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Posts Tagged ‘Red Roofs’

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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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Some days reveal their moods pretty quickly. Today is one of those days– bone cold with a slate gray sky, the first dusting of this winter’s snow on the ground. Feels somber and a little sad, even mournful, just to look out the studio window. There is a group of deer milling around out there, moving with a slowness that makes me think they feel that same somberness, sensing that the good times of summer and fall are past and that ice and snow will soon be a constant for them.

One of the first songs I clicked on this morning fell right into this mode of feeling. It’s Down By the River from Neil Young. Released in 1969, it’s a song that has been covered by a lot of people and I was close to using a live performance of it by Norah Jones and Young but the original just has the right amount of anguished beauty for this morning.

The paintings I am including here are from back in 2009 and doesn’t really adhere exactly to the mode of this post or the song but something about it seems to fit. It’s   a small group of work that dealt with tightly clusters of red roofed structures hugging a a river or canal, often with no sky visible, just a jumble of roofs and buildings. It was work that I really liked and looking at it this morning while listening to this song brought forward a whole slew of concepts that I would like to soon pursue in this same vein, perhaps on a larger scale.

Anyway, give a listen and have a good day…

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