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Posts Tagged ‘Red Tree’

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Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.

Winston Churchill

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The solitary tree has been a vital part of my work from the beginning. Actually, the word vital understates its importance.

I couldn’t find the image of a painting from a number of years ago that I wanted to see again. This sent me on a search through a maze of files and images from over the past twenty years. I probably spent more time doing this than I should have but it became one of those obsessive things.

Shuffling through these images, one after another, that form of the lone tree just jumped out at me. I say jumped because of the way in which it surprised me. I, of all people, know that the single Red Tree has been important and prevalent in my work. There is no getting around that fact. I have literally been called the “Red Tree guy.”

I understand its symbolism and meaning very well.

But it just seemed different, more away from me personally.

There were many that had slipped my mind that made me stop to look closer. I wasn’t seeing myself anymore in those pieces but found myself admiring the character they taken on in the time they had been absent in my memory. There was a strength and dignity in them that was palpable.

They had somehow expanded in the time I had lost track of them.

They were no longer me. They were them.

It was as though my forgetfulness had made them grow in solitude and they, out of necessity, had grown stronger as a result. Much like the words above from Churchill, which were written in a letter to his mother in 1899, a few years after his father had died.

I may have been the symbolic father of those works, those many Red Trees, but their strength was their’s alone, obtained in their solitude. I felt bad that I had lost track of them but was so pleased at what they had become.

They were beyond me.

Which is all I could hope.

 

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It’s a time for great swings of emotion that have me off balance much of the time. Waves of bewilderment that sometimes lead into anger followed by fear then anxiety. In between are interspersed moments of peaceful calm and even a full blown laugh that bring the whole shebang back into a more workable balance.

Then, once in a great while, there are moments that feel like a bit of grace being extended. The balance suddenly seems manageable and perhaps there is even hope.

That was just yesterday.

I was up early to head out to our local Wegmans supermarket, to be there at opening which had been advertised as being 6 AM. We needed a few items and I thought getting there early would beat the potentially infectious larger crowds and also give me a chance at finding my needed items on the freshly stocked shelves.

I pulled into the parking lot around 6:20 and I couldn’t believe my good fortune. There were only a handful of cars, outside of the employees vehicles parked further out in the large parking lot. I would be able to get in and out without running into many folks at all. I was out of the car with my shopping bags in hand when the window of a car near me rolled down. The guy inside spoke, telling me that the opening time had changed, that it was now 7 AM.

Oof. I slumped a bit and got back in the car to wait it out. By 7, there were quite a few cars but it wasn’t crazy busy as we shuffled in, everyone doing a pretty fair job in trying to keep their distance. Inside the store, with my gloves still on, I maneuvered my cart through the store and was kind of knocked out by the number of empty shelves that were there at opening time. The produce was sparse but I found the couple of items that we needed.

In the section that held canned beans and the like, there were 3 single cans of vegetarian beans. One had a pretty large dent on the edge of its lid, so I grabbed the other two. The pasta and rice sections were also picked pretty clean except for sporadic spots that held what appeared to be a case or two of a single item that would no doubt soon be gone.

All in all, I found most of the items I needed– there is never a shortage of Count Chocula cereal. Just kidding. We will just do without those other things that I couldn’t obtain.

I was able to keep a good distance from other shoppers but checking out was a bit unnerving to suddenly be a little closer. I tried to keep as far back as possible from the frail looking lady who was checking me out. I felt so bad for her and the cashiers who were constantly within a foot or two of a constant stream of different shoppers without knowing where those people had been or how seriously they took their responsibility to maintain distance or wash their hands. They would be there all day exposed to who knows what.

If you must go to a shop, bear this in mind. Keep your distance for their safety and yours as well. And be extra kind to these people who most likely have no choice in whether they can be there.

There are going to be shortages for the near future. It’s understandable. Along with the panic buying of regular shoppers, there is a whole group of people who are suddenly forced into the stores, putting further strain on the food chain. These are the people who used to get most of their meals at restaurants. You might say that’s ridiculous but even when I worked at the Perkins Family Restaurant twenty-some years ago, there was a remarkable number of people, even whole families, who would get two and sometimes three meals a day there.

According to stats, that trend hasn’t lessened in recent decades as more and more people eat out for many of their meals. Suddenly, these people are forced to either make their food or order the allowed takeout. And since many are also now under some sort of financial stress, perhaps laid off with no way of knowing when and if they will get back to work, they must begin shopping for food in a supermarket, trying to save a little money where they can. Throwing these people into the mix makes for even more shortages.

It will be that way until we get some sort of reassurance that the food supply will be stable and that we will be able to have access to the foods we need. And that reassurance is definitely lacking from the leaders at the top who seem woefully unprepared to handle a situation of this magnitude. Their inability to be forthcoming, accountable and honest has created a lack of credibility that now makes us distrust every word they utter, every move they make. Average people are beginning to realize that they must fend for themselves and that creates a frenzy in a population that hasn’t experienced this sort of potentially existential crisis in their lifetimes.

