is a new one, a 24″ by 24″ canvas, that I am calling Reaching For The Light. The jumble of upward rising buildings has a new addition to go with the regular roofs and spires–chimneys. This new element gives the effect of an appendage reaching upward from each building to get to the sunlight.

I like that feeling that it gives.

I thought the descriptive snip above from Dickens’ Oliver Twist fit this painting. I often have images based on Dickens’ vivid descriptions of cityscapes from Victorian England in mind when I am working on these type of paintings that are cramped and crowded with buildings. His words created an imagery that stuck firmly in my mind from when I first read them so many years ago.

It was a place of darkness, soot, and shadows. The idea of the sun cutting through the grayness with its cleansing light and warmth is one of hope, one of moving to a better situation beyond the squalor and despair of the moment.

That’s how I am seeing this painting with the Red Tree serving as the symbolic central figure acting out this idea of grasping for the light.

So, on this coldly bitter day, I have to find hope in the same sun that we have come to fear as the ever increasing effects of global climate change become apparent.

Stay warm, folks.

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I have been looking at this painting quite a bit lately. It’s from back in 2010 and is titled Raise Your Eyes. Featured in my 2012 exhibit at the Fenimore Art Museum, it’s a piece that I find myself coming back to examine quite often.

It’s different in many ways from the larger body of my work. For one thing, there are plenty of windows and doors, things I seldom use in my regular work where I prefer the blank  anonymity of windowless and doorless houses. This painting is all detail, even though its not extremely fine detail.

In some ways it reminds me of my Archaeology series, mainly because there is so many small touches to examine beyond the greater whole. I think that’s why I come back to this painting so often. Every new look reveals something I haven’t noticed since I first painted it. There are so many individual decisions here that dictate how the painting comes together, how it reads and expresses itself. Each window and door, each ledge and building top is a decision. Looking at them closer makes me appreciate the thought process behind it.

I mention  this painting today because I am working on a new piece that is based loosely on it. At least, it goes back to the process behind it and fills the canvas with thousands of small but vital decisions. It’s been exciting to revisit and I like what I have so far. Keep an eye out for it in the near future.

I also thought it might be a good painting to remind you to support your local small businesses on this Small Business Saturday. Every artist and every gallery owner is a small businessperson that rolls much of their income back into their respective local economies. Your patronage of artists and galleries. as well as so many other small local businesses, is vital to your local community.

I know that I can’t do this, can’t maintain a career as an artist without your support. And I am deeply grateful for that support and hope you’ll continue to patronize the galleries that show my or anybody else’s work.

Art is more than decoration, more than a product. It is an expression of humanity and a message that, in its best form, communicates through time. It is who we are.

And that is worth supporting.

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