Will that reassurance come? I don’t know but my opinion that this administration is incapable of doing so., given their lack of empathy and their constant desire to assign responsibility or blame for anything to anyone but themselves. A great leader doesn’t keep saying that he is doing a great job. He doesn’t need to– his actions speak louder than hollow self praise.

Okay, let’s call that the anger part of my day. Like I said, this was how my day went yesterday. Up and down. Bewildered at the supermarket. Angered and made anxious by the news. Worried about the near future and our personal situation. Talking nonsense to my studio cat, Hobie, then laughing like an idiot at a sitcom that I had put on the tube for some sort of relief, even though I had seen it a hundred times before.

I was all over the place.

The new normal. Or is it the new abnormal?

Wait, I mentioned there was a moment of what seemed like grace, didn’t I?

Well, in the midst of this day, when I riding a ridge of anxiety down to its lowest point, I received an email. It was from a local man, a doctor, who asked about buying a large painting for very specific site in his home. I had only one painting that fit his need and it was one that has been dominating my space lately, both in the studio and in my mind. I turned and looked at the painting. I look at it a lot these days.

I read the email a couple more times and asked myself if this was a real inquiry? Who would be looking for a large painting right now? Are they pulling my leg and if so, how cruel would that be?

But after a minute or so of consideration, I thought it must be real. I actually teared up a little in that moment because it was just what I needed in this new abnormal day.

It felt like a small bit of grace. I don’t know if that’s right but I can tell what it was.

It was reassurance.

The reassurance that I, like so many others, was lacking. The reassurance that, even in a time of dire crisis, what I do has some meaning, that I exist and count for something.

Reassurance that I will be able to persevere and weather the storm.

I don’t know that this person was just looking for a painting at this particular time or if he decided to do this now because his action would be greatly helping out a local artist and small business at a time when it was truly needed. Whatever his reason, it moved me.

I sent him the image, writing a bit about the painting, and it looks like it may be moving to a new home very soon. I have often said that, in my mind, every time a person chooses to buy my work is a small miracle of some sort. I don’t know if that is absolutely true but I know that this sale will linger with me and have meaning for a long time to come.

We all need reassurance now. Each of us has the ability to give others some measure of reassurance.

Be kind. Be generous, even if you only afford to do so in spirit.

It goes a long way.

Sorry for the length of this post. If you got this far, thanks for sticking it out. There was a lot to say, I guess.

Have a good day and be careful.

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The painting at the top, Life Pop, is at the West End Gallery in Corning. Their doors are closed currently but they are still operating normal hours via phone and online, as well as with private appointments.

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I do a one-man show every June at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA and have done so since the year 2000. This year’s show, my 21st such show, is slated to open June 5. I am keeping hope alive that the current situation will have subsided to some degree and that the show can go on by that time but the experts’ projections, based on what little data they can obtain from our inadequate testing, make it look a little shaky.

But I am continuing to work on this show on the premise that the show will go on.

It’s what I do. All I can do.

That being said, I have determined that this year’s show should reflect this time. At least, my take on it. To that end I am calling the show Social Distancing. It’s a term that, while it has really taken hold in this world in recent times, I don’t think I have encountered much before now.

I have practiced it and painted it in many ways but just didn’t know to call it that.

From my earliest days, much of my work has dealt with the duality that runs along that line between solitude and alienation. The yin and yang, the joy and the sorrow, that comes from being apart from others. Many of my series have focused on this separation, the Exiles and Outlaws series jumping to mind.

But even my most used archetype, the Red Tree, usually concerns itself with distancing.  It almost always is alone or at least apart from other trees. Most of the time, it is about finding strength in recognizing those things which makes us unique individuals but occasionally it is about feeling alienated from the rest of the world.

Some find empowerment in their solitude. I believe that’s been the case for myself as I have seldom felt loneliness, especially in my adult years. But for many, that line between simply being alone and lonely is a thin one.

Solitude and silence can be frightening to those unaccustomed to it.

This being the case, there will be a pretty substantial nod to my earlier work, such as the painting at the top. It’s a 14″ by 24″ piece on paper that I call Social Distancing: Approaching Storm. I guess it’s a timely title.

For me, this return to that earlier method which focuses on sparse landscapes and big blocks of transparent color is like comfort food to me. The more I immerse myself in this work the more I understand what its appeal was to myself and those folks who were drawn to it in the early days. Working on this group over the past week or so has been steadying in the face of the great uncertainty we face.

I could say more but I think I want to stop. Hopefully, the show will go on, at least in some form.

I am going back to the solitude of my work now.

It’s what I do. It’s all I can do.

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Social Distancing, this year’s edition of my annual show at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria opens June 5.

Stay tuned for further details.

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It seems a little silly to write about my work while what is happening in the outer world beyond my studio goes on. I would prefer to give air to my anger at the gross incompetence and irresponsibility displayed by our government in its handling of the current crisis. Or to voice my anxiety for the health of my family and friends, as well as my own. Or my fears about the almost certain loss of the better part of my livelihood for at least the near future. And maybe well beyond.

Who knows how this ultimately shakes out?

So, writing about painting seems grossly insignificant, even trivial, at the moment.

But it’s what I do.

I am painting diligently now with the hopes that soon there will be a return to normalcy.

It’s what I do.

It also keeps me from thinking too much about the current situation, keeps me as sane as I can be. Now, where that falls on the sane to insane spectrum, I can’t tell you. But while it provides me with an escape route, the outer world often finds its way in.

Take the piece at the top, a new painting on paper that’s 18″ by 24″. It’s a real throwback to my earlier work with transparent color washes with hard edges and a sparseness of detail. Painting it was a joy, like meeting an old best friend once more and recognizing all those things that made that person important to you at one time. There was an inherent comfort in it for me, one that allowed me to forge ahead, finding focus even though my mind was still partially distracted.

The sky in these works always seem to dominate whatever element I choose to serve as the central character in the composition, here the house and the adjacent Red Tree. This domination provides evidence for me of our frailty, our relative smallness in the greater scheme of things in this world, in this universe. But at the same time it provides affirmation of my own existence, standing alone under the dome of the sky.

It just felt good. Feels good. The image above is not perfect, needs a little tweaking as I just noticed a shadow on the foreground. But for the moment, it’s good enough. But even though it, for the most part, takes me away from the now, the current situation always seems to creep back in. When I was finishing this piece the idea of social distancing as a way of mitigating exposure to the virus was on my mind. This piece, like much of my work, has a sense of isolation.

I decided to call it Keep Your Distance, the title taken from a Richard Thompson song from one of my favorite albums, Rumor and Sigh.

Here’s the song. Give a listen and keep your distance, okay?

 

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Social Distancing

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Through vigilance, restraint and control the wise will construct an island that no flood will overcome.

Gautama Buddha

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Being stranded on this island is looking pretty damn good right now.

Be careful out there, folks.

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I have a large painting, 36″ wide by 48″ high, here in the studio, one that was done a couple of years back and which has had limited exposure in being displayed. I was surprised to find that I haven’t written about it or even shared its image here in the past. I say surprised because it’s one of those pieces that feels immediately at home with me.

I would consider it prototypical of my work, a single Red Tree pushed forward in the picture, almost a portrait rather than a landscape. There is a burst of light that appears in the sky behind it, creating an aura-like appearance around the Red Tree’s crown. This led to its title– Corona.

Unfortunately, this word, corona, has taken on a new meaning as most of you know. That poor Mexican beer of the same name is being blamed by some folks — those with small and defective brains, I would suspect– as the cause of the outbreak. They probably believe there are junkyards filled with old Toyota Coronas that are radiating the virus outward 24/7.

Even though this is just gross ignorance, it makes me think I might have to rename this piece. Maybe something close in sound?

How about Corrina? You know, like the old song Corrina, Corrina?

Hmm. Have to give that some thought.

As for the song, it’s an old chestnut that was written in 1928 and has been recorded by scores of artists in a wide variety of styles. It seems to work in every genre mainyl because it’s just a very good tune. Here’s a version of the song with kind of a Latin swing from Lloyd Price, who is best known for his big hit from the 1950’s, Stagger Lee. This is not the best known version but I’ve liked it since I heard it many years ago on a Lloyd Price tape that I found in a bargain bin at a discount department store.

When I think of this song, this version always comes to mind. Have a good day and stay away from that beer.

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I don’t have much to say today. Oh, I have plenty to say but I am going to spare you having to hear it. I just want to get to work this morning seeing as it’s March 1 which translates to me as march forward as I prep for my annual shows. It’s total immersion time.

So, let’s keep it short today. I want to show a coupling of a song and a painting which I think works well together. The painting is above and is titled Blaze. It’s one of those pieces that have somehow found their way back to me and this one always confounds me. It felt so right and easy– graceful–off the hand. Even now, I always stop and look at this piece for the longest times, wondering why it is here. I guess it just hasn’t met its rightful partner yet.

The song that I matched up with Blaze is Wild Is the Wind from Nina Simone. It was originally recorded by Johnny Mathis for a movie of same title in the 1950’s. It’s a little overproduced for my taste but the song is undeniably strong. Nina Simone took it and made it into a spare and special song. It was used as the title track for her 1966 album which is considered one of the greatest albums of the 1960’s, remarkable in a decade filled with legendary albums. David Bowie also is noted for performing this song, which was done as a tribute to Simone.

Give a listen and have a good day.
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